Philharmonia has launched a weekly series featuring archival recordings. Join our email list to keep up to date with the latest #PBOReflects installments!

TO BE RELEASED 9/18: Hymns of Praise

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Dominique Labelle, soprano; Ashley Valentine, soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Bruce Lamott, chorale director; SFCM Chorus, Ragnar Bohlin, director; Stanford Chamber Chorale, Stephen Sano, director; UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, Marika Kuzma, director

Originally performed in April 2016.
NOTE: This video will expire on November 3, 2020.

Program Notes

by Bruce Lamott

Beethoven, Leonore Overture No. 3

The best-known of four overtures Beethoven wrote to precede his opera Leonore, or the Triumph of Married Love, later renamed Fidelio to avoid confusion with other operas of a similar name, Leonore Overture No. 3 is somewhat of a musical synopsis of the opera plot. Written at the height of the Napoleonic occupation of Vienna, it begins in the depths of a prison cell where a political prisoner, Florestan, is held.  Florestan’s wife, Leonore, insinuates herself onto the prison staff disguised as a man (Fidelio), intent on rescuing her husband from the cruel jailer Pizarro.  A trumpet call heralding the arrival of a government inspector thwarts Pizarro’s intention to put Florestan to death, and instead he and his fellow prisoners are released in a blaze of humanitarian glory.

Played as an overture, it is a spoiler alert; played between scenes of the final act—a tradition begun in the nineteenth century and continued well into the twentieth—it is a redundant recap of the dramatic action just completed. But standing alone, it encapsulates the progression from the depths of despair through the redemption of (married) love to the exultant triumph of good over evil.

Beyond the unfolding of this familiar scenario, however, this performance raises a more specific consideration: what do period instruments bring to listeners familiar with such a well-known symphonic warhorse? The unisons of the opening phrase, played without the haze of vibrato leads transparently into the depths of the prison. The choir of clarinets and bassoons harmonize with a tone color more individuated than their more homogenized modern equivalents. The delicacy of the solo flute in dialogue with staccato violins begins to dispel the darkness, and the brass and timpani enter with unapologetic brashness. In a word, it’s the auditory difference between gazpacho and V-8.

Beethoven’s rhythmic drive intensifies from half-notes in the opening measures to 64th notes (or, in our maestro’s native tongue, hemidemisemiquavers) an acceleration of 500% in 27 measures. The ensuing Allegro is propelled by the quickening pulse in the bass and a recurring four-note pattern of syncopations that climaxes with another full-blown tutti. The interplay of woodwind colors over the lyrical second theme is accompanied by energizing triplets that coalesce into series of syncopated cross-the-bar accents.

The offstage trumpet breaks in on an exuberant and optimistic orchestral passage, not as a Deus ex machina. The awed pianissimo passage which follows allows Beethoven to break the momentum, until the solo flute leads the charge once more into the recapitulation. The concluding coda is an invigorating  Presto stretto that drives to the end on the double.


Beethoven, Elgischer Gesang (Elegaic Song)

Beethoven’s intimate Elgischer Gesang is a brief glimpse into the composer’s humanity that contrasts with his image as a brusque, rude, and mercurial genius. It was written in 1814 in commemoration of the third anniversary of the death of the second wife of his friend, patron, and landlord Baron Johann Baptiste Pasqualati von Osterberg. Beethoven must have personally shared in the family’s grief, as he was living in what is now known as the “Pasqualatihaus”–today a Beethoven museum– when Eleonore died in childbirth. Of the thirty places that he lived in Vienna, this one was his favorite, a fourth-floor flat he rented intermittently from 1804-1815 which afforded views of the Vienna Woods as well as the Prater gardens (through a window he had installed himself, to the dismay of his fellow tenants).

Originally written for vocal quartet and string quartet to be performed privately in the baron’s home, the elegy was later reworked for orchestra and chorus. The hymn-like entry of the voices follows a brief introduction by the sotto voce strings which rise expectantly before a sudden drop to a single bass note. The serene text from an unknown source (one could hope it was Beethoven himself) is reflected in the placid harmonies, broken only by an anguished outburst of “for the pain” (für das Pein!). A plaintive fugal passage in minor is dispelled by an emphatic affirmation in major as weeping eyes (kein Auge wein’) are consoled by thoughts of a heavenly homecoming (des himmlischen Geistes Heimkehr).

Beethoven, Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage)

Despite striking up a brief friendship with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe while on summer holiday in 1812 at the Bohemian spa of Teplitz (now in the Czech Republic), Beethoven’s admiration of the poet was not mutual. Goethe found the composer’s personality “untamed,” while Beethoven objected to the poet’s affinity for the courtly. Nonetheless, the following year found Beethoven sketching ideas for what would become a two-movement cantata based on the contrast of two Goethe poems. First performed on Christmas Day 1815 as a benefit for a Vienna hospital, Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt  was dedicated to the poet when it was published in 1822, though Goethe never acknowledged that he had received it; an entry in his diary, however, confirms that he did. An exasperated Beethoven, writing one of those awkward did-you-ever-receive-my-gift notes nine months later, finally broke the silence:

I am now faced with the fact that I too must remind you of my existence—I trust that you received the dedication to Your Excellency of Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt which I have set to music. It would afford me much pleasure to know whether I had united my harmony with yours in appropriate fashion.

Goethe never replied.

It’s safe to say that Beethoven united his harmony with Goethe’s in more than appropriate fashion, approaching the text with vivid pictorial and psychological imagery. While contemplation of a calm sea may inspire us to reveries of Romantic serenity, to a becalmed sailor of the early 19th century without recourse to engine power it could conjure apprehensions of “deathly, terrible stillness”– Goethe’s words–or physical and financial hardship at the least. Passengers and crew sweltered in the breezeless heat, conscious of their helplessness at the mercy of uncertain weather and their insignificance in the vast emptiness around them. Beethoven depicts the ominous depths of the water with low, static harmonies while deathly stillness (Todesstille) is fractured into gasping single syllables. Twice exclamations of vastness (ungeheuern Weite) burst out from the depths of despair, underscored by the otherwise silent woodwinds.

A breeze of eighth-note scales through the strings and into the winds, and a jubilant chorus–a full octave above their first entry in the previous movement—announces the winds in a lilting 6/8. The “fearful bond” (Das ängstliche Band) of the stillness is recalled by a sustained chord by the chorus, now animated with undulations in the violas and cellos. The playful winds murmur in duets and the vessel is urged on by cries of “swiftly!” (Geschwinde!). Land is sighted by each part in turn (das Land), and the jubilant sailors hove into port.


Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 52, “Lobgesang” (Hymn of Praise)

It is very appropriate that our season culminates with a major work of Felix Mendelssohn, the ultimate fusion of Romantic imagination with the forms of Bach and Handel and inspiration from Beethoven.  In the process, he created a new hybrid, the Symphoniekantate (symphony-cantata), reconciling the Romantics’ belief in the superiority of instrumental over vocal music and the apotheosis of choral music in the Baroque period.

Mendelssohn wrote the Hymn of Praise for the Leipzig festival commemorating the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing from movable type, a development of great import for a city historically known for its annual book fair. Although Gutenberg predated Luther by almost a century, the composer’s selection of texts from Luther’s German translation of the Old Testament and the incorporation of a well-known Lutheran hymn also confirms the work’s close association with the Reformation. In the eyes of his Protestant audience, both events reflect the theme of the light of knowledge dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Luther’s ideas would more likely have been contained within the borders of Saxony and suppressed by agents of the papacy, were it not for the power of Gutenberg’s press.

Because Mendelssohn’s five mature symphonies are numbered according to their date of publication and not their composition, this Second Symphony was actually the latest in conception, though his Scottish Symphony (No. 3) was completed thereafter.   The Second (Lobgesang) received its first performance in Leipzig on June 25, 1840 at the Thomaskirche, where J.S. Bach had served as cantor a century earlier. Later that year, Mendelssohn expanded and revised it, adding the more operatic “Watchman aria” and the soprano and tenor duet.

Despite its outer resemblance to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a symphonic work with a choral final movement, it was not Mendelssohn’s intent to write Beethoven’s Tenth, though many critics weighed it against this standard and found it wanting. While Beethoven begins the finale of the Ninth (“Ode to Joy”) with a bass soloist who rejects the recap of the preceding three movements (“O friends, not these sounds…”), Mendelssohn embraces the unifying melodic motto, proclaiming it instrumentally at the outset by the trombones, and vocally in the opening chorus of the cantata with the text: “All that has life and breath, sing to the Lord.” [As this performance is sung in English, further references here will refer to the text as you will hear it, not a literal translation of the original German.]

Unlike Berlioz or Wagner, Mendelssohn does not transform this unifying “praise” motto through development as an idée fixe or leitmotif, nor does it recur in all movements of the symphony. However, the martial fanfare with its signature dotted rhythm–still identified with the French overture–recurs prominently and recognizably, whether in the fugue subject of the chorus opening the cantata, or as a waltz-like accompaniment to the chorale-like passage in the center of the symphonic second movement. The pervasive four-note dotted rhythm that ends the motto (“Sing to the Lord”) also becomes a motive that gives rhythmic coherence to both halves of the work.

Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm for the music of Bach and Handel never waned since he jump-started the “Bach revival” with the 1829 performance of a truncated St. Matthew Passion, and it is the presence of Bach—not Beethoven—that is felt the cantata portion of the “Hymn of Praise.” The drama of Handel’s oratorios infuses the recitatives and chordal declamation in the choruses.  The spirit of Bach is most clearly felt in Mendelssohn’s setting of the 17th century Lutheran hymn (chorale), “Now Thank We All Our God” [Nun danket alle Gott], first in an a cappella harmonization, as a “gapped chorale” with instrumental interludes (as in Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”).  Fugues, especially the one following the operatic “Watchman” sequence (“Let us gird on the armor of light”) are worked out thoroughly with textbook precision and dramatic intensity. The solo arias in St. Matthew are evoked by the canonic duet with harmonized choral interjections, “I waited for the Lord; ” this was the “greatest hit” of the symphony then as now. Robert Schumann, calling the symphony one of Mendelssohn’s “freshest and most charming creations,” singled out the response of the listeners to the duet: “There broke forth in the audience a whispering which counts for more in the church than loud applause in the concert-hall. It was like a glimpse into a heaven of Raphael’s madonnas’ eyes.”

The Romantic efflorescence of Baroque and Classical styles in the works of Mendelssohn was more than quaint antiquarianism. Just as he discovered that their expressive power to move his audiences was far from exhausted, so Philharmonia finds in the past a neglected repertoire ready to be revitalized and its audiences eager to receive it.

Texts & Translations

BEETHOVEN: “Elegischer Gesang” (“Elegiac Song”), Op. 118

Text by Ignaz Franz Castelli (1781-1862)

Sanft, wie du lebtest,
hast du vollendet,
zu heilig für den Schmerz!
Kein Auge wein’ ob
des himmlischen Geistes Heimkehr

Gentle as you lived,
have you died,
too holy for sorrow!
Let no eye shed tears
for the spirit’s heavenly homecoming.

BEETHOVEN Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt
(“Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage”), Op. 112

Text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser,
Ohne Regung ruht das Meer,
Und bekümmert sieht der Schiffer
Glatte Fläche ringsumher.
Keine Luft von keener Seite!
Todesstille fürchterlich!
In der ungeheuern Weite
Reget keine Welle sich.

“Calm Sea”
Deep quiet rules the waters;
Motionless, the sea reposes,
And the boatsman looks about with alarm
at the smooth surfaces about him.
No wind comes from any direction!
A deathly, terrible quiet!
In the vast expanse
not one wave stirs.

“Glückliche Fahrt”
Die Nebel zerreißen,
Der Himmel ist helle,
Und Äolus löset
Das ängstliche Band.
Es säuseln die Winde,
Es rührt sich der Schiffer.
Geschwinde! Geschwinde!
Es teilt sich die Welle,
Es naht sich die Ferne;
Schon seh’ ich das Land!

“Prosperous Voyage”
The mist is torn away,
The heavens turn bright,
And Aeolus unfastens
the bonds of fear.
There, the winds rustle,
the boatsman stirs.
Quickly! Quickly!
The waves rise up again.
The distant view draws close,
Land ho, I call!

MENDELSSOHN Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), Op. 52

“A Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible, for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra”


All ye, all things, all that has life and breath, sing to the Lord. Hallelujah.
Praise the Lord with lute and harp, in joyful song extol Him,
And let all flesh magnify His might and His glory.

