Behind the Musik: The Baroque Diva

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By Christopher Verrette

Opera was an invention of baroque Italy, and while other regions would create their own styles, opera sung in Italian would continue to be enjoyed in many cities and courts throughout Europe, including Dresden, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. George Frideric Handel began to present his Italian operas in London in 1711, and personally recruited singers from Italy for the task. These singers became celebrities in their new home. Contemporary accounts of these artists describe not only their voices, but also their manner on stage, and (sometimes unfavourably) their “person” or relative physical beauty. Rivalry among the singers could become quite public, with their respective fans creating disturbances during performances.

The “degrees of separation” between the various composers on this program are slight indeed. Georg Philipp Telemann holds the Guinness world record (posthumously!) for the most prolific composer of all time, at least on the basis of the sheer number of pieces he wrote. He also seems to have been one of the best-connected composers of his time. From his chosen city of Hamburg he had extensive reach. He wrote music for other courts, was involved in music education, publishing, and early copyright matters, took interest in ethnic styles of music, and corresponded regularly with many other composers and theorists, including his lifelong friend, Handel.

Another of his friends and correspondents was the extraordinary violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, a pivotal figure in music in the eighteenth century. A leading violinist with the famed Dresden Kapelle, many distinguished composers dedicated music to him, including Telemann, Albinoni, and Vivaldi. There are also strong connections between Pisendel and the Bach family. It was in fact Pisendel who brought to the attention of Telemann (also an accomplished poet) that he should eulogize the recently deceased Bach. Telemann responded with an ode, as he would for Pisendel himself some years later.

Pisendel met the violin virtuoso, composer, and priest Antonio Vivaldi while travelling in Venice with the ensemble of the crown prince of Saxony. While it is often said that he studied with Vivaldi, the relationship seems more likely to have been an opportune meeting between two peers with genuine respect for one another. He did not otherwise have the easiest visit to Italy: jealous violinists in the orchestra tried to sabotage his first solo appearance, which he survived by keeping his cool and beating his foot. On another occasion he was detained by authorities in St Mark’s Square in an apparent case of mistaken identity, and it was Vivaldi himself who negotiated his release.

Telemann Concerto in A Major

Telemann’s A-Major Concerto includes some virtuoso passagework that may reflect his knowledge of Pisendel’s style, but the dominating feature of the work is its imitation of the peeping of frogs. The soloist initiates this, after the opening tutti, with an effect called bariolage, an alternation of an open string with a fingered note on the same pitch. This figure is elaborated and imitated, and soon we hear a whole chorus of frogs that the composer takes through some extended and unexpected harmonic sequences. In the second movement we hear the frog once more before the violin embarks upon a cantabile melody, but the frogs can still be heard in the viola part at times. The concerto concludes with an elegant minuet and no further amphibian interference.

Handel Ezio

(c) The Foundling Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Handel’s Ezio had all the ingredients to be a commercial success: an excellent cast of singers, a libretto by Metastasio, and all new sets and costumes (a relative rarity), but it only lasted for five poorly attended performances at the King’s Theatre in January, 1732, although the king himself attended all but one. Its female lead was the soprano Anna Maria Strada (pictured right) as Fulvia, a woman trapped between rival lovers and the murderous machinations of her own father. “Il mio costanza” comes in Act II, when she admits in front of the emperor Valentinian, who wishes to marry her, that she is in fact in love with the General Ezio, who has just been arrested (erroneously) for an attempt on the emperor’s life. Strada was part of a second wave of talented singers imported by Handel to rebuild his company after a bankruptcy. While her singing was admired, she was criticized for her appearance and the faces she made while singing, earning her the nickname “the pig.”

Telemann Concerto in D Minor

In the D-Minor Concerto, Telemann puts into opposition a wind trio of oboes and bassoon and a string group. In the first movement, they mostly play together in similar rhythm, like a big choir, but in the fast movements the two groups rarely play at the same time, as if in conversation.

Vivaldi Motet “O qui coeli”

Vivaldi is mostly associated with the city of Venice and the solo violin concerto, but he became increasingly interested in opera over the course of his career, and this would take him to other cities such as Rome, where his operas were presented during carnival in both 1723 and 1724. At this time he came into contact with Cardinal Ottoboni, a member of one of the wealthy families that employed many of the best musicians, including Handel at one time. The motet “O qui coeli” was probably written for Ottoboni. Perhaps it was intended for one of the singers who also performed his operas. The text calls upon the listeners to turn their eyes from the transient attractions of the earthly to the eternal promises of the heavenly.

PIsendel Sonata da chiesa

Instrumental music was used widely in church to support and sometimes even replace parts of the liturgy. While noted as a virtuoso, Pisendel shows in the Sonata da chiesa (church sonata) that he can compose with disciplined contrapuntal technique. The austere five-note subject of the second movement is typical of this style.

Handel Alcina

In 1733, Handel lost most of his singers to a rival company. Anna Maria Strada stayed though, and in 1735 played the title role in one of greatest successes, Alcina. This sorceress is one of his most captivating characters, in more ways than one: she keeps people prisoners on her enchanted island in the form of rocks, trees, animals, and some as spellbound lovers. Her demise comes when she falls in love with Ruggiero: he escapes her spell and she loses her powers. She sings “Ah, mio cor” upon the realization that she has been deceived and deserted, powerfully expressed through her unaccompanied entrance. In the middle section, she breaks out of her despair just long enough to swear vengeance if he does not return.

Pisendel Concerto da chiesa

The G-Minor Concerto reveals Pisendel’s considerable talents as both a violinist and composer. The intricate high passagework for the solo violinist is typical of his style, but he was highly regarded for his performance of slow movements. The fugal opening of the last movement is unusual in a solo concerto.

