Classical Music Buzz > Magnificat
Magnificat
a blog about the ensemble Magnificat and the art and culture of the 17th Century
236 Entries

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.

1 month ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Magnificat’s 16th season opened with two divertissements of Marc-Antoine Charpentier.  In 1682, Charpentier’s patroness Madame de Guise commissioned entertainments for the coming winter season, when she would be in residence at Versailles. One of these court events was the “Fête of the Apartments”, an innovation by Louis XIV himself that began in November of that year and continued well into January. Three times a week, from 6 until 10 in the evening, a variety of entertainments were held in the principal rooms of the Great Apartment of Versailles: billiards, cards, games of chance, refreshments (including fruits, sorbets, wine and liqueurs, and hot coffee and chocolate), plus “symphonies” and “dancing”. Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Couronne de Fleur were most probably performed on these occasions.

In his review of  the Berkeley performance, Joseph Sargent of the San Francisco Classical Voice wrote “Delivering a crystalline performance marked by luscious vocal purity and elegant instrumental support, Magnificat captured the vitality and freshness of these charming works, turning the evening into an impeccably refined affair.” Laura Heimes can be heard in an excerpt from Le Plaisirs de Versailles on Magnificat’s music page.

In December, Magnificat presented a Christmas Vespers drawing pslams and motets from the Messa e salmi concertate of 1639 by Giovanni Antonio Rigatti. Having sung as a boy under Monteverdi at San Marco in Venice, Rigatti held positions at several institutions in Northern Italy including one of the Ospedale in Venice. He returned to San Marco in 1647 shortly before his untimely death at the age of 35. The program also featured instrumental music by Massimiliano Neri, one of the organists at San Marco.

In February, Magnificat performed Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien in a program that was similar to a program first performed at the 1996 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition but on a more intimate scale. The Exequien was commissioned for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Reuss Posthumus in 1635. In wishing to give this unqiue work a life beyond the specific occasion of its initial composition, he suggested in the preface of the publication that it could serve as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a amass for the Feast of Purification. Following the liturgical practice of the Dresden Court Chapel of the mid-1630s, and incorporating other music by Schütz and his collaegues, Magnificat’s program did just that.

As in other programs based on Lutheran liturgies, the audience was invited to join in for the congregational chorales. The program was framed by a Ricercar and Toccata by Johann Jakob Froberger played by Davitt Moroney.

Magnificat’s season concluded with Scarlatti’s serenata “Venere, Amore e Ragione” in performances that featured three “Jennifers”: Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Jennifer Paulino and Jennifer Lane. The precise circumstances of the first performance of Venere Amore, e Ragione are unknown, though it seems likely that the it was associated with Scarlatti’s induction in the Arcadian Academy in 1706. The libretto, attributed to the Roman poet Silvio Stampiglia -a fellow member of the Arcadian Academy who collaborated with Scarlatti on many occasions – recounts a dispute between Venus and Reason over the conduct of Venus’ son Cupid.

Over the course of the 2008-2009 season Artistic Director Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies, Rob Digins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Elise Figa,  Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Martin Hummel, Dan Hutchings, Jennifer Lane,  Christopher LeCluyse, Craig Lemming, José Lemos, Davitt Moroney,  Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, and David Wilson.

2 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

The instrumental music on Magnificat’s Berkeley Festival program is drawn from Musiche sacre (Venice, 1656) by Monteverdi’s colleague at San Marco, Pier Francesco Cavalli. A musician of the highest caliber, Cavalli’s virtuosity as an organist was compared to Frescobaldi and in 1655 Giovanni Ziotti wrote that ‘truly in Italy he has no equal’ as a singer, organist and composer. Giovanni Battista Volpe, another organist at San Marco, praised Cavalli’s ability to “set his texts to noble music, to sing them incomparably and to accompany them with delicate precision.”

A talented boy soprano, Cavalli was engaged at San Marco in 1616 at the age of 14 and remained in the service of the Basilica for the remainder of his life, first as a singer, then organist and finally as maestro di capella. During the 1620s was also organist at SS. Giovanni e Paolo and free-lanced regularly at other churches in Venice, at the Scuola Grande de San Rocco and at salons in the private homes of numerous wealthy Venetian patrons. Despite his growing reputation as a singer and composer, the youthful Cavalli led a reckless lifestyle, racking up considerable gambling debts that were generously paid by admiring patrons.

