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Magnificat
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The four women represented on Magnificat’s program this weekend were each exceptionally gifted musicians who benefitted from being born into families that offered some combination of musical tradition, affluence, influence or aristocratic patronage that allowed them the chance to develop their talents. The different paths each of their lives took reflect changes in society that allowed the first flowering of music by women in Western history: the availability of private music education outside of ecclesiastical institutions, the emergence of careers for women singers at court and on the stage, the rise of polyphonic music in convents, and the growth of the music publishing industry. Nevertheless, the opportunities available for women to pursue musical careers remained very limited making the individual achievements of each of these women remarkable. But their music is compelling not merely because of it was written at a time characterized by restrictive attitudes towards the public artistic expression of women, but because of its inherent genius. These were four extraordinary musicians and they bequeathed to us refined and powerful compositions of the highest caliber.

Francesca Caccini, daughter of the renowned singer and composer Giulio Caccini, was born in Florence, and received a humanistic education (Latin, some Greek, as well as modern languages and literature, mathematics) in addition to early musical training with her father. Her first recorded appearance in public is as a singer in the all-sung stage works her father composed for the wedding of Henry IV of France and Maria de Medici in 1600. In 1604 when the entire Caccini family visited France, Henry praised her singing effusively—”you are the best singer in all of France”—and asked her to stay at his court; however the Florentine officials denied his request, and she returned to Italy, where she taught, performed and composed from her father’s home. In 1607 her composition of a Carnival entertainment entitled La stiava seems to have led to her hiring as a musician in the service of the Medici court. That same year she married fellow court musician Giovanni Battista Signorini, with whom she would have one child, Margherita, born in 1622.

In her early life Caccini performed with her parents, her half-brother Pompeo, her sister Settimia, and possibly other unnamed Caccini pupils in an ensemble contemporaries referred to as le donne di Giulio Romano. After she was hired by the court, she continued to perform with the family ensemble until Settimia’s marriage and resulting move to Mantua caused its breakup. Caccini served the Medici court as a teacher, chamber singer, rehearsal coach and composer of both chamber and stage music until early 1627. By 1614 she was the court’s most highly paid musician, in no small part because her musical virtuosity so well exemplified an idea of female excellence projected by Tuscany’s de facto Regent, Granduchess Christine de Lorraine.

Caccini is believed to have been a quick and prolific composer, equal in productivity to her court colleagues Jacopo Peri and Marco da Gagliano. Very little of her music survives. Most of her stage music was composed for performance in comedies by poet Michelangelo Buonarroti the younger (grand-nephew of the artist) such as La Tancia (1613), Il passatempo (1614) and La fiera (1619). In 1618 she published a collection of thirty-six solo songs and soprano/bass duets (Il primo libro delle musiche) that is a compendium of contemporary styles, ranging from intensely moving, harmonically adventurous laments to joyful sacred songs in Italian and Latin to witty strophic songs about the joys and perils of romantic love. In winter 1625 Caccini composed all the music for a “comedy-ballet” entitled La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina that was performed for the visiting crown prince of Poland and which Magnificat presented in October 2009.

After Caccini’s first husband died in December 1626, she quickly arranged to marry again in October, 1627, this time to a bachelor, melophile nobleman in Lucca, Tommaso Raffaelli. She lived in Raffaelli’s Lucchese homes, apparently bearing a son and having some musical relationship to the Buonvisi family in Lucca, until his death in 1630. Although as the wife of a nobleman she had declined at least one request to perform (in Parma, in 1628), once she was widowed Caccini immediately tried to return to Medici service. Her return delayed by the plagues of 1630-33, by 1634 Caccini was back in Florence with her two children, serving the court as music teacher to her daughter Margherita and to the Medici princesses who lived at or frequently visited the convent of La Crocetta, and composing and performing chamber music and minor entertainments for the women’s court. Caccini left Medici service on 8 May 1641, and disappeared from the public record.

Barbara 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. Her works were included in important collections of song, which found their way to the rest of Europe and England. Yet she died in obscurity in Padua in 1677 with little wealth or property.

