Rachmaninoff: The All-Night Vigil

PROGRAM NOTES

Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff (1873 –1943) was a Russian composer, virtuoso pianist, and conductor of the late Romantic period, whose works are among the most popular in the Romantic repertoire.

Born into a musical family, Rachmaninoff took up the piano at age four. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892, having already composed several piano and orchestral pieces. In 1897, following the negative critical reaction to his Symphony No. 1, Rachmaninoff entered a four-year depression and composed little until successful therapy allowed him to complete his enthusiastically received Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1901. During the next sixteen years, Rachmaninoff conducted at the Bolshoi Theatre, relocated to Dresden, Germany, and toured the United States.

Following the Russian Revolution, Rachmaninoff and his family left Russia; in 1918, they settled in the United States, first in New York City. Because his main source of income was as a pianist and conductor, his time for composition was limited by demanding tour schedules: between 1918 and 1943, he completed just six works, including Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Symphony No. 3, and Symphonic Dances. By 1942, his failing health led to his move to Beverly Hills, California. One month before his death from advanced melanoma, Rachmaninoff was granted American citizenship.

In Rachmaninoff's work, early influences of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev, and Mussorgsky gave way to a personal style notable for its song-like melodicism, expressiveness, and rich orchestral colors. 

The All-Night Vigilwas composed in just two weeks, in early 1915. Like all traditional Russian church music, it is a cappella; instruments are not permitted in Orthodox services. The text is in Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Orthodox Church.  Rachmaninoff's work is a culmination of the preceding two decades of interest in Russian sacred music, as initiated by Tchaikovsky's setting of the All-Night Vigil. The similarities between the works, such as the extensive use of traditional chants, demonstrates the extent of Tchaikovsky's influence; however, Rachmaninoff's setting is much more complex in its use of harmony, textual variety, and polyphony.

The title of the work is often mistranslated as simply Vespers. This is both literally and conceptually incorrect as applied to the entire work: only the first six of its fifteen movements set texts from the Russian Orthodox canonical hour of Vespers.  The religious service itself combines three canonical hours—Vespers, Matins, and the First Hour—into one work. It is celebrated on the eves of Sundays and of major liturgical feasts.   A full religious service, including the music, does take all night. Rachmaninoff’s setting by itself is nearly seventy-five minutes of unaccompanied singing for chorus and soloists. 

Rachmaninoff set the twelve traditional parts of the Vigil to music and added three movements of his own (Nos. 12, 13, and 14), which, in his words, he created “in a conscious counterfeit of the ritual.” He made creative use of traditional church chants, using three styles: znamenny (in Nos. 8, 9, 12, 13, and 14), a more recitational "Greek" style (numbers 2 and 15), and "Kiev" chant — a chant developed in Kiev in the 16th and 17th centuries (Nos. 4 and 5). Rachmaninoff had studied ancient chant under Stepan Smolensky, to whom he dedicated the piece. The All-Night Vigilis written for a four-part choir, complete with basso profundo. However, in many sections there is three-, five-, six-, or eight-part harmony; at one point in the seventh movement, the choir is divided into eleven parts. Movements 4 and 9 each contain a brief tenor solo, while movements 2 and 5 feature lengthy solos respectively for alto and tenor

The Vigil was first performed in March of 1915 in Moscow, as a benefit for war relief. It was performed five more times over the next month to packed audiences and critical acclaim.

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The choir opens with the invitation to prayer, No. 1, “Come, Let Us Worship.” 

No. 2, “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” features a pure, melodic chant, alternating between the alto soloist and the chorus. Rachmaninoff uses the device of humming—not a part of the Orthodox musical tradition—to create additional texture and to give continuity to the sound.

No. 3, “Blessed Is the Man,” presents Psalm verses interspersed with triple “alleluias,” which increase in fullness and range as the movement progresses. 

No. 4, “Gladsome Light,” is an ancient hymn that “originally accompanied the entrance of the clergy into the church and the lighting of the evening lamp at sunset.” The tenors open with a serene chant, which is then interwoven first with the female voices, then with the basses, evoking the fading sun and the evening light. The final measures, with the soprano notes shimmering above the descending lines of the other three voices, suggest an eternal light shining throughout the night.

