Program Notes for Handel in Rome

George Frideric Handel (23 February 1685 – 14 April 1759) was a German, later British, Baroque composer, who spent the bulk of his career in London, becoming well known for his operas, oratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel received musical training in Halle and worked as a composer in Hamburg and Italy before settling in London in 1712; he became a naturalized British subject in 1727. He was strongly influenced both by the great composers of the Italian Baroque and by the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition.

Within his first fifteen years in England, Handel had started three commercial opera companies to supply the English nobility with Italian opera. Musicologist Winton Dean writes that his operas show that “Handel was not only a great composer; he was a dramatic genius of the first order.” When Alexander’s Feast (1736) was well received, Handel made a transition to English choral works. After his success with Messiah (1742) he never composed an Italian opera again. Handel died in 1759, a respected and rich man, almost blind, and having lived in England for nearly fifty years. His funeral was given full state honors, and he was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.

Handel was esteemed by fellow composers, both in his own time and since.  Bach attempted, unsuccessfully, to meet Handel while visiting Halle. Mozart is reputed to have said of him, “Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt.” To Beethoven he was “the master of us all. . .the greatest composer that ever lived. I would uncover my head and kneel before his tomb.” Beethoven emphasized above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel’s music when he said, “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means.”

Many of his works such as Messiah, Water Music, and Music for the Royal Fireworks remain steadfastly popular.  One of his four Coronation Anthems, Zadok the Priest (1727), composed for the coronation of George II, has been performed at every subsequent British coronation, traditionally during the sovereign’s anointing. Another of his English oratorios, Solomon (1748), has also remained popular; the sinfonia that opens act 3 (known commonly as “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”) was featured at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. With the revival of Baroque music and historically informed musical performance starting in the late 1960s, interest in Handel’s other works has grown as well.

Handel in Italy

In 1706 Handel travelled to Italy at the invitation of Ferdinando de’ Medici. De’ Medici, who had a keen interest in opera, was trying to make Florence Italy’s musical capital by attracting the leading talents of his day. Handel subsequently traveled to Rome and, since opera was banned (temporarily) in the Papal States, composed sacred music for the Roman clergy. 

Italy was the center of European music. One of the most notable traits of Italian music was the expressive style in which its composers wrote for the voice. Italian vocal writing was characterized by qualities of suppleness, expansiveness, flexibility, and lyricism. Handel would quickly master the art, and Italian opera would become the bedrock of his career. But in Rome, where he spent most of his time between 1706 and 1710, papal decrees had closed the public theaters since 1698; the ban was not lifted until 1709. Nevertheless, the musical styles of opera, barely disguised, were manifested in concert performances and in particular through the Italian cantata (motet).

The flexibility of Handel’s social and musical skills is demonstrated by the fact that he was engaged to compose music for the Roman Catholic liturgy within only a few months of his arrival in Rome. He was, of course, a staunch Lutheran and remained so all of his life, not even acceding to the requests by the British monarchs, later in his life, that he consider a conversion to the Church of England. 

Self-borrowing was common in Handel’s vocal and instrumental music.  The Dixit Dominus, for example, furnished music he later used in his oratorio Deborah (1733), and the “Qui habitare fecit” movement in Laudate pueri invites us to think ahead to the famous aria “Oh, had I Jubal’s lyre” in his oratorio Joshua (1748). Repurposing of that sort was common among many late-Baroque composers, but in Handel’s case, it is remarkable how easily music penned during his journeyman years in Italy could be fit into the pieces he composed many years later—a reflection of the exceptional mastery he had already achieved as an emerging composer in his early 20s.

Handel had an extraordinary ability to absorb disparate styles and refract them through the distinctive prism of his personal voice. An Italianate sound certainly informs all the pieces on this program, yet they also sound very much like Handel, memorable in rhythmic and melodic outlines, imaginative in deployment of voices and instruments, filled with specific character and musical surprise. 

The Carmelite Vespers

Handel’s music for the Carmelites is not a single unified work like an opera or oratorio (such as Messiah). In fact Handel was concerned with the business of writing a number of separate psalm settings, motets, and antiphons that were to be inserted into the Carmelite liturgy at the appropriate points. Much of the ordinary chanting at vespers and mass would be undertaken by the Carmelite friars with the choir and soloists singing the more elaborate settings.

There has been some debate among scholars as to whether Handel’s music was intended for first or  second Vespers or for the Mass. Some have even questioned whether the music was written for the Carmelite feast at all! However, the evidence provided by the latest scholarship points towards the conclusion that Handel did indeed write music for the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in 1707 and that his psalm and antiphon settings were intended to be spread out between the various liturgies.

Nisi Dominus is a setting of the Latin text of Psalm 127. It was completed by 13 July 1707. It is scored for three vocal soloists (contralto, tenor, and bass), chorus, strings (including solo violin in one aria), with basso continuo. The bass solo (“Sicut sagittae”) is especially notable for its tone-painting: “flying” strings evoke the flight of arrows. The work’s final doxology (“Gloria Patri”) was thought destroyed in a fire in the 19th century, but it is now widely believed that the doxology setting intended for this work is one Handel composed that expands the texture to a double chorus and double string orchestra.