His marriage to an affluent widow in 1630 transformed Cavalli into a wealthy landowner and later allowed him to become one of the first investors in public opera, the arena in which his most enduring fame was to be established. Involved not only as a composer but as an impresario, Cavalli was the dominant figure in the first generation of Venetian opera and during the 1640s and 50s he composed over 20 operas, many of which were performed in outside of Venice as well. In 1659 he was honored with a commission from Cardinal Mazarin to compose an opera for the occasion of the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa, the Infanta of Spain.

Throughout this period Cavalli retained his position as organist at San Marco and upon the death of Rovetta in 1667 he was unanimously chosen to succeed him as maestro di capella. Following in the tradition of retrospective collections, Cavalli prepared his Musiche sacre for publication in 1656. Musiche sacrecontains 28 works – eleven psalms, five hymns, a Magnificat, four Marian antiphons, an elaborate concertato Mass setting (which Magnificat will perform on the San Francisco Early Music concert series in December 2014) and six instrumental sonatas, five of which will serve as ‘antiphon substitutes’ on Magnificat’s program.

The smaller sonatas – those in 3, 4 and 6 parts – are more contrapuntal than the larger works, in which the instruments are divided into two choirs and the texture is more consistently homophonic. While the overall style of the sonatas is conservative, often reminiscent of Gabrieli’s canzoni, there are nevertheless features drawn directly from Cavalli’s operatic style, e.g. the extended descending tetrachord ostinato section at the end of the Canzona a 3.

6 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Herb Myers has reconstructed the trombone parts for Magnificat’s performance of vespers music from Monteverdi’s Selva morale on June 8 as part of the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. We asked him to discuss the issues involved in “Re-composing” Monteverdi.

In the rubrics heading a number of the items in the Selva morale – including the Dixit Dominus secondo, Beatus vir primoLaudate Dominum primo, and Magnificat primo on today’s program – Monteverdi mentions the optional inclusion of a choir of either viole (in this case meaning lower members of the violin family) or tromboni. The rubrics are somewhat deceptive however, in that they suggest these instruments may be “left out, according to need,” while in fact if we wish to include them their parts must be reconstructed, as such parts are generally lacking in the original print.

We are thus left with a number of puzzles. Are the instruments simply supposed to double the vocal parts? If so, which ones?  (There are always more vocal parts than the suggested number of viole or tromboni – usually just four.) And where do they play? Throughout?  (Unlikely, but possible.) Just in the tutti sections? Or wherever the obbligato violins play?

Happily an otherwise unfortunate mistake on the part of Bartolomeo Magni, Monteverdi’s publisher, helps provide answers. 

In place of two of the indispensable vocal parts (Altus II and Bassus II) of the Magnificat primo, Magni printed two of the optional instrumental parts, each labeled viola. As pointed out several years ago by the noted English conductor Andrew Parrott, these inadvertently printed parts supply invaluable clues not only for fleshing out the instrumental choir of the Magnificat itself, but for composing parts for similar choirs of low strings or brass in other works.

Analysis of the two surviving viola parts shows that indeed the optional choirs were primarily intended to strengthen forces in tutti passages; often this does mean chiming in with the violins, but the latter still have an independent role to play in more lightly scored passages. We also discover that the parts of the viole or tromboni choir did not double any vocal parts consistently, but neither did they avoid such doubling; the contrapuntal rules to be followed in making up such parts thus resemble closely those given at the time for making up a keyboard basso continuo realization.

As a consequence of Magni’s error, we are of course forced to reconstruct as well the missing vocal parts of the Magnificat, but that task is actually somewhat easier than one might imagine; the nature of the missing parts is easily determined, and there is little room for doubt regarding the proper solutions. All considered, then, the publisher’s error turns out to have been something of a blessing in disguise.

*****

Herbert Myers is Lecturer in Early Winds at Stanford University, from which he holds B.A., M.A., and D.M.A. degrees. He is also curator of Stanford’s collections of musical instruments. As a member of the Concert Ensemble of the New York Pro Musica from 1970 to 1973 he toured extensively throughout North and South America, performing on a variety of early winds and strings; currently he performs with The Whole Noyse, Magnificat and the Jubilate Baroque Orchestra. He is well known as an expert in the history and construction of musical instruments through his numerous published articles and reviews.

6 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Artistic Director Warren Stewart will lead Magnificat and the Whole Noyse in the concluding concert of the 2014 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition on Sunday June 8, 4:00 p.m. at Berkley’s First Congregational Church. The program will feature music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale (1641) and Francesco Cavalli’s Musiche sacre (1656.) Tickets are available through www.berkeleyfestival.org.

