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

2 months ago | |
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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

4 months ago | |
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In dedicating her new book of motets – Latin-texted compositions to be sung in and out of liturgy – to the Tuscan prince Mathias de’ Medici (1613-67) on Mathias’ name-day (the feast of his patron saint), 25 February 1642, the Benedictine nun composer Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c. 1677) expressed her homage thus:

The favor that your Serene Highness did for me by raising these my musical compositions from their native low state to the height of your praise [“basso” and “alto” are musical puns] … leaves me no other power to which to dedicate them other than to your protection … I offer you notes bright [“chiare”, i.e. “open” note-values like whole-notes, but with a play on the composer’s name] and dark [i.e. the “blackened” eighth- and sixteenth-notes] … and the blacker they are, the faster they run to make themselves tributes … to your name.

Mathias would have heard some of the twenty motets and perhaps the Mass Ordinary included in Cozzolani’s book during his stay in Milan in February 1641, which would have included visits to hear the famed singing nuns of Cozzolani’s convent, Santa Radegonda. The prince was well known as a patron of singers across Italy with a special inter- est in the touring companies that would bring early Venetian opera to a wide range of cities and courts as the pioneering work of Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker has shown.

From Cozzolani’s point of view, her book also represented a step forward. Her now-lost op. 1 had been published by a local printer in Milan in 1640, but the new book was entrusted to the high-quality music printer Alessandro Vincenti in Venice which ensured a wide circulation for the motets. Indeed, one of them, the duet O dulcis Iesu, was reprinted in a motet anthology of 1649 from Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) compiled by a Lutheran organist and another, the solo Concinant linguae, is found in a later French manuscript with an attribution to Giacomo Carissimi.

The reason for this popularity lies in the quality of the musical gestures. Cozzolani’s motets employ the extrovert vocal writing, the generative and sometimes repetitive basso continuo lines (e.g. the opening of O dulcis Iesu), and the slightly asymmetrical paratactic phrase structures of the most up-to-date north Italian motets of the time. This is perhaps most evident in the duets, the normative scoring for such pieces, but special attention should be given to the four solo motets, all on evidently original texts (although O Maria, tu dulcis paraphrases the Marian antiphon Salve regina), with their virtuoso and often unexpected vocal lines. The striking registral contrast in Concinant linguae’s ecstatic catalogue of terres- trial praise of Mary is one such feature while Eucharistic devotion is set out in O quam bonum’s juxtaposition of “free” sections with metrically regular calls to listeners to adore the Host (“O fideles, o populi Dei” ).

A similar large-scale balance, although with shorter internal sections, is audible in the trios and quartets of the volume. On the simplest side, the high-voice quartet (a direct reflec- tion of the sonic world of S. Radegonda’s choirs) Psallite, superi uses a straightforward refrain alternating with solo or duet sections setting phrases from the Song of Songs in its praise of Mary. In a more complex structure, the text of the extended trio O quam suavis est, Domine quotes two different Corpus Christi hymns, resolving the large-scale tension of its compositional gestures (e.g. the chromatic descents at “et non deficietis”) in a homophonic conclusion of “Panis angelicus.” This kind of elaborate Eucharistic piece testifies to the importance of the Sacrament (and its major feast-day) both in the ritual year of early modern Milan and in the personal devotional lives of nuns like Cozzolani. In contrast, the Mass setting is relatively economical in keeping with contemporary practice.

From slightly later evidence it appears that Cozzolani’s house was able to cover at least high tenor parts without recourse to imported male singers (for which there is no evidence at S. Radegonda). In accordance with publishing norms, her printed volume uses soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices in various combinations in the duets, trios, and quartets; the book was designed for sale to a wide variety of institutions, not just convents, often with a majority of adult male singers. Possibly the printed vocal bass lines would have been sung up an octave under convent conditions.

Cozzolani’s music existed in no vacuum. The text of the Marian intercessory dialogue Quid miseri, quid faciamus? is taken from a motet published by Monteverdi’s deputy Alessandro Grandi in 1619 and the duet Surgamus omnes quotes the text (but not the music) of a 1635 motet by Monteverdi’s later vice maestro Giovanni Rovetta. Clearly, even from behind the walls of her monastic enclosure, Cozzolani was well aware of the changes in north Italian sacred music during the years leading up to the publication of her volume. But her work also served as an example of this kind of mid-century style, enormously popular in both Lutheran and Catholic central Europe (the only copy of her print survives in Wroclaw, while another was recorded in the pre-World-War II holdings of the Berlin Gymnasium zum grauen Kloster). Vincenti would go on to publish her now-incomplete solo motets of 1648 and her large-scale psalms and motets of 1650 (see the recording on Musica Omnia MO040). But Concerti sacri had already testified to her compositional gifts and originality.

