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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.

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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)

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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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Hor che’l ciel e la terra, Francesco Petrarca

Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace,
e le fere e gli augelli il sonno affrena,
notte il carro stellato in giro mena,
e nel suo letto il mar senz’onda giace.

Veglio, penso, ardo, piango; e chi mi sfacesempre m’è innanzi per mia dolce pena;
guerra è’l mio stato, d’ira et di duol piena,
e sol di lei pensando ho qualche pace.

Così sol d’una chiara fonte viva
move’l dolce e l’amaro ond’io mi pasco;
una man sola mi risana e punge.

E perché’l mio martir non giunga a riva,
mille volte il dì moro e mille nasco,
tanto dalla salute mia son lunge.

Now that heaven, earth and the wind are silent
and beasts and birds are stilled by sleep,
night draws the starry chariot in its course
and in its bed the sea sleeps without waves.

I see, I think, I burn, I weep, and she who fills me with sorrow
is ever before me to my sweet distress.
War is my state, full of wrath and grief,
and only in thinking of her do I find peace.

Thus from one clear and living fountain
flows the sweet bitterness on which I feed;
one hand alone both heals and wounds me.

And therefore my suffering can never reach shore.
a thousand times a day I die, a thousand reborn
so far am I from my salvation.

The most complex and sophisticated of Monteverdi’s large-scale madrigals from the Eighth Book, Hor che’l ciel e la terra sets, in two parts, the entirety of Petrarch’s 164th poem from the Canzoniere, a sonnet. The prima parte sets the two quatrains, and the seconda parte the two terzets. This is a poem 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 the 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.

Contrasts in Petrarch’s sonnet occur on several levels. First there are the obvious, immediate contrasts between successive words or concepts in the second quatrain. “Dolce pena” at the end of the 6th line is an oxymoron;  “Guerra” (war) and “pace” (peace) are contrasted in the 7th and 8th lines. In the first terzet, “dolce” (sweetness) and “amaro” (bitterness) are contrasted in the middle line, while the final line opposes “risana” (heals) with “punge” (wounds). In the middle line of the final terzet “moro” (I die) is contrasted with “nasco” (I am born).

On a larger structural level there is significant contrast between the first quatrain and the second. The first quatrain unites in silence and motionless a series of natural elements and living creatures. Even the rocking rhythm of all four lines is reminiscent of a lullaby. This quatrain is a depiction of nature at rest.

The second quatrain, in which the speaker awakes, contrasts the speaker’s individual experience with that of quiet nature.  This quatrain too begins with a series, but rather than different elements being united in a smooth, rocking rhythm, “Veglio, penso, ardo, piango” are an abrupt series of wholly unrelated activities characterized by both qualitative and quantitative accents on the first syllable of each two-syllable word. The beginning of this line is an effective characterization of the intense psychological state and confusion with which one often abruptly awakens in the middle of the night. This startled series is then followed by a rational attempt to explain the psychological state: “she who undoes me is always before me for my sweet pain,” though the rationality of the thought is undermined not only by the affective oxymoron at the end, but by the seeming contradiction between the notion of the woman who undoes the sleeper also being the source of the sweet pain. The next sentence compounds the emotional contradiction.  The speaker’s state is now warlike, full of anger and sorrow, but in the next line, “and only thinking of her do I have some peace,” the cause of the warlike state of mind turns out to be the only source of tranquility.  In this quatrain emotional contradictions and confusions are articulated in utter contrast to the stability and tranquility of nature as described in the opening quatrain.

