Puppets, Nuns, Melodies, and Masterpieces: Magnificat’s 18th Season Takes a Tour of Italy

May 22nd, 2009 No comments

For our 18th Season, Magnificat’s will take our audience on a grand tour through four Italian cities: Florence, Milan, Venice, and Mantua. Along the way, we will hear a delightful puppet opera, a glorious mass for Christmas, a program of madrigals and motets, and perhaps the greatest masterpiece of the early Baroque. The season feature music by two remarkable women and two pioneers of the new music of the seventeenth century.

The notion of constructing a season as a tour of Italy began in a trip I took in the summer of 2008. While in Milan I made a pilgrimage to Cozzolani’s convent, Santa Radegonda, now a multiplex cinema (“Sex in the City” was premiering that day) and wandered around the marvelous Duomo. I also visited Florence, where so many of the radical ideas that shaped the music of the seventeenth century were first articulated. Throughout the journey, I was struck by how strongly the aesthetic of the seicento survives in spite of the noise of the intervening centuries.

So much of what we consider to be “modern” has its roots in the new ideas of the seventeenth century. The Earth went from being the center of the universe to a speck in the midst of an infinite eternity. Artists and poets sought to depict the subtleties of human emotion through jarring contrast and exaggeration. Composers gave us opera, the virtuoso, and art music for the masses. And almost every bold new idea began in the collection of duchies, independent cities, republics, and colonies that we now know collectively as Italy.

Given the 400th anniversary of the great and complex masterpiece of the seicento, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, it seemed like an excellent idea to explore the various strands of the new music of the seventeenth century in the context of four cities: Florence, Milan, Venice, and Mantua. While certainly not a comprehensive list, these cities offer a broad perspective on the many artistic trends that so powerfully shaped the music of the entire continent. Read more…

San Francisco Chronicle Review: ‘Venere, Amore, e Ragione’

April 7th, 2009 No comments

This review by Joshua Kosman was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 7, 2009.

The thing about love, as most people learn sooner or later, is that it stubbornly refuses to be guided by the precepts of logic and rationality. A pretty smile, an enticing gaze, some shapely body part or other, and boom – there goes common sense.

Not so in “Venere, Amore e Ragione” (“Venus, Cupid and Reason”), the comely little musical entertainment presented over the weekend by the early-music ensemble Magnificat. In Alessandro Scarlatti’s serenata, probably first performed in Rome in 1706, Cupid throws off his blindfold, and amid great rejoicing by the pastoral crowds, embraces Reason as his mentor.

Uh-huh. And you thought 19th century operas were unrealistic. Read more…

SFCV Review of Scarlatti Concert: In Light of Reason

April 7th, 2009 No comments

This review by Joseph Sargent was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice on April 6, 2009.

An unmistakable allure surrounds concerts that bring long-neglected music into the new light of day. Aside from the sheer novelty of presenting repertory otherwise seldom available in concert or on recordings, these efforts can prove highly memorable for the listener, who comes away with a distinct feeling of having experienced something special. Such encounters happen frequently with Warren Stewart’s Baroque ensemble Magnificat, whose penchant for seeking out hidden treasures often yields delightful performances of music by underappreciated composers.

For Magnificat’s latest concert set, the presumptive diamond in the rough was a genre rather than a composer. Alessandro Scarlatti’s Venere, Amore, e Ragione (Venus, Cupid, and Reason) is a “serenata” — a term with slippery historical connotations but that in Scarlatti’s day denoted a festive, cantatalike work associated with important occasions, from grand state affairs to more intimate celebrations. Its text, by the Roman poet Silvio Stampiglia, details a dispute between Venus and Reason involving the latter’s newfound influence over Cupid, with Venus conceding in the end that love guided by reason yields better lovers.
Read more…

Alessandro Scarlatti’s Serenata Venere, Amore e Ragione

March 23rd, 2009 No comments

By the 17th century the term serenata had lost its original association with the custom of offering a musical tribute to a beloved woman. Already in the 16th century, compositions entitled serenata were composed to amuse a sophisticated, aristocratic audience to satirize the custom, especially as practiced by the lower classes. In mid 17th century Rome, the serenade became associated with magnificent events produced for civic or diplomatic occasions. At the same time, serenades were also written for more intimate environments.

