Behind the Musik: Let Us All Sing!

Here are the official program notes for Let Us All Sing! Tafelmusik Chamber Choir at 35

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PROGRAM NOTES
by Charlotte Nediger

Handel Laudate pueri

George Frideric Handel arrived in Rome from his native Saxony at the age of 22, in 1707, and was immediately embraced by the Romans. Although he had come to Italy with opera foremost in his mind, the fact that his sojourn began in Rome, where opera was forbidden by papal decree, meant that the first music he composed in Italy was in fact sacred choral music. It is extraordinary, and proof of Handel’s remarkable talents, that the young Lutheran was able to procure so swiftly the enthusiastic patronage of three cardinals (Ottoboni, Pamphili, and Colonna) and a marquis (Ruspoli)—and that he was permitted to play the organ at one of the great churches of Mother Rome soon after his arrival.

Cardinal Colonna was the first to commission music from “il Sassone,” asking him to provide music for a very Catholic occasion, the 1707 festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, celebrated each July in the Roman church of the Carmelite order, S. Maria di Monte Santo. The feast was in honour of the Virgin Mary as patroness of the Carmelites, and the major services were First Vespers on the eve, and Mass and Second Vespers on the day. The music, which includes the virtuosic Laudate pueri for soprano, choir, and orchestra, was exceptionally lavish and was entirely financed by Colonna.

Steffani Stabat mater

Agostino Steffani
Agostino Steffani

While in Rome, Handel would undoubtedly have met Agostino Steffani, who was in the city in 1708/09 and sang in concerts at Ottoboni’s palace. Steffani’s earliest reputation was as a gifted boy soprano, taking him from his native Venice to the Electoral court in Munich at age thirteen. He did not pursue a singing career after his voice broke (the Roman performances twenty years later were an exception). He instead took up composition, and all of his music is marked by a strong sense of vocality, and a compelling expression of the text, undoubtedly informed by his early experience as a singer. Vocal music dominates his worklist, including several operas written for posts held in Munich, Hanover, and Düssseldorf. Steffani’s German employers recognized another talent in their court composer, sending him on diplomatic missions, many of a rather clandestine nature. By the turn of the century, his duties were mainly political. He had been ordained as priest in Munich in 1680, and his various diplomatic efforts led to a series of increasingly important appointments in the church, culminating in that of Apostolic Vicar in northern Germany, based in Hanover. He returned to music on occasion, seemingly often as solace when political work proved frustrating or disappointing.

At the end of his life there was particular interest in his music from England. His previous employer in Hanover had become George I, and took several Steffani scores with him (they are still in the Buckingham Palace library). The Academy of Vocal Music (later known as the Academy of Ancient Music) named him honorary president, and in return, he sent them a number of old and new compositions: among the latter, a setting of the Stabat mater. Steffani himself described the Stabat mater as his last and greatest work, and it is often cited as a musical representation of his religious fervour. In our first exploration of the works of Steffani on the Tafelmusik stage, we excerpt six movements of this beautiful work.

Lully Chaconne from Amadis

Louis XIV’s powerful court composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, devoted a great deal of time and care to creating a truly French opera. From 1673 until his death in 1687, he composed an annual opera, most of which were settings of livrets by his close collaborator, Philippe Quinault. The verse, painstakingly and masterfully set by Lully, is given more prominence than in Italian opera, as is the chorus and the dance. Many of the operas end with the beautiful spectacle of a grand chaconne or passacaille, music built over a simple repeating bass line that starts with an extended ballet, to which is then added chorus and soloists in alternation. The chaconne that ends Amadis is a wonderful example, and its text “Chantons tous en ce jour” inspired the title of this week’s choral celebration. Amadis is one of three operas by Lully and Quinault on a chivalric rather than mythological theme, apparently on the advice of the king himself. In Amadis, the fidelity of Amadis and Oriane, mirrored in the lovers Florestan and Corisande, is tested in a fantastical tale, complete with good and bad sorcerers and sorceresses. Love, of course, prevails in the end.

The costumes for Amadis, designed by Jean Bérain, inspired a fashion for the “amadis” sleeve: a close-fitting sleeve, sometimes with a slightly puffed shoulder, ending in a tight, buttoned cuff at the wrist.