Born in 1619 in Venice, Barbara was baptized on August 6 at the Santa Sofia parish. At that time, Venice was at its cultural peak, a city of wealth, peace, academic curiosity, and musical innovation. In addition to the luck of time and place, Barbara grew up in a household frequented by the greatest literary and musical minds of the age. The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi was most likely his natural daughter, recognized or ‘legitimized’ in his will of 1628 as his figliuola elettiva. Her mother Isabella lived in the same household as Giulio and was his principle heir until Barbara should come of age.

Though born in Venice, Giulio, himself the illegitimate and later recognized son of Roberto Strozzi, was nonetheless a member of one of the most powerful families of Florence, second only to the Medici in wealth and influence. That the Strozzi name was recognized far and wide may have assisted Giulio in his ability to mix with many levels of Italian society. He was the founder of several accademie or groups of creative intellectuals, and was an influential member of the Accademia degli Incogniti formed by the writer Giovanni Francesco Loredano in Venice. The Incogniti counted among its participants famous authors, poets, philosophers, and musicians, possibly including the great Monteverdi. It was into this milieu that young Barbara was introduced as a singer and composer.

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

Isabella was born into a noble family of Novara in Piedmont in 1620. Little is known of Isabella’s musical education, though it has been suggested that she may have studied with Gasparo Casati, maestro di cappella at the Novara Cathedral from 1635-1641. Two of Isabella’s works were included by the composer in a collection of sacred concerti published in 1641.

Isabella entered the convent of Saint Ursula in Novarra in 1636 and remained there for the rest of her long life. A document from 1658 identifies Isabella as music instructor at the convent as well as “mother and clerk for her congregation.” By 1676 she had attained the rank of mother superior and by 1693, mother vicar. Easily the most prolific woman composer of the century, she published twenty collections of music, containing over 200 compositions that feature examples of nearly every sacred genre. In 1693, she became the first woman to publish instrumental sonatas with a collection that included eleven trio sonatas and the extraordinary solo violin sonata on our program. The multi-sectional motet Volo Jesum, is drawn from her third published collection of sacred vocal music.

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was an accomplished performer, renowned as a singer and a harpsichordist. In the dedication to her first collection of pieces for harpsichord in 1687, Élisabeth recalled that already when she was five years old King Louis XIV had recognized in her “a disposition for playing the harpsichord.” So impressed was the Sun King that he arranged for her education and support, which was supervised by one of the King’s mistresses Madame de Montespan.

As an adult, Élisabeth was active as a teacher as well as a performer and was a musical hostess whose in-house concerts attracted the most musically discerning Parisians and visitors to Paris. For five decades she kept herself at the center of musical life in Paris and Versailles. But she was able to expand the range of possibilities available to women: unlike other women of her day, she was a composer of music for keyboard, for violins, for voice, for chorus, and for the stage, and she actively pursued the publication of her composition. She had sufficient stature, connections, and savoir-faire to negotiate successfully the tricky process of having an opera produced by the Accadémie royale de musique. Such a range of accomplishments would have been remarkable for anybody, regardless of gender.

The four works by Élisabeth on our program give a glimpse of the tremendous range of her publications. The ‘unmeasured’ prelude, which opens the concert is characteristic the quasi-improvisational genre that evolved in French harpsichord in the second half of the 17th century.  Her four trio sonatas, which were not published during her lifetime and survive only in manuscript, are among the first such sonatas in France. La Passage de la Mer Rouge is one of six sacred cantatas she published in the first years of the 18th century and La Provençale is one of several of her drinking songs that were published in Ballard’s series Airs serieux et à boire between 1710 and 1724.

These notes were drawn in part from the published work of Suzanne G. Cusick, Stewart Carter, Candace Manger and Mary Cyr.

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Rob Diggins and Jillon Stoppels Dupree

In addition to vocal works by women composers, Magnificat’s upcoming program will include a trio sonata by Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and a sonata for solo violin and continuo by Isabella Leonarda. In 1693, Isabella published her op. 16, a collection of twelve sonatas, the first such publication by a woman. Eleven of the sonatas are for two violins and continuo but the collection concludes with an extraordinary virtuoso work for solo violin, which will be performed on our program by Rob Diggins and Jillon Stoppels Dupree.

