Program Notes for 26 October, 2007

Albuquerque Baroque Players
with guest Elizabeth Ronan, soprano
for the Aphra Behn Society Meeting at UNM
7 p. m., Friday, 26 October 2007, at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church

Music by Women Composers

with guest Elizabeth Ronan, soprano

for the Aphra Behn Society Meeting at the University of New Mexico

7 p. m., Friday, 26 October 2007, at St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church

Sonata in F major................................................................................ Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (c. 1666-1729)
[Prélude]
Preste—Adagio—Presto
Aria—Adagio

violin, basso continuo

L’amante segreto ....................................................................................................................Barbara Strozzi (1619-after 1663)
Lamento
Amor dormiglione

voice, basso continuo

Sonata in B minor........................................................................................................................................ Anna Bon (c. 1739-?)
Allegro moderato
Adagio non molto
Allegro

harpsichord

*****intermission*****

Sonata duodecima........................................................................................................................ Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
Adagio—Allegro e presto
Vivace, e largo—Spiritoso—[Adagio]
Aria. Allegro—Veloce

violin, basso continuo

Maria, dolce.................................................................................................................. Maria Francesca Caccini (1587-?1640)
Haec dies
Ch’amor sia nudo
La Pastorella mia

voice, violin, basso continuo

Translations

Strozzi, L’amante segreto (The secret lover)

I would rather die than have my pain be discovered.

O fatal misfortune!
The more my eyes behold her beautiful face,
The more my mouth keeps my desire buried.
He who has no remedy remains silent.
His suffering does not care what his fate may be,
Or if, under such a lovely sky, he perishes.

I often look at my beautiful lady,
And she turns a compassionate glance towards me
As if to say, “Reveal your torment”—
Because she no doubt recognizes my longing and ardor.

But I would rather die than have my pain be discovered.

The young blade of grass, which in the cold frost
Languidly bows its head,
Happily greens all the more
As soon as the sun appears.
So it is with me: if any fear freezes my heart,
I regain strength when she appears.

But I would rather die than have my pain be discovered.

Throw away your powerful bow and arrows,
Cupid, and refrain from shooting at me!
If not for my love, then do it for your honor, proud god,
For it does not reflect glory upon a strong warrior
To kill someone who is already close to death.

trans. Howard Weiner

Strozzi, Lamento (Lament)

My tears, why do you delay?
Why do you not give vent to your fierce grief
That robs me of breath and oppresses my heart?

Lydia, whom I so adore,
Since she gave me—ah!—a pitiful glance,
Her strict father keeps a prisoner;
Within two walls she is shut up,
The pretty, innocent creature,
Where the sun’s rays cannot reach her.
And what grieves me even more
And increases my awful torments and pain
Is that it is my fault that
My beloved suffers such misfortune.
Every sadness shall assail me;
Every mourning shall become eternal;
Every evil shall so afflict me
That it will kill and bury me.

And you, o aching eyes, are you not going to weep?
My tears, why do you delay?

Lydia, o woe is me! I see her slipping away,
My idol whom I so adore.
She is imprisoned by hard marble,
She for whom I breathe and do not yet die.

If death is welcome to me
Now that I am deprived of hope,
Ah, then take my life from me,
I beg, you, o bitter grief!

So if it is true, dear Lord,
That for my tears alone cruel fate thirsts,
My tears, why do you delay?
Why do you not give vent to your fierce grief
That robs me of breath and oppresses my heart?

trans. Clive Williams

Strozzi, Amor dormiglione (Cupid the sleepyhead)

Cupid, sleep no longer!
Arise now, wake up, for while you are asleep
My pleasures sleep, too, and my troubles are awake!
Don’t be a good-for-nothing, Cupid!
Arrows, arrows, fire, fire!
Arise, sleep no longer! Wake up now, Cupid, arise!

