Charpentier’s Music for Plays by Corneille and Poisson

November 18th, 2010 No comments

In 2002, Magnificat presented a program featuring music Marc-Antoine Charpentier had written for stage works by Thomas Corneille and Raymond Poisson. John Powell wrote these very informative program notes for those performances, which reveal another side of Charpentier’s character and the circumstances in which he lived and worked. Powell has written extensively on Charpentier’s works for the stage and recently presented the paper Music, Gesture, and Tragic Declamation in the Scene of the Dancing Demons from Thomas Corneille’s Machine Play Circé (1675) at the symposium Gesture on the French Stage, 1675-1800 at the Festival Oudemuziek Utrecht on 27 July 2010, from which the image below of Henry Gissey’s drawings of the some of the fabulous costumes used at court is drawn. The plays, librettos, and music for the works discussed in this article (and much more) can be found on John’s website.

When, in 1673, Marc-Antoine Charpentier became the principal composer to the King’s Troupe (Troupe du Roy), he became involved in the ongoing struggle between the company’s director and chief playwright, Jean-Baptiste Molière, and the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. Throughout the 1660s, Molière and Lully had worked closely in providing for the king’s entertainment a series of multi-generic experiments that combined theater, ballet, vocal numbers, choruses, and machine effects. But by the spring of 1672 Lully had decided that his own future lay in opera. Having witnessed the successes of Perrin and Cambert with pastoral opera, Lully set about obtaining the royal opera privilege and, thereafter, a series of draconian decrees designed to protect his monopoly and reduce his musical competition.

Molière soon found another musical colleague in Charpentier, recently returned from Rome and his studies with Giacomo Carissimi. The revivals of earlier collaborations with Lully (La Comtesse d’Escarbagnas, Le Mariage forcé) with new music by Charpentier led to a full-scale comedy-ballet, Le Malade imaginaire. This devastating musical satire would be the playwright’s last work—for during its fourth performance Molière, playing the leading role of the hypochondriac Argan, fell ill during the finale and died at his home shortly thereafter. Thereafter, musical life in Parisian theater was a struggle to survive in the face of Lully’s active opposition.

Charpentier continued on as the leading composer the Troupe du Roy after Lully evicted the actors from their theater. On 17 March 1675, the company premiered Circé, the first in a series of new machine-plays given at their new playhouse, the Théâtre de Guénégaud. Struggling to survive after Molière’s death and to justify its existence in the shadow of Lully’s Académie Royale de Musique, the actors deployed all of their scenic, musical, and choreographic resources in this spectacular and expensive production. Read more…

Why All This Music for Vespers?

March 24th, 2010 No comments

The reasons for the exponential growth in music for Vespers around the turn of the 17th century are not entirely clear, though probably multiple. A few publications of Vesper music in the latter part of the Cinquecento carried mottos such as conformi al decreto del Sacro Concilio di Trento (conforming to the decrees of the Council of Trent), even though psalms and Magnificats themselves had not been mentioned in the final dictates of the Council. Indeed, the predominantly chordal settings of psalm texts in this period meant that psalm settings by their very nature conformed to the Council’s decree for clarity of text in polyphonic masses. However, the fact that the Council had not addressed psalmody in its declarations on music eventually meant that psalms were not considered subject to the same constraints as the mass in the eyes of composers and church officials. Certainly the psalms for major feasts, which were more in number than the mass ordinary movements normally set in polyphony, offered a greater variety of texts for seventeenth-century composers who continued and even augmented the interest in musical interpretation of textual concepts inherited from the Cinquecento. Another factor may have been the tradition of granting indulgences for attending Vesper services—there are hints of this in the documents of the Servite congregation in Milan. This is a subject requiring further investigation, but may indeed be a principal explanation of the rapid expansion of Vesper polyphony in the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Read more…

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

February 17th, 2010 No comments
Arcangelo Corelli

Arcangelo Corelli

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

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

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

Monteverdi, Grandi and The Company of San Marco

December 10th, 2009 No comments

While reveling in the beauty of music from the past, we seldom consider the “office politics” and professional competition that surrounded its composition and original performance. The goal of simultaneously creating beauty and paying rent has always been proven challenging and even among highly respected and gainfully employed artists, competition has frequently led to conflict.

