At the Crossroads Between Masque and Opera

August 18th, 2010 No comments

Magnificat’s 2010-2011 season will open with a concert production of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis on the weekend of October 8-10. Venus and Adonis is generally considered the earliest surviving ‘opera’ in the English language but as Bruce Wood notes in his excellent introduction to the Purcell Society’s recent parallel edition of the two versions of the work, Venus and Adonis is also the last English court masque: the end of a line stretching back to the origins of the masque at the court of Henry VIII.

By the time of Charles I, the masque was characterized by spectacular staging, sophisticated machines and painted scenery, the incorporation into a spoken play of a succession of musical “entries”, and the inclusion, towards the end of the entertainment, of the revels, the sequence of social rather than choreographic dances in which members of the audience joined; and the participation of royalty and nobility among the cast. As Wood notes,

“In Venus and Adonis only one of these masquing conventions – the participation of royalty – remains in force, though the Cupids’ Lesson in Act II is perhaps related to the comic aspect of the antimasque, and a vestige of the revels may be descried in the succession of dances at the end of the act. No scenes or machines are specified in any source of the work, and the only props required are the couch upon which Venus and Adonis dally in Act I and the “magazine of beauty”, Venus’s box of cosmetics, in Act II.

The interwoven poetic and musical structure of the Jacobean and Caroline masque has been replaced by the prologue and three acts typical of French operas of the 1670s and 1680s and, like them, the work is all-sung; in this latter respect it has only one antecedent among English court masques, Ben Jonson’s Lovers Made Men (1617), of which, alas, the music, by Nicholas Lanier, is lost in its entirety.

Venus and Adonis thus stands at the crossroads between masque and opera; its importance is enhanced by the fact that it served Purcell as the model for Dido and Aeneas.”

Magnificat Moves Peninsula Series to St. Patrick’s

August 16th, 2010 No comments

Magnificat will be performing all of their Peninsula concerts in the 2010-2011 season at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. One of the most attractive performance venues in the Bay Area, St. Patrick’s was the site for two of Magnificat’s concerts last season and the audience response was overwhelming.

“I first encountered St. Patrick’s when I was the session producer for a recording of John Dornenburg’s viol consort Sex Chordæ,” noted Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart. It is not only a beautiful space, but the acoustics are exceptional.”

St. Patrick’s Seminary was opened in 1898 and has undergone extensive renovation of the past decade. The main chapel, where Magnificat will perform, was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake and completed in 1915. The richly colored carpets that cover the neutral marble of the pavement in the nave and sanctuary were designed by the San Francisco artist and sculptor John MacQuarrie and the stained glass windows were designed and manufactured in Birmingham, England, by John Hardman.

“The environment makes a huge difference for the audience’s experience of a concert,” Stewart observed. “It is also an inspiration for the musicians to perform in a space that enhances the music and enriches the senses. Just being in the chapel of St. Patrick’s is a treat.”

A full history and description of the chapel can be read at the St. Patrick’s website.

Photos of Magnificat at St. Patrick’s during the 2009-2010 Season

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Anne Kingsmill Finch – ‘Versifying’ Librettist of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis

July 17th, 2010 No comments

Alas! a woman that attempts the pen,
Such an intruder on the rights of men,
Such a presumptuous Creature, is esteem’d,
The fault, can by no vertue be redeem’d.

[from The Introduction by Anne Kingsmill Finch]

For 300 years, the libretto for the earliest surviving opera in English, John Blow’s masterful setting of the classic tale of Venus and Adonis, has been assigned to the oeuvre of the remarkably prolific ‘Anonymous’. However, English Literature scholar James A. Winn has recently argued persuasively that the graceful and elegant re-casting of Ovid rife with parody, and often sarcastic, commentary on the manners of the court of Charles II, is in fact the work of Anne Kingsmill, later Finch, who was a maid in honor of the Duchess of York, Marie of Modena, at the time when Blow’s ‘entertainment for the King’ was written and performed.

