Author Archive

Matteo Ricci (1552–1610)

March 17th, 2017 Comments off

Matteo Ricci

Matteo Ricci was born into a noble Italian family in Macerata, Italy. He studied law in Rome but became more interested in the new science that was sweeping Western Europe. Entering the Society of Jesus in 1571, he continued his studies in philosophy, theology, mathematics, cosmology, and astronomy. Ricci was sent on a mission to Asia and in 1580 was sent by Alessandro Valignani, superior of Jesuit missions in the East Indies, to prepare to enter China.

In the Portuguese colony of Macau Ricci mastered the Chinese language and entered China in 1583 dressed first in the clothing of a Buddhist monk and then later as a Confucian mandarin. He brought with him Western clocks, musical instruments, mathematical and astronomical instruments, and cosmological, geographical, and architectural works with maps and diagrams. These, along with Ricci’s phenomenal memory and mathematical and astronomical skills, attracted an important audience among the Chinese elite. Read more…

Sacred Music in Liturgical Context

March 4th, 2017 Comments off
Musicians at San Marco in Venice

Musicians at San Marco in Venice

In the early 80s, while studying baroque cello at the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland I had the opportunity to play Bach St. John Passion at a lovely church in the Schwarzwald. I was thrilled. There are few assignments for a baroque cellist that can compare with being in the middle of this consummate masterpiece and I set about studying the work in preparation for the project. My German was even worse then than it is now, and I struggled to to stay afloat in the rehearsals with the help of an expat colleague who sat near me in the orchestra. I eagerly looked forward to the performance but I was a bit perplexed at first by by the fact that it was scheduled for 3:00 pm on a Friday afternoon.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that, of course, Bach’s work was to be performed as part of the Good Friday liturgy. More than just the unusual timing made sense to me that afternoon. Read more…

Buxtehude in Sweden – The Düben Collection

February 14th, 2017 Comments off

Dietrich Buxtehude was born in 1637 in what is now Denmark. At the age of 20 he was appointed organist at St. Mary’s Church in Helsingør, where his father had earlier worked and in 1660, he took a position at another St. Mary’s Church, this time in Halsingborg. For the last forty years of his life he worked in Lübeck, where he was organist at yet another St. Mary’s Church and gained renown for is annual series of Abendmusiken. His fame as an organist during his lifetime was considerable and for the first two centuries after his death, knowledge of Buxtehude’s compositions was limited almost entirely the few organ works that had been preserved. His considerable body of vocal and chamber music were assumed to have been lost through fires and the vagaries of time until researchers began to catalog an extraordinary collection of manuscripts in the university library in Uppsala Sweden.

tablatureThe remarkable Düben collection, which includes a treasure trove of mostly North German 17th Century music, stems from the efforts of Swedish court organist and Kapellmeister Gustav Düben in gathering music for the royal library during the second half of the 17th Century. Born into a family of organists, Düben studied in Germany in the 1640s before returning to Stockholm to assume his duties under the Swedish king. The centerpiece of Magnificat’s program on the weekend of March 18-20, and Buxtehude’s best known work, Membra Jesu Nostri was in fact dedicated to Gustav Düben, whom the composer referring to him as a “most notable and honored friend” on the title page.
Read more…

Falconieri, Feminine Endings, and Synchronicity

January 15th, 2017 4 comments

A very 2009 moment occurred the other day when, allowing myself to be distracted from working on the score for La Liberazione di Ruggiero, I noticed a tweet from @krashangel about the fact that the ciaconna used in Rene Jacobs’ recording  and DVD of Cavalli’s La Calisto was actually not by Cavalli, but rather by Tarquinio Merula. Before I had a chance to marvel at the fact that Tarquinio Merula had actually been mentioned in Twitterspace, there was a follow up tweet observing, accurately, that “it was the custom to use ritornelli and sinfonie composed by others as a contingent ‘filler’ in Venetian operas in the 17th century”.

What made this tweeting encounter remarkable was that at that very moment (or at least before being distracted) I was in the process of doing just that: inserting incidental music into an opera score (albeit a Florentine opera) to allow for scene changes, extra long sword fights, flights of hippogryphs and the like. Synchronicity!

A 17th century lutenist, not Falconieri

A 17th century lutenist, not Falconieri

For the upcoming Francesca Caccini opera I decided to turn the necessity of incidental music into an opportunity to explore a composer that Magnificat’s audiences hadn’t had the chance to hear before. I was fortunate that I could draw almost all the music I needed from a single collection by the lutenist and composer Andrea Falconieri – obscure even by Magnificat standards, though he does pop up sometimes in programs of early Italian music. (There are no known images of Falconieri, so the painting here is not him – but it’s a terrific expression!)