The Floor of the Basilica of San Marco

The Floor of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice

In his biographical sketch of Alessandro Grandi, published previously on this blog, Steven Saunders mentions the composer’s rapid rise to positions of authority at the Basilica of San Marco after returning from Ferrara in 1617. Among the positions that he attained was capo, or head, of the Compagnia di San Marco, a group not unlike a modern musicians’ union that organized singers for “freelance work” outside the basilica.

Already in the 15th Century, musical activity outside the Basilica had been organized through confraternities known as Scuole Grandi. In his seminal article on organizations of musicians in Venice, Jonathan Glixon relates that “sometime in the years before 1553 the singers of the ducal cappella organized themselves into two companies that competed for work at the Scuole and elsewhere. The rivalry between the two became intense and bitter, making it difficult not only for them to secure engagements, but also to work together at San Marco. The solution to this problem, and the ensuing resolutions, petitions, and counter- resolutions, are preserved in a fascinating series of documents that provides unique insights into the business of music in sixteenth- century Venice.” Read more…

Falconieri, Feminine Endings, and Synchronicity

September 22nd, 2009 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…

What is Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero About?

September 20th, 2009 No comments

(This is the second of a three part essay on Francesca Caccini and La Liberzione di Ruggiero, which Magnificat will perform October 16-18. The first part, a biographical sketch of Francesca, “About Francesca“, was posted here earlier.)

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

On February 3, 1625, sometime in daylight, 160 gentildonne and their husbands, and an unknown number of foreign guests rode in carriages out the southeastern gate of Florence, and half a mile up a tree-lined avenue to a villa atop the nearest hill that had very recently been renovated as the personal palace of Tuscany’s regent, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Leaving their carriages in a grassy courtyard guarded by two squadrons of armed cavalry, the Archduchess’ guests were welcomed into the palace by a military commander, and led to bench seats in a temporary theatre built in the villa’s loggia, to hear a new commedia in musica based on a well-known plot (two sorceresses struggling over the sexual and military future of a hapless young man). The commedia was to be followed, seamlessly, by two balletti danced by members of the court, by a ballet for horses and riders in the paved courtyard, and by a reception at which the gentildonne were served by the men who rode in the final horse ballet (while their husbands watched from above). It was the first performance of Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero.

So what could La Liberazione possibly have seemed to be about in 1625? First, a bit about the plot, since the story on which it’s based is not nearly as well known now as it was then.

The show opens with a prologue sung by Neptune (a figure for Medici power) and a Polish river, The Vistola, meant to praise the guest of honor in 1625, Maria Maddalena’s visiting nephew, Wladyslaw, the crown prince of Poland. Immediately afterward, the “good witch” Melissa sails up on a dolphin’s back to explain that she has come to rescue Ruggiero from the “bad witch” Alcina’s sexual spells, restoring him both to his military duty on behalf of Christian armies and to his dynastic sexual duty as the fiancée of the woman warrior Bradamante. At Melissa’s exit, Ruggiero arrives with Alcina and her retinue of singing and dancing minions. The lovers exchange perilously mis-communicated vows, and then Alcina leaves to manage government affairs while her retinue lulls Ruggiero to sleep. Dressed as his aged African teacher Atlante, Melissa returns, awakening Ruggiero with an exhortation to return to the battle for Libya. Previous victims of Alcina’s power, turned into plants by her mind-numbing spells, beg the pair to liberate them, too. After promising to return for them, Melissa leads Ruggiero away.

When Alcina and her retinue return to find him gone, a female messenger explains that Melissa has broken Alcina’s spell. Alcina confronts Ruggiero in a long scene mixed of lamentation and ire, to no avail. Enraged at her loss of power, she calls on monsters for aid. The stage is engulfed in fire, as the now monstrous Alcina rides offstage on a dragon’s back, after which creatures who had been trapped in the bodies of the island’s plants emerge to dance. One such creature pleads with Melissa to liberate the men who are plants as well as the women. They dance, and then everyone–the players and the audience–adjourn to the courtyard to watch the horse ballet, over which the triumphant Melissa presides from a centaur-drawn chariot.