Laudate Pueri Dominum, another compelling motet, features a veritable catalogue of Italian musical forms, all masterfully employed by Handel. Each movement has a different texture, including ritornello form (first movement), trio sonata (“Sit nomen Domini” and “Qui habitare facit”), imitative polyphony (“A solis ortu usque”), concerto grosso (“Excelsus super omnes”), homophony (“Quis sicut Dominus”), continuo aria (“Suscitans a terra”), and the hybrid style of the final movement with its predictable return to the music of the first movement at the words “Sicut erat in principio” (As it was in the beginning).

Dixit Dominus: Handel’s lifelong reputation could have rested on the basis of this stunning and substantial motet alone, composed in 1707.  This is Handel’s earliest surviving autograph manuscript. The work is scored for five vocal soloists (SSATB), five-part chorus, strings, and continuo. It is likely that the work was first performed on 16 July 1707 in the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto, under the patronage of the Colonna family. It is divided into eight movements, and the text is vividly set, each using contrasts between movements as well as within each movement. The piece contains numerous examples of word painting, where the sound of the music imitates the imagery of the text.

Handel’s music for the Carmelites has been an important re-discovery in musical scholarship. But Handel’s music is much more than an historical curiosity. Words have a compelling force. But when words and music come together effectively the human spirit can be moved.

~ Patricia Jennerjohn

Soloists for Handel in Rome

Soprano Phoebe Jevtovic Rosquist was born in Germany and grew up in Ohio. She began her undergraduate studies in Louisville, Kentucky, intent on becoming a jazz singer, but quickly discovered that early music was her true calling. After completing graduate studies in Early Music Performance at the University of Southern California, Phoebe has appeared as a soloist with the Waverly Consort, Voices of Music, American Bach Soloists, Musica Angelica, Bach Collegium San Diego, and North Holland Opera. Roles that Phoebe has performed include Despina in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Filia in Carissimi’s Jephte, soloist in Stravinsky's Les Noces  (Svadebka), Amphitrite in Locke’s Tempest, Cupid in Purcell’s Timon of Athens, Josephine in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, the title role in Rossi’s Orfeo, and various Virtues in Hildegard’s Ordo Virtutum. Among her collaborations are the Baroque ensemble La Monica, the medieval ensemble Cançonièr, art songs with celebrated pianist Robert Thies, and early music and dance with Italy’s visionary Art Monastery Project and Bologna-based Cappella Artemisia. Phoebe has also toured the US and Indonesia with Gamelan X and has sung Balkan & folk music with Kitka and VOCO. Phoebe transcribed a book of seventeenth-century solo songs by Tarquinio Merula for A&R Editions. She has recorded for Naxos, Nonesuch, Delos, Dorian, Decca and Sony labels.

 

Soprano Caroline Jou Armitage started singing in her crib before the age of one, according to her mother, but studied piano and violin from kindergarten through high school instead, as was customary for most children of Taiwanese immigrants. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in economics, she began formal studies in voice. She performed the roles of Laetitia in Menotti’s Old Maid and the Thief and Lucy Lockit in Britten’s The Beggar’s Operain the Bay Area; and in Paris, she performed Papagena and the First Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Most happy in the realm of early music, Caroline has participated as a vocal soloist in the Baroque Academy at the Amherst Early Music Festival and has sung as a soloist in Carissimi’s Jephthe. She has also sung as a chorister in several local groups—most notably, the California Bach Society, since 2010. 

 

A renownedcountertenor, Dr. Flight has performed works by John Adams, Leonard Berstein, and Unsuk Chin with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony, the Berkeley Symphony, the Cincinnati May Festival, and the Norwegian State Opera. In 2003 he sang the title role in Philip Glass’s Akhnatenfor Oakland Opera Theater. He made his debut at the Kennedy Center in 2008, singing the first countertenor role in Adams’s El Niño, and in August 2010, he made his debut at the Edinburgh International Festival singing the third countertenor role in that work. At California Bach Society’s award-winning performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passionin 2016, Dr. Flight sang the aria “Erbarme Dich.”

 

Tenor James Hogan holds a Bachelor of Music Degree in Vocal Performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Voice from the same institution.  James most recently appeared as Grimoaldo in San Francisco Conservatory’s production of Handel’s Rodelinda.  James is an avid singer of Baroque music and has performed with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Baroque Ensemble since 2013. In October, as part of a collaboration with the group Theatre Comique, James appeared in a recital at the San Francisco Opera’s symposium of John Adams’s Girls of the Golden West. In 2015 James appeared with the opera company Ars Minerva in their revival of a lost 17th century Baroque opera titled La Cleopatra.  For more information visit jhogan.co

 

Baritone Jeffrey Fields resides in Alameda with his wife Megan and sings regularly as soloist and ensemble member with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (since 1999), American Bach Soloists (since 2002), Bach Collegium San Diego (since 2011), and Carmel Bach Festival (since 1998). Jeffrey made his Carnegie Hall solo debut in Handel’s Messiahin 2007, under Andrew Megill, and returned to Carnegie in 2012 with Aoede Consort. Solo engagements this season include Monteverdi's Vesperswith American Bach Soloists, Bach's St. John Passionin Berkeley, and Haydn's Creation.