Praise thou the Lord, O my spirit, all my soul declare, praise His great loving kindness.
Praise thou the Lord, O my spirit, and forget thou not all His benefits.
[Psalms 150, 33, 145, 103]

Sing ye praise, all ye redeemed of the Lord, redeemed from the hand of the foe, from your distresses, from deep affliction, who sat in the shadow of death and darkness. All ye that cry in trouble unto the Lord, sing ye praise! Give ye thanks, proclaim aloud His goodness.
He counteth all your sorrows in the time of need.
He comforts the bereaved with His regard.
Sing ye praise, give ye thanks, proclaim aloud His goodness.
[Psalms 107, 56]

All ye that cried unto the Lord, in distress and deep affliction:
He counteth all your sorrows in the time of need.

I waited for the Lord, He inclined unto me, He heard my complaint.
O bless’d are they that hope and trust in the Lord.
[Psalm 40]

The sorrows of death had closed all around me,
Hell in its terrors had got hold upon me, with trouble and deep heaviness.
But said the Lord: Come, arise from the dead, and awake thou that sleepest,
I will be to thee Light!
We called thro’ the darkness: Watchman, will the night soon pass?
The Watchman only said: Though the morning will come, the night will come also
Ask ye, enquire ye, ask if ye will, enquire ye, return again, ask:
Watchman, will the night soon pass?
[Psalm 116, Ephesians 5:14, Isaiah 21:11–12]

The night is departing, the day is approaching.
Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us gird on the armour of light.
The day is approaching, the night is departing.

Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
Who wonderous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son, and him who reigns with them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God,
whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
[“Nun danket alle Gott,” Martin Rinkart c.1636]

My song shall be therefore Thy mercy, singing Thy praise, Thou only God,
My tongue shall declare the blessings hourly bestow’d by Thee.
I wander in night and thickest darkness, and mine enemies stand threat’ning around,
Yet call’d I upon the name of the Lord, and He redeemed me with watchful goodness.

Ye nations, offer to the Lord glory and might.
Ye monarchs, offer to the Lord glory and might.
Thou heaven, offer to the Lord glory and might.
The whole earth, offer to the Lord glory and might.
O give thanks to the Lord, praise Him, all ye people, and ever praise His Holy Name.
Sing ye to the Lord, and ever praise His Holy Name.
All that has life and breath, sing to the Lord.
[Psalm 96, I Chronicles 16:8–10, Psalm 150]

RELEASED 9/11: Beethoven Unleashed

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Chantal Santon-Jeffery, soprano; Avery Amereau, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Hadleigh Adams, baritone; Eric Zivian, fortepiano; Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

Originally performed in April 2018.
NOTE: This video will expire on October 26, 2020.

Program Notes

by Bruce Lamott

Beethoven, Mass in C Major, Op. 86

The role of the concerted Catholic Mass in the late eighteenth century, like that of the papacy, was devaluated by the secular rationalism of the Enlightenment. Once a vehicle for the delivery of dogma, the centuries’ old texts of the Ordinary chants of the Mass (Kyrie-Gloria-Credo-Sanctus-Agnus Dei) began to be loosed from their liturgical moorings to become the inspiration for large-scale musical compositions that outgrew the strictures of service music. A comparison of Beethoven’s two contributions to the genre, tonight’s Mass in C Major of 1807 and the monumental Mass in D Major (better known as the Missa solemnis) of 1819-23, underscore this transformation.

Beethoven admitted to stretching the envelope with the C Major Mass: “I do not like to talk about my mass…but I believe that I have treated the text as it has seldom been treated before.” Unfortunately, such novelty was not welcome from the commissioner, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, grandson of Haydn’s longtime patron, who annually commissioned a mass for the name day of his wife, Princess Maria von Liechtenstein. Beethoven’s mass followed in the train of the revered and elderly Joseph Haydn, whose last six masses were written for the same occasion. With expectations of something similar, the musically conservative Prince described Beethoven’s mass as “unbearably ridiculous and detestable.” To be sure, some of the fault lay in the performance: four of the five altos were sight-reading.

The new conception of the Mass text as a symphonic cycle is clearly emerging, and Beethoven takes a fresh look at the text more as a libretto than a rubric. Beginning the Kyrie with unaccompanied bass voices is already a departure from convention, as is ending the Agnus Dei with a reminiscence of the opening phrase of the Kyrie. The solo quartet sing the Qui tollis in the operatic style of bel canto, and the choir sings of “a holy catholic church” (unam sanctam catholicam ecclesiam) in quasi-plainchant. The Sanctus, traditionally an opportunity for musical power and glory, is hushed and funereal. There are moments, such as Qui locutus est, that remind us that the Mass was written while Beethoven was composing another work in C: his Fifth Symphony. While adhering to the tradition of ending the Gloria and Credo with fugues, he gets carried away with disproportionately large ones.

Cherubini, Chant sur la Mort de Joseph Haydn (Song on the Death of Joseph Haydn)

Beethoven would have considered it an honor to have his work programmed alongside Luigi Cherubini, of whom he said, “Among all living opera composers Cherubini is for me the most deserving of respect.” Regarded in his time in the same rank as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn, Cherubini gradually faded into their shadow, perhaps to be revived in our time. Though born and musically trained in Italy, it was in France where his musical career flourished. First acclaimed by the musical circle of Marie Antoinette, he survived the Revolution to become a favorite of Napoleon and Louis XVIII and a founder of the Paris Conservatoire. His operas preceded him to Vienna, where Beethoven was already a big fan when he met Cherubini during his visit to the city in 1805. The admiration was not mutual, however, and after hearing Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, Cherubini likened him to an “unlicked bear cub.”

The previous year, a London magazine published the “fake news” that the eminent Joseph Haydn had died. In reality, Haydn lived another five years until his death on May 31, 1809. However, Cherubini had already circulated printed copies of his elegy on the composer’s premature death.  It must have been the source of some embarrassment when Cherubini presented the living Haydn with a medal and diploma from the Conservatoire. Respectfully, the first performance was not given until the beloved composer’s death was confirmed.

Cherubini’s Chant sur la Mort de Joseph Haydn was commissioned by the French Masonic lodge The Measure of Masonic Society for a text by the Masonic author Louis Guillemain de Saint-Victor. Like Haydn, Cherubini was a Freemason, and the work was dedicated to another fellow Mason, Prince Nikolas Esterházy II, the same who commissioned the Beethoven Mass. The text, which does not mention Haydn by name, is an allegory of the legendary “swan song,” in which the otherwise mute swan was believed to sing only prior to its death. Other than the specific reference to the Danube, the text could serve as an all-purpose elegy for any notable musician.

This work reveals many of the features that made Cherubini’s operas so popular, bringing together the melodious Italian style with the dramatic orchestration and harmonic complexity characteristic of Gluck’s French operas.  The orchestral Introduction is a brooding dialogue of solitary rising figures, introduced by solemn “Masonic” chords in the horns. A muted cello quartet contributes to the elegiac quality, answered by a quartet of muted violins and violas. Shifting harmonies are suspended into one continuous fabric until broken by short, sighing appoggiaturas. There is a cumulative intensity as the melody rises over agitated string tremolos and the funereal roll of muted timpani.

The voices of the solo trio, two tenors and soprano, are identified only as the leaders of the chorus in Greek drama (Coryphée) and “a woman” (une femme). The three solo recitatives demonstrate Cherubini’s dramatic use of orchestral accompaniment to underscore the text and to characterize each soloist, each more passionate than the previous. The gloom disperses with the final trio in a cheerful C major, as the melodious music of the swan—and by analogy, Haydn—rises from earth to delight the children of heaven.

Beethoven, Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra (“Choral Fantasy”), Op. 80

If you can imagine sitting through our program tonight—minus the Cherubini and Kyrie and Agnus Dei of the Mass, but augmented by the premieres of Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies as well as his Fourth Piano Concerto and a concert aria—you can begin to appreciate the fatigue of an audience heading towards the fourth hour and faced with yet another premiere, a Fantasy for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra. This monster concert was a benefit (for Beethoven) called an Akademie, performed in the unheated Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808. Beethoven wanted to bring together all of the forces who played the symphonies and concerto and performed the Gloria and Sanctus of the C Major Mass in a grand finale featuring himself as piano soloist.

Witnesses confirm that the hastily composed and under-rehearsed finale was a disaster. Ignaz von Seyfried, Kapellmeister of the theater, writes:

When the master brought out his orchestral Fantasia with choruses, he arranged with me at the somewhat hurried rehearsal, with wet [ink] voice-parts as usual, that the second variation should be played without the repeat. In the evening, however, absorbed in his creation, he forgot all about the instructions which he had given, repeated the first part while the orchestra accompanied the second…. A trifle too late, the Concertmaster, Unrath, noticed the mistake, looked in surprise at his lost companions, stopped playing and called out drily: ‘Again!’

This work, completely original in concept, has been devalued both by its unfortunate debut and by unfair comparisons with the Ninth Symphony, composed some sixteen years later. Thoroughly rehearsed and passionately performed, however, the Choral Fantasy can evoke much of the spirit of the later work, a sort of Ode to Joy Lite. First, it gives us a rare glimpse of Beethoven freely improvising at the piano; though we have no record of what he might have actually played in the premiere, he wrote down the introductory fantasia some years later.

The opening Adagio tests the limits of the performer and the instrument; the score blackens, first with 32nd notes, then 64th, and even 128th notes! Like the second movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto, which premiered before intermission in the 1808 concert, the Finale begins with a dialogue between ominous martial strings and a conciliatory piano response. Like the Ode to Joy, the heart of the work is a series of variations on a simple stepwise theme. (Why this catchy tune didn’t find its way into hymnals and Suzuki violin methods is beyond me.)

A three-note fanfare precedes the introduction of the theme, played in the simplest Classic style. Beethoven had used the same melody in 1794 for his lied entitled Gegenliebe. Delicate variations follow for flute, two oboes in parallel thirds, a trio of clarinets and bassoon, and string quartet before the full orchestra takes up the theme. The piano leads into new territory: a gruff C minor episode evocative of “Turkism” and an offbeat march in C major. Some of the celestial modulations Beethoven will use in the Ninth Symphony are also tested here.

The chorus enters in the final quarter with an exuberant paean to the harmony of life, the power of music, and the gift of art. (Because their poetic scansions are identical, you may catch your subconscious singing along to Schiller’s Ode to Joy). The poet is uncertain—either Christoph Kuffner (1780-1846) or perhaps Georg Friedrich Treitschke, reviser of the libretto of Fidelio—but Beethoven is likely to have also contributed. Beethoven’s intention to conclude his unfortunate marathon with an audience with a thrilling and accessible finale can now be realized in a well-heated room after a program of reasonable length. Its message is a fitting choice for a composer who once said that “only art and science can raise men to the level of gods.”

Texts & Translations

BEETHOVEN Mass in C major, Op. 86

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Gloria in excelsis Deo,
Et in terra pax
hominibus bonæ voluntatis.
Laudamus te; benedicimus te;
adoramus te, glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi
propter magnam gloriam tuam.
Domine Deus, Rex coelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris.

Qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi,
suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris,
miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
Tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu
in gloria Dei Patris.

Credo in unum Deum;
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia sæcula:
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines,
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de coelis.

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria virgine: et homo factus est.
Crucifixus etiam pro nobis
sub Pontio Pilato,
passus et sepultus est.

Et resurrexit tertia die
secundum Scripturas.
Et ascendit in coelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est cum gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.
Et in Spiritum Sanctum,
Dominum, et vivificantem:
qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre et Filio simul
adoratur et conglorificatur:
qui locutus est per Prophetas.
Et unam sanctam
catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma,
in remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum… 

Et vitam venturi saeculi.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Osanna in excelsis.

Agnus Dei,
qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei.

Dona nobis pacem.

BEETHOVEN Mass in C major, Op. 86

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to God in the highest.
And on earth peace
to men of good will.
We praise Thee; we bless Thee;
we worship Thee; we glorify Thee.
We give thanks to Thee
for Thy great glory.
O Lord God, Heavenly King,
God the Father Almighty.
O Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son.
Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy on us.
Thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.

For Thou only art holy,
Thou only art the Lord,
Thou only art the most high, Jesus Christ.
Together with the Holy Ghost
in the glory of God the Father.

I believe in one God;
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
begotten of the Father before all worlds:
God of God, light of light,
true God of true God;
Begotten not made;
being of one substance with the Father,
by him all things were made.
Who for us men
and for our salvation
descended from heaven.