The text of No. 5, “Now Lettest Thou Thy Servant Depart,” is taken from the story of Simeon in the Gospel of Luke. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When the newborn Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon realized who he was. He blessed God, saying, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for my eyes have seen thy salvation.” Rachmaninoff said of this movement: “My favorite number in the work. . .is the fifth canticle. . . . I should like this sung at my funeral.” This movement has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C). When Rachmaninoff initially played this passage through to Nikolai Danilin, the choral conductor, in preparation for the first performance, he recalled that “Danilin shook his head, saying, ‘Now where on earth are we to find such basses? They are as rare as asparagus at Christmas!’ Nevertheless, he did find them. I knew the voices of my countrymen. . . .” 

 No. 6, “Rejoice, O Virgin,” is often performed as a separate piece and ranks among Rachmaninoff’s most popular compositions. 

No. 7, “Glory to God in the Highest,” is notable for the “onomatapoeic sound of bells, heard in the three-part chords of the soprano and tenor and later in the great rocking back and forth of the entire choir. . .culminating with a massive, resounding chord in which all the overtones are layered. In a liturgical context, bells would be rung at this point of the service.”

No. 8, “Praise the Name of the Lord,” features “two musical layers. . .the muscular znamenny chant sung by the altos and basses, while above it, the sopranos and tenors hover and swirl like choirs of cherubim and seraphim.” 

No. 9, “Blessed Art Thou, O Lord,” dramatically relates the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and his triumphant resurrection. The humming evokes a sense of mystery and wonder. 

No. 10, “Having Beheld the Resurrection of Christ,” alternates between the male voices and female voices, responding to each other in triumph and awe at the mystery of the resurrection.

No. 11, “My Soul Magnifies the Lord,” is Mary’s paean to God upon learning that she is to give birth to Jesus. 

No. 12, “The Great Doxology,” is the pinnacle of the Vigil. The chant begins in the altos until finally the voices come together in the powerful prayer, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

No. 13, “Today Salvation Has Come to the World,” and No. 14, “Thou Didst Rise From the Tomb,” return to the more meditative, traditional znamenny chant melodies, expressing a reverent gratitude for Divine mercy.  

In No. 15, “To Thee, Victorious Leader” the Vigil ends with the triumphant and joyful hymn of thanks and praise to Mary, the “Theotokos” or Mother of God.

 

Thanks to Wikipedia and the San Francisco Choral Society for program note source material.

- Patricia Jennerjohn

Soloists for Buon Natale, Nov 30 - Dec 2

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Soprano Caroline Jou Armitage is dedicated to performing with the highest standard of musicianship and the most sensitive expressivity in an effort to delight and move the listener. As a soloist, her interpretations have been described as “absolutely beautiful,”and her performance of Bach’s Cantata No. 21, “Ich hatte viel bekümmernis,” with the California Bach Society was delivered with “pitch-perfect clarity and affecting intensity” (San Francisco Classical Voice). She participated in the Baroque Academy at the Amherst Early Music Festival, presented a solo harpsichord recital at the 2018 Berkeley Early Music Festival, and has performed operatic roles in Paris and the Bay Area. Caroline is currently a co-director of Tactus, a Renaissance polyphony chamber choir, and studies voice with Karen Clark and harpsichord with Tamara Loring.

 