Ah, you lazy creature, you slowpoke,
You have no common sense.
Stupid Cupid! Cowardly Cupid!
Ah, while I remain filled with ardor,
You sleep on, Cupid.
That I really don’t need!

trans. Clive Williams

Caccini, Maria, dolce Maria (Mary, sweet Mary)

Mary, sweet Mary:
Name so gentle that pronouncing it enraptures my heart;
Name sacred and holy that enflames my heart with celestial love.
Mary, never as long as I sing
Can my tongue a happier word pull from my breast than to say Mary:
Name that tempers and consoles every sorrow;
Word so tranquil that it calms every worry,
That it makes every heart serene, every soul content.
(There are puns in lines 5 and 6, where “voce” means both “word” and “voice,” and “affanno” means both “worry” and “breathlessness.”)

trans. Suzanne Cusick

Caccini, Haec dies (This is the day) (Gradual for Easter Mass)

This is the day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Alleluia.

Caccini, Ch’amor sia nudo (That Cupid is naked)

That Cupid is naked, with wings on his back, flying around without finding shelter is conceit.
But that he descends through the eyes into the heart, where he makes his refuge, is truth.

And that he is blind and never looks where he is striking and in that way draws his bow is conceit.
But that he opens his eyes and with no blindfold takes aim and in that way pulls the bowstring is truth.

That he lightly flies among mortals as well as celestial hearts and never stops to rest is conceit.
But that he has the habit to linger forever where he rests his feathers for just one day is truth.

And I know well that trying to deny that my neck bows under his cruel yoke is conceit.
But if I declare that I am burning and have burned and will burn in my strengthening love, then that is truth.

trans. Elizabeth Ronan

Caccini, La Pastorella mia (My shepherdess)

My shepherdess, among flowers, is the lily—indeed, more fragrant than the rose.
Among jewels, she is the lovely vermillion ruby, if I see the color of her lips.
And among fruits, I compare her to the pomegranate, which has a crown and is leader of all.
She seems, among other girls, even a queen—indeed, the Queen of Love among the stars.

trans. Suzanne Cusick

Notes:

While women have been writing music at least since medieval times—as witness, for example, Hildegard of Bingen and the female troubadours and trouvères—it was not until the Baroque era (roughly, 1600-1750) that women began to appear in relatively large numbers as professional composers. An important catalyst for this development was the rise of female vocal ensembles in the northern-Italian courts, where young women were recruited and trained as professional musicians. Similarly, the growth of opera—in France as well as on the Italian peninsula—provided many opportunities for female singers. Musical education during this period typically included training in composition, and many women got their start as composers by performing their own works. Not surprisingly, perhaps, most of the music written by women during this period was for the voice, although some women wrote for instruments as well. On this evening’s program we will perform a variety of both vocal and instrumental music by some outstanding composers, ranging over the entire Baroque period.

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre was “discovered” (as we might say today) as a five-year-old prodigy, playing the harpsichord and singing at the court of Louis XIV. A protégée of Louis’ mistress Madame de Montespan, she remained at court until her marriage, then moved to Paris where she quickly became renowned as a performer and teacher. Her first published work, a book of harpsichord pieces, appeared in 1687. Over the next three decades she composed an opera (the first by a French woman) and published numerous sacred and secular cantatas, chansons, violin sonatas, and trio sonatas. Our selection, from a set of six sonatas published in 1707, is on the Italian model of continuous sections—as opposed to discrete movements—that contrast dramatically and abruptly in tempo, meter, and mood. While much of this sonata is in the virtuosic Italian style, the Aria has the simple, even naïve, character of a folk song—or perhaps of a French air de cour, or courtly air. Jacquet de la Guerre is noted for her original and often daring harmonic practice; her penchant for shifts between major and minor sonorities is evident in this sonata.