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost,
of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
He was crucified also for us,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
and was buried.

And on the third day He rose again
according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven.
He sitteth at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead;
and His kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the Lord and giver of life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son
Who with the Father and the Son together
is worshipped and glorified;
as it was told by the Prophets.
And I believe in one holy
catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism
for the remission of sins.
And I await the resurrection of the dead

And the life of the world to come.

Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God of Hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Lamb of God,
Who takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God.

Grant us peace.

CHERUBINI Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn

Amans des nobles sœurs,
à ma douleur profonde
mêlez de vos douleurs l’accord religieux.
Sur les bords du Danube,
un chantre aimé des dieux,
ce cygne dont la gloire avait rempli le monde,
expire, expire murmurant
des chants harmonieux.

A ses tendres accents, quoi, la Parque ennemie
n’a point laissé tomber son barbare ciseau.
O destin des mortels, talents, graces, génie,
tout se perd sans retour
dans la nuit du tombeau.

Non, ce feu créateur, cette vive étincelle
n’a pu rester captive au sein des monuments.
Comme son nom fameux
son âme est immortel;
l’un et l’autre est vainqueur de la mort
et du temps.

Chantre divin, ton âme libre et fière
s’est exhalée en sons mélodieux.
Ces chants si purs qui transportaient la terre
vont se meler aux cantiques des cieux.
Un favori des filles de mémoire
charma jadis le tyran des enfers ;
dans leur palais les enfants de la gloire
pour t’écouter suspendront leurs concerts.

CHERUBINI On the death of Joseph Haydn

You lovers of music and poetry,
those noble sisters,
Blend the sacred strains of your sorrow with my deep grief.
A singer beloved of the gods
in the lands of the Danube,
A swan whose glory had reached to the ends of the earth
Has breathed forth his last sweet song.

His sonorous phrases could not make
Inexorable Fate drop her dreadful shears;
Behold our human destiny: all talent, grace and genius
Is lost irretrievably in the darkness of the grave.

But no! This late creative fire, this spark of life
Could not remain imprisoned in a monument.
His soul, like his famous name, is immortal;
Both have conquered death and time.

Divine singer, your proud and free soul
Is expressed in sonorous melody.
Those pure sounds that delighted the earth
Are now blended with heaven’s canticles.
We remember that Orpheus
Once enchanted the tyrant of Hell;
The children of glory, in their palaces,
Will interrupt their concerts to hear you.

BEETHOVEN Fantasia in E minor, Op. 80 “Choral Fantasy”

Schmeichelnd hold und lieblich klingen
unseres Lebens Harmonien,
und dem Schönheitssinn entschwingen
Blumen sich, die ewig blühn.
Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl.

Wenn der Töne Zauber walten
und des Wortes Weihe spricht,
muss sich Herrliches gestalten,
Nacht und Stürme werden Licht.
Äuss’re Ruhe, inn’re Wonne
herrschen für den Glücklichen.
Doch der Künste Frühlingssonne
lässt aus beiden Licht entstehn.

Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen,
blüht dann neu und schön empor.
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen,
hallt ihn stets ein Geisterchor.
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen,
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen,
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.

BEETHOVEN Fantasia in E minor, Op. 80 “Choral Fantasy”

Graceful, charming and sweet is the sound
of our life’s harmonies,
and from a sense of beauty arise
flowers which eternally bloom.
Peace and joy advance in perfect concord,
like the changing play of the waves.
All that was harsh and hostile,
has turned into sublime delight.

When music’s enchantment reigns,
speaking of the sacred word,
magnificence takes form,
the night and the tempest turns to light:
Outer peace and inner bliss
reign o’er the fortunate ones.
All art in the spring’s sun
lets light flow from both.

Greatness, once it has pierced the heart,
then blooms anew in all its beauty.
Once one’s being has taken flight,
a choir of spirits resounds in response.
Accept then, you beautiful souls,
joyously the gifts of high art.
When love and strength are united,
divine grace is bestowed upon Man.

RELEASED 9/4: Beethoven’s Fourths

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Emanuel Ax, fortepiano
Originally performed in November 2012.
NOTE: This video will expire on October 19, 2020.

Program Notes

Concerto No. 4 in G major for Fortepiano and Orchestra, opus 58

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, then an independent electorate. His baptismal certificate is dated December 17, 1770, and he died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. He began work on his Fourth Piano Concerto in 1805 and completed the score early the next year. He was soloist in its first performance, a private one in March 1807 at the Vienna town house of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz (the Symphony No. 4 was introduced on the same occasion). He made his last appearance as a concerto soloist in the first public performance of this music, which was part of the famous Akademie in the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808, when the Fifth and Pastoral symphonies and the Choral Fantasy had their premieres along with the first hearings in Vienna of the Mass in C major and the concert aria “Ah! perfido,” not to forget one of Beethoven’s remarkable solo improvisations. The first North American performance was given on February 4, 1854, at the Boston Odeon by Robert Heller with Carl Bergmann conducting the Germania Musical Society. The orchestra consists of flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. The second movement is for strings only, and the trumpets and drums make their first appearance in the finale. Emanual Ax plays the cadenzas by Beethoven.

Charles Rosen remarks in The Classical Style that “the most important fact about the concerto form is that the audience waits for the soloist to enter, and when he stops playing they wait for him to begin again.” Most of the Fourth Piano Concerto’s early listeners would have expected Beethoven to begin his new concerto as he began his previous ones and virtually all others they knew, that is, with a tutti lasting a couple of minutes and introducing several themes, after which the soloist would make a suitably prepared entrance.

Concerto is a form of theater. Beethoven, an experienced and commanding pianist, had a keen feeling for that, and his first three piano concertos (not counting the one he wrote as a boy of thirteen) and his Violin Concerto, all of which had been heard in Vienna by the spring of 1807, make something quite striking of the first solo entrance. The older Beethoven grew, the more imaginative he became. In the Triple Concerto, a beautiful, problematic, and unpopular work that was completed a couple of years before the Fourth Piano Concerto, the cello enters with the first theme, but a breath later than you expect and with a magical transformation of character. In the Violin Concerto, the solo arises spaciously from the receding orchestra; after that comes the Emperor Concerto, where right at the beginning three plain chords provoke three grand fountains of broken chords, trills, and scales. But it is here, in this most gently spoken and poetic of all his concertos, that Beethoven offers his most radical response to Rosen’s Law— to begin with the piano alone. It is a move without precedent. What is also remarkable is how rarely Beethoven, imitated so often and in so many things, has been copied in this stroke.

What the piano says is as remarkable as its saying anything at all at this point. Sir Donald Tovey recalled Sir George Henschel “happening to glance at a score of the Missa solemnis, open at its first page, putting his finger upon the first chord and saying, ‘Isn’t it extraordinary how you can recognize any single common chord scored by Beethoven?’” The orchestra’s exordial chord in the Emperor is an example, and so is the soft, densely voiced, dolce chord with which the piano begins the Concerto in G major. The whole brief phrase is arresting in its subtle rhythmic imbalance, but the still greater wonder is the orchestra’s hushed, sensitive and far-seeing, harmonically remote response. The persistent three-note upbeat makes this music tender cousin to the Fifth Symphony (in progress at the same time though completed only two years later). The rhythmic elasticity of the first solo-and-orchestra statement-and-response foreshadows an uncommon range of pace.

The second movement has become the concerto’s most famous. Its comparison to Orpheus taming the wild beasts with his music was for years attributed to Liszt, though more recently the musicologist Owen Jander has pointed out that it was Adolph Bernard Marx “who first began to bring the Orpheus program of the Fourth Piano Concerto into focus” in his Beethoven biography of 1859. Even earlier than that, in his book On the Proper Performance of All of Beethoven’s Works for Piano (1842), Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny had suggested that “in this movement (which, like the entire concerto, belongs to the finest and most poetical of Beethoven’s creations) one cannot help thinking of an antique dramatic and tragic scene, and the player must feel with what movingly lamenting expression his solo must be played in order to contrast with the powerful and austere orchestral passages.”

In this second movement, the orchestra is loud, staccato, in stark octaves. The piano is soft, legato, songful, richly harmonized. At the end, after a truly Orphic cadenza—and Beethoven almost persuades us that he invented the trill expressly for this moment—the orchestra has learned the piano’s way. Only the cellos and basses remember their opening music, but just briefly, and their mutterings are pianissimo.

Until the conclusion of this sublime andante, this is Beethoven’s most quietly scored piano concerto. In the finale, which takes a charmingly Haydnesque, oblique approach to the question of how to resume the work after the evocative scene just played, trumpets and drums appear for the first time. Not that this movement is in any way grand; rather, it is lyrical and witty. It is also, with its two sections of violas, given to outrageously lush sounds—one more surprise in this most subtle, suggestive, and multi-faceted of Beethoven’s concertos.

Michael Steinberg twelve Contredanses for orchestra, Woo 14

The history of the contredanses is complex. The sketches for nos. 8 and 12 date from 1791-92 (before Beethoven arrived in Vienna), nos. 3 and 4 from 1795-96 (the years of the publications of his Opuses 1 and 2), and nos. 2, 7, 9-11 from 1801-02. The first edition of the complete set for orchestra dates from April-June 1802; what is presumably Beethoven’s own arrangement of six of the dances for “harpsichord or Piano Forte” appeared in April 1802. Beethoven’s brother Kaspar Karl was involved in some mysterious fashion in nos. 8 and 12; it is unclear whether he actually composed them or merely arranged his brother’s sketches. Equally unclear is the date of the premiere of the individual dances within the set, since they were composed individually over a ten-year period. Most scholars assume that the majority was intended for the popular winter balls in Vienna.

The Twelve Contredanses originated in the rustic English country dance in which the dancers were arranged face to face, “one set against another,” performing prescribed figures in two lines, a circle, or a square. Imported to the French court at the end of the 17th century, it became the most popular French dance of the 18th century, eclipsing the minuet. (The contredanse itself faded in popularity around 1840 in favor of waltzes and polkas.) Contredanses are both in triple and duple meters; according to one 19th– century description, “all that is necessary is that the strains should be in four or eight bar phrases to accompany the several movements, and every need is satisfied.”

Undoubtedly the most famous of the set is no. 7, which features a tune Beethoven used on four occasions: here, the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, The Eroica variations, and the Eroica Symphony. In 1980 Shin Augustinus Kojima corrected the long-held chronology, arguing that the ballet came first and that Beethoven recycled the melody and famous bass into the contredanse. The beloved tune and its bass part probably originated in Beethoven’s improvisation in April 1800 at the second of his two duels with the brilliant touring pianist Daniel Steibelt, famous for being the first composer to develop pedal markings and for the invention of the tremulando. Trying to humiliate Steibelt, Beethoven grabbed the cello part of one of Steibelt’s piano quintets from a stand, turned it upside down, and used it as the bass for an extended improvisation that resulted in the creation of the lilting tune.

Dr. William Meredith

Dr. William Meredith is Director of the Ira F. Brillant Center for Beethoven Sudies at San José University.

Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, opus 60

Beethoven wrote the Symphony No. 4 in the summer and early fall of 1806. As noted above, it was first performed in March 1807, in Vienna. The first performance in the United States was given on November 24, 1849, by the New York Philharmonic Society, Theodor Eisfeld conducting. The score calls for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

Beethoven’s work on the Fifth Symphony brackets that on the Fourth. Robert Simpson discusses their relationship in his illuminating booklet on the Beethoven symphonies for the BBC Music guides: “[The B-flat major symphony] is highly compact, as the C minor was going to be, yet lighter in character, as if Beethoven, unsure how to release the thing that roared in his head like a caged tiger, turned his attention to less obstreperous inhabitants of his extraordinary domain. If the Eroica is like a noble stallion, the C minor and B-flat symphonies might be thought of as belonging to the cat family, the one fierce, the other lovable, but both sharing compact suppleness of movement, a dangerous lithe economy that makes them akin, and together, different from their predecessor. The Fourth belongs to the Fifth—and ever so much as in the Stygian darkness of its introduction, abruptly obliterated by vivid light.”

It has often been observed that Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies and concertos tend to be more lyrical, less aggressive than their odd-numbered neighbors. To Robert Schumann, the Fourth Symphony was “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants.” Beethoven spent the summer of 1806 at the Silesian estate in Grätz of Prince Carl von Lichnowsky, one of the most steadfast and knowledgeable of the composer’s admirers during his early years in Vienna. It was through Lichnowsky that Beethoven met Count Franz von Oppersdorff, to whom he eventually dedicated the new symphony. Oppersdorff maintained an excellent orchestra, insisting that all persons employed in his household be proficient on some instrument.