Considered the finest English women poet before the 19th century, Anne (1661-1720) felt constrained to anonymity through most of her life and perhaps as a result has still failed to achieve the status her sparkling, often witty and always committed poetic voice deserves.

The daughter of Sir William Kingsmill of Sidmonton, near Southampton, and Anne Haslewood, Anne’s childhood was scarred by the loss of both her parents and frequent displacement, often the result of familial legal wrangling. Her father took care in his will to provide, not only for the material support of his daughters, but also for their education and Anne learned classics, Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, French, Italian, history, poetry and drama.

“The Kingsmills and Haslewoods were strong Anglicans and devoted supporters of the Stuart royalty. In 1682, Anne Kingsmill went to St. James Palace to become a Maid of Honour to Mary of Modena (wife of James, Duke of York, who later became King James II.) Anne Kingsmill enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of the ‘Court of Wits’, in spite of the Wits’ frequent antipathy towards women. Seeing the hostile treatment accorded to Anne Killigrew, who she may have known, Anne Kingsmill kept her own early attempts at poetry a secret. She became close to Mary of Modena, reflecting on their relationship and her time at Court years later in the memorial poem “On the Death of the Queen.” [source]

A maid of honour in such a public environment as the court would have ample reason to keep her authorship secret.  The erotic language of several passages, though mild for the period, would have been deemed inappropriate for a young lady at court and the general attitude toward the learned expression of women at the time caused Finch to wait until late in life to publicly acknowledge her authorship of her poetry. In the prose preface to a manuscript collection of her poetry apparently assembled during the 1690s, Anne commented:

‘itt is still a great satisfaction to me, that I was not so far abandond by my prudence, as out of a mistaken vanity, to lett any attempts of mine in Poetry shew themselves whilst I livd in such a publick place as the Court, where every one would have made their remarks upon a Versifying Maid of Honour; and far greater number with prejudice, if not contempt.”

Winn’s case for attributing the libretto of Venus & Adonis is based numerous and frequent verbal parallels between Venus and Adonis and later works by Finch as well as her presence in the ducal court at the time. As he explains:

“[T]he circumstances of Anne Kingsmill’s brief service at court make her a plausible candidate for the authorship of Venus and Adonis. She was in the right place at the right time, had interests in mythology, pastoral eroticism and music that could easily  find expression in the writing of a court masque, and had strong reasons to desire anonymity.”

While at Court, Anne met the Heneage Finch, a courtier, soldier, and Groom of the Bedchamber to James, Duke of York, to whom she was married in 1685. Though she was initially resistant to Heneage’s proposal, the marriage turned out a particularly happy one, and Anne made frequent reference to her conjugal bliss in her poetry, including many poems dedicated to Heneage, who encouraged and actively supported her writing.

In 1688, after the Glorious Revolution, the young couple refused to swear loyalty to the new Protestant Monarchs considering their previous oaths to James II morally binding. This led to their banishment from court and several years of harassment until they eventually settled in Eastwell, the home of the Earl of Winchilsea, who was Heneage’s nephew.

While many at the time would have felt this banishment to the countryside as unbearable exile, Anne thrived in this rural environment and a her poetry is imbued with a deep reverence for nature and a delight in the bucolic pleasures of Eastwell. Several of her poems found there way into anthologies and miscellanies, though always without attribution.

After two almost two decades at Eastwell, the Finches, risking political reprisals, returned to London where Anne became friends with Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, who both championed her work. When his nephew died without a son in 1712, Heneage became fifth Earl of Winchilsea and Anne became countess. The next year a collection of 86 of her poems was published, first anonymously, though subsequent editions bore her name. She died in 1720.

At least one more poem by Anne Finch was set to music during her lifetime. One of her lyrics, “Love, thou art best”, was published (anonymously of course) in a popular collection of songs in the 1680s and attracted the attention of Henry Purcell, who set it to music. Here’s a performance by Brandywine Baroque from their album O Sweet Delight of Love, featuring Magnificat’s own Laura Heimes together with tenor Tony Boutté.
[audio: Purcell_ Love Thou Art Best.mp3]

LOVE, thou art best of Human Joys,
Our chiefest Happiness below;
All other Pleasures are but Toys,
Musick without Thee is but Noise,
And Beauty but an empty Show.

