Monthly Archives: December 2013

Italy’s “Ensemble Accordone” writes contemporary music for today’s listener inspired by 6th- and 16th-century musical forms.

Featured Image is Ensemble Accordone in 2010.

By John P. Walsh

The Italian early Baroque ensemble “Ensemble Accordone” was founded in 1984 by two musicologists—composer Guido Morini (born 1959) and tenor Marco Beasley (Italian-English, born 1957). In the last decade the duo in collaboration with other musical artists has recorded and released 10 albums. This 45-minute opera composed by Moroni called Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis (Revive the Life Force Spirit) appeared in 2009. While Accordone’s main focus is arranging and performing musical literature of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is one of two recent albums by the group conceived from original compositions by Morini.

In their interpretations Accordone often seeks collaboration with outside musical artists and this is the case for Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis, an opera in three parts. The first part is Effuderunt Aquas Nubila (Poured out of murky waters) arranged for soloists, chorus, organ and basso continuo concertante. The Helicon and Euterpe choirs as well as soloists Elisabetta de Mircovich and Claudia Caffagni are featured. Special guest musicians performing include Karen Peeters, Jaap Kruithof, Edwin Derde, and Guido Morini. The opera’s conductor is Geert Hendrix. While Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is imbued with the monophonic structure of sixth century Gregorian chant and Baroque polyphony from one thousand years later, Accordone consciously strives in this album to have early music be easier for today’s listener to enjoy. While today’s listener may not recognize or be able to identify this melodious music’s traditional backbone, the manifestation of a “rigorous lyricism” demonstrates Accordone’s creative confidence in bringing early music into relevant practice for the 21st century.

Vivifice Spiritus Vitae Vis is the first part of a trilogy of compositions dedicated to the Christian Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit. By design the new commission by the Basilica Cattedrale della Vergine Assunta (Lodi Cathedral in northern Italy) is to counter today’s materialism by configuring the great religious traditions in a new way through contemporary music and words. This opera’s libretto is a new Latin translation by Ettore Garioni comprised exclusively of verses from the Old Testament.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier at Versailles: Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge (1702).

Le Concert des Nations in 2005.

Le Concert des Nations in 2005.

Text by John P. Walsh

Intriguing facts coincide in this live early music performance of the Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge (Mass and Motets for the Virgin) by Marc Antoine Charpentier (French, 1643-1704) and the Palace of Versailles in whose Royal Chapel it was recorded in 2007. In the Jules Hardouin-Mansart-designed chapel of 1699 (it was completed in 1710) is performed some of the greatest music ever composed by early music ensemble Hespèrion XXI and period instrument orchestra Le Concert des Nations led by Jordi Savall. The ninety-one minute music video in this post is directed by Olivier Simonnet and broadcast by MEZZO.

Only fourteen miles west of Paris, there are many ways to visit Versailles’ château and grounds because it is very big and expansive. The château has over two thousand windows (count: 2,153). In 2012 when former Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan sold his house he listed it at $29 million. For that price the residence boasted 32,683 square feet on seven acres near Chicago. What about Louis XIV’s Versailles? The royal château is over 720,000 square feet on two thousand acres. The visitor who wanders the 30 rooms of Jordan’s house could wander Versailles’ twenty-three hundred rooms.

To be expected, there is much to see inside the château: by one count, 6,123 paintings, 1,500 drawings, 15,000 engravings, 2,000 sculptures and 5,000 pieces of furniture. Most of the palace was built in the 1670s. It is interesting to host Charpentier’s Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge in the Royal Chapel. Composed in 1702, this brilliant new liturgical music of the time is performed in architectural space that was also new—to be completed in 1710 by the First Architect to the King’s brother-in-law because Mansart died in 1708 at nearby Marley-le-Roi.

What is Charpentier’s composition of Messe et Motets Pour La Vierge about? During the counter Reformation in the sixteenth century, the Catholic Church renewed its devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Charpentier was a prolific composer who had a diverse list of clients in Paris and the artist continually adapted his work. His religious music is complex for its musical relationships and its theological structures. Charpentier’s complete composition is not trivial. It supports varied expressions of Marian devotion—specifically, a didactic dialogue in her honor (Canticum in honorem Virginis Mariae Beatae homines…), a sorrowful Virgin at the foot of the Cross (Stabat mater dolorosa), a litany of the Virgin, and a great Mass in her honor for God’s glory (Assumpta est Maria…). Added to this theological variety are the different musical styles for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Charpentier’s final product is sublime and leads directly to the Mass worship on the Feast of Mary’s assumption into heaven which is August 15.

