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Magnificat
a blog about the ensemble Magnificat and the art and culture of the 17th Century
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Matteo Ricci

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

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

The Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries

After a decade of dialogue with members of the Chinese intelligentia, Ricci was called to meet with Emperor K’ang-Hsi in Beijing in 1601, the first western missionary to receive such an invitation. He became the court mathematician and remained in Beijing for the last nine years of his life. In 1602 , he published his “Great Map of Ten Thousand Countries,” a world map for China.

While in China Ricci wrote a Treatise on Friendship, a Treatise on Mnemonic Arts, a Chinese translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, a book of Chinese apologetics—The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven, and Ten Discourses by a Paradoxical Man. In addition, the journals that he kept and edited for publication allow one of the few glimpses of an outsider’s view of Chinese society and government during a period when China was closed to foreign visitors.

The website IgnatianSpirituality notes:

“After Ricci’s death certain of his decisions were questioned by Church authorities. Especially questioned was Matteo Ricci’s acceptance of Chinese ancestor worship as a legitimate, nontheological memorial to their ancestors that Catholic converts could practice. Later missionaries, not as schooled in Chinese culture, questioned this interpretation and brought their case to the Vatican. After decades of debate, in 1705 the Vatican decided that the Chinese practice of ancestor worship rites was incompatible with Catholic doctrine and was forbidden. Hearing this, the Chinese emperor banned Christian missions from China in 1721, closing the door that Ricci worked so patiently to open.”

I have drawn freely from this and several other articles for this brief overview of the fascinating life of Matteo Ricci.  A wealth of information about Ricci is available on the Zhaoqing Ricci  Center website. The University of San Francisco’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History promotes Chinese-Western interaction in the spirit of friendship and respect exemplified by Ricci. An extensive article on Ricci and the Catholic Church’s deliberations with regards to Ricci’s mission can be read at the Catholic Encyclopedia site.

7 months ago |
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Musicians at San Marco in Venice

Musicians at San Marco in Venice

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

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

Anyone who has played or attended a concert performance of the St. John Passion is struck by the imbalance of the two sections of the work – so counter to the accepted wisdom of good programming. The first half is always longer than the second and the intermission arrives uncomfortably early in the program. This, of course, is not an issue in the liturgy for which the piece was intended.

Once the liturgy made its way through Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, prayer, and epistle, I remember a certain satisfaction in hearing the congregation singing a chorale that would later appear within Bach’s Passion setting. The balance and integration of the full experience left me convinced that Bach, the great master, knew what he was doing – he wrote his Passion with a specific liturgical context in mind and never even considered the possibility that it might be performed in a concert hall, divorced from that liturgy.

I considered other great musical works that set liturgical texts and became intrigued by the notion of performing them in their original liturgical context, albiet in a concert, rather than a actual liturgy. I first had a chance to try this out in Magnificat’s first season in performances of Schütz’ Weinachtshistorie, and found that the experience of reconstructing the liturgy for a mid-century Dresden Christmas Vespers was immensely challenging and rewarding. The overwhelmingly positive response of the audiences at those concerts convinced me that this was an approach worth pursuing that fit perfectly with Magnficat’s emphasis on the historical and social context of the music we were exploring and performing.

In the years since that first experiment, I have had many opportunities to offer audiences the chance to hear great works of sacred music surrounded by chanted texts, chorales, and service music that would have adorned the music originally. Each project has presented a different musical-historical puzzle through which I have learned a great deal about the aesthetics and culture of the music I programmed – knowledge that has enriched the experience for performers and audiences alike.

Magnificat’s liturgical reconstructions will never be like my experience in the Schwarwald church two decades ago – there is no pretense that these programs are anything but concerts. However, they have given the musicians and audiences a very special sonic taste of those who first participated in and listened to so many of the great works of scared music.

7 months ago |
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Musicians at San Marco in Venice

Musicians at San Marco in Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted Nov. 2 2007:

At two points in the course of one of Magnificat’s performances last weekend, I turned to face the audience – the “congregation” – to direct them in singing verses from traditional Lutheran chorales. In each concert it was a highlight – not least due to the spirited singing of many of the concert-goers – because it reminded me of the experience that first kindled my interest in performing sacred music in liturgical context.

