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

RELEASED 7/10: HANDEL Overture to An Occasional Oratorio; HANDEL Arias from Ariodante; HANDEL Water Music Suite No. 1 in F major; HANDEL Arias from Alcina; HANDEL Music for the Royal Fireworks

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
Originally performed in February 2016.
NOTE: This video will expire on August 24, 2020.

Program Notes

Notes on ‘Baroque Fireworks’

By Bruce Lamott

George Frideric Handel

George Frideric Handel

No composer does celebrations better than Handel. And there could be no more fitting repertoire to celebrate Nicholas McGegan’s thirtieth year with Philharmonia than the repertoire he has championed his entire career.  The synergy between Handel’s musical style and Nic’s interpretations creates an ebullience born of joie de vivre, yet both can also mine the depths of profound emotion and introspection. This program is a sampling of Handel’s best-known works, including an unlikely first performance by Philharmonia: the Music for the Royal Fireworks. It seems impossible that such a popular work could have been be missing from our repertoire until now, but it just may be that Nic was saving it for something special—like his own apotheosis.

The leading operatic roles in Handel’s operas were sung by mezzo-sopranos, and the appearance of Susan Graham, one of the world’s foremost mezzos, further cements the relationship between composer and performer. Of course, Handel’s leading male roles were often—but not exclusively—sung by castratos, men who were surgically altered to preserve their pre-pubescent voices. Ms. Graham possesses the natural vocal qualities so admired in these singers: a clarion-clear tone, flexible agility in fast passages, extraordinary breath control, and, above all, dramatic expression of the pageant of emotions that is the hallmark of Baroque opera.

Handel with King George on the river

Handel with King George on the river

Handel wrote An Occasional Oratorio in the midst of the Jacobite Rebellion, the attempt overthrow the Hanoverian King George II in favor of putting Prince Charles Edward Stuart (aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie”) on the English throne. The trumpet fanfares of the majestic opening, the festive Allegro in the style of a concerto grosso, and the triumphant concluding march all seem a bit premature, as the outcome of the conflict was still undecided at the time of its first performance on February 14, 1746. It was not a celebration of victory, but a musical rally for the loyalists, whose ultimate victory at the Battle of Culloden would not take place until April 16.

The celebrated Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music both arose from the sumptuous outdoor festivities of England’s Georgian courts. According to The Daily Courant of July 19, 1717, King George I boarded an open barge about eight o’clock for an evening cruise with his noble entourage up the Thames from Whitehall to  Chelsea.  Alongside, another barge of some fifty musicians played “the finest Symphonies, compos’d express for this Occasion, by Mr. Hendel [sic].” The king reportedly liked this music so well that he requested it to be played three times both going and coming, even though the return trip began after two in the morning.

baroque fireworks

Hand-colored engraving of the Royal Fireworks display, 1749.

Unlike the background music for a noble dinner party, The Fireworks Music was specifically composed for public celebrations of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of the Austrian Succession in 1748. Though King George II opined that “it ought to consist of no kind of instrument but martial instruments,” Handel added strings to double the parts of the 24 oboes, 9 horns, 9 trumpets, three sets of timpani, 12 bassoons and a contrabassoon, and serpent [ancestor of the tuba] specified in the score. Even the daytime public rehearsal the previous week drew a ticket-buying audience of more than 12,000.

The works themselves reflect their circumstances of performance. The twenty movements of the Water Music, now grouped into suites according to their keys, were a sort of Baroque jukebox from which the musicians or their royal patron could pick and choose throughout their eight-hour sojourn. The F Major Suite reflects contains the current national styles and popular dances of the day: the French overture and bourrée, the international minuet, the fast-slow-fast  configuration of Italian concertos, and the home-grown English hornpipe.

westminster-bridge-from-the-north-on-lord-mayor-s-day-1746

Westminster Bridget from the north on Lord Mayor’s day, 1746.

