Program Notes for 15 & 16 April, 2006

with guest artist Elizabeth Ronan, soprano

Passacaille, from Trio Sonata in G major, op. 5/4...................................................................... George Friderick Handel (1685-1759)

oboe, violin, basso continuo

Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna ....................................................................................Tarquinio Merula (1594 or 1595-1665)

soprano, basso continuo

 

Variations on the Our Father................................................................................................................. Jacob van Eyck (c. 1589-1657)

recorder

 

The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation, when Our Saviour (at Twelve Years of Age) ...................................... ... Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

soprano, basso continuo

The Golden Rod.................................................................................................................................................. James Oswald (1711-1769)
Pastorale
Musette
Tempo di Minuetto

oboe, violin, basso continuo

Pianto della Madona ....................................................................................................................................Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

soprano, basso continuo

 

***intermission***

 

“Auferstehung Jesu,” Sonata XI from.............................................................................................. Heinrich IgnazFranz Biber (1644-1704)
the Mystery Sonatas
Sonata
Adagio

violin, basso continuo

Concerto in D major, RV 84........................................................................................................................ Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Allegro
Andante
Allegro

recorder, violin, basso continuo

 

 

Zürne nur, du alte Schlange................................................................................................................. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
(cantata for Easter Sunday)
Zürne nur (aria)
So singt der Gläubigen vergnügte Schar (recitative)
Singt nicht dein Herz halleluja? (aria)

soprano, oboe, violin, basso continuo

For this “Easter Baroque” program, we have chosen a mix of sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental pieces. We are delighted to have Elizabeth Ronan-Silva with us this weekend, making it possible for us to bring you music not only of this most festive day of the church year, but also of the Lenten season that precedes it.

The Lenten half of our program comprises three works for solo voice and continuo, alternating with three short instrumental pieces. The “voice” in all three vocal works is that of Mary, the mother of Jesus –a very human mother expressing very human emotions upon anticipating, then witnessing, the death of her son. While the Merula and Purcell works are set, respectively, during Jesus’ infancy and childhood, both foreshadow the Crucifixion that is the subject of Monteverdi’s lament.

In Merula’s Canzonetta spirituale, Mary sings a lullaby to the infant Jesus –a lullaby that is worlds away from the typical Christmas fare. The syncopated two-note ostinato in the continuo suggests an uneasy rocking, and its motif of two pitches a half-step apart can symbolize grief or pain –an effect that is heightened by the dissonant harmonies and rhythmic clashes to which the ostinato lends itself. The music becomes increasingly agitated as Mary foresees her son’s suffering and death, but becomes peaceful as she realizes they will meet again in Paradise. The inexorable ostinato finally stops, yielding to the slower-moving harmonies of the concluding section as Mary, perhaps exhausted, sinks below the soprano register before turning her gaze back to her sleeping baby.

Purcell’s Expostulation doesn’t overtly refer to the Crucifixion, but perhaps there is some premonition at work as Mary frantically searches for the twelve-year-old Jesus, who, unbeknownst to his parents, has stayed behind in Jerusalem to sit among the rabbis in the temple. One of two devotional works by Purcell that are derived from the English biblical-dialogue tradition, this piece is on the model of a miniature Italianate cantata. Purcell’s dramatic gifts are apparent in the recitative (or arioso) sections, where word repetitions, long melismas (single syllables set to multiple notes), disjunct lines, and chromaticisms all heighten the sense of distress –a distress that peaks as Mary repeatedly calls out to the angel Gabriel on a high G, over a chromaticized descending bass line. The more diatonic and metrically regular aria-like section that follows (“Me Judah’s daughters once caressed”) brings some relief, but the conflict between “faith and doubt” is never resolved, and the last emotion that Mary expresses is fear.

