Joining us in this season’s Handel Messiah is a stellar line-up of soloists: soprano Joanne Lunn, countertenor James Laing, tenor Rufus Müller, and baritone Brett Polegato. We sat down with our four soloists to find out a bit more about them. Enjoy!
How did you come to decide to sing?
Joanne Lunn, soprano: I have always loved singing: I believe I used to drive my brother crazy when we were children by constantly singing. I joined the church choir as soon as they would have me. I can vividly remember that I would stand up and sing my heart out in the final hymn on a Sunday when the choir processed by, hoping someone would hear and say I could join!
James Laing, countertenor: I had always enjoyed classical music and ended up singing in the bass section in my school choir. There was a time when lots of the trebles voices broke and suddenly the bass row was overflowing. However, there was a space beckoning amongst the ladies on the alto row …
Rufus Müller, tenor: Apparently I sang before I could talk. But when it came to deciding if I could sing professionally, when I sang as a student in the Tallis Scholars, I asked a couple of my professional colleagues in the ensemble if I had a chance of making a living in London. Countertenor Michael Chance simply laughed and said, “Don’t be ridiculous!” I took that to be a “Yes.”
Brett Polegato, baritone: In school, I was somewhat of a math geek. I was also involved in many in-school instrumental ensembles (I played oboe and tenor saxophone) and after-school choirs. I was offered a full scholarship to Waterloo for Computer Science and to the University of Toronto for Vocal Performance. I chose music with the thought that, if it didn’t work out, I could always go back to math. Thirty years later, I’m still singing!
What was your first music gig?
Joanne: I won a competition that the BBC ran when I was young called “Choirgirl of the Year.” That year-long experience of concerts, radio broadcasts, and recording sessions really made me decide that I might just be able to give singing a go.
James: My first solo gig was performing “Come ye sons of art” by Purcell at a small church in … errr … Buckinghamshire? There is a wonderful countertenor duet within the piece, “Sound the trumpet,” and my partner on this occasion was one of my heroes, James Bowman. Talk about pressure: the grandfather of countertenors and the upstart whippersnapper!
Rufus: My first paid gig was while I was at university, singing the baritone (yes, baritone!) solos in Duruflé’s Requiem for a local choral society. I think I got £20.
Brett: My first professional gig was singing Figaro for Opera Atelier in their production of The Marriage of Figaro. Conductor Marc Minkowski was making his North America debut, and Tafelmusik was in the pit. In fact, I left an opera diploma program to accept this gig. Not a bad way for a 24-year-old to start!
What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
Joanne: I listen to a wide variety of music ranging from medieval right up to music from the charts, courtesy of my children!
James: Oooh, tough one but you can’t go wrong with a bit of Dolly Parton.
Rufus: The Carpenters! Karen Carpenter’s voice was one of the most creamy, sensuous voices in the pop world — ever. And her fight to the death with anorexia gives a plangent edge to everything she sang.
Brett: Broadway recordings. I can’t get enough showtunes!
What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?
Joanne: Walking along the white cliffs in Kent on a sunny day near where we holiday regularly, with a hearty meal at the pub halfway of course!
James: Spend time with my family — my wife certainly appreciates being able to offload our four children on me!
Rufus: In the summer, going to the beach. In the winter, daydreaming about being on the beach.
Brett: Read. I’m an avid reader and a collector of first-edition, signed books.
What is the most challenging aspect of singing Messiah for you?
Joanne: I love singing Messiah! It is my challenge after having sung it so many times to keep it fresh, as if it were the first time I had ever sung it: for myself, for the audience, and most importantly for the sake of the message it tells.
James: The challenge for me is trying to get an audience to not just “listen”’ to the piece, but to really engage with it. A difficult thing to do with such a well-known work.
Rufus: Remembering my words in the alto-tenor duet near the end: “Oh death”? or “Oh grave”? On one occasion I sang: “The sin of death is Sting.” Oh, no! Now I’m going to be nervous about it in Toronto — why did I agree to answer these questions!!
