by Tim Crouch, Senior Manager of Marketing & Audience Engagement
We’ve put together a playlist of (most) of the music you’ll hear at Intimate German Baroque (Jan 19 – 22, 2017), featuring English baritone Peter Harvey and Jeanne Lamon, violin. It’s a great way to get into the spirit of the concert before you hear it live on stage. Since we are not including a recording of Böddecker’s Sonata sopra La Monica, you’ll have to come to the concert to hear it. Enjoy!
The first piece on the program and on the playlist is H.I. F. von Biber‘s Fidicinium sacro-profanum no. 1 in B Minor (Nuremberg, c.1683). We included L’Armonia Sonora’s recording.
The next track on the playlist is Dietrich Buxtehude‘s Cantata “Mein Herz ist bereit” (Lübeck, c.1680), featuring our guest artist, Peter Harvey, and the Purcell Quartet.
Then we visit J.S. Bach’s mentor and cousin Johann Christoph Bach and his Lamento “Wie bist du denn, O Gott?” (Eisenach, late 17th century). The version we selected for the playlist is by The English Baroque Soloists with conductor John Elliot Gardiner.
We revisit Biber and his Sonata no. 3 in F Major for violin & continuo (Nuremberg, 1681). This version is performed by Romanesca (Andrew Manze, baroque violin; Nigel North, lute and theorbo; Johnn Toll, organ).
The final piece on the playlist is Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Cantata 82 “Ich habe genug” (Leipzig, 1727) with baritone Peter Harvey, and John Eliot Gardiner and The English Baroque Soloists.
Tafelmusik’s performance of Alison Mackay’s latest creation, Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House, at the Aga Khan Museum last week on Friday, December 9 was many things. It was on the one hand the culmination of the production of the video component of our upcoming DVD of the program. It was also and all of a sudden, one of the most moving and intense performances I have experienced in quite some time.
Most of the video being shot on Friday was of the audience, not the orchestra — that was done on Thursday. Also, the audio portion of the program had already been completed before this show. So it was in some ways a regular concert with the slightly disconcerting elements of cameramen on the stage and the house lights up to full. Those are distractions to be sure, although being able to see the public so clearly revealed an audience that was a mix of extraordinarily familiar faces and some very new ones. Among the new ones I particularly noticed a couple which I guessed to be of Middle Eastern descent, maybe in their 40s, seated six to seven rows back, in the centre; the man of the couple seemed particularly engaged by the entire program: the actor Alon Nashman, Trio Arabica, the images, and Tafelmusik.
For whatever reason, I allowed the distractions of my day to get the better of me (this happens to all of us on stage in some moment or another). I don’t know if it was the extraordinary circumstance or one of my own all-too-reliable demons, but I didn’t achieve my personal best in the most exposed bit I have in this program (which happens in the first half). I came offstage feeling less than great about myself.
We went out for the second half, and when we reached the very powerful sequence of images that tie the history of Leipzig and Damascus to the current plight of Syrian refugees living in Germany and continuing to celebrate their culture, I again noticed the couple in row 6–7. The woman was gently stroking the arm of her partner, who was becoming visibly more upset as the sequence unfolded. He began to weep. I almost couldn’t stay on stage, I so wanted to go out to offer additional comfort to this fellow. A poem relating and embracing the cultures of various European cities and Damascus follows that sequence, and the man was continuing to weep, his partner continuing to offer solace. I felt almost helpless on stage.
The show ends with a popular song in Arabic, during which the phenomenal singer Maryem Toller encourages the audience to join in. And there before me was the fellow in row 6–7, now beaming and joyously singing this obviously very familiar tune.
One of the perks of being a musician who performs in public routinely is that I get thanked a lot. People clap for me, people tell me “Great concert!” after a show (or even approach me on the street), people ask for an autograph — the variety of thank-you’s is large. And I’m genuinely grateful for the support, I really am. However, it is not often that I want to fall on my knees and thank an audience member like the fellow in row 6–7. But thank him for what exactly? For allowing himself to be so moved? For cleansing me of my preoccupations with my own performance? Because whatever I did today, it obviously didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to blunt the bigger message for him. To thank him for the bigger gift of grace? And where does that grace begin and end? I am certainly eternally grateful to my colleagues on stage and behind the scenes at Tafelmusik. And grateful to the Aga Khan Museum for probably putting me in the path of someone new. But it also reaches very far back, to gratitude to my mother, who came to every concert I played as a kid, and whose support probably made it possible for me to be on that stage today. And to my childhood viola teacher who saved my life at key moments.
For a certainty, I left the concert knowing that today was a good day for art, and a good day for the meeting of souls.