As Haydn did in most of his last symphonies and as in his own first two, Beethoven begins with a slow preface, and, while the key signature does not admit it, the music is actually in B-flat minor. The most musical of the guests at the Palais Lobkowitz in 1807 would have been more aware than most of us today of just how slowly this music moves—not so much in terms of notes per minute as in the passage of events. The harmony stands all but still, and the effect of suspended motion is underlined by the pianissimo that lasts—as Beethoven stresses four times—unbroken through the first twelve measures. Those twelve measures lead us, with exquisitely wrought suspense, back to the beginning. The five octaves of B-flat are sounded just a bit more emphatically than before, but the continuation is the same, a pianissimo expansion of the note G-flat. The effect of the G-flat is delicately dissonant, unstable, and the first time Beethoven resolves it quite normally down a half-step to F, the note that has the most powerful magnetic pull back toward home, to B-flat. This time, however, Beethoven treats the G-flat as though it were in no need of resolution and continues by submitting to its own magnetic pull in the direction of B-natural, which, in the context of a universe whose center has been defined as B-flat, comes across as an absolutely reckless excursion.

Beethoven finds his way back to the threshold of his proper harmonic home—not, of course, without adventure and suspense—and the first entrance of the trumpets and drums helps push the music into a quick tempo. The material is of an almost studied neutrality. The life of this ebullient allegro resides in the contrast between passages when the harmonies change slowly (as they mostly do) and others in which harmonic territory is traversed at a great rate, in the syncopations, the sudden fortissimo outbursts, and in such colorful details as the stalking half-notes in pianissimo. The development ventures a few moments of lyric song, but most of the orchestra is impatient to get on and to get back. The task of getting back to the home key and the first theme sends Beethoven into one of his most wonderful passages, in which wit and mystery are deliciously combined.

The Adagio is an expansive, rapt song; rarely does Beethoven insist so often on the direction cantabile. Before the song begins, we hear a measure of ticking accompaniment in the second violins. What is characteristic of Beethoven is the refusal of that accompaniment to disappear. It remains an insistent presence and a fascinating foil to the flowing melodies. not until the Ninth would Beethoven again write a symphony with a really slow movement.

Concerned with bringing the scherzo in step with the expanding scale of the symphony as a whole, Beethoven makes an extra trip around the scherzo-trio-scherzo cycle. In the finale, certain of the characters from the first movement reappear, newly costumed, but this last Allegro (ma non troppo) is a more relaxed kind of movement than the first (Allegro vivace).

Having mentioned Schumann, we can end with some good words of his: “Yes, love [Beethoven], love him well, but never forget that he reached poetic freedom only through long years of study, and revere his never-ceasing moral force. Do not search for the abnormal in him, but return to the source of his creativeness. Do not illustrate his genius with the Ninth Symphony alone, no matter how great its audacity and scope, never uttered in any tongue. You can do as much with his First Symphony, or with the Greek-like slender one in B-flat major!”

Michael Steinberg

Michael Steinberg, the San Francisco Symphony’s program annotator from 1979 to 1999 and a contributing writer to the Symphony’s program book until his death in 2009, was one of the nation’s preeminent writers on music. His books are available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall and at The notes on Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Symphony No. 4 are copyright © San Francisco Symphony and reprinted by permission.

RELEASED 8/28: Midwinter Magic

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Stephen Barker Turner, narrator; San Francisco Girls Chorus, Susan McMane, artistic director
Originally performed in February 2009.
NOTE: This video will expire on October 12, 2020.

Program Notes

Midwinter Magic

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809 and died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847. He became known as Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy from the name of a maternal uncle, Jakob Salomon, who had taken on the name Bartholdy from a piece of real estate he held in Berlin. After Felix’s father converted to Lutheranism in 1822, the name Bartholdy was added to Mendelssohn to distinguish the Protestant Mendelssohns from the Jewish ones.

The life and music of Mendelssohn is a glimpse into the mystery of musical prodigies afforded by only a few other masters, like Mozart and Schubert. Though both Mozart and Schubert traveled further on their musical paths after a precocious beginning, neither of them had produced a work as brilliant as Mendelssohn’s Octet (composed at 16) or the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (written a year later) before their eighteenth year.

Like both the earlier masters, Mendelssohn exploded in brilliance very young, then died far too soon. However, unlike them (and despite the creation of some wonderful music in his later years), it is the works that Mendelssohn composed before he turned thirty that dominate our picture of the composer.

The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op. 26

Completed in December 1831 and revised twice. The first performance of the final version was in Berlin on January 10, 1833, the composer conducting. Choice of title seems never to have been resolved. While being composed, the piece was called “The Hebrides,” but, at various times, was referred to as “The Lonely Island” and performed as “The Isles of Fingal.” The printed parts of the first version are entitled “Hebrides,” but the published score of the revision is “Fingal’s Cave.”

A great letter writer, Felix Mendelssohn sent his family regular reports of his impressions and activities, embellished with charming and skillful drawings. While visiting Scotland, he wrote of the impression made on him of a visit to Fingal’s Cave, a celebrated sea cave in the basalt lava on the southwestern shore of Staffa, in the island group known as the Inner Hebrides. The roar of the waves, the clear air, the cries of sea birds and the impressive rock formations were a powerful

stimulant. On August 7, 1829, he wrote out twenty-one measures of music that correspond to the beginning of this overture. Though it took another sixteen months to complete, this opening perfectly captured the uncanny effect of the Hebridean landscape.

Once he had finished the work, Mendelssohn had to decide what to call it. The term “tone poem,” which we might find most appropriate, had not yet been invented, and it was certainly not a symphony. So instead he called it an overture, because it was a single movement for orchestra cast in sonata form, like the overtures of Mozart or Beethoven, though it does not actually precede and introduce a larger work, as the term “overture” implies. It was thus the very first example of the “concert overture,” a genre that became quite popular in the romantic era.

The wonder of Mendelssohn’s score is the constant freshness and flexibility of his invention. The opening figure of his first theme recurs many times, but almost every time its appearance differs after a single measure. The freedom that he takes working out this idea and its sequels is not the freedom that comes with “rule-breaking” for its own sake, but freedom derived from a firm vision of the end, from attention concentrated on the goal of a specific kind of expression, here of landscape painting via music. It is, thus, that the young composer (just twenty-one when he finished the score in Rome) created one of his most original and compelling works.

Octet for strings in E-flat major, Op. 20

Composed in 1825.

By 1825, Ludwig Spohr had already written four string octets, but these pieces usually treated the ensemble as two antiphonal string quartets, re-echoing to the point of stultification. Mendelssohn virtually created a new medium by fusing the two quartets into a single large ensemble that combined the instruments in every possible permutation, producing a vibrancy of color hitherto unknown and rarely matched since. At times, the Octet seems about to turn into a small symphony for string orchestra, Mendelssohn already had a dozen of these under his belt, which explains the fluent writing for the string ensemble, but then it breaks up into smaller motives treated contrapuntally and regains the character of pure chamber music.

Mendelssohn addressed the symphonic quality of much of the score quite frankly in his instructions to performers: “This Octet must be played by all the instruments in the symphonic orchestral style. Pianos and fortes must be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual with pieces of this character.” I suspect that his remarks allude to an important change in the character and locale of chamber music performances that was beginning to take place at that time. No longer was chamber music written and performed solely for the private entertainment of the performers or at best a small audience within the family circle. Rather, composers like Beethoven had written works of such technical difficulty that few amateur musicians could do them justice, and they began to be performed before an audience as a public event. If the difficulty of the music in part motivated this trend, the change of venue in performance affected later chamber works by inviting the grand gesture, the overtly dramatic quality, and (as Mendelssohn specified in his instructions), the playing up of the dynamics of a piece as one means of projecting it to a larger audience than might have been expected a few decades earlier.

The Scherzo has always been the most popular movement of the Octet. So popular, in fact, that Mendelssohn later arranged it for orchestra with added wind parts and used it as a substitute third movement for his First Symphony (and immediately encored) when he conducted it in London in 1829. The headlong rush of pianissimo activities makes it hard to concentrate on details, but we have the statement by the composer’s sister Fanny that the movement was inspired by some lines from Goethe’s “Walpurgis Night” episode in Faust, a scene of transient visions compounded of clouds and mist, insubstantial and evanescent, appearing and vanishing in an instant.

Three Motets, Op. 39

Composed in Rome on December 30 and 31, 1830, though was not published until 1838. The accompaniment was originally for organ; it has been orchestrated here by Nicholas McGegan.

In late 1830, Mendelssohn took a “grand tour” that took him through Venice and Florence and brought him to Rome on November 1. Although he found the musical life of the city depressing, he nonetheless found the city itself very impressive. He hung around with artistic expatriates and spent several weeks in friendly contact with Berlioz, though the two were so different in personality and musical approach to have little in common. Mendelssohn had the opportunity of studying large collections of church music of the Renaissance and later periods. Taking advantage of that experience, he composed a good deal of church music for both Catholic and Protestant use.

He lived in a rooming house at the top of the Spanish Steps, near a French church that housed a group of cloistered nuns whose singing he could hear. It was for them that he wrote Veni Domine. The original second motet had been a short homophonic work called O beata et benedicta, but he replaced that in 1837 with Laudate Pueri. Mendelssohn’s biographer R. Larry Todd notes that the melodic lines are similar to those of Palestrina’s Missa Assumpta est Maria, and this may be a reflection of Mendelssohn’s friendship with the first Palestrina biographer, Giuseppe Baini, who had showed him his voluminous collection of Palestrina works that he had copied into score to prepare for his study. The final motet, Surrexit Pastor, written for the second Sunday after Easter, enlarges the ensemble from three voice parts to four for greater sonority.

Overture (Op. 21) and Incidental music (Op. 61) to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Overture was completed on August 6, 1826 and performed in Stettin in a concert given by Carl Loewe on April 29, 1827. The remainder of the score was not composed until 1843, first performed privately at the Neuer Palais in Potsdam on October 14, 1843, and publicly four days later at the Berlin Schauspielhaus.

Mendelssohn had every opportunity to develop his musical culture once his talent became evident. His father provided the best teachers available in Berlin and organized regular Sunday musicales in the Mendelssohn house, engaging performers from the orchestra of the royal court. It was for these events that the boy began to write music himself and to learn important lessons in musical structure and effect by hearing performances almost as soon as the ink was dry. (Felix was not the only composer in the family either—his sister Fanny had a remarkable creative talent that has only recently come to be recognized.) Just as Mendelssohn was entering into his teens, he turned out a remarkable assortment of twelve string symphonies in just over half a year. This was only a small part of his output of juvenilia, ranging from chamber music to modest orchestral works to small operas actually performed in the household.

The idea of writing an overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream came to Felix when he and Fanny were reading the play together (in the translation by Schlegel which, to Germans, is almost more highly regarded than Shakespeare’s original is to us). He originally wrote it for two pianos, so that he could perform it with Fanny, but he orchestrated it almost at once, and it quickly attained performance and general popularity.

The sheer polish of the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture has given rise to the notion that Mendelssohn composed effortlessly and that, after reaching a brilliant early peak before he was eighteen, he never developed further. However, we know from the memoirs of the critic Adolf Bernhard Marx, who became Mendelssohn’s musical confidante and adviser, that the young man made major revisions in the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream even as he was composing it. After critiquing the first draft (saying it was “perfectly praiseworthy—only I could perceive no Midsummer Night’s Dream in it”), Marx advised the young man that, in his view, an overture should give “a true and complete reflection of the drama.” He encouraged Mendelssohn to find musical ideas that would suggest all of the diverse elements of Shakespeare’s comedy. Though at first insisting all of this was impossible, Mendelssohn in fact achieved exactly what Marx urged him to try.

The Overture is one of Mendelssohn’s most remarkable accomplishments. Into this presumably restrictive context, cast in sonata form, he introduced a varied panoply of musical ideas, each with its own color and character that could be taken to represent elements of the play, then shaped them into a pattern that is thoroughly satisfying whether one knows the play or not. He created the very image of fairydom for music—delicate and light-footed—while not forgetting the low comedy of Bottom’s dream.