Brett: Each bass aria requires a different weight, colour, and articulation. I work hard at trying to fulfil the impossible demands of each while balancing the set as a whole. It’s fortunate for me as a baritone that the tessitura gets progressively higher as the evening goes on, so I can “warm up” into them. At the final aria, “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” when many basses are ready to call it a night, I’m ready to raise the roof!
What Messiah part do you especially look forward to?
James: Funnily enough, my favourite part is non-vocal: the Pifa orchestral interlude which introduces the shepherds. I love the translucent quality you get from the strings and the way that every section has an intertwining voice. Simple and beautiful.
Brett: Every year, I look forward to the response from the audience. Robert Shaw used to say to his choristers before a performance: “Remember, there is someone here tonight who’s hearing this piece for the first time. And someone here who’s hearing it for the last time.” I think of this particularly when I perform Messiah, which for so many audience members is an annual tradition. I ask myself: who will NOT be here next year to hear this? It reminds me to make each performance count.
Join Joanne, James, Rufus, Brett and Tafelmusik Orchestra and Choir for Handel Messiahat Koerner Hall, Dec 13—16, 2017. Tickets available here.
Music is an integral part of the celebration of important life moments in most cultures, and this is particularly true of rites of passage. In our concert, Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation, we offered a selection of music written by baroque composers for the celebrations of royal weddings, a coronation, and for the funeral of a renowned French marshal. Continue your concert experience with this selection of music for your further listening pleasure.
Our Lully suite ended with a chaconne from Roland – chaconnes are among our favourite things to play. Many have repeating bass lines over which the composer spins various melodies, and include trios for solo instruments. Last year we performed one of Lully’s wonderful choral chaconnes, from Amadis. The orchestra plays a full 7-1/2-minute chaconne, and then the choir and soloists join with the text “Chantons tous la gloire de l’amour.” The entire movement is 15 minutes of glorious Lully.
(This is an entire suite of excerpts from Amadis: the chaconne begins at 10:30)
The centrepiece of our set of excerpts from Purcell’s Ode “From hardy climes” was an exquisite ritornello set over a ground bass (i.e. a bass line that repeats throughout). In the original ode, it is preceded by the song “The sparrow and the gentle dove” – I played the song tune on harpsichord, with Lucas providing lute accompaniment. It’s very much worth listening to the original song as performed by the wonderful British tenor Charles Daniels, whose singing of Purcell is beyond compare. You will find it on a recording by The King’s Consort, directed by Robert King, on the Hyperion label.
It’s in Volume 4 of a set of recordings of the complete Purcell Odes by The King’s Consort, which is full of treasures. If you track down the set, I urge you to listen to another magical ground-bass song (in Volume 7), again sung by Charles: “So when the glitt’ring Queen of Night,” a remarkable depiction of a lunar eclipse, from “The Yorkshire Feast Song.”
Performing the Blow Coronation Anthem for James II this week has convinced us we must sing more of his music! The one other Blow work we have performed in the past, most often with students at the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, is his remarkable Salvator Mundi. A heartfelt setting of the text, it was probably written by Blow for the Catholic court chapel attended by James and his wife Maria of Modena.
Pachelbel wrote more than his infamous Canon – but we rarely hear it! He was a keyboard player, and you can find recordings of his organ and harpsichord music. There are also a few recordings of his other string music. I encourage you to track down a recording called Buxtehude & Purcell Chamber Music, made by Musica Antiqua Köln way back in 1980 on the Archiv label and reissued a few times. Have a listen to Partia no. 4 in E Minor from the Musicalische Ergötzung.
It’s no secret that I’m married to choir director Ivars Taurins – and the piece that was played as I walked down the aisle at our wedding 36 (!) years ago was a piece not dissimilar to the Pachelbel canon. It is likewise scored for 3 violins and continuo, and is written over a ground bass – and has the same combination of freshness, vivacity, and beauty. Here is a video from Tafelmusik’s House of Dreams CD/DVD.