My sense is that like the other comedies on which Francesca had worked La liberazione was meant to be both entertaining and serious–to give the audience the impression they were glimpsing into the ‘real’ entertainment life of the women’s court, and at the same time to engage a particular set of anxieties about that court’s relationship to public power during the regency of the 1620s.

Archduchess Maria Maddalena

Arch Duchess Maria Maddalena

When Grand Duke Cosimo II died in late February, 1621, the intermittent de facto regency of his mother Christine de Lorraine was replaced by a de jure regency she was to share with his widow, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Christine had quietly ruled Tuscany since late in 1606, first during her husband Grand Duke Ferdinando I’s final illness and then during her son’s long, losing struggle with what seems to have been several forms of tuberculosis. According to all diplomatic accounts, Christine had been Tuscany’s absolute ruler in this period, yet the same accounts report that she had shared decision-making with her son when he was up to it, and that she had systematically arranged for her daughter-in-law to be trained for what seemed like the inevitable regency of the 1620s. (One possible interpretation of La liberazione’s plot about the struggle of two women over a man, then, would be to imagine Ruggiero as the ailing Cosimo, his wife and his mother as the sorceress antagonists: but all diplomatic accounts also agree that the three worked well together.) Read more…

From the Magnificat Archives: Isabella Leonarda Sonata for Violin & Continuo (Audio)

August 27th, 2009 2 comments

Rob DigginsIsabella Leonarda
Sonata duodecima (1693)

Rob Diggins, violin
Warren Stewart, violoncello
David Tayler, theorbo
Hanneke van Proosdij, organ

live, unedited performance
February 2, 2003
St. Gregory Nyssen Church
San Francisco CA

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In 1724, the eminent theorist and collector music Sébastian de Brossard wrote in praise of the works of Isabella Leonarda that “all of the works of this illustrious and incomparable composer are so beautiful, so gracious, so brilliant and at the same time so knowledgeable and so wise, that my great regret is in not having them all.”

Isabella’s instrumental works, which appeared in 1693, are apparently the earliest published sonatas by a woman.  The collection consists of eleven trio sonatas and one sonata for solo violin and continuo.  One of her most harmonically adventurous works, the Sonata duodecima is in seven parts, including two recitative like sections.

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“Zazzerino” – Jacopo Peri and the Birth of Opera

August 20th, 2009 No comments
Jacopo Peri as Orfeo

Jacopo Peri as Arion

August 20 is the birthday of Jacopo Peri, who was closely involved in the development of what we now call “opera”, staged drama set entirely to music. He was known affectionately as “Zazzerino” (from zazzera, mop of hair) in recognition of his striking, and long, blond hair – a sort of 16th century Robert Plant.

Though born in Rome in 1561, Peri is most closely associated with Florence, where he served along with Giulio and Francesca Caccini, Jacopo Corsi, Marco da Gagliano and many other in the extraordinary musical establishment of the Medici court. He has also been associated with the Florentine Camerata of Giovanni de’ Bardi and throughout his career was a leading voice (in all senses) for the “new music” that the Camerata was promoted.

The style promoted by the Camerata was perceived as a re-discovery of the music of Classical Greece, though there is little to suggest that the recitar cantando, the “heightened speech” that eventually became the operatic recitative, bore any resemblance to the music of the ancients. This in no way diminished the power of a musical style that sought to directly communicate human passion and emotion in a narrative context. Read more…

Music of the Seventeenth Century: To Speak Through Singing

July 1st, 2009 No comments

Claudio Monteverdi wrote in a letter in the 1630s that the goal of music was “to speak through singing”. In spending much of my life researching, promoting, and performing the “new music” of the 17th century with Magnificat, I have observed that this music is indeed characterized by an underlying, urgent impulse to “speak” the human experience through music. It is precisely the intensity of that impulse that continues to draw me and the musicians of Magnificat to music of this fascinating, unsettled, and dynamic period. [1]

The 17th century was a period of pervasive upheaval, a century when the fundamental perceptions of the world in all realms of life were shaken. It was a time when alchemy and empirical science coexisted, a time when the exploration of new worlds and the investigation of the sky challenged traditional conceptions of the place of the earth in the universe, a time of religious persecution and political conflict. And like tumultuous periods throughout history it was also a time that produced some of our most treasured art, architecture, poetry, and music. I would argue that beyond a mere curiosity about the origins of our current musical universe, the music of the this period has a special resonance for us today because we also are living through a ‘paradigm shift’ comparable to the crises of the 17th century, with all the attendant upheaval characteristic of such times.