Handel Rodelinda

The role of Rodelinda was originated in 1725 by Francesca Cuzzoni (pictured right), one of the notorious rival sopranos in Handel’s troupe. “Mio caro bene” is the final aria of the opera, when Rodelinda is joyfully reunited with her husband, who had been exiled and believed dead. According to Horace Walpole, her performance was upstaged by her costume, which apparently scandalized the older audience but was adopted by the young as the height of fashion.

© C. Verrette 2017

Note about Entwined, by the composer

Over the next year, Canada will see numerous celebrations as part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canada certainly has much to celebrate, but it’s important to me that these celebrations don’t come without acknowledging the darker parts of our past, especially the treatment of Indigenous peoples in our country. We have taken important steps in recent years — Canada 150, for its part, has made reconciliation one of its four main themes. But I feel strongly that these steps need to be seen in the context of ongoing systemic discrimination.

Canada as a country is only 150 years old, but the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples goes back much farther. The interwoven layers of Entwined are meant to suggest how our stories are (and will continue to be) diverse yet deeply connected, and how we all have a role to play in reconciliation.

As a composer, Colin Labadie writes notably un-classical music for classical instruments. Through simple patterning and subtle variation, he seeks to build intricate yet clear structures and sounds. As a performer, he does exactly the opposite: he creates noisy and chaotic textures, usually with mutant guitars or homemade circuits. He often roots around in thrift stores, hunting for odd sounds in the world of forgotten electronics. Colin currently lives in Kitchener-Waterloo. He has been fortunate enough to perform or have his work performed across Canada, as well as in many non-Canadian countries. When he isn’t listening to music, he can usually be found trying to sniff out a good barbecue joint.


Directed by Rodolfo Richter, violin
March 23–26, 2017, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

Entwined: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th
World premiere: written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.

Concerto for violin in A Major, “The Frog” (Frankfurt, c.1718)

Aria “La mia costanza,” from Ezio (London, 1732)

Concerto in D Minor, TWV 53:d1 (Hamburg)

Motet “O qui coeli terraeque serenitas,” RV 631 (Rome, 1723/24)


Sonata da chiesa in C Minor (Dresden, c.1721–23)

Aria “Ah, mio cor,” from Alcina (London, 1735)

Concerto da chiesa in G Minor (Dresden, c.1720–25)
Largo e staccato/Allegro

Aria “Mio caro bene,” from Rodelinda (London, 1725)

Karina Gauvin’s appearance with Tafelmusik is generously sponsored by
John & Margaret Catto.

Colin Labadie commission funded by / financé par:




Join us for The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from
March 23—26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: Visions & Voyages

Here are the official program notes for Visions & Voyages

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

By Alison Mackay

Visions and Voyages is Tafelmusik’s contribution to the national activities commemorating the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation in 1867. In order to feature some of the most beautiful music in our core repertoire, we have chosen to explore the century between 1663, when Quebec was established by Louis XIV as a royal province of France, and 1763, when North America came under the control of the British crown.

A new & accurate map of the islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. John and Anticosta; together with the neighbouring countries of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. Emanuel Bowen [London, W. Innys, 1752]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.
A new & accurate map of the islands of Newfoundland, Cape Breton, St. John and Anticosta; together with the neighbouring countries of Nova Scotia, Canada, &c. Emanuel Bowen [London, W. Innys, 1752]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.
This century saw the flowering of secular music by Purcell, Handel, Lully, Marais, and Rameau, much of it written for monarchs who gained prosperity and prestige from their Canadian colonies. Instrumental works by these composers provide the musical portion of Visions and Voyages.

Diaries, letters, archival records, ships’ manifests, account books, and religious mission reports called “Relations” provide rich details about life in Canada at this time, and much of the material for the spoken narration of the concert is taken from them. These sources often reveal a dark picture of European attitudes to the first inhabitants of Canada, and set the stage for the crushing of Native cultures and the establishment of residential schools which came with Confederation and the establishment of the Indian Act.

visions-program-notes-ruffo-croppedSeeking an expression of life in Canada before European contact, we have turned to the beautiful writing of the poet and scholar Armand Garnet Ruffo (photo, left), a band member of the Fox Lake Chapleau Cree First Nation and a citizen of the Ojibwe nation. Prof. Ruffo teaches at Queen’s University, where he is Queen’s National Scholar in Indigenous literature, and we are deeply grateful for his permission to use an excerpt from his poem Old Story.

To represent the exhilarating artistic currents in the Native communities of Canada, we have engaged two of its most exciting young artists, narrator Ryan Cunningham (Artistic Director of Native Earth Theatre Company), and dancer and choreographer Brian Solomon, the creator of two new works set to the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau.

After a portrait of the centuries-old communities living in the territory before European contact, the first half of the concert is devoted to life in New France and to music by French composers. These particular works have never been performed by Tafelmusik before, and include excerpts from the opera Sémélé, by Marin Marais, viola da gamba virtuoso and director of the Paris Opera from 1705 until 1709. Like Handel’s oratorio of the same name, the opera is based on the story of Jupiter and Semele from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the most colourful movements is a musical depiction of an earthquake, used in our performance to accompany a seventeenth-century account of the great Charlevoix earthquake of 1663, which had its epicentre in Trois-Rivières and was felt in much of eastern North America.

visions-program-notes-posen-croppedThe stunning images which are projected during the musical earthquake are the work of the Canadian landscape and architectural photographer, Simeon Posen (photo, left), whose photographs are held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The National Gallery in Ottawa, and Gallery Arcturus in Toronto. Preferring the subtlety of black and white, Mr. Posen works with large- and mid-size negative formats, hand-developing the film materials and printing on silver fibre-based papers. We are immensely grateful for his generous sharing of works from his Water portfolio.

The dramatic Charlevoix earthquake was followed a month later by a seismic event in the governance of Canada. Louis XIV dissolved the “Company of New France,” an association of 100 investors who had been granted a monopoly over the fur trade and settlement of the colony in 1627, and declared Quebec to be a royal province under the direct authority of the crown. The architect of the new province was the powerful finance minister of France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who organized every aspect of French official life to magnify the glory of the young king.

