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Magnificat
a blog about the ensemble Magnificat and the art and culture of the 17th Century
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Magnificat’s sixth season expanded on repertoire and genres that we had explored in out first five seasons and included a program of chamber cantatas by Buxtehude, a revival of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, an Annunciation Vespers with music by Maurizio Cazzati and Giovanni Legrenzi and another opera pardoy – this times with puppets – and chickens!

The enthusiastic response to our performances of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Iesu nostri in 1996 encouraged us to explore more of the composer’s music and we turned to the extensive repertoire for one, two and three voices with violins and continuo. Entitled “Searching for the Beloved,” the program was built around themes of longing and spiritual journey with several settings of texts drawn from the Song of Solomon: Ich habe lust abzuscheiden, Ich suchte des nachts in meinem Bett, Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, Liebster, meine Seele saget, Wie soll ich dich empfange, Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron and Jesu meine Freude.

For the San Francisco Early Music Society Christmas concerts, we revived, and modified, our production of Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de nostre Seigneur – the Nativity Pastorale – that had been on our second series in 1993. It was our first opportunity to revisit music that we had performed before – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all. We even toyed with the idea of making the work a regular holiday tradition to compete with the innumerable Messiah performances each December, but of course there was so much wonderful Christmas music from the 17th century left to explore that we settled for bringing this wonderful program back to life every few years.

Nothing Magnificat had presented before, even the Parodie de Telemacque in 1996 could have prepared our audiences for the next program – another vaudeville parody from the Parisian fair theatres, this time with puppets.  La grandmére amoureuse (“The Lusty Grandma”) was written by Louis Fuzelier and his collaborator Dorneval, was a parody of Atys, the tragédie en musique by Lully and Quinault, which was revived at the Opéra in the 1725-26 season. As she had for Temacque, Susan Harvey created a score from Fuzelier’s libretto, using the popular vaudevilles of the day along with some of Lully’s music. Susan has recently prepared a score of La grandmére amoureuse for A-R Editions.

The use of puppets was actually historical – restrictions on the number of singers and actors allowed that were imposed on the fair theatres by the authorities became so severe that they were forced to use puppets rather than live actors. Oboist Sand Dalton had mentioned a puppet troupe that he had seen in Seattle and put us in touch with the Carter Family Marionettes, whose offbeat (and often off-color) humor suited the spirit of Fuzelier’s irreverent parody perfectly.

In the original, after his beloved Sangaride has been transformed into a stream, Atys begs the goddess Cybèle to change him into a tree by the stream, so that he can remain near his lover. In the parody Sangaride is changed into a chicken and Atys boldly asks to be made a rooster for reasons obvious to the audience but Cybèle instead changes him to a capon. But how to stage this? On the suggestion of a friend who was chef, we purchased two live chickens in Chinatown with the intention of returning them (ineffectively explained to the owner of the market) but by the time we got home, the chickens had been named and there was no chance of them returning to the market. The stage transformation was accomplished with a puff of smoke and was the final touch in a most uproarious performance. (The chickens retired from the stage after the performances and lived out their free-range lives at Alison Harris’ family farm near Sebastopol.)

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle observed that  ”both the specifics of “Atys” and the absurdities of opera in general came in for ribbing. The traditional “sommeil” scene, for instance, an operatic staple in which a gentle lullaby soothes a character into a peaceful sleep, was replaced here by a fight between good and bad dreams — the latter represented by fierce demons armed with Bobbittesque scissors and cleavers.”

Prior to the puppet opera Joshua Kosman also wrote a preview that captured some of the spirit of the first years of Magnificat: “Magnificat Obsession / Musicologists put together a Baroque puppet show.”

The season ended somewhat more seriously with a Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation with music by Maurizio Cazzati, transcribed especially for Magnificat’s production and most likely most of the works received their modern premieres in these performances. The five psalms and Magnificat were drawn from Cazzati’s Messa e Salmi a quattro voci of 1653 and the sonatas used as antiphon substitutes were selected from Legrenzi’s Sonate op. 2  from 1655. In these concerts, Magnificat used all male voices for the first time, a distinctive format that we have employed on several occasions since and will again this December for our performances of Schütz’s Christmas Story.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Stephen and Chris Carter, Bruce Chessé, San Dalton, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Ellis, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Robby Stafford, Bill Wahman, Roy Wheldon, and Randy Wong.

6 years ago |
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Stephen Smoliar posted this preview of Magnificat’s upcoming concerts at Examiner.com.

The first concert of Magnificat’s twentieth season will consist of a single composition, La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The circumstances under which this work was composed throw an interesting light on how music was practiced in the late seventeenth century, particularly with regard to the Hôtel de Guise. This was the household of Marie de Lorraine, called Mademoiselle de Guise and a princess in rank. She chose to live in Paris away from the court of Louis XIV, and her residence was known as the Hôtel de Guise.

Her household included an ensemble of musicians, described by Susan Harvey (in notes for an earlier Magnificat performance now available on their Web site ) as “less opulent than that to be found at court, but highly admired by the Parisian connoisseurs of the time.” Harvey continues her description as follows:

The ensemble was made up for the most part of young people from families long under the protection of the Guise who, having come to live with Marie de Lorraine first as chambermaids or companions, demonstrated some talent or interest for music. They were given lessons and eventually granted the status of musicians-in-ordinary, taking part in the devotional services at the private chapel and in the frequent private concerts at the Hôtel de Guise. The ensemble, although it included some salaried male singers and one member of a famous musical family (Ann Nanon Jacquet, sister of the remarkable Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre), was fundamentally amateur and it is extraordinary that it should have developed to the extent that in 1688 the journal Mercure Galant wrote that the music of Mlle. de Guise was “so excellent that the music of many of the greatest sovereigns could not approach it.”

