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One of the story lines that give Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso unity is Pantalone’s promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Doctor Gratiano in the opening scene of Act II. Almost every commedia dell’arte scenario involves some such arrangement between the miserly Pantalone and  his blustery companion from Bologna, though most often the contract is between their offspring.

In Vecchi’s setting, Pantalone is, as usual, primarily concerned with the dowry (which he dutifully deposits in the third act) and he openly mocks the Doctor’s enthusiasm for the match. While the unfortunate daughter never appears vocally in the course of L’Amfiparnaso, she is understood to be in the balcony while the Doctor serenades her with one of his “favorites”, which turns out to be a parody, a travesty really, of Cipriano de Rore’s madrigal Ancor che col partire. This most famous of madrigal, for which there were more than 50 – far more serious – parodies in the 16th century, would have been very familiar to Vecchi’s audience, who would no doubt have found the altered text quite amusing indeed.

Vecchi takes the upper part of Cipriano’s four part madrigal and gives it three new supporting parts. The text is in Bolognese dialect of course – a constant source of humor for the commedia actors of the time along with Venetian, Bergamask, Neapolitan and any other dialect. (The refined Tuscan of Petrarch is reserved for the lovers.) There is no way of capturing the original humor in translation, but Cecil Adkins has done a commendable job in his edition of L’Amfiparnaso.

Ancor che col partire
Although on my leaving
I feel myself grieving,
Departure I treasure,
It gives me such pleasure
To come back to stay.
A thousand times each day,
To leave you I yearn,
So sweet is my return.

Ancor ch’al parturire (from L’Amfiparnaso)
Even in life’s midst so dear
One feels the shades of death too near.
I would like without the pain
To have, Vicenze, the joys again.
But spirits give me awful sorrow,
And yet I drink in such great haste,
Forgetting the torments of the morrow,
So sweet is the eructed taste.

The original Italian verse was written by Alfonso d’Avalos, the parody, like the rest of L’Amfiparnaso, was written by Giovanni Cesare Croce. (The identity of ‘Vicenze’ is not entirely clear from the context.) In spite of the less than serious text, Vecchi’s setting is exquisite and demonstrates, as do the lovers’ madrigals throughout L’Amfiparnaso, Vecchi’s considerable stature as a composer. On Magnificat’s program, Nigel North will also perform a solo lute setting of Cipriano’s madrigal by G. P. Paladino.

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Joseph Sargent has written an excellent preview of our upcoming performances of L’Amfiparnaso, March 18-20 for the San Francisco Classical Voice.

No one can accuse the Baroque ensemble Magnificat of lacking a sense of drama. Back in 2009, the ensemble made an unlikely pairing with the Carter Family Marionettes in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola d’Alcina. In its upcoming March 18-20 concert set, a staging of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (The Twin Peaks of Parnassus), Magnificat continues the theatrics by collaborating with three theater artists from the Dell’Arte Company for what’s sure to be a high-spirited affair.

Madrigal comedies — collections of madrigals strung together by a common narrative — enjoyed a brief vogue in late 16th-century Italy, and L’Amfiparnaso ranks among the genre’s masterworks. This collection of 14 five-voice madrigals tells a conventional love story in the commedia dell’arte tradition, with plenty of good humor thrown in. As Joe Dieffenbacher, one of the three Dell’Arte players, observes, “The commedia style is known for its bawdy, rough-and-tumble humor. The madrigals are quite lovely, the voices sweet and playful. Together, Magnificat and Dell’Arte will present a show that marries the best of both.”

Staging was not part of Vecchi’s original plan; to the contrary, the prologue to L’Amfiparnaso calls the collection “a spectacle which is witnessed through the imagination, that penetrates the ear and not the eye.” But contemporary composers like Banchieri did stage their madrigal comedies, and for modern audiences a dose of theatrics makes the puns and other cultural references of Vecchi’s time easier to understand. “At the time when L’Amfiparnaso was written, commedia was one of the most popular theater forms in Italy, so combining the madrigals with this very physical style of theater was inevitable,” says Dieffenbacher. “The audience is given a treat for the ears and eyes: fine music and the visual play of masked and colorfully costumed characters, with a few acrobatic tricks thrown in.” Read the Full Preview at San Francisco Classical Voice

3 years ago | |
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Like several of the works in the small but fascinating sub-genre of the madrigal comedy, L’Amfiparnaso draws on characters and plots the Italian Comedy, or commedia dell’arte. The origins of commedia are found in the use of itinerant actors to supply comic entertainment between the acts of the refined and aristocratic commedia erudita of the early 16th century.

Stimulated by the success of these entertainments, actors developed a quick, satirical and typically off-color style – typically in dialect and always improvised. The commedia style was very physical – with clowning, acrobatics, dance and stunts interwoven into a repertoire of stock scenarios invariably centered around a tale of young lovers.

The economic success of the commedia dell’arte led by the second half of the 16th century to establishment of numerous professional troupes that would tour the various courts of Italy, often enjoying the protection and patronage of noble families. By the time Orazio Vecchi wrote his madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso, the stock characters and plots were already generations old.

The characters, or “masks”, that appear in L’Amfiparnaso include Pantalone, an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. He is joined by Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” Captain Cardon, a Spanish-speaking braggart has an important role in the comedy as well. Most of Italy was under the control of the Spanish army at the time and the actors no doubt took great delight – and some risk – in satirizing the occupying army. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers.

Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain he characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed, which the composer explains in his preface resulted from the prolixity of words united with music. Vecchi notes that his composition is like “a painter who, desiring to include a great many figures in a small canvas, forms the principal or most noteworthy ones with the entire bodies, and the less important as far as the chest, others barely visible by the top of the head, and finally mixes together the remainder of the multitude as if distant from the eye.” In any case the audience of the time would have filled in the details of the familiar characters – a task to be fulfilled by the three actors from the Dell’Arte Company in Magnificat’s performance.