Other recent engagements include Handel's Teseowith Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra at Lincoln Center (Mostly Mozart Festival) and Tanglewood, Purcell's Dioclesianwith Philharmonia Baroque, Handel's Dixit Dominuswith Bach Collegium San Diego, Haydn's Seasonsat UC Berkeley, Dvorak's Stabat Materin San Francisco, Handel’s Samsonwith Philharmonia Baroque, Orff's Carmina Burana, the title role in Mendelssohn's Elijahfor Marin Oratorio, and Handel's Acis and Galateawith California Bach Society. Jeffrey studied with Albert Gammon and taught voice and singers' diction at the University of Iowa. He was an artist fellow for three seasons at the Bach Aria Festival, Stony Brook, New York, and a three-time winner of the NATS Central Region auditions.   http://baritone.org  Twitter: @baritone

Program Notes for German Romantics

The Romantic era had its roots in the late 18th century and spilled over into the 20th century. Romanticism was a movement with many facets; it was the antithesis of the artistic forms and structures of the Classical age. It emphasized individual expression, emotion, and virtuosity, as well as freedom from constraining forms. It took inspiration from nature, as writers, artists, and musicians sought to express what they saw around them. And it emphasized the artistic and cultural differences among nations, with artists turning towards their own heritage to share folk tales, images, and music. Instead of being supported by the aristocracy, music was now supported by the middle class.

Composers of the Romantic era worked to unite art, literature, music, philosophy, and science. More subjective than objective, the age of the individual was born. Sometimes viewed as the first Romantic, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “I am different from all other men. If I am not better, at least I am different.”

Secular music of this era reflects the composers’ fascination with love and, especially for German composers, a reverence for nature, often intertwining the themes of love and nature. Moods swing through playful nonsense, tenderness, boldness, deep melancholy, and intense personal feelings.

Sacred music of this era reflects the situations and preferences of each composer; this would have meant divine service and the cathedral for some; for others, it would have meant festivals or concert halls, or simply a personal dialogue with God. The texts are prayers full of deep feeling, to be sung in the home as well as by choral societies. Reflecting the ability of the natural world to inspire reverence, nature is often brought into the texts.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist, and conductor of the early Romantic period. After a long period of relative denigration due to changing musical tastes and antisemitism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, his creative originality was re-evaluated. He is now among the most popular composers of the Romantic era.

Felix was recognized early as a musical prodigy, but his parents were cautious and did not seek to capitalize on his talent. He enjoyed early success in Germany, and he revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, notably with his performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829. He was well received in his travels throughout Europe as a composer, conductor, and soloist; his ten visits to Britain—during which many of his major works were premiered—form an important part of his adult career. His essentially conservative musical tastes set him apart from more adventurous musical contemporaries. The Leipzig Conservatory, which he founded, became a bastion of this anti-radical outlook.

  • Denn Er hat seinen Engeln befohlen

  • Am Himmelfahrtstage

  • Frühlingsfeier

  • Mailied

  • Abscheid vom Walde

  • Herbstlied

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) was a German composer and pianist of the Romantic period. He is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the "Three Bs" of music, a comment originally made by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow.

An uncompromising perfectionist, Brahms destroyed some of his works and left others unpublished. Brahms has been considered, by his contemporaries and by later writers, as both a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Classical masters; he also admired the music of earlier composers, especially Schütz and Bach. His contributions and craftsmanship have been admired by figures as diverse as Arnold Schoenberg and Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers. Embedded within his meticulous structures, however, are deeply romantic motifs.

  • Ach, arme Welt, du trübest mich
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Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839–1901), born in Liechtenstein and resident for most of his life in Germany, was an organist and composer. The stylistic influences on Rheinberger ranged from contemporaries such as Brahms to composers from earlier times, such as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Schubert, and, above all, Bach. He was a prolific composer and is somewhat underrated. His religious works include twelve Masses, a Requiem, and a Stabat Mater. His other works include operas, symphonies, chamber music, and choral works.

  • Morgenlied

  • Hymne

  • Abendlied

  • Angelus Domini

  • Die Nacht

Josef Anton Bruckner (1824–1896) was an Austrian composer and organist best known for his symphonies, masses, motets, and Te Deum. Bruckner's compositions helped to define contemporary musical radicalism, owing to their dissonances, unprepared modulations, and roving harmonies.