Manuscript scores and libretti survive for 22 cantatas for two or more voices by Scarlatti bear the term serenata. Like most of Scarlatti’s vocal chamber works, these serenatas were heard in highly exclusive, aristocratic circles. The precise circumstances of the first performance of Venere, Amore, e Ragione are unknown. Musicologist Thomas E. Griffin has suggested that the serenata is associated with Scarlatti’s induction in the Accademia dell’Arcadia in 1706.

The libretto for Venere, Amore, e Ragione is attributed to the Roman poet Silvio Stampiglia, a fellow member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia who collaborated with Scarlatti on many occasions. The libretto recounts a dispute between Venus and Reason over the conduct of Venus’ son Cupid. Distressed at finding her son among the nymphs and shepherds of Rome and a changed under the influence of Reason, Venus fears that he will lose his power. After much discussion Cupid, with the support of Reason, persuades his mother that the quality and quantity of his followers has only improved since he adopted Reason as his guide.

The elegant and highly mannered style, both Scarlatti’s music and Stampiglia’s language are well suited to the aesthetic espoused by the Arcadians, who explicitly rejected what they perceived as the artificiality of the seventeenth century literary style associated with the poet Giambattista Marini. The “Marinists” sought novel and striking contrasts and the poetic inventiveness that created bold and unexpected conceits. The Arcadians sought simplicity and “naturalness” and Scarlatti’s music expresses this sensibility in its sparing use of coloratura and preference for lyrical melodies in conjunct motion. Read more…

"The Three Jennifers" – Magnificat Performs Scarlatti’s Venere, Amore e Ragione

March 23rd, 2009 No comments

On the weekend of April 3-5, Magnificat will concludes our 2009-2010 season with performances of Venere, Amore e Ragione, a delightful serenade by Alessandro Scarlatti that will feature three Jennifers: Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Jennifer Paulino and Jennifer Lane. Together with instrumentalists Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, Vicki Gunn Pich, David Tayler, and Hanneke van Proosdij, they will perform a work that Scarlatti wrote during the years he spent in Rome at the turn of the 18th century.

All three Jennifers are well known to Bay Area audiences. Jennifer Ellis Kampani, who with sing the role of Amore, first appeared with Magnificat in the role of “Jealousy” in our production of Il Capriccio in 1997. She enjoys an international career that has included appearances with the period instrument groups American Bach Soloists, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Opera Lafayette, Apollo’s Fire, Musica Angelica, Magnificat, Washington Catherdral Choral Society, Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, Ensemble Solamente (Budapest, Hungary), Ensemble Tourbillon (Prague, Czech Republic), and Musica Aeterna (Bratislava, Slovakia). In addition, Ms. Kampani has sung with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Charlotte Symphony. Opera highlights include leading roles in Handel’s Acis and Galata, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Duron’s zarzuela “Salir el Amor del Mundo”, Handel’s “Semele”, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Read more…

Performing Sacred Music in Liturgical Context

March 2nd, 2009 No comments
Musicians at San Marco in Venice

Musicians at San Marco in Venice

As Magnificat turns our attention to December’s performances of the mass setting by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, I decided it would be a good time to repost and expand this article that I wrote two years ago after our performance of a reconstruction of the mass celebrating the 1607 re-dedication of St. Gertrude’s Church in Hamburg. The performance of sacred works within a re-construction of a contemporaneous liturgical context has been of feature of Magnificat’s concert series since our first season in 1992 with our performances of Schütz’s Weinachtshistorie (Christmas Story) in collaboration with the San Francisco Early Music Society. Since then, Magnificat has performed over two dozen programs based on reconstructions of historical liturgies.

It has almost become an “article of faith”, reinforced by comments from members of our audience and the musicians who have contributed their talents to these performances, that the experience of the work, whether a setting of the mass by Gabrieli or vespers music of Cozzolani, is enhanced by the accompanying liturgical texts and additional music that the composer took for granted when conceiving the work.

As I have researched and constructed these programs over the years, the polyglot stylistic brew that inevitably results from a liturgical reconstruction has sometimes felt like cheating. After all, the Roman liturgies had a millennium of gestation before the composers of 17th century applied their talents to its elaboration. The architecture provided by the liturgy almost guaranteed a balanced and coherent concert program. Additionally, the 16th and 17th centuries saw a remarkable revitalization of the ancient structures as a result of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the integration of new musical styles. The genius and inspiration of many of the finest musicians of the period were devoted to the elaboration of liturgy – and not just the mass ordinary or the festal psalms and Magnificat of Vespers.