Through-composed in seven sections, the solo sonata is stylistically closer to the middle of the 17th century than the last decade – more like Marini or Uccelini than Corelli. It is harmonically adventurous and alternates free quasi-improvisational sections with more structured “arias” and dance-like passages.

Rob has been a fixture in Magnificat’s concerts since returning to California from his studies in Holland in 1994. He has performed Isabella’s solo sonata in two programs with Magnificat: first in 2003 on a program devoted to Isabella’s music and again last summer in our CD release party at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.

Here’s a recording from 2003 in which Rob is joined by Warren Stewart, violoncello; David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, harpsichord.

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In the dedication to her first collection of pieces for harpsichord in 1687, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre recalled that already when she was five years old King Louis XIV had recognized in her “a disposition for playing the harpsichord.” So impressed was the Sun King that he arranged for her education and support. When Élisabeth was twelve, the Mercure Gallant, the journal of the French court, reported:

There is a prodigy that has been appearing here in Paris for four years now. She sings the most difficult music at sight. She accompanies herself and she accompanies others to sing, on the harpsichord, which she plays in a style that cannot be imitated. She composes pieces, and she plays them in all the keys that one asks of her.

The following year, the same journal declared Élisabeth “the marvel of our century.”

Mary Cyr begins the thorough and engaging biographical essay accompanying her recent edition of Elisabeth’s complete works with the observation that “something of this sense of marvel seems to have adhered to Jacquet de la Guerre throughout her career–no doubt in part because she was a child prodigy and in part because she was an exceptional achiever in a community in which opportunities for the achievement were available mostly to men.” Cyr suggests that Élisabeth was perhaps the most successful woman in the history of French music:

She was an accomplished performer, renowned as a singer and a harpsichordist. She was a musical hostess whose in-house concerts attracted the most musically discerning Parisians and visitors to Paris. For five decades she kept herself at the center of musical life in Paris and Versailles. But she was able to expand the range of possibilities available to women: unlike other women of her day, she was a composer of music for keyboard, for violins, for voice, for chorus, and for the stage, and she actively pursued the publication of her compositions… She had sufficient stature, connections, and savoir-faire to negotiate successfully the tricky process of having an opera produced by the Accadémie royale de musique. Such a range of accomplishments would have been remarkable for anybody, regardless of gender.

The exquisite quality of the impressive body of work that has come down to us reveal a master composer and provide some glimpse of her extraordinary gift as a performer. Beyond sheer technical display, reflecting her mastery of both vocal and instrumental idioms, her music displays a refined sensitivity to the drama and character, whether in setting a text our in purely instrumental works.

Magnificat will perform Élisabeth’s musical description of the Israelites passage through the Red Sea, as well as selections from her Pieces de claveçin and Trio Sonatas in concerts on the weekend of February 4-6.

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Jennifer Ellis Kampani On the weekend of February 4-6, Magnificat will present a program of music by women composers of the 17th century that will feature soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani. Since her memorable Magnificat debut in the role of Gelosia in Marco Marrazoli’s opera Il Capriccio in 1997, Jennifer has appeared in every Magnificat season. Her credits include music by Charpentier, Schütz, Monteverdi, Rovetta, Carrisimi, and many others. She features prominently on Magnificat’s recordings of the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and has appeared on several Magnificat tours.

“Jennie’s voice has been integral to Magnificat’s sound over the past decade,” noted artistic director Warren Stewart. “The passion, love and energy that she brings to every performance is inspiring to audiences and her fellow musicians alike.”

In addition to her work with Magnificat, Jennifer has performed recently with the Washington Bach Consort, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem and the New York Collegium under Andrew Parrott. She was featured artist in Le Tournoi de Chauvency, a Medieval opera production with Francesca Lattuada and Ensemble Aziman, which toured Europe. She has also performed with the Richmond Symphony, the Bach Sinfonia, and the Handel Choir of Baltimore. Her international career has included appearances with American Bach Soloists, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Santa Fe Pro Musica, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Opera Lafayette, Apollo’s Fire, Musica Angelica, Washington Catherdral Choral Society, Atlanta Baroque Orchestra, Ensemble Solamente (Budapest, Hungary), Ensemble Tourbillon (Prague, Czech Republic), and Musica Aeterna (Bratislava, Slovakia). In addition, Jennifer has sung with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Charlotte Symphony. Opera highlights include leading roles in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, Duron’s zarzuela Salir el Amor del Mundo, Handel’s Semele, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.