The five movements of the Fireworks Music, on the other hand, were ordered for a single performance in Green Park, preceding, not during, a fireworks display . The Overture, as in the Water Music, begins with the characteristic pompous dotted rhythms of the French overture, but instead of the customary fugue to follow the opening Adagio, Handel writes an Allegro in the style of an Italian concerto grosso, exploiting the contrast between fanfares by three trumpets alternating with three French horns, and three oboes with two bassoons, each on a separate part. At the heart of the work are two movements specific to the occasion. Peace (La Paix) is represented by the gentle lilt of the siciliana (a favorite setting for themes of pastoral serenity), while Rejoicing (La Réjouissance) returns to the spirit of the initial fanfares.

When Handel lost the use of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, longtime home of his Italian opera productions in London, to the rival Opera of the Nobility in 1734, his misfortune had a brighter side. The new theater at Covent Garden to which he moved the non-defecting remnant of his company was equipped with state-of-the art stage machinery and a dance troupe with renowned French dancer Marie Sallé. This gave him opportunities to create works with magical effects and ballet entractes such as those ending each act of Oreste, a pasticcio mostly cobbled together from his earlier works. The dance music, however, was entirely new, composed in the fashion of the French court galanterie. Cast in the two-reprise form of AABB and simply scored for oboes doubling the violins, often in the three-voice texture favored by Lully, the collection of gavottes, minuets, and other dances give a French stylistic accent to the otherwise Italianate work. Although Oreste has slipped into oblivion, its companion operas that season, Ariodante and Alcina continued to exploit the new resources for theatrical spectacle afforded by the new theater and Handel’s new superstar castrato, Giovanni Carestini.

Ms. Graham’s arias in the program were composed for the celebrated Giovanni Carestini, described by Dr. Burney as “the fullest, finest, and deepest counter-tenor [castrato, not a falsettist in the modern sense] that has perhaps ever been heard.” The title role in Handel’s Ariodante illustrates the variety of arias allocated to the leading man. His contemplation of suicide, Scherza infida, is a plaintive melody accompanied by muted strings, pizzicato bass, and solo bassoon. In the end, Ariodante returns as a knight in shining armor, literally, hailing the sun in Dopo notte with a flurry of coloratura designed to exploit Carestini’s two-octave range

The opera Alcina is a tale of knighthood and sorcery, based on the popular Italian Renaissance epic, Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. After discovering that the “man” he thought was a rival is actually his abandoned lady-love in drag, the knight Ruggiero wistfully sings a lyrical aria di cantabile of his fear that he may have just abandoned her yet again. Later resolving to vanquish the sorceress Alcina once and for all, he likens himself to an angry tigress in a cave awaiting the hunter, trading horn-calls with the French horns while the strings shudder with fear and agitation.

McGegan, Graham, and Philharmonia: Handel has never had it so good.

Texts & Translations

“Scherza infida” from Ariodante, Handel

libretto adopted anonymously from a work by Antonio Salvi 

Scherza infida in grembo al drudo,
io tradito a morte in braccio
per tua colpa ora men vò.

Mà a spezzar l’indegno laccio,
ombra mesta, e spirto ignudo,
per tua pena io tornerò.

Mock me, faithless one, in your lover’s arms.
Betrayed by you, I lie
in the arms of death.

But to break these unworthy bonds,
for your sentence I shall return,
a sad ghost and a naked spirit.

“Dopo notte” from Ariodante, Handel

libretto adopted anonymously from a work by Antonio Salvi 

Dopo notte atra e funesta,
splende in ciel più vago il sole
e di gioia empie la terra.

Mentre in orrida tempest
il mio legno è quasi assort,
giunge in porto e ‘l lida afferra.

After a dark and terrible night,
the sun shines more brightly in the sky
and fills the earth with joy.

My ship, having been almost engulfed
in the dreadful storm,
gains harbor and reaches the shore.

“Mi lusinga il dolce affetto” from Alcina, Handel

Riccardo Broschi, librettist

Mi lusinga il dolce affetto
con l’aspetto
del mio bene.
Pur chi sa? Temer conviene
che m’inganni
amando ancor.
Ma se quella fosse mai
che adorai
e l’abbandono,
infedele, ingrate io sono,
son crudele e traditor. 