The first four measures instantly transport us to a mysterious world with four woodwind chords in the key of E—beginning with just two flutes and adding clarinets in the second measure, bassoons and one horn in the third and oboes and a second horn in the fourth. Of these opening measures, the third is the most magical of all. It surprises us by borrowing its harmony from the minor key, hinting at subtle dark worlds behind the brightness of Shakespeare’s comedy. Then, after the fourth chord re-establishes E major, the upper strings enter—on E minor!—and whirl us off into the delicate world of the fairies’ dance, occasionally stopping suddenly on softly dissonant woodwind chords, then rushing onward. The entrance of the full orchestra, again in E major, brings on the world of mortals, with all their noise and bustle and a transition to the dominant for music patently connected to the two pairs of lovers who get so frightfully mixed up during the course of the plot. A heavy pounding repeated note in the bass brings on the rustics with their antic dance and the “hee-haw” of poor “translated” Bottom.

The rest of the music for the play came about because King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, newly ascended to the throne in Berlin on June 7, 1840, wanted to promote reforms in all aspects of political and cultural life. The new monarch put Mendelssohn to be in charge of his plans. By 1843, the king hoped to see the continuation of a series of dramatic productions with incidental music. Mendelssohn chose to expand his overture that he wrote 16 years earlier into a score including entr’actes, dances, songs and some brief melodramas.

He made the conscious decision to use the overture whenever possible as a basis for the expansion. He did this with such skill that no one who did not happen to know the history of the work would ever guess that it was not created in a single act of the imagination.

The Scherzo introduces the second act. Its feather- light, staccato woodwind dance anticipates the opening of Act II and the gathering of the fairies, who hold their midnight revels in the woods.

The March of the Fairies accompanies the entrance of Oberon and Titania, with all the traditional gestures of the march present, but in miniature.

Titania bids her attendants “Sing me now asleep,” and they oblige with a lullaby, set by Mendelssohn as a Song with Chorus for women’s voices.

The Intermezzo serves as an entr’racte between acts II and III, beginning with passionate music expressing the anguish of Hermia, who has awakened to find herself deserted by her beloved Lysander. This yields to lightly comic material anticipating the rise of the curtain, when we will see the assembled rustics ready to rehearse their play in the woods.

The Nocturne suggests the picture of the sleeping lovers. Puck has made a splendid mess of things, and now all four of the lovers have collapsed in exhaustion. The solo horn evokes the tranquility of the woods and the lovers’ sleep, though intimations of foregoing passions still remain in the middle section. The brightening at the end suggests the soft approach of dawn and the rise of the curtain on Act IV.

Theseus, Hippolyta and Hermia’s father encounter the four lovers in the woods. The Duke gives them permission to be married jointly with him on the day set for his own wedding to Hippolyta. The act ends with intimations of nuptials, signaled by its entr’acte, the Wedding March, probably the best-known piece Mendelssohn ever wrote. No matter now frequently it is performed, it stays fresh because of the composer’s ingenious opening, which begins with a fanfare in C major and suddenly, at the entrance of the full orchestra, seems to jump to an entirely different key for the main phrase of the march.

During the final act, the rustics offer their play, but the Duke begs off the epilogue and chooses the rustics’ alternative entertainment, a dance. This Dance of the Rustics grows ingeniously out of a few tiny motives in the overture.

Following the evening’s entertainment, the mortals head to bed. A brief reprise of the Wedding March makes way for the return of the Fairies. As Oberon and Titania appear, we hear again the four woodwind chords that opened the overture. The fairies trip in to spread their music and charms throughout the house.

Then, at Oberon’s command, the fairies trip away, leaving Puck to take his leave of the audience to the final sounding of the four magical woodwind chords.

– Steven Ledbetter

Texts & Translations

Op. 39, No. 1 Veni domine

Veni Domine et noli tardare!
Relaxa facinora plebi tuae,
et revoca dispersos in terram tuam.
Excita Domine potentiam tuam,
ut salvos nos facias,
Veni Domine et noli tardare!

Come, Lord, and do not delay!
Forgive the wrongdoing of your people,
and bring back the dispersed to your land.
Raise up, Lord, your power
to save us (to cause),
Come, Lord, and do not delay!

Op. 39, No. 2 Laudate pueri

Laudate pueri Dominum,
laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum,
ex hoc nunc, et usque in saecula.
Beati omnes qui timent Dominum,
qui ambulant in viis ejus.

Praise the Lord, you His servants,
praise the name of the Lord.
May the name of the Lord be blessed
from this time onward forever.
Blessed are all they that fear the Lord
and walk in his ways.

Op. 39, No. 3 Surrexit pastor bonus

Surrexis pastor bonus qui animam suam
posuit pro ovisbus suis.
Et progrege suo mori dignatus est. Alleluja.

The Good Shepherd is risen,
who laid down his life for his sheep,
and vouchsafed to die for his flock. Alleluia.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 61

No. 3 Song with Chorus

First Fairy
You spotted snakes with double tongue,
Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
Newts and blind-worms, do no wrong,
Come not near our fairy queen.
Hence away!

Chorus of Fairies
Philomel, with melody
Sing in out sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby;
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.

Second Fairy
Weaving spiders, come not here;
Hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence!
Beetles black, approach not near;
Worm nor snail, do no offence.
Hence away!

Chorus of Fairies
Philomel, with melody
Sing in out sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby; lulla, lulla, lullaby;
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So, good night, with lullaby.

First Fairy
Hence, away! Now all is well:
One aloof stand sentinel.

No. 13 Finale

Chorus of Fairies
Through this house give glimmering light,
By the dead and drowsy fire;
Every elf and fairy sprite
Hop as light as bird to brier;
And this ditty, after me,
Sing, and dance it trippingly.

First Fairy
First, rehearse your song by rote,
To each word a warbling note:
Hand in hand, with fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.

Chorus of Fairies
Through this house give glimmering light, etc.

Chorus of Fairies
Trip away, make no stay;
Meet me all by break of day.

RELEASED 8/21: The Two Bachs

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Sherezade Panthaki, soprano; Clifton Massey, countertenor; Brian Thorsett, tenor; Jeff Fields, baritone; Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director
Originally performed in February 2015.
NOTE: This video will expire on October 5, 2020.

Program Notes


By Bruce Lamott

Funeral rites for 18th-century German dignitaries—both civic and noble—were often lavish and costly affairs, conducted with ostentatious ceremonies and theatrically draped catafalques, interminable eulogies, endless processions of mourners, and elaborate musical compositions. Whereas most of the above could be assembled in due time, the latter required the beleaguered Kapellmeister to compose a new extended work, hire copyists to write out the parts from the score, and rehearse the choir, soloists, and orchestra—all in advance of the impending obsequies. Such was the situation for Georg Philipp Telemann, musical director of Hamburg’s five largest churches, when Mayor Garlieb Sillem died on 26 December 1732—right in the midst of the Christmas holidays. “His Magnificence, the highly noble, highly and thoroughly learned gentleman…the oldest and p[ro] t[empore] presiding, highly meritorious mayor” was interred ten days later and according to accounts, “the cortege was distinguished and very large. There were 420 pairs of the most eminent businessmen and citizens in attendance, not counting the scholars, clergymen, and mourners, and the funeral music was exceptional.”

Telemann’s exceptional funeral music had perhaps been prepared ahead of the need, as His Honor the mayor had written most of the text himself—entitled his “swan song” (Schwanengesang) —for a twenty-movement work of choruses, arias, and chorales. This evening’s instrumental sinfonia which opens the work, is a rather dry-eyed processional in E-flat major for strings, oboes, and trumpets and timpani. Marked “Lamento, grave e staccato,” it is a dialogue of solemn phrases from the muted trumpets alternating with a consoling melody in the first violins and oboe. Conspicuously absent are the minor key, dissonant leaps, sighing appoggiaturas, and chromaticism found in other, especially Catholic, elegiac works. Instead, a lyrical melody with French-inflected gestures of the short-long “Lombard” rhythms (also known as the “Scotch snap”) floats above the staccato pulsations of the dead march.

Telemann’s connections with the Bach family were numerous, including his earlier service as Konzertmeister, and later Kapellmeister in Bach’s home town of Eisenach, where Johann Christoph Bach, the composer of Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig was organist of the principal church and harpsichordist to the ducal court. Christoph was the cousin of Sebastian Bach’s father, and, according to the description of the Eisenach town council, was a “querulous and stiff-necked person” (querulant und halsstarriges Subjekt). John Eliot Gardiner surmises that he was “a feisty, combative individual, cantankerous and insecure, father to an overcrowded household, prone to constant domestic upheavals, sickness and incipient penury.” Otherwise, when Sebastian was orphaned at age ten, he might well have preferred to remain in his native town in the care of this elder relative rather than being shipped off to a brother in provincial Ohrdruf whom he hardly knew. (Either way, he would have been in the care of someone named Johann Christoph Bach, just two of the eleven by that name on the Bach family tree.)

Though too young to have known Eisenach’s Christoph except through his music at hand, Sebastian Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel describes his work as “strong in the invention of beautiful ideas as well as in the expression of the meaning of the words. His writing was, so far as the taste of his day permitted, galant and singing as well as remarkably polyphonous….” Emanuel also notes that “on the organ and on the clavier he never played in fewer than five real parts.” The occasion for which his “sacred dialogue” on death, Herr, wende dich, was written is unknown, but its transition from sorrow to joy bespeaks a funeral or memorial commemoration. It is a miniature drama infusing German polyphony with dramatic rhetoric, similar in approach to comparable sacred dialogues by Heinrich Schütz. Those “five real parts” admired by Emanuel are in evident in the 5-part string symphonia which opens the work. The lower strings, including divided viola parts, play in chorale-like harmonization while the first violin delineates a melody with sudden leaps and expressive contours.

The soloists in the piece are cast in roles which, though unnamed, are characterized by the text and scoring. The soprano, alto, and tenor play a composite role of weak supplicants preoccupied by the imminence of death: das Grab ist da (The grave is there). They sing in terse rhetorical phrases from the Psalms and Book of Job accompanied by the organ and cello continuo; true to his reputation for “expression of the meaning of the words,” Bach clips off phrases such as “they have run away,” or “vanished like a shadow” with sudden pauses (abruptio, in rhetorical terms). As the voice of God, the bass soloist is supported by a halo of strings used similarly by J.S. Bach for the words of Christ in his St. Matthew Passion. His words of comfort are delivered in longer melodious phrases, emphasizing that basic tenet of the Lutheran faith, God’s grace (Gnade).

The penitents descend chromatically, as they pray not to be taken in the middle of life’s journey, and ultimately beseech God to incline his ear as they vocally prostrate themselves in the lowest extremity of their respective ranges. The bass responds with a jolly gigue, trading phrases with the strings, and granting the suppliants an extension of their years with the admonishment, “Let my grace suffice.” The trio reply gratefully that were they dead, they would be unable to praise the Lord. No longer in his divine character, the bass joins the trio in a concluding hymn of praise, while skittering violins weave around their harmonized chorale.

Programs of music by members of the Bach family frequently take a sort of Darwinian approach, culminating in a work by Johann Sebastian that confirms—as if there were any doubt—that he was musically the most evolved of his relations. Absent his blinding light, however, we can better appreciate the gifts of his accomplished kinsmen, those lesser lights in a family, according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff, where “a robust mediocrity held sway.” If we look to the familial works held in greatest esteem by Sebastian himself, however, we will discover the robust but far-from-mediocre music of his distant cousin Johann Ludwig Bach, a composer ranked as high as Johann Sebastian himself in first half of the eighteenth century.

While the kinship of the two composers was remote (they shared a great-great-grandfather), their two families remained quite close through three generations. Two of Ludwig’s sons became friends of Carl Phillip Emanuel while they were students at Leipzig University, and one of whom, Gottlieb Friedrich Bach, was a talented artist who made portraits of Sebastian’s family.

Like nearly all of the parochial Bach family musicians before the time of Sebastian’s more itinerant and cosmopolitan sons, Johann Ludwig stayed in central-German Thuringia for his entire career, first brought to the court orchestra by Duke Bernhard I of Saxe-Meiningen at age 22 and serving there until his death 28 years later. Elevated to Court Cantor and Master of the Ducal Pages (Hofcantor and Pageninspector), like Sebastian, he initially was required to teach subjects other than music—catechism, writing, arithmetic, history, and even painting. (However, unlike Sebastian, he was also known for his unusually handsome appearance.) Duke Bernhard constructed the sumptuous Schloss Elisabethenburg, a baroque palace containing the Holy Trinity Church (now the Johannes Brahms Concert Hall) where tonight’s Trauermusik was first performed.