Important scholarship by Jerome Roche, Robert Kendrick, Jeffrey Kurtzman and many others have demonstrated that sacred music in the 17th Century was not merely reactive – incorporating stylistic developments from the world of sacred music – but was an equally innovative and vibrant sphere of musical composition in it’s own right. The exquisite motets of Monteverdi or Cozzolani the many cycles of instrumental sonatas and organ versets, intended as substituitons for vespers antiphons or mass propers as well as private devotional situations, demonstrate the same vibrance and experimentation that makes the secular music of the 17th Century so compelling.

A liturgical reconstruction does alter the traditional, largely 19th Century, norms of concert protocol – and this is no doubt what new audiences notice first. Most obviously – no intermission and no applause until the end. This is rough on performers, as it eliminates the most obvious interaction between them and the audience. On the other hand, the intensity that results from the unbroken attention and the inexorable flow of the liturgy creates a atmosphere that is in some more intense than formalized clapping and bowing. (For me, the sound of hundred of pages turning in unison – an indication that many in the audience are intently following the translations is more than adequate compensation for the absent applause!)

Magnificat will present two programs this season constructed around liturgies: the Christmas Mass program featuring music by Cozzolani December 4-6 and our performances of Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610 on the weekend of April 23-25. Every performance is a journey of discovery, so I will probably update this post again later this season to reflect those experiences. Read more…

SFCV Review: When the Audience is the Congregation

February 13th, 2009 No comments

This review by Anna Carol Dudley appeared in the February 10, 2009 edition of San Francisco Classical Voice.

Heinrich Schütz suggested that his Musikalische Exequien could be a substitute for a German mass. Warren Stewart has taken him at his word, incorporating the work into a full-length church service. Stewart’s Magnificat, complete with two organs, a continuo group, and eight singers (including a preacher and a deacon), performed the mass Saturday night at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. The so-called audience served as congregation, joining in on some verses of the chorales.

Nowadays, chorales are called hymns, and in American churches are usually sung in English. The congregation was invited to applaud at the end, but that increasingly happens routinely in American church services. And lo, nobody was turned away for not singing or not knowing German or not caring much for sermons. In fact, the congregation seemed to enjoy singing chorale verses and listening to the more elaborate verse settings. Preacher Hummel chanted the Epistle and spoke the sermon in German, risking encouragement of the traditional practice of sleeping through the sermon.

Schütz, born a hundred years before J.S. Bach, was a prolific composer. Greatly esteemed in his own time, he retained a sort of connoisseurs’ fame long after musical tastes had changed, and now his music — all available in good modern editions — is as highly regarded as it ever has been. Read more…

Davitt Moroney to Perform with Magnificat

February 2nd, 2009 No comments

For our performances in February, Magnificat will be joined by organist Davitt Moroney who will perform works by Froberger, Scheidt, and others. Magnificat worked with Davitt last summer in two memorable performances at the Berkeley Early Music Festival.

Davitt was born in England in 1950. He studied organ, clavichord, and harpsichord with Susi Jeans, Kenneth Gilbert and Gustav Leonhardt. For over twenty years he was based in Paris, working primarily as a freelance recitalist in many countries. In 2001 he moved to California as a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is Professor of Music, University Organist, and Director of the University Baroque Ensemble.
Read more…

Martin Hummel Returns for Magnificat Concerts

February 1st, 2009 No comments

It is always a pleasure to welcome German baritone Martin Hummel back for another Magnificat set. I first met Martin in 1980, when he was still a teenager. I had met his brother Cornelius (a very fine cellist) at the Aspen Music Festival, and ended up staying with his family in Würzburg over the Christmas vacation. I had gone to Germany to work with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen on a cello transcription of his work In Freundschaft (this was before my conversion to baroque cello!) I remember being charmed by Martin’s voice as he sang christmas carols and folk song, accompanying himself on guitar.  Read more…

Heinrich Schütz’s “Slight Work”

February 1st, 2009 2 comments

“This slight work consists of only three pieces… anyone liking this work of mine may find that it can be used to good effect as a substitute for a German Missa, and possibly for the Feast of the Purification…”

Thus did Heinrich Schütz hope to give the three pieces he composed for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Reuss Posthumus a life beyond their specific commission. Magnificat’s intention in our program is to realize Schütz’s suggestion, and incorporate the three pieces known collectively as the Musikalische Exequien, along with music by Schütz’s musical colleagues, into a Lutheran Mass for the Feast of the Purification, following the liturgical practice of the Dresden Court Chapel of the mid-1630s.