A talented lutenist and composer, Falconieri (sometimes written Falconiero) was born in Naples in 1585 or 86, making him a contemporary of Francesca, who was born in 1587. He had a long career working as a singer and composer in several Italian cities including Parma, Mantua, Rome, and Florence. He employed in Modena in 1620, where he married, and then spent the next seven year traveling widely about France and Spain, apparently without his wife. Read more…

A Word About Translations

September 18th, 2016 2 comments

One of the fascinating aspects of presenting this old music for a new audience is the question of translations. Attitudes to translation change and different circumsstances require different approaches to transaltion. When we’re performing liturgical music in Latin, many traditional translations exist. I have long prefered to draw biblical translations from the Douay translation of the Vulgate, first published in 1609, one year before the King James version. More than once after concerts, members of the audience have asked why the translation of some psalm wasn’t the one they’d always known. After all the King James translation is a 17thy century transaltion. In a way though King James is a bit too good.

The King James version is a translation of the original languages, Hebrew in the case of the psalms, and is therefore a more “accurate” translation of the original. The Douay version is a translation of the Vulgate, which is itself a translation of the original, traditionally ascribed to St. Jerome in the 3rd century. My point is that the singers are singing the Vulgate, not the Hebrew, the audience are best served by a literal translation of what the singers are singing, even if it doesn’t match the “original”. Read more…

Is Every Performance "Site Specific"?

August 31st, 2016 Comments off

Chloe Veltman recently posted an interesting commentary on the notion of “site specific theatre” with reference to the recent production of Dido and Aeneas by San Francisco’s Urban Opera (“Not All Site Specific Theatre is Created Equal”). She proposed that “in order for a theatrical production to be site specific, it needs to be conceived specifically for the space in which it is produced,” and therefore “space becomes a performer, with the potential to change the entire relationship between text, visuals, sounds and the human body in fascinating ways.”

In the context of her article I personally like her narrow definition, but it got me thinking that since any work of performance art exists only in the moment of performance, each performance is in some sense a new work, created freshly in a new “site” and therefore “site specific” for that performance.

Of course what Chloe was refering to with her definition was “environmental theatre” troupes like Reial Companyia de Teatre de Catalunya or Walkabout, and indeed it’s difficult to imagine such productions mounted outside their original “sites”. However, in the case of canonical “works” like Hamlet or Dido that she mentions in her article, I question the privileging of the original performance circumstances, in spite of the fact that I spend my life mounting “historically informed” performances.

I think “around” this issue all the time, as most of the music that Magnificat performs was “site specific” when it was composed and, in fact, there was never a thought at the time that it might be performed again, much less in another site. So every concert involves a reinvention, shaped to some degree by the environment – not only the venue of course, but the specific performers, the time of day, the audience, etc. Read more…

Francesco Cavalli’s Messa Concertata

December 9th, 2014 Comments off

“Francesco Cavalli truly has no peers in Italy, in the perfection of his singing, in the worth of his organ playing, and in his exceptional musical compositions, of which those in print bear witness to his merit.”

The Venetian chronicler Ziotti’s effusive praise of Cavalli, published 1655, reflects the universal acclaim the composer enjoyed at the height of his long and robust musical career. The son of the organist and composer Giovanni Battista Caletti, Cavalli was born in the small but prosperous town of Crema near Milan but still within the borders of the Venetian Republic in 1602. At the age of 13 Francesco’s exceptional voice and prodigious musical talents drew the attention of Frederico Cavalli, the Venetian governor in Crema. Cavalli offered to take the boy to Venice where he could benefit from exposure to the rich musical life there – a proposal only reluctantly accepted by the boy’s father.

Within months of his arrival, Cavalli was engaged as a singer at the Basilica of San Marco under its newly appointed maestro Claudio Monteverdi, who was in the midst of restoring the musical institution of the Basilica to its former heights under Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. For the remaining six decades of his life, Cavalli would remain in the employ of the Basilica, where he would work with the most esteemed musicians of his age. Additionally, his status as musician in the Cappella Marciana, together with his undisputed gifts as a singer, organist and composer, insured a steady flow of outside work at the many well-endowed churches, scuole grandi and in the noble palaces of The Most Serene Republic. Read more…

Schütz’s Opus Ultimum: Der Schwanengesang

September 29th, 2014 Comments off

Acknowledged by his contemporaries as the greatest German composer of the seventeenth century, Heinrich Schütz served for over fifty years as Kapellmeister of the Court Chapel of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden. He was instrumental in introducing the modern Italian styles of composition into Germany during the first half of the century. Over the course of his life Schütz wrote in a wide variety of genres, including the first German opera, settings of the Passions and several collections of sacred chamber music for voices and instruments.

Studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice as a young man left an indelible mark on Schütz, and nowhere is his debt to the Venetian polychoral tradition more evident than in his Opus Ultimum, known as Der Schwanengesang (Swan Song.) There is a satisfying sense of completion in Schütz’s decision, for his final work, to return to the style so strongly associated with his beloved mentor. Like Bach in his Art of the Fugue, Schütz seems to have chosen an exhaustive exploration of a clearly circumscribed genre as his legacy.