Sweet passion tempts me
at the appearance
of my beloved.
But who knows? I fear that
by loving once more,
I deceive myself.
But if it ever should come to pass
that I adore
and yet abandon her,
unfaithful, ungrateful am I,
I am cruel and a traitor.

“Sta nell’ircana” from Alcina, Handel

Riccardo Broschi, librettist

Sta nell’ircana
pietroso tana
tigre sdegnosa,
e incerta pende
se parte, o attende
il cacciatore.
Dal teso strale
guarder si vuole
ma poi la prole
lascia in periglio.
Freme e l’assale,
desio di sangue
pieta del figlio
poi vince amor.

She wants to defend
herself from his arrow,
but that would leave
her offspring in danger.
She trembles and struggles
between her taste for blood
and her duty to her young;
then love prevails.

RELEASED 6/19: VIVALDI Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernes barbarie

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Cécile van de Sant, mezzo-soprano (Juditha); Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano (Vagaus); Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano (Holofernes); Dominique Labelle, soprano (Abra); Virginia Warnken, mezzo-soprano (Ozias); Bruce Lamott, chorale director.
Originally performed in April 2014.
NOTE: This video will expire on August 3, 2020.

Program Notes

PROGRAM NOTES

Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbarie (RV 644)
Antonio Vivaldi, music
Giacomo Cassetti, libretto

Musical Background

Vivaldi’s sole surviving oratorio, Juditha triumphans, is one of the composer’s most original works. It is also the lone representative of the “sacred military oratorio” genre, as it was styled by its librettist, Giacomo Cassetti. Most Italian oratorios of the time portrayed a Christian martyr in a favorable light and conveyed the text in the vernacular language, but Juditha triumphans (in common with other oratorios for the Venetian conservatories) is scripted in Latin.

It is a work of moral indignation at the forwardness of the Ottomans, who had gradually taken control of much of the eastern Mediterranean over centuries and whose grip on the Aegean and the Balkans (i.e. closer to the Venetians’ maritime holdings) had increased over the past century. The story of Judith, a widow of Bethulia who roused her contemporaries to redress the advance of the wicked Holofernes and his troops, was taken from the Apocrypha (a series of “hidden” Biblical texts placed, when present, after the Old Testament). It was now given a modern gloss: Judith represented the forces of the Venetian Republic in its current campaign to protect the island of Corfù (a Venetian holding since 1396) against the imminent threat of Turkish capture.

The work was written for performance at the Pietà, one of Venice’s four ospedali (better translated as “conservatories” in English). Although founded as orphanages, all four had evolved into institutions that attracted interest (and noble patronage) through their highly accomplished choruses and orchestras. Vivaldi had been string master at the Pietà since 1703, had hired wind masters, and had coached his most talented prospects to perform on a range of instruments to a very high standard. The chorus, orchestra, and soloists consisted entirely of women. All 55 members of the coro could have been involved in the performance of Juditha triumphans.

Contrary to popular belief, the figlie di coro who performed in public were not nubile; some were in their 50s and 60s by 1716. The soloists (who are named in one copy of the libretto) were Caterina, Silvia, Polonia (Appolonia), Barbara, and Giulia. All were born in the seventeenth century, the eldest (Silvia) around 1650, the youngest (Polonia) in 1692. The chorus was one of virgins with respect both to the Pietà’s situation and in the context of the subject, for Bethulia, the name of the city Judith defended, meant “virgin.”

The absence of visual stimuli in oratorio performances (the works were not staged) was counterbalanced here by instrumental color and variety of timbre. Vivaldi missed no opportunity to depict the warring sides of the narrative by musical means. His large roster of instruments included several that were rarely used. Apart from violins, violas, and cellos, Juditha called for viola d’amore, bassoon and mandolin; pairs of baroque oboes, recorders, chalumeaux (single-reed instruments that were forerunners of the clarinet), and theorbos (long-necked lutes with many strings); a consort of five viols (2 treble viols, 2 violas da gamba, and a violone); and natural trumpets to be used with timpani.