Shortly after the death of the prince in December 1635, Schütz received a commission from the widow to set the nearly two dozen scriptural verses and chorale strophes that the prince had ordered engraved on the copper coffin in which he was interred. Not only the choice of texts but also their order was prescribed, presenting Schütz with the formidable task of devising a coherent musical structure from an disparate array of texts. His ingenious solution to the architectural and musical problems was to manipulate the texts into “the form of a German Burial Mass”, parsing them so as to paraphrase the Kyrie and Gloria. Thus resulted one of his finest masterpieces, the vocal concerto for six voices and continuo Nakket bin ich von Mutterleibe kommen (SWV 279). Schütz also provided two motets for the funeral service, one a setting of the verses from Psalm 73 which served as the sermon text, Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe (SWV 280), the other a setting of the Canticle of Simeon, Herr, nun leßestu deinen Deiner in Friede fahren (SWV 281), which the prince wished to have sung during the interment of his coffin. The three works were later published together in an elegant edition as the Musikalische Exequien.
Read more…

Giovanni Antonio Rigatti

November 7th, 2008 No comments

Giovanni Antonio Rigatti is a name that until recent times was virtually unknown to music history. Living in Venice in the first half of the 17th-century, he has been overshadowed by his famous contemporaries, the chapel masters and vice chapel masters of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice: Claudio Monteverdi, Alessandro Grandi, Giovanni Rovetta and Francesco Cavalli. Thanks to the research and publications of an international coterie of scholars, Jerome Roche (England), Linda Maria Koldau (Germany), Metoda Kokole (Slovenia) and Gianluca Viglizzo (Italy), both the biography and music of this fascinating composer of the mid-17th century are at long last coming to light. I am especially grateful to Gianluca Viglizzo for sharing with me his as-yet-unpublished article on Rigatti containing new biographical data. Much of the information below is derived from this article and an earlier one by the late Jerome Roche.

Baptized on October 15, 1613 in the Church of San Severo in Venice, Rigatti became a boy singer in the chapel of St. Mark’s under Monteverdi’s direction on September 25, 1621. As with many such boy choristers, his early training led to a musical career as a singer, organist and composer. It is unknown how long he remained at St. Mark’s, but he must have been composing from at least his late teenage years, for his first book of motets for 2, 3 and 4 voices and ripieno choir was published in 1634, and the dedication of his first published collection of madrigals for 2, 3 and 4 voices, issued in 1636, refers to pieces composed “in the spring of my youth.” Also in his teenage years he entered the Patriarchal Seminary in Venice, finally attaining the rank of deacon in 1637. Even before becoming a deacon, Rigatti served for eighteen months (1635-1637) as chapel master at the cathedral in Udine in the Friuli region north of Venice, being cited at his installation as “one of the best musicians of Venice,” certainly a distinction for someone barely 22 years old! Read more…

The Office of Vespers

October 16th, 2008 No comments

When St. Benedict established the first monastic order in Western Christendom in the sixth century A.D., he prescribed round-the-clock prayers for his monks consisting of eight separate services, one every three hours. These services, the primary texts of which were the Old Testament Psalms of David, comprised the Office Hours, and the most prominent became the evening Office, Vespers, from the Latin word for evening.

All of these Offices were sung throughout to music commonly known as Gregorian Chant—a large repertoire of single-line melodies that dates back to the earliest years of the Catholic Church.

At some unknown point in history it became a frequent practice to perform the Vespers service not only in monasteries and monastic churches, but also in public, so-called “secular” churches as well as in the private chapels of nobles and high clerics. Moreover, Vespers services came, in the 15th century, to be occasionally performed at least partly in polyphony rather than exclusively Gregorian Chant. The 15th century was a period of rapid expansion in the quantity of polyphony used in the central public service of the Catholic Church, the Mass, and by the end of the century, polyphony had become more prominent in Vespers services as well. Read more…

San Francisco Classical Voice: Royal Delights

October 12th, 2008 No comments

by Joseph Sargent in the October 7, 2008 issue of San Francisco Classical Voice.

For several years now, the Baroque ensemble Magnificat has made seventeenth-century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier into something of a cottage industry. A regular fixture on the ensemble’s season calendars, this composer embodies Magnificat’s stated mission of uncovering the “‘new music’ of the early Baroque” — masters of the era who have yet to receive their due. Few composers indeed may fit the description of “hidden treasure” more aptly than Charpentier, who is often upstaged in performances today by Jean-Baptiste Lully but was highly regarded in his lifetime by such giants as King Louis XIV and Molière.