Messe et Motets pour la Vierge (1698)

Canticum in honorem Beate Virginis Mariae inter hominess et angelos (H.400)

In Nativitatem Domini Canticum: nuit (H.416)

Stabat Mater pour des religieuses (H.15)

Litanies de la Vierge a 6 voix et 2 dessus de violes (H.83)

Missa Assumpta Est Maria (H.11a)

Vocalists

Emmanuel Bardon, countertenor
Yves Bergé, bass
Pascal Bertin, countertenor
Daniele Carnovich, bass
Raphaële Kennedy, soprano
Jean François Novelli, tenor
Jordi Ricart, baritone
Arianna Savall, soprano
Judit Scherrer-Kleber, mezzo-soprano
Elisabetta Tiso, soprano
Lluis Vilamajo, tenor

Musicians

Jordi Savall, pardessus de viole
Guido Balestracci, bass viol
Bruno Cocset, bass violin
Imke David, haute-contre de viole
Xavier Diaz-Latorre, theorbo
Luca Guglielmi, organ and harpsichord
Marc Hantai and Charles Zebley, transverse flutes
Xavier Puertas, violone
Joanna Valencia, tenor viol

Royal Chapel Versailles

The vaulted ceiling in the Royal Chapel at Versailles (1699-1710). Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708) designed it without transverse ribs so to create a unified surface, It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity: iGod the Father in his Glory by Antoine Coypel (1661-1722) is in the center. In the apse is The Resurrection by Charles de La Fosse (1636 – 1716). Above the Royal tribune is The Descent of the Holy Ghost by Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1644– 1717).

Hardouin-Mansart (1645-1708),

Portrait of Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708), Premier architecte du Roi by François de Troy (9 January 1645 – 21 November 1730), 1699. Palace of Versailles.


 

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Revolution of 1800: the early “new” music of young Ludwig Van Beethoven.

 

Beethoven-Mähler_1804_hires
Ludwig van Beethoven, 1804/05, Joseph Willibrord Mähler (German, 1778-1860), Wien (Vienna) Museum.

By John P. Walsh

Ludwig van Beethoven’s birthday is December 16. Throughout the 1790s Beethoven composed in the drawing-room tradition but around his 30th birthday in 1800 he was already telling friends he was determined to “open a new path” for music. Resistance to the young, gruff composer and his new music’s coarse vibrancy—a “music of man” expressing every aspect of human living including its suffering, its excitement, and, above all, its engagement with the world—frequently came from the quarters of style galant musicians who were used to playing the cool and shiny music of C. P. E. Bach (1714-1788), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), and Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), the last of whom was still living when Beethoven was working his musical revolution. These musicians’ resistance to Beethoven often extended to his audience who were mainly young people with a taste for a revolutionary sound.

What was the exact level of defiance in Beethoven’s “new” music? The answer has varied based on the time period in which it was first heard. If it was heard when it was first written and performed it was characterized as  “furious.” If heard after Beethoven’s career had ended twenty five years later his early new music became an object for “astounding confusion.”

Beethoven’s work is famously divided into three epochs: his own twenties (before around 1800); his thirties to mid-forties (the so-called Middle Period of around 1805 to 1818 or so); and his final decade. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1727) lived to be only fifty-six years old. Profound changes in his art and personal life in his late forties and fifties led to the creation of his—and by inheritance the world’s—greatest music but such mature works changed the perception of his first “new” music after 1800. To what degree is Beethoven’s earlier music a prolongation of the “old” music more than his mostly young auditors first perceived it?

Here is a great performance of a part of Beethoven’s critically contentious early “new” music. It is the first movement of the Fourth Symphony in B Flat Major written in 1806 performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra led by Carlos Kleiber. (10:02 minutes).

SOURCES: Peter Watson, The German Genius: Europe’s Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution, and the Twentieth Century, HarperCollins, 2010; Romain Rolland, Beethoven the Creator, Garden City Publishing, Garden City, NY, 1937.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.