Purcell Fantasia in 3 parts on a ground: Tafelmusik
I love Charpentier’s choral music – and my favourite of all the works of Charpentier that we’ve performed is his setting of Salve regina for three choirs and continuo. We perform it every few years with the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute participants in the glorious acoustics of Grace Church on-the-Hill, with the sounds of the three choirs intertwining magically. I dream of it being sung at my funeral …
Handel wrote a great deal of music for the royal family – famously Water Music and the Coronation Anthems. Less well known but no less glorious is an ode Handel wrote for the birthday of Queen Anne in 1713 (the Anne for whose marriage Purcell wrote the ode “From hardy climes”). The opening of this ode, “Eternal source of light divine” for solo trumpet and countertenor, is one of my very favourite pieces of music. I have an old recording of the wonderful James Bowman singing it, and play it whenever I need a moment of calm inspiration:
Handel “Eternal source of light divine” from Queen Anne’s Birthday Ode: James Bowman
The ode continues with arias and choruses, including the very delightful duet chorus “Let rolling streams their gladness show,” which was transcribed by Handel for orchestra alone in the Concerto a due cori, HWV 333, that we performed at the opening of this season –– the vocal and choral parts are given to oboes and horns.
If you want to experience the entire ode, you can hear a youthful performance by the European Union Baroque Orchestra (a training program for period players) with countertenor Alex Potter and young singers from Clare College, Cambridge.
(The ode starts at 12:30, and the chorus “Let rolling streams” starts at 23:55) Handel Queen Anne Birthday Ode: EUBO, dir. Lars Ulrik Mortensen
As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!
The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.
The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”
As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”
Musicians as Craftsmen
Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.
Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!
The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.
The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)
Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.
The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!
Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute
Music is an integral part of the celebration of important life moments in most cultures, and this is particularly true of rites of passage. This week we offer a selection of music written by baroque composers for the celebrations of royal weddings, a coronation, and for the funeral of a renowned French marshal.
Lully Ballet de Xerxes
Louis XIV was born in 1638, ascending to the throne just five years later upon the death of his father. His mother, Queen Anne, ruled as his regent, alongside Cardinal Mazarin as chief minister. Even before Louis reached the age of majority in 1651 (at age thirteen!), and long before he took control of the reins of government upon the death of Mazarin in 1661, Anne had determined that Louis would marry her niece. Maria Theresa was the daughter of Anne’s brother, Philip IV of Spain, and her marriage to Louis would not only bring an end to the war between the two countries, but would prove to be essential to future foreign policy. Negotiations of the marriage were lengthy and complex, but eventually successful. Maria Theresa was married by proxy to Louis in Fuenterrabia, before being escorted to the border in 1660, where she was met by Louis and his court. They were married at Saint-Jean-de-Luz on June 9. Several weeks later, on August 26, they made the traditional Joyous Entry into Paris. The wedding itself would have been an understated affair, the grander celebrations reserved for Paris. Mazarin declared that he would not hesitate to “jetter l’argent par les fenêtres” (throw money out the window) in order to impress all of Europe. He commissioned the building of a new theatre in the Tuileries, and asked the renowned Italian composer Cavalli to write a new opera (Ercole amante) for the festivities. In fact, neither the theatre nor the opera was ready in time. In its stead, Cavalli’s opera Xerxes was performed in a temporary theatre, altered in order to incorporate ballets set to music written by Louis’ court composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully. The ballets proved more popular with the French public than the Italian opera, and it is a short selection of these dances that we are performing this week. We have taken the liberty of including the Chaconne from Roland, written by Lully and performed at Versailles 25 years later, in 1685. In the opera, the chaconne represents the celebration by the people of the marriage of their princess, so seems a fitting addition.
Louis and Maria Theresa seem to have had an amicable marriage for the first year or so, and a son and heir (Louis, Grand Dauphin) was born in 1661. Five subsequent children died in infancy. Maria Theresa seems to have quietly tolerated Louis’ various mistresses. Apart from occasionally having to act briefly as regent during Louis’ absences on military campaigns, she had little to do with the politics of the court. When she died in 1683, Louis famously said, “This is the first time she’s given me any trouble.”