3 years ago | |
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Cozzolani included a setting of each of the four Marian Antiphons in her 1642 collection, Concerti sacri. Alma redemptoris Mater is published for soprano and bass and for Magnificat’s performance the bass part has been transposed up an octave. Magnificat’s recording features soprano Catherine Webster and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore with David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosidj, organ.

The antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater is attributed to Herman Contractus (1013-1054), a monk who lived in Reichenau near Lake Constance. Its mention in The Prioress’ Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, testifies to its popularity in England before Henry VIII. Contractus used phrases taken from the writings of St. Fulgentius, St. Epiphanius, and St. Irenaeus. At one time Alma Redemptoris Mater was briefly used as an antiphon for the hour of Sext for the feast of the Assumption, but in 1350 Pope Clement established the seasonal order of singing the four Marian antiphons at Compline and it has been sung since then during the period from the first Sunday in Advent until the Feast of the Purification.

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For our upcoming production of L’Amfiparnaso on March 18-20, Magnificat will be joined by Joseph Dieffenbacher, Emilia Sumelius-Beuscher and Stephen Buescher from the Dell’Arte Company based in Blue Lake in Humboldt County California. Dell’Arte International was founded by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill in Berkeley in 1971 to bring the commedia tradition to the United States and to develop actor-creators through training in mime, mask, movement and ensemble creation.

A native of Padua, Mazzone was a childhood friend of sculptor Amleto Sartori, and Marcel Marceau’s first Italian partner. As Jacques Lecoq’s assistant for eight years during Lecoq’s Italian sojourn. Carlo was part of the nucleus of artists who reinvented the Italian theatre, commedia, and mask work after World War II in Italy. He came to the US in 1959 and introduced Sartori’s masks to America.

Commedia is the root form for the western actor and influenced actors, directors, playwrights and composers in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and beyond. Through this form we investigate the human comedy. The hallmarks of commedia—articulate physicality combined with verbal wit; the art of improviso; the play of appetites in stock characters; the skill of ensemble playing—this is the great legacy to be investigated by every contemporary actor.

Over forty years, Dell’Arte International has been a center for the exploration, development, training and performance of the actor-creator. Its mission is to employ and revitalize the traditional physical theatre forms to explore contemporary concerns. Dell’Arte is made up of a professional touring company; a fulltime professional training school offering MFA and certificate programs; the annual summer Mad River Festival; a youth academy; and study abroad programs.

As one of a handful of rural professional ensemble theatres in the United States, Dell’Arte is internationally recognized for its unique contribution to American theatre via its non-urban point of view, its 40 year history of ensemble practice, its work to push the boundaries of physical theatre forms in professional productions, and its actor-training programs. Read More at the Dell’Arte website.

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Magnificat is delighted to welcome Nigel North for our upcoming performances of Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso on the weekend of March 18-20. One of the most respected lutenists in the world, Nigel has enjoyed a remarkable performing career in early operas, baroque orchestras, chamber groups, as a soloist and accompanist.

Nigel has made well over a hundred recordings and appeared with the Early Music Consort, the Deller Consort, the English Concert, Academy Of Ancient Music, the Taverner Choir and Players, the Schütz Choir and Consort, Red Byrd, Brandenburg Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Fretwork, The Purcell Quartet, Concordia, Trio and Ensemble Sonnerie, London Baroque, Ensemble Sans Souci, the Berlin Barocke Compagney and many other ensembles.

In 1988, together with Andrew Manze and John Toll, Nigel formed Romanesca, an ensemble specializing in 17th Century music that has appeared in major festivals and concert series in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, USA, Canada, England, Hungary and Slovenia. An exclusive recording contract from with Harmonia Mundi (USA) has resulted in 7 releases bringing several awards (including “Gramophone” and “Edison” awards for their recordings of Biber’s Sonatas).

For over 20 years Nigel was Professor of Lute at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London; from 1993-1999 he was Professor at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin; 2005-2207 he was Lute Professor at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag Netherlands. Since 1999, he has been Professor of Lute at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington.

3 years ago | |
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We’ve posted a gallery of photos here and on our Flickr page from our recent performances of music by women of the 17th Century. On her blog lies like truth, Chloe Veltman described the final concert of the set at St. Luke’s in San Francisco.

A knock-out program of works by 17th century women composers featuring the ardent, beveled singing voice of Jennifer Ellis Kampani, whom I am beginning to adore almost as much as Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, my favorite vocalist of all time. The musicians, led by the group’s artistic director, Warren Stewart, all looked like they were having a blast while playing. The music was varied and rich, involving everything from a heartfelt sacred song (“Volo Jesum”) by Isabella Leonarda to La Passage de la Mer Rouge, a colorful and dramatic cantata by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, to gorgeous secular pieces by Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi. A few weeks ago, Warren appeared on VoiceBox, my weekly public radio show all about singing and vocal music, to talk about this repertoire. I fell in love with it then and am completely obsessed now.

[Show as slideshow] [View with PicLens] Jennifer Ellis Kampani at St. Luke's A rehearsal break in Piedmont Keyboards at St. Mark's Jillon Stoppels Dupree at St. Luke's John in rehearsal in Piedmont Soundcheck at St. Luke's Before the St. Luke's concert Jillon and Rob Rob and John Rob in Piedmont Tuning before the concert at St. Mark's Jacquet de la Guerre Trio Sonata
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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.

4 years ago | |
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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.

4 years ago | |
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