With Saturday’s brief concert of two divertissements (short operatic entertainments) at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, Magnificat Music Director Warren Stewart and company took another decisive step toward reclaiming Charpentier’s reputation. Delivering a crystalline performance marked by luscious vocal purity and elegant instrumental support, Magnificat captured the vitality and freshness of these charming works, turning the evening into an impeccably refined affair.

Les Plaisirs de Versailles (The pleasures of Versailles; 1682) is house music in the literal sense, originally performed for Louis’ thrice-weekly “fêtes of the apartments” in the main rooms of the Great Apartment of Versailles. Its dramatis personae comprise various pleasures that the Sun King evidently enjoyed in these digs: music, conversation, gambling, and that perennial favorite chocolate. Striking contrasts in instrumentation and style — lyrical airs for La Musique, prattling recitative for La Conversation, solemn tones for the temptations of Comus, the god of festivities — accentuate the central debate over which of these elements best satisfies the king’s pleasures.

Both vocally and in their gestures, sopranos Laura Heimes (as Musique) and Jennifer Paulino (as Conversation) nicely captured the comedic aspects of their characters’ arguments. Finely matched tone colors, keen attention to melodic shape, and vivid stage presence accentuated the elegance of even their most stinging put-downs. Both singers deserve credit for creating vivid personifications of Musique’s campy haughtiness and Conversation’s irksome blabbering. As the purveyor of chocolates, wines, and other delectables, bass Hugh Davies added an appealingly robust and seductive quality to the mix.

Considerably less resounding was the evening’s vocal projection, the one flaw marring an otherwise finely polished gem. Many singers (Heimes and Davies excepted) had difficulty carrying over the orchestra, a crackerjack group of eight players whose superlative accompaniment should not have posed particular problems. St. Mark’s acoustic didn’t help matters, but placement of the vocalists in front of rather than behind the orchestra might have alleviated the problem.
Pastoral Pleasures

Also with a connection to royalty was the evening’s other divertissement, La Couronne des fleurs (The crown of flowers; 1685), a work likely composed for the singers of Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise and cousin to Louis. Freely adapted from the prologue of Charpentier’s comedy-ballet Le Malade imaginaire (The imaginary invalid; 1673, with text by Molière), this work emphasizes the pastoral over the allegorical. A cast of gods and shepherds celebrates the arrival of springtime with a contest to see who can extol the king’s virtues most beautifully, the winner receiving a crown of flowers.

A graceful orchestral introduction, establishing the pastoral mood, segued into the spring goddess Flora’s declamation of that season’s arrival and the rules of the contest, delightfully captured in Haimes’ pitch-perfect performance. Four characters then made their cases to win the crown, with fine contributions from sopranos Paulino and Ruth Escher and tenors Paul Elliott and Daniel Hutchings. Especially appealing were the alternating trios between women and men, the airtight ensemble singing flawless in intonation and blend. The divertissement concludes with Flora declaring all participants to be equally worthy of the crown and dividing its flowers among them, a judgment also well suited to the evening’s performances as a whole.

Du chocolat! Dieu nous en garde!

September 29th, 2008 No comments

In Charpentier’s delightful divertissement Les plaisirs de Versailles, Comus, the “God of Feasting” seeks to calm a dispute between the haughty diva Music and the loquacious Conversation by offering the delights of marzipan, fine wine, and above all, Chocolate. Music is aghast, but Conversation is quite eager to sample the delicacy.

Comus: Let your disputes not cause commotion here! Let us play. To both of you beauties I shall give chocolates.

La Musique: Chocolate! God forbid that he give any to this chatterbox. As for me, I tell you, I do not wish to taste any. She would never cease her hot-air chatter.

La Conversation: Chocolate is good, dear Comus. By your influence I long to taste a little.

La Musique: No, Comus!

La Conversation: Comus, to listen to her is to waste good time. Chocolate!

Music’s concern about the effect of chocolate on the “babbling divitnity” Conversation, is understandable to anyone who has spent Halloweeen in the company of a 5-year-old.

Columbus brought cacao to Europe when he returned in 1502, but it was not until the 1615 wedding of Louis XIII to Anne of Austria (the daughter of Phillip II of Spain) that the French court discovered the strange brew known for its revitalizing and aphrodisiacal properties and declared chocolate as the drink of the French court. In France, as elsewhere in Europe, chocolate was met with skepticism and was considered a “barbarous product and noxious drug”. As with coffee, not everyone was eager to accept the mysterious new drink.