Der Schwanengesang is actually a setting of three separate texts. The first eleven parts, or motets, set Psalm 119, by far the longest of the psalms, totaling 176 verses. Like several other Old Testament texts, including the Lamentations of Jeremiah, Psalm 119 is an “acrostic” poem. The entire psalm is divided into twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each, with all the verses in a stanza beginning with the same Hebrew letter. Schütz pairs the stanzas into eleven sixteen-verse motets. To these he appends a setting of Psalm 100 and the Magnificat Canticle. All the motets conclude with a doxology, making them suitable for liturgical use, although the work doesn’t seem to have been composed with any such use in mind.

There appears to be no specific occasion or commission that prompted Schütz to compose Der Schwanengesang. Rather Schütz seems to have devoted himself to a setting of Psalm 119 as part of a deep spiritual study in the last years of his life, following the example of numerous Lutheran theologians. In his Preface to the Psalter, Martin Luther himself refers to Psalm 119 as “a small Bible wherein everything is stated most beautifully and concisely, making them as it were an elegant enchiridion or handbook within the Bible as a whole.” Similarly Johannes Bugenhagen in writing about Psalm 119 asserts, “the contents of the entire Holy Writ are contained in this one psalm.” Musicologist Wolfgang Steude (whose reconstruction of the missing second soprano and tenor parts we will be performing) suggests that Schütz chose Psalm 119 for his “swan song” knowing that “in a sense it encompasses both Old and New Testaments – the whole Bible. In so doing, he created a landmark work and a personal, spiritual, religious, and artistic testament in what was avowedly to be his final opus.”

It is unlikely that the first eleven motets were ever performed before the twentieth century. At the time of its completion in the 1670s, Der Schwanengesang must have seemed very archaic indeed, completely out of step with the Neapolitan operatic style then in favor in Dresden.

Though Schütz had title pages printed, the work as a whole was never published and was assumed lost when the first complete works edition was published in the 19th century. In 1900 six of the eight manuscript partbooks were discovered in the town of Guben. The second soprano tenor partbooks, along with the continuo part, had been previously separated. The organ part was acquired from an antiquarian bookstore in Guben and was later purchased by the writer Stephan Zweig. The vocal partbooks were held in a library in Berlin and assumed lost in 1945 but were discovered in 1970 in a collection of uncatalogued manuscripts in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek in Dresden. With this discovery, together with the organ part, now housed in the British Museum, an edition was completed in time for the 400th anniversary of Schütz’s birth in 1985.

Der Schwanengesang is set for double choir with continuo, and such a performance is entirely adequate. In his dedicatory comments to the Elector of Saxony, Schütz even recommends such a performance “by eight good voices with two little organs in the two fine choir lofts that were constructed opposite each other on either side of the altar in your Highness’ Court Chapel” However, Schütz also asked his colleague at the Dresden Chapel, Constantin Christian Dedekind, to expand his work by adding instruments. It seems that Dedekind, rather than carrying out the master’s request, made his own setting of Psalm 119, which he published several years later.

For these performances, I have assumed the task of carrying out Schütz’s request. For guidance, I turned to the extensive writings of Schütz’s predecessor as Dresden Kapellmeister, Michael Praetorius and to the many polychoral compositions of Schütz himself, as well as those of his colleagues Samuel Scheidt and Johann Hermann Schein. For this project I am deeply grateful to the advice and encouragement of Jeffrey Kurtzman, Herb Myers, Wolfgang von Kessinger and Nika Korniyenko.

Cozzolani Concerti Sacri to be released in June

May 28th, 2013 Comments off

Magnificat and Musica Omnia are pleased to announce the release of Concerti Sacri, the second volume of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. The digital tracks are already available for download at and the physical CDs will be released at the Boston Early Music Festival in June. This double CD set marks the completion of Magnificat’s project to record all of Cozzolani’s works that survive complete. Volume I, Salmi a Otto Voci, was released in June 2010. The cover artwork is an oil painting on gold leaf by Magnificat creative director Nika Korniyenko.

The recording is dedicated to the memory of Judith Nelson. While Judy’s voice is not heard on these recordings, her spirit – the honesty of her artisrty and the warmth and sincerity of her musicianship  – is present throughout. It was Judy who introduced me to Donna Chiara and the performance of O quam bonus es with her in 1997 was the catalyst for all the love and energy we’ve shared with Cozzolani in the years that followed, for which we are all deeply grateful.

Sixteen of the tracks on Concerti Sacri have been available digitally for over a year, while nine tracks are available now for the first time. For those who have purchased the digital recording without the new tracks, or for those who would like to hear only the new tracks they are available independently here. As always those pre-ordering the CD will receive the digital tracks as well as the CD. Read more…

Exquisite Exchanges – Magnificat’s 2013-2014 Season

May 17th, 2013 Comments off

In two decades of exploring 17th Century music I have been continually fascinated by the way compositional techniques, modes of expression and ideas of taste and style migrated across Europe. These stylistic journeys most often began in Italy and travelling northward and refracted into spectrum of national styles of the High Baroque. Perhaps because I have spent time as a foreigner recently, encountering different traditions and cultures and learning new ways of communicating, my awareness of the role that the exchange of ideas plays in the development of art and society has been especially keen. The programs Magnificat will present in 2013-2014 all focus on the exchange of techniques and ideas, the generational transfer and elaboration of tradition and the translation of style from one culture to another.