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

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

Anyone who has played or attended a concert performance of the St. John Passion is struck by the imbalance of the two sections of the work – so counter to the accepted wisdom of good programming. The first half is always longer than the second and the intermission arrives uncomfortably early in the program. This, of course, is not an issue in the liturgy for which the piece was intended.

Once the liturgy made its way through Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, prayer, and epistle, I remember a certain satisfaction in hearing the congregation singing a chorale that would later appear within Bach’s Passion setting. The balance and integration of the full experience left me convinced that Bach, the great master, knew what he was doing – he wrote his Passion with a specific liturgical context in mind and never even considered the possibility that it might be performed in a concert hall, divorced from that liturgy.

I considered other great musical works that set liturgical texts and became intrigued by the notion of performing them in their original liturgical context, albiet in a concert, rather than a actual liturgy. I first had a chance to try this out in Magnificat’s first season in performances of Schütz’ Weinachtshistorie, and found that the experience of reconstructing the liturgy for a mid-century Dresden Christmas Vespers was immensely challenging and rewarding. The overwhelmingly positive response of the audiences at those concerts convinced me that this was an approach worth pursuing that fit perfectly with Magnficat’s emphasis on the historical and social context of the music we were exploring and performing.

Over the decade and a half since that first experiment, I have had many opportunities to offer audiences the chance to hear great works of sacred music surrounded by chanted texts, chorales, and service music that would have adorned the music originally. Each project has presented a different musical-historical puzzle through which I have learned a great deal about the aesthetics and culture of the music I programmed – knowledge that has enriched the experience for performers and audiences alike.

Magnificat’s liturgical reconstructions will never be like my experience in the Schwarwald church two decades ago – there is no pretense that these programs are anything but concerts. However, they have given the musicians and audiences a very special sonic taste of those who first participated in and listened to so many of the great works of scared music.

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

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

Most of the works by Buxtehude in the Düben collection were transmitted in organ tablature, a sort of shorthand notation in common use in Germany since the 15th century. From the tablatures, Düben or copyists employed by the court produced parts for performance. In many cases the tablatures were returned to the composer but in the case of Membra Jesu Nostri, with its dedication to Düben, both the tablature, presumably in Buxtehude’s hand, and Düben’s parts are preserved. There are some interesting variations between the two sources. Düben deletes the ‘coda’ at the end of the first cantata “Ad Pedes”, thus regularizing the symmetrical form with that of the other six cantatas. He also added a third instrumental part in three cantatas.

Furwahr_TitleThe work that opens the program, the cantata Fürwahr er trug unsere Krankheit BuxWV 31, is, like Membra Jesu Nostri, appropriate for Passiontide and sets from Isaiah’s account of the suffering servant. Also preserved in the Düben collection, BuxWV 31 is the only work by Buxtehude that survives in an autograph full score. In commenting on the emotionally intense composition, Kerala Snyder notes “Buxtehude dramatically renders the response of the community to the suffering servant in ever-increasing intensity, from duet, to trio, to the entire ensemble, the latter in close imitative counterpoint.” Snyder suggest that in this work “we may catch a glimpse of the dramatic power of the Abendmusiken.”

The entire Düben Collection has been digitized, thereby making this marvellous body of works available for study and performance. Even before this program, Magnificat has used this remarkable source. For our 2011 reconstruction of a Dresden Christmas Vespers, Magnificat’s artistic director Warren Stewart transcribed Court Kappelmeister Vincenzo Albrici’s setting of the psalm Lætatus sum, a unique copy of which is preserved in the Düben Collection. The Collection is also the only source for the vocal and obligato parts for Schütz’s Weihnachtshistorie, also featured on that program.  In all the collection contains vocal and instrumental works by more than 300 composers from Germany, Italy, France, Poland, England, the Baltic countries and Sweden, besides a large number of anonymous works. You can explore the collection at the Uppsala University website.

8 months ago |
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Van Eyck Annunciation

Annunciation

Last Sunday, I attended Artek’s performance of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine at the National Gallery in Washington DC. It was lovely to hear a fine performance of this masterpiece (a piece I’m thinking about alot these days) in one of my favorite buildings in the world. We arrived through the East entrance and were directed by the guards up to the second floor, which meant that we got to have a glimpse of a Cranach alterpiece, Gentileschi’s lute player (which is not a portrait of Francesca Caccini by the way), and several Vermeers and Rembrandts before hearing Monteverdi’s magnificent music.

