Masterworks and Context

February 27th, 2010 No comments

It is one of the paradoxes of musicological research that we generally have become acquainted with a period, a repertoire, or a style through recognized masterworks that are tacitly or expressly assumed to be representative. Yet a ‘masterpiece’, by definition, is unrepresentative, unusual, and beyond the scope of ordinary musical activity. A more thorough and realistic knowledge of music history must come from a broader and deeper acquaintance with its constituent elements than is provided by a limited quantity of exceptional composers and works. Such an expansion of the range of our historical research has the advantage not only of enhancing our understanding of a given topic, but also of supplying the basis for comparison among those composers and works that have faded into obscurity and the few composers and ‘masterpieces’ that have survived to become the primary focus of our attention today. Only in relation to lesser efforts can we fully comprehend the qualitiues that raise the ‘masterpiece’ above the common level. Only by comparison can we learn to what degree the master composer has rooted his creation in contemporary currents, or conversely, to what extent original ideas and techniques are responsible for its special features. Similarly, it is only by means of broader investigations that we can detect what specific historical influence the masterwork has had upon contemporaries and younger colleagues, and thereby arrive at judgements about the historical significance of the master composer.

[Excerpted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp 102-103.]

Monteverdi’s Vespers – the Crest of a Wave

February 26th, 2010 No comments

The second half of the sixteenth century witnessed a growth in published Italian Vespers repertoire, a growth that increased dramatically as the century approached its end. In the first decade of the new century, the number of extant prints once again augments by approximately 50 per cent. I have located more than 150 publications from this period, about two thirds of them issued between 1605 and 1609. From the year 1610 alone, aside from Monteverdi’s print, I have been able to trace an additional 25 surviving collections containing vesper music. Of the total of nearly 180 publications from these eleven years, 24 are reprints. By this time, the number of vesper publications has exceeded the number of mass prints from the same period. It is clear that by the first decade of the century, a major shift in emphasis had taken place in the public services of the Catholic Church in Italy. The vesper service had become a ceremony of major musical importance, not merely rivalling the mass, but actually surpassing it in number of publications and, consequently, in musical significance for the church calendar.

[Adapted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, p 99.]

Bagels, Tea, Thermostats – Culinary Notes from 1610

February 25th, 2010 No comments

According to author Leo Rosten in his The Joys of Yiddish, the first printed mention of the word bagel is in the 1610 Community Regulations for the city of Krakow, Poland. The regulations state that “bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth.” The ring shape may have been seen as a symbol of life.

It was also in 1610 that Europe got its first taste of tea, a beverage that had been popular for centuries in China and Japan, as Amsterdam received its first shipment of the intoxicating leaves. The Dutch East India Company initially marketed tea as an exotic medicinal drink, but it was so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford it and it only became available to the general public later in the century.

In 1610, Cornelius Drebbel, best known perhaps for his invention of the submarine,  applied the principles he had used in his “perpetual mobile” to thermostatic regulators that controlled ovens, furnaces, and incubators – the first thermostat. As the temperature rose, air expanded, forcing quicksilver to close a damper. When it cooled, the damper opened. The incubator he made hatched both duck and chicken eggs.

Did Caravaggio Die of Lead Poisoning?

February 24th, 2010 1 comment


Caravagio ca. 1600

The mannerist painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio died on July 18 1610 at the age of 39 and the circumstances of his death have been controversial ever since. It has been suggested that he contracted syphilis or even that he was assassinated but anthropologists from the universities of Pisa, Ravenna and Bologna are studying other theories – that he contracted malaria while traveling in Italy or that he suffered from lead poisoning. The anthropologists hope to prove their theory by carrying out DNA tests on bones which they believe are the remains of the Renaissance artist.

Renowned for his hot temper, heavy drinking and violent temperament Caravaggio was forced to go on the run in 1606 after killing a man in a tavern brawl, a crime for which he was condemned to death by Pope Paul V.

“Lead poisoning accentuates traits like aggressive and nervous behaviour, which Caravaggio displayed during his life,” said Silvano Vinceti, the team leader. “Painters in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries used these paints all the time and often suffered serious health problems as a result.” Francisco de Goya and Vincent van Gogh are both thought to have suffered from lead poisoning.