Hoping to increase the French population of the new province in order to foster stability and create a Canadian market for goods manufactured in France, Colbert embarked in 1663 on a ten-year program of recruitment of young women for emigration to Quebec. They became known as “the daughters of the king” (les Filles du Roi), and many Québecois can trace their lineage to these 800 foremothers (as can Hillary Clinton, Angelina Jolie, and Madonna!).

Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. Georges-Louis Le Rouge [Paris, 1755]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. Georges-Louis Le Rouge [Paris, 1755]. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington, D.C.
In order to foster and exert control over culture, scholarship, and manufacturing, Colbert established the Academy of Sciences, the Paris Observatory, the Gobelins Tapestry works, a Royal Factory for the manufacture of glass and mirrors, and a Royal Academy of Music which soon came under the direction of the Italian-born dancer and composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully.

The theatre of the Palais-Royal, home of the Paris Opera at this time, received a major renovation in 1674, and the work chosen for the grand opening of the new hall was Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Alceste, composed in honour of a recent military victory of Louis XIV. Dancing was extremely important in French opera at this time, leaving us with a treasure trove of instrumental music from each of Lully’s theatrical works, including the overture and the dance movements which appear throughout the work.

Dance theorists from Lully’s time divided dances for music theatre into two categories. One type of dance used codified steps and geometric patterns combined in various ways to create new choreographies for the standard minuets, gavottes, and sarabandes which provided moments of music reflection or energetic activity in the unfolding drama of the opera.

Another type of dance was called “expressive” or “imitative,” using newly created movements to imitate the motions of a hammering blacksmith or a rowing boatman. It is known that on several occasions Lully took these special dances away from the more conventional choreographers he normally used. For the chaconne depicting the planting of a palm tree in the middle of the stage in his opera Cadmus & Hermione, for instance, he himself created the steps and figures for the solo dancer and eight men from the corps de ballet. The dance commentator Abbé Dubos, who was intimately acquainted with Lully’s practice, reports that some dances were like “choruses without words,” i.e. dances without formal steps, using movement and gestures to portray strong emotions such as grief. He particularly cites the funeral procession from Alceste, which is performed in our concert to accompany the description of the funeral procession of the famous Huron-Wendat leader and orator Kondiaronck, who died in 1701 during the largest diplomatic gathering in the history of early Canada, the Great Peace of Montreal. At the close of the peace conference, for which a special theatre was built, 1,300 native delegates representing 40 First Nations joined in ceremonial dances and songs with the French delegates. A bonfire was lit and a great ceremonial feast was shared by all.

A contemporary account of the event also describes the performance of a Te Deum, the ancient church hymn which was given elaborate musical settings by many baroque composers and was often performed during special celebrations. Jean-Baptiste Lully, for instance, composed a Te Deum to celebrate the recovery from surgery of Louis XIV (though the composer tragically died from gangrene after stabbing his foot while conducting the work). The Te Deum in D Major composed by Lully’s contemporary, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, is thought to have been composed in celebration of the French victory over William of Orange at the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692. The lively instrumental prelude, which ends the first half of the concert, has become famous today as theme music for programs on broadcasts of the European Broadcast Union.

Across the channel, England had staked its own claim for large portions of Canadian territory in 1670, when Charles II granted rights over fur trading and mining to his cousin Prince Rupert and “The Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay.” Seeking both the North-West Passage and the higher grades of fur which came from animals living in colder climates, the new company established trading posts at the mouths of the six major rivers flowing into Hudson’s Bay. British ships picked up bales of beaver pelts once a year for the making of felt hats, which had been fashionable since the sixteenth century and were now a necessity for the well-dressed businessmen, soldiers, and aristocrats of Europe.

Three-cornered beaver hat, pictured in Philippe Mercier, Sir Edward Hales, 1744, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Three-cornered beaver hat, pictured in Philippe Mercier, Sir Edward Hales, 1744, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Louis XIV had established a particular fashion for a beaver hat with the brim folded back on three sides and the three-cornered hat was soon being worn across the channel in England. There it was known as the “cocked beaver,” celebrated in music with the popular fiddle tune “Johnny cock thy beaver.” The second half of the concert features a set of variations for violin and continuo on this tune, published in 1685 in John Playford’s collection The Division Violin.

Playford and his son Henry, who ran a music shop located in the Inner Temple area of London and frequented by Samuel Pepys, were the most important music publishers in Restoration England. They enjoyed a close relationship with Henry Purcell, and published many of the works composed for the Stuart monarchs who presided over the English colonization of Canada at this time. The second half of the concert begins with the overture (called a “Symphony”) to Come ye sons of art, the ode which William of Orange, now William III of England, commissioned from Purcell to celebrate the birthday of his wife Queen Mary in 1694. The short symphony is composed in three parts; a stately opening followed by a lively canzona, and a final adagio full of striking dissonances and soulful chord progressions which provide a fitting prelude to the recitation of names of Indigenous communities around Hudson’s Bay, soon to be dominated by English colonists.

The founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company complicated the balance of power among the various constituencies in Canada, and as the decades passed, the British crown looked for ways to cement alliances against the French. In February of 1710, four influential representatives of the Iroquois confederacy (one of them the grandfather of Joseph Brant, founder of the city of Brantford) were invited to visit London at the expense of Queen Anne, who had ascended the British throne after the death of William of Orange. The visit of the ambassadors caused
a sensation in London, and the political and cultural activities of their visit were recorded in newspaper accounts and in a 53-page book published in 1710 called The Four Kings of Canada. After their four-week crossing of the Atlantic they were lodged at an inn called the Two Crowns and Cushions, owned by the upholsterer Thomas Arne. (His son would become the composer Thomas Arne, and his daughter Susannah would become one of Handel’s favourite singers, Mrs. Cibber, for whom he composed the contralto arias in Messiah.)