Biographers generally characterize Bruckner as a "simple" provincial man, and many biographers have complained that there is huge discrepancy between Bruckner's life and his work. For example, Karl Grebe said, "His life doesn't tell anything about his work, and his work doesn't tell anything about his life, that's the uncomfortable fact any biography must start from.” Anecdotes abound as to Bruckner's dogged pursuit of his chosen craft and his humble acceptance of the fame that eventually came his way.

Bruckner was a renowned organist in his day; though he wrote no major works for the organ, his improvisation sessions sometimes yielded ideas for his symphonies, and echoes of that sonority can also be heard in his choral works.

  • Christus factus es

  • Ave Maria

Clara Schumann (née Clara Josephine Wieck; 1819–1896) was a German musician and composer, considered one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era. Her husband was the composer Robert Schumann. Together they encouraged Johannes Brahms in his compositions.

Clara found it hard to compose regularly, writing, "I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose—there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?" Robert was supportive of her efforts, but expressed concern about the effect of her domestic duties on her composing output: “Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.”

Today her compositions are increasingly performed and recorded.

  • Abendfeier in Venedig

  • Vorwärts

  • Gondoliera

Gustav Uwe Jenner (1865–1920) was a German composer, conductor, and musical scholar. He was the only formal composition pupil of Johannes Brahms. Though Brahms was a merciless critic of Jenner's compositional attempts, he took great care over his welfare. He had him appointed secretary of the Vienna Tonkünstlerverein and in 1895 arranged for him to become musical director and conductor at the University of Marburg, where he spent the rest of his career despite invitations to assume more prestigious posts in Breslau and Berlin.

Though his music is highly conservative for his time and shows the strong influence of Brahms, he was capable of individual expression and his works are always finely wrought.

Jenner published two volumes of recollections of Brahms which, viewing Brahms from a unique vantage point, are a valuable biographical source.

We present three selections from his setting of translations of Tuscan poems for women’s voices.

  • Wenn dein Bildnis wäre gemalet

  • Ich sah ein lichtes Wölkchen

  • Ich will ein Haus mir bauen

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828) was an Austrian composer. Schubert was extremely prolific during his short lifetime. Appreciation of Schubert's music while he was alive was limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, but interest in his work increased significantly in the decades following his death. Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, and other 19th-century composers discovered and championed his works. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the late Classical and early Romantic eras and is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early 19th century.

  • La pastorella

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) was a German composer and influential music critic. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. His writings about music appeared mostly in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), a Leipzig-based publication that he jointly founded.

In 1840, Schumann married Friedrich Wieck's daughter Clara, against the wishes of her father, following a long and acrimonious legal battle, which found in favor of Clara and Robert. Clara also composed music and had a considerable concert career as a pianist, the earnings from which, before her marriage, formed a substantial part of her father's fortune.

  • Bei Schenkung eines Flügels

  • Beim Abschied zu singen
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Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805–1847) was a German pianist and composer. A number of her songs were originally published under the name of her brother, Felix Mendelssohn, in his opus 8 and 9 collections.

Fanny was limited by prevailing attitudes of the time toward women, attitudes apparently shared by her father, who was tolerant, rather than supportive, of her activities as a composer. Her father wrote to her in 1820, "Music will perhaps become his [Felix's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.” Although Felix was privately supportive of her as a composer and a performer, he was cautious of her publishing her works under her own name. He wrote: “From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it.”

  • Nachtreigen (words by Wilhelm Hensel, Fanny’s husband)

Moritz Hauptmann (1792–1868) was a German music theorist, teacher, and composer. He was initially employed as an architect before finding success as a musician. In 1842, Hauptmann became cantor at St. Thomas Church, Leipzig (a post made famous by Johann Sebastian Bach), as well as professor of music theory at the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory at the invitation of Felix Mendelssohn. In this capacity, his unique gift as a teacher developed, readily acknowledged by his enthusiastic and often distinguished pupils.

  • Zigeunerlied

~ Patricia Jennerjohn 

Program Notes for Christmas In Poland & The Baltics

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Today we present music of the season from Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. All of these countries have powerful national identities, which have been reinforced by their history of foreign occupation and Soviet domination. Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia have strong traditions of music for the Christmas/winter solstice season. Estonia does not have as strong a tradition of Christmas music. However, choral singing in general is beloved, and Estonia experienced an almost explosive growth in Christmas choral music in the twentieth century.

Languages and Traditions

The Polish language is a member of the West Slavic branch of Slavic languages, along with the Czech and Slovak languages.

In Poland, the traditional Christmas feast occurs on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia, a day that holds equal importance with Christmas Day. Before the table is set, straw or hay is placed under a white tablecloth. An extra place is set for an unexpected visitor, as a reminder that the Holy Family was turned away from inns in Bethlehem and that those seeking shelter are welcome on this special night. The traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal consists of twelve dishes, one for each of the twelve apostles. Midnight Mass is another of Poland's Christmas traditions.

The Latvian and Lithuanian languages belong to the Indo-European language family, as does Polish. Estonian, on the other hand, is a Finnic language, together with neighboring Finland.