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Mezzo-soprano Mindy Ella Chu is capturing acclaim for her interpretations of concert works from composers like Mozart, Bach, and Handel. Praised for her “expressive vigor” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “liquid ornaments and a pleasantly earthy timbre” (San Francisco Classical Voice), Chu made her international solo debut in 2015 performing John Rutter's Magnificat and Handel's Messiah in Tokyo and Osaka. In 2017, she made her Carmel Bach Festival debut as a main stage soloist where she performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Copland’s American Songs, and Bach’s Ascension Oratorio. Highlights of the 2018–2019 season include Francesca Caccini’s Alcina with Boston Early Music Festival’s Chamber Opera Series, a Bach Collegium San Diego debut season, Handel’s Messiah with La Jolla Symphony, and a Duruflé Requiem recording with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Chu has performed as soloist and chorister with opera companies, ensembles on both coasts such as Apollo’s Fire, Peninsula Symphony, Voices of Ascension NYC, Yale Choral Artists, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Quicksilver, and has worked with conductors Steven Stubbs, Paul O’Dette, Masaaki Suzuki, David Hill, Craig Jessop, Andrew Megill, and Helmut Rilling. Chu’s discography credits include albums with American Bach Soloists and Hyperion Records. Chu received a Master in Music from Yale University in Early Music, Oratorio & Chamber Ensemble. During her time at Yale, she performed as soloist and chorister with Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415 in venues around America and six different countries. Chu was heard live in performance on BBC Radio 3 in the United Kingdom and WQXR New York City. She has recorded solo vocals in Cantonese for Disneyland Hong Kong. She currently resides in Los Angeles. www.mindyellachu.com

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Mark Bonney, tenor, is based in London and performs in the UK, the United States, and Europe. His repertoire includes major works from the high baroque and classical periods. Recent stage credits include Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the title role in Handel’s Jephtha, Aeneas in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, Mengone in Haydn’s Lo Speziale, and Paulino in Domenico Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage. In concert, he particularly enjoys interpreting the Evangelist roles in Bach’s Passions. Mark also performs frequently in renowned British ensembles, including the Monteverdi Choir, the Gabrieli Consort, and Britten Sinfonia Voices.  Mark recently completed a masters in music and a graduate certificate in historical performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He is also an alumnus of the Berlin Opera Academy, the Franz Schubert Institut and the American Bach Soloists Academy. Mark began his musical training as a treble in the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys. He went on to study voice and political science at Stanford University and then balanced careers in international development and music for several years before specializing in vocal performance.

 

Buon Natale, Program Notes

Christmas in Italy

Across Italy, Natale tends to be a family-oriented holiday, a time to stay at home with loved ones. Christmas officially kicks off in Italy on December 8, the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This is when decorations go up, both on the streets and inside Italian homes, and when Christmas markets start.

The eight days before Christmas are filled with carolers singing traditional songs around the neighborhood. In Rome, southern Italy, and Sicily, one can see the the zampognari, or bagpipe players, originally shepherds who came down from the mountains to play in the market squares.

One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity scene (presepio). Having cribs in the home became popular in the 16th century, and it's still popular today. Cribs are traditionally put out on the 8th December. But the figure of the baby Jesus isn't put into the crib until the evening of December 24. Decorated with lights, wreaths, and trees, these Nativity scenes are displayed in many churches and piazzas. 

The official end of the Christmas season is January 6—the Day of the Epiphany and the twelfth day of Christmas. 

We are pleased to transport you to Italy for a Christmas celebration! Our program presents, in the language of music, many of these lovely traditions.

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725)

Scarlatti was born in Palermo, then part of the Kingdom of Sicily. He is generally said to have been a pupil of Giacomo Carissimi in Rome. Scarlatti's music forms an important link between the early Baroque Italian vocal styles of the 17th century, centered in Florence, Venice and Rome, and the classical school of the 18th century. Scarlatti's style, however, is more than a transitional element in Western music; he shows an almost modern understanding of the psychology of modulation and frequently makes use of changing phrase lengths.

The Magnificat Primo Tonois a setting of the famous utterance of Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord,” for five voices and continuo.  The text settings alternate between full and rich homophonic declarations, florid solos, and contrapuntal writing for smaller ensembles, creating a great variety in texture.  Scarlatti weaves the original plainchant into the writing (at the words “deposuit potentes”) with long, sustained notes in the second soprano part.

Giovanni Luigi da Palestrina (c. 1525­–1594)

Palestrina was born in the town of Palestrina, near Rome. Documents suggest that he first visited Rome in 1537, when he is listed as a chorister at the Santa Maria Maggiore basilica. He spent most of his career in Rome. Palestrina had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work is considered as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony.