After the accession of Bernhard’s son, Duke Ernst Ludwig I, Johann Ludwig Bach was promoted once again and (gratefully) relieved of his non-musical duties, becoming Hofkapellmeister in 1711. He also rose sufficiently in social rank to marry the daughter of the new palace’s architect, Samuel Rust. The new duke was every bit as extravagant as his father, building new castles and churches, waging war against nearby principalities, and writing sacred poetry in the form of two cantata cycles for the church year. These librettos, combining scriptural prose, Lutheran hymns, and poetry in the operatic forms of recitative and aria, were set to music both by Johann Ludwig and Johann Sebastian Bach, when the latter was serving at the ducal court of Weimar. It is also possible that both the duke and Ludwig Bach were familiar with the Musikaliche Exequien (Musical Obsequies), the self-designed funeral service by Prince Heinrich II in nearby Gera, compiled from Scripture and writings from the Reformation similarly set to music for double chorus, soloists, and continuo by Heinrich Schütz almost a century earlier.

Like Telemann’s mayor, Ernst Ludwig I also began to choose his own funeral text and draft his funeral sermon, as well as a hymn text (chorale) to be set to music when still a young man. Unlike Telemann’s situation, however, it’s quite likely that Ludwig Bach knew of his impending task long before the need arose; in any event, the performance didn’t take place until four months after duke’s death on 24 November 1724.

The Trauermusik (literally, “music of sadness”) was not only intended to bid farewell to his Prince Ernst Ludwig, but also to impress and curry favor with the duke’s younger brother Anton Ulrich, co-regent for the underage son of the deceased. It amassed the whole of the household musical resources: two choirs (possibly separated by balconies), each with its own orchestra of strings and continuo, woodwinds and 3 trumpets and timpani added to choir II. Undoubtedly, Sebastian Bach was familiar with this monumental work, and it’s likely that it was the inspiration for his unusual setting of the St. Matthew Passion for two choirs and orchestras two years later.

A great deal is known about the Trauermusik, including its Order of Service, summarized here:

  1. Bells ring and the princely family enters; two hymns are sung.
  2. Psalm 90 read and another hymn sung.
  3. Trauermusik, Part I.
  4. Psalm 84 read, followed by two hymns.
  5. Sermon. (Based on Psalm 116, chosen by Ernst Ludwig. Sermons could last an hour.)
  6. Hymn, followed by Trauermusik, Part II.
  7. Curriculum vitae of the departed—read aloud, about 45 minutes; another hymn.
  8. Trauermusik, Part III.
  9. Memorial speech, announcement.

The design of each Part of the Trauermusik is almost architectural. Two choral movements frame Part I, whose interior consists of three recitative/aria pairs (soprano, alto, tenor) and a single preachy recitative for bass without aria. The theme is of fealty to God: Ich bin dein Knecht (I am your servant), a gesture of obeisance from the pen of a lifelong autocrat. Bach juxtaposes the double choirs in antiphonal dialogues with a literal representation (“word-painting” or “madrigalism”) of breaking bonds asunder. The bonds (Bande) pull and strain against the beat in catchy syncopation and are broken apart by rests inserted between the syllables of zur-ris-sen (broken). This text returns at the end of Part I with a jubilant gigue full of harmonic surprises and orchestral interjections.

Part II, after the sermon, consists of three sets of duet-aria-chorale in succession. The bass soloist, slighted in Part I, now becomes the voice of the departed duke (“I lay myself at thy feet, place myself wholly in thy hands.”) in three separate arias to his original poetic texts, while the previously theatrical choir is reduced to congregational hymn-singing. Bach’s concern with tone color is heard in the accompaniment to the breezy alto/tenor duet accompanied by alternating the string ensemble with a trio of recorders. The exultant chorus end to Part II is an ingenious juxtaposition of bass aria, harmonized chorale (which migrates between the choirs), and a lively “Alleluja.”

After the interminable obituary was read, Part III picked up where Part II left off, with trumpets and timpani joining the soloistically challenging choral parts. Bach introduces the first fugue subject in the work, but, more like Handel than his cousin, Ludwig soon abandons contrapuntal complexity in favor of emphatic harmonies. Another “Hallelujah” ensues, with choral interchanges comparable to Sebastian’s motets. The alto returns to the original theme of servitude and the loosening of bonds and chains, this time amidst a filigree of recorders. The style becomes increasingly less baroque and more galant, in a tenor minuet with a jolly bassoon obbligato. In the final peroration, the voice of the duke gives a valedictory message to his assembled subjects: “That Lord who bound me only by a thread of love…even entrusted His power to me here below, so that a people and a land might look on me as a father.”

Texts & Translations

Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig

Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig Herr,
wende dich und sei mir gnädig, denn ich rufe
täglich zu dir;
mein Odem ist schwach
und meine Tage sind abgekürzt,
das Grab ist da.

Lass dir an meiner Gnade begnügen.
Meine Gestalt ist jämmerlich und elend,
die bestimmten Jahre sind kommen,
und ich gehe hin des Weges,
den ich nicht wiederkomme,
der demütiget auf dem Auge meine Kraft
und verkürzet meine Tage.
Meine Tage sind dahin wie ein Schatten,
und ich verdorre wie Gras,
und meine Kräfte sind vertrocknet wie eine

Meine Kraft ist in den Schwachen mächtig,
lass dir an meiner Gnade begnügen.

Mein Gott, nimm mich nicht weg
in der Hälfte meiner Tage;
stärke deinen Knecht,
denn ich bin elend und arm;
neige deine Ohren und erhöre mich!

Ich habe dich erhöret zur angenehmen Zeit und
will deinen Tagen noch viel Jahr zusetzen;
denn siehe, ich decke dich
unter dem Schatten meiner Hände
und habe dir am Tage des Heils geholfen. Lass
dir an meiner Gnade begnügen.

Der Herr züchtiget mich wohl,
aber er gibt mich dem Tode nicht,
denn die Toten werden dich, Herr, nicht loben,
noch die hinunterfahren in die Hölle, sondern
wir loben den Herrn von nun an
bis in Ewigkeit.

Frisch auf, mein Seel, und zage nicht, Gott will
sich dein erbarmen;
rasch’ Hilf’ will er dir teilen mit;
er ist ein Schutz der Armen;
ob’s oft geht hart, im Rosengart’ kann man
nicht allzeit sitzen.
Wer Gott vertraut, fest auf ihn baut, den will er
ewig schützen.

Textzusammenstellung aus:
Hiob 11. 16. 17; Psalm 22. 86. 102. 115. 118; Jesaja 38. 49. 51; 2. Korinther 6.

auf Herzog Ernst Ludwig I.
von Sachsen-Meiningen

O Her, ich bin dein Knecht

1. Tutti
O Herr, ich bin dein Knecht,
deiner Magd Sohn.
Du hast meine Bande zurissen.

2. Recitativo – Sopran
Du Gottes Ebenbild,
wie sehr bist du zernichtet,
wie hat dich doch dein Fall
so elend zugerichtet.
Wo ist die Freiheit hin,
in Geist, in Adern,
Mut und Sinn?
Ist auch darinnen dir
noch etwas überblieben,
das nicht der Sklaverei
als eigen zugeschrieben?

3. Aria – Sopran
Ach ja, die Ketten und die Bande
hast du zusamt dem Odem mitgebracht.
Und in so hartem Knechtschaftsstande
sind dir je mehr und mehr
die Fessel schwer gemacht.

4. Recitativo – Alt
Dein Will kann nicht das,
was er sollte, wählen,
die Sinnen sind
von wahrer Weisheit leer,
du kömmst und fährst dahin
fast als von ohngefähr
und deine Leben szeit
ist leichtlich nachzuzählen.
So ist dein Eigentum nicht einmal dein,
weil ein tyrannisch Joch es sperrt in Schranken
Und du wirst nimmer dich so hartem Zwang enthheben,
wenn eine höhre Macht dir nicht will Kräfte

5. Aria – Alt
O Herr, ich bin dein Knecht,
und mag mich nimmer freigelassen nennen,
wo du nicht wirst
von meinem Joch mich trennen
und setzen in das Bürgerrecht,
woe in gelöster Mund
darf ohne Furcht bekennen.

6. Recitativo – Tenor
So kannst du aus dem Diensthaus kommen,
und warden dir die Fesseln abgenommen,
so wird der Hut und Ring
dir wieder dargereicht
und alles, alles, was die Freiheit zeigt,
der Wahrheit Gurt um deine Lenden,
des Glaubens Schild,
die Pfeile abzuwendenden,
der Helm des Heils
zusamt des Geistes Schwert
und Gottes Harnisch,
der dich kriegen lehrt.
Da wirst du erst mit neu gerüst’ten Füßen
den freien Friedensweg zu wandein wissen.

7. Aria – Tenor
Ob gleich aller Treiber Wut
dir sich wollte widersetzen,
wird doch dein entbundner Mut
sich entreißen ihren Netzen.

8. Recitativo – Bass
Ja, der, dem alle Macht
ob allem Fleisch gegeben,
der zwischen sich und dir
kaum rechnet einen Schritt,
wird dich recht aus dem Kerker heben,
durch dessen Pforte man
ins Land der Freiheit tritt,
wo du ganz quit und los
vor alle Zeit entbunden
mit Freuden jauchzen kannst:
“ich hab die Freiheit funden.”

9. Tutti
Meine Bande sind zurissen.
Herr, es ist durch dich geschehn
Drum kann ich zu meinen Füßen,
denen ich gehorchen müssen,
Satan, Tod und Sünde sehn.


Ich suche nur das Himmelleben

10a. Duetto – Sopran & Alt
Ich suche nur das Himmelleben,
weil ich dein Knecht und Diener bin.
Der Sohn von deiner Magd, ergeben
und auch verpflicht’ mit Herz und Sinn,
der suchet nur dein Himmelreich.
Mach, Jesu, mich zum Himmelszweig!

10b. Aria – Bass
Drum hast du mir nun auch zurissen
das hart und schwere Lebensband.
Ich lege mich zu deinen Füßen,
ergeb mich ganz in deine Hand.
Dieweil ich such das Himmelreich,
mach, Jesu, mich zum Himmelszweig!

11. Choral
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’r Mensch und Gott,
der du littst Marter, Angst und Spott,
für mich am Kreuz auch endlich starbst
und mir deins Vaters Huld erwarbst.

Ich bitt durchs bitter Leiden dein,
du wolltst mir Sünder gnädig sein,
wenn ich nun komm in Sterbensnot
und ringen werde mit dem Tod.

12. Duetto – Alt & Tenor
Drum will ich auch Dankopfer bringen,
den Nam’ des Herrn erheben auch.
Ja, ich will ihm Loblieder singen,
nach aller Engel ihrem Brauch,
dir “heilig, heilig” stimmen an,
wenn sie den großen Gott sehn an.

13. Aria – Bass
Das, was ich meinem Gott versprochen
und ein Gelübde hab getan,
dasselb soll auch sein ungebrochen
im Leb’n und auf dem Todesplan.
Ich meinem Gott getreu will sein,
er hol mich nur zum Himmel ein.

14. Choral
Wie du hast zugesaget mir
in deinem Wort, das trau ich dir:
“Fürwahr, fürwahr, euch sage ich,
wer mein Wort halt und glaubt an mich,

der wird nicht kommen ins Gericht
und den Tod schmecken ewig nicht.
Und ob er gleich hier zeitlich stirbt,
mitnichten er drum gar verdirbt.

Sondern ich will mit starker Hand
ihn reißen aud des Todes Band
und zu mir nehmen in mein Reich,
da soll er dann mit mir zugleich

in Freuden leben ewiglich.”
Dazu, hilf uns ganz gnädiglich!
Ach, Herr, vergib all unser Schuld,
hilf, dass wir warten mit Geduld,

bis unser Stündlein kommt herbei,
auch unser Glaub stets wacker sei,
dein’m Wort zu treuen festiglich,
bis wir einschlafen seliglich.

15. Duetto – Sopran & Alt
Drum, Welt, ade, ich bin dein müde,
nur meinen Jesum suche ich,
da finde ich den rechten Friede,
da kann ich leben selighlich.
Ich will aus dieser Welt hinaus
zu Gott in sein groß Himmelshaus.

16a. Aria mit Choral – Tenor
Jerusalem, ich tu verlangen
doch dieses nicht auf dieser Welt,
dort oben ist’s, da werd ich prangen
in meines Gottes Himmelszelt,
in meines Gottes Himmelshaus
ich nur das Pförtneramt such aus.

Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt,
wollt Gott, ich wär in dir.
Mein sehnlichs Herz so groß Verlangen hat
und ist nicht mehr bei mir.
Weit über Berg und Tale,
weit über flaches Feld
schwingt es sich über alle
und eilt aus dieser Wlt.

16b. Aria – Bass
Dann werd ich Halleluja singen,
gelobet sei der große Gott,
stats Halleluja soll erklingen
dem großen Gott, der reißt aus Not.
Stimmt alle an: Helleluja.

16c. Tutti
Wenn dann zuletzt ich angelanget bin
ins schöne Paradeis,
voll höchster Freud erfüllet wird der Sinn,
der Mund voll Lob und Preis.
Das Halleluja reine
man singt in Heiligketi,
das Hosianna feine
ohn End in Ewigkeit.
Mit Jubelklang, mit instrumenten schon
auf Chören ohne Zahl,
dass von dem Schall und von dem süßen Ton
sich regt der Freudensaal,
mit hunderttausend Zungen,
mit Stimmen noch viel mehr,
wie vom Anfang gesungen
das himmelishe Heer.


Dir will ich Dank opfern

17. Tutti
Dir will ich Dank opfern
und des Herrn Namen predigen.
Ich will meine Gelübde dem Herrn bezahlen
für alle seinem Volk,
in den Höfen am Hause des Herrn,
in dir, Jerusalem.
Halleluja, Amen. Halleluja.

18. Recitativo – Alt
Was ist der Mensch, Herr,
dass du sein gedenkest?
Wer bin ich, dass du mir
so teure Gaben schenkest,
mir, dem leibeignen Knecht,
an dem vom Mutterleib
du hattest Herrenrecht;
mir, de rich mich von dir verlaufen
und doch in fremde Sklaverei
durch meiner Sinnen Trügerei
hinwieder lassen mich verkaufen.

19. Aria – Alt
Dies macht dein Sohn,
der mich von neuem hat erstritten,
da er die Strick und Band erlitten,
das ser sein Erbe brächt davon
und, da ich ewig sonst
gebunden wär geblieben,
mit seinem teuren Blut
den Lösbrief mir geschriben.

20. Recitativo – Tenor
Befreit mich nun der Sohn,
so bin ich zwar recht frei;
wo aber finde ich die Gaben,
die mein Erlöser sollte haben
zum Denkmal, dass ich dankbar sei?
Die Farren sind schon dein,
und wollt ich Weihrauch streuen,
so würde ich doch nur,
was dir gehöret, weihen.

21. Aria – Tenor
Lob und Dank zum Opfer geben,
seinen Namen hoch erheben,
wird er doch noch nehmen an.
Alles ander’ ist dein eigen
und mag an dem Wert nicht steigen,
den du vor mich ausgetan.

22. Recitativo – Sopran
Doch eines weiß ich noch,
mein Freijahr ist gekommen,
du hast mich aus dem Stand
der Dienstbarketi entnommen
und in dein Haus versetzt.
Mein Herr, ich hab dich lieb,
dass ich um deinen Dienst
gern meine Freiheit gib,
bring mich vors Heiligtum
und laß da meine Ohren
an dessen Pfost und Tür durchbohren,
dass ich dein Knecht sei ewiglich
und dann vor allem Volk
beständig preisen dich.

23. Aria – Sopran
Da, da will ich dir bezahlen,
was ich dir versprochen hab,
mein Gelübde tragen ab
und zu ungezählten Malen
in dem Hof von deinem Haus
deine Herrschaft rufen aus.

24. Recitativo – Bass
Die Herrschaft,
weiche nu rein Seil der Liebe war,
die mich von jugend auf
als Sohn im Schoß geheget,
mir Mut und Kraft geschenkt,
beschützet in Gefahr
und ihr Gesetz ins Herz gepräget,
ja, selbst auch ihre Macht
hienieden anvertrauet,
dass mich ein Volk und Land
als Vater angeschauet.

25. Aria – Bass
So viel Gnadengaben,
die du mir hast zugewandt
durch die Güte deiner Hand,
müssen ja den Lobspuch haben,
dass du unter allen Herren
Herr, doch viel mehr Vater seist
und davor durch deine Knechte
billig ewig wirst gepreist.

26. Sclusschor
In dir, Jerusalem, du neue Gottesstadt,
wo mitten in dem Stuhl
das Lamm den Wohnplatz hat,
das mich von Anbeginn
zu seinem Knecht ersah.
In dir will ich hinfor
nun Freudenopfer bringen
und mit entbundner Zung
nebst Mahanaim singen:
Lob, Her, Preis,
Herrlichkeit und Ruhm.
Halleluja, Amen, Helleluja.

27. Choral
Preis, Lob, Her, Ruhm,
Dank, Kraft und Macht
se idem erwürgten Lamm gesungen,
das uns zu seinem Reich gebracht
und teu’r erkauft, aus allen Zungen.
In ihm sind wir zur Seligkeit bedacht,
eh noch der Grund der ganzen Weit gemacht.

Wie heilig, heilig, heilig ist
der Herr der Herren und Heerscharen,
de runs geliebt in Jesu Christ,
da wir noch seine Feinde waren,
und seinen Sohn zu eigen uns geschenkt,
sein Herz der Lieb in unser Herz gesenkt.

Dess Stadt die schönste Zion ist
mit Edelstein und Perlentoren,
erbaut zum Lobe Jesu Christ
für uns, die er sich auserkoren.
Wir jauchzen dir mit Dank,
Lob, Preis und Ruhm,
O Freud, O Licht, O Lust,
O Lebensblum.

Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig

Lord, turn unto me and have mercy upon me
Lord, turn unto me and have mercy upon me,
for I have called daily upon thee;
my breath is faint,
and my days are cut short,
the grave awaits.

My grace is sufficient for thee.
My body is wretched and pitiful,
the appointed years have come,
then I shall go the way
whence I shall not return,
he weakened my strength in the way
and shortened my days.
My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I
am withered like grass,
and my strength is dried up like a potsherd.

My strength is made perfect in weakness,
my grace is sufficient for thee.

O my God, take me not away
in the midst of my days;
give thy strength unto thy servant for I am poor
and needy;
incline thine ear, and hear me!

In an acceptable time have I heard thee and
shall add yet many years to your days; for
behold, I have covered thee
in the shadow of mine hand
and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.
My grace is sufficient for thee.

The Lord hath chastened me sore,
but he hath not given me over unto death, for
the dead cannot praise thee, Lord, neither any
that go down into silence, but we will bless the Lord
from this time forth and for evermore.

Revive, my soul, be not afeared,
God shall have mercy upon you;
he will swiftly impart his help to you; he is a
refuge of the poor;
if it is often hard, one cannot always be in the
garden of roses.
Who trusts in God, builds firmly on him, he
will protect forever.

after Job 11, 16, 17;
Psalms 22, 86, 102, 115, 118; Isaiah 38, 49, 51; II Corinthians 6,12

Funeral Music
for Duke Ernst Ludwig I.
of Saxe-Meiningen

O Lord, I am thy servant

1. Tutti
O Lord, I am thy servant,

the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast broken my bonds asunder.

2. Recitative – Soprano
You, God’s very image,
how ruined you are,
how wretchedly your Fall
has mangled you!
Where has your freedom gone,
in your spirit, in your veins,
your heart and your senses?
Is there still
something left within you
that cannot be imputed
to slavery?

3. Aria – Soprano
Yes, alas, your chains and bonds,
you acquired them with your first breath.
And in such harsh servitude
your fetters have grown
even heavier upon you.

4. Recitative – Alto
Your will is unable
to choose the path it should;
your senses are devoid
of true wisdom;
you come up and pass away
almost as it were by chance,
and the days of your life
are easily numbered.
Hence not even your property is your own,
for a tyrannous yoke keeps it in confinement.
And you will never escape from such harsh
unless a higher power give you strength.

5. Aria – Alto
O Lord, I am they servant,
and may never call myself emancipated
unless thou wilt
deliver me of my yoke
and set me among the free citizens,
where a loosened mouth
may avow everything without fear.

6. Recitative – Tenor
Thus you may leave the house of bondage,
and once your fetters are removed,
the cap and ring
will be restored to you,
and everything that signifies freedom;
the girdle of truth about your loins,
the shield of faith
to ward off arrows,
the helmet of salvation
with the sword of the spirit,
and God’s harness
which will teach you how to fight.
Then, with feet newly armed, you will be able
to tread the free path of peace.

7. Aria – Tenor
Even if all the fury of your oppressors
rises up against you,
your newly unleashed courage
will snatch you from their nets.

8. Recitative – Bass
Yes, He to whom all power
over all flesh is given,
who is never more
than a step away from you,
will raise you up from your prison,
He through whose gate
one enters the land of freedom,
where, wholly free and quit of your debts,
delivered for all time,
you may exult with joyful cry:
“I have found freedom!”

9. Tutti
My bonds are broken asunder.
Lord, this is they doing.
Now I may see at my feet those whom once I had to obey:
Satan, Death and Sin.


I seek only heavenly life

10a. Duet – Soprano & Alto
I seek only heavenly life,
because I am they servant and they slave,
the son of thy handmaid, devoted
and bound to thee with heart and mind,
who seeks only they heavenly kingdom.
Make me, Jesus, a part of thy heaven!

10b. Aria – Bass
That is why thou hast broken asunder for me
the harsh and heavy bonds of life.
I throw myself at thy feet,
place myself wholly in thy hands.
Because I seek the kingdom of heaven,
Make me, Jesus, a part of thy heaven!

11. Chorale
Lord Jesus Christ, true Man and God,
who didst suffer torture, anguish and scorn,
and at the last died for me on the Cross
and gained for me thy Father’s grace.

I pray thee, for they bitter suffering’s sake,
have mercy on me, a sinner,
when I am in my last agonies
and wrestling with death.

12. Duet – Alto & Tenor
Then will I bring thank offerings=
and exalt the Name of the Lord.
Yes, I will sing Him songs of praise,
as all the angels do,
who intone “Holy, Holy”
when they look on Almighty God.

13. Aria – Bass
The promise I have made to my God,
the vow I have made to Him,
must not be broken
in life or death.
I will be true to my God,
if He only takes me into heaven.

14. Chorale
What thou hast pledged me
in these words, I firmly believe:
“Verily, verily I say unto you,
he who keeps my word and believes in me

will not come to judgment
and will not taste eternal death.
And although he dies here in time,
he will therefore by no means perish.

For I, with mighty hand,
will snatch him from the bonds of death
and take him to me in my kingdom,
where he will be together with me

to live amid joys forever.”
Mercifully help us to accomplish that!
Ah, Lord, forgive all your gilt;
help us to wait patiently

until our last hour comes,
and may our faith be ever constant,
trusting firmly in thy Word,
until we fall blissfully asleep.

15. Duet – Soprano & Alto
Then, world, farewell, I am weary of you;
I seek only my Jesus.
There will I find true peace,
there can I live in bliss.
I wish to leave this world and go
to God in His great heavenly abode.

16a. Aria with Chorale – Tenor
Jerusalem, I am filled with longing,
but not longing for this world;
it is above that I will be resplendent
in my God’s heavenly firmament;
in my God’s heavenly abode
I seek only to be the gatekeeper.

Jerusalem, you city built on high,
would to God that I were within you.
My yearning heart feels such great longing
and is no longer in my breast.
Far over hill and vale,
far over open fields,
it soars above all
and hastens from this world.

16b. Aria – Bass
Then will I sing “Hallelujah,
praise be to God Almighty!”
“Hallelujah” will always be sung
to our great God, who rescues us from distress.
All of you, strike up: “Hallelujah!”

16c. Tutti
When at last I reach
that beauteous Paradise,
my spirit will be full of supreme joy,
my mouth filled with laud and praise.
Let pure Hallelujahs
be sung in bliss,
exquisite Hosannas
without end in all eternity.
With sounds of joy, with instruments,
in innumerable choruses,
so that the celestial precincts may ring
with the echo and the sweet sound
with a hundred thousand tongues,
with voices still more numerous,
just as the heavenly host has sung
from time immemorial:


I will offer thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving

17. Tutti
I will offer thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and will call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows unto the Lord
in the sight of all His people,
in the courts of the Lord’s house,
even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.
Hallelujah, Amen. Hallelujah.