Charpentier joined the household of the Hôtel de Guise in 1670, and it was for this setting that he composed La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers , probably in late 1686 or early 1687. In 1683 he had composed a small chamber cantata, Orphée descendant aux enfers for three male singers and a small chamber orchestra. The later work is more extensive. It is scored for seven vocalists, recorder, violin, two viols (used for “special effects” in the depiction of the underworld), and continuo (harpsichord in the Magnificat performance). This composition is actually the longest of Charpentier’s dramatic chamber works; but, given the setting for the performance, it was probably not staged. There is also some question as to whether it may be incomplete. It is in only two acts; and the second act ends with Orphée and Euridice leaving the underworld, leaving no account of the tragic turn of events about to ensue.

The San Francisco performance of La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers will take place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1111 O’Farrell Street (just west of the corner of Franklin Street) on Sunday afternoon, October 16, at 4 PM. General admission is $35 with special rates for seniors aged 62 and over ($28) and students with proper identification ($12). Magnificat has provided a Web page for ordering both individual and subscription tickets. There are two subscription options, one of which does not include the Christmas co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society (for the benefit of those already subscribed to this organization). Tickets may also be ordered by telephone at 800-595-4849.

6 years ago |
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The following review of Magnificat’s performance at the Bloomington Early Music Festival by Peter Jacobi appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times on September 12, 2011.

The group is San Francisco-based, and some of its members actually reside in that area. Its artistic director, Warren Stewart, however, now lives in Berlin. One of its two tenors, Paul Elliott, directs IU’s Early Music Institute. Its theorbo player is Nigel North, another EMI stalwart. The bunch of them get together periodically as Magnificat Baroque. And as such, they united here in recent days, six vocalists and eight instrumentalists, to prepare for a Bloomington Early Music Festival performance Saturday evening in First United Church. What a concert they gave.

They roused a large audience to cheers with generous samplings of music from Claudio Monteverdi’s Eighth (and final) Book of Madrigals, his “Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi” (“Madrigals of War and Love”). The event turned out to be a case of stunning music stunningly realized.

The Monteverdi material has been at the heart of Magnificat Baroque’s repertoire for some 20 years. One could tell. Heard was a combine of singing and playing completely natural, stylistically right, and utterly tantalizing. Director Stewart devoted the first part of the program to the songs of war, the second to those of love. They intersect in the belief espoused by Monteverdi and the poets whose words he used that war and love have a strong relationship, in that warriors return from battle to love and that lovers do battle in the conflict between the sexes.

A sampling of interpretive approach came early, in the first madrigal chosen, “Altri canti d’Amor.” As the singers gave breath to words about love (“Let others sing of Love, the tender archer’s sweet charms and sighed-for kisses”), the music seemed to be carried on soft breezes. When the words shifted to war (“Of Mars I sing, furious and fierce, the harsh clashes and the bold battles”), a storm of sound accosted the ears. Nothing heard seemed forced; music and performance supported emotion and mood.

So it continued throughout, song after song, a seesaw of expressions, from achingly beautiful outpourings to outbursts permeated with harsher passions, then back again. Surely, one of the highlights was the “Lamento della ninfa” (“Lament of the Nymph”) for four singers, an absolutely ravishing exposition about love, betrayal and torment.

Magnificat Baroque’s singing contingent was terrific: two flexibly voiced and evocative sopranos, Catherine Webster and Laura Heimes; a pure and resonant mezzo, Meg Bragle; two fine tenors, Paul Elliott, so well suited in training and experience for music of this period, and Daniel Hutchings, with mellifluous, slightly more operatic tone, and Peter Becker, possessing a bass that seemed to rumble and roar from out of the deep.

Two excellent violinists, Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem, were kept particularly busy as co-soloists whenever instrumental bridges were called for.

The concert ended with “Il Ballo delle Ingrate” (“The Dance of the Ungrateful Women”), a stage piece Monteverdi incorporated into his Eighth Book of Madrigals that was originally written for the marriage of Francesco Gonzaga, the heir apparent to the Duke of Mantua, and Margherita of Savoy. The story concerns Cupid urging his mother Venus to request Pluto, the king of Hades, to pardon a cluster of women condemned to the underworld because of ingratitude. Far more importantly, “Il Ballo” provides musicians with plenty of challenging splendors and, consequently, an audience with a series of impactful arias to relish. Saturday’s musicians did right well. Response was ardent and prolonged.

6 years ago |
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From an Indiana University Press Release:

The 18th annual Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF), held Sept. 7-11, continues a tradition of collaboration with the IU Jacobs School of Music Early Music Institute, presenting renowned local and national musicians, many of whom are alumni, students and faculty.

This year, the festival expands its relationship with Indiana University by linking up with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Themester 2011, “Making War, Making Peace.” With panel discussions, lectures, and concerts featuring music from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods in venues throughout Bloomington, the 2011 festival is free to all IU and Ivy Tech students, as well as anyone under the age of 18. Ticket prices for individual performances are $15, and festival passes are $40.

