Baroque 101: “C’est L’anche Qui Donne La Vie!”

By Marco Cera, oboe

Marco Cera, oboe. Photo by Sian Richards
Marco Cera, oboe

As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!

The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.

The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”

As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”

Musicians as Craftsmen

Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.

Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!

The Process

The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.

The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)

Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.

The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!


Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute


Our children’s album, Baroque Adventure : The Quest for Arundo Donax will entice the imagination of young listeners and their parents alike!

 


Hear Marco perform in Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation, Nov 29-Dec 3, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

 

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Still becoming Canadian – Performing at Her Excellency Mme. Payette’s Installation as Governor General

by Patrick Jordan, viola

The vast majority of the music we perform in Tafelmusik is from Europe in the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, a world dominated by royalty, birthright, and the rigid definition of society by class. We are, in all sorts of ways, trying to both understand that time, aesthetically, culturally, and socially, and also make that music relevant to the world that we live in today.

Tafelmusik with Her Excellency, Julie Payette
(L-R) Margaret Gay (cello), Patricia Ahern (violin), Patrick Jordan (viola), Elisa Citterio (violin), Mirko Trinchera, Her Excellency, Julie Payette.

Sometimes, a context for those aims presents itself, unbidden. Her Excellency, Mme Payette chose all of the music that was to be a part of her installation this past Monday, October 2nd. The range of performers was wide, inclusive, and inspiring. Members of Tafelmusik were invited to take part because the new Governor General was once a member of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, an experience that she herself has characterized as transformative. Upon reflection, the ceremony was also one of the most eighteenth century experiences of my performing career!

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a contemporaneously significant if now largely forgotten composer and Kapellmeister of the second half of the eighteenth century (and great pal of Haydn and Mozart, both), wrote an autobiography in 1799, his last and sixtieth year. Amongst the tidbits of his recounts of daily life as a musician is the avuncular advice to young violinists (and I rely upon my memory here), “Before going to sleep at night, the young virtuoso is strongly advised to check the strings on the violin; if one should be found to be fraying, change it forthwith. Supposing the Prince demand it, and should you be called upon to perform the next morning at 6 a.m., better to have let the new string stretch for those hours, to ensure the purity of your intonation.”

Unlike Dittersdorf, as artists today, we enjoy immense autonomy — as a general rule, the audience waits for us to take the stage, not the other way around. Monday’s performance was very much at the command of the powers that be, and I can’t say I have felt that so intensely before. Tafelmusik’s position on the day was to play the first movement of Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, K.136 (no second repeat, we had to be done in +/- 4 minutes and 15 seconds) immediately after the address of our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, and before Her Excellency Mme Payette’s first address as the new Governor General of Canada. Not a bad spot! But not a spot that offered a great deal of flexibility.

Investiture rehearsal
Rehearsal before the big moment in the Senate Chamber.

During the ceremony, we were again, with all the other performers, in the holding room until we were taken to the green room. Our rehearsal the day before had not included the 21-gun salute being fired by howitzers on Parliament Hill, nor the shaking of the glass in the windows on our walk upstairs! I am not so accustomed to such displays of power, which would have routinely accompanied the presence of dignitaries in the eighteenth century.

(L-R) Margaret Gay (cello), Patricia Ahern (violin), Patrick Jordan (viola), Elisa Citterio (violin), Mirko Trinchera, The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau.

Immediately after we played, we were taken back to the green room. It was from there, via closed circuit TV, that we heard Her Excellency’s first official address. Her messages of inclusion, striving to achieve, working as a team, and making decisions based on evidence to create the best possible world for us all were genuinely inspiring. At the end of the ceremony, all of the performers were asked to wait in the green room until Her Excellency Mme Payette and the Prime Minister, his wife, and the Minister of Heritage, Mélanie Joly, had the opportunity to greet us. We had been informed of the proper protocol for addressing the dignitaries, and had all practised up in advance. When they joined us (we were given a ten-minute warning then a three-minute countdown), the day took a very welcome giant step forward into Canada in the twenty-first century. I tried to squeeze in the “correct” address but didn’t really have an opportunity because each of them was so warm and direct. Her Excellency Mme Payette wanted to know if any of us present had been in the orchestra when she sang in the choir (no, I missed her by one year). Elisa Citterio, our new Music Director was next to me on the receiving line with her fourteen-month old daughter in her arms — Olivia was definitely a hit!

Live coverage of Investiture
They spelled our name right!

I truly wish that everyone in the orchestra and choir could have been part of this, but that was not to be. I know it would have meant a great deal to many of them, especially the people who have been here for even longer than I. Beth Anderson, our Director of Artistic Administration and Operations, was lucky enough to join us on this adventure. On the bus ride away from Parliament Hill, she remarked that she found it interesting that not one of the performers had actually been born in Canada. For a moment, I thought “That’s terrible!” but it quickly dawned on me that here we were, a group of high-achieving performers who have come together with the goal of creating a powerful team for good. Wasn’t that a big part of the inspiring message from Her Excellency?

I am fond of the notion that we are all becoming ourselves in the context of a world that is changing around us. I suppose I am still “becoming Canadian” like everyone around me, and last Monday’s experience was a particularly proud and inspiring part of that journey.

