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Behind the Musik: Sound the Trumpet!

Download the Program Notes and Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Charlotte Nediger

With this week’s concerts we usher in the festive season with a musical journey through baroque Europe. We begin our travels in Versailles, with music written to be played at a dinner party hosted by Louis XIV on January 16, 1707 (true “musique de table,” or “Tafelmusik”!). The extant score, copied by the King’s music librarian, credits Jean-Baptiste Lully fils as composer — the second son of the famed court composer of the same name. A posthumous account states that Jean-Baptiste Jr. “knew hardly anything about music,” and that he was given the position of Surintendant de la musique du roi only “out of consideration for his father’s talent.” It is entirely possible that all he contributed to the various compositions credited to him was his name. The 1707 suite for the king’s dinner may well have been written by Michel Richard de Lalande, the composer who “shared” the job of Surintendant with Lully fils. Elisa Citterio has selected a few movements from this charming suite to open our concert.

We travel south to Rome, the birthplace of the concerto grosso  — works for string orchestra that contrast a small solo group (called the “concertino,” or “little consort”) with the full orchestra (the “ripieni,” meaning “padding or stuffing”). Corelli’s final publication was a carefully prepared selection of twelve concerti grossi, his Opus 6, and quickly became famous throughout Europe. Shortly before the publication appeared, the young violinist Pietro Antonio Locatelli arrived from Bergamo to study in Rome with Corelli and his followers. Locatelli’s first publication mirrored Corelli’s last: a set of twelve concerti grossi in a format and style that pays homage to the master. This is particularly evident in the eighth concerto: just as Corelli had done in the eighth concerto of his Opus 6, Locatelli adds an optional Christmas pastorale. The opening of the concerto is rich and sombre, with divided viola parts and in the dark key of F minor. The sun comes out in the lilting F-major pastorale.

Shortly after the release of his Opus 1, Locatelli travelled north through Germany, taking posts in various cities and performing as a virtuoso violinist. He may well have encountered Telemann and Fasch, and it is to these composers we turn now. Georg Philipp Telemann stated that he was not a fan of the purely virtuoso solo concerto, and indeed we find that most of his concertos are more “conversational” than “exhibitionist,” and that many feature more than one solo instrument. He also turned to instruments not always featured in solo roles, such as the viola, often overshadowed by the more brilliant violin. Telemann clearly understood the viola’s inherent qualities, and opens his Concerto for two violas with a movement labelled “avec douceur” (“with sweetness”).

Johann Friedrich Fasch and Telemann met as students at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, and although Fasch was younger by only seven years, he nonetheless considered his “most beloved” friend to be his mentor. Like Telemann, Fasch favoured the more “collegial” concerto. His trumpet concerto clearly features the solo trumpet, but the soloist is amply supported in musical “conversations” with two oboes and with the accompanying strings.

We return to France and encounter Michel Corrette: born in Rouen, he enjoyed a long career in Paris, writing music of a light nature, much of it arrangements of popular tunes of the day. Among these are numerous arrangements of Christmas carols. The publication “Six Symphonies en Quatuor” bears the subtitle “containing the most beautiful French and foreign Noëls,” and the instruction that they can be played by a chamber group or full orchestra, in concert or at a church service. The first Symphonie is comprised of arrangements of four traditional French carols: “When Christmas arrives,” “The king of heaven has just been born,” “Here is the solemn day,” and “Adam was a wretched man.”