Each timbre holds a specific place in representing a mood, hinting at an outcome, or suggesting the cultural distance between the Turks and the Venetians. One of the sounds simulated is that of the Turkish zurna (a folk instrument with a short double reed, still used today in Anatolia), which was noted for its nasal sound. The more familiar reedy sound of the oboes was strongly associated in Vivaldi’s time with music of a plaintive character. Other woodwinds, the chalumeaux, were used only on a handful of occasions, mainly beyond the Alps. Here they suggest the intended fate of Holofernes. Imitations of Janissary bands had occasionally been included in earlier Venetian operas. Here natural trumpets and timpani lend a military character to the opening and closing numbers.

The sweet tones of the recorders (which were officially banned from sacred music in Vivaldi’s time) mark pieces of a gentle character. Theorbos (archlutes) were valuable in giving the basso continuo a fuller sound, but they also had an association with special occasions. In Juditha triumphans they serve in one instance as obbligati, a truly rare practice in the eighteenth century, when their use was declining. The role of a consort of viols (viole all’inglese in the original manuscript) is most unusual: Vivaldi reserves them for allusions to the profound and the spiritual. Many of the unusual obbligato instruments used in Juditha triumphans were also required in Vivaldi’s opera L’incoronazione di Dario (The Coronation of Darius), which had its premiere in Venice three weeks after the performance of Juditha triumphans.

Historical Background

A pivotal point in the late history of the Venetian Republic gives Juditha triumphans its raison d’être. Late in 1715 Venice began to prepare for the all-out defense of the island of Corfù (a Venetian possession since 1396). The Republic was officially neutral in what were deemed political wars, but religious wars were different: Venice was regularly allied with the Holy Roman Empire and with the Papacy when the pretext for battle was the defense of Christianity. The political virtue of the Most Serene Republic (Venice) had always been perceived in female form, though usually in the guise of Pallas Athena (the goddess of wisdom, courage, and “just warfare”). Judith displaces her here in order to underscore the religious importance of Venice’s victory.

Recent reversals in the Peloponnese caused the central command of Venice’s naval resources to be concentrated on Corfù. The leadership of its defense was entrusted to a German field marshal, Mattheus von Schulenburg (the brother of King George I’s mistress, Melusine von der Schulenburg, recently named Duchess of Kendal). It was to be the last major undertaking of the marshal’s professional career.

Late in 1715 he assembled his crews in Venice as the arsenal was readying new galleys. They sailed early in February. The successful defense of the island took place between July 25 and August 20, 1716. Venice prevailed. The crews arrived back in the lagoon, where they were required to spend a month in quarantine, at staggered points through December. Schulenburg himself emerged on the third day of January 1717. This is a likely date for the performance of Juditha triumphans. (Venetians did not advance the civic year until March 1, meaning that the dates of events falling in January or February were often ambiguous.) Oratorios in the conservatories were generally concentrated in Advent and Lent, but Schulenburg was unavailable during these periods.

Elsewhere in Italy oratorios were usually sung in the vernacular, but the Venetian ospedali appealed to a noble audience by presenting their oratorios in Latin. The story itself was also set (sometimes under the title Bethulia liberata) by Alessandro Scarlatti and Francesco Gasparini (Vivaldi’s recent superior at the Pietà) and several others. Vivaldi’s Juditha comes down to us without an opening sinfonia.

Music and Text

The text can be read either as the script for a pep rally or as a symbolic re-enactment of victory. Judith, accompanied by her servant Abra, is intent on defending the Faith (i.e., Venice). Few works by Vivaldi exhibit such a close coupling of political motive, text, and music.

The Ottomans are audibly present from the start in the imitations of Janissary bands. Holofernes, their leader, is an adversary Judith decides to vanquish by seduction. She lures him to her tent, withstands his advances long enough to ply him with drink (early in part two of the oratorio), and then beheads him. Christianity prevails, fulfilling the main objective of the work, but sustains its militancy even in victory, as we hear in the final numbers of the work.