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

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

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

Published in 1642, Concerti sacri was Cozzolani’s second collection, her first, Primavera di fiori musicalifrom 1640, is sadly lost. Cozzolani dedicated the collection to the single most important patron of singers in northern Italy, Prince Matthias de’ Medici, who seems to have heard Cozzolani’s pieces in winter 1641 while on a stay in the city. While this is the only dedication of sacred music to Matthias, he was a generous patron of singers and composers associated with early Venetian opera and established a troupe in Siena in 1646. In the absence of music theatre in Milan until after mid-century, the prince could well have visited the institutions best known for singing – the convents.

The wide variety of topics in the collection point to no single specific occasion for the performance of its contents, other than Matthias’s putative visit. The motets represent the most modern style of Lombard vocal writing of the the 1630s and 40s, while the setting of the mass ordinary displays some of the most elaborate imaitative writing found in her music. The recording features Elizabeth Anker, alto; Meg Bragle, mezzo-soprano; Hugh Davies, bass; John Dornenburg, violone; Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano; Ruth Escher, soprano; Andrea Fullington, soprano; Laura Heimes, soprano; Suzanne Jubenville, alto; Jennifer Lane, alto; Linda Liebschutz, alto; Deborah Rentz-Moore, alto; David Tayler, theorbo; Hanneke van Proosdij, organ; and Catherine Webster, soprano. It was recorded by Musica Omnia at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere with Peter Watchorn, producer and Joel Gordon, engineer.

This recording could not have happened without the generous support of Kristine Holmes, Valerie and Paul Crane Dorfman and Donna Curling. Robert Kendrick, whose excellent research has brought Cozzolani’s music to the attention of musicians and musicologists, has been extremely helpful throughout this project. I am forever grateful to Dr. William Mahrt for sharing his knowledge of chant and liturgy. Special thanks to Michael Barger, Edgar Breninnkmeyer, Stephen DeLapp, Margriet Downing, Meriel Ennik, Richard Fabian, Katherine Gavzy, John Golenski, Michael King, Dorothy Manly, Peter McGrath, Dorothy McMath, Benjamin Netick, Charles Thiel, RuthE Wells, My Dutch Uncle, San Francisco Grants for the Arts and to all the friends of Magnificat who have supported this project. I would also like to thank Brandy Leigh Mow, Jeffrey Kurtzman, John Hirten, Robin Burger, Miriam Lewis, Ronald Chase, John Dornenburg & Louise Carslake, David Smith & Andrea Lappen, Doris & Joe Willingham, Robert Friedman and Tchocky. And my deepest gratitude to Nika Korniyenko for her love and inspiration and for making us look good all these years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Magnificat’s Twelfth Season focused on lesser known works by three of the giants of the 17th Century, Henry Purcell, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and Heinrich Schütz and a program devoted to one of the century’s most extraordinary female musicians, Barbara Strozzi.

The season opened in September with “The Muse’s Feast” a program of songs and sonatas by Purcell that featured soprano Catherine Webster. Highlights included the songs Cupid, the slyest rogue around, from Playford’s 1685 Theatre of Music, the Evening Hymn from Harmonia Sacra and the beautiful ground bass aria O Solitude, though it would be difficult to pick a favorite from this program. Rebekkah Ahrendt, writing in the San Francisco Classical Voice praised Webster’s rendition of the Marian motet Tell Me, Some Pitying Angel noting her “command of emotion was superb, expressing the whole gamut of feelings a distressed mother might experience.” The program also included two trio sonatas and works for theorbo and harpsichord.

In December, Magnifcat turned to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier in a two-part program. The first half included Charpentier’s settings of the seven so-called “O” antiphons. The name comes from the fact that in the Roman breviary the  Magnificat antiphons in vespers for the seven days preceding Christmas each begin with the acclamation “O”. We took up the composer’s suggestion of prefacing each of the antiphons with one of his noël seeitngs, by quite familiar to Magnificat’s audience from our productions of the Nativity Pastorale. The second half was devoted to the Dialogus inter angelos et pastores Judæ, one of at least six settings of the Christmas narrative by Charpentier. Packed with rich harmonies and a variety of textures and emotions the Dialogus is a particularly fine example of Charpentier’s mastery of dramatic narrative. Magnificat would present the work again in December 2010.

In January 2004, Magnificat presented selections from Heinrich Schütz’s first volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ, a collection that we will re-visit in our upcoming season next January. For these concerts we were joined by two friends from the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse (who will also join us again next season): Steve Escher and Richard Van Hessel.  In April of 1628, Schütz applied to his employer, Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony, for permission to travel to Venice “not out of any frivolous desire to disport myself there for my own employment, but, it is to be hoped, to receive a better spirit.”  He was granted permission and spent almost a year in the most Serene Republic where he encountered a musical culture vastly changed from when he had studied with Gabrieli some twenty years before. The “fresh devices” that he heard in Venice figure prominently in the Symphoniæ Sacræ, published while he was in Venice, particularly in varied instrumentation and vocal groupings.