In the last decade of his life Claudio Monteverdi assembled two monumental collections of music that form a testament to his thirty-year tenure in Venice. His Eighth Book of Madrigals – those of War and Love – was published in 1636 while his omnibus collection of sacred music Selva morale e spirituale (Sacred and spiritual forest) – the source for most of the music on our program – appeared in 1641. The madrigal book was dedicated to the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand III while Selva morale was dedicated to Ferdinand’s stepmother, the dowager Empress Eleonora Gonzaga, daughter of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua and widow of the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II.

The publication of such retrospective collections was customary among prestigious musicians at San Marco, with examples from Willaert’s Musica Nova, to the Gabrielis’ Symphoniæ Sacræ to the other source of music on our program, Cavalli’s Musiche sacre. Though some twenty sacred works by Monteverdi appeared in various anthologies during the 1620s and 30s, Selva morale is the only volume devoted to his Venetian sacred music that was published during his lifetime and under his supervision, and while it contains a substantial body of work, it nonetheless represents only a fraction of the sacred music he must have composed as maestro at San Marco.

Like the Eighth Book of Madrigals, Selva morale is divided into two sections. The first opens with a sequence of spiritual madrigals and arias, each dealing with the transitory nature of human life and worldly success. A four-voice stile antico setting of the Mass ordinary together with a concerted Gloria and three sections of the Credo follow these madrigals, with a solo bass aria completing the first part. The second part contains psalms, hymns and Magnificats for Vespers, a series of Marian antiphons, two non-liturgical texts, and a sacred contrafacta of the famous Lament of Arianna. Unlike Monteverdi’s celebrated Vespers of 1610, which contains only a single sequence of psalms, hymn and Magnificat for feasts of the Blessed Virgin, Selva morale includes multiple settings of individual texts from which a choirmaster could select those proper for a particular feast. Our program this evening follows the liturgy for the First Vespers of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice, and the psalms, antiphons, chapter and hymn have been chosen accordingly.

The large-scale settings on our program (Dixit Dominus, Beatus vir, Laudate Dominum and the Magnificat) are written in the concertato style in which structure and variety are achieved by means of often dramatically contrasting textures with massive tutti sections alternating with duets and trios and dialogues between pairs of singers and pairs of instruments. Indeed, contrasts as a means of expressing rhetoric and emotion permeate the entire collection and call to mind Monteverdi’s observation in the preface of the Eight Book of Madrigals “that it is contraries which deeply affect our mind, the goal of the effect that good music ought to have.”

The other two psalms on the program are for five voices. Confitebor tibi terzo is designated “alla francese” (in the French manner), a compositional style that Monteverdi’s brother Giulio Cesare maintained was introduced into Italy by Monteverdi. The precise meaning of the term is uncertain, perhaps indicating a tuneful, full-voiced singing style associated with northern Europe or, like some of Monteverdi’s other “French” works, it may refer to a call and response style and the frequent paired setting of syllables. With its free alteration of the psalm text, the first of the settings of Laudate pueri, as well as the Magnificat primo, represents a style fashionable in the 1640s described by one contemporary writer as ‘salmi bizarri,’ or ‘clever psalms.’ Its melodic material is focused on two contrasting subjects – a duple meter tenor duet that acts as a ritornello and an aria-like triple meter section that evolves over the course of the psalm.

Monteverdi provided several hymn settings and indicated that each could be used for other hymns in the same meter. The hymn for Feasts of Apostles and Evangelists, Tristes erant Apostoli, fits the meter of Monteverdi’s second setting of Deus tuorum militum, for alto, tenor, bass, violins and continuo. For his hymns, Monteverdi sets the pre-Tridentine versions of hymns from the Common of Saints, texts which continued to be used at San Marco even after Pope Urban VII’s reforms of 1632.

The dialogue motet Iubilet tota civitas is curiously designated “a voce solo in Dialogo”, and in the partbook the single melody contains rubrics instructing canta (sing) or tacet (be silent). Most likely the motet was intended for two equal voices, one calling upon the city to rejoice and the other asking about the occasion for rejoicing. The saint’s name is given simply as ‘sanctus N.’, making this a general purpose motet into which any saint’s name can be inserted as required – for our program Saint Mark.

6 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

During the 2006-2007 season, Magnificat presented four programs, two of which were repeated on tour. In addition to our usual subscription series concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Magnificat appeared on the Tropical Baroque Festival in Miami and as part of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music conference at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. The image used on Magnificat’s brochure and website for the season, both designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko, was from Harmonia Macrocosmica by Andreas Cellarius published in 1660.

The season began in October with a program of music that Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote while he was  music master of the Saint-Chapelle. Founded in the 13th Century, 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 because of the magistrates scarlet vestments. The two works on Magnificat’s program were written for performance at the “Red Mass”, the Motet pour une longue offrande in 1698 and Judicium Salomonis (The Judgement of Solomon) in 1702.