Judith’s arias on the whole define her character as forthright and determined. The music of quiet persuasion falls to Abra. Holofernes is angry, seductive, drunk, and betrayed by turns. Vivaldi underscores some of the work’s most significant arias through the use of rotating obbligatos that can serve to highlight particular timbral qualities of individual voices but may also serve to reinforce textual motifs.

The serial journey through Vivaldi’s instrumental toolkit, which is largely concentrated between the midpoint of Part One and that of Part Two, is introduced by the Assyrian soldiers’ chorus “O quam vaga” (“O how bright…”). Set in G minor, its opening emphasizes the dissonant intervals associated (by Venetians) with the Middle East. Its foreignness is reinforced by the accompaniment of two oboes and strings. The music is supported in the bass by a repetitive descending tetrachord, long associated in Baroque opera with operatic laments. Judith plans her moves in “Quanto magis generosa” (“How much nobler…”), an aria in the unusual key of E-flat major. The music includes an obbligato for viola d’amore, a bowed string bowed instrument with six regular strings and six sympathetic strings running under the neck. Their vibration elicited a faintly ethereal response. Holofernes takes Judith’s bait and sings lovingly in “Sede, o cara” (“Sit, oh dear one”).

Vagaus meanwhile rallies his Assyrian troops in the aria “O servi volate” (“O servants, fly”). Here the accompaniment is restricted to theorbos and harpsichords, which produce a crisp, thin sound in fast, steady beats to simulate hurrying. As Judith gathers her courage, she summons Abra in the aria “Veni, veni mi sequere fide” (“Come, come follow me”), which contains a shawm (chalumeau) obbligato that imitates a turtledove.

Part Two opens at night, and Ozias in the opening aria “O sidera, o stellae” (“O stars and heavenly bodies”) scrutinizes the skies as “shooting star” figures are heard in the violins. Holofernes then notes how dark it is and how much of his view is shadowed (“nox obscura tenebrosa”). In response Judith reflects on the rapid passage of time (“Transit aetas”), in which the mandolin simulates this transit, while pizzicato violins accompany it.

Holofernes pronounces his love for Judith (“noli, o cara, te adorantis”), but listeners will know that the die has been cast because of the aria’s accompaniment by oboe and organ: in historical practice the organ ushered lost souls into the Underworld. Holofernes demise is implied, as if in a Greek tragedy, by the chorus in “Plena nectare non mero” (“Filled not with the finest wine”). Vivaldi introduces two chalumeaux to underline the theme of the now subdued Turkish threat. They are reinforced (but just barely) by muted strings. (Listeners may also notice a general similarity of the ritornello to the opening of Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto, published in 1725.

Judith is now in a position to declare that a genuine Peace will reign (“Vivat in pace, et pax regnet sincera”). The aria is in E major and in 12/8 meter (a rarity for the time except in tarantellas). It might seem that the work would end here, but instead Vagaus sings a sort of lullaby, “Umbrae carae, aurae adoratae” (“Dear shades, lie lightly on him”) in which recorders provide the obbligato, as the sweetness of the moment is savored.

English viols were used only in special circumstances in venice, but in the prayer-like recitative “Summe astrorum Creator” (“great Creator of the heavens”) and Judith’s aria “In somno profundo” (“If in deep sleep”) four viols and a violone are employed.

The mood switches to renewed militancy as the Bethulians are called to renewed vigilance in Vagaus’s aria “Armatae face et anguibus,” a “rage” piece summoning images of snakes, “dread companions”, and violent death. Ozias is ebullient in “gaude felix,” a call to rejoice. Judith is acclaimed by the chorus in the closing piece, “Salve, invicta Juditha formosa” (“Hail, fair and invincible Judith”).

  • Eleanor Selfridge-Field

Eleanor Selfridge-Field is Consulting Professor of Music and Co-Director of the Center for Computer-Assisted Research in the Humanities at Stanford University. She is the author of many books and articles in various fields, including A New Chronology of Venetian Opera and Related Genres, 1660-1760 (2007); Song and Season: Science, Culture, and Theatrical Time in early Modern Venice (2007); and Venetian Instrumental Music from Gabrieli to Vivaldi (1975).