Our Messiah and Sing-Along Messiahconcerts will feature an amazing cast of soloists with soprano Amanda Forsythe and mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó making their Tafelmusik debut, and Tafelmusik favourites tenor Colin Balzer, and baritone Tyler Duncan. We sent them a few questions and here is what they had to say:
How did you come to decide to sing?
Amanda Forsythe: I’ve enjoyed singing since I was a child, when I sang in choirs and local theatrical productions. I studied voice and piano in high school, and began college as a biology major with a strong interest in music. It turns out I was better at singing than science!
Krisztina Szabó: I started singing as a child, spending six years in the Toronto Children’s Chorus, and loved it, but never considered it a “career choice” when deciding what to major in at university. So, I entered the University of Western Ontario with aspirations of being a music teacher, as a piano major. But I wanted to keep singing, so I started taking voice lessons on the side with Dr. Darryl Edwards, who now teaches at the University of Toronto. The more I sang, the more I loved it—it felt natural, like the truest expression of who I am. Then I got a couple of roles—in the Gilbert & Sullivan Society, as well as the opera that the university put on, and I caught the performing bug. So, I ditched the Education track and decided to pursue post-graduate programs in Voice Performance … and the rest is history.
Colin Balzer: When I entered grade 11, I had the good fortune to have a choir director who had just returned from finishing his masters in conducting. He was burning with inspiration and ideas, and it was contagious. Up until then I had never sung in a choir but had played various instruments. Under his direction and encouragement, I began to realize that I might have more to say musically as a vocalist than an instrumentalist.
Tyler Duncan: When I was little I would make up songs while playing with Lego. My Nana, who was a big fan of Sibelius, noticed that I made up some lovely songs and was usually in tune. She suggested I join a choir. From then on, there really wasn’t much else in life that I wanted to do.
What was your first music gig?
AF: My first paid job was singing backup vocals to Joey Lawrence on a Romper Room record when I was eight years old. I got $40 for that gig!
KS: My first paid music gig ever was as soloist/section leader for a church choir in London while going to school. But my “big break” was being accepted into the Canadian Opera Company’s Ensemble Studio programme. My first role at the COC was playing “Clothilde” in Norma. At the time, everyone kept telling me that it was Joan Sutherland’s first role, too … no pressure there!
CB: Oddly enough, my first professional job as a soloist was a Sing-along Messiah with a community choir in Fort Langley, BC.
TD: Playing trombone in a Brass Quintet. We played Christmas carols in Victoria BC. We were TERRIBLE. My first professional singing gig was Monteverdi madrigals for Early Music Vancouver. Colin Balzer was the tenor soloist. It is wonderful that we are still singing together a couple of decades later.
What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
AF: I really enjoy listening to Broadway musicals, and my 6-year-old is keeping me current on today’s pop music.
KS: Some of my friends make fun of me, but I listen to pop music—the latest hits—and can sing along with most of the songs on the radio. I listen until the fact that they are mindless and repetitive starts to get to me, at which point I put on CBC Radio.
CB: Take 6. I finally had the opportunity to hear them live after being a fan for many years. They are as stunning live as they are on their recordings.
TD: Jazz, funk, and (intelligent) rap music.
What are the last three recordings you’ve listened to?
AF:Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Handel’s Aci e Galatea, and Alison Krauss singing I’ll Fly Away.
KS: Well, I was preparing for a concert, so I was listening to a Hungarian singer, Magda Kalmár, singing some Lehár operetta. Also, Katalin Karády singing some ‘50s Hungarian lounge music.
CB:Nature Boy, Lucky Luke, and Bad (sung by The Real Group, live from Japan)
TD:The Rainbow Connection, The Bare Necessities, and the theme song from Paw Patrol — I have a toddler …
What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?
AF: I’ve got two small boys at home, so there aren’t really any “days off.” When I’m travelling without them, I enjoy being a tourist in new cities and catching up on reading.
KS: Sleep and Netflix. And sleep. And more Netflix. And then sleep again.
CB: Living in Germany, the opportunity to see a movie without subtitles or overdubbing is sometimes hard to pass up. I also love finding local independent coffee roasters and cafés.
TD: Spend time with my son: he is very cute.
What is the most challenging aspect of singing Messiah for you?
AF: Technically, “Rejoice greatly” is the only tricky piece for soprano—the rest is just about spinning your most gorgeous sound and connecting with the moving texts. But every conductor likes to allocate the arias differently, and sometimes you get to sing something new—this year I get to take a crack at the arioso “Behold and see,” which is a first for me!
KS: For me, “But who may abide” is the most challenging aria of the night, because of where the coloratura lies. It’s a great aria and I want to do it justice!