In her review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomson praised Magnificat as “and ensemble that can do it all,” observing “[o]ne of the recurring joys of hearing Magnificat is the ease with which the ensemble slips into the stylistic garb of each program. It takes an uncommonly disciplined musical sensibility to range as widely over this bewildering century as these musicians do — and yet they always seem right at home. On Saturday night, the rhetorical tone was just right for Charpentier: poised and serene, perceptibly stylized and yet sincere, unfailingly elegant — but also, rejoicing unabashedly in the richness of the harmony. The performance-practice niceties — the easily swung notes inegales, the lovingly dwelt-upon cadential appoggiaturas, the (to my ears) impeccable French Latin — all seemed as natural as breathing.”

In December, Magnificat performed a program model on one that had been part of our 1998 season featuring the music of Dietrich Buxtehude. The program included seven Advent cantatas whose central themes involve the expectation of the arrival of the divine beloved. The texts include mystical devotional poems, Lutheran chorales, and scripture and the affective range of

the cantatas reflect the emotional richness of the season, from joyous anticipation to somber self-examination and spiritual preparation. The program also included two ensemble sonatas. Buxtehude’s sonatas owe more to the tradition of improvisatory virtuoso music of mid century Germany than to the Corelli trio sonatas that had become the model across Europe by the end of the century. It is possible that some of the music on the program may have been incorporated into Buxtehude’s famous Abendmusik productions, though it is just as likely that it was intended for devotional services in court or private situations.

Writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent wrote “Buxtehude — more familiar to audiences for his organ music — has a distinguished output of sacred vocal music that reveals a composer of great invention who could deploy a stunning variety of textures and styles over the span of just a few minutes of music. Magnificat proved up to the task of negotiating these shifts, delivering a sparkling performance that further established their Bay Area reputation as a leading interpreter of 17th century repertory.”

In February 2007, Magnificat presented Alessandro Stradella’s oratorio La Susanna. One of at least 86 oratorios composed during his tragically shortened life, La Susanna was commissioned by the Francesco, Duke of Modena. Its text, in two Parts as was usual, was written by the Modenese poet Giovanni Battista Giardini, who was also secretary to Francesco, and he based his libretto on the biblical account of Susanna given in chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel.

After three performances on our series in the Bay Area, Magnificat travelled to Miami to perform Susanna at the Tropical Baroque Festival. In his review for the Miami Herald,  Alan Becker praised Laura Heimes, who sang the title role, as “balm to the ears. Her tones were perfectly floated over the ensemble, and her willingness to sing softly made her a Susanna of beauty indeed.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat returned to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, with music for vespers that was repeated at the conference of the Society for Seventeenth Century Music at Notre Dame University. Kathryn Miller observed in the SFCV review“Cozzolani’s distinctive style focuses on contrasts. Long, spun-out homophonic lines turn suddenly to quick moving polyphony, out of which a soloist will emerge, only to be drawn back into the ensemble. These musical contrasts are also paired with dramatic shifts, and the women of Magnificat deftly crafted each moment, infusing phrases with freshness and spontaneity. Each new motive or dynamic bloomed and grew.”

The performance at Notre Dame was an important one for Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart. “Performing at the 17th Century music conference was a special thrill for me,” noted Stewart. “It was a privilege to perform for a select audience of musicologists, many of whom had devoted their lives to researching the music of women and specifically nuns in the 17th century. A high point!”

During the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Christopher Conley, Steve Cresswell, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Kristen Dubenion Smith, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Andrea Fullington, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Dan Hutchings, Suzanne Jubenville, Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, Deboah Rentz-Moore, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

9 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

“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.”

Thus Heinrich Schütz described his experiences during his second trip to the Most Serene Republic in a letter to a friend upon his return to Dresden. Our program this evening explores his visit, one of the most consequential musical encounters of the seventeenth century. It focuses on a meeting that must have taken place between two of the towering figures of music in the first half of the century: Schütz and Claudio Monteverdi – a meeting that embodies the migration of style from Italy over the Alps so characteristic of the early Baroque.

Earlier in his life, Schütz had spent four years in Venice as a student of Giovanni Gabrieli, his studies ending with the old master’s death in the summer of 1612. Schütz returned to Saxony a few months later, thus missing Monteverdi’s arrival in Venice by less than a year. Shortly after his return, Schütz was engaged as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden – among the most prestigious positions for a musician in Germany, a position he retained for the rest of his very long life.