A specialist in the music of Spain and Latin America, Jennifer has toured villancicos and zarzuelas extensively with Richard Savino and El Mundo and has performed on programs with Andrew Lawrence-King. She has been heard in many concert series and festivals including Aston Magna, Houston Early Music, Music Before 1800, Miami Tropical Baroque, Connecticut Early Music, Carmel Bach, Pacific Music Festival, and the Berkeley and Boston Early Music Festivals. Jennifer has recorded Villancicos y Cantadas and The Essential Giuliani for Koch, the works of Cozzolani for Musica Omnia, and Carissimi Motets and Cantatas for Hungaroton. She was awarded finalist in the 2004 Early Music America Medieval/Renaissance Competition, first runner up at the 2000 Bethlehem Bach Vocal Competition, and the Adam’s Fellowship at the Carmel Bach Festival. Born in San Francisco and a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Guildhall School of Music in London, Jennifer currently lives in Detroit.

Tickets for Jennifer’s performances are available here. E-tickets are also available and can be ordered here.

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Isabella Leonarda is one of four women composers whose music Magnificat will explore in our concerts on the weekend of February 4-6 that will feature soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani.

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

Isabella was born into a noble family of Novara in Piedmont in 1620. Little is known of Isabella’s musical education, though it has been suggested that she may have studied with Gasparo Casati, maestro di cappella at the Novara Cathedral from 1635-1641. Two of Isabella’s works were included by the composer in a collection of sacred concerti published in 1641.

Isabella entered the convent of Saint Ursula in Novarra in 1636 and remained there for the rest of her long life. A document from 1658 identifies Isabella as music instructor at the convent as well as “mother and clerk for her congregation.” By 1676 she had attained the rank of mother superior and by 1693, mother vicar.

Easily the most prolific woman composer of the century, she published twenty collections of music, containing over 200 compositions that feature examples of nearly every sacred genre. In 1693, she became the first woman to publish instrumental sonatas.

In 2003, Magnificat presented a program devoted to Isabella’s music for Vespers. Her setting of the psalm Laetatus sum is sung soprano Catherine Webster in the following live recording from those concerts.

Isabella’s instrumental works, which appeared in 1693, are apparently the earliest published sonatas by a woman. The collection consists of eleven trio sonatas and one sonata for solo violin and continuo. In our concerts, Rob Diggins will perform one of her most harmonically adventurous works, the Sonata duodecima, an extended work in seven sections. This live recording comes from the same concert in 2003.

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Suzanne Cusick has graciously provided the following essay on Francesca Caccini and La Liberazione di Ruggiero. The essay is an adaptation of remarks made on February 3, 2006 at Smith College on the occasion of a performance of La Liberazione directed by Drew Minter. The essay benefits from Professor Cusick’s lifelong research into this remarkable woman and much of the material became part of her extraordinary monograph published earlier this summer: Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (2009, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-13212-9).

Francesca Caccini

Francesca Caccini

Francesca Caccini was born in mid-September 1587, the first-born child of two singers then on salary to produce chamber and theatre music for the Medici court–Lucia Gagnolandi, and Giulio Caccini (who was himself the second son of an ambitious wood dealer from Pisa). By 1587 Giulio was already one of the best-known singers and singing teachers of his generation, and the one professional singer known to have regularly participated in the conversations at courtier Giovanni de’Bardi’s Fiesole villa (known as La Camerata) that are supposed to have led to the two most stunning musical innovations of the 17th-century–the invention of a new kind of solo song, and the closely-related invention of new ways of setting plays to music that led directly to the emergence of opera as a genre.

At 13 Francesca sang in the first more-or-less publicly performed opera, L’Euridice, joining her sister Settimia, her step-mother Margerita, and various other pupils of her father to sing the female and the choral parts of the show that had been assigned to Giulio’s composition. At 17, she so impressed the King of France, Henri IV, with the literary sensitivity of her singing in French that the King asked to have her as a musical servant to his household. In the winter before she turned 20 she composed her first theatrical work for the Medici court–a kind of mock sword fight preceded by musico-dramatic dialogue called a barriera. The show’s success seems to have led directly to her hiring by the Medici court as a musica (an all-round musical servant) two months after her 20th birthday; in keeping with local custom, she was married to another musical servant the same week she appeared on the court’s payroll (although, contrary to the prevailing custom, her dowry was paid by her father, not by the court).