On April 19, the four visitors were brought from their lodgings by coach to the Palace of St. James for an audience with Queen Anne. They addressed the Queen at length through an interpreter about various political issues, and presented her with a wampum belt. She commanded that the guests be shown the city, and they were taken by barge to Greenwich, where they inspected the astronomical instruments at the Royal Observatory. They dined with the Archbishop of Canterbury, visited the Tower of London, and were taken to St. Paul’s Cathedral to inspect the dome, which was under construction at the time.

They were also invited to various cultural events, including a performance of Macbeth at which the audience refused to let the play begin until the Canadian kings were seated on the stage for all to see. The newspaper announced a special performance in their honour of William Congreve’s The Old Bachelor, a play for which Henry Purcell had composed an overture and nine movements of instrumental music in 1693. After Purcell’s untimely death at the age of 35 in 1695, several important posthumous editions of his works appeared, including a large anthology of orchestral music published by his widow Frances in 1697. This was the first printed collection devoted exclusively to incidental music for the English stage. Titled A Collection of Ayres composed for the Theatre, it contained suites of overtures, song tunes, and dance movements, including the movements on our program from The Old Bachelor and King Arthur, music that could have been performed in concert versions for the Four Kings of Canada in 1710.

1710 was also the year of the first visit to London of George Frideric Handel, who throughout his life was a great admirer of Purcell’s music. Handel’s first opera for the London stage, Rinaldo, was an immediate success, and he soon entered the employ of Queen Anne and settled in England for the rest of his life. He went on to serve the first two Hanoverian kings: George I, for whom Water Music was written, and George II, for whose coronation Handel composed Zadok the Priest, which has since been used in every English coronation. In 1719 Handel was appointed “Master of the Orchestra” of the Royal Academy of Music, London’s first opera company, and in the following years he composed 31 operas with Italian texts. Scipione, composed in 1726, contains the march now famous as the regimental march of the Grenadier Guards.

The London public began to cool towards Italian opera in the 1740s and Handel began to favour English-language oratorios: works which were less expensive to produce since they didn’t use sets or costumes, but nevertheless provided a stage for Handel’s brilliant dramatic flair. Israel in Egypt (1739) opens with a solemn “symphony” expressing grief over the death of the patriarch Joseph. The music, which is adapted from the 1737 funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, illustrates Handel’s custom of reworking old material for a new context, and we have used it to express a lamentation over the language used by Nicholas Flood Davin in his recommendation of “aggressive civilization,” which laid the groundwork for the establishment of residential schools in Canada.

The Grande Entrée from Alceste (1750) represents yet another type of Handel’s theatrical activity, for it is one of 20 pieces of incidental music composed for a lost play by the Scottish author Tobias Smollett. The rising rockets of sound in the oboes and violins are an unusual effect in the regal processional music which we use to bring King George III on to the scene in our concert, bringing our century of music and Canadian history to a close. Although he came to the throne a year after the composer’s death, the king loved Handel’s music, finding great solace in later life when recovering from bouts of his terrible illness, porphyria, in playing Handel’s music on the harpsichord.

One of George III’s first duties at the beginning of his reign was to oversee Britain’s claim to North America after the end of the Seven Years War. His Royal Proclamation of 1763 set out guidelines for the settlement of Aboriginal lands, explicitly recognizing Aboriginal rights and land titles, and stating that all territory would be considered Aboriginal until ceded by treaty. Though the proclamation has been contravened many times, it is enshrined in Section 25 of the Canadian Constitution, and is still used in treaty negotiation and litigation today.

The final section of the concert is devoted to a weaving together of Armand Garnet Ruffo’s poetry, Brian Solomon’s choreography, and one of the most exquisite pieces of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, the Entrée of Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry and dance, from the opera Les Boréades. This work was in rehearsal in April of 1763, the final year of our century, when the Palais-Royal theatre burned down. The music, not known to have been performed in Rameau’s lifetime, seems to express perfectly the longing for the vision referred to in the title of our concert — the dream for a better path on which to move forward together as we embark on Canada’s next 150 years.

© A. Mackay 2017

Please go to the Tafelmusik website to see a list of images projected during the concert:

We are grateful to the National Film Board of Canada for permission to use excerpts from Bernard Gosselin’s 1971 film César’s Bark Canoe.

The Tafelmusik Canadian Fiddle Tunes Project

On Sunday, February 26th, between 5:30 and 6:00, immediately after our final performance of Visions and Voyages, the orchestra will be joined onstage by 25 young violinists from Etobicoke School for the Arts and The Suzuki Program at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. For several months the students have been working on eight old fiddle tunes: five from the historical fiddling traditions of French, Scottish, and Aboriginal communities in Canada, and three from sources in Tafelmusik’s repertoire. Canadian fiddle expert Anne Lederman and Tafelmusik’s own Christopher Verrette have joined teachers Gretchen Paxson-Abberger, Rebecca Sancton-Ashworth, and Pamela Bettger in working with the students. Please join us for this short performance demonstrating their hard work in contributing to the activities of Canada 150.


Conceived, programmed, and scripted by Alison Mackay
Ryan Cunningham, narrator
Brian Solomon, dancer & choreographer
Glenn Davidson, lighting designer
Raha Javanfar, Projections Designer

February 22–26, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

MARIN MARAIS 1656–1728
Air pour les Thebains et Thebaines – Air pour les Guerriers – Passepieds en musette

Chaconne in F Major for solo harpsichord

Chaconne – 3e air pour les Thebains et Thebaines – Tremblement de terre [Earthquake]

Marche des combattans  – Rondeau pour la fête marine – Loure pour les pêcheurs – Pompe funèbre

Prelude to Te Deum, H.146

Come ye Sons of Art: Symphony
King Arthur: Trumpet tune
Dido & Aeneas: Triumphing dance
The Old Bachelor: March
King Arthur: Chaconne

La Bourse: Ouverture

Johnny cock thy beaver (from The Division Violin)

Alceste: Grande Entrée
Concerto Grosso in D op. 3, no. 6: Allegro
Scipione: March
Israel in Egypt: Symphony

ROBERT DE VISÉE 1655–1732/33
Prelude in G Major, for solo lute

Les Boréades: Entrée de Polymnie
Pygmalion: Contredanse

Visions & Voyages is generously supported by The Pluralism Fund, and by a gift from an anonymous benefactor.