Purcell Symphony and Airs from Ode “From hardy climes”
Lady Anne was born in 1665, during the reign of her uncle Charles II. Her father James, Duke of York, was heir presumptive, as Charles had no legitimate children, but James’s Roman Catholicism was cause for concern. Charles ensured that Anne and her older sister, Mary, were raised as Anglicans. Mary married William of Orange in 1677: Charles had favoured a union with the Dauphin Louis to cement a French coalition, but Parliament opposed a Catholic union. In choosing a husband for Anne, Charles turned to Prince George of Denmark, younger brother of King Christian V. The Danes were Protestant allies of the French, and Louis XIV was keen on an Anglo-Danish alliance in order to contain the power of the Dutch. Anne’s father was likewise keen to diminish the influence of his son-in-law, William of Orange, who vehemently opposed the match.
Thankfully, the political match led to a strong and supportive marriage. Anne and George were wed at the Chapel Royal on July 28, 1683. George had arrived at Whitehall on July 19, “to make his address to the Lady Anne.” Whether Purcell’s “From hardy climes” was performed on the occasion of his arrival, or on the wedding day itself, is not known, but that it was commissioned of Purcell by the royal family is clear. It opens with the text “From hardy Climes and dangerous Toils of War, where you for Valour unexampled are […] hail, welcome Prince, to our benigner isle. […] Wake then, my Muse, wake Instruments and Voice / To celebrate the Joys of such a choice.” To offer a taste of Purcell’s ode, we will be performing the opening symphony, as well as the instrumental airs that precede the songs and choruses.
Anne of course went on to become Queen Anne, with George as her Consort — though not until the reigns of her father James, sister Mary, and brother-in-law William came to an end in 1702. Purcell had written several birthday and welcome odes for Charles, James, and Mary, but this is the only ode he had the opportunity to write for Anne. His last royal ode, however, was written for the sixth birthday of her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, in 1695. Seventeen pregnancies in as many years had led to only five liveborn children for Anne and George, and of those William was the only one to survive infancy, but he was sickly and tragically died at age eleven. Upon George’s death in 1708 Anne was left to grieve — and reign — alone, the last of the Stuart monarchs.
Blow Anthem “God spake sometime in visions”
Anne’s father, the Catholic Duke of York, assumed the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II, in 1685, as James II of England and Ireland, and James VII of Scotland. The coronation was a truly splendid affair. James commanded that all be done “that Art, Ornament, and Expense could do to the making of the Spectacle Dazzling and Stupendious.” We are fortunate that a remarkably detailed and elaborately illustrated document of the ceremony was written by Francis Sanford. It includes details of the music performed, with no fewer than nine anthems by Henry Purcell, John Blow, William Child, Henry Lawes, and William Turner. There were significant alterations to the order of service: a Catholic king and his queen were being crowned by the Church of England, and James requested that the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, eliminate the communion service altogether, and abridge the rest. One of the resulting innovations was a musical one: the addition of an anthem to be sung during the homage at the end of the king’s portion of the coronation. The anthem in question was to be a setting of part of Psalm 89, “God spake sometime in visions,” and was newly composed by John Blow. Written for eight-part choir with string orchestra, it was performed again at the coronation of George II in 1727.
James II’s reign was to be a short one. When he produced a Catholic heir, parliamentarians and nobles called on his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange to invade, resulting in the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688. James fled England, and his eldest daughter Mary and William III claimed the throne. James spent the rest of his life in exile at the court in France.
Pachelbel Canon & Gigue
In planning this program, we couldn’t help but think of the music we had included at our own weddings, and of the many weddings at which we had played as young musicians. The Pachelbel Canon is one of the most requested classical pieces at weddings, and so we briefly leave the European courts for a taste of music played at modern Canadian celebrations. Pachelbel himself was known to have played at a Bach family wedding (he was a friend of J.S. Bach’s father) — who knows, perhaps they played the Canon!