The sestet creates yet another contrast. The description and experience of the octet are now given additional meaning through the metaphor of the “clear, living fountain.” The fountain is the source of nourishment whence the speaker drinks both sweetness and bitterness, and the hand of the beloved, like the fountain, both heals and wounds. There is a cross-reference here to a previous canzona of Petrarch’s where two fountains of the Fortunate Isles are described: “who drinks from the one, dies laughing, and who from the other, escapes.”  (Poem 135, lines 78-79)

In Hor che’l ciel, the speaker is like the waters of the fountain in that his martyrdom doesn’t reach its end so that a thousand times a day he dies and is reborn as the waters are recycled through the fountain. This is how far he is from regaining his mental health, which could only come about through resolving the emotional contradictions engendered by his lady. The sestet brings nature into relationship with the speaker; the two had been completely separate in the octet. Through the metaphor of the fountain, the speaker and nature are reunited, but this is an active, seething nature, not the sleeping nature of the opening quatrain. As a consequence, the thought is left open and unresolved at the end, as if the distance from his health must remain permanent for the speaker.

How does Monteverdi deal with this text taxonomically and iconographically? Quite clearly in separate sections focusing on specific categories of affect. The opening, which sets the entire first quatrain, consists of static chords, organized rhythmically around the rhythms of the text, although the concluding trochees of terra, tace, affrena, mena and giace are all set as spondees rather than trochees, thereby increasing even further the sense of stasis. The only pitch motion in this entire section is a slow moving I-V-I-VI-V-I chord progression, which is perhaps stimulated by the phrase “in giro mena” (leads in a circle) in the third line. It is probably no accident that the first return to the tonic chord occurs precisely with this phrase. The homogeneous opening section of the piece is thus a single icon for the tranquility described in the first quatrain of Petrarch’s sonnet.

Petrarch’s second quatrain, as we have seen, not only contrasts with the first but is also less internally unified. This leads Monteverdi in the first two lines to invent three musical metaphors in the Renaissance sense, the first interpreting the sudden awakening, the second the single word piango, and the third the rest of the sentence.  But Monteverdi’s treatment of these metaphors is informed by his iconographic structural sensibilities. Each is treated as a structural device in a sophisticated interaction among the individual metaphors to create a larger structural metaphor for the confused, contradictory state expressed by the speaker.  Here we have aesthetic aspects of the Renaissance madrigal serving to enrich the structural possibilities of the concertato style.

The second quatrain begins with a graphic representation of the startling awakening of the sleeper, but leading immediately to a typically Renaissance metaphor for piango  (I weep) in suspended figures of falling half- or whole- steps. In contrast to the opening section, each word is now on a new chord and at a higher pitch level than the last.  The continuation of the thought with e chi mi sface is cast in a descending lament in two voices in parallel thirds, the descent an obvious icon for depressed emotional states. But already Monteverdi is at work dealing with the psychological contrasts and contradictions in these two lines by superimposing a restatement of veglio, penso, ardo, piango over the completion of the thought. The restatement proceeds with wider gaps between veglio, penso, ardo and piango, thereby giving them the effect of a psychological background to the more immediate thought about the beloved who undoes the speaker. And Monteverdi artfully times these background superimpositions so that the final one, piango, occurs simultaneously with the final word of the second line, pena.

Monteverdi has by now not only created three musical metaphors, but has begun to use them in a structural fashion to expand the section as well as create the psychological connection between the sudden awakening and the cause of that awakening. Having used the original metaphors in this way, he continues to repeat and exploit them structurally, in varied form and through gradually increasing textures until all six voices are involved.  This allows him to bring the section to a close, based on a structural dynamic of varied repetition in increasingly thicker textures, a structural dynamic we find over and over again in his large-scale concertato works. This process has evolved his original three metaphors into icons by the end of the section.  By that time their significance has become musical-structural rather than localized and passing. They have achieved the sense of permanence and reusability characteristic of icons.

The next two lines of the quatrain contrast guerra (war) with pace (peace). As we would expect, guerra is represented by the concertato  style. The final line, E sol di lei pensando ò qualche pace, is contrasted to the previous one by a homophonic and homorhythmic style in slow tempo, an obvious icon for pace. Moreover, Monteverdi drops out the lower two voices, since the thought is focused on the feminine lei, and as the state of peace is described, the harmony turns toward a cadence on B major, since peace is a decided shift of mental state for the speaker. Rather than simply quit at this point, Monteverdi once again uses structural repetition of his two icons to expand the scope of the composition and bring the prima parte to a close. This time pace cadences in E major rather than B major, and it is important to the overall structure of the madrigal that we have an inconclusive close in the dominant key at this point, leaving the way open for the sestet to bring the speaker and nature together.