Production Sponsor:




Edition of Marais Sémélé: Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles

Join us for Visions and Voyages from February 22—26, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: A Bach Tapestry

Here are the official program notes for A Bach Tapestry

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

By Ivars Taurins

When art galleries present comprehensive exhibitions focusing on a particular artist, we are given the rare and wonderful opportunity to explore and experience that artist through the variety of their techniques, and the development of their expression. Recent exhibitions at the AGO of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr, Turner, Michelangelo, or Monet have allowed us a vastly different perspective on these artists and their work than could be gained by viewing just one or two iconic works.

If we consider the mind-staggering output by Johann Sebastian Bach of over 200 cantatas in a 40-year period, we quickly realize that we are familiar with only a handful of them. This is in no part due to their quality — on the contrary, the variety of compositional styles, techniques, invention, and effects is a veritable compendium of everything that can be done within that form. But we creatures of habit tend to gravitate again and again to the most familiar, the most “popular” and iconic works of any composer. On the other hand, we can only have the opportunity to experience these works as a whole if we partake in the kind of pilgrimage that John Eliot Gardiner undertook in 2000, performing all of Bach’s cantatas on a year-long tour that took his musicians throughout Europe, Britain, and even further afield to New York.

With all of this in mind, I have attempted in curating this Bach Tapestry to present Bach’s mastery and genius as a composer by creating an aural gallery of choral movements from his cantatas — many of them rarely heard in concert — and to complement these choruses by interweaving secular instrumental works. We also explore how Bach reused and refashioned his compositions to create new, equally vibrant works, represented in our Bach “gallery” by selections from his Lutheran Mass in G Major, comprised of his reworkings of earlier cantata movements. In this spirit, we have also taken the liberty to refashion Bach’s famous Italian Concerto, originally written for solo harpsichord, to create a “new” concerto for strings.

I hope that our Bach Tapestry will inspire you to further explore for yourselves the remarkable riches to be found in Bach’s oeuvre.

As a young man Bach had transcribed many of Vivaldi’s string concertos for solo keyboard. Many years later he published an “Italian Concerto” for solo harpsichord, very much in the style of those early transcriptions. We complete the circle by reimagining the work as concerto for strings, in the style of Vivaldi, and the spirit of Bach.
As a young man Bach had transcribed many of Vivaldi’s string concertos for solo keyboard. Many years later he published an “Italian Concerto” for solo harpsichord, very much in the style of those early transcriptions. We complete the circle by reimagining the work as concerto for strings, in the style of Vivaldi, and the spirit of Bach.


The aim and fundamental reason of all music is none other than to be to the glory of God and the recreation of the spirit.
Johann Sebastian Bach

I need Bach at the beginning of the day almost more than I need food and water.
Pablo Casals

The true spirit of the art is what led him to the great and sublime as the highest object of the art. We owe it to this spirit that Bach’s works do not merely please and delight, like what is merely agreeable in art, but irresistibly carry us away with them; that they do not merely surprise us for a moment, but produce effects that become stronger the more often we hear the works, and the better we become acquainted with them; that the boundless treasure of ideas heaped up in them, even when we have a thousand times considered them, still leaves us something new, which excites our admiration, and often our astonishment; lastly, that even he who is no connoisseur, who knows no more than the musical alphabet, can hardly refrain from admiration when they are well played to him and when he opens his ear and heart to them without prejudice.
Johann Nikolaus Forkel, first biographer of J.S. Bach, from the chapter in the biography, dated 1802, entitled “The Spirit of Bach”

The great J. Seb. Bach used to say: “it must be possible to do anything.” And he would never stand to hear of anything not being feasible. This has always inspired me, with my slight abilities, to accomplish many otherwise difficult things in music, with effort and patience.
Johann Philipp Kirnberger (student of Bach)

Not Brook but Ocean should be his name.
Ludwig van Beethoven [“Bach” in German means “brook”]

In response to hearing Mendelssohn perform Bach:
Again I thought how we are never at an end with Bach, how he seems to grow more profound the oftener he is heard. […] While we listen, it would seem again as if we could only distantly approach him through the understanding of words. The music itself still serves as the best means to bring his works before our senses and to explain them.

Robert Schumann

[Bach is] one of God’s phenomena, clear, but unfathomable.
Carl Friedrich Zelter (teacher of Mendelssohn)

Study Bach: there you will find everything.
Johannes Brahms

I think that if I were required to spend the rest of my life on a desert island, and to listen to or play the music of any one composer during all that time, that composer would almost certainly be Bach. I really can’t think of any other music which is so all-encompassing, which moves me so deeply and so consistently, and which, to use a rather imprecise word, is valuable beyond all of its skill and brilliance for something more meaningful than that—its humanity.
Glenn Gould

 Bach was a top harmonist geezer, which is why the jazz cats love him.
Nigel Kennedy, violinst

 Compared with him, we all remain children.
variously attributed to Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

 Bach is not about beauty, it’s about honesty.
Anner Bylsma, cellist


Directed by Ivars Taurins


Chorus “Sei Lob und Ehr” from Cantata 117
Chorus “Aller augen warten” from Cantata 23

Adagio e dolce, for 2 violins & continuo, after BWV 527/2
Geneviève Gilardeau & Christopher Verrette, violins
Allen Whear & Charlotte Nediger, continuo
Chorus “Christum wir wollen loben” from Cantata 121
Chorus “Ihr werdet weinen” from Cantata 103