Initially, Chocolate was seen as having largely medicinal properties. In the first official statement about chocolate is made by Bonavontura Di Aragon, brother of Cardinal Richelieu, described the use of chocolate as stimulating the healthy functioning of the spleen and other digestive functions. 1659
Louis XIV gives the chocolate monopolies of the Paris chocolate drink trade and the French Royal Court to David Chaillou, a baker who made costly biscuits and cakes with chocolate—France’s first “chocolatier.”

Charpentier's Music for the Grand Dauphin

September 7th, 2008 No comments

From late 1679 until mid-1683, Charpentier composed music for the establishment of the eldest son of Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Thérèse. Also named Louis, he was popularly known as the Grand Dauphin and referred-to at court as “Monseigneur”. Monseigneur had been given a musical establishment of his own a few months prior to his wedding (on 7 March 1680) to Maria Anna of Bavaria, and for several years he remained loyal to Charpentier and his musicians—who would provide music throughout the 1680s.

“The Dauphin’s Music” consisted of three vocalists: Magdaleine Pièche, a high soprano (haut-dessus); Marguerite Pièche, a soprano (dessus); and Antoine Frison, a bass (basse). They were accompanied by two treble instruments—usually flutes, played by Antoine and Pierre Pièche—and basso continuo. Charpentier had known the singers from his collaborations with Molière in the early 1670s, when the Pièche sisters (then ages 7 and 9) had danced in, and Monsieur Frison had sung in, Le Malade imaginaire (1673).

So taken was Monseigneur with his Music, and so eager was he to please his new bride (who had a fine voice and extensive vocal training), that he began taking singing lessons himself. The Dauphin, “in his extreme youth, where the generosity and the kindness of his heart were continually appearing, thought only of his pleasures and left the cares of the Crown to the King his father.” By contrast, the Dauphine was proving to be “a princess with a great deal of wit, but she did not permit its breadth to be seen in all sorts of situations. She kept her eyes on the King, wanting to let his wishes entirely rule hers, and to do nothing that would appear disagreeable to him.” (Sourches, I, 11)

The Dauphin’s education was all but over by the final months of 1682, and his Bavarian bride was becoming quite outspoken about her musical and theatrical tastes. Mirroring this change in focus, Madame de Guise ordered some entertainments for the coming winter season, when she would be in residence at Versailles. One of these court events was the “Fête of the Apartments”, an innovation by Louis XIV himself that began in November of that year and continued well into January. Three times a week, from 6 until 10 in the evening, a variety of entertainments were held in the principal rooms of the Great Apartment of Versailles: billiards, cards, games of chance, refreshments (including fruits, sorbets, wine and liqueurs, and hot coffee and chocolate), plus “symphonies” and “dancing”. Throughout the fête, only a few guards were present, and the King, the Queen, and all the royal family stepped down from their grandeur, to gamble with some of those present, who have never before been so honored…[The King] goes to one game or another. He allows no one to rise or stop the game when he approaches. (Mercure, Dec. 1682)

During this fête, an “opera” was performed every Saturday (Mercure, Jan. 1683). Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Couronne des Fleurs were most probably performed on these occasions. In an annotated list of the manuscripts that Charpentier bequeathed to him, the composer’s nephew Jacques Edouard claimed that Les Plaisirs de Versailles was a “piece for the King’s apartments”—for those evening entertainments in the royal palace at Versailles hosted by the King (and referred to generally as “the apartments”). Indeed, on his manuscript title page Charpetier includes the rubric: “la scène est dans les app[artements] ”.

These two works are examples of the operatic divertissement: a short entertainment that is sung throughout in the manner of an opera, but has only one act and lasts a mere half-hour. As common in the divertissements of French opera, the main characters of Les Plaisirs de Versailles are all allegorical—La Musique, La Conversation, Le Jeu, a “Choeur des Plaisirs”—and one mythological figure, Momus, the god of festivities. The singing of La Musique is interrupted by La Conversation, who cannot stop prattling. They argue at length and with increasing heat: which of them is more essential to pleasure…expecially the King’s pleasure? Fearful that they both will leave the château of Versailles in anger, the Chorus of Pleasures calls upon Comus to mediate. He offeres them chocolate, fine wine, exquisite pastries. No use. He then pleads for help from Le Jeu, who is equally unsuccessful, for La Musique and La Conversation continue their bickering. Finally, however, they are reconciled, and the Chorus of Pleasures sigh with relief: Music, Conversation, “our flutes and our voices” can continue to help distract the great King from his military pursuits.