The seconda parte opens with a descending figure reminiscent of e chi mi sface. This resemblance serves a structural purpose in linking the two parts of the madrigal, but also performs an affective function in relating the image of the living fountain to the beloved who undoes the speaker.  One might say that the descent from e” at the beginning of the seconda parte has a musical function similar to the linking function of the word Cosí  (thus) at the beginning of Petrarch’s sestet. But the most important part of the opening is the overlapping of the phrase Cosí sol d’una chiara fonte viva with Move’l dolce e l’amaro, ond’io mi pasco.  The latter is set to a chromatically rising motive treated in imitation, a typical icon for situations of anguish in Monteverdi.  This particular version, however, abjures dissonance almost altogether in recognition of the sweetness that is also imbibed from the fountain.

The combination of these two motives brings together in simultaneity the source of the water and its effects on him who drinks thereof. Monteverdi’s texture has gradually expanded through the imitation, reaching his typical full-textured climax, which in this case serves as the beginning of a more extended structural repetition of the chromatic motive. But there is a third line to the terzet, and Monteverdi cleverly introduces it into the texture by simply varying the descent from e and substitutes the final line Una man sola mi risana e punge.Thus when he once again reaches his textural climax, the section and  the terzet can come to a close, and the passage once again has been built upon varied structural repetition.

The final terzet revolves mostly around the second line, one of the most common textual conceits of the Petrarchan 16th century and set over and over again by composers from Arcadelt through Rore to Monteverdi in multiple imitations. What started as a musical metaphor for multiplicity had early on reached the more enduring status of an icon. This line is briefly introduced by a simple, recited statement of the first line. Monteverdi’s treatment of the second line is in some respects antiphonal; only the final word, moro, set to longer notes in stepwise descent overlaps.  At the end of the passage, he even makes the words nasco and moro overlap, to bring them into even closer oppositional relationship to one another than Petrarch could do in the linear medium of language. Structural repetition, transposed by a 5th, serves to enlarge the section just as in earlier portions of the piece.

Petrarch’s concluding line is somewhat separate from the rest of the sonnet in making a final statement about the poet’s situation. Monteverdi likewise sets this line apart, with a single voice in static repetition except for the word lunge, whose significance is emphasized by a long leap and even longer slow, melismatic descent. A transposed, full-textured structural repeat then serves to close out the entire madrigal, returning to the opening key. The emblematic character of this melisma is obvious in its not carrying any of the emotional weight of Petrarch’s final line.

Now that we have seen how Monteverdi has treated this text, both taxonomically and iconically, let us go back and compare what Petrarch has accomplished with his poem and Monteverdi with his music. Petrarch has taken the anguished torment of the lover who is pulled to extremes of opposing emotions and shaped it into a highly refined, elegant form. This process of shaping and refining the emotional content brings those emotions under control, into an order and a beauty that not only allows us to grasp them in multiple dimensions, but also informs us that through cultivated art the most unbridled emotions can be at least partially tamed, conceptually understood and survived. By virtue of artistic creation, it is no longer necessary for the poet to die and be reborn a thousand times a day–he can rather conceive and cope with his problem by subjecting it the imagination and structures of art and we, his readers, can share with him both the agonies described and the poet’s insight about how to manage them in a coherent fashion.