In 1617 Schütz composed and directed the music for the extensive festivities celebrating the centenary of the Reformation, leading a large ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. Much of this music was published in Schütz’s Psalmen Davids in 1619 and was written in the robust polychoral style of his teacher. He continued to enjoy a happy and productive life in Dresden until a series of personal tragedies in the mid 1620s were followed by Saxony’s disastrous decision to enter what we now call the Thirty Years War in 1627. Funds were quickly diverted from music and the arts to the military effort and already in 1628 the Electoral Music had been drastically reduced and Schütz began a period of more than a decade in which he was often away from Dresden. He had petitioned his employer several times for permission to travel to Venice and when it was finally granted in the summer of 1628, he quickly made preparations for the journey, arriving in Italy in early fall and staying for almost a year.

While there is no direct documentation of a meeting between Schütz and Monteverdi during his second visit, it is inconceivable that they were not in contact. As the music directors of two of the greatest musical establishments in Europe, they would surely have met and perhaps even performed together and the spirit of Monteverdi’s “new music” that Schütz heard in Venice remained an inspiration for the remainder of his life.

Two works on our program display the influence of Monteverdi on Schütz quite literally: the madrigal Chiome d’oro, set to German text by Schütz in the 1640s and especially the sacred motet Es steh Gott auf, included in his second set of Symphoniæ Sacræ. This delightful motet is a parody of madrigals by Monteverdi found in his Scherzi musicali of 1632: Armato il cor and Zefiro torna. Schütz wrote in the preface that he “in some small way followed” these two works, but added that no one should believe him to have been only “so lazy as to decorate his work with others’ feathers.”

While our program is built around several works by the two masters, the music of other composers that Schütz may have heard during his visit is represented as well. Most significantly for Schütz was most likely Alessandro Grandi, whose superbly crafted motets and concertato madrigals are most clearly reflected in the style Schütz developed after his visit to Venice. Grandi had been Monteverdi’s assistant at San Marco for over a decade before moving to Bergamo to become maestro di capella at Santa Maria Maggiore, a position that not only paid him very well but also gave him the opportunity to write music for larger forces. Tragically, his life was cut short at the peek of his career by the plague that ravaged Northern Italy in 1630.

What little is known of the instrumentalist and composer Dario Castello is drawn primarily from the title pages of his publications, which identify him as a musician at San Marco and the leader of an ensemble of winds. His two surviving collections of sonatas feature extraordinarily virtuosic writing, suggest that he was most likely a highly skilled performer. The large number of reprints of both books is an indication of the popularity and wide diffusion of Castello’s works throughout Europe.

By contrast, we know considerably more about Castello’s sometimes colleague at San Marco, Biagio Marini. During Schütz’s visit to Venice, Marini, already well established as one of the first virtuoso violinists in Europe, published his eighth book of compositions, subtitled “Curiose e Moderne Invenzioni.” Born in Brescia in 1594, Marini had been appointed as a violinist at San Marco in 1615 where he worked directly with Monteverdi and Grandi. By 1620 he had begun what would be a peripatetic career that would see him serve as instrumentalist and music director in several Italian cities and in courts as far north as Düsseldorf and Neuberg. A prolific composer, by the time of his death in 1663 he had published over 20 collections of music, including sacred and secular vocal music as well as music for violin and instrumental ensembles.

Carlo Farina was a violin virtuoso born in Mantua during Monteverdi’s tenure there and may have studied with Salamone Rossi. In 1625 he was appointed concertmaster of Electoral Court of Saxony where he worked closely with Schütz and published his two collections of violin music. With the deterioration of the situation in Saxony, Farina returned to Italy in 1628, working for a time in Parma and later at Lucca. In fact, one of Schütz’s assignments on his trip to Venice was to secure the services of a violinist to replace Farina and indeed he returned to Dresden with the highly respected violinist Francesco Castelli, also from Mantua. Farina crossed the Alps again in the 1630s to work in Danzig and then Vienna, where he died in 1638.

Our program includes two toccatas – one for theorbo and one for harpsichord – that further reflect the integration of Italianate and Transalpine styles. The Bolognese lutenist Alessandro Piccinini was a contemporary of Monteverdi, who worked in Ferrara and Bologna. In the first of his publications of music for the lute, he makes the plausible claim to have invented the archlute in the 1590s. Whatever the veracity of his claim, there is little doubt that Piccinini was the finest lutenist of his generation.