Estonians really experience their pre-Christian heritage during the season, with the winter solstice festivals a reminder of why December was chosen to celebrate Christ's birth. The winter solstice, December 21, is the shortest day of the year. It is called Jõulud in Estonia, which is also the Estonian word for Christmas. The first day of the festival, known as St. Thomas's Day, traditionally marked a period of rest after long preparations that included brewing beer, butchering animals, and preparing food.

Lithuanian Christmas traditions are a combination of old and new—Christian and pre-Christian. There are similarities with traditions from the other two Baltic nations, as well as with the traditions of Poland, whose past is linked with Lithuania's. In pre-Christian Lithuania, the Christmas celebration as we know it today was the celebration of the winter solstice. Christianity gave new meaning to old customs or introduced new ways to celebrate the religious holiday. As in Poland, the Christmas Eve feast traditionally consists of twelve meatless dishes.

Latvia’s most important traditions are much the same as those in the United States. Latvian Christmas customs, like elsewhere in Europe, are a combination of Christian tradition and pre- Christian celebration of the winter solstice. It is believed by some that Latvia first introduced the concept of the Christmas tree.

Poland

Mikołaj Zieleński (1560–1620) was a Polish composer, organist, and Kapellmeister to the primate Baranowski, Archbishop of Gniezno. We present offertory and communion music, and the Magnificat from his 1611 liturgical cycle, Offertoria/Communes totius anni, which contains his only surviving compositions. These consist of large-scale double- and triple-choir antiphons set either in the Venetian Baroque style or more simply in the style of early Monteverdi.

Sylvester Szarzynski (fl. 1692–1713) was a Polish composer and a Cistercian monk; virtually nothing else is known of his life. The level of technical competence displayed in his works indicates that he must have had significant formal training.

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki (c. 1665–1734) was a Polish Baroque composer. During his lifetime he was called the Polish Handel. Unfortunately none of his compositions were published during his lifetime, and most of them have been lost; thirty-nine works can, however, be attributed to him with certainty. Gorczycki used typical compositional devices of the Baroque, a mixture of the more austere stile antico as well as stile moderno featuring rich, concertato technique.

Lætentur cæli (Let the heavens rejoice), by Zieleński, is written for two equal choirs. The text (from Psalm 95) is used for the offertory for Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. The homophonic call and response style is typical of Venetian composers of the era, such as Gabrieli.

Deus firmavit orbem terræ (God has established the world), by Zieleński is a double choir piece with imitative writing. From Psalm 93, this is the offertory for the Christmas Day Mass. Te lucis ante terminum (To you before the end of day), by Szarzyński, is not particularly meant for Christmas, but is used throughout the church year for Compline, the final service of the canonical hours, marking the completion of the day. As a contemplative service, Compline emphasizes spiritual peace.

Viderunt omnes fines terræ (All the ends of the earth have seen), by Zieleński, is a partial setting of Psalm 98 for Communion on Christmas Day. It features vigorous imitative writing and strong rhythmic alternation between duple and triple meter.

Tui sunt cæli (The heavens are yours), by Zieleński, is a double choir setting of Psalm 88, with a high choir/low choir configuration. In the Venetian style, this is another offertory for Christmas day.

Omni die dic Mariæ (Every day sing to Mary), by Gorczycki, is a setting of St. Casimir’s Hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is attributed to Bernard of Morlaix, monk of Cluny Abbey. It dates back to around 1150. This simple homophonic setting alternates triple and duple meters in stile antico.

Magnificat, by Zieleński, is an elaborate triple choir (high/regular/low) Venetian-style setting of the justly famous text, a song of praise from Mary’s lips in response to the Annunciation, the news that she has been chosen to give birth to the Savior.

W żłobie leży (In the manger he lies), arranged by David Willcocks (1919–2015), is one of the best-known Polish Christmas carols, and the tune can be found in hymnals throughout the world. Willcocks’s arrangement uses an English text; we have restored the original Polish.

Lulajże, Jezuniu (Sleep, Little Jesus), arranged by Maciej Małecki (b. 1940), is the most popular Polish carol. A young and homesick Frederic Chopin incorporated this melody into the middle section of his B minor Scherzo. We thank Maciej Małecki for this special arrangement that he graciously made for the California Bach Society!

Estonia

Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) is an Estonian composer of classical and religious music. Pärt is one of the most performed living composers in the world. He frequently utilizes sacred texts, mostly in Latin or the Church Slavonic language used in Orthodox liturgy instead of his native Estonian language.

Veljo Tormis (1930–2017) was an Estonian composer, regarded as one of the greatest living choral composers and one of the most important composers of the 20th century in Estonia. Internationally, his fame arises chiefly from his extensive body of choral music, which exceeds 500 choral songs, mostly a cappella. The great majority of these pieces are based on traditional ancient Estonian folksongs (regilaulud), either textually, melodically, or stylistically.