The most striking thing about this lightweight mini-opera, besides its witty and sparkling text, is the sharpness with which Charpentier portrays each character musically. La Musique is languid, tender, sensuous. La Conversation has to admit that she is a “sociable siren”. La Conversation is a nonstop chatterbox, and something of an idiot: she cannot tell a minuet from a courante. La Musique confesses, however, that she is a “babillarde divinité”. Comus, a bass, is a gourmand of small sensibility and Falstaffian bluster. Le Jeu (perhaps played by Charpentier himself) is a wheedling card-sharp.

La Couronne de Fleurs was most probably also performed at Versailles for such an occasion. Names of singers from the musical establishment of the king’s cousin, Marie de Lorraine, Duchess of Guise, known as “Mademoiselle de Guise”—which she shared with her cousin/aunt Isabelle d’Orléans, Duchess of Alençon, known as “Madame de Guise”—appear in the margins of Charpentier’s manuscript. We will recall that Madame de Guise had arranged for musical events to coincide with her winter residence at Versailles; given the flatteries paid to the King in La Couronne des fleurs, it seems likely that Louis XIV was present for the performances.

The text is a free adaptation of the original 1673 Prologue to Molière’s final comedy-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire (1673). In fact, the unknown librettist (perhaps Charpentier himself?) retained only the skeletal outlines of the Prologue. Flora, goddess of spring, calls upon the flowers to repopulate the desolate winter fields, and summons the shepherds and shepherdesses to return. “Louis has banished from them the dire sounds that the cries of the dying and the clash of arms had once allowed to reign there.” She then calls for a contest to see who can best sing of the valiant deeds of Louis. Four brave shepherds (Amaranthe, Forestan, Hyacinte, and Mirtil) try their best, and compare Louis’s warlike prowess to that of a devastating spring torrent, to a bolt of lightning, to the great deeds of ancient Greece, and lament that future generations will scarcely believe the least of his exploits…as they will have nothing with which to compare. Pan then appears to call a halt to the contest, and Flora renders her decision: although they all lack the strength and ability to do justice in song to Louis’s immortal glory, it was enough that they attempted it. So she divides the flowers among the four contestants. In a final ensemble, they wish that just as Louis is the master of the world, may he become the master of time and live a hundred years.

Two New Magnificat Board Members

September 4th, 2008 No comments

As we enter our 17th Season, Magnificat is pleased to welcome two new Board members. Nicholas Elsishans will be taking over for John Golenski as president and Shane Gasbarra has been installed as our new treasurer. Both joined the Board of Directors of Magnificat on July 19, 2008.

Nicholas, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer at The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Executive Board member of Grace Cathedral of San Francisco . Nicholas assumes the position of President of the Board and brings to this position a long history of Board and Executive level leadership experience in major organizations throughout the Bay Area. Nicholas’ passion for the music of Magnificat stems from his own extensive training as a keyboard performer and scholar at the Juilliard School in New York and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

For the past three seasons, Shane was Director of Artistic and Music Administration for the San Francisco Opera. He held a similar position with the Houston Opera before moving to San Francisco. Shane studied Classics at Yale, where he also studied oboe and piano. He received his Ph.D. in Renaissance studies from Yale and subsequently held teaching posts there as well as at Princeton and the University of Michigan, where his academic areas included Renaissance comparative literature, intellectual history, and visual arts; poetic theory; and the classical tradition.

“We are extremely pleased to have Nicholas and Shane on board for the upcoming season,” said Magnifict Artistic Director Warren Stewart. “Each brings a blend of artistic, academic, and business perspective to Magnificat at a very exciting time in our development.”

Magnificat Announces 2008-2009 Season

September 4th, 2008 No comments

Magnificat is proud to announce our 17th Season of concerts in the Bay Area, and invites you to explore the “new music” of the Early Baroque. Continuing its tradition of innovative programs and expressive interpretations that have made Magnificat a Bay Area treasure, this season’s programs feature music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Giovanni Antonio Rigatti, Heinrich Schütz, and Alessandro Scarlatti.