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Few events had a more profound influence on the music of the 17th century than the changing of the guard that took place at the Basilica of San Marco with the death of Giovanni Gabrieli in 1612 and the arrival of Claudio Monteverdi from Mantua the following year. Though they never held the post of maestro di cappella at San Marco, Giovanni and his uncle Andrea nevertheless dominated the musical life of the Serene Republic for three decades. Their brilliant polychoral style was appealing and effective and they pioneered the use of obbligato instruments in the service of what we would now call orchestration to give their concertos color and affect in a way that was imitated across Europe. One of Giovanni’s many students from north of the Alps in his final years was Heinrich Schütz, who studied in Venice for four years and returned to Dresden shortly after his teacher’s death, missing Monteverdi’s arrival by a matter of months. But more on that in the next program.

In his old age Giovanni began to incorporate some of the techniques associated with the ‘secunda prattica’, specifically an independent basso continuo and florid writing for solo voice. This is especially evident in some of the compositions included in his second volume of Symphoniae Sacrae, published posthumously in 1615. Similarly, while Monteverdi is most closely associated with the new music of the new century, he nevertheless took pains to demonstrate his mastery of the old polyphonic techniques, for example in the Missa in illo tempore, published along with his famous Vespers music in 1610 and the stile antico masses in his 1641 collection Selva morale et spirituale.

The blurring of compositional style represented by these two titans of Venetian music is central to Magnificat’s program on the weekend of December 20-22, for which we will join forces with The Whole Noyse in a co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society. The program is built on a frame provided by the liturgy for the Christmas Mass but the music we will perform was unlikely to have been assembled for any specific event from the time. Rather we will combine the grandeur of Gabrieli with the passion and virtuosity of Monteverdi in a way that displays both the continuity and innovation reflected in the music of Venice at the beginning of the century.

In August 1628, Heinrich Schütz escaped war-ravaged Dresden and travelled to Venice, where he had studied with Gabrieli almost twenty years before. In a letter written after his return in late the next year, Schütz recalled “staying in Venice as the guest of old friends, I learned that the long unchanged art of composition had changed somewhat: the ancient rhythms were partly set aside to tickle the ears of today with fresh devices.” During his visit, he certainly heard such fresh devices in the madrigals and motets of Monteverdi and Grandi and in instrumental sonatas by Biagio Marini and Dario Castello. Marini’s eighth set of sonatas, subtitled “Curiose e Moderne Inventioni,” was published in Venice during Schütz’s stay in Venice, as was the Dresden Kappelmeister’s own collection of motets, his first set of Symphoniæ Sacræ.

The spirit of the “new music” Schütz heard in Venice continued to resonate in his music throughout his life and Magnificat’s program will reflect that resonance in a program that also features music of other composers who shared in the stylistic exchange. Schütz ‘borrowed’ (with full acknowledgement) some of Monteverdi’s music in his owncompositions, notably in the motet Es steh Gott auf, which appeared in the composer’s second set of Symphoniae Sacrae published in Dresden in 164_. But beyond direct quotations, much of the music Schütz wrote after his return to Dresden sparkles with the sunny brilliance Italy, though always with a marked German accent.

The program for our concerts on February 14-16 2014 centers on another generational exchange and the extraordinary tradition of the Bach family inherited by Johann Sebastian. Throughout the seventeenth century, so many of the organists and instrumentalists in the small towns of central Germany were Bachs that in the province of Thuringia the name ‘Bach’ was synonymous with the trade of musician. Bach’s obituary notice in 1750 observed that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.”

In October 1694, the nine-year-old Johann Sebastian travelled to Arnstadt for the wedding of his cousin, the highly respected Eisenach organist Johann Christoph Bach. The Bach family gathered frequently, but this occasion was exceptional in that Christoph’s teacher, the renowned organist and composer Johann Pachelbel was present and likely performed together with members of the Bach family. 1694 also saw the publication of a set of sonatas by the Dresden violinist Johann Paul Westhoff, in whose orchestra Bach would later perform as a teenager before accepting his first position as an organist in Arnstadt.

In this program Magnificat will explore the music of Bach’s ancestors that the young Bach may have heard during the wedding festivities and will feature cantatas and instrumental music by Sebastian’s cousins Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach as well as Pachelbel and Westhoff. The program is framed by cantata based on the chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden, opening with Pachelbel’s setting, which may have served as the model for the young Johann Sebastian Bach’s first masterpiece, which will conclude the concert.