Palestrina came of age as a musician under the influence of the northern European style of polyphony, which owed its dominance in Italy primarily to two influential Netherlandish composers, Guillaume Dufay and Josquin des Prez, who had spent significant portions of their careers there. Contemporary analysis highlights the modern qualities in the compositions of Palestrina such as color and sonority, use of sonic grouping in large-scale setting, interest in vertical as well as horizontal organization, and attention to text setting. 

Hodie Christus natus est(Today Christ is born) is a double choir (SSAB+ATTB) motet from Palestrina’s third volume of motets, published in Venice in 1575. It is based on the text of the Magnificat antiphon for the Second Vespers on Christmas Day. This motet exploits the possibilities of effective contrast: by using the differing sonorities of a high choir and a low choir; by setting off slow-moving passages expressing the solemnity of the celebration of Christ’s birth against rapid antiphonal exchanges of joyful cries of “noe, noe”; by using running passages to reflect the rejoicing of the angels; and by reserving until the concluding section of the motet the use of triple time for the final exchanges of “noe.”

Claudio Merulo (1533–1604)

Merulo was an Italian composer, publisher, and organist of the late Renaissance period, who is most famous for his innovative keyboard music and his ensemble music composed in the Venetian polychoral style. He was born in Correggio and died in Parma. Born Claudio Merlotti, he Latinized his surname when he became famous in Venice.

Merulo’s keyboard music was hugely influential, and his ideas can be seen in the music of Sweelinck, Frescobaldi and others; because of the immense influence of Sweelinck as a teacher, much of the virtuoso keyboard technique of the north German organ school, culminating in Johann Sebastian Bach, can claim to be descended from the innovations of Merulo. Although the fame of his instrumental music has overshadowed much of his vocal output, Merulo wrote madrigals and motets for double choir in the manner of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. 

Lux fulgebit hodie (A light will shine upon us today) is the Introit for the second Mass on Christmas Day, which is said at dawn (the first Mass, of course, being Midnight Mass).  A setting for seven voices, the vocal lines flow smoothly towards the triumphant “Et vocabitur Admirabile, Deus” (And He will be called Wonderful, God).

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813­–1901) 

Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his thirties, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

The earliest of the Quattro pezzi sacri (Four Sacred Pieces) in terms of its composition date is what came to be known as Laudi alla Vergine Maria(although Verdi himself did not give it that title). It was composed between 1886 and 1888, during which time he was also working on his penultimate opera, Otello, which premiered in 1887.  Set for four female voices, it is based on a short prayer from Canto XXXIII of Dantes's Paradiso,the third part of his DivinaCommedia. Verdi alludes to the counterpoint of Renaissance music. Each stanza is introduced by a new motif. Biographer Budden describes the piece as "with the subtlest of harmonic and rhythmic inflexions, unashamedly modern in character.”

Giovanni Croce (1557–1609)

Croce was an Italian composer of the Venetian School in the late Renaissance. He was particularly prominent as a madrigalist. Stylistically, Croce was more influenced by Andrea Gabrieli than his nephew Giovanni; Croce preferred the emotional coolness, the Palestrina clarity and the generally lighter character of Andrea's music. Croce’s sacred music shows a development from the even-textured style of Palestrina to the more modern Venetian style of his day.  

Quaeramus cum pastoribus, a double choir motet for Christmastide, features “call and response” writing, but it does not adhere fully to that Venetian style, as sometimes a question and answer alternate between the two choirs (the typical Venetian treatment), and at other times each choir asks and answers the questions by itself.  The two choirs separate and join together, creating varied textures and sonorities. Sections of the motet are separated by the traditional “noe, noe” Christmas response.

Bepi (Guiseppe) De Marzi (b. 1935)

Giuseppe De Marzi, known as Bepi, was born in Arzignano in the Valle del Chiampo in 1935, where he lived until 2015, when he moved to Vicenza. He was a music educator, and a teacher of organ and organ composition at the Canneti Municipal Institute of Vicenza; he also taught in the diocesan seminary of Vicenza.  De Marzi has published much instructional music for nursery and primary school, as well as songs for baptisms, confirmations, and marriages.

In Pastori, a gently rocking rhythm paints a picture of the humble birth of Jesus, describing the first lullaby (“ninnananna”) sung to him by the shepherds.