Performing in the Senate Chamber

My Tafelmusik … with Margaret Szücs

In our series of featuring long-term supporters, “My Tafelmusik” invites donors to share their story in a Tafelmusik house program, and various digital platforms.

 Individual support is integral to Tafelmusik. It funds live concerts in Toronto and across the world, education programs for young people, innovative new multi-media and recording projects … in addition to bringing renowned guest artists to our stage.

Margaret Szücs

By Margaret Szücs, Tafelmusik donor

Summer afternoons in my high-school days (the “golden years” of the CBC) I listened to classical radio programs, and thus became an avid Mozart fan at age 17. I even attended the Salzburg Festival when I was 23. I took piano lessons for about eight years, and when I was older, I sang in the alto section of our church choir when they performed Handel’s Messiah. Yes, I did finally “do” a Sing-Along Messiah a few years ago. Wish I had done it sooner, and more often.

Approaching my sixties, I found that a program with a 110-piece orchestra was rather tiring after a long day’s work, so I was delighted when a colleague offered me a Tafelmusik subscription she had “inherited.” I forsook the TSO, and went on to continue her subscriptions. For about 25 years I went to dinner and Tafelmusik concerts with my best friend. For 14 of those, I came in from Fergus, Ontario by car, and later, by bus. Tafelmusik was one of the reasons why I moved back to Toronto.

Baroque and classical music suit my personality. They’re structured and polite, even when they’re emotional. You know where you’re headed, but the fun lies in getting there.

My mother’s family lived at 103 St. George Street. They were Methodists, so I like to assume they attended church at what is now Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. This prompted me to donate four seats in the Balcony, commemorating three generations.

I donate to the Education Fund regularly in hopes of attracting younger people to the orchestra’s superb musicianship. In recent years I have also donated to the Regent Park School of Music, convinced that music is not a “frill.”

There is a big gap in my life since I broke a third vertebra a year ago. I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to attend the occasional concert at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.

Classical music is what keeps me going, and Tafelmusik has been my primary source. My sincere thanks for years and years of enjoyment — of the pre-concert talks as well as the concerts.


Support a global leader! Membership donations allow Tafelmusik to continue
inspiring the love of baroque and classical music. Give today!

Sonnet of Vivaldi’s Autumn

By Christopher Verrette, violin

In The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi uses his signature form, the solo violin concerto, to paint musical pictures of the seasons, supported by sonnets which are actually embedded in the musical score. For Autumn, he chooses the key of F Major, strongly associated with hunting horns, which suits the last movement in particular, but is evident already in the opening solo of the first movement. The ensuing rambunctious solo passages are specifically designated l’ubracio (the drunk) in the score, as the harvest is celebrated perhaps a little too enthusiastically. Baroque composers often used long sustained notes and stable harmony to represent sleep or repose, but Vivaldi portrays the alcohol-induced slumber of revellers with unsettling harmonies that refuse to resolve comfortably, and a further restlessness is added by incessant arpeggiation from the continuo instruments under the muted strings. The finale vividly captures images of the hunt, complete with horns, barking dogs, gunshots, and even the final death wail of the cornered animal.

Autumn
I. The peasants celebrate with song and dance
their joy in a fine harvest
and with generous draughts of Bacchus’ cup
their celebrations end in sleep.
Song and dance are done;
the gentle, pleasant air
and the season invite one and all
to the delights of sweetest sleep.

II. At first light the huntsman sets out
with horns, guns, and dogs;
the wild beast flees, and they follow its trail.

III. Terrified and exhausted by the great clamour
of guns and dogs, wounded and afraid,
the beast tries to flee but is overcome and dies.

Franz Christoph Janneck http:/www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com;
“Landscape with Courtly deer hunting”, Franz Christoph Janneck (1656–1723). Courtesy of tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

L’autunno
I. Celebra il vilanel con balli e canti
Del felice raccolto il bel piacere
E del liquor di Bacco accesi tanti
Finiscono col sonno il lor godere.
Fà ch’ogn ’uno tralasci e balli e canti
L’aria che temperata dà piacere,
E la staggion ch’invita tanti e tanti
D’un dolcissimo sonno al bel godere.

II. I cacciator alla nov ’alba à caccia
Con corni, schioppi, e canni escono fuore
Fugge la belua, e seguono la traccia;

III. Già sbigottita, e lassa al gran rumore
De’ schioppi e canni, ferita minaccia
Languida di fuggir, mà oppressa muore.


Hear a performance of Vivaldi’s “Autumn,” the second in a complete cycle of his The Four Seasons performed this year, showcasing Elisa Citterio, in Elisa’s Italian Adventure from October 11–15, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

My Italian Adventure

By Elisa Citterio, Music Director and violin

Elisa Citterio, Music CirectorMy Italian Adventure was born out of a desire to take you by means of music on a journey to the land where I was born and have lived. My hometown is Brescia, and although much less famous than nearby Venice, it played an important role in the history of music. One cannot pinpoint the date and place that the violin reached its present shape, but the studio of the violin maker Giovanni Paolo Maggini and his contemporaries in Brescia certainly contributed to the development of string instruments and to achieving the highest level of craftsmanship. String instruments from the seventeenth century had a very warm voice, and the Brescian consort of strings apparently brought to mind the sound of madrigals by Luca Marenzio, also from Brescia.