Two cantatas on the program are preserved in a collection of manuscripts known to musicologists as Das Altbachisches Arkiv, or the “Archive of the Elder Bachs.” Sebastian treasured these manuscripts throughout his life, making annotations in the scores and performing some of the works as late as 1749, the year before his death. The archives passed on to his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel and later became part of the library of the Berliner Singakademie, which was so instrumental to the revival of Bach’s music in the 19th century. Thought to have been destroyed in the Second World War, the archives were recently re-discovered and Magnificat will be performing from editions based on these manuscripts.

I look forward to working with an extraordinary cast of musicians and friends including Peter Becker, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jillon Dupree, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Dan Hutchings, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Chris LeCluyse, John Lenti, Anthony Martin, Clifton Massey, Jennifer Paulino, Andrew Rader, Clara Rottsolk, David Wilson and The Whole Noyse,

Coming Home to Charpentier

November 14th, 2012 Comments off

This year, for the first time in two decades, October passed without a set of Magnificat concerts. It has been very gratifying to hear from so many loyal Magnificat fans asking about the season and I am looking forward to coming home next month to see everyone on the weekend of December 7-9. The program I chose for my homecoming has a special place for me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble and preparing the score and planning the concerts have been a wonderful and meaningful experience. Every elegant gesture and touching poetic conceit and each sweetly painful 9-8 suspension and magnificent cadence is imbued with memories of the friends with whom I have performed the music and the audiences with whom we’ve shared it.

In many ways the program that Susan and I developed in 1993 to frame Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de Nostre Seigneur with arrangements of traditional French noëls served as the model for many other Magnificat programs. The juxtaposition of sophisticated art music with contemporaneous folk music, the ideal of balance between vocal and instrumental music and each individual musician, all became hallmarks of Magnificat programs. Read more…

Remembering Judy

September 7th, 2012 Comments off

Along with all who were touched by her, I was deeply saddened to learn that soprano Judith Nelson had passed away earlier this year. Few musicians have had a bigger impact on me personally and Magnificat as an ensemble than Judy. She sang in over 40 Magnificat concerts in the 90s and appeared  in one of the title roles (along with Paul Hillier) on Magnificat’s first recording, Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo. I also had the privilege of working with Judy in California Bach Society projects and in many other situations. But it was as a friend that I remember Judy the best and it is these memories that I treasure most.

The first thing that comes to mind when I remember Judy is how influential she was and how much everyone tried to sing like her but the second thing I think of is how, in fact, no one ever sounded like Judy except Judy. Of course, she sang exquisitely in every style and genre and yet it was always undeniably Judy. Her great gift to me (and to all of us) was in embodying the ideal of using your talent and ability to express who you are with integrity and conviction, which she did as well as anyone I have ever known.

In rehearsals Judy was always a model of professionalism but she also had a sharp wit and everyone who worked with her has plenty of memories of her playful sense of humor and well-timed rejoinders that always contributed to an atmosphere of camaraderie and common purpose. Judy had a uncanny ability to surprise through her vocal artistry and the depth of her understanding of the historical and musical context of the music she was performing, but also through her disarming candor.

It was Judy who introduced me to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. Judy had invited me to join her at a music festival outside of Manilla in the Philippines in 1996 and she brought with her an extraordinary motet – O quam bonus es – that we performed there. I was overwhelmed, not only by Cozzolani’s extraordinary tonal palette but by the strikingly emotional-laden text. Judy sang in Magnificat’s first performances of Cozzolani’s music in December 1999 and while her voice is not heard on the recordings that we made subsequently, her spirit – the honesty of her artistry and the warmth and sincerity of her musicianship  – is present throughout.

A memorial concert to celebrate Judy’s life will take place on Monday September 10 at First Congregational Church in Berkeley. The program will feature many of the musicians and ensembles that shared music with Judy over the years including Magnificat co-founder Susan Harvey. The free concert will begin at 7:00 pm and I encourage everyone to join in remembering a truly remarkable musician and friend.


Charpentier’s Noëls

August 17th, 2012 Comments off

While I will miss the joy of sharing a full season of terrific music from the early Baroque with my colleagues and with Magnificat’s loyal audience next season, I am very pleased that I will be in California in December to lead Magnificat in a program that it very dear to me. In addition to my personal emotional connection with Charpentier’s music, his character and the circumstances in which he wrote, this particular program represents a fascinating period of discovery for me personally.

The first music by Charpentier that I had the chance to perform was the Messe de Minuit(Midnight Mass) – a charming work that seamlessly weaves the folk melodies of noëls, already centuries old during the composer’s life with a rigorous contrapuntal ideal. While the Nativity Pastorale does not incorporate noël melodies like the Midnight Mass, there are striking similarities in the poetic imagery of the noëls and their musical character. In Magnificat’s first production of the Nativity Pastorale in 1993, we included several of Charpentier’s instrumental settings of noëls in addition to the Pastorale and I had the chance to learn about these remarkable melodies. I found the noëls especially intriguing because they provided a rare glimpse of the 17th century from a non-aristocratic perspective. Noëls were everyone’s music – nobility and peasants alike shared the joy of these infectious melodies and the often strikingly poignant poetry that these melodies set. Read more…

Magnificat and Charpentier’s Noëls

August 16th, 2012 Comments off

While I will miss the joy of sharing a full season of terrific music from the early Baroque with my colleagues and with Magnificat’s loyal audience next season, I am very pleased that I will be in California in December to lead Magnificat in a program that it very dear to me. In addition to my personal emotional connection with Charpentier’s music, his character and the circumstances in which he wrote, this particular program represents a fascinating period of discovery for me personally.