We cross the channel to England, but with a musical detour to Iberia. Organist and composer Charles Avison directed a concert series in his native Newcastle, establishing a broader reputation through his writings on music, and through his publications of sonatas and concertos. Among his most popular publications was a set of twelve concerti grossi consisting of arrangements for string orchestra of harpsichord sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. Scarlatti wrote over 500 harpsichord sonatas while employed at the royal courts in Lisbon and Madrid. A few dozen of these sonatas were published in London and enjoyed great popularity, inspiring Avison’s arrangements. Each of Scarlatti’s sonatas is a single-movement work, so Avison combined them to create four-movement concertos. There are relatively few slow movements in Scarlatti’s keyboard oeuvre, so Avison had to get creative. He claimed that several slow movements were drawn from a manuscript of Scarlatti sonatas that only he had seen, but the truth is that most of the slow movements were composed by Avison himself. In the Fifth Concerto, the opening Largo is of Avison’s invention, and the remaining three movements are arrangements of Scarlatti sonatas K.11, K. 41, and K.5.

After discovering all these new treasures, we return home, musically speaking, to familiar ground with Johann Sebastian Bach and the Second Brandenburg Concerto. Like his friends, Telemann and Fasch, Bach liked the idea of the ensemble concerto, and explored it in his collection of concertos dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg titled “Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments.” The variety of instrumentation in these concertos is their trademark feature, and the solo group of the second concerto is the most disparate: trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin. Particularly noteworthy is the uncommonly brilliant trumpet part, written for a trumpet in F. All of Bach’s trumpet parts are demanding, but most are written for trumpets in C and D. Bach obviously had a trumpet player capable  of playing the solo passages in the higher key of F, but already by the middle of the eighteenth century such players were rarities. A copy of the score by C.F. Penzel made c.1760 suggests substituting a horn and transposing the part down an octave. A later copy suggests a flute, and 20th-century performances have substituted various instruments, among them clarinet, piccolo-heckelphone, and sopranino saxophone! We are delighted to have David Blackadder join us to perform Bach’s original scoring.


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Elisa Citterio
David Blackadder
, trumpet soloist

November 21–25, 2018
Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

Jean-Baptiste Lully fils, 1665–1743
Concert donné au souper du Roi (Versailles, 1707)
Ouverture – Passacaille – Loure – Rigaudons

Pietro Antonio Locatelli, 1694–1764
Concerto grosso in F Minor, op. 1, no. 8 “Christmas” (Rome, 1721)
Largo – Grave – Vivace – Grave – Largo andante – Andante – Pastorale

Georg Philipp Telemann, 1681–1767
Concerto for 2 violas in G Major, TWV 52:G3 (Hamburg, c.1740)
Avec douceur – Gay – Largo – Vivement
Brandon Chui & Patrick Jordan violas

Johann Friedrich Fasch, 1688–1758
Concerto for trumpet in D Major (Anhalt-Zerbst, c.1750)
Allegro – Largo – Allegro
David Blackadder trumpet

INTERMISSION

Michel Corrette, 1707–1795
Symphonie de Noëls no. 1 in D Minor (Paris, 1781)
A la venue de Noël – Le Roy des cieux vient de naître – Voici le jour solennel – Adam fut un pauvre homme

Charles Avison, 1709–1770
Concerto no. 5 in D Minor after Domenico Scarlatti (Newcastle/London, 1744)
Largo – Allegro – Andante moderato – Allegro

Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685–1750
Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047 (Cöthen, 1721)
Allegro – Andante – Allegro assai
Alison Melville recorder John Abberger oboe
David Blackadder trumpet Julia Wedman violin

In search of Steffani’s music

By Charlotte Nediger

Portrait of Steffani by
Gerhard Kappers, c.1714

As librarian for Tafelmusik, I spend quite a bit of time searching out sources for the music we are performing. I sometimes hit roadblocks, but more often than not, make unexpected discoveries along the way. In digging up the music for this week’s Steffani: Drama & Devotion concerts I worked together with Ivars Taurins (Director of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir — and my husband). Ivars had assembled a rich and varied program. The variety added to the challenge, as in creating his wonderful pastiche of arias, choruses, and instrumental movements he had turned to numerous Steffani operas, only one of which is published in a modern score. So it was off the libraries to search out manuscripts — these days we usually visit the libraries virtually, as most have good online catalogues, and many already have digital scans of some of their unique holdings. I always admire Ivars for his persistence in searching: if the usual searches lead to a dead end, he keeps going, and is often rewarded with results that I wouldn’t have found. This was the case for several of our arias!