Traditional Christmas Carols

Tu scendi dalle stelle(You come down from the stars) is perhaps the best-known Italian Christmas carol. It was originally written in 1732 in Naples by Saint Alphonsus Liguori in the musical style of a pastorale. Though found in numerous arrangements and commonly sung, it is traditionally associated with the zampogna, or large-format Italian bagpipe.

Gesù bambin l'è nato in tanta povertà (The Infant Jesus is born in such poverty) is a traditional carol from the Canavese area, in the province of Turin. This song, with some textual and melodic variations, is popular throughout northern Italy.

Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936)

Respighi was born Bologna, Italy, into a musical family. His father, a local piano teacher, encouraged his son's musical inclinations and taught him basic piano and violin at an early age. 

Respighi was an enthusiastic scholar of Italian music of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. His studies influenced his later compositions and led to a number of works based on early music, notably his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dancesand the suite Gli uccelli(The Birds). 

Lauda per la Natività del Signore(Laud to the Nativity), written in 1930, is a cantata for three soloists (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor), mixed chorus, and chamber ensemble (woodwinds and piano four-hands).  The text, written by 13th century Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi, tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the shepherds’ perspective and utilizes the vocal soloists as the main characters: the Angel (soprano), Mary (mezzo-soprano), and the Shepherd (tenor). The pastoral mood of the piece is a perfect setting for the story, and demonstrates Respighi’s “new old music” composition style—using more modern harmonies and instrumentation in conjunction with old forms and melodies such as madrigals, plainchant, and fugues.  

—Patricia Jennerjohn

 

Program Notes for J.S.Bach, Missa Brevis in A Major and Cantata 198

Ich lasse dich nicht

Ich lasse dich nicht (BWV Anh. 159) was attributed in the 19th century to both Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Christoph Bach, his father’s cousin. Fritz Wüllner, the editor of the second complete edition of the music of J.S. Bach, described the piece as “one of the most beautiful works of German church music,” but not “authentic,” and identified Johann Christoph Bach as the composer. When Wolfgang Schmieder created the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (BWV) catalog in 1950, he followed Wüllner and placed the motet in the appendix as “presumably by Johann Christoph Bach.” But recent scholarship has settled on Johann Sebastian Bach as the composer. 

Ich lasse dich nicht was found, written partly in Bach’s hand, in the Altbachisches Archiv, a collection of music of the Bach family that the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff rediscovered in Kiev in 1999. Bach scholars now assume that J. S. Bach composed the first movement, possibly during his Weimar period around 1712. The chorale is a transcription of one of his organ pieces and was possibly added in the 19th century. John Eliot Gardiner, who recorded the Bach motets, including this one, in 2011, comments on the authorship:

“Was Bach copying or composing here? We cannot be totally sure, but from the evidence of the way the score is presented it suggests this was indeed composed by Bach, in which case it is the earliest surviving motet of his. . . . In terms of style it gives the impression of occupying a midway point between that of Johann Christoph Bach and, say, Fürchte dich nicht. Indeed it feels almost like a tribute from Bach to his elder cousin, whom he dubbed ‘the profound composer.‘ “

Missa in A Major (BWV 234)

This mass is one of four “Missae breves” or “Lutheran Masses” that Bach composed. It has a Kyrie and Gloria, but no Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus. 

In his last decade, Bach suddenly turned to the composition and performance of the concerted mass to complement the older motet-style contrapuntal settings. The obvious reason is that Bach wanted to introduce more concerted, cantata-style settings of the Mass to keep Leipzig up to date with modern church music. 

Bach frequently recycled previous compositions. In this Mass he made use of existing movements from his sacred cantatas for four of the six movement sections. He adapted the chorus of Cantata 67 for the “Gloria.” Cantata 179 provided the material for the soprano aria “Qui tollis” and Cantata 79 for the alto aria “Quoniam.” And the great concluding fugue was taken from Cantata 136.

As Ed Myskowski wrote on the Bach Cantatas Website: “That the four Masses are ignored by scholars and performers alike as poor cousins is a scandal.” 