The Canon was composed during Pachelbel’s student years in Vienna. His teacher, Johann Schmelzer, and fellow student, Heinrich Biber, were violinists and key figures in the development of the south German school of violin playing. Inspired by their work, the keyboard player Pachelbel wrote two collections of chamber music for violins, including the now infamous Canon. Despite its apparent simplicity and natural beauty, it is in fact a masterful example of a strict contrapuntal canon, all presented over a ground bass. Each violinist plays exactly the same part, the second violinist starting one bar after the first, and the third starting one bar after the second. The continuo players repeat the same eight notes throughout. In its original scoring for three solo violins and continuo the Canon is also a delightful display of virtuosity. It was originally paired with a lively Gigue, which is easy to imagine as a joyful recessional.
Charpentier Messe des morts, H.10
From 1688–1698, Marc-Antoine Charpentier was Maître de musique at the principal Jesuit Church of Saint-Louis in Paris. The church was built by the Jesuit architects Étienne Martellange and François Derand on the orders of Louis XIII in the first half of the seventeenth century. It is a magnificent church, modelled after the Gesù in Rome but incorporating French elements, and was considered the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation. It was renowned for the splendour of its liturgy and of its music.
The Duke of Luxembourg, François-Henri de Montmorency [pictured left], was a French general, named Marshal of France in 1675. He was a successful if at times brutal general, victorious at key battles with William of Orange in the War of the Grand Alliance, charged with command of the French army in the Spanish Netherlands. The king was not always enthuastic about his behaviour — he had questionable morals at best — but made good use of his military prowess. Luxembourg died at Versailles in January 1695, attended at his death by a Jesuit priest. His funeral service was held in Paris at Saint-Louis three months later, on April 21, and the church was elaborately decorated. A detailed description was printed in the Mercure galant: the entire church was draped in black, but in such a way as to not hide ornaments and gilding Luxembourg’s coat of arms was mounted, as were large escutcheons interwoven with batons of the Marshal of France. A magnificent catafalque, more than 20 feet high, was erected in the middle of the church, with panels depicting his greatest victories, and topped with four large marble statues, representing Fame, Power, Glory, and Victory. Four lions were placed at the foot of steps rising to these statues, and on the steps 120 candlesticks, and four girandoles, each with two dozen candles.
The music written for the occasion was Charpentier’s Messe des morts, and it was performed “by a great number of the best musicians in Paris.” One can only imagine the effect of hearing this beautiful mass in such a remarkable setting.
Handel Il parnasso in festa
Il Parnasso in festa, per il sponsali di Teti e Peleo (Parnassus in celebration of the nuptials of Thetis and Peleus) was a festa teatrale, a musical entertainment written by Handel as part of the celebrations of the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal, and Prince William of Orange in 1734. Handel enjoyed the patronage of the royal family throughout his career in England, and had a particularly close relationship with the Princess Royal, who supported his opera seasons, and was a capable musician herself. Handel taught lessons to her and her sisters, and she was clearly his favourite pupil.
Anne was the second child and oldest daughter of George II. In 1725, when she was sixteen, a proposal of marriage from Louis XV was rejected when the French insisted that Anne would have to convert to Catholicism. She had to wait another eight years before the next proposal, this time from a suitable Protestant Royal, William IV, Prince of Orange-Nassau. They were married on March 14, 1734 in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Handel composed the anthem for the wedding, at Anne’s request, and set to a text of her choosing. The night before the ceremony, the royal family and their courtiers attended the premiere of Il Parnasso in festa at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. A full three-act work, it was performed in costume in front of a single backdrop, probably with little or no staging. An additional five performances were given for an enthusiastic public.
The set of the serenata represents Mount Parnassus, where Apollo and the muses have gathered to celebrate the wedding of Prince Peleus, a mortal, to Thetis, a sea nymph. Orpheus is among the guests, inspiring an array of arias celebrating love and music. We close our concerts this week with the Overture to Il Parnasso as well as the final chorus, “May this celebration ignite the heart.”