Sarabande for solo harpsichord, BWV 816
Charlotte Nediger, harpsichord
Kyrie & Gloria, from Mass in G Major, BWV 236
Chorale “Jesu, bleibet meine Freude” from Cantata 147


Chorus “Ach, Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” from Cantata 3

Italian Concerto, after BWV 971
Allegro – Andante – Presto
Julia Wedman & Patricia Ahern, violin soloists

Chorale “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” from Cantata 23
Chorale “Verleih uns Frieden” from Cantata 42
Chorale “Wer hofft” from Cantata 109

Sinfonia to Cantata 196
Chorus “Und wenn die Welt” from Cantata 80
Cum sancto spiritu, from Mass in G Major, BWV 236

Join us for A Bach Tapestry at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: Intimate German Baroque

Here are the official program notes for Intimate German Baroque

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

Peter Harvey, baritone; Jeanne Lamon & Julia Wedman, violin; Thomas Georgi & Patrick Jordan, viola; Christina Mahler, cello; Alison Mackay, violone & double bass; John Abberger, oboe; Dominic Teresi, dulcian; Lucas Harris, lute; Charlotte Nediger, organ.

By Charlotte Nediger

In programming our seasons, we often find ourselves turning to more intimate repertoire for our January concerts, an instinctive desire, perhaps, to warm up cold January evenings and Sunday afternoons with a cozy gathering of musicians and listeners. This season is no exception, as we invite British baritone Peter Harvey to join us in an exploration of rarely heard works written in the seventeenth century in German-speaking lands: both the Protestant north, and the Catholic south. As the concert includes works by two of J.S. Bach’s principal mentors, Buxtehude and Johann Christoph Bach, we could not resist looking forward, so end the program with J.S. Bach’s beautiful Cantata 82.

Biber Sonatas

Engraving of Biber by Paulus Seel, from the 1681 publication of Biber's Violin Sonatas.
Engraving of Biber by Paulus Seel, from the
1681 publication of Biber’s Violin Sonatas.

In a concert that combines the secular and sacred, it is appropriate that we open with a sonata for strings from Biber’s collection Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum, meaning “Sacred and profane fiddle music.” Two violins are in dialogue with two violas and continuo in a sonata that melds elements of the Italianate church sonata with courtly dance music. Heinrich Biber held positions at the archiepiscopal courts of Olmütz and Kremsier before assuming the post of Kapellmeister and eventually Lord High Steward to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. His accomplishments were acknowledged by Leopold I with his ennoblement in 1690.

Biber is credited with advancing the art of playing and composing for the violin to a height previously unknown north of Italy. The eighteenth-century music historian Charles Burney wrote “of all the violin players of the last century Biber seems to have been the best, and his solos are the most difficult and most fanciful of any music I have seen of the same period.” His violin sonatas are marked by virtuoso passagework, both in unmeasured passages and over ostinato basses, and by extensive use of double-stops (playing on two strings at once) and chords. The Third Sonata from his 1681 collection is typical. The opening prelude alternates free passages over long held notes in the bass with quick, almost bell-like, passages of double-stops. This is followed by a simple aria with two variations. A long unmeasured passage of remarkable virtuosity leads to a chaconne built over just four repeating bass notes, the last variations of which inspire an arresting ending.

Buxtehude Cantata
Born in Denmark, Dietrich Buxtehude spent most of his working life in Lübeck as
organist and Kapellmeister of the Marienkirche in Lübeck. He was also appointed
Werkmeister, a post encompassing the duties of secretary, treasurer, and business
manager of the church, and directed an annual series of concerts at the church called “Abendmusik.” His extant music includes a large quantity of keyboard music, chamber sonatas, and some 125 cantatas. The cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” is a setting of Psalm 57 for solo bass voice, accompanied by three violins, violone, and continuo. At the midpoint there is a particularly delightful imitation of the psaltery and harp called upon to awake the soul. Buxtehude’s influence on North German composers was widespread: famously, the 20-year-old J.S. Bach took a month’s leave from his job as organist in Arnstadt and walked 400 kilometres to Lübeck to meet the Danish master.

Böddecker Sonata
The bassoonist, organist, and composer Philipp Friedrich Böddecker was born in Alsace to a family of musicians. He held posts in various cities in Germany and France, eventually settling in Stuttgart as organist at the collegiate church and teacher at the college. A handful of sacred works survive, as well as two virtuoso sonatas, one for violin and one for dulcian (the precursor of the bassoon). The latter is a stunning set of variations on a tune popular throughout Europe from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. The title is drawn from the text associated with the tune in Italy: “Madre non me far monaca” (Mother, don’t make me become a nun). In Germany the tune came to be used as a chorale, and as such is the basis of a famous organ chorale by J.S. Bach, “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen,” BWV 658. In the Böddecker variations you will hear a violinist play the tune, first on its own, and then above increasingly florid variations played on the dulcian.

J. Ch. Bach Lamento
A first cousin and close friend of Johann Sebastian Bach’s father, Johann Christoph Bach is thought to have had a great influence on the young Johann Sebastian, probably taking on much of his musical instruction upon the death of Sebastian’s father when Sebastian was just ten years old. Some years later Sebastian assembled the Altbachisches Archiv, a collection of works by his ancestors, and included several works by his mentor. Sebastian described him as a “profound composer […] as good at inventing beautiful thoughts as he was at expressing words.” Among the works in the Archiv are two remarkable laments, one for solo alto and the other for solo bass, both accompanied by solo violin and a consort of violas and continuo. They are passionate settings of potent texts, demanding much artistry of the singer and of the solo violinist, and leave a deep impression on performers and listeners alike.