According to a biographical sketch penned between 1627 and 1630 by a man who had then known her as a court colleague for 15 years, Cristoforo Bronzini, the adult Francesca was an industrious, talkative woman who compensated by talent, charm, cheerfulness and gracious manners for the fact that, in his words, “she had not been well endowed by nature”.  Francesca had been alone among her father Giulio’s 10 children in receiving something close to a humanist education. This “girl of the sharpest intelligence”, as Bronzini called her, was taught Latin, some Greek, rhetoric, grammar, and languages well enough that she was remembered for writing, as a 12-year-old, a commentary on books 3 and 4 of the Aeneid, and for her adult ability to improvise songs to poetry in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and several Italian dialects. Constantly eager to learn new things, Francesca seems to have been especially interested in mathematics–arithmetic, geometry and astrology–in the occult sciences, and in philosophy, which, Bronzini says, “she would have studied further had she been able, like Astenia and some others, to wear boy’s clothing to attend the public schools”. Her musical studies, he tells us, were at first a minor part of her education, pursued as a pastime, and “to please her father”.

By the time she impressed the King of France, she was known as much for her skills on the harp, harpsichord, lute, theorbo and guitar as for her singing, and she was said to be able to play any stringed instrument well. Sometime before she was 20, Tuscan Granduchess Christine de Lorraine noticed her talent, and arranged for her to study counterpoint, to marry a handsome, impoverished, respectable tenor on the court’s staff, Giovanni Battista Signorini, and to be hired as a musician of the Granducal court.

In the 20 years that followed, Francesca Caccini performed regularly for the private pleasure of the Medici family–that is, for two Grand Dukes, and for their wives, children, cousins, nephews, nieces, and guests. Annually, during the last three days of Holy Week, Florentine melophiles could be sure of hearing her publicly, when she participated in the poly-choral performances of “the Offices”, singing from the balcony, and behind the grate where the ruling family themselves sat–as if her voice, mixing with those of her own family and pupils, sang in the place of the rulers’. Witnesses to her performances reported that:

“…whenever it suited her, this same woman …could by her singing and playing kindle astonishment and boldness in the breasts of her listeners, so that they would agree to any undertaking, no matter how burdensome…with the soft sound of her playing and the sweetness of her song she invited every breast (even if opposed to chaste intentions) to pure self-containment and integrity…as matched her own…”

In addition, Francesca composed hundreds of songs and duets in the new style her father claimed to have invented, all but 36 of them lost; she taught the daughters of Medici servants or of Florentine professionals who aspired to musical positions at court, paid for her work either by the court or by the girls’ parents, and she taught music to the Medici children, to the daughters of their favorite government ministers, and perhaps to the daughter of Galileo (in whose home conversazione she is known to have participated); and, often collaborating with colleagues Marco da Gagliano and Jacopo Peri,  she composed some of the music for at least 17 court-based entertainments–balli, comedies for Carnival, mascherate, sacred operas–many of them shows authored by  and little shows put on by and for the households of the two Medici Grand Duchesses (that is, their dame and donne, their children, and such professionals as were needed to serve as ‘ringers’ or onstage coaches–these last were usually Caccini herself, along with some of her artisan-class pupils).

The show that Magnificat will present October 16-18, La liberazione di Ruggiero, is the only one of these  to survive nearly intact (excerpts from several others exist). When she got the gig to compose it (probably working from a barely-sketched libretto and scenic plan), Francesca was the highest paid musician at the Medici court, an intimate of the royal’s domestic spaces (though always a servant in their eyes), and a person whose special gifts to the court were her ability as a composer to make her patrons “laugh from the heart” and her ability, as both a singer and musician, “to make her listeners do whatever she wanted…”

By the time Caccini’s first husband died in late December 1626, she had borne him only one child, Margerita, born 14 years after her parents married. Left only with the property her own dowry had bought, the household goods her husband’s will specified had all been purchased with her salary, and a nice collection of jewels given to her by those who admired her performances, she arranged immediately to remarry.