The Galilean Moons

February 23rd, 2010 No comments

The Galilean Moons

In January 1610 Galileo Galilei first observed the four moons of Jupiter now known, appropriately, as “The Galilean Moons”. The largest of the many moons of Jupiter, Galileo initially named his discovery the Cosmica Sidera (“Cosimo’s stars”) but they are now known by the names given by Simon Marius in his 1614 Mundus Jovialis: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – the lovers of Zeus.

Galileo first noticed Saturn’s peculiar shape later in 1610, well after the publication of his landmark book Sidereus Nuncius.  The story of how he initially revealed the new discovery to his fellow astronomers by means of an anagram is told in a 1974 article by Albert van Helden of Rice University.

Galileo's first sketches of his observation of four of Jupiter's moons

Galileo’s discovery of celestial bodies orbiting something other than the Earth dealt a serious blow to the Ptolemaic, or the geocentric, cosmology in which the universe orbits around the Earth. The possibility of viewing Saturn’s moons was made possible by improvements Galileo made to his telescope in 1609. Images of the moons as seen through Galileo’s telescope can be viewed here. Matk Thompson’s website Galileo 1610 has a wealth of information about Galileo as does Rice University’s Galileo Project website.

“With various and diverse manners of invention and harmony”

February 22nd, 2010 No comments

"His Highness" Francisco Gonzaga of Mantua

“Monteverdi is having printed an a capella Mass for six voices, of much study and labour, since he was obliged to manipulate continually, in every note through all the parts, always further reinforcing, the eight motifs that are in the motet In illo tempore of Gombert. And he is also having printed together [with it] some vesper psalms of the Virgin with various and diverse manners of invention and harmony, and everything over a cantus firmus, with the intention of coming to Rome this autumn to dedicate them to His Holiness. He is also in the midst of preparing a group of madrigals for five voices, which will consist of  three laments: that of Arianna, still with its usual soprano, the lament of Leandro and Hero by Marini, the third, given him by His Highness, about a shepherd whose nymph has died. The words [are] by the son of Count Lepido Agnelli on the death of the little Roman [the singer Caterina Martinelli].”

From a letter written by Monteverdi’s vice maestro di capella at Mantua, Don Bassano Casola to Cardinal Ferdinando Gonzaga in Rome, dated July 16, 1610. The eight motifs from the Gombert motet are actually ten in number.  The madrigals would form the sixth book  published in 1614.

Monteverdi and Musical Coherence

February 19th, 2010 No comments

The musical coherence of Monteverdi’s seconda prattica compositions has often been overlooked by taking too literally his brother Giulio Cesare’s famous declaration that in the new style ‘it has been his intention to make the words the mistress of the harmony and not the servant.’ Monteverdi and his brother, for the sake of argument and without enough time to develop the thesis at greater length, oversimplified the issue in the Dichiaratione of the 1607 Scherzi musicali. While Monteverdi certainly took the text as his point of departure as well as the ultimate rationale for many features of his madrigals, motets, and dramatic compositions, he never became a slavish imitator of words not an ingenious inventor of musical metaphors, even though madrigalisms are readily apparent in his music.

Te balanced union of textual and musical considerations took different forms in the stile rappresentativo and the polyphonic and concerto madrigals and motets. Morever,m the relationship between text and music took on a different aspect in each individual composition. But whatever the style or character of the piece. Monteverdi never ignored the demands of musical logic and coherence. Conversely, it is often this musical coherence that gives primary force to the expression of the text, fo in the absence of a powerful musical logic, the addition of tone to word is likely to prove fleeting, superficial, and unconvincing.

[Excerpted from The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance by Jeffrey Kurtzman. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 308-309.]

Cozzolani Project Releases New Track – Laudate pueri a 6

February 18th, 2010 2 comments

Click Here to Listen and Download Cozzolani’s Laudate pueri à 6

First Page of Laudate pueri à 6 in the Tenor Primo part book

Magnificat and Musica Omnia are pleased to announce the release of Cozzolani’s second setting of the psalm Laudate pueri (à 6), one of only two of her works that call for obbligato instruments in addition to voices and basso continuo. Like her setting of Laudate Dominum for solo soprano, the Laudate pueri à 6 includes parts for two violins.