The Venetian-born Barbara Strozzi may have been the first woman to make a career as a professional composer outside of the courts of Europe . A pupil of Francesco Cavalli, Strozzi enjoyed the support of her adoptive (and possibly also biological) father, the poet and dramatist Giulio Strozzi, who provided the texts for his daughter’s first published collection. More significantly, Giulio provided Barbara with an entrée into the (male) world of the Venetian intelligentsia. In 1637 he founded the Accademia degli Unisoni, a musical debating society at whose meetings Barbara, an accomplished soprano, not only performed but also suggested topics for debate. On one occasion the Accademia tackled the question of whether tears or song were the more effective means of persuasion in love. Music won the debate; Barbara’s concluding remark was “well do I know that I would not have received the honor of your presence … had I invited you to see me cry rather than to hear me sing.” Her favorite topic for her own compositions seems to have been unrequited love, as witness the three works on tonight’s program. Much of “L’Amante segreto” consists of vocal variations over what one musician has called a “depressed passacaglia”—a repeated four-note descending bass line. The “Lamento” is punctuated by an unforgettably vivid setting of the words “My tears, why do you delay;” throughout, Strozzi elevates the rather conventional text with her musical depictions of many nuances of feeling. In a lighter vein, but still arguably on the topic of unrequited love, is our final Strozzi selection, “Amor dormiglione.”

The least well-known composer on our program signed her published works “Anna Bon di Venezia,” but it’s possible that she was born in Russia , where her parents worked for a time at the St. Petersburg court. She apparently did study at Venice ’s Ospedale della Pietà, where Antonio Vivaldi had once served as music master. Her parents’ careers—her mother was a comic-opera singer, her father a stage designer, impresario, librettist, and composer—ultimately took the family to the court at Bayreuth, where Anna Bon published three collections of instrumental music, including the volume of harpsichord sonatas from which our selection is taken. These three collections, all published before Bon’s twenty-first birthday, comprise her only known compositions. The harpsichord sonatas, which appeared in 1757 when she was perhaps eighteen, combine elements of Baroque and pre-Classical, or galant, styles.

While four of our five composers worked in the secular milieus of the court and the academy (in the “debating society” sense of the word), one of the most prolific woman composers of the Baroque era entered a convent at age sixteen, eventually rising to the office of mother superior. During her long tenure at the Ursuline convent in Novara , Isabella Leonarda produced nearly two hundred compositions—chiefly sacred works such as masses, psalm settings, and motets, but also including what may be the first sonatas ever published by a woman composer. Her lone sonata for violin and continuo (preceded by a volume of eleven ensemble sonatas) is similar to the sonate da chiesa, or church sonatas, of Arcangelo Corelli in its alternation of slow and fast sections. Leonarda’s adagios are written-out improvisations with striking uses of dissonance, and at least one of the faster sections, while not really contrapuntal, might suggest a fugue subject, as in Corelli’s allegro movements. Incidentally, Leonarda is the only composer on tonight’s program who was not also known as a performer; Diane Jezic has suggested that the convent, unlike the court, provided the necessary conditions for musical creativity without the need for dazzling vocal or instrumental virtuosity.

Francesca Caccini, like Strozzi and Jacquet de la Guerre, did make a name for herself as both performer and composer. Trained in singing and composition by her father Giulio Caccini, the teenaged Francesca performed in Jacopo Peri’s opera Euridice on the occasion of Marie de Medici’s marriage to Henry IV. A few years later, in 1607, she was appointed to the Medici court in Florence , where she worked for more than twenty years as singer, teacher and composer. By the 1620s, she had become the highest-paid musician at the court, writing music for numerous court entertainments as well as at least one opera—probably the first ever published by a woman. Her Primo libro delle musiche, the only other work that she published, comprises 32 solo songs and four vocal duets in a variety of sacred and secular genres; we will perform four solo songs from this collection. Our sacred selections, the madrigal “Maria, dolce Maria” and the motet “Haec dies,” are highly melismatic—i.e., single syllables are set to multiple pitches, most notably on such words as “exultemus” (“let us rejoice”), “alleluia,” and “canto” (“I sing”). That Caccini inherited her father’s melodic gift is evident in these pieces. Her canzonetta “Ch’amor sia nudo,” intended to be accompanied by the Spanish guitar, is set more simply and syllabically. Finally, the aria “La pastorella mia” is based on the romanesca, a melodic-harmonic formula that served, during the 16 th and 17 th centuries, as a framework for instrumental variations as well as solo song. This aria is punctuated by brief instrumental ritornelli, or interludes, performed here on violin.

 

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