Bogoroditse Devo (Virgin Mother of God), by Pärt, is a vibrant tribute to the Virgin Mary, which is sung in the traditional Orthodox Church Slavonic language and alludes to traditional Orthodox compositional practices. Those listeners who are accustomed to Pärt’s usual “tintinnabuli” (his own word) compositional style will be surprised by the writing of this short and sprightly setting.

Virmalised (Northern lights), by Tormis, written for women’s voices, is a musical rendering of the shimmering mystery of the aurora, visible in the night skies of this northern country.

Jõulud Tulevad (Christmas is coming), by Tormis, is a rhythmic and vigorous song sung by the men that looks forward to the pleasures of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Lithuania

Juozas Gruodis (1884-1948) composed ballet music, symphonic poems, orchestral suites, works for choir and orchestra, solo and choral songs, and settings of Lithuanian folk songs. He is considered a major contributor to Lithuanian musical culture and nurtured many younger Lithuanian composers.

Jonas Govedas (1950 – 2015) was born in Lithuania, but moved with his parents first to England in 1952, then to Canada. He studied at the Toronto University of Music where he received a bachelor's degree. A pianist and organist, he was also associated with choirs and soloists and was very active in music education in the Toronto city schools. He was also very involved with Canadian and Lithuanian music festivals and wrote many compositions for these events.

Kūčios (Christmas Eve), by J. Zabulio, is a song of longing and waiting for the Christ Child, set for women’s voices.

Žiema (Winter), by Gruodis, describes a snowy landscape

Žemėn taiką nešu (I bring you peace on earth), by Govedas, for voices and piano, is a dialogue between the waiting souls and the Christ Child.

Latvia

Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) was born in Priekule, Latvia. He studied at the Latvian Baptist Theological Seminary (1995–1997) before obtaining his master's degree in composition (2004) from the Latvian Academy of Music. From 2002–2011 he was a member of the State Choir Latvija. From 2011–2013 he was Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, University of
Cambridge. Ešenvalds is a three-time winner of the Latvian Grand Music Award (2005, 2007, and 2015). Ešenvalds teaches at the Department of Composition of the Latvian Academy of Music.

Andrejs Jansons, (1937–2006) A Juilliard graduate, he was an accomplished composer, conductor, and oboist. But he was most proud of his forty-year tenure as the music director of the New York Latvian Choir. Jansons participated in American and Canadian festivals starting in the 1960s. His involvement with festivals in Latvia began in 1990; he said that no role represented him better than that of teacher and mentor to young people.

Magnificat (Ešenvalds) Each phrase of this setting starts out in unison or near unison, then adds layers of notes to form dense chords that resolve tonally, creating an effect of tension and release. The rhythm is chant-like and flexible. The “Gloria Patri” and the added “Nunc Dimittis” at the end feature a solo voice over sustained chords.

Three Latvian Carols (arr. Jansons):
Ziemassvētku nakts (Chrismas night) is a peaceful, hymn-like carol that describes a lovely Christmas evening of woods, snow, stars, and sounds.
Meklētāja ceļš (The seeker’s road) presents a tender image of winter, and the dawn that reminds the poet of the “rose” of Christ’s love.
Ai, nama māmiņa (O, mistress of the house). Mischevious mummers (masked revelers, dating back to a Roman tradition of the winter Saturnalia festival) go door to door, singing, dancing, and acting silly—similar to old “trick or treat” and wassailing traditions in other countries.

~ Patricia Jennerjohn

Soloists for Bach Missa Brevis & Cantata 21

Soprano Caroline Jou Armitage started singing in her crib before the age of one, according to her mother, but studied piano and violin from kindergarten through high school instead, as was customary for most children of Taiwanese immigrants. After graduating from U.C. Berkeley in economics, she began formal studies in voice and later performed the roles of Laetitia in Menotti’s Old Maid and the Thief and Lucy Lockit in Britten’s The Beggar’s Opera in the Bay Area, and in Paris, Papagena and the First Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Most happy in the realm of early music, Caroline has participated as a vocal soloist in the Baroque Academy at the Amherst Early Music Festival and has sung as a soloist in Carissimi’s Jephthe. She has also sung as a chorister in several local groups since 2010—most notably, the California Bach Society. Caroline dedicates this solo performance with CBS to her musical instructors Karen Clark, Paul Flight, and Tamara Loring.

 

A renowned countertenor, Paul Flight has performed works by John Adams, Leonard Berstein, and Unsuk Chin with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony, the Berkeley Symphony, the Cincinnati May Festival, and the Norwegian State Opera. In 2003 he sang the title role in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten for Oakland Opera Theater. He made his debut at the Kennedy Center in 2008, singing the first countertenor role in Adams’s El Niño, and in August 2010, he made his debut at the Edinburgh International Festival singing the third countertenor role in that work. At California Bach Society’s award-winning performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 2016, Dr. Flight sang the aria “Erbarme Dich.” He is a former member of such distinguished ensembles as the Waverly Consort, Theatre of Voices, Pomerium Musices, and the New York Collegium.