“This year’s festival, at the start rather than at the end of the school year, is offered so that a large number of the students and faculty of the Jacobs School of Music and IU will be able to attend,” said Paul Elliott, director of the Early Music Institute and chair of the early music department. “Here is a unique opportunity to sample something new, or to reacquaint yourself with music that you love but rarely get the chance to hear ‘live’.

“As the pedagogical aspect of its mission, the Bloomington Early Music Festival supports emerging artists, and in particular, from the Jacobs School of Music by providing opportunities to perform alongside established professionals,” said Christine Kyprianides, president of Early Music Associates, the not-for-profit that organizes the festival. “For 17 years, the stars of the festival have been above all the talented faculty, students and alumni of the school’s Early Music Institute. This year is no exception: Nearly 70 percent of the musicians are current or former members of the EMI. Other performers and lecturers are affiliated with the Jacobs School or the IU College of Arts and Sciences.”

Magnificat Baroque Ensemble performs as a featured ensemble at the 2011 Bloomington Early Music Festival.Print-Quality Photo

The festival headline performance is Magnificat Baroque Ensemble, a renowned San Francisco-based early music ensemble performing selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love. The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, at First United Church, 2420 E. Third St.

“We are thrilled that Magnificat is coming to Bloomington to perform during BLEMF,” said Kyprianides. “They are certainly one of the preeminent early music ensembles in the country and have an accomplished director in Warren Stewart.”

6 years ago |
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From the Bloomington Herald-Times:

BLEMF. Yes, BLEMF, the new BLEMF, the Bloomington Early Music Festival revived and in a changed calendar slot, a period commencing Wednesday evening, just ahead of IU’s about-to-start flood of concerts. Whatever the future holds for BLEMF will, we’re told, take place not when things used to, at the end of May, but henceforth, in early September.

“This will be a watershed event for us,” says Christine Kyprianides, president of the festival’s board of directors. “Two years ago, it was apparent that we had to change direction, find new audiences, and revisit our mission. By moving the festival to a time during the academic year, we have the opportunity to profit from the immense resources of the university and to make a significant contribution in return. We’ll see if this is a successful model or not.”

… BLEMF is also entering into the spirit of IU’s Themester initiative, Making War, Making Peace, presenting the distinguished San Francisco-based Magnificat Baroque Ensemble in a program of selections taken from Book 8 of Claudio Monteverdi’s Madrigals, “Madrigals of War and Love.”

“I first heard Magnificat in South Bend several years ago,” says Kyprianides. “It was a wonderful concert, and I talked for some time afterwards with its artistic director, Warren Stewart, about all sorts of musical things. Later, when the BLEMF program committee was planning for our War and Peace program, we decided that we had to have a performance of the Monteverdi madrigals. EMI’s Paul Elliott, who is on our board, suggested asking Magnificat. Both he and Nigel are regular members of the ensemble.

“We wanted this to be the main event of our festival,” she continues, “and, therefore, we were looking for a group of singers and instrumentalists that had been working together for a long time and focused primarily on 17th century Italian music. Magnificat was a good fit, especially with the EMI connection. The musicians are coming early and rehearsing in Bloomington for their Saturday night concert. I hope they will have an opportunity to interact with some of the students in the Jacobs School.”

Stewart says, “We’ve been doing this repertoire for 20 years. It’s wonderful music, of course. Monteverdi was the first great operatic composer. He brings a sort of operatic drama to the madrigals. They contain remarkable contrasts of emotion and character. The music changes constantly. It is highly expressive, passionate. I think Monteverdi meant it to move the soul.”

The festival will offer five events, Wednesday through Sunday, Sept. 11. “I think each of our concerts has something special to offer,” says Kyprianides. “Nigel North (on Wednesday) is an incomparable musician and one of the great interpreters of his generation. August Denhard and Munir Beken (Thursday) will bring a scent of Lotus with their ‘East Meets West’ program.

The three musicians of Isshallyn are each familiar to Bloomington audiences but are venturing into new territory with their concert of Celtic music (Friday). We also have a splendid program by the Bloomington Bach Cantata Project, with all the bells and whistles — trumpets and drums — directed by distinguished faculty of the Jacobs School (Sunday).”

Excerpted from an article that appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times on September 4th. The full article is here. For tickets and more information vist the Festival website.

6 years ago |
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Magnificat’s fifth season featured programs that explored the music of new composers (for our series) Buxtehude, Cavalli and Marazzoli, our first modern premiere, along with another masterpiece by an old favorite, Charpentier. It was a season of contrasts in nationalities and genres: a North German cantata cycle, a reconstruction of a Venetian vespers, the staged production of the first Italian opera performed in France and a very Italianate French setting of the Orpheus legend.

The season opened with Dietrich Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. Published in 1680, the cycle sets texts drawn from a 13th century poem, Oratio Rythmica, formerly thought to be by Bernard Clairvaux and now attributed to Arnulf of Louvain, together with scriptural verses. Arnulf’s poem also served as the basis of a cycle of hymns by Paul Gerhardt and for this program Magnificat integrated Gerhardt’s hymns, preceding each of the sections of Buxtehude’s cycle. Magnificat would return to Buxtehude’s several times in the following seasons and revive this program for 2002-2003 season.