Heav’n, who knew best what Man wou’d move,
And raise his Thoughts above the Brute;
Said, Let him Be, and let him Love;
That must alone his Soul improve,
Howe’er Philosophers dispute.


Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1621-1720)

Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea: poetry, biography and sources, by Ellen Moody

Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources

Magnificat’s 19th Season – Giving Voice to the Human Spirit

July 14th, 2010 No comments

(Click image to download MAgnificat's 2010-2011 Season Brochure)

The discoveries and revolutions of the 17th Century fundamentally challenged Europe’s perception of the universe and sparked an explosion of innovation as musicians sought new ways to give voice to the human spirit. Composers created a bold new music driven by emotion and narrative and performers reached for new techniques to communicate it.

The programs on Magnificat’s 19th season reflect the confidence and imagination of this time from four different perspectives: the introduction of opera in England, the melding of “pop” music with the refined elegance of the French court, the virtuosity of four remarkable women, and satirical reflections on the human condition told through the characters of the commedia dell’arte.

Our season begins with three performances of John Blow’s Venus & Adonis, a re-telling of the classical myth from a distinctly feminist perspective and the earliest surviving English opera. Combining elements of the English masque and the French tragedie lyrique, it was performed “for the entertainment of the King” in 1683 and later revised for a second production. For this modern premiere of the second version, produced  in collaboration with the Purcell SocietyStainer & Bell, and the National Centre for Early Music, York (UK),

The cast for this concert production will be Catherine Webster, soprano (Venus), José Lemos, countertenor (Cupid), Peter Becker, bass (Adonis), Jennifer Paulino, soprano and Paul Elliott, tenor. Magnificat will also be joined by members of the  San Francisco Girls Chorus. Performances will be Friday October 8 2010 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday October 9 2010 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday October 10 2010 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Magnificat has long championed the music of the remarkable Marc-Antoine Charpentier and this December we turn to his best-known work: the delightful Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass). Drawing on the popular melodies of French Christmas carols, or noëls, Charpentier preserves their charming simplicity in achieving a perfect synthesis of popular art and the lush elegance of the Age of Louis XIV. The program will also include one of Charpentier’s evocative settings of the Nativity narrative and other seasonal music.

Musicians for this performanc include Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Christopher LeCluyse, Daniel Hutchings, Peter Becker, Matthias Maute, Louise Carslake, Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, David Wilson, John Dornenburg, David Tayler, and Hanneke van Proosdij. Performances will be Friday December 17 2010 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday December 18 2010 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday December 19 2010 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

In February, soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani will be featured in a program of passionate arias, sublime motets and dazzling instrumental sonatas by four extraordinary women. Francesca Caccini composing for the Medici Court, Barbara Strozzi among Venetian intellectuals, Isabella Leonarda from her Novarese convent and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre for the Parisian aristocracy: each gave voice to their creative genius in the face of cultural restrictions on the artistic expression of women and produced masterworks that speak eloquently across the centuries.

In addition to Jennifer, these concerts will feature Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, David Tayler, and Hanneke van Proosdij. Performances will be Friday February 4 2011 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday February 5 2011 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday February 6 2011 4:00 pm at St. Luke’s Epsicopal Church in San Francisco.

Magnificat’s season will conclude in March with staged performances of the madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (“The Twin Peaks of Parnassus”) in which Orazio Vecchi blends pathos and buffoonery with exquisite melodies in satirizing the foibles of the human condition. Using characters and scenarios from the commedia dell’arte tradition, he tells a light-hearted tale of love and youthful rebellion in a series of amusing, and sometimes bawdy madrigals. For this staged production, Magnificat will be joined by the ‘comici’ of the Dell’Arte Company, who will bring Vecchi’s amorous and witty madrigals to life.