Despite various Episcopal efforts to ban non-keyboard instruments from convents in 17th-Century Milan, there is considerable evidence for nuns’ ability to play obbligato instrumental parts that occasionally appear in publications of convent music. While there are no records of non-keyboard instrumentalists at Cozzolani’s convent, S. Radegonda, in the 1660s there are accounts of “cantatrice, e sonatrici” (i.e. singers and instrumentalists) at the convent and two or three violinists were associated with each of the convent’s choirs in the 1670s.

The violins offer Cozzolani another element in the psalm’s expansive compositional architecture. Without an opening sinfonia, the psalm establishes a two-period refrain in the opening verse that returns in alternation with an instrumental sinfonia between the verses. Robert Kendrick has noted that in its insistent return to the G final for each verse and the use of similar melodic figuration gives this setting the sound of a strophic variation.

Laudate Pueri à 6 was published for two sopranos, two tenors, and two violins, Magnificat has recorded the work with four sopranos – Catherine Webster, Ruth Escher, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, and Andrea Fullington. The sopranos are joined by Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem, violin, John Dornenburg violone, David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ.

Monteverdi’s Successful Audition

February 18th, 2010 No comments

The sheer variety and magnificence of Monteverdi’s 1610 collection is breathtaking, and in 1613, music from the Vespers may have served as part of Monteverdi’s successful audition for the position of maestro di capella at the ducal church of St. Mark’s in Venice, the most important church job in all of northern Italy. In this 1610 print, which also includes a conservative, even archaic, six-voice polyphonic mass, Monteverdi gathered the most diverse examples of modern musical style imaginable for his Vespers. Introducing the Vesper service is the solo plainchant versicle (Deus in adiutorium) followed by its massive, fanfare-like response with the full choir supported by a large instrumental ensemble of strings and brass. This response was reconstituted out of the fanfare introduction to Monteverdi’s own first opera of 1607, Orfeo. Following the opening of the service, virtuoso solo and few-voiced motets sit side-by-side with the psalms featuring falsibordoni (unmeasured chordal recitation of the Gregorian psalm chant), complicated imitative counterpoint, highly ornamented virtuoso duets for soloists, ground basses, dance-like triple meters, double-choir antiphony, and instrumental ritornellos. The hymn following the psalms and motets mixes conservative double-choir polyphony with instrumental ritornellos and soloistic renditions of the hymn tune in triple meter. The closing Magnificat is a showcase of virtuoso vocal and instrumental writing.

“The Divine Arc Angelo”: Arcangelo Corelli – February 17, 1653

February 17th, 2010 No comments
Arcangelo Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli

Few musicians of the seventeenth century enjoyed the exalted status bestowed on Arcangelo Corelli (February 17, 1653- January 19, 1713). He was called the ‘new Orpheus of Our Times’ and the ‘divine Arc Angelo’, a clever pun on his Christian name and the Italian word for a bow (arco). The Englishman musician and writer Roger North described Corelli’s music as ‘transcendant’, ‘immortal’ and ‘the bread of life’ to musicians. Renowned as a virtuoso performer, an influential composer, and sought-after teacher, Corelli commanded respect and praise throughout Europe at the turn of the 18th century.

The fifth child born to a prosperous family of landowners in Fusignano; Corelli’s first musical study was probably with the local clergy, then in nearby Lugo and Faenza, and finally in Bologna, where he went in 1666. In Bologna he studied with Giovanni Benvenuti and Leonardo Brugnoli, the former representing the disciplined style of the Accademia filarmonica (to which Corelli was admitted in 1670), the latter a virtuoso violinist.