Almost as if it had been planned I turned one corner and there was the magnificent Annunciation by Van Eyck. I first saw this extraordinary painting shortly after it was restored. A whole room had been dedicated to its display. Now it occupies a more modest space but it is just as stunning.

Magnificat’s will perform the Vespers within the context of Second Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation and there was something very satisfying about having Van Eyck’s colors in my head as I heard the fanfare of the opening response of Monteverdi’s 1610 collection. The dislocation of the 15th century painting, the 17th century music and the 21st century setting emphasized the unspeakable timelessness of beauty.

8 months ago |
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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.

Falconieri was employed by the Medici court on two occasions. The first was in the period after 1616, just after his first collection music, a set of villanelles, was published and around the time that Francesca was preparing her Primo libro delle musiche. He returned to  Italy in 1628 to perform in the festivities surrounding the marriage of the Duke of Parma and Princess Margarita de Medici. After several years in Genoa, Falconieri returned to his native Naples in 1639 where he remained until his death in 1656.

After several publications of vocal music, Falconieri’s first and only collection of instrumental music appeared in 1650, though many of the 58 pieces were no doubt written years, and in some cases decades, before. While the works contained in the collection are almost all relatively brief, the title is not: Il primo libro di canzone, Brandi, Correnti, Gagliarde, Alemane, Volte per Violini e Viole overo alto stromento a uno, due, e tre con il Basso continuo. While the pieces are arranged by type, as Willi Apel has pointed out, it is in fact somewhat difficult to distinguish among the correnti, canzone, and capricci; they are all brief sectional pieces with repeats – ideal for filling the gap during a scene change and creating the time for puppets to get on and off stage. Most of the pieces are unlike the emerging Italian sonata, which was characterized by structural meter and affect changes which eventually grew into the multi-movement sonata form.

One compositional technique found throughout Falconieri’s collection is the preference for so-called “feminine” endings, i.e. cadences that finish on a weak beat rather than the downbeat. I hasten to add that I noticed this conspicuous trait only after deciding to use Falconieri’s branles and canzone as incidental music in the earliest opera by a woman, but perhaps it is not entirely inappropriate!

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

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

With the Pastor Fido texts I encountered an interesting problem. At first I figured it would be easy since there was a very good, roughly contemporary English translation by Sir Richard Fanshawe and published in 1647. However, Fanshawe chose to write his version in rhymed couplets and was much more concerned about communicating the sense of any particular passage than the exact meaning of the original Italian.

For example, the first setting we will perform from Il Pastor Fido, comes from Linco’s monologue to Silvio in Act I, Quell’ augellin che canta. The Italian reads:

Quell’ augellin, che canta
sì dolcemente e lascivetto vola
or da l’abete al faggio
e or dal faggio al mirto,
s’avesse umano spirto,
direbbe: ‘Ardo d’amore, ardo d’amore’.
Ma ben arde nel core
e parla in sua favella,
sì che l’intende il suo dolce desio.
E odi a punto, Silvio,
il suo desio
che gli risponde: ‘Ardo d’amore anch’io’.

A more or less literal translation would be:

That little bird which sings
so sweetly and flies merrily
now from the fir to the beech
and now from the beech to the myrtle,
if it had human understanding
it would say: “I burn with love, I burn with love.”
But it does really burn in its heart
and speaks in its language,
of his sweet desire
And hear now, Silvio,
its beloved mate
which answers it: “I also burn with love.”

While Fanshawe wrote:

That little bird which sings
So sweetly, and so nimbly plyes the wings,
Flying from tree to tree, from Grove to Grove,
If he could speak, would say, I am in love.
But his heart sayes it, and his tongue doth say’t
In language understood by his deer Mate:
And Silvio, heark how from that wildernesse
His dear Mate answers, And I love no lesse.
The Cowes low in the valley; and what’s this
But an inviting unto amorous blisse?

The sense is there, but it wouldn’t really help a listener to appreciate the musical tricks that Monteverdi or d’India used to grace their settings of Guarini’s blank verse.

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

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

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

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

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

For example, Magnificat is now preparing for a production of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberatione di Ruggiero, a musical setting of a libretto by Saricinelli written to celebrate the visit of the Crown Prince of Poland to Florence for Carnival in 1625. The work (called a balletto by Saricenelli and Caccini, usually called an opera these days) served as an extended prologue to a “ballet” involving the “audience” of courtiers, which in turn was followed by a horse ballet. (No horses is Magnificat’s production – but we will have puppets!)