Singers for these concerts include soprano Laura Heimes, countertenor Roberto Balconi, tenor Paul Elliott and bass Peter Becker. Performances will be Friday March 18 2011 8:00 pm at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Saturday March 19 2011 8:00 pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley, and Sunday March 20 2011 4:00 pm at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at (800) 595-4849. You can also download this order form (PDF), and complete and mail it with payment to 1896 Pacific Avenue #102, San Francisco CA 94109.

Berkeley Festival Memories

July 13th, 2010 No comments

A month has past since the final concert of the 2010 Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, but the marvelous sounds of Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Cozzolani, Strozzi, and all the others remain fresh. The soaring melodies, bright colors and stinging dissonances in my head are accompanied by fond memories of the extraordinary atmosphere of the Festival, especially on the sunny Sunday afternoon when all the main stage ensembles joined together to celebrate the remarkable music of Seicento Venice.

The concert afforded me the unique opportunity of being both a part of the audience and a performer. In fact for most of the concert I sat in the front row and shared the experience of hearing the performances with the engaged and enthusiastic crowd. When I  returned to the stage for Monteverdi’s setting of the hymn Ave maris stella I had a different, and very valuable, perspective.

The strongest impression though was left by the exceptional sense of common purpose among the musicians on stage, whose talent, commitment and love combined to make this an event that will live on in the memories of all present.

A high point for me was the passionate performance by Jennifer Ellis Kampani and Katherine Heater of Barbara Strozzi’s exquisite motet O Maria – a preview of Magnificat’s February 2011 concerts, which will feature Jennifer in a program of music by four remarkable women composer including Strozzi.

Before the rehearsal Marion Verbruggen asked me if she could join the choir for the Vivaldi Magnificat as there was no role for a recorder. Of course I agreed and then forgot about it until I saw her among the sopranos in the Gloria – what a treat. Gwen Toth of Artek also joined the choir for the final Gloria and as I surveyed the stage during the stile antico fugal setting of sæcula sæculorum, it was hard to believe it was actually happening.

It had been a very full week for Magnificat, beginning with our CD release party at Yoshi’s for the first volume of our recordings of Cozzolani’s complete works. This was followed by three days of recording with the inimitable Peter Watchorn and Joel Gordon of Musica Omnia, during which we completed the final eight motets for volume 2, to be released later this year. On Friday we performed those eight motets (along with O caeli cives from volume 1) to a warm and appreciative Festival audience.

Magnificat is grateful to all those who helped to organize this year’s Festival, most especially Harvey Malloy of the San Francisco Early Music Society, whose efforts made the festival an unforgettable experience for audience and performers alike. I am personally grateful to the terrific musicians of Archetti, AVE, Artek, Music’s Recreation, the Marion Verbruggen Trio and ¡Sacabuche! for their hard work and good will throughout the planning and preparation of the Finale concert – molte grazie!

The Original Partbooks of Cozzolani’s Salmi a Otto voci

July 12th, 2010 4 comments

The blog has been quiet in the past month as I took some time away in Europe. While there I had one particularly meaningful experience I wanted to share.

The Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale in Bologna is like mecca for scholars of 17th century music. It houses the collection of the renowned 18th century composer, teacher and scholar Giovanni Battista Martini, known as ‘Padre Martini’. Most of his massive collection of music prints (estimated by Dr. Burney at over 17,000 volumes) was donated to the Civico Museo on his death.

Of special interest to me was of course the original partbooks of Cozzolani’s 1650 collection Salmi a Otto Voci Concertati, a complete recording of which Magnificat recently released. While I have become intimately familiar with facsimiles of these partbooks, I have never had the opportunity to actually handle them, but thanks to the kind assistance of librarian Alfredo Vitolo, I was able to do so.

I was struck anew by the small format of 17th century prints – paper was expensive! As the photo shows the stack of nine partbooks was very compact indeed. The photo of the title page of the Canto Primo partbook shows the red lettering lost in scans and microfilms.