By 1675 Corelli was in Rome where he may have studied composition under Matteo Simonelli, from whom he would have absorbed the styles of Roman polyphony inherited from Palestrina. He may have traveled to France and Spain, though neither journey has been securely documented. In 1675 he is listed as a violinists in Roman payment documents and by the end of the decade he was active as a performer and leader of small and large instrumental ensembles in Roman homes and churches and at public celebrations. Read more…

Monteverdi’s Work Sample

February 16th, 2010 No comments

Monteverdi’s Mass and Vespers of the Blessed Virgin of 1610, his first major publication of sacred music, is dedicated both to the Virgin, whom his patrons, the Gonzaga dukes of Mantua, claimed as the special protectress of their city, and to Pope Paul V, whose envoy had proclaimed a plenary indulgence in Mantua’s principal church of Sant-Andrea in 1607.  It seems apparent that with this publication Monteverdi was seeking to establish himself as a suitable candidate for a position of maestro di capella in a major Italian church—his ticket out of the debilitating pressures and penury of his employment at the Gonzaga court which had even caused him unsuccessfully to seek dismissal from court service in 1608.

Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (1610)

February 15th, 2010 No comments

Title page of Monteverdi's 1610 publication

Claudio Monteverdi’s very earliest, youthful publications were sacred, devotional music: a set of Sacrae Cantiunculae published in 1582 when he was only fifteen, and a collection of Madrigali spirituali, issued in 1583. But once he became employed at the ducal court of Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua, probably in late 1590 or early 1591, his published works until 1610 consisted entirely of secular music: madrigals, scherzi musicali, and the opera Orfeo.  On September 1, 1610, however, he published a very large and elaborate collection of sacred music comprising a six-voice Missa in illo tempore in a conservative contrapuntal style and the brilliant and variegated Vespro della Beata Vergine employing every modern compositional technique imaginable in the early 17th century.

The Mantuan secular works, including the unpublished but famous opera Arianna, were all connected to particular events and entertainments at court. However, we know from letters and other documents that the Missa in illo tempore was not composed for any specific occasion in Mantua, nor do we have any evidence that the Vespro della Beata Vergine was either. We do know that at least from 1603, Monteverdi was responsible for a great deal of sacred music associated with the court, but until 1610 none of it was published nor does any survive in manuscript. Why would he publish such a large sacred collection in 1610? Read more…

Brian Howard (1944-2010)

February 15th, 2010 No comments

Brian Howard

It was with tremendous sadness that we learned that Brian Howard passed away earlier this month. Brian was a founding member of The Whole Noyse and appeared in Magnificat’s first season in performances of Schütz’ Weihnachtshistorie. A dear friend and musical colleague, Brian touched the lives of many in the early music community in the Bay Area. Magnificat extends our deepest sympathy to Brian’s wife Lynn. The following obituary gives some sense of Brian’s remarkable and diverse life. We will miss his gentle warm spirit.

Brian Howard, Computer designer and musician, died of cancer on February 1st at his home in Portola Valley, CA; he was 65 years old. Born on March 23, 1944, in Cambridge, MA, he grew up in Norman, OK. His father was a physics professor at the University of Oklahoma, and his mother was a classical pianist. He attended Stanford University on a National Merit scholarship, graduating in 1967 with a B.S. degree in electrical engineering.

In 1978, he became the 32nd employee of Apple Computers. As editor of the famous computer manuals, he combined meticulous language skills with exhaustive computer knowledge to create user-friendly instruction books that helped to popularize the nascent company”s products. One of the original four members of the Macintosh Project team, Brian Howard helped to revolutionize the personal computer; his signature was molded into the case of the original Macs. He eventually moved from computer documentation to architectural hardware design, which was more commensurate with his engineering background. At Apple, where he was the longest continuous employee, he was promoted to the level of DEST (Distinguished Engineer, Scientist or Technologist), in recognition of his exemplary work. He was celebrated among his colleagues for his fertile imagination and communication skills.

An accomplished and dedicated musician, Brian played cornetto, flute, and recorder with the Stanford Renaissance Wind Band and sang with the St. Ann Choir, California Bach Society, Stanford Early Music Singers, and Albany Consort. He also performed music at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County and, in 1986, became a founding member of the early brass and winds ensemble, The Whole Noyse.