Monteverdi has taken a somewhat different approach. His goal is first of all to identify clearly the emotions and situations described by the poet. This is his taxonomic approach. His purpose is no longer to make the listener weep and laugh with the performer as the aesthetics of early opera had demanded in accordance with the Platonic theory of the transference of affect. His purpose is to convey in music knowledge about affective states–first to identify their character, then to present them for our understanding in an appropriate musical garb. This knowledge is principally of separate affects, but in both the prima parte and the seconda parte  there are passages where the combination of separate ideas creates a more complicated psychological affect, which is also clearly conveyed musically. Monteverdi’s approach is more empirical than passionate, more interested in conveying concepts of emotion than in inducing emotion.  The opening segment is not so much about the silence of nature as described by Petrarch, but rather about the nature of tranquility in general. The concitato section is not so much about the poet’s warlike state in this particular instance as it is about the general character of warlike agitation.

This is a more objective view than in his Mantuan works and is fully consonant with the efforts of contemporary thinkers to understand their world in more objective terms, the basis of the new empirical science of the 17th century. If we note that Monteverdi’s conclusion doesn’t sum up the significance of the poem the way that Petrarch’s final line does, that is because the significance of his musical setting cannot be summarized in a single musical statement. The significance of his setting is in the accumulation of separate and combined affects he has strung together in a sectionalized manner. Knowledge of emotion is presented by accumulation rather than by integration, and what makes such a piece good or not so good depends on the interest and quality of the musical presentation of each separate affect, plus the purely musical structural aspects of the expansive work.

(Excerpted from “A Taxonomic and Affective Analysis of Monteverdi’s ‘Hor che ’l ciel e la terra’,” Music Analysis 12 (1993): 169–95.)

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Magnificat’s first season of concerts was such fun, plans began immediately for a second season. This time the emphasis was on the 17th century innovations in setting dramatic narrative to music. Three programs were presented and again each program was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The season opened in October with dramatic works by Henry Purcell including the masque written for inclusion in a revival of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. Inspired perhaps by the proximity of the concerts to Halloween, the program featured the dramatic scena In Guilty Night, Purcell’s setting of the biblical story of Saul’s encounter with the Witch of Endor, which featured Sand Dalton’s first (and most likely only) performance on the thunder machine – a 6×4 piece of sheet metal that created just the right spooky mood. This would not be the last use of unlikely percussion in a Magnificat production.

In December, Magnificat assembled a program from the three surviving versions of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, interspersing traditional noëls – a holiday tradition that would be re-visited several times over the years. This program immediately became a favorite of both musicians and audiences and we have revived it twice, with minor changes, in 1996 on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and on our own series in 2005. For this first production we were joined in these concerts by Marion Verbruggen, with whom we had performed at the 1990 Berkeley Festival and Exhibition.

With the December concerts, Magnificat settled on the full-size program format that plenty of room for program notes and texts and translations. The programs were still literally cut (with scissors) and pasted (well, taped) and photo-copied but the brochure was designed and laid out by Paul Tokmakian.

The extremely successful final concert of the first season had included some acting and minimal sets and costumes, so for the final program of the season, Magnificat presented a fully-staged production of Emilio de’ Cavalieri’s La Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo – and fully-staged it was, with winged blessed spirits in heaven, damned spirits in flame red body suits and gruesome fingernails in Hell, all accompanied by a colorful instrumental ensemble that included The Whole Noyse.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included René Boutet, Tina Chancey, Hugh Davies, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Ruth and Steve Escher, Richard Van Hessel, Julie Jeffrey, Roxanne Layton, Andrew Morgan, Susan Rode Morris, Herb Myers, Gayle and Phil Neumann, Ray Nurse, Marianne Richer-Pfau, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Sandy Stadtfeld, and Nat Watson.

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As he entered his eighth decade, Monteverdi set about assembling his eighth and largest collection of secular works, published in 1638 as Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi… and dedicated to the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III. As explained in the dedication, the collection was originally to have been dedicated to (and its publication funded by) his father, Ferdinand II, but as the elder Ferdinand passed away in 1636, the dedication passed to his heir.