Two weeks after her 40th birthday, she married a minor nobleman from Lucca, Tomaso Raffaelli, a man about whom others noted his intense melophilia, the richness of his instrument collection, and his Ganymede-like manner. When Raffaelli died three years later, Francesca had borne him a son. As Raffaelli’s widow and the guardian of his noble son, Francesca enjoyed the lifelong usufruct of his estate and something even more precious–a tenuous but plausible hold on the noble status for which her education but *not* her 20 years of hard work had prepared her. She returned to Florence in 1634, where she again served the Medici women (never singing again in public, but apparently making music and teaching the princesses in their convent home) until her daughter Margherita was settled in life–life as a virtuosa musician in a convent that adjoined the principal Medici palace–in 1640.

In May, 1641, Francesca left Medici service forever, and disappeared from the public record.

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St. Luke's Episcopal Church, San FranciscoMagnificat’s concert on Sunday February 6 will take place at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Clay and Van Ness in San Francisco rather than our usual venue of St. Mark’s Lutheran. While this will be the first Magnificat  series concert at St. Luke’s, our affiliate the Jubilate Orchestra has performed several times with the choir and former St. Luke’s music director David Farr was one of Magnificat’s original board members in 1989.

The parish of St. Luke’s was founded in 1868 and was first located in a building at 1625 Pacific Avenue. In 1884, the original wooden church was placed on rollers and moved to the parish’s current location at the corner of Van Ness and Clay. During the next decade, the church was expanded twice, and its membership grew to be the largest Episcopal congregation on the Pacific coast and a new church was built. This magnificent church, designed by Albert Sutton, was constructed of brick covered in rough, blue-grey sandstone. It was consecrated in 1900 and seated close to a thousand people.

Unfortunately, this church was utterly destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire. The vestry retained Benjamin Geer McDougall as architect for the beautiful French Gothic sanctuary built in 1910. The worship experience is enhanced by the building’s many stained-glass windows, especially the east window over the altar and those which flank the nave on its north and south sides. The altar window, which depicts the Resurrection, was installed in 1911. The stained-glass windows on the north and south walls of the nave depict the Virgin Mary, various Saints and Biblical scenes. Read more at the St. Luke’s Episcopal Church website.

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One of the composers that will be featured on Magnificat’s program for the weekend of February 4-6 2011 is Barbara Strozzi. The following biographical essay is posted at Dr. Candace Magner’s excellent website devoted to Barbara Strozzi. We have cross-posted here with permission of the author.

Barbara Strozzi

Barbara 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. She is sometimes credited with the genesis of an entire musical genre, the cantata. Her works were included in important collections of song which found their way to the rest of Europe and England. Yet she died in obscurity in Padua in 1677 with little wealth or property.

Born in 1619 in Venice, Barbara was baptized on August 6 at the Santa Sofia parish. At that time, Venice was at its cultural peak, a city of wealth, peace, academic curiosity, and musical innovation. In addition to the luck of time and place, Barbara grew up in a household frequented by the greatest literary and musical minds of the age. The adopted daughter of poet Giulio Strozzi was most likely his natural daughter, recognized or ‘legitimized’ in his will of 1628 as his figliuola elettiva. Her mother Isabella lived in the same household as Giulio and was his principle heir until Barbara should come of age.

Though born in Venice, Giulio, himself the illegitimate and later recognized son of Roberto Strozzi, was nonetheless a member of one of the most powerful families of Florence, second only to the Medici in wealth and influence. That the Strozzi name was recognized far and wide may have assisted Giulio in his ability to mix with many levels of Italian society. He was the founder of several accademie or groups of creative intellectuals, and was an influential member of the Accademia degli Incogniti formed by the writer Giovanni Francesco Loredano in Venice. This group was almost single-handedly responsible for the ‘invention’ and spread of what was to become known as Opera – music and theatre highly intertwined into a new art form which flourished in Venice throughout the 17th century and then expanded throughout the continent. The Incogniti counted among its participants famous authors, poets, philosophers, and musicians, possibly including the great Monteverdi. It was into this milieu that young Barbara was introduced as a singer and composer.