Rameau In convertendo Dominum

According to the baroque French lexicographer Sébastien de Brossard, “motet” is the name given to “all pieces written on Latin Texts on any subject whatsoever, a musical composition which is fully figured and enriched with all that is finest in the art of composition.” The grand motet, for solo voices, choir, and orchestra, was a staple of the Concert Spirituel, a Parisian concert series meant to provide entertainment during Lent and on religious holidays when the opera was closed. The surviving autograph score of Rameau’s In convertendo Dominus, a setting of Psalm 126, was prepared for three performances at the Concert Spirituel in 1751. Jean-Philippe Rameau was at the height of his career as the leading opera composer in Paris, and the news of the upcoming motet performances kept “all Paris occupied with this novelty for fifteen days.” In the end, his colleagues were dismayed that he deigned to present an “old motet of about 40 years ago.” Indeed, the original version of In convertendo is thought to have been composed as early as 1713, and performed in 1717 in Clermont-Ferrand for ceremonies celebrating the installation of a new bishop. Although pieces composed 40 years ago are still considered quite “modern” today, in the eighteenth century they were veritable antiques. The criticism, however, was quite shallow. Although the score of the original version has not survived, it is clear from the 1751 manuscript that Rameau did extensive revisions, rewriting entire sections, and imbuing the work with many of the instrumental and vocal colours found in his “modern” operas.

Zelenka Missa dei Filii

The Bohemian Jan Dismas Zelenka first arrived in Dresden in 1710 to take up the job as double-bass player in the renowned court orchestra. His talents as composer were soon recognized, and the Elector sent him for an extended period of study with Fux in Vienna, appointing him as composer of church music upon his return to Dresden. The Catholic court church in Dresden was established in 1708, when the Elector transformed the former opera house into the Katholische Hofkirche. His Protestant subjects were eventually drawn to the splendour of the music at the church, written in the virtuoso Italian style popular at the court, and sung and played by the leading musicians of the day. The Missa dei Filii, possibly an incomplete work with settings of only the Kyrie and Gloria, is Zelenka at his best, a work full of complex counterpoint, lyricism, and exuberant virtuosity, and a fitting finale to this week’s celebrations.

© C. Nediger 2016


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Ivars Taurins
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Philippe Gagné, tenor
Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685–1759
Laudate pueri (Rome, c.1706)
Sherezade Panthaki, soloist

AGOSTINO STEFFANI 1654–1728
Stabat mater, excerpted (Hanover, 1724)
Michele DeBoer, Richard Whittall & Cory Knight, soloists

JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY 1632–1687
Chaconne from Amadis “Chantons tous” (Paris, 1684)
Sherezade Panthaki: Corisande
Philippe Gagné: Un Héros
Jonathan Woody: Florestan

INTERMISSION

JEAN-PHILIPPE RAMEAU 1683–1764
In convertendo Dominus (Clermont-Ferrand, 1717/Paris, 1751)
Sherezade Panthaki, Philippe Gagné & Jonathan Woody, soloists

JAN DISMAS ZELENKA 1679–1745
Gloria, from Missa dei Filii (Dresden, 1740–41)
Michele Deboer, Simon Honeyman, Cory Knight & Joel Allison, soloists

Join us for Let Us All Sing!, November 2-6 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Some Personal Reflections: Celebrating 35 inspiring years

By Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director and Founder Ivars Taurins

Choir Director and Founder, Ivars Taurins
Choir Director and Founder, Ivars Taurins

As a young child, listening to my parents’ recordings of Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, or Barbra Streisand, I was captivated by the way these singers could express not only the text they were singing, but the meaning and emotion behind individual words. Later, in my teens, I had the same experience listening to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Elly Ameling, or Robert Tear.  Still later, I discovered that the technical term for this magic is “word painting.” All of these singers had a way of illuminating the text and its potent emotions with a simplicity and directness that could be overwhelming … this combined with consummate vocal skill, creating sounds that could at once soothe one’s soul or tear it apart.

Music, essentially an abstract form, can stir up concrete emotions within us. Music’s meanderings through time and space can, to quote Nicholas Brady, so “court the ear, strike the heart, and captivate the mind” as to be overwhelmingly palpable. When music is paired with a text it becomes doubly potent.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2016/17
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2016/17

Now in my 60th year, and celebrating the 35th anniversary of my collaboration with the remarkable singers of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, I find I am still filled with that same childhood fascination with the fusion of words and music, and how these two elements, in the hands of a great composer, can be melded, moulded, and burnished to a wonderful lustre. I look forward to continuing to share this fascination with you for many years to come.