Predeceased by his mother Jane, stepmother Phyllis, father Robert, and brother Donald, Brian is survived by his beloved wife Lynne Toribara, stepdaughter Mariko Toribara, sisters Kathleen Howard (of Fostoria, OH) and Eileen Howard (of Belchertown, MA), nieces Keira Manes (of Greenfield, MA) and Terri Torres (of Fircrest, WA), and nephew Devin Manes (of Frederickton, NB, Canada), as well as a multitude of friends who cherished his gentle humility, boundless curiosity, creativity, generous spirit, and funny bone. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Doctors Without Borders or join Terra Pass.

A memorial concert will be given at Stanford University”s Memorial Church on Saturday, February 20 at 11 am.

The Instrumental Music on Magnificat’s Grandi Program

February 12th, 2010 No comments

The primary focus of our concerts this weekend is the music of Alessandro Grandi, including the modern premieres of the first cantatas from his 1620 collection Cantade et Arie a voce sola. We will also be playing instrumental music by several composers associated with Venice during Grandi’s tenure at St. Mark’s. It turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to re-visit some old “friends” like Cavalli’s extraordinary Canzon a 3 from Musiche sacrae, and some music that’s “new” to Magnificat.

Though musicologists have speculated that Dario Castello probably worked at St. Mark’s and probably played violin and/or cornetto, in fact nothing is known about him beyond his music, which was all published in Venice. The numerous reprints of his sonatas and canzoni as late as 1650 attest to his popularity and influence. We will perform the first of his two part sonatas “in stil moderno” published in 1629.

More is known about Biagio Marini, a virtuoso violinist who composed both vocal and instrumental music. Marini traveled extensively and he held positions in Brussels, Neuburg an der Donau, Düsseldorf, Padua, Parma, Ferrara, Milan, Bergamo, and Brescia in addition to his work in Venice. We will perform two works by Marini: his Capriccio, subtitled “in which two violins play four parts” (a reference to the extensive double-stopping in the fiddle parts), and the sonata La Orlandina from Affetti musicali, published in 1617.

Two of the composers represented served in leadership roles in the St. Mark’s musical establishment. Giovanni Rovetta succeeded Grandi as vice maestro at St. Mark’s and assumed the post of maestro di cappella after Monteverdi’s death in 1641. Rovetta’s only published purely instrumental works are four canzonas included in a motet collection from 1626 and we will be performing the second of these canzani.

Francesco Cavalli was engaged as an organist at St. Mark’s while Grandi was in Venice. He went on to become maestro di cappella after Rovetta’s death. Best known for his many operas, Cavalli was also a prolific and respected composer
of sacred and instrumental music. In 1656, Cavalli published his magesterial collection of Vespers music Musiche Sacrae, which served as the basis for Magnificat’s Christmas concert on the San Francisco Early Music Sopciety series in 1996. The collection includes several instrumental canzon for 3 to 12 parts. We will be performing the first of these canzoni.

Hanneke van Proosdij will play a harpsichord Intavolature by Giovanni Picchi, who was hired as organist at the Venetian church of the Frari in 1607 and from 1623 to his death he was also organist at the confraternity Scuola di San Rocco.

Though he spent time in Venice, Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger is most closely associated with Rome. A prolific and highly original composer, Kapsberger is chiefly remembered today for his music for lute, theorbo and chitarrone, which was seminal in the development of these as solo instruments. David Tayler will perform Kapsberger’s Toccata Arpeggiata, a representative of a genre of lute music published during the first decade of the 17th century that exploits the instrument’s facility for appegiation in a way that reminds me of stile briseè of Gaulthier and Chambonieres.

Grandi’s Cantatas – A Link with Improvisational Practice?

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Opening bars of "Amor, giustitia Amor" from Cantade et Arie…1626

The three works in Grandi’s Cantade et Arie a voce sola of 1620 that bear the designation of “cantata” are all constructed using the technique that musicologists now categorize as “strophic bass” cantatas.  In its classic form as represented in these pieces, the same bass line is used for each stanza of a strophic poem with varying melodies in the vocal part.

Ostinato bass lines were already common at the beginning of the century, but these new cantatas were distinguished by the greater length of their recurring bass line and their more definite structure. The strophic bass cantata is anticipated in, for example Monteverdi’s Orfeo in variations of the vocal line above a slightly modified bass line within a ritornello structure are found.