 

Tenor Jonathan Thomas, a native of Lawrence, Kansas, moved to San Francisco in 2014 and has since appeared as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony in Carmina Burana, led by Ragnar Bohlin, Monteverdi’s Magnificat from the Vespers of 1610, and Pérotin’s Sederunt Principes, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. He has performed as a soloist in numerous concerts and recordings in the Bay Area, including Handel’s Messiah with Cantare Con Vivo, a French Baroque concert with Chora Nova, and Cappella SF’s album Facing West, among others. Before coming to San Francisco, Mr. Thomas completed opera apprenticeships at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and Des Moines Metro Opera. He has performed concert and opera repertoire throughout the Midwest, including Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Laertes in Hamlet, Don Curzio and Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro, and the role of the Raven in the world premiere of Robert Kapilow’s Summer Sun, Winter Moon with the Kansas City Symphony. Jonathan received his bachelor of music in vocal performance from the University of Kansas. He currently sings with the chamber choir Cappella SF and as an AGMA member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

 

Sepp Hammer’s voice has been described as showing “warm baritone gravity” (The Boston Globe). Recently with the California Bach Society, he sang the role of Christ in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the bass solos in Charpentier’s Le reniement de Saint Pierre, Zelenka’s Missa Votiva, and Bach’s cantata Aus der Tiefe. Other concert engagements include Rutter’s Mass of the Children with the Solano Symphony, Zelenka’s Gloria with Chora Nova, Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs with the Contra Costa Chorale, and, with various ensembles, Charpentier’s Messe des Morts, Schütz’s Symphoniae Sacrae, Bach’s Magnificat and B Minor Mass, Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass, Schubert’s Mass in G Major, and the Requiems of Brahms, Fauré, and Duruflé. Since 2016, Sepp has been a member of the Philharmonia Baroque Chorale. In recent seasons on the opera stage, he has appeared as Pistol in Verdi’s Falstaff with Cinnabar Theater, the Speaker in The Magic Flute with Pocket Opera, Malatesta in Donizetti's Don Pasquale with North Bay Opera, and in the role of Wagner in Gounod’s Faust with Opera San Jose. His opera roles also include Escamillo in Carmen, Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas, the title role in Don Giovanni, John Proctor in The Crucible, and Count Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro.

The gamba family on stage

Many of us are familiar with the viola da gamba: CBS's performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion prominently featured one in the tenor aria "Geduld" and the bass aria "Komm süßes Kreuz."  But have you ever seen a treble gamba or an alto gamba?  Join us this weekend to see all the different members of the gamba or viol family on stage.

For more about viols, watch this video from the Viola da Gamba Society of America about the pardessus de viole, a treble gamba: https://vdgsa.org/pgs/mp4/chancey.mp4

Charpentier with 5 gambas!

The program for A Charpentier Showcase includes works written for chorus and soloists with strings, typically violins and violas, and perhaps one viola da gamba.  But our ensemble is five gambas and two flutes.  We asked Paul Flight, why five gambas?  He writes: "Truth be told, I heard Jordi Savall's Le Concert des Nations performing the music with gambas, and I liked the delicate timbre of the viols.   I think the addition of two flutes gives a lovely smoothness as well."

Listen to this excerpt and see what you think:  Maestro Savall leading the soloists and players in the Missa "Assumpta est Maria"

 

 

Program Notes: A Charpentier Showcase

PROGRAM NOTES

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) was a French composer of the Baroque era.  Exceptionally prolific and versatile, Charpentier produced compositions of the highest quality in several genres. His mastery in writing sacred vocal music, above all, was recognized and hailed by his contemporaries.  And yet, his music was also controversial during his lifetime; he had as many vociferous detractors as supporters. What is most striking to modern listeners is probably the transparent emotion expressed in his music, giving it an extraordinarily modern sensibility. He is best known for his noble and often achingly poignant religious works, but his secular love songs dazzle with their simplicity and unmannered charm, and other works reveal a wicked wit.

Charpentier was born in or near Paris. He received a good education and entered law school in Paris when he was eighteen, but he withdrew after only one semester. He spent several years in Rome, probably between 1667 and 1669, and studied with Giacomo Carissimi. There he acquired a solid knowledge of contemporary Italian musical practice and brought it back to France.

Upon his return to France, Charpentier began working as house composer to Marie de Lorraine, Duchess of Guise, who was known familiarly as "Mlle de Guise." She gave him an apartment in the recently renovated Hôtel de Guise. For the next seventeen years, Charpentier composed a considerable quantity of vocal works for her, among them Psalm settings, hymns, motets, a Magnificat setting, a mass and a Dies Irae for the funeral of her nephew Louis Joseph, Duke of Guise, and a succession of Italianate oratorios set to non-liturgical Latin texts. Throughout the 1670s, the bulk of these works were for trios. Then, about 1680, Mlle de Guise increased the size of the ensemble until it included thirteen performers. In the pieces written from 1684 until late 1687, the names of the musicians appear in the margins of Charpentier's manuscripts—including "Charp" for himself beside the haute-contre (high tenor) line. 