18. Recitative – Alto
What is man, O Lord,
that thou art mindful of him?
Who am I, that thou dost give me such precious gifts,
I, thy bonded servant
over whom, from his mother’s womb,
thou hast enjoyed absolute dominion?
I who have strayed from thee,
and who yet, while another’s slave
through the deception of my senses,
have let myself be redeemed?

19. Aria – Alto
It was thy Son who did so,
who fought to save me
by suffering ropes and chains
to win His inheritance;
and, since I would have remained
forever bound in my fetters,
with His precious blood
He wrote my letter of redemption.

20. Recitative – Tenor
If the Son liberates me now,
then I am truly free;
but where can I find the gifts
that my Redeemer should receive
as a memorial to my gratitude?
The young bullocks are already thine,
and were I to scatter incense,
I would only be consecrating to thee
what belongs to thee.

21. Aria – Tenor
To offer up praise and thanks
and to exalt His Name
will be acceptable to Him.
All else is thine own
and cannot match the price
thou didst pay for me.

22. Recitative – Soprano
But I know something else:
my year of liberty has come round,
and thou hast me plucked me
from the condition of servitude
and place me in thy house.
My Lord, I love thee so much
that I will gladly forgo my freedom
to enter thy service;
take me to thy sanctuary,
and there, before its gates
let me have my ears pierced
that I may be thy servant forever,
and then before all the people
constantly sing thy praise.

23. Aria – Soprano
There will I pay back
what I promised thee,
fulfill my vow,
and countless times,
in the courtyard before thy house,
proclaim that thou art Lord.

24. Recitative – Bass
That Lord
who bound me only by a thread of love,
who from my youth onwards
sheltered me like a son in His bosom,
gave me courage and strength,
protected me in danger
and engraved His law on my heart,
yes, and even entrusted His power
to me here below,
so that a people and a land
might look on me as a father.

25. Aria – Bass
So many gracious gifts,
which thou hast granted me
through the goodness of thy hand,
must be extolled in these terms:
thou art Lord among
Lords, but art still more a Father:
that is why it is right that thy servants
praise thee for evermore.

26. Final Chorus
In you, Jerusalem, new City of God,
where in the midst of the throne
the Lamb has His dwelling place,
who from the outset chose me
as His servant;
in you henceforth will I
bring offerings of joy,
and with loosened tongue
sing by Mahanaim:
Laud, honor, praise,
majesty and glory.
Hallelujah, Amen, Hallelujah!

27. Chorale
Praise, laud, honor, glory,
thanksgiving, strength and power,
let all tongues sing to the Lamb that was slain,
who has brought us into His kingdom
and redeemed us at great cost.
In Him we were marked out for bliss
before the foundations of the world were laid.

How holy, holy, holy is
the Lord of Lords, the Lord of Hosts,
who loved us through Jesus Christ
when we were still His enemies,
and sent us His only Son,
plunging His loving heart into our hearts.

His city is Zion, the fairest of all,
with precious stones and pearly gates,
build in praise of Jesus Christ
for us whom He hath chosen.
We rejoice in thee with thanks,
praise, laud and glory,
O Joy, O Light, O Pleasure,
O Flower of Life.

Translation: Charles Johnston

RELEASED 8/14: Vivaldi the Teacher

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Elizabeth Blumenstock & Alana Youssefian, violin; Gonzalo X. Ruiz & David Dickey, oboe; Phoebe Carrai & Keiran Campbell, violoncello
Originally performed in November 2018.
NOTE: This video will expire on September 28, 2020.

Program Notes


By Bruce Lamott

[For the sake of clarity and brevity, compositions by Vivaldi in this program will be referred to by their number in the Ryom Verzeichnis [catalog]or RV].

Antonio Vivaldi

The vast majority of Antonio Vivaldi’s prolific compositions resulted from his various responsibilities in his long teaching career. Aside from his forty-six operas, most of his five hundred-plus concertos, ninety solo sonatas, and dozens of choral works resulted from his thirty-year association as teacher, conductor, and composer for the orphans in the Ospedale della Pietà, one of four such institutions with prominent musical establishments in Venice. Founded in 1336, the Pietà was unique in being both single-sex and accepting infant girls born both in and out of wedlock, provided the child was small enough to fit in a box near the door. To this day, a marble plaque embedded in the wall of a later church of Santa Maria della Pietà invokes the warning of Pope Paul III in 1548 of dire consequences for parents abandoning children there if they could afford to raise them.

Music education at the Venetian ospedali was largely based on a peer-teaching system, in which an accomplished senior student known as a figlia di cori (cori meaning musical establishment as a whole, not just singers) would be assigned to teach younger students. This minimized the number of male teachers, contracted one year at a time, in the all-female environment. After a brief stint as a priest, Vivaldi was first hired by the Pietà as a maestro di violino at age 25 in 1703. More than once his annual contract was terminated and reinstated by the board between 1703 and 1717. With his reputation grew the status of the Pietà, which elevated him to maestro di coro, allowing him to focus more on composing and conducting.

Performances at the Pietà and its rival ospedali became a must-see for visitors to Venice, and not just for the music. Contemporary accounts by male writers never fail to comment on the musicians, such as this cringe-worthy observation by the British choreographer, John Essex.

The Harpsichord, Spinnet, Lute and Base Violin, are instruments most agreeable to the Ladies: There are some others that really are unbecoming to the Fair Sex; as the flute, Violin and Hautboy [oboe]; the last of which is too Manlike; and would look indecent in a Woman’s Mouth; and the flute is very improper, as taking away too much of the juices, which are otherwise more necessarily employ’d, to promote the Appetite, and assist Digestion.

Santa Maria della Pietà today.

While the identities of most of Vivaldi’s pupils at the Pietà are unknown, he immortalized a few by writing their names in his scores. They are identified only by their first names, such as the principal violinist known as Chiara (Chiaretta) (1718-1796) whose name appears on six concertos, including RV 372a. Known also as a singer, organist, and player of the viola d’amore, she was made a maestra (conductor) in 1762, one of adult figlie who continued at the Pietà well into middle age. The orphanage became a virtual conservatory whose alumnae became some of the most prominent instrumental teachers in Venice. However, for the majority of those women entering the secular world, exiting the Pietà also meant leaving their instruments behind, as there was no place for a virtuosa instrumentalist in the musical life of Venice or elsewhere. Only those few singers who found their way to the opera stage could continue to perform.

Vivaldi’s tutelage extended past the walls of the Pietà, however. His most illustrious pupil was undoubtedly Johann Sebastian Bach, a “distance learner” who studied, played, and transcribed music from Vivaldi’s widely circulated publications while in Weimar. Vivaldi had a more personal connection with an acquaintance of Bach,  the court violinist and later concertmaster of the electoral court of Dresden, Johann Georg Pisendel (1688-1755). Pisendel came to Venice in the entourage of Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony, and took violin and composition lessons from Vivaldi periodically for the next two years. He returned to Dresden in 1717 with over forty of Vivaldi’s instrumental works copied in his own handwriting (including tonight’s RV 507) and added to his collection several works sent by Vivaldi in the next twenty years. A century after Pisendel’s death, these works were discovered in a cabinet behind the organ in Dresden’s Electoral Court Chapel,and today they constitute the largest number of Vivaldi manuscripts outside of Italy.

Arcangelo Corelli

Corelli, Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 7 in D major

Arcangelo Corelli was the most famous Italian violinist/composer of the generation preceding Vivaldi. Though his published oeuvre consisted of only six printed collections, these works were widely imitated throughout Europe. Study with Corelli in Rome was a major credential for Italian violinists, including Frencesco Geminiani. Corelli’s posthumous publication of twelve concerti grossi established a model in which a solo group of instruments (known as the concertino) alternated with the whole ensemble (ripieno, or tutti). In this concerto, Corelli adds to the textural contrast of solo and tutti by adding dynamic contrasts of soft (piano) and loud (forte).

Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Violins in C major, RV 507

This concerto, one of those copied by Pisendel and taken to Dresden, is a unique take on the concept of “Vivaldi as teacher,” as it is clearly a contest between equals. The teacher/student relationship is obscured by its near equality of solo parts, and leads us to imagine a possible face-off between Pisendel and Vivaldi himself. The responding part takes up the challenge proposed by the leading part, not in a student-level easier range but identically at the unison. The poignant Largo is a lyrical siciliana over gently rocking unisons in the violins and violas. The standoff climaxes in the final Allegro, with brilliant passagework and high-altitude leaps to the extremities of the violin’s range. The busy figuration animates a slow-moving harmonic progression which Pisendel notated in half-note chords, a clear example of “animated homophony.”

Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Oboes in D minor, RV 535

The Pietà was noted for its extensive and unusual instrument collection, and the girls played a variety of woodwinds, brass, and even timpani. Vivaldi wrote twenty concertos for solo oboe in addition to concertos for two and three oboes and concertos with other instruments, such as RV 548. In contrast with the preceding concerto, RV 535 for two oboes and strings reflects more of a teacher/student collaboration than a competition. The two oboes form a composite sound in parallel motion, with the second oboe always below the first. It opens, not with an orchestral tutti,  but rather with the soloists in a gentle dialogue with the cello and bass. Mellifluous triplets in the Largo are supported by a simple repeated bass line, and the final Allegro molto is characterized by terse, interrupted phrases.

Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Violins and Two Violoncellos in G major, RV 575

Although officially a concerto for “two violins and two cellos,” this concerto is more accurately a contest between two duos, each locked in parallel thirds. (The image of tandem skydivers comes to mind.) Running scales introduce the outer movements, while the Largo gently rocks in close harmony over a pulsing bass. The final Allegro becomes a call-and-response between the pairs of violins and cellos before the violins soar into a lyrical melody above agitated oscillations in the cellos.

Vivaldi, Concerto for Two Violoncellos in G Minor, RV 531

Freeing two cellos from their obligations in the utilitarian continuo group, Vivaldi introduces the soloists at the outset of this concerto with virtuosic passagework rather than the customary orchestral ritornello. As in RV 507, the soloists are equals, performing in competitive alternation without interference from the upper strings. A prominent figuration in the outer movements is the rapid reiteration of four notes–termed Schwärmer (“swarmers”) by German theoreticians because of its semblance to buzzing bees–familiar from its use in The Four Seasons. In the Largo, the umber sonority of a cello trio is created by the addition of the continuo cellist. The final Allegro opens with catchy offbeat syncopations before the musical acrobatics of the soloists begins again.

Vivaldi, Concerto for Oboe and Violin in B-flat major, RV 548

Vivaldi’s writing for the oboe–as well as the solo voice–is sometimes criticized for being too “violinistic,” but in this concerto, he clearly differentiates the solo instruments according to what they do best, called “idiomatic” writing. In the charming opening movement, for example, the oboe is allowed to sing above the violin’s rapid undulations without being compelled to reciprocate. Likewise in the Largo, the oboe plays a plaintive siciliana melody while the violin creates a rhythmic filigree across all four strings in the instrument. The two soloists then harmonize together in parallel thirds in the lighthearted finale.

Vivaldi, Concerto for Violin in B-flat major, RV372a “per la S.ra Chiara” Andante

In contrast to the preceding student-level works, this solo concerto was written to showcase the talents of one of Vivaldi’s most accomplished students, one of six in which her name appears. While the outer movements of the concerto are capricious and unpredictable, challenging the soloist with every “violinistic” trick in the book, the middle movement Andante is a gentle series of variations on a repeated bass line (basso ostinato). This was an opportunity for the soloist to show her expressivity and skill in ornamentation, just as was also expected of opera singers. The strings introduce the theme and maintain an affect of serenity throughout, even though the figuration of the solo violin increases in complexity with each variation and climaxes with a shimmering bariolage.

Fancesco Geminiani

Geminiani, Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D Minor, “La Follia” (after Corelli)

Our program began and ends with the music of Corelli–here transformed by his student Francesco Geminiani. A virtuoso violinist who settled in London in 1714, Geminiani cashed in on Corelli’s posthumous popularity by reworking his teacher’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord into concerti grossi by dividing the solo violin part between two players and expanding and harmonizing the harpsichord/cello continuo for a string ensemble of two violins, viola, cello, and bass. Variations on the bass line of the Spanish dance “La follia” were popular with Baroque composers including Vivaldi, and Corelli’s contrasting variations–unlike Chiara’s Andante– lend themselves to a division between soloistic virtuosic variations and harmonically sustained variations given to the orchestra.



Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, recorded live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California, April 6 & 7, 2019. Libretto, program notes, and biographies available here.


Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, recorded live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California. Les Paladins recorded September 11 & 12, 2004; Scylla et Glaucus recorded March 9 & 15, 2003.