The first music by Charpentier that I had the chance to perform was the Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass) – a charming work that seamlessly weaves the folk melodies of noëls, already centuries old during the composer’s life with a rigorous contrapuntal ideal. While the Nativity Pastorale does not incorporate noël melodies like the Midnight Mass, there are striking similarities in the poetic imagery of the noëls and their musical character. In Magnificat’s first production of the Nativity Pastorale in 1993, we included several of Charpentier’s instrumental settings of noëls in addition to the Pastorale and I had the chance to learn about these remarkable melodies. I found the noëls especially intriguing because they provided a rare glimpse of the 17th century from a non-aristocratic perspective. Noëls were everyone’s music – nobility and peasants alike shared the joy of these infectious melodies and the often strikingly poignant poetry that these melodies set. Read more…

Simon Vouet and Marc-Antoine Charpentier

November 19th, 2010 Comments off

During his decade as master of music for the Jesuit church of St. Louis, Charpentier would have become very familiar with the magnificent altar of the church, which echoed the three level structure of the church’s façade. Five exquisite paintings adorned the altar, three by Simon Vouet (1590-1649,) an artist whose career in many ways followed a similar course to that which Charpentier’s would take a generation later. (An interactive reproduction of the altar can be viewed here.)

Simon Vouet, Self Portrait (ca. 1626-1627)

Vouet’s paintings–The Presentation in the Temple, the Apotheosis of St. Louis and a depiction of the Virgin mourning Christ’s suffering on the Cross–were all gifts to the new Jesuit church from Cardinal Richelieu upon it’s completion in 1641.

Like Charpentier, Vouet spent his formative years in Italy, mostly in Rome, where his patrons included the Barberini family, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Paolo Giordano Orsini and Vincenzo Giustiniani, He also received a pension from Louis XIII summoned to return to Paris in 1627. Upon returning to France, Vouet was made peintre de Roi and adapted his very Italian style, influenced by Caravaggio Carracci, and Reni, to the grand decorative designs of Cardinal Richelieu. This melding of Italian style and French taste parceled the role that Charpentier would later play in fusing French and Italian musical styles.

Vouet enjoyed more prestige and success during his lifetime but like Charpentier his posthumous reputation was initially overshadowed and it was only in the 20th century that his contribution to French Baroque art has been fully appreciated. William R. Crelly published a monograph and catalogue in the 1960s and there have been several important exhibitions devoted to his work in the years since the quadracentenary of his birth in 1990.

The gallery below includes the five paintings that graced the altar of L’Eglise Saint Louis during Charpentier’s tenure (those that survive are no longer in the church): the three Vouet paintings along with a depiction of Christ delivering the souls in Purgatory by Philippe de Champaigne and Resurrection of Christ by Claude Vignon.

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Magnificat’s Love Affair with Charpentier

November 18th, 2010 Comments off

I have often said that Marc-Antoine Charpentier never wrote a bad note and with every new work we perform I am amazed anew by the sheer perfection of his technique, his facility in an astonishing range of genres, the subtlety with which he depicts emotion, and his extraordinarily varied harmonic palette. As we prepare for our performances of his delightful Messe de Minuit and the Dialogus inter Angelos et Pastores next month, it seems a good time to look back on Magnificat’s love affair with this most magnificent genius of the French Baroque.

When Magnificat began presenting an annual concert series in 1992, the Charpentier revival was still at a relatively early stage. Though he had been “re-discovered” by the French musicologist Claude Crussard over a half century before and championed heroically in the intervening decades by H. Wiley Hitchcock, there were still relatively few recordings and even fewer modern editions of his works at the time. Since then, a tremendous amount of research has been published by Catherine Cessac, Patricia Ranum, John Powell, and many others, and the composer’s complete manuscripts have been re-printed in facsimile, all of which has allowed a much deeper understanding of Charpentier’s life and art.

Magnificat has dedicated entire programs to Charpentier’s music in twelve of our nineteen seasons, more than any other composer (Schütz and Monteverdi are tied for second place.) Along the way, we have explored many aspects of this prolific and multi-faceted master’s work: the charming divertissements and pastorales composed for the Hotel de Guise, the farsical intermedes written for the stage works of Moliere, Corneille and others, the intimate petits motets for the “Dauphin’s Music” and the sublime histoires sacreés from his time at the Jesuit Church of St. Louis and later at the Sainte-Chapelle. It has truly been a privilege to offer our audiences the opportunity to hear so much of Charpentier’s music.