‘Tis Nature’s voice, thro’ all the moving wood
Of creatures understood:
The universal tongue to none
Of all her num’rous race unknown.
From her it learnt the mighty art
To court the ear or strike the heart,
At once the passions to express and move.
We hear, and straight we grieve or hate, rejoice or love.
In unseen chains it does the fancy bind,
At once it charms the sense and captivates the mind.

Nicholas Brady (from Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1692)


Join us for Let Us All Sing! as we celebrate a milestone in Tafelmusik Chamber Choir’s history – it’s 35th anniversary. November 2-6 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Further Listening – The Eloquent Cello

by Tafelmusik violist Patrick Jordan

Patrick Jordan, viola. Image: Sian Richards
Patrick Jordan, viola. Image Credit: Sian Richards

If you enjoyed our concert program The Eloquent Cello, featuring and directed by Chistophe Coin, I encourage you to explore some of the following.

We played C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony for strings in B Minor, Wq.182/5. He also composed three cello concertos: check out Christophe Coin’s video of the Cello Concerto in A Major, Wq 172.

Another fun piece by C. P. E. Bach is the Double Concerto for Harpsichord and Fortepiano — it really shows that the two instruments lived and breathed the same air for a period of time!

We played one of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s symphonies based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “The Rescuing of Andromeda by Perseus.” There are three more, and here’s part of the one entitled “The Fall of Phaeton.”

And being a big Dittersdorf fan myself, I can’t help but share with you his perhaps most sublime 30 seconds of music, the opening of his String Quartet in D Major.

We also played Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in D Major, G.483. Boccherini was of course a famous cellist and immensely prolific composer, so the number of pieces he composed featuring the cello is huge. Here’s another of his concerti, the Cello Concerto in G major, G.480, with a very different feel, featuring guest director and soloist, Christophe Coin.

Boccherini also composed a vast amount of chamber music, and one of his most amusing works is a string quintet titled “Evening Music of the Streets of Madrid,” G.324, featuring, you guessed it, the cello!

Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major might have been the most familiar work on our concert program. It was composed for Josef Weigl, the principal cellist when Haydn began leading the orchestra at Prince Esterhazy’s court. Weigl was also the cellist who premiered Haydn’s string quartets, op. 33, and here’s a movement from Haydn’s String Quartet in B Minor, op. 33, no. 1, featuring the Eybler Quartet, three of whom are members of Tafelmusik.

Perhaps even better known than the C major Concerto is Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major. It was composed for the next principal cellist in Haydn’s orchestra, Anton Kraft. In 1805, Kraft published his own Cello Concerto in C major, op. 4.

Finally, two works by the most widely published contemporary of tonight’s composers, Johann Baptist Vanhal. First, a movement of his Cello Concerto in C Major. Here’s one of his almost 80 symphonies, Symphony in E minor (Bryan e1).

You can watch and listen to all of these videos on our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/tafelmusik1979 in the playlist titled Further Listening – The Eloquent Cello. We also included Capriccio no. 8 by Joseph Dall’Abaco in the playlist, a piece guest director Christophe Coin performed in one of his encores.

In Conversation with Christophe Coin, cellist

By Andrew Eusebio

French cellist and guest director, Christophe Coin, makes his Tafelmusik debut with The Eloquent Cello.  He took some time between rehearsals to chat with our Marketing Associate, Andrew Eusebio.

After studies with Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Vienna and Jordi Savall in Basel, Christophe Coin quickly established a solo career, and in 1987 formed le Quatuor Mosaïques, a renowned period-instrument quartet whose impressive discography includes works by Haydn, Mozart, Arriaga, Boccherini, Jadin, Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn. He teaches baroque cello and viola da gamba at his alma maters, the Conservatoire de Paris, and the Schola Cantorum in Basel.

French cellist Christophe Coin leads Tafelmusik in rehearsals
Christophe Coin leads the orchestra in rehearsals

Andrew Eusebio: In your opinion, what is it about the cello that audiences love?

Christophe Coin: I think the cello is maybe one of the most appreciated instruments probably because it is so similar to the human voice. It’s very lyrical and very expressive of all sorts of emotions. Sometimes the violin is a more virtuosic instrument, but it has a rather limited range at the bottom end, and people like to be moved by lower voices.

This fashion is quite new, I think. When I started cello, for example, the cello class in my hometown, in Caen, had few pupils. My teacher there was a fantastic cellist, a fantastic pedagogue, and a student of Pablo Casals. My mother didn’t want me to learn violin—she didn’t like violin—so we went to this man because there was room in the class, and I have never regretted it.