Grandi’s innovation can be seen as a logical extension of an improvised practice. It is likely that performers, in interpreting a strophic song would vary the melodic line for each stanza to emphasize certain words or communicate different sentiments. “Arias” setting strophic poetry are found in innumerable collections from the early years of the 17th Century, and in fact the bulk of Grandi’s 1620 collection is devoted to such strophic songs. One has to think only of Monteverdi’s Si dolce e’l tormento – a remarkably simple looking work on the page – and how it can be varied to exceptional effect in performance.

The cantatas in the 1620 collection formalize this practice, though they certainly do not preclude further embellishment and variation by the singer. There are numerous accounts of virtuosi, like Francesca Caccini, who could improvise a musical setting of poem and one can imagine that a strophic bass technique would lend itself to such extemporizing.

Grandi’s cantatas were immensely popular. The newly identified print from 1620, from which the cantatas on Magnificat’s program are drawn was in fact a reprint of an earlier publication and he went on to publish three more collections over the next decade, only one of which survives. Numerous composers imitated the cantatas, including Monteverdi himself.

Even in the 1620s we can observe the characteristic of the later Baroque cantata emerging, as composers begin to modify the bass line and alternating recitative and arioso styles in the vocal lines. Amor, giustitia amor, the one work designated “cantata” in Grandi’s third book of Cantade et Arie, published in 1626, which Magnificat will also be performing, already shows considerable variation in the bass line from stanza to stanza and clearly anticipates the more variegated form of the later cantata. The expansion of the stanzas into distinct sections is paralleled in the development of the trio sonata from a free flowing sectional form to a set of individual movements over the course of the 17th Century.

SFCV Preview: Madrigals, Motets (& Cantatas!) by Alessandro Grandi

January 27th, 2010 No comments

San Francisco Classical Voice posted the following excellent preview by Steven Winn of Magnificat’s upcoming concerts featuring the music of Alessandro Grandi. The original post is here.

For anyone who cares about 17th-century music, 2010 is without question a Claudio Monteverdi year. The 400th anniversary of the composer’s ground-breaking and magisterial Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin) of 1610 is a ripe occasion to program the sacred masterpiece of an artist deemed “the creator of modern music” by scholar Leo Schrade.

It’s an opportunity that Magnificat Baroque wasn’t about to miss. The Bay Area ensemble concludes its 18th season with an April 23-25 slate of Vespers concerts.

But before they get there, the troupe is embarked on an unusual and revealing side-trip through Monteverdi territory, with the composer’s lesser-known Venetian contemporary Alessandro Grandi as the destination. To make this journey even more enticing, Magnificat is offering a striking historical contrast to the well-known Vespers: The Feb. 12-14 Grandi programs feature what may well be modern premieres of some of the first self-identified cantatas ever written. The feat has generated considerable interest around the early-music world.

More important, these concerts figure to be an alluring discovery for audiences. In addition to the short solo cantatas on the program, performed by soprano Laura Heimes, Magnificat’s trio of Celeste fiori concerts will include assorted Grandi madrigals and motets, as well as instrumental music published at the time the composer lived in Venice. Read more…

Magnificat Featured on PRX Women’s History Month Program

January 25th, 2010 No comments

To mark Women’s History Month, Public Radio Exchange (PRX) has posted an hourlong program celebrating some of the remarkable women in music from the Baroque. Hosted by Angela Mariani, the program includes works by Barbara Strozzi, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Isabella Leonarda and, of course, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.

We are pleased that they included Magnificat’s recording of Cozzolani’s setting of the psalm Dixit Dominus on the program.

Have a listen!

Alessandro Grandi’s Cantade et Arie a voce sola of 1620

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

Dinko Fabris, an Italian scholar and lutenist of the Conservatorio Nicolò Piccini in Bari, Italy, has provided some information about Alessandro Grandi’s 1620 collection Cantade et Arie a voce sola, from which five of the works on Magnificat’s upcoming program are drawn.