I present to the feet of Your Majesty, as the protecting power of virtue, these my musical compositions. Fernando, Your Majesty’s great father, deigning, through his innate goodness, to accept and honour them in manuscript, granted me an as it were authoritative passport to entrust them to the press. And lo I eagerly publish them, consecrating them to the most revered name of Your Majesty, heir no less of kingdoms and the empire than of his valour and kindness.

Along with the change in dedication, Monteverdi modified some of the texts with references to the younger monarch, whose dual occupation in the military and musical composition made him an apt dedicatee for a volume of madrigals of war and love.

Ferdinand was born in Graz, Austria, the son of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1608, coincidentally the year of the first performance of Il Ballo delle Ingrate, which Monteverdi re-tooled for the Eighth Book of Madrigals and was most likely performed as part of the new emperor’s coronation festivities in 1637.  Ferdinand became King of Hungary in 1625, King of Bohemia in 1627 and Archduke of Austria in 1631, the year of his marriage to his first cousin Maria Anna, Infanta of Spain, the youngest daughter of Phillip III of Spain and Margaret of Austria.

After the death of Albrecht Wallenstein in 1634, Ferdinand was entrusted with supreme command of the Habsburg army and in the same year, together with his Spanish cousin, also a Ferdinand, he was 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, with some of the Protestant states including Saxony in 1635. However, the horrific conflict now known as the Thirty Years War drug on for another decade – the lines of conflict no longer perceptible and the populace suffering terribly from the unrestrained violence and pillaging of the mercenary armies. Ferdinand played a crucial role in the diplomatic negotiations that eventually led to a cessation of hostilities with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

Ferdinand was an active patron of the arts and the first of several Habsburg emperors to compose music. In the abstract to his forthcoming book, Sacred Music as Public Image for Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, Andrew Weaver observes that Ferdinand’s accomplishments came not through diplomacy or strong leadership but primarily through a skillful manipulation of the arts, through which he communicated important messages to his subjects and secured their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

“Ferdinand III offers a fascinating case study in monarchical representation, for the war necessitated that he revise the image he had cultivated at the beginning of his reign, that of a powerful, victorious warrior. Weaver argues that by focusing on the patronage of sacred music (rather than the more traditional visual and theatrical means of representation), Ferdinand III was able to uphold his reputation as a pious Catholic reformer and subtly revise his triumphant martial image without sacrificing his power, while also achieving his Counter-Reformation goal of unifying his hereditary lands under the Catholic church.”

In addition to sponsoring the composition and publication of numerous works of music, Ferdinand played an active part in the preparation of the great court festivities, especially stage works of various kinds, which were produced with the utmost magnificence in Vienna and elsewhere in his Habsburg domains. During the last years of his life Ferdinand founded a literary academy on the Italian model in Vienna.

Ferdinand III studied music with Giovanni Valentini, court composer to the Hapsburgs and Kapellmeister at the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. He also was a friend of Johann Jakob Froberger, who was also active at the Hapsburg court. Ferdinand’s allegorical Drama musicum was praised by Athanasius Kircher, who declared in his Musurgia universalis of 1650 that Ferdinand had ‘no equal among sovereigns’. Some secular pieces, including settings of Italian texts, and a number of sacred works of Ferdinand’s survive including two masses, four motets, ten hymns, litanies, a Stabat mater and a Miserere.

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It is satisfying that the composers featured in our first season: Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Iacomo Carissimi and Marc-Antoine Charpentier and even some of the same masterpieces, notably Jephte and the Christmas Story, should also be featured in our 20th anniversary season. The genius of these composers, their innovations and  the tremendous influence they had on the music of the 17th century have inspired every program on every season that Magnificat has presented since and at least one has been featured on a program in every Magnificat season. In the years since that first season it has been a privilege to get to know these composers and to share their magnificent music with the many fine musicians who have been a part of Magnificat.

