What goes into a concert poster? Handel Alexander’s Feast

by Tim Crouch, Marketing Department

With Handel Alexander’s Feast just around the corner (Feb 22-25 at Koerner Hall), we’re looking back at poster designs created at the top of the season. As always, our multi-talented Choir director Ivars Taurins provided some inspirational art to help guide the design process, and we’re happy to share them with you!

The Family of Darius before Alexander – Paolo Veronese

The Family of Darius before Alexander is a 1565–1570 oil on canvas painting. It depicts Alexander the Great with the family of Darius III, the Persian king he had defeated in battle. Although Veronese had previously painted a version of the subject, since destroyed, the theme had rarely been depicted by other artists before him. The painting has been in the collection of the National Gallery in London since 1857. Interestingly, the splendid wardrobe is that of the Venice in which Veronese lived, rather than ancient Greece or the Far East.

Alexander entering Babylon, or The Triumph of Alexander – Charles Le Brun

Alexander, standing in a chariot drawn by two elephants, makes his triumphant entry into Babylon; in the background, one can make out the terraces of hanging gardens.

Charles Le Brun needed to find a style with the appropriate blend of gravity and solemnity. It was also necessary to maintain the legibility crucial to a work with so many figures, while conveying the diversity of the temples, vases, weapons, musical instruments, and costumes that make the scene immediately recognizable. An allusion to the grandeur of the reign of Louis XIV – who was also a great conqueror and powerful monarch – is evident, the political position clearly stated. Later reproduced as a tapestry, the painting was part of the collections of Louis XIV. From the Royal Collections, the work entered the Muséum Central des Arts, which would later become the Louvre.

Les reines de Perse aux pieds d’Alexandre dit aussi la tente de Darius – Charles Le Brun

This painting was probably completed at the end of the year 1660. It shows the mother of Darius throwing herself at the feet of the king of Macedonia, to implore clemency for his imprisoned family.

And hey – why not grab the throw pillow version of the painting?

And so – the final product from Sovereign State (note the baroque frame around the imagery)! This final image used the figure of Alexander from the final Le Brun painting, as well as opulent fruits, silhouettes of baroque instruments, and a baroque platter silhouette!

We look forward to seeing you at Handel Alexander’s Feast, February 22-25 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.

Behind the Musik: Handel Alexander’s Feast

Download the Program Notes and Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Charlotte Nediger

Performances of odes on November 22, the feast day of the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia, were a regular feature of the concert season in London at the end of the seventeenth century. John Dryden’s ode, Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Musick, was written for the occasion in 1697, set to music (now lost) by Jeremiah Clarke. From 1700 the tradition died out, but composers continued to write settings of St. Cecilia odes as concert works. Handel composed two such odes, the first being Alexander’s Feast in 1736. (The second, From Harmony, from heavenly Harmony, followed three years later). The premiere of Alexander’s Feast took place at Covent Garden on February 19, a few short weeks after Handel completed the score. Dryden’s text was adapted by Handel’s friend, the Irish playwright Newburgh Hamilton, who “took care not to take any unwarrantable liberties” with Dryden’s original.

The audience at the premiere numbered 1,300, and it was so well received than an additional eight performances were given. Handel remounted it again the following season:

Last Night Mr. Dryden’s Ode, call’d Alexander’s Feast, was performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, to a splendid Audience, where his Royal Highness the Prince and Princess of Wales were present, and seem’d to be highly entertain’d, insomuch that his Royal Highness commanded Mr. Handel’s Concerto on the Organ to be repeated.
[A London newspaper account, March 17, 1737]

Engraved portrait of Handel by Jacobus Hoebraken, with frame and cartouche engraved by Gravelot, 1738, for the first edition of the score of Alexander’s Feast.
Engraved portrait of Handel by Jacobus Hoebraken, with frame and cartouche engraved by Gravelot, 1738, for the first edition of the score of Alexander’s Feast.

The libretto describes a banquet held by Alexander the Great and his mistress Thaïs in the captured city of Persepolis. The musician Timotheus sings and plays his lyre, inciting various emotions in Alexander until he is roused to burn the city in revenge for his fallen soldiers. Cecilia arrives to turn the barbarity to a more uplifting end through her “loftier” music.

The aim of St. Cecilia odes is to celebrate music, and it is evident here in the range of orchestrations in the airs and choruses, and by the inclusion of two concertos — one for harp, representing Timotheus’ lyre, and one for organ, representing “the divine Cecilia.”

© Charlotte Nediger


PROGRAM LISTING
Directed by Ivars Taurins
February 22–25, 2018, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

George Frideric Handel

Alexander’s Feast,
or The Power of Musick

Amanda Forsythe soprano
Thomas Hobbs tenor
Alexander Dobson baritone

Julia Seager-Scott harp soloist
Neil Cockburn organ soloist

There will be a 20-minute intermission between Parts One and Two

Baroque 101: The Triple Harp

By Julia Seager-Scott, harp

Julia Seager-Scott, harp
Julia Seager-Scott, harp

The baroque triple harp was one answer to accommodate the expanding musical language that was emerging at the turn of the seventeenth century. Finding a way to make the harp a continuo instrument, capable of playing a figured bass line with accompanying chords in any key, was the main driver behind the drastic changes seen in the harps of this time.

The triple harp, first seen in Italy, flourished from approximately 1590 to 1750 and was so popular that it spread all over Europe.

It has an ingenious way of having all notes in all keys available at all times:  It has three parallel rows of strings. The outer two rows are tuned to the same diatonic scale (think of the white keys on the piano), with the inner row tuned to the chromatic notes (the equivalent of the black keys on the piano). To make chords, you play a combination of some fingers on the outer rows and some fingers on the inner row, making 3-D shapes with your fingers.

This ability to play in all possible keys was a huge improvement over previous harps which, having one row of strings and no way to quickly and reliably alter the pitch of the strings, could only play in one or two keys at a time and had to be re-tuned either during or in between pieces to accommodate key changes.

Of course, having three parallel rows of strings makes the triple harp very difficult to play. Not many harpists enjoy tuning all 93 strings every day either! Perhaps that is why I am one of only two professional triple harpists in all of Canada. The glorious sound of the triple harp, zingy like the harpsichord and simultaneously bell-like, more than makes up for any hardships.

Considered old-fashioned by Handel’s time, he nevertheless loved the sound of the triple harp too. He used it in Esther, Saul, Giulio Cesare, and he wrote a harp concerto for Alexander’s Feast. Today, the Italian triple harp has settled firmly in to the Welsh culture, where its descendant flourishes as their national instrument.


Hear the beautiful sounds of the triple harp performed by Julia Seager-Scott at Handel Alexander’s Feast from Feb 22–25, 2018 at Koerner Hall, Toronto. Tickets are available here.