AE: Some of the pieces in the program have a rich history with Tafelmusik, while others have never been performed on our stage. How was the program selected, and what was your process in pairing them together?

CC: I made three propositions to Jeanne [Lamon]. My first proposition was to perform Haydn’s D-Major cello concerto and a concerto by Antonin Kraft, who was the principle cellist in Prince Nikolaus’s orchestra at Esterházy. I believe Hadyn’s D-Major was probably composed for Kraft. This is similar to Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich composing a piece for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich: a composer working with an idiomatic specialist of the instrument. But, the Kraft concerto would have needed more wind instruments, and we wanted to limit the concert to two oboes and two horns. So I think Jeanne was very happy to do the Boccherini concerto. I suggested this one because I have never played it, so it’s a new opportunity for me—and it’s the only one with an original cadenza by Boccherini in the slow movement. It’s at least one cadenza I don’t have to write or think about!

AE: What is it like to direct an orchestra while playing the cello part, as you’re doing in the Dittersdorf and CPE Bach?

CC: Well, I did it a long time ago when we started a group in Paris called Mosaïques, which had a mixture of different people from different orchestras—people who wanted to learn this repertoire. This was almost 40 years ago, at that time, many people didn’t play Haydn symphonies. This orchestra disappeared and the principal people remained together as a quartet, Quatuor Mosaïques, which is still active after 30 years.

When we started as an orchestra, I was leading from the cello: we never had a conductor. So I’m used to that and I like it. I don’t like to move my arms much if I can avoid it. Sometimes it’s a problem with a group that’s not well connected, but with Tafelmusik, they know each other so well and they are used to playing without a conductor, so I think it’s not a problem. But, in fact, the cello is playing a bass line, a normal bass line.

Christophe Coin's 1720's Italian cello
Christophe Coin’s 1720’s Italian cello with bone details

AE: The Haydn cello concerto has a special connection to many people. What is your personal connection to this masterful piece and why?

CC: You know this piece has been rediscovered quite recently. Well, recently being the 1960s. Before, only the D-Major, which is a much larger concerto, was played. And since the C-Major appeared, the D-Major is not so often played, which is a pity. It’s another level of difficulty—and, the Finale, which is a sort of French tune, something 6/8, is less flashy than the finale of the C-Major. It’s sort of a “wet blanket” Finale. So, people nowadays play the C-Major more.

My special connection I would say is that I recorded it, actually before Anner Bylsma recorded it with Tafelmusik, and it was my first recording as a soloist, and my first recording on a historical instrument. That was with Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. I was 23, and I had a cello made especially for that recording. That was my first experience playing and recording a concerto, so it’s quite important for me, this recording.

AE: That is a special connection. When was the last time you performed it?

CC: Maybe two to three years ago.

AE: Not so long ago, but I’m sure it’s great to play it again.

CC: Yes, it’s nice to play it again, especially with such a good orchestra!

AE: What do you believe to be the next great frontier for period ensembles in terms of repertoire?

CC: I don’t know. Nowadays, some orchestras on period instruments play Debussy and Ravel. With the quartet (Quatuor Mosaïques), we play Bartok’s first and second quartet on gut strings. I think that’s the limit. I mean, until the first World War, gut strings were used, quite generally, in all orchestras, and then it progressively changed. Between the two wars, I think people started to change strings—the violin for the E string because they broke most easily. Maybe the cellists were the last to change. Nowadays, it would be impossible to go to a modern orchestra with gut strings. I think there is no reason not to play twentieth-century repertoire on gut strings.

It’s a little more complicated for the winds, such as the oboe or clarinet, because the keyed instruments changed a lot during the nineteenth century and the evolution was complicated. It’s difficult to have twenty different instruments to play the repertoire that spans the nineteenth century. I have heard some Wagner and Mahler with period instruments already. I’m not sure it really brings something completely new. The most important thing for me is the concept you have behind a performance, not so much the instruments themselves.

Maybe it’s also interesting to have modern composers write pieces for period instruments. I know that Tafelmusik has commissioned new pieces. Of course, it’s not so interesting when a composer uses period instruments as a gimmick. But if you really try to understand the technique and the possibility of generating a new sound, I think it’s a challenge for the composer.

Join us for The Eloquent Cello, October 5-9 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.