Encouraged by the success of our performance at the inaugural Berkeley Festival and Exhibition in 1990, chamber music performances at various venue – including a notable concert at The Musical Offering, also in 1990, and appearances on the San Francisco Early Music Society and The San Jose Chamber Music Society, Magnificat launched a subscription series in October, 1992. The season included three programs, each of which was performed in San Jose, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The first program was given the title “Heroes, Fools and Nymphs” and used Monteverdi’s  Chi vol’ che m’innamori as a framework for a mixed program of Italian vocal and instrumental gems – culminating in Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte, which will be on our November 11-13 program this season. Earlier in the program we performed Monteverdi’s Introduzione al Ballo, which we will revive in our February 17-19 program this season.

In December 1992 Magnificat joined with the San Francisco Early Music Society in a co-production of Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Story. Schütz’s delightful setting of the Nativity narrative was placed in the liturgical context for which it was written, Christmas Vespers following the order of the Dresden Court Chapel. This was the first of many liturgical reconstructions that Magnificat has presented. It was also the first appearance with Magnificat of German baritone Martin Hummel in the role of the Evangelist. We will be reviving this program this December, again with SFEMS as we celebrate 20 seasons and SFEMS celebrates their 35th!

The final set of the 1992-1993 season, title “Saints and Buffoons,” focused on another composer that would become so important for Magnificat: Marc-Antoine Charpentier. In the first half of the program we performed sacred works from three genres: the psalm Super flumina Babilonis, the motet Oculi omnium, the histoire sacrée Le Reniement de St. Pierre. After intermission was devoted to incidental music Charpentier wrote for the Commedie française culminating with the uproarious Doctor Scene from Moliére’s La Malade Imaginaire.

Over the course of the season Artistic Directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Marilyn Boenau, René Boutet, Kenn Chester, John Dornenburg, Elizabeth Engan, Stephen Escher, Gerald Gaul, Nathan Gunn, Richard Van Hessel, Brian Howard, Martin Hummel, Boyd Jarrell, Claire Kelm, McDowell Kenley, Susan Rode Morris, Herbert Myers, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Foster Sommerlad, Sanford Stadtfeld, David Tayler, George Thomson, Arizeder Urreiztieta, Nathaniel Watson and Lisa Weiss.

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Bloomington Early Music Festival 2011Magnificat has been invited to perform selections from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals at the Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF) this September. The concert will be on the evening of September 10 at the First United Church in Bloomington. Monteverdi subtitled his 1638 collection “Madrigals of War and Love” and the texts expound the interlocking themes of love and war– the warrior as lover, the lover as warrior and the war between the sexes. A perfect fit for the theme of this year’s Festival “Music in War, Music in Peace.”

From the Festival website:

“War and peace have been a part of human society for time immemorial, and for centuries composers have chosen to reflect them in their music. In selecting this theme for its festival, BLEMF links musical performance to scholarly research in the humanities, and in particular the disciplines of history, folklore, and linguistics.

For the past seventeen years, Early Music Associates, Inc. has encouraged and celebrated historically informed performance with an annual festival, seasonal concerts, numerous educational events in the immediate regions, and by committed support for emerging performing artists. The Bloomington Early Music Festival (BLEMF) traditionally presents concerts featuring the music of the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical periods.”

Magnificat’s program will include Altri canti d’Amor tenero arciero, Ogni amante e guerrier: nel suo gran regno, Introduzione al ballo, Altri canti di Marte e di sua schiera, Non Havea Febo ancora: Lamento della ninfa, and Il Ballo delle ingrate. Bay Area audiences will have the chance to hear Magnificat perform this program as part of our 2011-2012 season on the weekend of February 17-19 2012. For tickets and more information about the Bloomington Early Music Festival, please visit the Festival website.

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We’ve posted photos from our rehearsals of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso with the Dell’Arte Company on our Flickr Page. Please have a look!

It has been a pleasure exploring this fascinating piece with actors so deeply grounded in the historical commedia dell’arte tradition. One by one the familiar characters – Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain, and all the miscievous servants – have come to life through Vecchi’s entertaining and often deeply profound music.