In looking for a sacred piece to pair with the Stabat Mater, we found help in a few places. Daniel Webb in the Tafelmusik choir introduced us to a friend was a former librarian at Cambridge University, where we knew they had a Steffani manuscript collection. He put us in touch with Emma Darbyshire of the Fitzwilliam Museum, who was both very generous and painstaking in her assistance, and was able to provide very clear scans of the manuscript. In the end we didn’t select a piece from the manuscript, but have set them aside for future programs (perhaps even at this year’s Summer Institute?).

That led us to trying to find music for the Beatus vir which opens our concert. It’s an early work of Steffani, so a good foil to the Stabat Mater, which was possibly his last composition. We discerned from Colin Timms’ wonderful book on Steffani (more on Colin later) that the manuscript of this piece was in the Biblioteca dal Sacro Convento di San Francesco in Assisi. This seemed like a long shot, short of getting on a plane to Italy (a nice prospect, but not very practical). But I managed to find an email address for the librarian there, and gave it a whirl, with help from Tafelmusik oboist Marco Cera, who translated my emails into very elegant Italian. I was so surprised a few hours later to find a response from Fra Carlo Bottero, writing (in his equally elegant Italian) that he would be happy to photograph the manuscript, and could get JPEGs to me in a couple of days! In the ongoing correspondence, I got quite attached to my very helpful Italian monk, and am certainly enormously grateful. Now I think I should take that trip to Assisi to meet him and visit his remarkable library, chock full of treasures.

But back to our quest. By this point we were stuck on two opera choruses. Manuscripts of the full operas from which they were drawn were on the shelf of the British Library – but the opera scores were several hundred pages long. We had no idea what pages the short choruses in questions were to be found, and it would have cost an enormous amount of money to order scans of the entire operas (the British Library charges per page). We were about to give up when Ivars thought to write to musicologist Colin Timms, who has written the authoritative book in English on Steffani (Polymath of the Baroque: Agostino Steffani and His Music), which is an amazing resource. We found a university email for him, and send off a note. Again, within a few short hours he had responded and said he could help get the required pages to us: he had copies of one, and a German colleague had the other. He was so pleased that we were presenting a complete program of Steffani, and only wished that he could attend.

So now all sources were at hand, thanks to the generous and able assistance of these newfound colleagues. For the Stabat Mater we had a modern score and parts — done. For everything else I set about typesetting scores and parts, making our own performing editions. Thankfully Steffani had quite neat handwriting, as did the other scribes of most of the manuscripts. One particular challenge in the Beatus vir is that the Latin text was included in only one voice part in each of the two choirs, so you have to figure out how to make it fit in the other parts. This would be easy if it were one syllable per note, but that is not at all the case in this piece. Steffani left a few hints here and there, but the rest is up to the editor (me), conductor (Ivars), and the performers (the choir members made several suggestions). Another little editing adventure was in setting the various instrumental movements in the opera pastiche. Most of these movements were published by Roger in Amsterdam in the early 18th-century, to form instrumental suites — but we had also found manuscript sources closer to Steffani. The notes were the same, but the Roger edition had a great many ornaments in the parts, even in the less frequently ornamented viola and bass parts; the manuscripts had almost none. It was another fun puzzle for us as performers to sort out, and a window to different tastes in ornamentation both then and now.

As I write this, it is the week of the concerts. The choir has rehearsed their material with Ivars over the past month, and Ivars and I went through the arias with Krisztina Szabó at our house a couple of weeks ago. Now we all meet — Krisztina, orchestra, choir — and sing and play all of this music together for the first time. Almost all of it is new to us, and the first rehearsals of new repertoire are always special. The music of Steffani is unique, with a special beauty and energy. I’ve spent a lot of time with the notes on the page in the last months, and I can’t wait to hear it all come to life — and I especially can’t wait to share it with you.