During his years of service to Mlle de Guise, Charpentier also composed for "Mme de Guise," Louis XIV's first cousin. It was in large part owing to Mme de Guise's protection that the Guise musicians were permitted to perform Charpentier's chamber operas in defiance of the monopoly held by Jean Baptiste Lully.

In 1679, Charpentier was singled out to compose for Louis XIV's son, the Dauphin. Writing primarily for the prince's private chapel, he composed devotional pieces for a small ensemble composed of royal musicians, an ensemble that, with Mlle de Guise's permission, could perform works he had earlier composed for the Guises. By early 1683, when he was awarded a royal pension, Charpentier was being commissioned to write for court events such as the annual Corpus Christi procession.

By late 1687, Mlle de Guise was dying. Around that time, Charpentier entered the employ of the Jesuits.

 Stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

From late 1687 to early 1698, Charpentier served as maître de musique (music master) to the Jesuits, working first for their collège of Louis-le-Grand and then for the church of Saint-Louis. Once he moved to Saint-Louis, Charpentier virtually ceased writing oratorios and instead primarily wrote musical settings of Psalms and other liturgical texts.

Charpentier was appointed maître de musique for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in 1698, a royal post he held until his death in 1704.

 

Salve Regina, H. 24

Salve Regina (Welcome, Queen) utilizes triple choirs (two full choirs and a trio) and recalls the stylistic elements of the oratorio, as Charpentier skillfully manipulates the musical texture by combining and separating the three choirs, and using the small choir in the most dramatic gestures of the piece, especially in the astounding “Ad te clamamus section,” with its powerful dissonances that describe a painful descent into a “valley of tears.”

 

Nisi Dominus, H. 150

Psalm 127 (Unless the Lord built the house, those who built it labored in vain) has been set by many composers; its colorful imagery invites the composer’s imagination.  Written for four voices and light accompanying instruments, the work is introduced by a tenor solo.  The “Vanum est vobis” section is a treble duet that seems to pay tribute to Monteverdi with its lively rising lines on the word “surgite” (arise).  This is followed by a quiet four-part setting alluding to sleep, and then jumps vigorously into the words “Ecce heriditas Domini filii.” A bass solo then leads into the final triple meter “Beatus vir” and the rousing final doxology.

 

Litanies de la Vierge, H. 83

Litanies de la Vierge (Litanies of the Virgin) was composed under the auspices of Mlle de Guise. This work, also known as the Litany of Loreto, is represented in a volume of nine different settings, scored for a variety of vocal and instrumental forces, taking advantage of the personnel added by Mlle de Guise after 1680.  This particular setting requires six voices, two viols, and continuo.  The voice parts are notated with the names of the performers, including Charpentier’s name for the haute-contre (a very high tenor part, found in many French Baroque vocal works, sung in our performance by the altos).   With the exception of the opening and closing chorus, directed towards the Holy Trinity and towards Jesus (the Lamb of God), the remaining seven verses request the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and praise her mystical qualities and spiritual virtues.  The settings alternate between trios of the upper three voices, the lower three voices, and the full chorus, and also move between stately homophony and elegant counterpoint.

 

Missa “Assumpta est Maria” H. 11

Missa “Assumpta est Maria” (Mass “Mary is taken up into heaven,”) the last of Charpentier's many mass settings, is considered his greatest work in the genre. It was first performed at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, probably during the Feast of the Assumption in 1699. Its grandeur suggests that it accompanied considerable ecclesiastical display. Charpentier's decision to place the climax at the Creed's affirmation of belief in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church" would have had political resonances at a time when tensions between church and monarchy in France were high.

Throughout the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century, the mass sung in France remained outside the stylistic currents affecting other forms of secular and sacred music. Most of the masses that could be heard in Paris and in the provinces during the reign of Louis XIV were either plain-chant or polyphonic, sometimes written decades previously and adapted to the taste of the day by instrumental accompaniments.  Consequently, the eleven vocal masses left by Charpentier assume an exceptional brilliance, written in a much different “concertante” style. The manuscript indicates that early performances separated its sections with motets, instrumental music, and organ improvisations.  The mass ends, as did all masses written for the French king, with a short “God Save the King.”

 

Motet pour les trépassés, H. 311

The text of Motet pour les trépassés (Motet for the Deceased) comes from the book of Job. This text was often used for funeral services. The writing is for double choir, interspersed with trios and soloists.  The middle section is quite dramatic; the translated text is “Oh my Lord, why have you made me a target?”  The setting is recitative-like, starting out with a solo voice and then joined with others. The cries of “Heu” sound like cries of pain.

 

Following the motet is the “Agnus Dei” from Messe Pour Les Trépassés (Mass for the Deceased). It is written for double chorus in concertante style. The writing is hushed and simple. The first and third “Agnus Dei” are sung by the full choir. A low trio is assigned to the middle verse, which is distinguished by longer vocal lines with elegant ornamentation.

– Patricia Jennerjohn