Like Schütz, Johan Jacob Froberger travelled to Italy to study. Born in Stuttgart, Froberger had already been employed as an organist in Vienna when he first travelled to Rome to study with Frescobaldi from 1637 to 1641. After spending six years back in Vienna, he returned to Rome, this time working with the polymath Athanasius Kircher and possibly Iacomo Carissimi. After leaving Rome he travelled extensively, performing in many courts across Europe. In 1650 he was in Dresden where he likely collaborated with Schütz and Christoph Bernhard. Froberger’s compositions, almost entirely for keyboard, exerted a considerable influence on harpsichord and organ music in the second half of the century, not only in his native Germany but also in France. His blend of Italian exuberance and expressivity with northern counterpoint and chromaticism echoes in the works of Buxtehude, Böhm, Couperin and Bach.

Magnificat is grateful to the San Jose Chamber Music Society for the invitation to return to perform on a series on which we first appeared in 1991. That program also featured music of Monteverdi and Schütz and served as a catalyst for our own annual concert series, which began the next year.

10 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Magnificat’s 2005-2006 featured music by two composer, by then quite familiar to our audiences, Schütz and Charpentier, a less familiar name, Johann Rosenmüller and program featuring a variety of composers’ settings of text from Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido that opened the season. The season also marked the debut of the Magnificat blog as part of a new website designed by creative director Nika Korniyenko. The frontispiece the collected works of Jakob Böhme, published in Amsterdam in 1682, served as the basic image for the season brochure.

“A pastiche of little madrigals” is how Gaspare Murtola described Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in 1626, and while his comment was intended as derogatory, he succeeding in pointing both to the strength and weakness of the play. The overblown and self-consciously poetic language of Guarini’s tragicomedy succeeded in making the play a relative failure on the stage, tremendous success as a work of literature, and a goldmine for composers seeking affective, emotional texts through which to display the new compositional techniques of the early baroque. The order of the program was determined by Guarini’s play, with settings by Sigismondo d’India, Claudio Monteverdi, Tarquinio Merula, Alessandro Grandi, and Giovanni Ghizzolo. In his review for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Joseph Sargent noted “Magnificat displayed impressive command in the ensemble madrigals, their faultless intonation and carefully matched phrasing adding greatly to this music’s effectiveness.”

For our Christmas concert, Magnificat returned to one of our most beloved programs, the Nativity Pastorale of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. An arrangement interpolating traditional French noels into Charpentier’s histoire sacrée, this program has been featured on Magnificat’s series four times, most recently in 2012. In each revival, audiences and musicians alike are struck by the sheer beauty of Charpentier’s contrapuntal technique, the profound simplicity of the timeless noels and the exuberance and sensuality revealed in their juxtaposition.

Writing for the San Francisco Classical Voice, Michelle Dulak Thomsen observed that “[o]ther Bay Area early-music ensembles visit the 17th century from time to time, but Magnificat is the only one of its size that practically dwells there, and it seems to be even more thoroughly at home with each performance. Certainly Saturday’s performance at St. Mark’s in Berkeley was a marvel of ease, balance, and brilliance.”

In January, 2006, Magnificat turned to Heinrich Schütz. Following on a very enjoyable program drawn from the composer’s first collection of Symphoniæ Sacræ in the 2003-2004 season, this program featured music from Symphoniæ Sacræ II, published in Dresden in 1647. Including works composed by Schütz over the almost two decades since his second trip to Venice, the collection represents the fullest example of the blending of the “new music” he had heard in Italy with the German language.

The collection differs from the first Symphoniæ Sacræ in its generally dark themes and more subdued tone, no doubt a reflection a desperation of war-ravaged Germany. Rebekkah Ahrendt commented on this darker tone in her review noting “Stewart’s programming was impeccable as usual for this concert. With his team of musicians who have long been together, Stewart, through the music of Schütz and his friends, showed that even in a time of war, friendship, hope, and art can endure. That is the message I took home from this concert; I hope others did as well.”

The final concerts of the season featured psalms and a Magnificat by the remarkable Johann Rosenmüller, who perhaps better than any composer of the period embodies the amalgamation of German temperament and Italian style. The program followed the vespers liturgy for the Feast of the Annunciation, and also included psalm settings by Cavalli and Rovetta, with Rosenmüller’s instrumental sonatas as antiphon substitutes. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman noted the effect of he antiphon substitution “As Warren Stewart, Magnificat’s visionary artistic director, noted in a preconcert lecture, 17th century Italians “spent a lot of effort to make going to church as much like going to a concert as possible.” Nowadays, he added ruefully, he spends his time trying to make going to a concert as much as possible like going to church — “and all in the name of authenticity!” … The performance, by a quintet of strong singers and a small instrumental consort, was first-rate.”