Join Charlotte and Ivars, and the Chamber Choir and Orchestra at Steffani: Drama & Devotion from November 8–11, 2018 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. 

Congratulations to Martin on 25 years at Tafelmusik!

For many, the Tafelmusik Box Office wouldn’t be the same without our trusty Manager, Martin Reis. Whether he’s helping subscribers with their ticket packages, helping newcomers find the best possible seats, or sharing with you what concerts he’s really looking forward to, Martin is always there when you need him. You might have even caught sight of his alter ego, the French Postman, on stage with Mr. Handel at Massey Hall over the years! As with many Tafelmusik staff, Martin has a full and busy life outside of our walls. We recently chatted with Martin about his time at Tafelmusik and his other interests and hobbies.

Martin Reis. Photo by Jono Castellino

You joined Tafelmusik 25 years ago. How did you hear about the job?

The job was listed at an employment centre.

Did you know about baroque music before joining us?

Yes, quite a bit. My father was a church organist and my mother’s maiden name is Bach (of course, no relation). After moving to Canada from Germany, I worked for several years for Tourism Toronto and would very often send visitors to enjoy Tafelmusik concerts. So when a job opened up in the Box Office in the early nineties, I jumped at the chance.

What have been some of your favourite concert moments over the years?

Oh, too many to list here, but that weekend when former Mayor Mel Lastman called in the army because Toronto was snowbound and the concerts went ahead anyways, one even by candlelight, that was pure magic. I also have very fond memories of performances by Anner Bylsma, Marion Verbruggen, Stefano Montanari, the many astounding multimedia programs of Alison MacKay, and our wonderful choral concerts.

Do you have a favourite church cat story?

Even though the new feline addition to the church, Meesha, is holding her own, my faveourite story is when legendary church cat Moriarty managed to get onto the stage in the middle of a concert and a red-faced house manager had to come to the rescue — to the delight of the audience. The Tafelmusik musicians never missed a beat.

You’re an avid cyclist — have your pedals taken you anywhere exotic?

I think my most exotic ride was an adventure in the Altiplano of Bolivia. I rode down a mountain bike trail starting at 5200m and ending in the jungle. Not sure how I survived that, but certainly not something I will ever try again. Closer to home, I really loved bike-touring in magical Haida Gwai.

Martin de la Rue, the French Postman, delivering a special telegram
to Mr. Handel at Sing-Along Messiah in Massey Hall.

Many concert-goers may not know about your alter-ego, the French postman. How did he come about?

Martin de la Rue, the French Postman, came about by sheer coincidence. A filmmaker friend needed help finding a vintage French postal costume for a short film, so I bought one for him online. It did not fit him at all, but was just my size. Voila! The inspiration for my alter-ego character comes from an early film by Jacques Tati called Jour de Fête, which is about a French postman. My alter-ego knows how to have fun and has appeared at Nuit Blanche (2008), the Sing-Along Messiah (2013 & 2016), and mostly recently this summer at Art Spin in Toronto. One day, we’ll actually finish the short film.

On top of all of this, you’re an incredible photographer. What are your favourite things to shoot around the city?

Thank you, you are too kind! When I go about the city, I very much enjoy photographing the quieter corners of our city, the alleyways, and the older buildings of Toronto. There is a lot of beauty all around us and all you need is time to find it.

If you have favourite stories to share about Martin, we’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave comments here, or email us at info@tafelmusik.org.

Get to know Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano

The wonderful Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó first appeared on the Tafelmusik stage in Handel’s Messiah two years ago, and we’ve been eagerly looking forward to her return ever since. We are especially thrilled that she is able to join us this season not only for our exploration of the remarkable music of Agostino Steffani — new to Krisztina’s repertoire — but also at Koerner Hall for our Messiah performances next month. Krisztina took a few moments from her busy schedule to answer our Get-to-Know questions.