Anne and William’s marriage was by all accounts a relatively happy one, despite her rather imperious temperament. William’s popularity with the Dutch public did not extend to Anne, who served as regent for her young son William V, but she worked tirelessly, successfully consolidating reforms introduced by her husband. She invited Handel to The Hague in 1750, an invitation he was happy to accept.
PROGRAM LISTING Directed by Elisa Citterio & Ivars Taurins
November 29–December 3, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY 1632–1687
Ballet from Xerxes
For the wedding of Louis Xiv & Maria Theresa, 1660 Ouverture – Les François et Espagnols – Les Scaramouches – Les Trinelains – Les Mattasins – Gigue – Gavottes – Chaconne (from Roland)
HENRY PURCELL 1659–1695
Symphony and Airs from Ode “From hardy climes”
For the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince George of Denmark, 1683
JOHN BLOW 1649–1708
Anthem “God spake sometime in visions”
For the coronation of James II, 1685
JOHANN PACHELBEL 1653–1706
Canon & Gigue for 3 violins & continuo
MARC-ANTOINE CHARPENTIER 1643–1704 Messe des morts, H. 10
Requiem mass for the funeral of the Duke of Luxembourg, 1695
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685–1759
Overture & Chorus “S’accenda pur” from Il parnasso in festa
For the wedding of Anne, Princess Royal, and Prince William of Orange, 1743
You might have noticed a new crop of imagery for this season’s concerts, designed by our friends at Sovereign State.
A great deal of research goes into the production of these, and often times the inspiration comes from baroque imagery. Choir director Ivars Taurins is an expert in this realm, and provided us with a cornucopia of options. We’re happy to share a few them here for our Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation concert – some that made the final cut, and others that didn’t but were still fascinating to see!
Here is the a painting of The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox by William Hogarth. It was fashionable in Georgian England for men to wear wedding suits in pale greys and creams. Of note are the cupids with a horn of plenty.
A popular style of wedding ring in the 17th and 18th centuries was a gimmel ring — a ring with two hoops that fit together. They were used as betrothal rings: the engaged couple would wear one hoop each, and rejoin them to use as a wedding ring.
The use of two clasped hands in the design was a popular, going back the ancient Roman Fede ring: “fede” comes from the Italian phrase “mani in Fede,” meaning hands clasped in faith or trust.
The 17th and early 18th centuries were rife with “Vanitas” paintings — still-life paintings that depict the vain, futile nature of earthly pursuits and goods. They use symbolic objects such as skulls and rotting fruit to represent mortality, and the brevity of life and suddenness of death. Books symbolize human knowledge, and music and musical instruments (often with broken strings) suggest the pleasures of the senses. Flowers, butterflies, candles, and clocks or hourglasses allude to the ephemeral, transient nature of life.
Collier, Claesz, Vermeulen, and Boel are just a few painters who excelled in this art form. The painting below is by the French painter Simon Renard de Saint-André (1613–1677).
And here are some spine-tingling photos taken by Ivars Taurins at an exhibition at Versailles on Louis XIV’s funeral.
Note the wonderful silver skeletons with scythes and hour-glasses holding the giant crown!
Below is a portrait of James II, who was crowned King of England and Ireland (and James VII of Scotland) in 1685. John Blow composed the anthem “God spake sometime in visions” for this very coronation.
And it wouldn’t be a coronation without a crown (or two). Here are a few, one of which made the final concert imagery. Below is an engraving of the Crown of State of James II. Underneath that image is an engraving of the Coronation Crown of St. Edward.
And so – the final product (note the baroque frame around the imagery)! This final image combines the three themes: the crown (coronation), the cut-out image (of a wedding), and the red shadow in the shape of a tombstone (funeral).