Read Dr. Magner’s full essay at BarbaraStrozzi.com.

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“I bring to your attention the miracles of a Cremonese woman called Sofonisba, who has astonished every prince and wise man in all of Europe by means of her paintings, which are all portraits, so like life they seem to conform to nature itself. Many valiant professionals have judged her to have a brush taken from the hand of the divine Titian himself; and now she is deeply appreciated by Philip King of Spain and his wife who lavish the greatest honors on the artist.”

Gian Paolo Lomazzo (Libro de Sogni, 1564) describing the genius of Sofonisba Anguisola in the context of an imagined conversation between Leonardo da Vinci, representing modern painting, and Phidias, the artist from Antiquity.

Anguisola, Bernardino Campi Painting Sofonisba Anguissola, c. 1550

The image we’ve chosen to represent the upcoming Magnificat program featuring music by four women from the 17th century was painted by the extraordinary Sofonisba Anguissola in 1550. An exceptional work that captures the place of women in late Renaissance, the painting is both a self portrait, a portrait of her master teacher, and a compelling allegory of women as defined by men of the period. It aptly symbolizes the barriers to artistic expression faced by women and the fruits of the individual struggle in the face of those barriers.

Anguissola was born in Cremona around 1532, the oldest of seven children, six of whom were daughters. Her father, Amilcare Anguissola, was a member of the Genoese minor nobility and her mother, Bianca Ponzone, was also of an affluent family of noble background. At fourteen, Anguissola started studying with Bernardino Campi, at the Lombard school and later on under Bernardino Gatti. It is clear that her privileged status as a noble woman were a contributing factor to the fact that she had been given an opportunity to become an artist. Read more at Suite101

Although Sofonisba enjoyed much more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings. Instead, Anguissola created wry and witty portraits of family members and acquaintances.

“Sofonisba’s painting of her teacher, painting her portrait – a story within a story – demonstrates how she negotiated her male-dominated world. Anguissola’s gaze rivets the viewer of the painting, forcing consideration of what appears to be the inscribing of male authority on the body of the female. Campi’s gaze complicates matters, however, since as he paints he, too, looks out of the painting toward what the picture indicates must be his subject, Anguissola. Thus the viewer in front of the painting plays a double role: that of the subject of the painting within the painting, namely Anguissola herself, and of an engaged viewer – watched by both Campi and Anguissola – made complicit in Anguissola’s destabilizing of contemporary social norms.” (Read more at wga.hu)

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As the days finally start getting longer, it’s a good time to look back on the remarkable year that Magnificat enjoyed in 2010 – our biggest audiences ever, two appearances at the Berkeley Festival, the release of the first volume of Cozzolani’s complete works and, of course, lots and lots of spectacular music. In the past twelve months Magnificat performed 16 times in venues ranging from Yoshi’s to Grace Cathedral. We performed music by Alessandro Grandi, Claudio Monteverdi, Barbara Strozzi, Antonio Vivaldi, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, John Blow, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Nicolas LeBegue, Biagio Marini, and Dario Castello.

Our first performances of the year were also the first performances in almost 400 years of the first works designated as “cantatas.” Soprano Laura Heimes was featured in a program that included three cantatas, a madrigal and a sonnet from Alessandro Grandi’s 1620 collection Cantade et Arie, in which the composer used to the term “cantada” to distinguish three settings of strophic poetry for soprano and continuo. Each of the works employs a compositional strategy identified by musicologists as “strophic bass” cantatas, an example of strophic variation with which many composers were experimenting at the time. Sadly, the only copy of Grandi’s historic 1620 collection thought to survive into the 20th century was destroyed in the Second World War, a previously unidentified copy of the print was uncovered recently and, working with musicologists Giulia Giovani and Aurelio Bianco, Magnificat had the honor of presenting some of Grandi’s collection for the first time in centuries.

In April, we went from a modern premiere to perhaps the best known work from the 17th Century, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, celebrating the 400th anniversary of this watershed publication with three performances, including one at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. “With Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, Magnificat is approaching music that is generally familiar to our audience — many of whom have even sung the piece — and each of the musicians involved can list multiple performances of the work on their resumes,” noted Artistic Director Warren Stewart. “Yet turning to Monteverdi’s familiar music together is no less a revelation than any premiere, especially in the company of musical friends that bring such a breadth of experience with them to the performances.” Magnificat was joined for these performances by the early wind ensemble The Whole Noyse.