Tickets are still available at

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The musical entertainment that has become known as the madrigal comedy enjoyed a brief, but exceedingly popular life in the decades before and after the turn of the 17th century, delighting audiences at courts and within the cultural academies of Italy with a mix of high art and low comedy. The musicologist Alfred Einstein coined the term “madrigal comedy” in 1949 as a description for the two dozen or so surviving collections of related madrigals, which, when sung consecutively, tell a story, often with a continuous dramatic plot.

The two composers most closely identified with this sub-genre are Orazio Vecchi and the slightly younger Adriano Banchieri. It has been tempting to see the madrigal comedy as a precursor to opera, but it is perhaps better characterized as part of the final flowering of the Renaissance madrigal tradition, incorporating the humanist attention to the communication of dramatic narrative through the quintessential musical form of the late 16th century.

Easily the best known of these madrigal comedies to modern audiences, L’Amfiparnaso was first performed in Modena in 1594 and published in Venice in 1597 with a dedication to Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. Vecchi’s collection (which he calls a “commedia harmonica”) consists of fourteen five-part madrigals, arranged in three acts and preceded by a prologue. Except for the first two sentences of the first scene, the dialogue is not set for individual voices, as in opera, but rather for the entire ensemble or for sub-sets of two, three or four voices.


This approach is so different from opera that is perhaps not surprising that the first music historians to discuss madrigal comedies found them entirely puzzling and either struggled to find in them nascent elements of operatic style or dismissed them entirely. A modern edition of L’Amfiparnaso was published in 1902 with several others following over the next century and subsequent scholarship, together with performances and recordings by fine musicians have secured its place among the masterpieces of the late Renaissance.

Each of the madrigals sets a scenario drawn from the Italian theater, known then as now as commedia dell’arte, a genre in its golden age at the end of the 16th century. Consistent with the commedia tradition, there is only a passing attempt at a regular plot: the jealous quarrel between Lucio and Isabella, their reconciliation and wedding is of comparatively slight importance and seems to serve primarily as a foil for the antics of the comic masked characters of Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain and their quick-witted and mischievous servants.

The cast of L’Amfiparnaso includes Pantalone; an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. Pantalone is old and, though retired from active business, his long engagement with trade has made him acutely sensitive to the value of money. He is also a lecher, but entreaties for the favor of attractive young women, invariably involving catcalls and innuendoes, are invariably fruitless.

The Doctor

He is joined by his old friend Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” By tradition, when the Doctor was born, instead of crying like an ordinary infant, his first utterance was a fine Latin quotation, slightly mutilated.

Having grown up amid the rarified university atmosphere of Bologna, the Doctor is a member of every academy, known and unknown, the Doctor can discuss any topic with great erudition, though no one can understand, or even stay awake during his long-winded homilies.

No commedia would be complete with the Captain, a blustery Spanish-speaking braggart, always decked in ostentatious epaulets and menacing scabbard – a sort of Yosemite Sam character aptly described in a 17th century verse:

This Captain makes a splendid show,
And his valor is so great
That he is the last to join the combat
And the first to beat a retreat.

The Captain

As much 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 satire though, like all the mockery on the commedia, is light-hearted and evenly distributed. The characterization of the Hebrews, serving in the familiar role of pawn-brokers, focuses primarily on their exotic and unfathomable language and the strangeness of their chanting – no doubt a source of consternation and bemusement for the goyim – and fun had at their expense is in the same spirit as that taken from the Captain’s blustery Spanish, the Doctor’s over-ripe Bolognese, Pantalone’s mincing Venetian, and the Bergamask dialect of the servants Francatrippa and Zanni.

Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain, the characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers or innamorati. The unusually amorous Doctor Gratiano and Pantalone’s un-named daughter form a comic third pair of lovers. The composer explains in his preface that as a result of the prolixity of words united with music, his composition is like that of “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.”

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