By Brandon Chui, viola, guest 2017/18 Thursday, November 23, 2017
Food – for me, it is that upon which the entire day is built; the day’s support pillars that are so important that a day’s simple routine (nevermind a complex routine!) just isn’t possible if this architecture has not been properly installed. I always worry about meals, often days in advance, especially when rehearsals and concerts are involved, and being on tour highlights how neurotic I am when it comes to feeding time. We’ve been on the road for four days so far, and while I’ve had a couple too many meals at a world-dominating fast-food chain which shall remain nameless (let’s just say that an Old Farmer with the same name has a song named after him), I’ve also had my fair share of smoked meat sandwiches and shawarma in Montreal to keep the days from turning into a raging dumpster fire.
If food provides my day’s architecture, it’s music that fills it with meaning. I’ve been looking forward to playing Tafelmusik’s innovative memorized program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation since being booked for it back in January. Everyone’s learning curve is different, so I speak purely from a personal perspective — memorizing of this nature (viola parts, ie. the inner voices that are harder to memorize) takes months to prepare. There is the initial “installation,” and the constant updates and re-fortification to make sure there are no leaks. I started chiselling away in June while I was in Asia, and have been rechecking things right up until before the two concerts that we’ve played so far.
As prepared and confident as I was at our first concert in Montreal, I won’t lie, folks — I was terrified. Yes, rehearsals were incredibly fun, and it goes without saying the music is extraordinary in every way, but to have in the back of your mind, “Months of preparation and it comes down to now,” does not instill calm. There is something valuable that I learned from playing another Tafelmusik memorized program, TheGalileo Project: little blips will occur here and there. These moments count for nothing; we are human and it happens. What does count is how you recover. It reminds me of something that conductor Jaap van Zweden said when I worked with him: “Nobody plays perfectly, but if you make a correction the fastest, you are the best.”
I’m writing this while en route to Charlottetown PEI after playing in Sackville NS last night, the second of six concerts on this Maritimes + Montreal tour. The two concerts so far have been those, “This is why I do this,” moments. While playing goodness-knows-how-many Imperial March(es) from The Empire Strikes Back has brought the house down every single time, it in no way compares to seeing, feeling, and hearing the uplifting spirit of Bach overwhelming the audience to elation and tears – I will take that any day over Darth. It’s simple, really: I ride for Bach, everyday. I can’t wait to get back at it at tonight’s concert at the Homburg Theatre in Charlottetown. But first thing’s first: pass over that lobster roll!
The orchestra has now performed in Charlottetown, PEI, at Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts and Antigonish, NS, at Immaculata Auditorium, St Francis Xavier University, with thanks to the Antigonish Performing Arts Series. The tour continues tonight in Wolfville, NS, at Festival Theatre with the Acadia Performing Arts Series. The tour concludes on November 26 in Halifax, NS, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. More info at tafelmusik.org/Tours
Why does an oratorio written in 18th-century England by a German composer still resonate so strongly to so many in this day and age? “Behold – I tell you a mystery…”
Why has “Hallelujah” struck a chord with people of all walks of life, whether it is Handel’s or Leonard Cohen’s? From an Inuit community in Alaska and a congregation in Kuwait singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, to the hundreds of cover versions and arrangements of Cohen’s song.
And why doesHandel’s Messiah touch people of different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures? The universality of this work, beyond its remarkable, moving, and uplifting music, lies, I think, in its message of “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” and its themes of enlightenment and understanding, hope and faith, humanity and good will, sacrifice and charity – these are important values that we esteem and strive for, even in our secular world. And the triumph of these over suffering, injustice, selfishness, or man’s inhumanity to man – these are to be found in Handel’s masterpiece. I believe that Messiah, like other great musical compositions, opens in us a spirituality, whether one belongs to a faith or not. It also offers solace – an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And as such it has become an annual ritual for many.
Messiah joins the ranks of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, or school and church nativity plays, or a holiday dinner with family and friends – all are rituals that are part of the private and public recognition of this special time of year – a time for giving and of thanksgiving. And a little ritual and mystery in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.
But something else – and perhaps therein lies the mystery – something about this work and its music and its message has touched more than the English-speaking world with its power and essence, allowing it to remain meaningful and vital to this day. And to that I say Hallelujah!
Join Ivars Taurins and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir for Handel Messiahfrom December 13–16, 2017 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.