The performance of La Liberazione took place in the recently renovated Poggio Imperiale outside Florence in a room with frescoes depicting heroic scenes of women from Scripture and Classical literature. The frescoes complimented the political motivations of the libretto: to reassure the Florentine nobility about the co-regency of the Grand Duchess Maria Magdalena and her mother-in-law Christine of Lorraine. Saricinelli’s retelling of the story of Ruggiero’s liberation from the island of the sorceress Alcina, emphasizes the agency of strong women, both bad – Alcina – and good – Melissa, and even involves the cross-gendering of the latter (she appears as the male sorcerer Atlante at the cucial point of Ruggiero’s “liberation”). The equine ballet took place in the massive courtyard of the palace, so the audience moved outside. All very “site specific”.

So is a performance anywhere other than the Poggio Imperiale with it’s thematically-related frescoes a valid performance? Is it even appropriate to revive music that was composed so consciously for a specific occasion and environment? Of course, I think it is, and I would maintain that the performance in 2009 is just as “site specific” as the one that took place in 1625.

In the introduction to his comprehensive work on Site Specific Art, Nick Kaye notes that

“the location, in reading, of an image, object, or event, its positioning in relation to political, aesthetic, geographical, institutional, or other discourses, all inform what “it” can be said to be.”

Location, whether the original venue of an historical work or the present environment of tonight’s concert, is connected intrinsically to the ephemeral reality of the work realized in performance. Performance is always a re-invention, a birthing – in important ways, every performance is a premiere and a final show in one, since outside of the moment of performance the “work” is only a concept.

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1 year ago |
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pedesMusicians often refer to the ‘road map’ for a performance of music with repeats, da capos or added codas – music that, explicitly or not, offers the performer options in determining the structure of the work. “How many times do we repeat the A section when we make the repeat?” Rehearsal decisions often lead to cryptic notations of letters and numbers in the margins of parts and scores. Ad Pedes, the first cantata in Buxtehude’s cycle Membra Jesu Nostri presents options for several ‘road maps’ that stem from the circumstances of its transmission.

Bux­tehude dedicated Membra Jesu Nostri to the Swedish court organist and Kapellmeister Gustav Düben and the composer’s autograph manuscript, in tablature notation, survives at the music library of the University of Uppsala in the magisterial Düben Collection. German organ tablature notation is one of a variety of shorthand notations used in Northern Europe during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Lacking familiar staves, noteheads and key signatures, tablature notations uses script letters for pitches and flags for duration.

A set of parts for each of the cantatas, copied from the tablature by Düben presumably for his performances at the Swedish Court, are also preserved at Uppsala. Correlating the parts with the tablature provides insight into performance practice issues and the circumstances under which the individual cantatas may have been performed and in n the case of the opening cantata it also presents a ‘road map’ puzzle that has been solved in a variety of ways by editors and performers.

The underlying structure of the cantata cycle and its sevenfold meditation on the body of the Christ, is the medieval poem Salve mundi salutare, now thought to be by Arnulf of Louvain (c. 1200–1250). Buxtehude pairs strophes from the seven sections of Arnulf’s poem with scriptural texts using a compositional structure that the musicologist Friedrich Krummacher has referred to as the ‘concerto-aria cantata.’ Each of the cantatas opens with an instrumental sonata, often employing musical motives from the following concerto, which sets a brief scriptural text, in most cases referring to the part of the body to which that section of the poem is addressed. Three strophes from the Arnulf’s poem follow the concerto, scored for one to three voices and continuo, before the concerto is repeated, as indicated by text in the tablature, not unlike the now common indication “dal Segno al Fine.” The symmetrical framing of strophic aria settings of a poetic text with a concerto setting of a prose text, the most common structure for Buxtehude’s vocal works in general, provides the basic shape of each of the seven cantatas, but the composer deviates from this symmetry in subtle ways throughout the cycle. In fact the overall structure is varied in the very first cantata, Ad Pedes, i.e. before it has even been established.