J. S. Bach Cantata 82
The Cantata “Ich habe genug” was written by J.S. Bach for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the last of the feasts of the Christmas season, also known as Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and in the Catholic Church as the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. It is celebrated on or around the 2nd of February; “Ich habe genug” was first performed on that date in 1727. The author of the text is not known, but it is based on the Gospel story of Simeon at the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (St. Luke, chapter 2): “And it was revealed unto him [Simeon] by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.’ ” The story inspired Bach to set the middle movement as a lullaby, and his wife Anna Magdalena included this movement in the notebook she prepared for her own use, and for use with her children. The cantata is one of the most famous of Bach’s cantatas for solo voice, and one that was performed several times during Bach’s tenure at Leipzig. Originally written as we are performing it this week, for solo bass voice with obbligato oboe, Bach also left versions for soprano and flute, and for alto and oboe.


Peter Harvey, baritone
Jeanne Lamon & Julia Wedman, violin
Thomas Georgi, violin & viola
Patrick G. Jordan, viola
Christina Mahler, cello
Alison Mackay, violone & double bass
John Abberger, oboe
Dominic Teresi, dulcian
Lucas Harris, lute
Charlotte Nediger, organ

Jan 19-22, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre

H.I.F. VON BIBER 1644–1704
Sonata no. 1 from Fidicinium sacro-profanum (Nuremberg, c.1683)

Cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” (Lübeck, c.1680)

Sonata sopra La Monica, from Sacra Partitura (Straßburg, 1651)

Lamento “Wie bist du denn, O Gott?” (Eisenach, late 17th century)


Sonata no. 3 for violin & continuo (Nuremberg, 1681)

J.S. BACH 1685–1750
Cantata 82 “Ich habe genug” (Leipzig, 1727)

Join us for Intimate German Baroque, January 19-22 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: Messiah 101

Here are the official program notes for Handel Messiah

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

Directed by Ivars Taurins
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir
Featuring Amanda Forsythe (soprano), Krisztina Szabó (mezzo-soprano), Colin Balzer (tenor) and Tyler Duncan (baritone).

Dec 14-17, 2016, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

Handel composed Messiah in just a few weeks in the late summer of 1741. Intended originally for performances at Easter, it was premiered in Dublin on April 13, 1742 at the Musick Hall in Fishamble Street. Handel directed the performance, and attendance was so great that ladies were implored “not to come with hoops” and gentlemen to leave their swords at home to make “room for more company.” Praise resounded for both the work and its performance, and an extra performance was added. It took a few years for the work to take hold in London, as some were disturbed by the idea of presenting such a sacred work in the theatre, but by the time of Handel’s death in 1759 it had become the most frequently performed of all his oratorios, a position it has never relinquished.

Messiah eventually came to be associated with the Christmas season, and the wealth and variety of choruses in the work inspired amateur choirs to embrace it in communities large and small. In recent decades it has become common to trim the work, but for our concert performances, we are pleased to present the entire oratorio.

As specialists in period performance, we perform on instruments from the eighteenth century (or accurate reproductions), and retain Handel’s original orchestration. The orchestration is in fact quite modest for a work of such great impact: the arias are performed by strings alone, with the violinists often playing in unison, and oboes joining in the choruses. Bassoon and keyboard instruments round out the bass section. Arguably the most important instruments on stage are those that play at only a few key dramatic moments: the trumpets and timpani. Handel has trumpets playing briefly “from a distance” as part of the “heavenly host” in the nativity sequence in Part I. He holds off until the “Hallelujah” chorus at the end of Part II to have trumpets and timpani join the orchestra. The glorious trumpet solo in “The trumpet shall sound” carries us to the final resounding “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Amen.” Handel understood drama and the power of music to stir the human soul, and structured the score of Messiah accordingly. Each performance is a journey, and this is a journey we are honoured to share with you each year.

unknown%2cvalentinesnow%28possibly%29%2cc1753%2cfentonhouseValentine Snow was Serjeant-Trumpeter to King George II & III, and was Handel’s trumpeter for his Messiah performances. The baroque trumpet features a bell connected to a long tube of brass, about two meters in length, on the end of which is placed a mouthpiece. There are no valves: the player alters pitch through minute changes of lip pressure and air speed. To play a solo like “The trumpet shall sound,” the player plays in the uppermost register or “clarino” register, a skill that requires years of practice!

David Campion, timpani. Photo: Peter Laenger
David Campion, timpani. Photo: Peter Laenger

The timpani played by David Campion are reproductions of eighteenth-century instruments. The natural-skin heads are sensitive to shifts in temperature and humidity, so you will David quietly touching up the tuning before he plays, with his head close to the drums. Tuning is done by turning the series of screws that circle the drum head.

© Tafelmusik 2016

The Libretto for Handel Messiah can be found here.

Join us for Tafelmusik’s Original Messiah at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from Dec 14-17, 2016. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: A Grand Tour of Italy

Here are the official program notes for A Grand Tour of Italy

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

Directed by Rodolfo Richter
Dec 1-4, 2016, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
Dec 6, 2016, George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts

by Christopher Verrette

Italy was the principal source of the musical trends that came to define baroque music in the seventeenth century. The innovative new forms of opera, sonata, and concerto were all developed there. Copious volumes of music were published, especially in Venice, and Italian musicians travelled across Europe, bringing their talents and compositions. This program moves freely between different generations of composers and different cities and courts, both within and outside Italy.

The Bergamasca was a popular dance that allegedly lampooned the citizens of Bergamo. Musically it was set to a four-note repeating bass line, over which parts could either be composed or improvised. Bergamascas have a playful affect that can be associated with performers: the mischievous servant character in Italian Commedia dell’arte, named Arlecchino, is ostensibly a native of Bergamo, and the “Rude Mechanicals” dance a Bergomask in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Marco Uccellini was a violinist based in Modena. His Bergamasca comes from his Opus 3, published in Venice in 1642.