In December, Magnificat appeared on the San Francisco Early Music Society series, beginning a run of four consecutive seasons in which we provided their holiday concerts. For the December 1996 program Magnificat turned to one of Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, Francesco Cavalli, whose monumental Musiche Sacre of 1656 provided the psalms and Magnificat for a Christmas Vespers. Best known to music history as the finest of the first generation of Venetian opera composers, Cavalli was also a prolific composer of sacred music and was employed at San Marco for a half century, first as an organist and later as maestro di capella. As substitutes for the antiphons after the psalms, Magnificat played five sonatas by another successor of Monteverdi at San Marco, Giovanni Legrenzi, and in place of the antiphon following the Magnificat, we performed a Cavalli Canzona. Magnificat will perform Cavalli’s Magnificat again this December.

In March 1997, Magnificat presented our first modern premiere, the opera Il Capriccio by Roman composer Marco Marrazoli, a work that had not been performed since the middle of the 17th Century. Warren Stewart and Susan Harvey prepared a modern edition from facsimiles of the only surviving manuscript score, now housed in the Chigi collection of the Vatican Library in Rome. Like Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, Marrazoli’s Il Capriccio is allegorical, and although it is a comedy, its principal interest, and its principal characters, are concepts: Caprice, Deceit, Reason, True Love, Beauty, Jealousy, Shock and Time (along with Beauty’s maid servants, played in drag by Neal Rogers and Raymond Martinez for Magnificat’s production.)

As Joshua Kosman described in his thoughtful review “the title character, aided by Deceit, seduces Beauty away from her moping swain True Love; but of course his interest wanes quickly, leaving her to enlist the help of Jealousy in making him return. Presiding over it all is Reason, whose clear-eyed perceptiveness does not preclude a puckish sense of humor.” The production was Magnificat’s first to use supertitles thanks to equipment purchased with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Costumes, many loaned from American Conservatory Theater, were designed by Callie Flor.

The season concluded with Charpentier’s setting of the Orpheus legend, La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A work that defies categorization, sharing aspects of cantata and opera, Orphée was one of the last works charpentier composed for the Hôtel de Guise, where he lived and worked for almost two decades after his return from his studies with Carissimi in Rome. Magnificat will open our 20th season with a revival of this exquisite piece.

After the final performance of Orphée, Magnificat marked the completion of our fifth season by treating the audience to a reception that included a performance of Charpentier’s very silly “La, la, la Bonjour” and other equally ridiculous works. Both musicians and audience members enjoyed the opportunity to share wine and cheese after the final concert and receptions after the Sunday afternoon concerts soon became a feature of every Magnificat set.

Over the course of the season artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Roberto Balconi, Peter Becker, Amy Brodo, Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth Escher, Melissa Fogarty, Boyd Jarrell, Julie Jeffrey, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Raymond Martinez, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Mary Springfels, David Stattelman, Bill Wahman, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

6 years ago |
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With the Cavalieri recording completed, Magnificat planned a new season that would keep our audiences guessing – three wildly varied programs, establishing a pattern that became a point of pride as the ensemble grew over the years. The season culminated with a return to the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition.

The season opened in September with a program of oratorios by Iacomo Carissimi. Magnificat had performed Carissimi’s Jephte in the first series concert in 1992 (and will perform again this November) together with music by other Italians, mostly Monteverdi. This time Magnificat devoted an entire evening to this most musically influential figure of  mid 17th century. In addition to Jephte, Magnificat also performed the oratorios Job (also on the program this coming November), and Ezechia, and Historia dei Pellegrini di Emmaus, as well as the dramatic cantatas Tolle, sponsa and Sponsa canticorum. Three works by Girolamo Frescobaldi punctuated the vocal works: the Canzone detta la Todeschina and la Bianchina for two violins and continuo and the extraordinary Capriccio Chromatico con Ligature Contrario for harpsichord.

Magnificat’s December concerts December concerts featured the Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. The program was built around the Third Mass of Christmas Day at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The ordinary of the Mass was drawn mostly from the collection of Giovanni’s works published posthumously in 1615 but also included Andrea’s magnificent 16 part Gloria published in 1597.

The Whole Noyse (and friends) played canzone by Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Merulo, a sonata by Cesario Gussago and the famous Sonata pian’ e forte by Giovanni. At the Elevation, Steve Escher played Bovicelli’s divisions on Angelus ad pastores by Cipriano de Rore. The program also included three of Giovanni’s motets: Quem vidistis pastores, O magnum mysterium and Audite principes.

Neither of these programs could have in any way prepared Magnificat’s audiences for the next program – a staged production of a fair theatre from turn of the 18th century Paris. The Parodie of Telemaque was a play set to vaudevilles by Alain-René Le Sage produced at the Foire de S. Germain in 1715, a year after the extremely popular production at the Opéra of the Tragedie de Télémaque by Destouches, which Le Sage satarizes mercilessly with bawdy lyrics, overblown rhetoric and sophomoric gags that resulted in a Baroque Saturday Night Live parody.

William Wahman in Telemaque (click for larger image)

Although Claude Gilliers, a bass player in the Accademie’s opera orchestra, is credited as the composer for the production in 1715, only Le Sage’s libretto survives, so a score was constructed by Susan Harvey, drawing from the author’s specific suggestions – the ouverture of the original opera, the storm scene from Marais’ Alcione – along with other music lifted from the original opera. The bulk of the music in Magnificat’s production was taken from the rich repertory of popular song known as “voix de villes” or, more commonly, vaudevilles.