Early in the century, Monteverdi wrote that he intended to publish a treatise describing the ‘secunda pratica’ or ‘second practice,’ the new compositional attitude that he and his colleagues had adopted. Drawing on Plato, he said that his book would be laid out in three parts and would begin with a chapter on oration. How appropriate that a manifesto of the new music of the 17th century should give such prominence to the rhetorical art, given the dominant motivation that the communication of words and the emotions they express provided composers of the period. Through the experiments that led to the creation of the genres of opera, oratorio, sonata, and cantata, composers sought to integrate drama and music into new compositional approaches that reflected the immediacy and engagement so essential to the art of oratory.

Perhaps because the fruits of these experiments remain fundamental to musical perception three centuries later, they take on a special significance for us. The basic elements of what we now call “common practice” tonality, the dominance of the keyboard as the basis of musical conception, the emergence of institutions like orchestras and opera companies and the appearance of professional virtuoso performers – the very notion that the purpose of music was to move the passions and communicate emotions – all took shape in the 17th century. Read more…

New Book on Francesca Caccini Arrives

June 25th, 2009 No comments

I have just received my copy of Suzanne Cusick’s very impressive monograph “Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power“. Quite apart from it’s relevance to Magnificat’s production of Caccini’s opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero next Fall, the book promises to offer fascinating insights into the role of music in Italian society and the experience of a woman navigating the politics of a North Italian court.

Georg Muffat’s Birthday and David Wilson’s Translation and Commentary

June 1st, 2009 No comments

Georg Muffat was born on June 1 in 1653. A special day for Jubilate personnel manager, Magnificat violinist, Muffat expert and all around great guy David Wilson, who, in 2001, published a translation of texts from Florilegium Primum, Florilegium Secundum, and Auserlesene Instrumentalmusik together with very enlightening commentary on performance practice issues.

Born in Savoy, Muffat studied with Lully in Paris in the 1660s and then studied law at Ingolstadt. According to the biographical blurb at Goldberg Magazine, he later traveled to Vienna but could not obtain an official appointment and subsequently appeared in Prague (1677), ultimately finding a position in Salzburg in the service of Archbishop Max Gandolf, a post he held for over ten years. 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…

“Un’ opera ridicola, ma bellissima”

April 4th, 2008 No comments

“Monday or Tuesday, I will put on stage the third opera, also mine, which is for amusement, because it is a comic opera, but most beautiful, and it is called Il Trespolo; and because here they delight in comic things, I believe it will be an infallible hit.”

So Alessandro Stradella described his opera Il Tespolo Tutore in a letter to one of his patrons in 1679 before performances at the Teatro Falcone in Genoa. Featuring the bumbling character Trespolo from the popular stories of Ricciardi, Stradella’s opera is indeed “ridicola” bordering on slapstick and replete with vulgar language, cross dressing, and sexual innuendo – as popular in the early days of comic opera as today.

Il Dottore

Il Dottore

The main character, and the butt of endless jokes, is the foolish tutor Trespolo, a character modelled on the commedia figure of Il Dottore. “Trespolo” is not a real name – it’s rough meaning is “tripod” – and it was used at the time to mean something rickety that can barely stand up – an apt description of the main protagonist. The remainder of the cast includes Trespolo’s ward Artemisia (Catherine Webster) who is in love with him but too shy to tell him, Nino (José Lemos) who is in love with her and later goes mad, Ciro (Jennifer Ellis-Kampani) his initially crazy brother who also loves Artemisia, Simona (Paul Elliott) their old, foolish nurse, and Despina (Laura Heimes), her shrewd daughter. The instrumental ensemble, typically small as in all of Stradella’s operas, consists of two violins (Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem), violoncello (me), theorbo (David Tayler), and harpsichord (Katherine Heater).