In the tablature, the concerto of Ad Pedes that sets a text from the Old Testament prophet Nahum ends with a half cadence, leaving the listener with a sense of anticipation that is relieved by the subsequent beginning of the first verse. When the concerto is repeated, this half cadence leads surprisingly, but agreeably, to a brilliant coda-like setting of the first strophe for the full ensemble. This tutti setting of the first verse is provided in the tablature after the third verse of Arnulf’s poem (for bass solo with continuo) and the indication to repeat the opening concerto.

Whatever Buxtehude’s motivation for this unexpected structure, Düben was apparently unconvinced and in an empty space in the tablature next to the half cadence (see image), he inserted a full cadence, suggesting what we would now call a “first and second ending.” In the set of parts, he included the second ending and omitted the tutti setting of the first verse entirely. In this way he ‘regularized’ the structure of the cantata to match that of the other six cantatas, i.e. Sonata-Concerto-Verses-Concerto (though the seventh cantata Ad Faciem also deviates from the structure of the other cantatas by replacing the repeat of the concerto with an extended Amen.)

While Buxtehude’s original intention is unambiguous, Düben’s alterations have lead to several different ‘road maps’ for the cantata. The most recent critical edition, edited by Günther Graulich for Carus Verlag follows the most likely interpretation of Buxtehude’s original indication:

Version 1
Sonata
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Soprano 1)
Verse 2 (Soprano 2)
Verse 3 (Bass)
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Tutti)

I have listened to twelve recordings, a representative but by no means comprehensive list, and this was the solution chosen by five (Cantus Cölln, Netherlands Bach Society, Bach Ensemble Japan, Purcell Quartet and La Petite Bande.) This is also the road map found in the Willibald Gurlitt’s edition of the Buxtehude Complete Works.

A slight modification of this approach is found in two other recordings (Concerto Vocale and Les Voix Baroque, the latter featuring Magnificat’s own Catherine Webster), in which Düben’s full cadence is used for the first time through the concerto, while the half cadence is reserved for the repetition when it leads into the tutti setting of verse 1.

Version 1a
Sonata
Concerto (with full cadence)
Verse 1 (Soprano I)
Verse 2 (Soprano 2)
Verse 3 (Bass)
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Tutti)

The rationale for this modification is obscure as Buxtehude’s half cadence leads equally well to both the solo and tutti settings of the first verse offering no compelling reason for using Düben’s full cadence in a performance following the composer’s intentions in other respects. It does provide some variety of course and makes the half cadence and the tutti setting of verse 1 perhaps more surprising.

A possible alternate reading of the tutti setting of the first verse would be to interpret it as an ‘alternative’ to the solo setting of verse. There is nothing in the tablature to suggest that this was Buxtehude’s intention other than the fact that he provides two settings of the same text. This scheme requires Düben’s full cadence for the repeat of the concerto, as it now concludes the entire cantata.

Version 2
Sonata
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Tutti)
Verse 2(Soprano 2)
Verse 3 (Bass)
Concerto (with full cadence)

This is the solution adopted by Dietrich Killan, editor of the Merseburger edition. I found only one recording that followed this scheme (The Sixteen). While it preserves the symmetry of the textual structure, it is somewhat inconsistent in utilizing Düben’s full cadence, which he seems to have included specifically to make the exclusion of the tutti setting of Verse 1 possible. It also creates an awkward transition from the quite glorious tutti setting of verse one to the more intimate setting for verse 2 for soprano and continuo.

A more convoluted, but nevertheless popular variation of this approach, found in at least four recordings (Sonatori della Gioiosa Marca, Concerto Vocale, La Venexiana, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra), inserts the tutti setting of verse 1 between the concerto (with half cadence of course) and the solo setting of verse 1 and uses Düben’s full cadence in the repeat of the Concerto.

Version 2a
Sonata
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Tutti)
Verse 1 (Soprano 1)
Verse 2 (Soprano 2)
Verse 3 (Bass)
Concerto (with full cadence)

This approach would appear to abandon any attempt to follow the intentions of either Buxtehude or Düben. It also shares the awkward transition from Tutti to solo found in Version 2 – in this case with the same text.

Curiously the one approach that I have thus far found in no edition nor recording is the one actually indicated by Düben:

Version 3
Sonata
Concerto (with half cadence)
Verse 1 (Soprano I)
Verse 2 (Soprano 2)
Verse 3 (Bass)
Concerto (with full cadence)

While it would be a pity to miss the exciting tutti setting of the first verse entirely, this version would at least have the benefit of a basis in the original source, and would appear to have served for at least some contemporaneous performances.