CB: The challenge (which I love) is to try and make it fresh every time. Can I go deeper into the text? Does a particular ornament still make sense both musically and rhetorically? My interpretation needs to be a living, breathing, and growing thing, to leave no room for auto pilot or routine.
TD: Trying not to sing along with the choir the whole time! The most wonderful challenging aspect is keeping the music fresh each year, not relying on the way it was sung last season, but finding new things in the music to bring out.
What Messiah part do you especially look forward to?
AF: I love the silence just before the final two “amens,” after you’ve been somewhat hypnotized by the extended “Amen” fugue. It always comes as a shock.
KS: It may sound cliché, but I absolutely love when the “Hallelujah” chorus is sung, particularly when the soloists and audience get to join in the fun. There is nothing quite like a room full of people raising their voices together singing that chorus!
CB: I always love the passion sequence of recitatives and arias. It’s a huge turning point in the piece. This is the Messiah at its most serious, its most accusatory, until that wonderful moment where the music and text shifts to “But thou didst not leave his soul in hell.” From there on out it’s a wonderful and celebratory rising action that continues to gain momentum right up until the end of the piece.
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.
Valentine 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!
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.
The diverse roster of composers in A Grand Tour of Italy, guest directed by Rodolfo
Richter, affords a lot of opportunity for further listening and some interesting viewing, too. The music of Uccellini is certainly worthy of more attention. He wrote music for both solo and multiple violins, including this Sinfonia for three.
The revival of interest in Vivaldi‘s music is one of the great comeback stories in classical music, and research into his life, music and its manner of performance is ongoing. Here is a performance from Venice that attempts to recreate the all-female choir he would have written for at the Pieta. Yes, even the tenors and basses are women!
Corelli was so revered in life that in death he lies in Rome’s Pantheon. He was commemorated in annual performances there for years, and in 2013, on the 300th anniversary of his passing, violinist Davide Monti led a flash mob performance of one of his concerti grossi outside the building.
As Castello appears to have been a wind player, it is interesting to hear his music performed on the cornetto, a kind of woodwind-brass hybrid instrument that was popular in Venice at that time. Listen to it here.
Bertali must have been an accomplished violinist as well as a leading composer of his time. This Ciaconna is perhaps his most popular work today.
Marini is particularly noted for his innovations as a violinist. This solo sonata is one of his most adventuresome.
Lully‘s Chaconne from Phaëton is one of relatively few pieces for which notated choreography survives from the Baroque period. Watch the reconstruction of what it may have looked like by Carlos Fittante and Voices of Music.
If you enjoyed our concert program Close Encounters … of the Italian kind, featuring Patricia Ahern and Christopher on violin, Stefano Marcocchi on viola, Felix Deak on violoncello, and myself on lute and guitar, I encourage you to explore some of the following:
In fact, an even earlier style of this “ground bass” comes from Spain (and in fact maybe from the New World originally). Spanish musicians loved to set risqué texts about dancing the “chacona,” often rhyming the word with “vida bona” (the good life). Once my wife (Tafelmusik violinist Geneviève Gilardeau) and I created a concert about the evolution of the ciaccona called “The Secret of the Good Life: The Ciaccona’s Dance to Fame.” (We also have a dog named Ciaccona.) Check out Juan ArañésUn Sarao de la Chacona here. Note that it was illegal to dance the chacona according to the Inquisition, but people did it anyway.
Emilia Giuliani was an illegitimate daughter of the more famous Mauro Giuliani, the most notable guitarist in Beethoven’s Vienna. Mauro tried to cash in on the huge popularity for Italian opera by writing virtuosic guitar pieces based on melodies from Rossini operas, calling them “Rossiniane.” Here’s Julian Bream playing one of them.
It’s well known that some of Luigi Boccherini’s music has the influence of Spanish music, as he lived and worked in Madrid. He wrote about a dozen quintets for strings and guitar, and we played three movements from #7 in E Minor. The most famous of these quintets is #4 in D Major, which ends with a fandango, another Spanish dance. Here is a recording by La Real Cámara in which performers take the liberty of using a separate percussionist in order to have the castanet sound in more of the work.
Boccherini’s score asks the cellist to drop out for a few bars to play the castanets at one point (presumably this was the part Boccherini himself played—the cello part is extremely virtuosic). This performance takes the liberty of using a separate percussionist in order to have the castanet sound in more of the work. It is also notable that this performance uses a six-course double strung Spanish guitar (there is some controversy over whether Boccherini intended the guitar parts for such an instrument or for a single-strung instrument which would have been more prevalent in France at this time).
Finally, we finished the concert with Francesco Geminiani’s orchestral reworking of Archangelo Corelli’s variations on La Follia for solo violin and continuo. Have a listen to Corelli’s original here in a recording that influenced me when I first starting to play early instruments.
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.