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118) is known to have been performed at a funeral and was possibly a generic work intended for funerals. When the work was first published in the nineteenth century, it was called a cantata, perhaps because it has an instrumental accompaniment. 

Written around 1736 or 1737, the first known performance was at the graveside ceremony in 1740 for Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming, governor of Leipzig. 

O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Lichtis a motet version of the chorale “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid.” The lower voices of the choir sing counterpoint to the chorale melody line in the soprano. The piece is scored for four-part choir. It is structured as a chorus with verses separated by instrumental interludes. The number of verses sung would likely correspond to the length of the procession for which the work was used. There are a total of fifteen verses, of which only two are performed in this concert.

Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl

This secular cantata, BWV 198, is the mourning ode for Saxon Electoress and Polish Queen Christiane Eberhardine. The text by Johann Christoph Gottsched follows learned conventions rooted in classical rhetoric, lamenting and emphasizing the extent of the loss, praising and memorializing the electoress, and consoling her loyal subjects. Bach carved the text somewhat arbitrarily into the alternating recitatives and arias with framing choruses characteristic of the cantata form. However, he honors the many striking images in the poem by giving the recitatives graphic orchestral accompaniment, rather than continuo alone, and by setting the music for an unusually diverse and colorful instrumental ensemble, including flutes, oboes, oboes d’amore, violins, violas, violas da gamba, two lutes, and continuo.

The memorial highlighted the religious conflict in Saxony. The electoress was revered by her Lutheran subjects for not concurring with her husband’s conversion to Catholicism; hence she is referred to as “protector of the faith” in this cantata. Under the law, the elector had the right to force his subjects to convert to his faith of choice. Just a few years later, Bach proved he had carefully navigated these tensions, seeking and receiving an official position as court composer at the Catholic Saxon court.

–Patricia Jennerjohn

 

Christiane Eberhardine, "Mother of the People"

The electors of Saxony in Dresden had always been strong supporters of the Reformation and the Lutheran Faith.  So when in 1696, August the Strong (1670-1733) converted to Catholicism in order to also obtain the title of King of Poland, his Saxon subordinates were appalled and horrified. The Protestants in Saxony feared the Polish Catholics would enforce a counter-reformation in their country.

August the Strong’s wife, Christiane Eberhardine refused to convert also, refused to attend the coronation, and even refused to ever set foot in Poland.  She became a heroine to the people of Saxony, the mascot of the Protestants.

Christiane Eberhardine would join her husband in Dresden for important events, such as the state visit of the King of Denmark in 1709 and the wedding of her son in 1719.  She lived in voluntary exile about 100 miles (1-2 days travel in those days) from the Dresden court in the town of Torgau during the winter, and in the town of Pretzsch in summer. Her husband rarely missed her, spending his time with a series (at least 17) of mistresses between 1694 and his death in 1733.

When she died on September 5, 1727, it was in Pretzsch an der Elbe that she had a simple Lutheran burial in St. Nicholas Evangelical Church. Her husband did not attend, nor did her son.

However, the Protestants wanted to give her a ceremony worth of a queen, and especially worth of the “Landesmutter” (mother of the people) that she had been to them.  Among the students at the Leipzig University was a young (23-year-old) wealthy nobleman, Hans Carl von Kirchbach (1704-1753).  He got permission from King August to hold a memorial service at the University. Von Kirchbach funded the event himself.  He also spoke the Ode in between the two parts of the cantata.  He persuaded the University to cooperate and offer its church, St. Paulikirche, to hold the memorial service.  It was thus not officially a church service, as the Queen of Poland could not have an official Lutheran service, but a University event.  Among the guests were dignitaries of the University, but also rulers from Saxony and abroad, and many important ladies. 

The fact that the memorial was privately funded and presented as a University event must have made it easier for Bach to get good singers and instrumentalists. For singers he did not have to use the ill-qualified boys of St. Thomas School, and for instrumentalists he could also draw on the secular Collegium Musicum.  It is interesting that even though Christiane Eberhardine was never crowned Queen of Poland, she still carried the title, and Bach’s inscription on the title of cantata reads:

Tombeau de S.M. la Reine de Pologne

(on the grave of Her Majesty the Queen of Poland)

— Wieneke Gorter, October 5, 2018

Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Program Notes for Un musicien de premier ordre, Marc-Antoine Charpentier

 

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.