Foregoing our natural tendency to opt for novelty, in our upcoming concerts Magnificat will perform Ad Pedes in Version 1 as we did in previous performances in 1996 and 2003.

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DocHdl1OnPRINTREADYtmpTarget2009-2010 was one of Magnificat’s most expansive seasons, featuring music by two remarkable women and two pioneers of the new music of the seventeenth century. The programs ranged from a puppet opera to a liturgical reconstruction and culminated with two appearance at the 2010 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition and the release of volume one of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.

The season opened with the return of the Carter Family Marionettes for an unforgettable production of Francesca Caccini’s opera La Liberatione di Ruggiero. Almost decade had past since Magnificat had collaborated with the Carters on Fuzelier’s parody of Lully’s opera Atys and Melani’s Il Girello. As Magnificat’s artistic director noted in an SFCV review “Hardly a concert has gone by since then when an audience member hasn’t come up to me to ask when we’ll do another puppet show. The Carters are great at connecting with the audience and already had a very funny and engaging production of La liberazione in their repertory.”

The daughter of Giulio Caccini, one of the leading proponents of the nuove musiche of the early 17th century, Francesca had a remarkable career in her own right as a performer and teacher, but above all, as a highly respected composer to the Granducato of Tuscany. We were grateful for the advice and support of Caccini biographer Suzanne Cusick who contributed three excellent essays to the is blog (Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero and the Culture of WomenWhat is Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero About? and Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court.) The role of Alcina was sung memorably by Catherine Webster, with José Lemos in the trangender role of Melissa and Scott Whitaker as Ruggiero. The cast also included Jennifer Paulino, Dan Hutchings and Hugh Davies. 

In December Magnificat returned to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, performing her four-voice setting of the Mass Ordinary from Concerti sacri (1642) in the context of a mass for Christmas Day. The performances from the version on Magnificat’s recording, which was arranged for eight voices. Proper substitutes were drawn from Cozzolani’s motets.

Magnificat-Grace-BG-25In February, Magnificat presents concerts featuring soprano Laura Heimes in music by Alessandro Grandi, including the modern premieres of several cantatas from Grandi’s 1620 collection Cantade et Arie, notable as the earliest publication to use the term “cantata.” The sole surviving copy of the first edition was thought to have been destroyed during the second World War but another copy had in fact been preserved in the private collection of Rodrigo de Zayas in Seville. Thanks to musicologists Aurelio Bianco and Giulia Giovani, Magnificat was given the opportunity to perform several of Grandi’s cantatas. The program also included instrumental music by Picchi, Castello, and Kapsberger.

The season concluded with three performances marking the 400th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610, the final concert before a sellout crowd at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. As in Magnificat’s 1610 Vespers productions in 1994 and 1999, Magnificat was joined by the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse.

In June, Magnificat appeared at the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition in two concerts, the first featured nine motets from Cozzolani’s Concerti sacri and the second as part of a finale concert bringing all the ‘main stage’ ensembles from the festival together under the direction of Magnificat artistic director Warren Stewart in a Venetian Vespers from Monteverdi to Vivaldi. “The program grew out of desire to create something unique”, commented Stewart, “a genuinely ‘festive’ end to the week-long festival. The basic structure was built around the vespers liturgy but for the specific works I worked with each of the ensembles and managed to fashion a well-balanced program that allowed everyone to shine.” In addition to Magnificat, the massed ensemble included Archetti, Artek, AVE, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Recreation, and Sacabouche.

During the week of the festival Magnificat also celebrated the completion of their recordings of Cozzolani’s complete works with a CD release party at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco. In addition to Cozzolani motets, the audience was treated to instrumental sonatas by Isabella Leonarda in what was an unforgettable evening for all involved.

Over the course of the 2009-2010 season artistic director Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Elizabeth Anker, Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, Kristin Dubenion Smith, Jolianne Einem, Paul Elliott, Jennifer Kampani, Steve Escher, Jeff Fields, Katherine Heater, Laura Heimes, Richard Van Hessel, Dan Hutchings, Jennifer Lane, Chris LeCluyse, José Lemos, Herb Myers, Jennifer Paulino, Hanneke van Proosdij, Ernie Rideout, Sandy Stadtfeld, Robby Stafford, David Tayler, Brian Thorsett, Kiri Tollaksen, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

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