Magnificat’s first season (1992-93) concluded with a program that showcased both sacred and secular music by Charpentier. The first half of the program included three sacred works representing three different genres: the psalm Super flumina babilonis, the oratorio Le Reniement de St. Pierre and the five part motet Oculi omnium. After intermission it was time for something completely different – a series of comic intermedes written for Moliere’s plays. The highlight of these quite silly vignettes was surely the hilarious “doctors scene” from Le Malade Imaginaire, which included some extemporaneous diagnosis by real-life doctor Gerald Gaul and a fair amount of champagne splattered across the stage.

Program from Magnificat's December 1993 concerts - literally cut and paste (with scissors and tape)

Somewhat less raucous was the program for the Christmas concerts in our second season. Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de notre Seigneur, was performed at the Hotel de Guise, with some variations, on three successive Christmases during the 1680s. Magnificat’s program drew from each of the three versions and integrated some of the infectiously charming noëls (some of which will appear again in this season’s Christmas concerts) in the mix. One of Magnificat’s most beloved programs, we have revived it twice: in 1997 on the San Francisco Early Music Society concert series and on our own series in 2005.

Noëls would not only be included in many of Magnificat’s subsequent Charpentier programs but they also contributed to an interest in voix de villes (or vau de villes), the source for the tunes of many noëls, that featured prominently in two opera parodies presented by Magnificat in 1996 and 1998.

Charpentier was featured again in Magnificat’s 5th season (1996-97) with performances of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers, composed in 1686 for one of the musical evenings at the Guise establishment. Derived from an earlier cantata on the same subject, this dramatic work, like so many pieces from the 17th century, defies classification, being neither pastoral, nor cantata, nor opera, yet having some characteristics of each. Above all, Charpentier’s setting of the Orpheus myth displays the influence of his formative years in Rome, where he encountered the music of Carrisimi, Luigi Rossi and others.

Beginning with Magnificat’s 9th season (2000-01), Charpentier’s music has been featured almost every year. That season we presented a program that included two dramatic works, also written for the Hotel de Guise: Actéon and Les Arts florissants. Both works fit into the loosely-defined genre of the divertissement, a term used in seventeenth century France to refer to a wide range of musical works, from interludes in comedie-ballets and tragedie-lyriques, as well as entertainments that resembled the English masque. Some divertissements, like Actéon, were short independent operas on mythological subjects. Others, like Les Arts florissants relate more specifically to the pastorale, originally a literary genre that, over the course of the 17th century began to incorporate music and ballet in the manner of opera.

In the 2002-03 season, working together with musicologist John Powell, Magnificat assembled a program of music that Charpentier composed for stage works of Thomas Corneille (Circé, 1675 and La Pierre Philosophale, 1681) and Raymond Poisson (Les Fous Divertissants, 1680.) With these theatrical works – ranging from pastoral airs to lunatic raving, we returned to the entertaining world of the Le Malade Imaginaire. John’s informative program notes for these concerts can be read here.

In the 2003-04 season, Magnificat performed Charpentier’s cycle of seven motets setting the texts of the Magnificat antiphons for the seven days preceding Christmas. In the Roman breviary these seven antiphons each begin with the acclamation “O” and are therefore known as the “O Antiphons” , “The Great Antiphons”  or, as Charpentier refers to them in his title “The Seven Os following the Roman.”  In accordance with the composer’s instructions, each of the antiphons was paired with one of his instrumental arrangements of noëls. The program also included the Dialogus inter Angles et Pastores, which we will perform again this season.

Two of Charpentier’s oratorios, or histoires sacreésFilius Prodigus and Sacrificium Abrahæ–were performed in the final concerts of Magnificat’s 2004-05 season and the Nativity Pastorale was revived for the Christmas program in the 05-06 season. The 35 or so works by Charpentier that can be classified as oratorios form a significant if isolated repertoire nearly unique in France, a country that seemed to have little interest in dramatic settings of religious subjects. Like those of Carissimi, Charpentier’s oratorios are non-liturgical, and freely mix scriptural excerpts with dramatic and poetic interpolations.

The first page of Judicium Salomonis from Charpentier's manuscriptsA program of music from Charpentier’s tenure at Sainte-Chappelle at the end of his life–Oculi Omnium, the Motet pour une longue offrande, and Judicium Salomonis–opened Magnificat’s 15th season (2006-07.) The Sainte-Chapelle was situated in the heart of a walled enclosure of what was formerly the palace of the king and, during Charpentier’s tenure, the Parlement. The reconvening of the Parlement, which took place annually on November 12, the day after the Feats of St. Martin, was commemorated by the celebration of a grand ceremonial mass, called the Messe Rouge (Red Mass) because of the magistrates scarlet vestments.