Fontana, Marini, and Vivaldi’s father are also from this city. Brescianello, Steffani, and Locatelli were born in towns not far away (especially compared to Canadian distances!), and for Castello the only references we have are Venetian. Our short trip takes us therefore to towns within a 200-kilometre radius and spanning just over 100 years. Other than the celebrated Vivaldi, the composers we will encounter on this journey are less known to the general public, but they give us an idea of what people listened to in baroque Brescia and Venice. I hope you enjoy this Italian musical adventure!

 

 


Join Elisa for Elisa’s Italian Adventure from October 11–15, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.

How do you listen to music? Find out at the Listening Club.

By William Norris, Managing Director

The Listening Club

At the end of last season we tried out something new – a ‘listening club’. The idea was to have something a little akin to a book club – a chance to delve into an aspect of our repertoire and explore it more, guided by the BBC’s Dr. Hannah French and, in this first instance, Choir Director Ivars Taurins. As with a book club there was some homework to be done beforehand – some set listening, with the session exploring the pieces and recordings that had been set.

With that trial session under our belt we’re now ready to embark on a series of three listening club events over the coming year. The first one, on October 5th, actually responds to a question that arose in that very first session: How do we listen to music?

For this first session of the season Dr. Hannah French will return and be joined by Tafelmusik Bassoonist Dominic Teresi. During the 90 minute event Hannah will be posing four questions:

1) Why, when and how do you listen to music?

We’ll be asking whether you engage in passive and/or active listening, as well as talking about listening habits – live concerts, radio and so on. For this first question we’ll be asking you to listen to a work from this season, but not setting a specific recording – it’ll be intriguing to see what everyone chooses.

2) How do you choose the recordings you listen to?

What factors decide this for you – price? Availability? Simply the first thing you find on YouTube or Spotify? And are reviews helpful?

3) Can you describe what you like about your favourite recordings?

We’ll be looking at what informs your choices and ask what makes a ‘good’ performance.

4) Would you ever listen with a score?

What might this add to your listening experience? And, fear not, for this section you don’t need to be able to read music!

While the session is led and guided by Hannah, we want it to be an informal and interactive affair. Ask all the questions you want – there are no wrong answers or indeed, wrong questions. The more debate and discussion the better.

Our first session was a lot of fun, and it was great (I found) to really dive into the music rather than just let it wash over you, something which I must admit I often do, especially when listening at home.

Tickets are just $25 (and you can buy them here) and you’ll be sent the set listening ahead of the event. And if you like this one don’t forget we’ll have two more later in the season – the next looks at the battle for good taste between French and Italian Baroque Music while the last looks at the blurred boundaries between baroque and classical eras.

We’ll look forward to listening with you on October 5th!

Join us for the Listening Club, October 5th. Tickets are available here.

My Tafelmusik … with Shelagh Hewitt Kareda

The first of an ongoing series featuring long-term supporters, “My Tafelmusik” invites donors to share their story in a Tafelmusik house program, and various digital platforms.

 Individual support is integral to Tafelmusik. It funds live concerts in Toronto and across the world, education programs for young people, innovative new multi-media and recording projects … in addition to bringing renowned guest artists to our stage.

By Shelagh Hewitt Kareda, Tafelmusik donor

I grew up in Toronto at a time when the arts were beginning to flourish in the city. From a very early age my parents took me to the ballet, to the theatre, and to concerts. At four years old I began music lessons, first Rhythm Band and then piano with 90-year-old Mrs. Tattersall. Each week, she would play a little piece of classical music and tell me about the life of the composer when he was a child.

At the University of Toronto I met Urjo Kareda, whom I later married, and my real education in classical music began. I had been resistant to opera, but he skillfully, as he did with his public audience, turned me into a devotee, with one exception: Wagner, with whom I drew the line.

Music was always an essential part of our life together and our range of listening was wide, including classical, popular, vocal, instrumental, opera, musicals, choral, soloists, contemporary, and ancient. Of all of these it was baroque music to which I was particularly drawn, with Bach leading the pack.

Since Tafelmusik appeared on the Toronto music scene in 1979, I have been a devoted fan, at first only when Urjo was reviewing, but soon going to other concerts throughout the season and then as a subscriber. It has been wonderful to watch the orchestra, and the variety of musical presentations, grow under Jeanne Lamon’s leadership. I love to see musicians whom I feel I know well both in the orchestra and as special guests, and of course, it is always exciting when new talent appears and gradually takes leadership roles in their section.

It is very important to me that Tafelmusik continue its fine work, both on stage and in its teaching role. I subscribe to Tafelmusik because it gives me so much pleasure. I donate to Tafelmusik so that its future will be secure for the generations that follow us.


Support a global leader! Membership donations allow Tafelmusik to continue
inspiring the love of baroque and classical music. Give today!