Comic opera was still relatively new to Italy at the end of the 1670s. Stradella had composed a comic prologue for O di Cocito oscure deità in 1668, which then traveled with Jacopo Melani’s Il Girello, which Magnificat performed in 1998. He had also composed other comic prologues and intermezzi for the Teatro Tordinona in Rome in the early 70s, so he was quite familiar with the emerging genre of comic opera by the time he wrote Il Trespolo.

Amid the silliness, there are several moments of more serious music, when characters express emotions of despair and rejection over love unrequited. Indeed Villifranchi’s alternate tile for Il Trespolo “Amore è veleno e medicina degl’intelletti” – roughly “Love as medicine and poison for the intellect” – suggests a far more profound subtext within the general inanity of mistaken identity and mis-delivered love letters. Nino’s despair at Artemisia’s rejection provides an opportunity for two mad scenes, which had become a staple of Italian drama by the last quarter of the 17th century. Stradella had already composed such scenes for his earlier opera La forza dell’ amor paterno. The mad scenes were not derived from Ricciardi’s original, but were inserted by the librettist Villifranchi, no doubt to the delight of the Genoese audiences.

The success of Il Trespolo is evidenced by the interest shown by several noblemen in a repeat performance, though it is unclear if any of these proposals came to fruition. In any case Stradella completed only one more opera before his untimely death in 1682.

Synopsis of Il Trespolo Tutore

March 30th, 2008 No comments

The following Synopsis was prepared by Dr. Michael Burden of New College Oxford and is reposted here with permission of the author.

The story centres on Signor Trespolo’s attempts to find a husband for his ward, Artemisia; if she is satisfied, then they will both inherit money under her father’s will.

At the beginning of Act I, Simona is trying to get Despina to agree to a marriage with Trespolo, saying that a husband is like medicine, but Despina says that Trespolo is like a hairy bear, and has no brain. Simona welcomes Nino, who has been away, business unspecified. He inquires the reason for the argument, and, when told that Despina does not want to get married, says that that is only natural, since she is young. Nino then mentions his brother Ciro, who has been driven crazy by love. He sends Simona away with the comment that he will find a way to marry off Despina without shouting. With Simona out of the way, Nino wants to know if Artemisia has ‘relaxed’? Nino is deeply in love with Artemisia who refuses to marry him. Despina says, well, if Artemisia won’t marry him, she won’t, and why is Nino wasting his time on it? Nino asks Despina to be Artemisia’s ‘tutor in love’; she agrees. But as he leaves, Despina tells us that it is Nino she really wants to marry. Artemisia arrives, repressed by her love for Trespolo; she lies down and sleeps. Ciro, quite mad from love, now enters and in his madness, lies down to sleep along side her. Trespolo finds them both asleep. He wakes them, and when the raving Ciro tells them that his name means dog in Persian, Artemisia orders him to leave. Trespolo then broaches the subject of Artemisia’s marriage;the subject is important to him, because under her father’s will, he has to give his permission for the nuptials, but Artemisia has to be satisfied; if she is, then he benefits financially. However, Artemisia will only agree to marry someone she loves, but finds it impossible to utter the name of the one she wishes for her husband, so she passes him a cryptic note before going into the house. Trespolo cannot understand the note at all; it says ‘the one who is here’, and he, Trespolo, is the only one there! However, at that moment, Ciro, the ‘crazy one’, arrives on the scene, and Trespolo leaps to the conclusion that it is Ciro who Artemisia loves. Trespolo is shocked that Artemisia’s beautiful face should be wasted on someone like him. Trespolo asks Ciro if he has thought marrying Artemisia; he is delighted at the idea. Artemisia does not come out to them, so they knock on the door. Trespolo tells Artemisia that he is there with her ‘husband’. When Artemisia realises that it is Ciro who Trespolo means, she is appalled; she rejects him, and departs, followed by Trespolo, leaving Ciro disappointed. In desperation to get her message across, Artemisia now dictates Trespolo a note which repeatedly says ‘It’s you’; he still does not get the message, and when Nino arrives declaring his love, Artemisia makes her escape. Her flight misleads Trespolo; he decides that it is Nino with whom Artemisia is in love, and hands him Artemisia’s note.