Monteverdi’s Pianto della Madona is a contrafactum (i.e., a composition in which an existing text is replaced by a new one) of his “Lamento d’Arianna.” Like Purcell, Monteverdi excelled as a musical dramatist –the “Lamento” is all that survives of his opera Arianna—and, once again, the focus is less on theological matters than on the feelings of a grieving mother. In fact, the text closely parallels that of the original lament. Ariadne has been abandoned by her lover Theseus, who is returning in triumph to Athens while leaving her stranded on the island of Naxos; Mary feels abandoned by her son Jesus, who has triumphed over the powers of hell but, she feels, is leaving her behind here on earth. (Incidentally, the reference to Jesus as sponse, or “spouse,” probably alludes to the Gospel parable of the wise and foolish virgins, in which Jesus is represented by the bridegroom.) The musical style is that of Monteverdi’s “second practice,” whereby the text is to be “mistress of the music [armonia] and not the servant.” The result is a kind of heightened speech, or declamation, that falls somewhere between recitative and song. There are dramatic, almost violent, contrasts in affect as the vocal line’s relatively low tessitura and flexible rhythm shift –for example, at the words “Is this the royal crown …?’’—to a higher register and insistently metrical rhythm. Throughout the piece, the text is further served by dissonances that are not prepared or resolved according to the conventions of the “first practice” that Monteverdi inherited from his Renaissance forbears.

Complementing these Lenten pieces are the instrumental selections by Handel, van Eyck, and Oswald. The Handel Passacaille, extracted from one of his opus-5 trio sonatas, consists of continuous variations on an eight-measure bass pattern that is itself varied. Another type of variation form is represented by van Eyck’s “Onse Vader” (“Our Father”), a set of four divisions on Martin Luther’s setting of his own German translation of the Lord’s Prayer. The solo recorder first plays the unelaborated tune, then embellishes, or “divides” it by interpolating ornamental pitches in successively shorter note values. Finally, Oswald’s “Golden Rod” is taken from the fourth volume of his Airs for the Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, a collection of suites of “flower pieces.” Oswald, a native of Scotland, spent most of his career in London, where he became fluent in English, French, and Italian styles. Our selection is in the international galant idiom of the mid-18 th century, with the added flavor of “Scotch snaps” in the Pastorale and Musette.

We open the Easter portion of our program with Biber’s “Resurrection” sonata, one of twelve “Mystery Sonatas” depicting scenes in the life of Christ. Biber is noted for his use of scordatura, or “mistuning,” and the tuning of this particular sonata is so radical that the violin’s two middle strings are crossed below the bridge! This may symbolize the Cross, or perhaps, as Andrew Manze has suggested, “the life-changing, world-changing nature of the sonata’s theme.” The first movement begins with an exuberant written-out violin improvisation over long pedal notes, followed by a canon and variations on the 14 th-century Easter hymn “Surrexit Christus hodie” (Christ is risen today”). The sonata concludes with a short, chorale-like Adagio.

Vivaldi’s chamber concerto has no such explicit program, but its celebratory character (there’s something about the key of D major!) makes it a fitting addition to an Easter concert. Despite its trio-sonata scoring, this work is on the model of the late-Baroque concerto, where a soloist, or group of soloists, is pitted against the larger ripieno group; the two groups are differentiated both by texture and by thematic material. Here, the entire ensemble takes the ripieno role, while the virtuosic solo episodes in the outer movements are played by the recorder with continuo. The songlike middle movement provides the soloist with ample opportunities for ornamentation over slow-moving, almost mechanistic harmonies in the violin and continuo.

We conclude with the Easter Sunday cantata from Telemann’s Fortsetzung des Harmonischen Gottesdienstes (“Continuation of the Musical Worship Service’), a cycle of 72 cantatas for the Lutheran liturgical year. Like all the cantatas in the cycle, Zürne nur comprises two da capo ( ABA) arias separated by a recitative. The first aria addresses Satan, the “old serpent,” whom Jesus has defeated by his death and resurrection. Telemann uses text-painting to good effect here, with long snakelike melismas on “Schlange;” later, the melodic and rhythmic shape given to the words “Jesus tramples you underfoot” suggests strong, confident footsteps. A striking feature of the second aria is the use of echo effects between voice and violin; an earlier version of this cantata gives the echo to a second soprano. Throughout both arias, instrumental fanfares contribute to the triumphant mood of this Easter cantata.

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