The season begins on the weekend of October 3-5, 2008 with performances of two delightful divertissements by Charpentier (1643-1704) –“Les plaisirs de Versailles” and “La couronne de fleurs.” Unjustly over-shadowed by Lully during his lifetime, Charpentier is now recognized as one of the finest musicians of his time and Magnificat has become the premiere interpreter of Charpentier’s music in the Bay Area, exploring new gems from the composer’s notebooks almost every season. Both works on the program were composed for the ensemble of Mademoiselle de Guise, in whose household Charpentier lived and worked after returning from his studies in Rome with Carissimi.

“Les plaisirs de Versailles” was inspired by the soirées that Louis XIV held at Versailles in 1682 and its four scenes celebrate the pleasures of the royal residence with charm and humor. The singers, taking on the roles of “Music”, “Conversation”, “Games” and “Festivities”, contribute to the amusement of the Sun King.

The pastorale “La couronne de fleurs” is an adaptation of the original Prologue to “Le Malade imaginaire” (1673), which Charpentier arranged for the singers of Mlle de Guise in the mid-1680s. In fact, of the 19 movements only 2 are borrowed (and are extensively recomposed); the rest of the opera is entirely original (though the text is wholly by Molière). Magnificat will perform from editions prepared by Charpentier scholar and Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board member John Powell.

For tickets or more information please call 800-853-5188 or visit our website order form at www.magnificatbaroque.org

Friday, October 3, 2008 – 8:00 pm – First Lutheran Church, Palo Alto
Saturday, October 4, 2008 – 8:00 pm – St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley
Sunday, October 5 – 4:00 pm – St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco

Pre-concert Lecture 45 minutes before each performance

Magnificat Names New Managing Director

August 20th, 2008 No comments

Magnificat is pleased to announce that Dominique Pelletey has joined Magnificat’s staff as managing director. Mr. Pelletey will coordinate all administrative aspects of the organization. Mr. Pelletey was born in France, and completed his studies cum laude in Holland. On graduating from the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Mr. Pelletey embarked on a career that included international exhibitions, a nomination to the Dutch Prix de Rome and many publications. Parallel to his artistic work, he pursued work as museum curator/director. After two years as independent curator with one of Holland’s leading artist run spaces W139, he was named both executive and artistic director of the organization. Under his leadership, a structure for the organization was created, bringing it to the attention of the main federal funding arm of the government, allowing the overall budget to double.

In 1992 Mr. Pelletey co-founded and directed an arts space, protonICA Amsterdam, which specializes in producing multi-media works and collaborative projects. This unique organization achieved international acclaim within its first year of operation. Concurrently, Mr. Pelletey was a founding member and chairman of the Association of Dutch Art Centers, publishing a successful arts newspaper, HTV de Ijsberg (Apex of the Iceberg) which was distributed nationally, bringing a partnership amongst art spaces and the arts community.

Mr. Pelletey was a respected authority on the arts in Holland, his knowledge recognized with his appointment by the Queen of the Netherlands to the Raad voor de Kunst (Dutch national arts foundation), serving a three-year term as one of four national advisors on art and art policy. He also was a member of the jury for the Fonds voor de beeldende kunsten, design en architectuur (Foundation for Art, Design and Architecture), one of Holland’s major granting organizations for several years.

On relocation to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999, Mr. Pelletey became PR and Marketing Director at the San Francisco Community Music Center, where he remained until 2004. For the next two years, he worked with the Del Sol String Quartet, as Managing Director, until taking up the post of Executive Director of the San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music in mid-2005.

Berkeley Festival Triumph

June 8th, 2008 No comments

Congratulations to the Berkeley Festival and to Maestro Davitt Moroney for two magnficent performances of Alessandro Striggio’s monumental Missa sopra ‘Ecco sì beato giorno’, in cinque corri divisa, in 40 and 60 parts.

All those participating – The Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, American Bach Soloists Choir, Schola Cantorum San Francisco, The Perfect Fifth, and His Majesties Sagbutts and Cornetts and the other instrumentalists – performed beautifully, though I was, of course, most aware of Magnificat. It was an unusual experience for me to sit idly in the audience while my colleagues participated in this glorious production. But at the same time it gave me the opportunity to appreciate what a tremendous honor and privilege it is to have worked with these friends – in some cases for over a decade – and to look forward to many more concerts together.

So, to Ruth Escher, Kristen Dubenion-Smith, Christopher LeCluyse, Hugh Davies, Jennifer Paulino, Elizabeth Anker, Daniel Hutchings, and Peter Becker: Bravo Tutti!

Magnificat Ad for Berkeley Festival Program

May 27th, 2008 No comments

Here’s a peek at the “new look” for next season.