When did you first start singing?

August 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of when I started as a young artist in the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio. Although I had a few “gigs” prior to this date, this date is what I consider as the launching point for my career.

What was your first music gig?

When I was accepted into the Ensemble Studio, the COC was kind enough to hire me for a couple of contracts prior to the official start date of the program. The first contract was a Valentine’s Day initiative. People signed up their loved ones to be serenaded by a real live opera singer.

So, on February 14, 1998, I was that girl serenading strangers in Starbucks locations across the city!

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

The singer I have constantly turned to over the years for inspiration has been Anne Sophie von Otter. She is an exquisite musician and I greatly admire not only her voice, her talent, and her poise, but also her longevity in this business.

What is your favourite music to listen to?

I think my brain might be a little too saturated by music in my day-to-day life — between my own singing engagements and teaching singing at the University of Toronto, I am constantly listening to music (or so it seems!). So, in my down time, I love listening to podcasts and CBC Radio 1.

What are the last three pieces you’ve listened to?

• George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill
• Hosokawa’s The Raven
• Handel’s Dixit Dominus.
All pieces I’m working on this season!

What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time?

I love going for my daily walk through Prospect Cemetery near my home — it’s a little slice of peace, a relatively quiet and green space, and everyone you meet as you go through is always friendly. I also love doing pilates and yoga — both keep me sane in the midst of my crazy performing, teaching, and family schedules. And I also love just hanging out with my husband and twelve-year old daughter, Phoibe … at the moment, we are watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race on Netflix!

What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

There are SO many great places to eat in Toronto, it’s hard to choose! But I’m a little obsessed with smoked meat at the moment, and we have a wonderful local place called Earlscourt BBQ on St. Clair West which is simply mouth-wateringly good. And they happen to be downstairs from the yoga studio, so if you’re lucky, you can do yoga while smelling the meat being smoked downstairs. Not everyone appreciates that combination, but this Hungarian girl certainly does!

Where is your own, personal oasis in Toronto?

Sitting on my couch with my cat!

What is your great ambition?

To continue to make a living making music until I die!?

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?

Work hard, be prepared, be flexible, be on time (!), and never, ever lose sight of who you are and what you have to say as an artist and musician. Oh, and try not to take everything personally … you’ll get a lot of “feedback” — from teachers, coaches, friends, family, audiences, reviewers, random people on the street — EVERYONE has an opinion. Try not to let it get to you TOO much!


Hear Krisztina Szabó perform with Tafelmusik in STEFFANI: DRAMA & DEVOTION from Nov 8–11, 2018 and in HANDEL MESSIAH from Dec 18–21, 2018.

Behind the Musik: Steffani: Drama & Devotion

Download the Program Notes and Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Charlotte Nediger

The intriguing biography of Agostino Steffani is unique amongst musicians: he was a gifted singer and keyboardist, composer, diplomat, courtier, politician, priest, and had a distinguished ecclesiastical career. He was clearly an intelligent man, well spoken in several languages, well read, and widely respected in all the various fields in which he worked. Letters suggest that he was an ambitious and somewhat arrogant youth, but he quickly learned the manners and politesse of courtly life, and the discretion and tact essential in his diplomatic work. He was an industrious and principled worker and advocate. His employers placed great trust in his abilities and in his character, and he enjoyed many close and long friendships.

Portrait of Steffani by
Gerhard Kappers, c.1714

Born in Castelfranco, near Venice, Agostino Steffani left for school in Padua and there received his first musical training. He was employed as a treble in the choir of the Basilica del Santo from age ten to thirteen. His talent was evidently exceptional, and at age eleven and twelve he appeared in operas in Venice during Carnival. When he was just thirteen, his abilities were noticed by the Elector Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria during a visit to Padua; the Elector took Steffani with him to the court in Munich, where he was to remain for 21 years. He was given harpsichord and organ lessons, and before long seems to have largely given up singing. In 1672, at age eighteen, he was sent to Rome to study composition, and a few years later was sent to Paris to learn the French style which was increasingly popular at the Munich court. Throughout Steffani’s travels, he was praised for the deftness and delicacy of his harpsichord playing.