In 1620 Alessandro Grandi, published a second edition of his ground-breaking Cantade et Arie a voce sola.  The first edition has long been lost. The importance of this collection of secular pieces lies in the very first use of the word “cantata” in a music publication.  The multi-sectional structure of these solo pieces lays the groundwork for the sectional organization of the later solo cantata.

The only known copy of the 1620 publication resided in the music division of the University Library in Breslau, Germany until the final months of World War II. As the Russians laid siege to Breslau, a bombardment that lasted three months in early 1945, the building housing the music division was hit and caught on fire.  Library personnel saved much of the music collection by throwing it into the surrounding river (the building with the music division lies on an island), but some very important items, including the Grandi Cantade et Arie of 1620 were lost. The only record of the music then lay in an old, difficult-to-read manuscript transcription by the musicologist Alfred Einstein, which is housed in the Music Library at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

What was unknown to musicologists with the exception of Agostino Ziino, and later, Dinko Fabris, was that another copy survived in the private collection of Rodrigo de Zayas in Seville. However, de Zayas has recently provided copies of his print to the Royaumont Foundation in France with permission to Aurelio Bianco of the Université de Tours in France to make an edition, and to Giulia Giovani, a student working on her Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Rome under Professor Ziino.

Magnificat is grateful to the cooperation of all these musicologists in making our performances of this music possible. We will be performing from transciptions provided by Bianco and Giovani of the cantatas  Amor altri si duol, Vanne vattene Amor and Udito han pur i Dei as well as two madrigals O Bella Catatrice and Un Cerchietto d’oro. We will also perform one cantata in Grandi third book of Arie et Cantade from 1626, Amor, giustitia Amor. With the exception of the cantata Amor, altri si duol, these works will in all probability be receiving their first performances since the 17th century, and certainly their first North American performances, in Magnificat’s concerts.

Anno del Ghiaccio – Venice in Winter

January 23rd, 2010 No comments

Chilly Gondolas

Like most I suspect, when I think of Venice I imagine a sun-baked Piazza of San Marco, but of course winter visits Venice each year and it seems that before the advent of modern heating, the experience was particularly brutal. In his engaging journals recounting his three years in Venice during the 1860s, W.D. Powell describes the attitude of the locals to winter:

“The Venetians pretend that many of the late winters have been much severer than those of former years, but I think this pretense has less support in fact than in the custom of mankind everywhere to claim that such weather as the present, whatever it happens to be, was never seen before.”

In common with other places (like California) where the weather is generally agreeable, houses are built with a view to coolness in summer and one can only imagine that the experience of a Christmas or Epiphany feast in the spacious interior of San Marco was often a chilly one. In fact in Howell’s judgment it is those who must spend their time indoors that suffer the most.

“When one goes out into the sun, one often finds an overcoat too heavy, but it never gives warmth enough in the house, where the Venetian sometimes wears it. Ineed the sun is recognized by Venetians as the only legitimate source of heat, and they sell his favor at fabulous prices to such foreigners as take the lodgings into which he shines.”

Read more…

The Timelessness of Beauty

January 19th, 2010 No comments
Van Eyck Annunciation


Last Sunday, I attended Artek’s performance of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine at the National Gallery in Washington DC. It was lovely to hear a fine performance of this masterpiece (a piece I’m thinking about alot these days) in one of my favorite buildings in the world. We arrived through the East entrance and were directed by the guards up to the second floor, which meant that we got to have a glimpse of a Cranach alterpiece, Gentileschi’s lute player (which is not a portrait of Francesca Caccini by the way), and several Vermeers and Rembrandts before hearing Monteverdi’s magnificent music.

Almost as if it had been planned I turned one corner and there was the magnificent Annunciation by Van Eyck. I first saw this extraordinary painting shortly after it was restored. A whole room had been dedicated to its display. Now it occupies a more modest space but it is just as stunning.

Magnificat’s will perform the Vespers within the context of Second Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation and there was something very satisfying about having Van Eyck’s colors in my head as I heard the fanfare of the opening response of Monteverdi’s 1610 collection. The dislocation of the 15th century painting, the 17th century music and the 21st century setting emphasized the unspeakable timelessness of beauty.