Born around 1619 in a small town near Zwickau in Saxony, Rosenmüller studied theology at the University of Leipzig and music with Tobias Michael, cantor of the Thomasschule. He quickly rose to the position of assistant cantor by 1650. He was appointed organist at Nikolaikirche in 1651 and in 1653 he was promised the succession to the cantorate. This promising career came to an abrupt halt in 1655 when, along with several of the St. Thomas schoolboys, he was accused of homosexuality for which he was jailed. While awaiting trial he managed to escape and eventually made his way to Venice where in January of 1658 he was appointed as a trombonist in the orchestra of San Marco. He remained in Venice until 1682, when he was appointed Kappelmeister in Wolfenbüttel, where he remained until his death in 1684. While in Venice, Rosenmüller was active as a composer, both at San Marco and at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi would be employed a few decades later.

Over the course of the 2005-2006 season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle,Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Paul Elliott, Cathy Ellis, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Vicki Gunn Pich, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Daniel Hutchings, Phoebe Jevkovic, Hanneke van Proosdij, Byron Rakitzis, David Tayler,Catherine Webster and David Wilson.

10 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

This review by Niels Swinkels was posted at San Francisco Classical Voice.

In its new concert season, Magnificat examines musical encounters and exchanges that influenced the music of the 17th century, a period marked by the invention of opera, oratorio, and virtuoso instrumental music, in which this Bay Area baroque ensemble specializes.

Last weekend’s season opener was a co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society and performed together with Bay Area early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse. In three concerts in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and San Francisco, Magnificat juxtaposed music from the two preeminent representatives of the early 17th Century Venetian music scene: Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi.

Both composers worked at the Basilica San Marco in Venice, as organist and maestro di capella (music director) respectively, but since Gabrieli died in 1612 and Monteverdi (1567-1643) did not even move to Venice until he was hired in 1613, it is highly unlikely that the two composers actually ever met in person, although they must have met in spirit — despite their different styles and aesthetics.

Last weekend, it was the Christmas spirit that brought them and their music together in A Venetian Christmas Mass, a re-enactment of the sonic events of a 17th-century Christmas day Mass, following the liturgical sequence and complete with chant and the recitation of prayers and Gospel readings.

Magnificat’s Artistic Director Warren Stewart drew the music for the re-creation of this Christmas mass from several different collections such as Gabrieli’s second book of Symphoniae Sacrae (Sacred Symphonies) and Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale (Moral and Spiritual Forest, 1641), and the Vespro Della Beata Vergine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin) from 1610.

They were both very effective in writing music that makes a huge impact … best summed up in a resounding ‘Wow!’ from an audience member behind me, when the resplendent reverberation of the majestic closing chord had only barely dissipated.

In a recent radio interview on KALW’s Open Air, Stewart mentioned that both Gabrieli and Monteverdi wrote “music for grand and festive occasions such as Christmas, Easter, or major civic celebrations. And they were both very effective in writing music that makes a huge impact.”

That huge impact was best summed up in a resounding ‘Wow!’ from an audience member behind me, at the end of the Sunday concert at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, when the resplendent reverberation of the majestic closing chord of Gabrieli’s Omnes Gentes, plaudite minibus (All nations, clap your hands) had only barely dissipated.

The Venetian Christmas Mass unexpectedly stirred deep memories in my no-longer-Roman-Catholic soul, especially in the way in which bass and “celebrant” Hugh Davies sang/recited the second Gospel reading and the “Prefatio,” gently accompanied by the background noise of sniffs and coughs and creaking pews; with people moving their bodies and shuffling their feet.

It was a complete soundscape of the neighborhood church of my youth, in which my father conducted the choir for more than forty years. The only difference was that no priest in my memory ever sang as beautifully as Hugh Davies. And I am sure that my father would have loved to have the assistance of vocalists like Magnificat’s fine octet.

In addition to a powerful intellectual time machine, A Venetian Christmas Mass was also an overwhelming concert experience, due to the vocal and instrumental splendor of Magnificat as an ensemble.

Of the many magnificent vocal moments, I especially liked the way in which the timbres of sopranos Clara Rottsolk and Jennifer Paulino beautifully blended and complemented each other in the rising melodic gestures of “Et ascendit in caelum” (And He ascended into heaven), right after the male singers dramatically explored the despondency of the forever descending melody of “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis” (He was also crucified for us), in the Credo setting by Monteverdi.

Together with the continuo players John Dornenburg, John Lenti, and Katherine Heater (violone, theorbo, organ), The Whole Noyse, expanded for the occasion with two additional sackbuts (early trombones) played virtuosic instrumental interludes during the Offertory and Communion and provided an impressive sonorous foundation for the monumental architecture of the music of Gabrieli and Monteverdi.