James Middleton joined Magnificat as stage director for these production and also designed costumes, sets and props, while Angene Feves provided choreography fro several scenes. James brought a Loony Tunes sensibility that meshed well with Magnificat’s enthusiastic, often anarchic, approach to comedy and the low-brow slapstick humor of Le Sage’s parody and a delightful time was had by all.

Magnificat was pleased to be invited to perform at the Berkeley Festival on June 2 1996. For this project, Warren Stewart took Heinrich Schütz’s suggestion in the preface to his Musikalische Exequien that the large first part of the work could be used as a paraphrase of the Kyrie and Gloria in a Mass for the Feast of Purification and built a program around the Dresden court chapel liturgy that included all three parts of the Exequien along with other works by Schütz, a Credo by Alessandro Grandi and a motet by Michael Praetorius. Magnificat’s largest collaborative project included The Whole Noyse and members of the Piedmont Children’s Choir.

For the chorales that form such an essential part of the Lutheran liturgy, Magnificat invited members of many of the choirs that had worked with the Jubilate Orchestra (at the time, somewhat confusingly, also called Magnificat) and a “congregational choir” was formed with members of Baroque Choral Guild,  The Bay Area Lutheran Chorale, the California Bach Society, the St. Gregory Nyssen Church Choir, the San Francisco Bach Choir, the Sonoma County Bach Society and The University of California Chamber Chorus. The concert actually began several blocks away from First Congregational Church in Berkeley, as the 80-voice choir sang the macronic chorale Ex legis observatia/Nach dem Gebet in procession – eventually filing into the church and surrounding the Festival audience.

The 1995-96 season was the first season that Magnificat received funding from San Francisco Grants for the Arts, which has been a tremendous support for arts organizations of all kinds in the Bay Area for the past fifty years (our renewed funding for the upcoming season was just announced.) The 95-96 season was also the first in which Miriam Lewis designed programs and brochures, establishing a graphic style (and the Bellevue font) that endured for a decade. Miriam also appeared as a dancer and was in charge of make-up for Telemaque.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Carolyn Carvejal, Sand Dalton, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Boyd Jarrell, Doug Kirk, Miriam Lewis, James Middleton, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Judith Nelson, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Robert Osborne, Ernie Rideout, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Doug Shambo, Sandy Stadtfeld, Bill Wahman (as Idas in the photograph and, yes, he is holding a commuter coffee mug!), Nathaniel Watson, and Randall Wong.

6 years ago |
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Magnificat will perform a program of selections from Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War & Love as part of the Bloomington Early Music Festival on September 10 2011 and as part of our own series on the wekend of February 17-19 2012. Jeffrey Kurtzman and Warren Stewart contributed these program notes.

In 1638, Claudio Monteverdi, the seventy-one year-old music director of the ducal church of St. Mark’s in Venice, published his Eighth Book of Madrigals, the final collection of his secular music to be issued in his lifetime. He had last published a set of secular compositions in 1619, so the Eighth Book has a retrospective character, bringing together music written as early as 1608, and including one large work from 1624 and a variety of other compositions whose origins are unknown but which probably span the entire period 1619-1638. This unusually large collection was dedicated to Ferdinand III, the newly crowned Hapsburg Emperor in Vienna, whose mother was a member of the ducal family of the Gonazagas, former rulers of Mantua in northern Italy, where the early part of Monteverdi’s career had unfolded and to which he was still connected by various threads.

Monteverdi subtitled the Eighth Book Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo (“Madrigals of war and love with some pieces in the theatrical style”), and the texts repeatedly expound the interlocking themes of love and war– the warrior as lover, the lover as warrior and the war between the sexes. The relationship between love and war had been a common Italian poetic conceit ever since the time of Petrarch in the 14th century, and had been given additional impetus by its prominence in Torquato Tasso’s late 16th century epic poem, Gerusalemme Liberata. The notion of lover as warrior was also central to the Neapolitan poet Giambattista Marino, who exerted a significant influence on Italian literature and aesthetics of the 17th century and whose poetry was set many times by Monteverdi.

The texts of several of the madrigals has been adapted to make specific reference to Ferdinand and to the Empire (River Nymphs of the Istrus, i.e. Danube; the ladies of the Germano Impero, etc.) but the overall theme of the collection was influenced by the role of the Hapsburg’s in the ongoing conflict now known as The Thirty Years War. The younger Ferdinand’s interest in the arts and music (he was a reasonably good composer himself and a patron of Froberger, Valentini, and of course Monteverdi.) Shortly before his accession to the throne, Ferdinand, together with his Spanish cousin, also a Ferdinand, were credited with capture of Donauwörth and Regensburg, and the defeat the Swedes and their Protestant allies at the Battle of Nördlingen. As head of the peace party at court, he helped negotiate the Peace of Prague in 1635 that was thought, sadly incorrectly, to be the end of the dreadful conflict. These events may have contributed to the triumphalism that permeates the Eighth Book and the sense that glorious military victories would lead to leisure and more amorous pursuits.