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, Duchesse de 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. Throughout the 1670s, the bulk of these works were for trios. Then, around 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. The Litanies de la Vierge, written circa 1684, was among these works.

In 1679, while still employed by Mlle de Guise, 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. With Mlle de Guise's permission, this ensemble performed works he had earlier composed for the De 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.

After Mlle de Guise passed away, Charpentier served as maître de musique to the Jesuits, working first for their Collège Louis-le-Grand and then for the church of Saint-Louis. By this time he had virtually ceased writing oratorios and instead primarily wrote musical settings of Psalms and other liturgical texts.

In 1698, Charpentier was appointed maître de musique for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a royal post he held until his death in 1704. This Sainte-Chapelle post was the most prestigious choral conductor job in all of France at the time. It was during this time that Charpentier wrote the Missa “Assumpta est Maria.”

 

Salve Regina, H. 24

Salve Regina (Welcome, Queen) features 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. The most expressive of these is the astounding “Ad te clamamus” (We cry to thee) section, with its powerful dissonances that describe a painful descent into a “vale of tears” (lacrimarum valle).

 

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. Our regular audience members might remember Handel’s setting, which we sang in April. Written for four voices and accompanying instruments, the work is introduced by a tenor solo.  The “Vanum est vobis” (It is in vain for you to rise before daybreak) 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” (Lo, children are the heritage of the Lord). A bass solo then leads into the final triple meter “Beatus vir” (Happy is he) 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. 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

The Missa “Assumpta est Maria” (Mass for the Assumption of Mary) is the last of Charpentier's many mass settings and is considered his greatest work in the genre. It was first performed at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, most probably on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 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 decades old, 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.”

 

– Patricia Jennerjohn

Soloists for Un musicien de premier ordre - Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Samuel Faustine

Samuel Faustine, tenor, performs a variety of genres ranging from Baroque opera to modern musical theater. Samuel has recently performed the roles of Anthony in Sweeney Todd (San Jose Stage), Vašek in the Bartered Bride (Pocket Opera), Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors (Ray of Light Theatre), Curly in Oklahoma (Broadway by the Bay), the Roasted Swan in Carmina Burana (San Jose Sinfonia, Awesome Orchestra) and many leading roles with Lamplighters Music Theatre. Samuel sings countertenor in addition to tenor. He is an active member of the Bay Area’s choral and sacred music communities, frequently performing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Gaude, Volti, Cappella SF, and many other local ensembles. He maintains a music studio in San Francisco, teaching voice, music theory, musicianship, and several instruments. Visit Samuelfaustine.com for more information. 

 

Tim Silva

Tim Silva, tenor, is a proud native of the East Bay. After seven years in the classroom as a PreK-8th grade music teacher, Tim has moved into choral directing, working as an assistant conductor for the Piedmont East Bay Children's Choirs, and directing a tenor-bass ensemble called Chorum. As a singer, he regularly works with Volti, Gaude, and the Throckmorton Theatre Chorus, and has just joined the professional ranks of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. An active collaborator and versatile performer, he has performed and/or recorded with Artists' Vocal Ensemble, Chalice Consort, Iron Henry, Kathy Stephan, Kronos Quartet, Marin Symphony, Michael Bang, Nick Hours, ODC/Dance, Russian National Orchestra, San Francisco Choral Artists, and others. He has recorded the music of many living composers, including Paul Chihara, Kui Dong, Michael Gandolfi, and Terry Riley.

 

Clayton Moser

Clayton Moser, bass, was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and grew up in a rich choral music environment. He is actively involved with multiple choirs on both coasts, including Gaude, Capella SF, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Taylor Festival Choir in Charleston, South Carolina. Clayton came to California to pursue a Master's Degree in Composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Dan Becker. Clayton believes music has a great restorative power for the human psyche and is an active sound healer. He holds a certificate in Sound, Voice, and Music Healing from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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