Act II starts with Simona trying to teach Ciro proper behaviour and how to court a lady; she persuades him that Artemisia will love him if he makes himself attractive. Trespolo is still in love with Despina; she, however, sarcastically rejects him. They revert to discussing Nino and Artemisia. Despina has brought an open note from Nino to Artemisia (this is a reply to the love letter Artemisia wrote to Trespolo, but which he mistakenly gave to Nino at the end of Act 1). They both criticise the grammar (Nino is clearly a vulgarian) but Trespolo has no glasses and cannot see the text clearly; he reads that Despina has embraced Nino, and bursts into a jealous rage. When Despina gets hold of the letter, it says something quite different, of course. Trespolo apologises, and asks Despina to tell Nino that he now awaits him. As she leaves, Trespolo inquires after Simona; Despina tells him that he is teaching ‘seriousness’ to the crazy one. When Nino appears, Trespolo says he has Nino’s reply to Artemisia’s note, but can’t understand it. Trespolo states that, as he understands it, Nino wants to marry Artemisia. However, as she is Trespolo’s ward, his consent is required for the wedding, and Trespolo will only give it if Nino ‘gives’ him his true love, Despina. Artemisia overhears Trespolo speaking of another love, and hears the discussion on the exchange of ‘wives to be’. She withdraws in shock and distress. Trespolo, knocking on the window, gives Artemisia Nino’s reply. Nino makes love to her, but Artemisia rejects him and tears up the note; she is a lady, and will not be bought as though she were merchandise; she retreats into the house. Nino muses: what has he done to have the fates work against him so? Ciro enters; neither appear to see each other. Both sing of Artemisia, Nino dwelling resentfully on her rejection of his love for her, swearing to hate her, while Ciro sings of her beauty, but how he must say goodbye for a while. [Interval] Artemisia is still unable to utter the name of her beloved; she tells him that the one she loves is the same height as Trespolo, and that he has three syllables to his name. Trespolo agrees to look at a picture of him; she comes back with a mirror, and then leaves to spare her blushes! Trespolo, looking into it, cannot work out of whom the ‘picture’ is, but at that moment, Simona arrives on the scene, and as her image is reflected briefly in the mirror, Trespolo decides that it must be Simona that Artemisia loves. But, he muses, although the number syllables is right – Si-mo-na – why would one woman want to marry another? But it will have to happen, otherwise he will not get Despina; Artemisia must be satisfied.

As Act III opens, Trespolo cannot understand why Simona does not want to marry Artemisia. Simona eventually agrees, scheming to put Ciro in her place. Artemisia arrives, to be greeted by Simona; she tells Artemisia that Trespolo has told her to spare Artemisia’s blushes; he KNOWS – but about Artemisia’s supposed desire for Simona. Believing that Trespolo has AT LAST realised that her love is for him, Artemisia gives Simona a ring for him as a token of affection, and asks her to return with him; she disappears into the house. Simona muses that she never thought she would have to take a wife in her old age, but sees Artemisia’s sterling qualities. Ciro arrives, mad with love; he concludes that love is our medicine, and not our poison. Nino enters, also mad with love. Despina has been talking to Simona; and has discovered the plot to marry her to Trespolo. Trespolo is attempting to persuade Despina to marry him clandestinely; Despina agrees, reluctantly, to meet him there at two o’clock. Simona tells Trespolo that she finds Artemisia so beautiful that she wants to marry her herself, and produces the ring that Artemisia gave her. Ciro arrives in time to overhear the end of the conversation, which arrouses his curiosity. Now sane, he does not know whether to feel sorriest for himself, or his brother, Nino. Despina tells Ciro of the secret plan for her to go to Trespolo at 2am. Ciro is mystified; why all the secrecy? Despina replies that Artemisia does not want them to marry. Artemisia enters to find Trespolo alone; where is Simona, she asks? Artemisia speaks of her love for Trespolo, but is very tired; Trespolo is fed up with waiting, and they go to dinner. Nino and Ciro sing of love; Nino is now completely mad, Ciro now completely sane. Ciro realises that Nino is beyond help, and concentrates on his quest to protect Despina from Trespolo’s advances. Nino sings to himself of the hell of love; he is still obsessed with Artemisia. Artemisia and Trespolo are disturbed by Ciro, banging about; however, they cannot see who it is. Ciro tells Artemisia the truth about Trespolo and his pursuit of Despina; she sees that Trespolo has misled her. In her fury at these revelations, Artemisia accidentally puts out Trespolo’s candle, and he sneaks out to re-light it. In the darkness, Artemisia does not notice that he has left, and continues talking of love as if to Trespolo, but it is Ciro who hears her, and when, much to Artemisia’s surprise, the voice in the dark says that he wants to marry her, she agrees at once. Simona is very confused; Nino is crazy, Ciro is sane, and Despina is not married! She will just have to stay at home and spin. To be loved, you need to be young; but the appetite grows when your teeth fall out. Ciro tells the noisy Trespolo to keep quiet; Artemisia is now his wife. Trespolo is shocked; surely people should not choose their own husbands? Ciro says Artemisia offered to marry him, and he knew a good thing when he saw it! Simona comments that if Artemisia is Ciro’s wife, then she will have a bisexual wife. Artemisia says that her school-girl love for her tutor will now be silent, and she will let her heart change its destiny; thus honour and virtue will be satisfied. Simona reports that Nino is now completely mad; Ciro, recognising that it is only man’s ordered thoughts that separate him from animals, moralises that it is love that is able to make men crazy or wise.