Monteverdi affixed an explanatory preface to the Eighth Book, a theoretically important, though sometimes confusing account of what he had tried to achieve in this music. The composer describes three emotional levels, which he also calls styles. Two of these, the “soft” style (stile molle) for languishing and sorrowful emotions, and the “tempered” style (stile temperato) for emotionally neutral recitations, he says had long been in use. But the third style, the “agitated” style, (stile concitato), Monteverdi claims to have invented himself. The musical depiction of this style consists of very rapid reiterations of the same pitch on string instruments, like a modern measured tremolo, and equally rapid reiterations of the supporting chord in the harpsichord or other continuo instrument. Such repeated notes and repeated chords had, in fact, been frequently used in compositions depicting battles for nearly a century, but for Monteverdi the stile concitato meant more than merely a musical metaphor for the rapid physical activity of fighting. It was also a specific emotional style–a musical means for interpreting the emotional agitation of the protagonists and conveying that agitation to the audience.  The stile concitato, therefore, serves both a pictorial and a psychological function in Monteverdi’s music.

Magnificat’s program will follow the structure and order of Monteverdi’s publication, the selections in the first half are drawn from the Canti Guerrieri, or Songs of War and the second from the Canti Amorosi, or Songs of Love. The two halves open, like the two parts of the collection, with sonnets announcing, respectively, the themes of war and love. While the sonnet Altri canti di Marte was a pre-existing poem from Marino’s Rime (1602), it’s parallel in the first half, Altri canti d’Amor, seems to have been newly written for this collection and is clearly an imitation of Marino’s sonnet. After the two quatrains of Altri canti d’Amor that contrast themes of love and of Mars, the text of the sestet praises the dedicatee Ferdinand III. In addition to the usual pair of violins, Monteverdi introduces a quartet of viols when the text addresses the new Emperor and extols his lofty valor. This may have been a specific allusion to the large string ensembles favored by Viennese court composers of the time as the viola da gamba had gone out of fashion in Italy by the time Monteverdi was assembling his Eighth Book.

Altri canti d’Amor is followed, as in Monteverdi’s publication, by the most complex and sophisticated of Monteverdi’s large-scale madrigals from the Eighth Book, Hor che’l ciel e la terra. This madrigal sets, in two parts, the entirety of Petrarch’s 164th poem from the Canzoniere, a sonnet replete with Petrarchan contrasts and oxymorons. But Petrarch’s contrasts, as described by Pietro Bembo in the Prose della volgar lingua, are brought into harmony and smoothed over by mellifluous sounds and varied, rolling rhythms of his highly refined poetic style. This is easily seen in Petrarch’s fifth and sixth lines, where the most abrupt semantic juxtapositions are couched in an elegantly structured and alliterative sentence that draws attention away from the contrasts toward their union in a highly stylized and carefully crafted poetic conception. Resemblances of rhyme, of rhythm, of line lengths and stanzaic structure, and especially resemblances of sonority all serve to overcome the semantic contrasts. While earlier settings of this sonnet, notably Arcadelt’s famous account, emphasize this harmony and integration of oppositions, Monteverdi’s seizes upon the contrasts as the means for creating rhetorical statements and musical icons that can serve as the constructive basis for his composition. Indeed, contrasts as a means of expressing rhetoric and emotion permeate the entire collection and call to mind Monteverdi’s observation in the publication’s preface “that it is contraries that deeply affect our mind, the goal of the effect that good music ought to have.”

Two warrior-themed madrigals follow. The first, Se vittorie si belle, has been identified by John Whenham as the work of Fulvio Testi, a diplomat and poet in the Estense court in Modena and a literary follower of Marino. While the second of the pair, Armato il cor, was ascribed to Ottavio Rinuccini by Malipiero, Gary Tomlinson has argued that both are likely by Testi. In any case, they are poetic twins, nearly identical in theme, length, rhyme and prosody and share the Marinist conceit of love as a battle, reflected by Monteverdi in both settings, as elsewhere in the Eighth Book, with trumpet-like triadic fanfares. A similar musical depiction of warfare is found in “La Gran Battaglia” by the Modenese composer Marco Uccellini that separates the two madrigals in this evening’s program.

Rinuccini originally wrote Volgendo il ciel, a pair of sonnets, one tailed, one regular, in honor of Henri IV of France. In the first sonnet­–it’s text modified for its new dedicatee and sung by a tenor with instrumental ritornelli–the poet sings of the new era of peace that will accompany the new Emperor and calling on the nymphs of the Danube to join their nimble feet in dance. The second sonnet, set a galliard-like ballo for five voices with violins, repeats the final four lines of the first as its first quatrain and continues in the same spirit, extolling the beauty of nature and their reflection in the exalted honor of the Emperor. Between the quatrains and sestet, Monteverdi suggests that “a canario, passo o mezzo or some other balletto” be performed and we will oblige with the Balletto Primo of Biagio Marini, a virtuoso violinist and composer who worked in Venice as well as many other courts in Europe over the course of his long career.

Altri canti di Marte, he sonnet that opens the second part of the Eighth Book and introduces the Canti Amorosi, clearly served as the model for it’s counterpart in the first half and is in some ways a mirror image, establishing first the themes of war that will be left to others before turning to more amorous matters. Here instead of Ferdinand, the poem addresses Love’s “warrior maiden” (guerriera) who has wounded the poet not with the weapons of war, but with her glances and soft tresses.