The concerts were extremely successful and prompted a program two years later that featured selections from Schütz second volume of Symphoniæ Sacræ. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman observed that “to hear the music performed as brilliantly as it was on Saturday, under the leadership of artistic director Warren Stewart, was to marvel all over again at Schütz’s melodic fecundity, his mastery of counterpoint and formal proportions, and especially his distinctive blend of sensuality and sincere religious fervor, unmatched by anyone but Messiaen.” Writing for SFCV.org, Bruce Lamott praised the program as “ a model of artistic programming; rather than slavishly adhering to the order of publication, Stewart artfully assembled over half of the twenty symphoniae into a variegated program that showed both performers and composers in the best possible light.”

For the final program of the season, Magnificat continued its exploration of music by women from the 17th Century, devoting a program to the music of Barbara Strozzi.  The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi, Strozzi had the good fortune to be born into a world of creativity, intellectual ferment, and artistic freedom. She made a mark as composer and singer, eventually publishing eight collections of songs – more music in print during her lifetime than even the most famous composers of her day – without the support of the Church or the patronage of a noble house.

Strozzi is perhaps best known for her solo cantatas, which no doubt reflect her own repertoire as a virtuoso singer of the highest caliber and several of these cantatas were included in Magnificat’s program. Less well-known are the ensemble madrigals, eleven of which Magnificat were included on the program.

Over the course of the season, artistic director Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies,  Jolianne von Einem, Jennifer Ellis, Steve Escher, Cynthia Freivogel, Richard Van Hessel, Dan Hutchings, Byron Rakitzis, Rob Diggins, Katherine Heater, Hanneke van Proosdij, David Tayler, Catherine Webster, Scott Whitaker, and David Wilson.

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This review by Joshua Kosman was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 11, 2012.

Christmas was a good time in the 1680s’ Paris establishment of the Princess Marie de Lorraine – an occasion for celebration, contemplation and exquisite music, to judge from Sunday afternoon’s brief and wonderful concert by the early-music ensemble Magnificat.

Marie, known as Mlle. de Guise, had the great French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier as part of her household staff. And that meant that the yuletide observances – even though sung by a corps of amateurs – were being guided by one of the period’s subtlest and most inventive musical minds.

Sunday’s concert in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco – the lone offering during this hiatus year of one of the Bay Area’s most indispensable arts groups – conveyed some of the spirit of those long-ago holiday events. Charpentier’s “Christmas Pastorale” is a winning blend of spiritual reflection, narrative drama and flat-out bawdy fun, and the small ensemble – six each of singers and instrumentalists performing under the guidance of Artistic Director Warren Stewart - caught that range of tone perfectly.

Like many of Magnificat’s offerings, the Charpentier program was in part a matter of painstaking historical reconstruction. The “Christmas Pastorale” comprises a series of stand-alone scenes, which Charpentier seems to have shuffled and recombined over several years’ worth of performances.

In addition, the performances would have been studded with “noëls,” folklike Christmas carols known to the nobility and low-born alike. These ditties recast themes of the Nativity – a baby, a manger, farm animals – in comically up-to-date guise, with simple tunes that anyone could sing.

The combination of high and low, all in the service of a communal religious occasion, must have been irresistible. Certainly Sunday’s event, which ran just over an hour, boasted a wealth of sumptuous and elegantly delivered music.

Charpentier’s contributions moved fluidly from narrative recitative into arioso and back again, leavening the bare bones of the Nativity story with explorations of its sacred themes. At times the originality of his writing was startling, as in the dark, mysterious instrumental evocation of Christmas Eve, the chirpy dance of the angels or the richly ornate choral writing in the finale.

The noëls, meanwhile, offered exuberant counterpoint, with enough earthy humor to make it clear why some members of the clergy might have tried to have them suppressed.

Virtuoso singing is always a feature of Magnificat performances, and this was no exception. Soprano Clara Rottsolk, a new addition to the company, made an especially lovely and tonally vibrant contribution, but she was well matched by fellow sopranos Catherine Webster and Jennifer Paulino, and by countertenor Clifton Massey, tenor Paul Elliot and bass Peter Becker.

The instrumental forces were no less splendid. Vicki Boeckman and Louise Carslake played a variety of recorders, Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem were the tireless violinists, and John Dornenburg (viola da gamba) and Jillon Stoppels Dupree (harpsichord and organ) provided a solid tonal foundation.

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