10 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story

Magnificat was especially active in the 2004-2005 season, performing four programs on our own series while also appearing on the San Francisco Early Music Society concert series and returning for an engagement with the Music Before 1800 series in New York City. Each program focused on the work of a single composer: Carissimi, Monteverdi, Rovetta, Charpentier, Cozzolani, and Schütz.

The season opened with a program devoted to the music of Iacomo Carissimi, featuring two oratorios – Vantitas Vantitaum and Baltazar – a madrigal Fuggi, fuggi, and the allegorical dialogue Alma che fai, che pensi? The program also included two canzoni for two violins and continuo by Frescobaldi and a harpsichord toccata by Michelangelo Rossi. In her San Francisco Classical Voice review, posted on September 28, 2004, Anna Carol Dudley noted “Sopranos Catherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis, tenors Paul Elliott and Scott Whitaker (Elliott mostly singing alto parts) and bass Peter Becker were all at the top of their form, consistently sensitive to the words, spot-on in tuning, varied in their use of dynamics and vocal color, masters of coloratura, peerless in stylistic delineation of recitative and aria — above all, bringing wonderfully expressive music fully to life.”  Several works from the San Francisco performance on September 24, 2004 can be streamed and downloaded at Magnificat’s music page.

In November, Magnificat presented works of Monteverdi in a program that featured sopranos Caherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis Kampani and violinists Rob Diggins and Cynthia Freivogel. Vocal works included Zefiro torna and Si dolce e’l tormento as well as Chiome d’oro, Exulta filia Sion, Confitebor tibi Domine, Salve Regina, O come sei gentile, Ed è dunque pur vero and the Lament d’Arianna. The instrumental ensemble contributed two trio sonatas by Marini and a solo sonata of Dario Castello. Michelle Dulak, writing for San Francisco Classical Voice observed “Ellis and Webster have the agility, the accuracy, and the focused sound for this music, in which any of those three qualities being lacking spells major trouble. Agility, for example: Ellis’ coloratura in the solo motet “Exulta filia Sion” (Rejoice, daughter of Zion) and Webster’s in the third “Salve Regina” from the Selva morale were marvelous.

The following month, Magnificat was presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society in a Christmas  Vespers featuring music by Giovanni Rovetta, Monteverdi’s successor as maestro di capella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice. While working in has shadow of Monteverdi has affected Rovetta’s historical position it did not hinder his reputation during his own lifetime as he was one of the outstanding figures in Venetian musical life and he was active as a performer and as a composer of five large vespers collections, four volumes of concertato madrigals, at least two operas and numerous works in anthologies and manuscripts in a career than spanned thirty six years. Though we had previously performed individual works by Rovetta, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to share five psalms and a Magnificat from Rovetta, along with five sonatas by Venetian musician Massimiliano Neri and a motet by Cavalli with the San Francisco Early Music Society audience.

In January, we turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a program featuring two of the composer’s Latin oratorios, or histoires sacrées:  Filius Prodigus and the Sacrificium Abrahæ. Representing the most direct link with Charpentier’s teacher Carissimi both in genre and style, Charpentier’s 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.

Magnificat’s season concluded with a program featuring two dramatic works of Heinrich Schütz: the Seven Last Words of Christ and the Reusrrection Story. For these concerts Magnificat welcomed back German baritone Martin Hummel and the Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols. Certainly the most striking of Schütz’s innovations in the setting of the Resurrection narrative is his use of a quartet of viols to accompany the evangelist’s words. Adapting a popular vocal style of the period called falso bordone, the viols sustain chords under the stationary reciting tone and bursting into expressive and florid part writing at each cadence. Kip Cranna praised Magnificat’s interpretation Schütz in his San Francisco Classical Voice review noting “This can be difficult repertoire to bring to life, with its narrow-ranged melodies, rhetoric based phrasing, frequent, formulaic cadences, and somber modal hues. Magnificat has mastered this refined art through exacting attention to detail and an obvious love for the music itself… .”

After completing our home season, Magnificat travelled to New York, where we were presented in a return engagement on the Music Before 1800 series. As in 2003, the program featured Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, this time the mass ordinary set in the context of the liturgy for Easter Sunday.

Over the course of the season artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Ruth Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Amy Green, Martin Hummel, Daniel Hutchings, Boyd Jarrelll, Julie Jeffrey, Tim Krol, Christopher LeCluyse, David Morris, Farley Pearce, Hanneke van Proosdij, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Wolodymyr Smishkevich, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

11 months ago | |
Tag
| Read Full Story
1 - 10  | 123456789 next
InstantEncore