In addition to our own 2009-2010 season, Magnificat also appeared twice at the Berkeley Early Music Festival in June. On June 11, we presented a program that featured nine motets by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, eight of which we had just recorded in completion of our project to record her complete works. Volume I of the two volume set for formally released ina CD release party at Yoshi’s on June 7, though the actual delivery of the CDs was delayed due to printing issues. We have now begun the post production process for Volume II, which is now planned for release at our concerts in March 2011.

Magnificat also participated in the Festival Finale concert on June 13, a concert that featured all the mainstage ensembles from the Festival in a “Vespers from Monteverdi to Vivaldi.” It was an honor to join ARTEK, AVE, Archetti, the Marion Verbruggen Trio, Music’s Recreation and ¡Sacabuche! in Monteverdi’s hymn Ave maris stella and Vivaldi’s g minor Magnificat under the direction of Magnificat’s Artistic Director Warren Stewart. In addition, Magnificat performed Barabara Strozzi’s motet “O Maria” and the Dixit Dominue from Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Our 2010-2011 season opened in October with a production of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Again, these performances were something of a first – these were the first performances of Blow’s revised version of the work. Soprano Catherine Webster sung the part of Venus; countertenor José Lemos sang the role of Cupid; and bass Peter Becker was Adonis. Magnificat was joined in these performances by members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus, who made a cameo appearance as the little cupids. The edition for our performance was generously provided by The Purcell Society and Stainer and Bell.

On the weekend of December 17-19, Magnificat performed Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit for three near-capacity crowds in Menlo Park, Berkeley and San Francisco. The program also included Charpentier’s Dialogus inter angelos et pastores and arrangements of many of the French noëls used by the composer in his delightful mass setting.

Of course we still have two programs remaining in the 2010-2011 season. On the weekend of February 4-6, a program featuring soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani exploring the music of four remarkable women of the 17th Century: Francesca Caccini, Barbara Strozzi, Isabella Leonarda and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. The season will conclude March 18-20 with a staged production of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso in collaboration with commedia actors from the Dell’Arte Company.

Thanks to all the musicians appeared in Magnificat concerts during 2010 – Elizabeth Anker, Annette Bauer, Peter Becker, Meg Bragle, Louise Carslake, Daria D’Andrea, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jillon Stoppels Dupree, Paul Elliott, Ruth Escher, Steve Escher, Jeff Fields, Katherine Heater, Richard Van Hessel, Daniel Hutchings, Jennifer Lane, Christopher LeCluyse, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, José Lemos, Anthony Martin, Clifton Massey, Matthias Maute, Carla Moore, Herb Myers, Jennifer Paulino, Elisabeth Reed, Ernie Rideout, Robert Stafford, Sandy Stadtfeld, David Tayler, Brian Thorsett, Kiri Tollaksen, Hanneke van Proosdij, Jolianne von Einem, Catherine Webster, and David Wilson.

Many thanks as well to Magnificat’s Board of Directors: Nicholas Elsishans, John Golenski, Dorothy Manly, Michael Patterson, Michael Barger, Mickey Butts, Richard Fabian, Michael King and Chuck Thiel; our irreplaceable concert and stage team of  Margriet Downing and Julianna Wetherwax; creative director Nika Korniyenko and recording magician Boby Borisov. Most of all thank you to all those that have supported us with donations, CD and ticket purchases and all the good will on Twitter and Facebook. We look forward to sharing beautiful music with all of you in the new year!

Here’s a sample of photographs from 2010. Lots more can be viewed on our Flickr page.

[Show as slideshow] [View with PicLens] Grace Cathedral Laura Heimes St. Patrick's Seminary St. Mark's Berkeley Peter Becker The Whole Noyse Continuo Yoshis Recording Jennifer Lane The Producer Cheers! Recording Magic Venus and Adonis Cupid Adonis and Huntsman Reflective Performance Soundcheck Charpentier The Box Office The Singer's Persepective
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