For the Lamento della Ninfa, one of the most passionate and moving works in the collection, Monteverdi again turned to Rinuccini. The poem, Non havea Febo ancora, published a year after the poet’s death in 1621, echoes the famous Lament of Arianna from the lost 1608 opera for which Rinuccini was the librettist, and Monteverdi chooses the same descending fourth ostinato figure for his setting of this lament. Massimo Ossi has shown the poem to be in the ‘strophic canzonetta’ form associated with Gabrielo Chiabrera, with stanzas composed of four alternating seven and six syllables lines followed by a rhymed couplet refrain. However, in contrast to Chiabrera’s convivial and amatory verse, Rinuccini’s canzonetta is a dramatic narrative, set as a dialogue between a forsaken nymph and a trio of observers. Monteverdi modifies Rinuccini’s poem considerably: the words of the nymph are set apart, framed by trios for male voices, and the refrain, rather than occurring after each stanza, is used to punctuate and comment on the nymph’s plaint. Monteverdi also provides performance directions with respect to tempo: the opening and closing trios are to be sung according to the beat of the hand, i.e., in a steady tempo, while the lament itself is to be sung ‘according to the affections of the soul and not to the beat of the hand,’ suggesting that the tempo and pacing of the lament are to follow the rhetorical and emotional nuances of the nymph’s complaint.

Il Ballo delle Ingrate (“The Dance of the Ungrateful Women”) was originally written for the Mantuan wedding of Margherita of Savoy and Prince Francesco Gonzaga in 1608 but was subsequently performed in Vienna sometime in the 1620s or 1630s, and seems to have been revised somewhat before its only surviving version appeared in the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi.  The story of Il Ballo delle Ingrate centers on the complaint of Cupid that the effect of his arrows has been blunted by the hard-hearted and merciless noble ladies of Mantua (changed to “The German Empire” for the Eighth Book.) He relies upon his mother, Venus, to call up Pluto from Hades and request temporary release of the souls of these ungrateful and condemned women so that they can be displayed as examples to the audience of the punishment reserved for beauty that cruelly rejects love. Pluto, in recognition of Venus’ assistance in the abduction of his own wife Proserpina from the world above complies and the sorrowful souls gradually emerge to perform a solemn dance. Pluto assures Margherita of Savoy that he has not come to abduct her as well, but only to describe the dark cave in which the condemned souls must dwell forever and to admonish the ladies in the audience: “Fruitless it is (believe my words) to withhold your mortal beauty until the end!” Il Ballo delle Ingrate concludes with the return of the Ungrateful Women to their eternal pain in the Underworld and a lament by the last of them, advising the ladies of the audience to show pity to their lovers.

The ungrateful women possess outer beauty, but not inner beauty. The men they reject are at first stimulated by their outer beauty to love to begin the ascent to the divine; their entreaties to the women involve faith, devotion, poetry, and feats of courage and honor—all noble qualities and manifestations of the beautiful soul. But the women’s’ beauty turns out to be only physical beauty and their haughtiness and rejection of the love of men makes them the enemies of love, and leaves the men with only lust, not love. The women have defied the power of Cupid, of love, the most powerful of all the gods and have therefore rejected divinity itself, which is why they are condemned to Hades. But because they themselves don’t understand what love truly is, they don’t realize they’ve defied the order and unity of the entire cosmos and see their punishment as too harsh. Monteverdi’s audience would have understood the seriousness of their crime, and Il Ballo delle Ingrate, therefore, is not merely a warning to the ladies in the audience that they must respond to the pleasure-seeking advances of their suitors, but rather that they should possess the inner beauty that stimulates and reciprocates the pleasure of love, the recognition of that true beauty in both men and women that inspires the desire to ascend to the divine.

6 years ago |
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The 2010 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition is the subject of a 2 hour radio documentary that will be broadcast on KDFC-FM and over a hundred other stations nationwide this month. The program is part of America’s Music Festivals, a 26 episode series of documentaries exploring classical music festivals in the United States, hosted by Baltimore Symphony music director Marin Alsop. The program will air on KDFC on August 27 at 9:00 pm, but is available in streaming audio now at the AMF website.

The program features complete recordings of many memorable performances from a very memorable festival, including selections from main stage concerts by AVE, !Sacabuche¡, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’ Recreation, ARTEK, Archetti and Magnificat as well as highlights from the Festival Finale program. Jennifer Ellis Kampani sings Barbara Strozzi’s O Maria, Laura Heimes and Meg Bragle sing Chiara Margarita Cozzolani’s O mi domine, and the program concludes with the complete Vivaldi Magnificat conducted by Magnificat’s artistic director Warren Stewart.