A Historical Note on Il Trespolo Tutore

March 30th, 2008 No comments

by Samuel Dwinell

January of 1679 saw the premiere of Alessandro Stradella’s Il Trespolo tutore in the Teatro Falcone in Genoa, a city well suited to the plot of this opera; as Stradella himself noted, the Genoese had a penchant for ‘comic things’. By the time he wrote Trespolo, the recent genre of Italian comic opera was becoming well established, and Stradella had already written comic prologues and intermezzos for the Teatro Tordinona. However, with this opera, Stradella invented the operatic buffo bass (something which would become a defining characteristic of later comic opera), and placed him in the title role as Trespolo, the foolish guardian.

The libretto is Giovanni Cosimo Villifranchi’s reworking of a popular comic play by Giovanni Battista Ricciardi. With just the same emphasis on intrigue, misunderstandings, and farce as Villifranchi’s adaptation, Ricciardi’s play contains a light comedy, often bordering on slap-stick in a language which resembles the everyday, colloquial Italian suitable to the narrative. Yet more serious moments punctuate the opera’s comedy in a way so indicative of Stradella’s expert handling of text, music, and plot.

If the colourful nature of the plot tends in places towards the absurd, it is positively mundane in comparison with Stradella’s extraordinary life, particularly as he lived it in the 1670s. He indulged himself in the carefree life of the leisured classes, spending his time as he pleased and frequently moving around Italy. But while on a sojourn in Rome in 1677, he incurred the wrath of Cardinal Alderan Cibo, and was forced to flee to Venice. Here, in his new position of musical pedagogue to the mistress of Alvise Contarini, a powerful nobleman, he became more amorous towards his pupil than his aristocratic employer found appropriate. Much to the anger of the Contarini family, the couple fled to Turin as fugitives pursued by a 40-strong band of men headed by Alvise Contarini himself hoping to capture the girl and to kill Stradella. Thankfully for us, their efforts were unsuccessful, but Contraini did not give up. He sent two more would-be assassins to the composer’s hiding place, but again the attempts on his life led only to more cunning on Stradella’s part. Unlike any self-respecting action-movie hero, he fled Turin without the girl and ended up in Genoa, just in time to oversee the production of his new opera, Il Trespolo tutore.

See Synopsis here

H. Wiley Hitchcock (1923-2007)

December 7th, 2007 No comments

H. Wiley Hitchcock was instrumental in the “re-discovery” of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in the 20th Century. We are indebted to the seminal research he undertook to resurrect this almost forgotten master, whose music has delighted and moved audiences and who has now assumed a rightful place as one of the greatest composers in the history of music. His obituary was released today by Conservatory of Music of Brooklyn College (CUNY).