With the accession of Maximilian II Emanuel in 1680, Steffani’s career in Munich blossomed. He was named Director of Chamber Music, a new post created just for him, and his first operas were produced. He also undertook his first diplomatic mission: to negotiate the marriage of the elector to Princess Sophie Charlotte of Hanover. The marriage did not come to pass, but Steffani’s diplomatic skills were noted, and the Hanoverian court held him in high regard.

It was in Hanover in 1668 that Steffani took his next post, as Kapellmeister and director of the court opera. Shortly after his arrival a striking new opera house was completed, and the gala opening featured the premiere of Henrico Leone, one of several Steffani operas based on German history (in this case, the twelfth-century duke Henry the Lion). Steffani remained in Hanover for fifteen years, though increasing demands on him as a diplomat led to a significant decrease in his involvement in music at the court. He spent time in Vienna and Brussels negotiating the elevation of Hanover to an electorate, and was involved in the machinations that led to the War of the Spanish Succession. He turned to music on occasion, seemingly often as solace when politics proved frustrating or disappointing.

In 1703 Steffani moved to Düsseldorf, entering the service of the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, for a period of six years. Here his duties were mostly political: positions included privy councilor and president of the Spiritual Council for the Palatinate, general president of the Palatine Government, and curator of Heidelberg University. It was here too that his activities with the church increased. He had been ordained a priest in 1680, at age 26. In 1706 he was elected Bishop of Spiga, and in 1709 was appointed Apostolic Vicar in northern Germany, returning to Hannover. This prestigious post carried the responsibility of establishing and maintaining missions and building churches, and generally of gaining acceptance and tolerance of Catholicism in the Protestant north, encompassing Brunswick, the Palatinate, Prussia, and Saxony. Steffani retired to Padua in 1722, at age 68, but was pressured by the church in Rome to return to work in Hanover in 1726.

It was at the end of his life that Steffani turned once again to music, perhaps in part returning to his first love, and in part because of growing interest in his works in England. His former employer in Hanover had assumed the British throne as George I, and took several Steffani scores with him. 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; it can be seen as a musical representation of his faith and devotion.

Steffani died in 1728, but his renown as a composer lived on, as evidenced in the publication of a biography in England in 1750, written by John Hawkins. Hawkins cites Handel and Pepusch as his primary sources in recounting memories of this “great genius.” Handel met Steffani in both Hanover and Rome, and freely “borrowed” from his operas and chamber duets.

Steffani’s musical style is marked by a natural vocality and a compelling expression of the text, in both his sacred and secular works. The German writer and composer Johann Mattheson noted that Steffani carried around the librettos of his operas for some time, carefully considering the words before conceiving the music. The influence of France is strong in the instrumental movements in his operas, which owe much to Lully.

We have greatly enjoyed getting to know the music of this fascinating man, and hope that our concerts will encourage you to explore more of his music, or to read his remarkable life story.

THANK YOU

In finding the Steffani manuscripts from which we made the editions used this week, we had assistance from several people. We would like to thank Fra Carlo Bottero, Director of the Biblioteca e Centro di documentazione francescana del Sacro Convento di San Francesco in Assisi, for generously providing images of the manuscript of the Beatus vir. We are grateful to Emma Darbyshire of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Prof. Colin Timms of the University of Birmingham for providing scans of several manuscripts. Prof. Timms is a renowned expert on the life and music of Steffani: his book Polymath of the Baroque: Agostino Steffani and His Music was invaluable in researching this program, and he has been very generous in answering questions and providing material.