While at the Civico Meseo I also had the opportunity to examine first prints of publications by Isabella Leonarda and Barbara Strozzi as well as Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso – all music that Magnificat will perform in the coming season.

I also viewed the sole surviving partbook from Cozzolani’s collection of solo motets Scherzi di sacra melodia (1648). Over the past decade, Magnificat has supplied basso continuo parts for five of these motets for performance.

More photos of the partbaook for both the 1648 and 1650 collection can be viewed in the photo gallery.

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Cozzolani Project Releases Psalm 110: Confitebor tibi Domine

June 3rd, 2010 No comments

Magnificat and Musica Omnia have released another track from the first volume of Cozzolani’s complete works. With the release of Confitebor tibi Domine, all of Cozzolani’s eight voice settings are now available. You can listen and download from this link.

If the first psalm, Dixit Dominus, with its unusual refrain, constantly varying textures and martial affect represents one side of Cozzolani’s 1650 collection, Confitebor tibi displays another. The concertato duet and trio writing found in the first psalm are present here as well as are the tutti declamatory, martial and antiphonal sections. Read More

Notes for the Berkeley Festival Finale Concert – June 13

June 3rd, 2010 No comments

The Berkeley Festival & Exhibition Finale will be a celebration of the extraordinary repertoire of music composed by Venetian composers for the elaboration of the office of Vespers during the century following the publication of Monteverdi’s monumental Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610. The concert will feature works by 12 composers performed by Archetti, ARTEK, AVE, Magnificat, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Re-creation, and ¡Sacabuche! Tickets are available at this link.

Though the music in Monteverdi’s 1610 collection was composed while he was in the service of the Duke of Mantua, it served to display his mastery of the sacred genres and contributed to his appointment in 1613 to the most prestigious musical position in Europe: maestro di cappella at the Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice. Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, and the illustrious series of musicians that followed him in the position of maestro, dedicated the finest fruits of their talent and skills to the ornamentation of the Vespers liturgy, the primary venue for elaborate sacred music throughout the seventeenth century. The Finale program will explore the ingenious ways that these composers integrated the evolving compositional styles of the seventeenth century in setting the ancient, unchanging texts that make up the Vespers liturgy.

Having escaped the brutal demands of his employment as a court composer at the Mantuan court and secured a position as a church musician in Venice, Monteverdi apparently saw no need to publish sacred music and it was only at the very end of his long life that he assembled the magnificent Selva Morale et Spirituale. Similar in construction to the 1610 collection, but significantly larger in scope, it includes a setting of the Mass ordinary, settings of all the psalms required for major feasts (in some cases multiple settings in different compositional styles,) a Magnificat, and several hymns, as well as a handful of motets and spiritual and moral songs for various combinations of voices and instruments. As with his 1610 collection, Monteverdi again achieved a standard of opulence achieved by few before and after. The setting of Laudate pueri on the Finale program is an example of the concertato style in which music for solo voices, ensembles and instruments (in this case two violins) are juxtaposed to provide textural variety and create a cohesive structure. Read more…

It’s Carnival Time

May 30th, 2010 No comments

Mercurius Politicus – The pelican’s beak holds more than its belly can

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Atrium Musicologicum – Palestrina’s First Book of Madrigals for Four Voices

May 29th, 2010 No comments

BibliOdyssey – The Sibylline Prophecies

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Taruskin Challenge – Musical Chaos

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Georgian London – The Cries of London: Street-Traders of the 18th Century

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Chronicon Mirabilium – Back to 1608 : of festivities and prodigies

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Early Modern Whale – Burn as many thousand years in hell, as there be spears of grass in Hyde Park, so saith Christ

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Mistris Parliament – Regulating the Press in 17th Century England

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Fragments – Good Chockolett & Good Combs

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Bernard Gordillo – Voices from the 18th Century: Charles Burney on the Making of a Castrato

May 29th, 2010 No comments

Musical Iconoclast – Mahler Plays Mahler

May 29th, 2010 No comments