In search of Steffani’s music

By Charlotte Nediger

Portrait of Steffani by
Gerhard Kappers, c.1714

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get to know Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano

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

When did you first start singing?

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

What was your first music gig?

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

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

Who has been your greatest inspiration?

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

What is your favourite music to listen to?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favourite restaurant in Toronto?

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

Where is your own, personal oasis in Toronto?

Sitting on my couch with my cat!

What is your great ambition?

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

What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians?

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


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

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.

Further Listening – Let Us All Sing!

by Ivars Taurins, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir Director

If you enjoyed our concert program Let Us All Sing!, featuring Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, and Sherezade Panthaki, soprano, Jonathan Woody, bass-baritone, and Philippe Gagné, tenor, I encourage you to explore some of the following:

George Frideric Handel
The Laudate Pueri on our concert program is thought to have been part of a larger work composed by Handel while visiting Rome in 1707. It was a commission to compose music for a Vespers service in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for an order of Carmelite nuns at their Church of Santa Maria di Monte Santo. One of the most striking pieces in Handel’s “Carmelite Vespers” is his DIxit Dominus, and within it the most exquisite and sensual movement, setting the words “de torrente in via bibet” – (He shall drink of the brook in the way), for two sopranos, male choir singing chant, and strings.

De torrente in via bibet” from Dixit Dominus (Elin Manahan Thomas & Grace Davidson, the Sixteen, dir. Harry Christophers). The whole of Dixit can be seen here in a live performance with John Eliot Gardiner directing the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists.

Jean-Philippe Rameau
For me, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s music is the epitome of the French baroque movement in music, but is also a harbinger of the orchestral colours, textures, and harmonies which reappear generations later in the music of Debussy and Ravel, and brings to mind the works of the great French impressionist painters of over a century later.

If you track down Gardiner’s ground-breaking 2002 recording of Les Boréades, have a listen to “Que ces moments sont doux” from Act V, scene v: 1 minute, 10 seconds of overwhelming beauty and sensuality.

Listen to Entrée de Polymnie from the same opera…divine. And, if you want something which, at the beginning, sounds like something from another century
( hints of Stravinsky! ), try The Overture to Zaïs: specifically the first selection of the live concert at The Proms (0:00 – 4:54). You can also try this recording  of Les Musiciens du Louvre, directed by Marc Minkowski, with modern art!

Agostino Steffani
I admit that up until three years ago, Steffani’s music was unknown to me. It was due to the groundbreaking research and consummate artistry of Cecilia Bartoli that I discovered the amazing riches of this obscure Italian composer, working at court of Hannover, for the future King George I of England.

Here is Bartoli’s video project about Steffani, entitled “Mission,” and info from her website about the project. Here are a couple of examples of Steffani’s ravishing music for voice: “Morirò” from Henrico Leone and “T’abbraccio mia Diva” from Niobe, regina di Tebe.

You can watch and listen to all of these videos on our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/tafelmusik1979 in the playlist titled Further Listening – Let Us All Sing!

Memories of the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir

By Peter Mahon, countertenor

As the longest serving member of the choir (hands up all those who remember me from the 1980s!), I have been asked to write about my memories of the choir over the last 35 years. As you might imagine, there are many from which to choose over that length of time. The problem is to decide which ones to talk about.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2001
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, 2001

I could mention the growth and development of the choir from an essentially amateur ensemble with a quartet of paid section leaders to a fully professional group.

There was our first recording in 1987, for Hyperion Records with soprano Emma Kirkby. We recorded in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene … in February, in the freezing cold because the heat was turned off to stop the pipes banging. We were all wearing winter coats, hats, and scarves. Not pleasant, but it was worth it.

Vivaldi Cantatas, Concertos & Magnificat, 1987
Vivaldi Cantatas, Concertos & Magnificat, 1987

There was the incredible expansion of our performance schedule around the same time. I was working in the office and got to witness it first-hand. The demand for tickets was like an avalanche. In very short order we went from two concerts per project to five. We went to Massey Hall for the Sing-Along Messiah for the first time. Our first year we had 1,500 people and of course, now we sell out with scalpers outside the hall.

We have been fortunate to work with many great guest conductors: Gustav Leonhardt, Andrew Parrott, Richard Egarr, Sigiswald Kuijken, Nicholas McGegan, Ton Koopman, Bruno Weil, and Kent Nagano, to name a few.

Kuijken worked with us in 2002 while the Salt Lake City Olympics were going on. I will always remember the look of puzzlement on his face when he saw everyone on stage smiling near the end of the Sunday afternoon concert. What he could not see was Elly Winer standing at the back of the hall with his hands held up showing the final score of the gold medal hockey game, Canada 5 – USA 2.

After the concert, everyone rushed downstairs to the men’s dressing room. As the guys were undressing, the ladies all barged in to watch the medal presentation on the small b&w television that we had brought in. As the Canadian flag was being raised, in various stages of undress, we sang one of the finest renditions of O Canada that you will ever hear.

For many reasons the choir does not do much touring. However, we have been to Montreal twice recently. First, to sing the Bach B-Minor Mass with the orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano. It was during the month of January and we got to experience the kind of winter that we don’t normally get in Toronto. It was 25 below zero for the entire week. We were very glad that we could walk from the hotel to the hall without going outside.

A couple of years later, Maestro Nagano paid the choir the singular honour of inviting us to take part in the opening concert of Montreal’s new Maison Symphonique in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with OSM and OSM Chorus.

It was quite a change from one of our early tour in the mid-1980s. We went to Michigan to sing two performances of Messiah. In Detroit, we sang in a 2,000-seat hall. The most memorable part of the performance,  and indeed of the tour, was the rapturous applause that we received at the end of the concert from our audience of 23 people. The concert promoters probably should have spent a little more on marketing. We have certainly come a long way since then.

As a new parent in 1981, I would not have imagined that I would still be singing with Tafelmusik in 2016. It has afforded me my favourite memory, namely the pride and pleasure of performing with two of my children and my son-in-law, each of whom has been a member of the choir in recent years.

Tafelmusik Chamber Choir members, 2016/17. L-R: Paul Oros and Joel Allison, bass; Peter Mahon, alto; Daniel Webb, tenor; Meghan Moore, soprano.
Tafelmusik Chamber Choir members, 2016/17. L-R: Paul Oros and Joel Allison, bass; Peter Mahon, countertenor; Daniel Webb, tenor; Meghan Moore, soprano. Photo: Sian Richards

Finally, it has been a great pleasure to get to know many of you through the years and an honour to perform for you. It is always a special moment to walk out on stage at the beginning of a Tafelmusik concert, being greeted with your warm applause and the friendly smiles on so many familiar faces. I look forward to forging more happy memories for all of us in the years to come.

Join us for Let Us All Sing!, November 5-6 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. 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

PROGRAM NOTES
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


PROGRAM LISTING

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

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685–1759
Laudate pueri (Rome, c.1706)
Sherezade Panthaki, soloist

AGOSTINO STEFFANI 1654–1728
Stabat mater, excerpted (Hanover, 1724)
Michele DeBoer, Richard Whittall & Cory Knight, soloists

JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY 1632–1687
Chaconne from Amadis “Chantons tous” (Paris, 1684)
Sherezade Panthaki: Corisande
Philippe Gagné: Un Héros
Jonathan Woody: Florestan

INTERMISSION

JEAN-PHILIPPE RAMEAU 1683–1764
In convertendo Dominus (Clermont-Ferrand, 1717/Paris, 1751)
Sherezade Panthaki, Philippe Gagné & Jonathan Woody, soloists

JAN DISMAS ZELENKA 1679–1745
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.