The following season (2007-08,) Magnificat explored another genre of Charpentier’s music – the petits motets – in a program of small chamber works written for the major feasts from Christmas to Purification. Four sacred works follow successively in Charpentier’s manuscripts: Pour la Feste de l’Épiphanie (for the Feast of Epiphany), In Circumcisione Domini (for the Circumcision of our Lord), In Festo Purificationis (for the Feast of Purification), and Pour le Jour de Ste Geneviève (for the Day of Saint Geneviève). Earlier in the notebooks is the Canticum in nativitatem Domini. The similar musical forces required – two sopranos, bass, violins and continuo – imply that they were performed by the same ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. Their placement in Charpentier’s Mélanges autographes suggests that these works were composed during the Christmas season of 1676-1677. Read more here.

Program from October 2008 - graphic design standards have certainly improved!

Most recently, Magnificat a program of Music for the Dauphin  – La Couronne de fleurs and Les plaisirs de Versailles – opened Magnificat’s 2008-09 season. From late 1679 until mid-1683, Charpentier composed music for the establishment of the eldest son of Louis XIV and Queen Marie-Thérèse. Both works on the program are examples of the operatic divertissement: a short entertainment that is sung throughout in the manner of an opera, though much shorter than the operas of the time. Read more here. An excerpt from those performances, featuring soprano Laura Heimes can be heard here.

I am very grateful to all those who have supported Magnificat over the years and given us the chance to perform so much of Charpentier’s music. In particular, Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board member John Powell has been very generous in preparing scores, writing program notes and articles, and offering great ideas over the years. Most of all, I am grateful to the splendid musicians who have given their love and talents to Magnificat’s performances of Charpentier’s music. I only wish we could perform each of the programs again!

A Newly-Identified Theoretical Work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier

November 8th, 2010 Comments off

Patricia Ranum has announced the identification of a theoretical work by Marc-Antoine Charpentier bound in an 18th century collection of manuscripts owned by the Lilly Library at Indiana University. Her convincing argument for the attribution of “Manuscript XLI” to Charpentier, as well as reproductions of the twelve page treatise, can be found at her informative and thoroughly engaging website.

Ranum’s analysis suggests that the treatise was related to Charpentier’s engagement in the education of Louis XIV’s nephew, Philippe II d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres in the early 1690s and was copied out by the composer himself in Autumn, 1698. Perhaps most the most significant aspect of Ranum’s identification is that details of the manuscript suggest that the composer may have written as many as forty other theoretical works besides the few known that have survived in copies. Sadly it would appear that after his death in 1704, Charpentier’s heirs did not preserve his theoretical works together with his compositions.

Ranum describes how she was introduced to the volume containing Charpentier’s treatise:

Some years ago, I agreed to read and comment upon the transcription and translation of a French manuscript being done by Carla E. Williams, a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Indiana, Bloomington. In early November 2009, Ms Williams sent me two computer files: her transcription and translation, plus scans of the manuscript itself, which bears the title Traité d’accompagnement. As I scrolled through her transcription, I came upon the names of Étienne Loulié (on whom I had worked back in the 1980s and Charles Masson (a friend of Sébastien de Brossard, someone I have likewise studied.) Most intriguing of all were some references to “feu Mr Charpentier,” the “late Monsieur Charpentier.”

Since one of the pillars on which the anonymous Traité is constructed is a discussion of major and minor scales and the fundamental chords of each key/mode, I was not overly surprised to find references to Loulié’s and Masson’s published works. Those books included brief presentations of the major and minor scales whose existence their mutual friend, Brossard, claimed to have deduced back in 1684 or 1685.

I checked the images of the original manuscript that Ms Willams had sent me: that was indeed what the anonymous author of the Traité de l’accompagnement had written. Still, I was puzzled by the allusion to the “Principes de Charpentier” (p. 18 of the Traité, my emphasis). To what book or manuscript might the author be referring? Loulié wrote a book called Élements ou Principes, but no such book by Charpentier is known.

“While I’m at it, I might as well scroll through the entire file,” I said to myself, “to get a visual impression of the source. It might help Ms Williams to date her treatise more accurately than simply ‘post-1710′ — the date of the latest publication mentioned.” Toward the end of the Traité, the handwriting changed abruptly: I was looking at the hand of Marc-Antoine Charpentier! The mature hand he used at the Sainte-Chapelle!

Ranum’s full analysis of “Manuscript XLI,” can be read here.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier – The Rose

October 26th, 2010 Comments off

I was pleased to learn that a variety of rose is named “Marc-Antoine Charpentier.” The shrub rose has a dark yellow center flower with pale yellow to cream  outer petals and a fine Tea fragrance. Its flowering is enhanced by pale green foliage.

The website Plantes et Jardins notes that the “La Rosa Generosa ‘Marc-Antoine Charpentier’ Masmacha stands out for its opulence as a shrub with branches that create a soft dome. Many buttons bloom in flower petals of slightly frizzy yellow fading to white vanilla cream. Their fragrance exudes a subtle fragrance of rose tea. Juvenile shoots are tinged with purple.”

No doubt the rose was named after the French composer in honor of his delightful divertissement La Couronne de fleurs, performed by Magnificat in 2008.

Berkeley Festival Memories

July 13th, 2010 Comments off

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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