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Ivars Taurins
Krisztina Szabó
, mezzo-soprano
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir

November 8–11, 2018
Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

Agostino Steffani
1654–1728 

Beatus vir a 8 (Assisi or Munich, 1676)

Stabat Mater (Hannover, 1728)

INTERMISSION

Aria “Non prendo consiglio” from La superbia d’Alessandro (Hanover, 1690)

Overture to La lotte d’Hercole con Acheloo (Hanover, 1689)

Aria “Morirò fra strazi e scempi” from Henrico Leone (Hanover, 1689)

Entrée des ombres [The shadows] from La libertà contenta (Hanover, 1693)

Sinfonia to Niobe (Munich, 1688)

Aria & Chorus “Tra la guerre e le vittorie” from La superbia d’Alessandro

Chaconne from Henrico Leone

Duet “T’abbraccio” from Niobe

Sarabande from I trionfi del fato (Hanover, 1695)

Recitative & Aria “Deh non far colle tue lagrime” from Tassilone (Düsseldorf, 1709)

Air tendre from La superbia d’Alessandro

Accompagnato & Aria “Sfere amiche” from Niobe

Chorus “Non si parli” from Marco Aurelio (Munich, 1681)

Aria “Ogni core può sperar” from Servio Tullio (Munich, 1686)

Duet & Chorus “Timore, ruine” from Le rivale concordi (Hanover, 1692)

My Instrument with David Blackadder, trumpet

In our upcoming holiday concert, Sound the Trumpet!, David Blackadder makes his Tafelmusik debut, performing music by Fasch, J.S. Bach and more.

By David Blackadder

David Blackadder, trumpet. Photo by Boyd Gilmour
David Blackadder, trumpet.
Photo by Boyd Gilmour

The trumpet is often thought of as being perhaps the most majestic, powerful instrument of all, and traditionally this is often the case especially when large groups of trumpeters played together. The sound of multiple trumpets became so synonymous with the European nobility that it actually became a status symbol in courts across Europe to have an elite group of trumpeters, not unlike having a fleet of limousines or Ferraris today. This tradition still continues in some countries, and you need look no further than the moment when Megan Markle arrived at Windsor Chapel to hear the spine-tingling sound that the trumpeters of the Household Cavalry made to understand why.

However, there is a much more subtle, lesser-known side to the trumpet which uses the more florid, angelic quality of its upper register to symbolize the glory of God and the heavens. Handel’s “Eternal Source of Light Divine” followed the trumpet fanfare at the royal wedding as Megan processed down the aisle, and showed off just how lyrical the trumpet can be, particularly when imitating the human voice.

The trumpet that I used that day and for Sound the Trumpet! with Tafelmusik is a copy of an instrument originally made in Nuremberg by Johann Carl Kodisch around 1700. It was made by Mathew Martin of Norwich Natural Trumpets and has extremely light tubing, which makes it easier to play sustained passages in the high register. This technique of playing developed throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and became highly prized by composers and their patrons alike. The sound that can be achieved in the high register is not unlike that of a woodwind instrument, and the trumpet was indeed said to be capable of being “as sweet as an oboe.” By using different articulations the best trumpeters could play very delicately and their trills were said to rival that of any flautist of the day. Court trumpeters were handsomely rewarded for their prodigious skill and were required to play at the most important ceremonies and state occasions.

In my new partnership with Tafelmusik I would like to bring to light this gentler side of the baroque trumpet and show how it can shine perfectly well without the need to blast loudly at any point. The Fasch Concerto is a wonderful example of this, particularly the beautiful slow movement, and in the Brandenburg Concerto the trumpet shows off its incredible ability to balance with the other soloists in the absolute extremities of its high register. I remember playing to my late father the first recording of the Brandenburg Concerto I ever made as a student at the Royal College of Music. He said, “Sounds more like a flute than a trumpet to me, son.“ He didn’t realize just what a compliment that was, but I knew what he meant and I have always strived to achieve that same quality throughout my career.

Join David Blackadder in Sound the Trumpet! from November 21–25, 2018 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.