The full playlist:

Legrenzi: Sonata for Two Violins and Continuo: La Spilemberga (Music’s Re-Creation)
Monteverdi: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes (Sacabuche)
Piccinini: Toccata (Sacabuche)
Monteverdi: T’amo mia vita (Artek)
Castello: Sonata Quinta in C (1621) (Marion Verbruggen Trio)
Barbara Strozzi: O Maria (Magnificat, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, soprano)
Fontana: Sonata Terza in C Major (Marion Verbruggen Trio)
Gesualdo: NocturnusTenebre III (AVE)
Monteverdi: E cosi, a poco a poco (Artek)
Jenkins: Fantazia (Music’s Re-Creation)
Schutz: Der Engel Sprach with brass ensemble (Sacabuche)
Gabrieli: Canzona, Canzon VIII (Sacabuche)
Schutz: Fili mi Absalon (Sacabuche)
Monteverdi: Troppo ben Puo Questo (Artek)
Matteis: Violin Sonata: Corrente (Music’s Re-Creation)
Gesualdo: Nocturnus II: Tamquam (AVE)
Gesualdo: Nocturnus I: Vinea Mea Electa (AVE)
Lawes: Fantazia (Music’s Re-Creation)
Cozzolani: O mi Domine (Magnificat)
Vivaldi: Concerto in E Minor for 4 Violins: II (Archetti)
Vivaldi: Magnificat (AVE, Archetti, ARTEK, Magnificat, Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Re-Creation !Sacabuche¡, conducted by Warren Stewart)

6 years ago |
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The enthusiastic response to Magnificat’s production of Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo in Ferbuary 1994 led to a recording on the Koch International label. With recording sessions scheduled for the end of October, it wa decided to reduce the concert series to just two sets, but they were both extraordinary programs, each featuring monumental works from the 17th century: Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and Heinrich Schütz’s Resurrection Story.

Magnificat's Recording of Cavalieri's La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo

The Cavalieri Recording October 1994 (click for larger version)

The recordings took place in the exquisitely beautiful chapel of St. Vincent’s School for Boys in Marinwood. Warren Stewart served as session producer together with engineer Peter Nothnagle.

The acoustics were perfect and in general there were few issues with ambient noise (always a concern with non-studio recording locations) until the third evening of sessions, when it was discovered to our surprise that the school had scheduled a “haunted house” as a fund-raiser in the rooms immediately adjacent to the chapel (it was the day before Halloween.) After some heated negotiations, we agreed to delay the start of our session until after the spooky fun was over, which meant that we were still recording at 2:00 am.

Proving his considerable skills as an audio magician, Peter had several innovative ideas for creating the various effects of spirits appearing and disappearing and the gates of hell opening and closing. The latter was achieved using two large flat stone found in the garden outside the chapel, which Warren scraped against each other. The recorded sound was then filtered through an audio technique called “pitch-shifting” and transposed (to the extent that the sound had “pitch”) to several different frequencies and then mixed them together with additional reverb. The result was worthy of Jimmy Page and even more frightening than the haunted house had been.

The title roles were sung by Judith Nelson and Paul Hiller and the recording included most of the cast from the February 1993 concerts together with the Whole Noyse. The recordings were edited and mixed and released by Koch in 1995.

With the recording completed, attention turned to Monteverdi’s music for Vespers. The concerts were a co-production with the San Francisco Early Music Society and the Sonoma Bach Society. Monteverdi’s psalms and Magnificat were performed within the context of Vespers for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the sacri concerti included in the 1610 collection were used as antiphon substitutes.

As Susan and Warren wrote in the program notes for the December 1994 performances, “We have chosen the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, for several reasons. The feast falls on December 12th, near the dates of our performances, and celebrates an appearance of Mary here in North America, to a Native American peasant near what is now Mexico City in 1531. The poetry of the texts for Guadalupe’s vespers is very beautiful, and compatible with Monteverdi’s choices for his antiphon substitutes; there is much flower imagery, in reference to the beautiful Castillian roses blooming in the dead of winter that were given by the Virgin to the peasant as a miraculous sign. It is also our hope that the choice of this feast, which was established only in 1754, a century and a half after Monteverdi’s publication, commemorating an event that took place in the New World, might take tonight’s performance even further out of the realm of historical reconstruction, and inspire reflection on the elusive relationships between music, performance, and time.”

In preparation for this program, Warren convinced Sacred Heart Catholic Church, in the Western Addition neighborhood where he was living, to allow him to lead a Tridentine Vespers every Thursday evening beginning in March of 1994. This practical experience of chanting the psalm tones and recitation formula was critical to his understanding of the rhythm and ritual of the Vespers liturgy that have served as the basis for so many Magnificat programs over the years. Magnificat Artistic Advisory Board members Jeffrey Kurtzman and William Mahrt both contributed considerably to this program.

In May 1995, Magnificat turned to the Resurrection Story of Heinrich Schütz. As with the Christmas Story in our first season (and again this December in our 20th) Martin Hummel sang the role of the Evangelist. For the Resurrection Story Schütz adapted the popular vocal style of the period called falso bordone, calling on a quartet of viols to sustain chords under the Evangelist’s reciting tone and bursting into expressive and florid part-writing at each cadence. The Sex Chordæ Consort of Viols played this striking and unique accompaniment of the Evangelist, and the Whole Noyse completed the instrumental ensemble.

For this program, Schütz’s music was performed within the context of Easter Vespers, following the chapel order of Johann Georg II, Elector of Saxony. In addition to tradional chant and Lutheran chorales, the program included a psalm from Schütz’s Psalmen Davids and works by Johann Hermann Schein, Samuel Scheidt and Michael Praetorius.

Over the course of the 1994-95 season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Amy Brodo, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies,Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Paul Hillier, Martin Hummel,Boyd Jarrell, Julie Jeffrey, Doug Kirk, Bill Mathews, Andrew Morgan, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Farley Pearce, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Sandy Stadtfeld, David Stattelman, Bill Wahman, and Nat Watson.

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