We jump ahead a few decades to Venice under the spell of the prolific composer and violinist, Antonio Vivaldi. Although Venice had been a major centre for publishing—most of the music on this program was published there—Vivaldi preferred to have his music published in Amsterdam, as was the case with his Opus 9, entitled La Cetra. The title refers to a type of Ancient Greek harp and is no doubt a gesture toward its dedicatee, the Emperor Charles VI, who was himself a musician and music lover. The symbol relates the violin, as solo instrument in the concertos, to the instruments that accompanied classical drama, but also refers to the Hapsburg monarchs themselves, who frequently used the symbol of the lyre. A year after its publication, Vivaldi met the Emperor in person, who gave him gifts and engaged him in extended conversation (apparently to the chagrin of his ministers).


The title La Cetra had in fact been used many years before by Giovanni Legrenzi for a book of sonatas dedicated to another musical emperor, Charles’ father Leopold I. Legrenzi had held positions in Bergamo and Ferrara prior to coming to Venice, where he published his Opus 10 in 1673. It is his last and most ambitious set. The scoring of one sonata for four violins is unusual, and is perhaps most striking in the first movement, when one can hear a number of short motifs being passed quickly from one violin to the next.

The interaction of four separate violin parts was also employed by Giuseppe Valentini in one of his concerti grossi, a departure from the usual two violin soloists. Valentini was part of the vital music scene in Rome during the heyday of Corelli, where there was lots of work at the various churches and in the households of influential families. It is unknown whether Valentini actually studied with Corelli, but he was certainly part of the pool of freelancers Corelli regularly called upon, and is known to have held positions with the Ruspoli and Borghese families as well. His music was circulated internationally and was frequently plagiarized.

Arcangelo Corelli was revered as a composer and violinist both during his career and after. His instrumental music represents a kind of benchmark for the forms that would dominate the later baroque. He is largely credited with developing the concerto grosso, in which a small concertino group interacts with a larger ripieno. Although he apparently composed and directed performances of concerti grossi throughout his career, they only saw publication at the end of his life, as his final Opus 6. The eighth concerto is a favourite for its seasonal content, the finale Pastorale, “written for the nativity.” Another unusual feature in this concerto is the performance indication at the first Grave: “come sta,” meaning to play it “as is,” without the added ornamentation that would normally by expected of the performers.

Dario Castello was among the first generation of composers to explore the possibilities of the sonata in the early seventeenth century. Little is known about his life; on the title page of his first volume of sonatas he claims to be chief wind player at San Marco in Venice, and several of his sonatas do include parts for cornetto, dulcian, and trombone, the principal wind instruments used in churches at the time. His works tend to be in many sections with bold changes of character.

Throughout the baroque era, Italian musicians travelled and frequently found successful positions abroad. The Hapsburg court in Vienna, the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, was noted for employing the finest Italian musicians, and it was here that the young Veronese Antonio Bertali found employment as an instrumentalist. He never returned to Italy, and would eventually ascend to the position of Capellmeister. An accomplished violinist, he is most noted for his sonatas today, but was also a composer of vocal music and had a great deal of influence over the development of Italian opera at the Imperial court, which continued for generations.

One of the best-travelled musicians of the seventeenth century was Biagio Marini. A native of Brescia, a major violin-making centre, he worked at San Marco in Venice under Monteverdi, at various Italian courts, in Germany, and as far away as Brussels. He eventually returned to Venice. He was a daring and innovative composer for the violin, creating what is some of the first solo repertoire for that instrument. The Passacaglia that closes his final opus, however, eschews virtuosity completely: a version of the passacaglia bass pattern is used as a recurring refrain, and while the intervening sections carry us through some striking harmonies, they never accelerate into fast notes, maintaining a state of gravity throughout.

We close with music by an Italian expatriate who not only never returned home, but went in a very different direction with his musical style as well. The Florentine Giovanni Battista Lulli was brought to France as a teenager for a position as an Italian tutor. Already possessing some musical and theatrical skills, he somehow continued his musical education in France, and became a favourite of the young Louis XIV. When Louis took over as ruler in 1661, he named Jean-Baptiste Lully his Surintendant of the royal music and granted him French citizenship. Lully led ensembles at court that were legendary for their discipline. Eventually he took on the challenge of creating a French form of opera, and obtained what was essentially a monopoly for its production. Dance always had a large role in these spectacles. The elegant Chaconne from his mature opera Phaëton was widely copied and transcribed in the period.

© C. Verrette 2016


Directed by Rodolfo Richter, violin

MARCO UCCELLINI 1603/10–1680
Aria sopra la Bergamesca (Venice, 1642)

Concerto no. 1 for violin in C Major from op. 9, “La Cetra” (Venice, 1727)
Allegro – Largo – Allegro molto
Cristina Zacharias, violin soloist

Sonata for 4 violins & continuo from op. 10, “La Cetra” (Venice, 1673)

Concerto grosso in A Minor, op. 7, no. 11 (Rome/Bologna, 1719)


Concerto grosso in G Minor, op. 6, no. 8 “Christmas” (Rome, 1714)

Sonata 15 from Sonate concertante in stil moderno, libro secondo (Venice, 1629)

Sonata à 4 (Vienna, c.1640)

Passacaglia from Op. 22 (Venice, 1655)

Chaconne from Phaëton (Paris, 1683)

Join us on our Grand Tour of Italy at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre and George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: Let Us All Sing!

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

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

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


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

Laudate pueri (Rome, c.1706)
Sherezade Panthaki, soloist

Stabat mater, excerpted (Hanover, 1724)
Michele DeBoer, Richard Whittall & Cory Knight, soloists

Chaconne from Amadis “Chantons tous” (Paris, 1684)
Sherezade Panthaki: Corisande
Philippe Gagné: Un Héros
Jonathan Woody: Florestan


In convertendo Dominus (Clermont-Ferrand, 1717/Paris, 1751)
Sherezade Panthaki, Philippe Gagné & Jonathan Woody, soloists

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.