The Conservatory of Music of Brooklyn College (CUNY) deeply regrets to announce that Distinguished Professor emeritus H. Wiley Hitchcock, 84, passed away in the early morning of December 5, 2007, after a lengthy illness. He was born September 28, 1923, in Detroit, MI. After attending Dartmouth (A.B., 1944) and University of Michigan (M.M. 1948, Ph.D. 1954) – studying in 1949 at the Conservatoire Américain (under Nadia Boulanger) – and after teaching at the University of Michigan, N.Y.U., and Hunter College, Professor Hitchcock came to Brooklyn College in 1971 where he was the founding director of the college’s Institute for Studies in American Music (ISAM). Wiley was brilliant, a true man of letters, a model musicologist with multifaceted interests, impeccable standards, and path-breaking publications. His highly esteemed work in American music studies (New Grove Dictionary of American Music; his Prentice-Hall textbook series that included his Music in the United States; studies on Charles Ives, etc. etc.) was built upon his excellent contributions to the fields of French and Italian Baroque music (M.-A. Charpentier, G. Caccini, et al.).

He was a staunch advocate for American music of all kinds. In 1990-92 he served as elected president of the American Musicological Society, and the number of distinguished projects and boards on which he served seems endless. Wiley was a respected colleague at the Conservatory as well as at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Doctoral Program in Music, where he became a helpful and encouraging mentor and friend to many newly minted Ph.D.’s in music. Those of us who knew Wiley personally always relished the notes or letters he sent us or the newsy gossip he might share.

For an interview that Wiley gave Frank J. Oteri in November 2002 and recalls for us his special style and wit, see:

The Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College hopes to rename ISAM as the Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music, in Professor Hitchcock’s memory.

Wiley is survived by his wife Janet and a daughter and son, Susan and Hugh, from his first marriage, as well as two grandchildren. There will be a memorial service at a later date to be announced by the family.

The Association of "Pastoral" Music with Christmas

December 2nd, 2007 No comments

The pastoral tradition in music has had a long and distinguished history dating back to ancient times. The transfer of music styles associated with pastoral themes to settings of Christmas texts was quite natural. Not only the bucolic setting of the Angel’s announcement of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, but more generally the image of Christ as the good shepherd.

Composers of the 17th century developed a vocabulary of instrumental motifs associated with music depicted the Christmas story, with reference from Castaldo as early as 1616. Similar pastoral topoi in settings of Christmas texts can be seen around the same time or earlier in German sacred songs and the Spannish villancico. Castaldo was one of several writers who claimed that the custom a associating pastoral literary traditions with Christmas originated with St. Cajetan of Thiene after a vision he had on Christmas Eve in 1517. The earliest surviving collection of Christmas pastorals in Italy was written by Francesco Fiamengo for the Christmas Eve celebrations at Messina and published in 1637.

Already in the Fiamengo collection many of the basic stylistic elements that are found in the pastorale compositions of Scarlatti and Corelli were already present. Typically in a slow and lilting 6/8 or 12/8 “siciliana” meter, pastorale compositions frequently utilized drones and parallel intervals in imitation of rustic instruments like bagpipes and the hurdy-gurdy. Such features are prominent in the music of shepherds who have played shawns and bagpipes in Italian towns as part of Christmas festivities since the 19th century at least, but it is unclear whether this was in imitation of the conventions of art music or the other way around.

The popularity of Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto” led to innumerable imitations and echoes of this work can be heard in the “Pifa” from Handel’s Messiah, in the second part of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and into the 19th and 20th centuries.

Arcangelo Corelli, 17th Century Superstar

November 29th, 2007 No comments

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

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

Alessandro Scarlatti's Roman Cantatas

November 4th, 2007 No comments

Alessandro Scarlatti was born into poverty in famine-stricken Sicily in 1660 and it has been suggested that his humble origins made his a compulsive worker and contributed to his prolific and varied output. While his reputation as the founder of the Neapolitan school of 18th century opera may be somewhat over-stated, his works in the genre are highly skilled and original, and marked by innovations in orchestration, strong dramatic characterization and, above all, an unfailing melodic sense.

It is in the genre of works for voice and instruments, like those featured in Magnificat’s December concerts, that Scarlatti’s most perfectly realized and imaginative music is to be found, as he excelled in the art of the soliloquy, in detailed imagery, and in dialogue between voice and instruments. These works represent the most refined and intellectual type of chamber music at the turn of the 18th century and it is unfortunate that most of Scarlatti hundreds of cantatas have remained in manuscript, though many have recently become available in modern editions through the work of The Scarlatti Project. Read more…