The score and parts for this performance of Vivaldi’s Juditha triumphans have been provided by the Center for Computer-Assisted Research in the Humanities at Stanford University, an affiliate of the Packard Humanities Institute. The edition was prepared by Frances Bennion, Edmund Correia, Jr., and Eleanor Selfridge-Field.

Texts & Translations

Juditha Triumphans devicta Holofernes barbarie (RV644)
Libretto by Giacomo Cassetti
Composed in 1716; first performance c. March 1716-Jan. 1717)

PARS PRIOR

CHORUS OF ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS
Arma, caedes, vindictae, furores,
Angustiae, timore precedite nos.
Rotate, pugnate,
O bellicae sortes,mille plagas,
Mille mortes adducite vos.

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
Felix en fausta dies,
O Magnanimi Eroes en fortunati:
Prospera vobis sors, sydera, caelum:
En post saecula tandem
Venit optata lux, lux suspirata,
Qua magni in vesto Duce,
Qua Dux Magnus in vobis:
Cunctis aegua erit tandem Victoria,
Et vestro invicto Regi
Honor, et gloria.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Nil arma, nil bella,
Nil flamma furoris
Si cor bellatoris
Est cadens in se.
Si pugnat sperando,
Iam virtus pugnando
Vigescit in spe.

VAGAUS, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

VAGAUS: Mi Dux, Domine mi…

HOLOFERNES: Et quid ne petis?

VAGAUS: Felicitatis tuae nuncius accedo.

HOLOFERNES: Quidne fausti tu refers?

VAGAUS: Nil nisi Gloriae tuae grande in crementum,
Et vere oculis tuis dulce portentum.

HOLOFERNES: Dic…

VAGAUS (Aria)
Matrona inimica,
Te quaerit ad arma,
Dux magne Holofernes.
Et cito, deh, credas,
Tibi erit amica
Si lumina cernes.

HOLOFERNES, VAGAUS (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Huc accedat Matrona,
Et sit armorum Marti ebrea Belona.
In Bethulia vilescunt
Hostes miseri Egeni: undique luctus
Saevus undique clamor.
Hic anhelat, hic gemit, ille plorat, dolent omnes;
Nil sidi timor, nil nisi maerentium
Ignavia, desperatio, afflictio, inopia,
Et lacrimarum copia.

VAGAUS: Veni Foemina illustris,
Pulcra Bellatrix huc, lumine et pede
Videntes feri, et generosa accede.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Quo cum Patriae me ducit amore,
Liberatis dulcissima spes,
Summo ductus a caeli fulgore
Tuto pergat per classica pes.

ABRA (Recitativo)
Ne timeas non, laetare
Casta vidua dilecta
Certa cirtutis tuae munera expecta.

ABRA (Aria)
Vultus tui vago splendori
Cedit ira, ridet amor.
Ac tui numinis honori
Laetus plaudit omnium clamor.

ABRA, JUDITHA (Recitative)

ABRA: Vide, humilis prostrata
Un viltus tui nitore,
Quam estatica sit gens tanta armata.

JUDITHA: Nil morae. Ad Holofernem
Me ducite benigni
Duces bellici honoris,
Pacis en nuncia venio, et non furoris.

VAGAUS WITH CHORUS OF ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS
O quam vaga, venusta, o quam ecora,
O spes nostrae victoriae unica e vera.
Tentoria vultu tuo ducis honora
Et cuncta ab Holoferne attende, et spera.

VAGAUS (Recitative)
Quem vides prope, aspectu
Terribili, et suavi,
Quem quaeris, ipse hic est:
Amore, et fide,
In ipso pulcra Sion spera, et confide.

VAGAUS (Aria)
Quamvis ferro, et ense gravis
Dulcis tamen at suavis
Prote Dux erit, o bella.

Tibi tua tu sors et fatum,
Nec per te fremit iratum,
Tua pilla fit tua stella.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Quid cerno! Oculi mei stupidi quid videtis!
Solis, an caeli splendor!
Ah summae prolis
Vincunt lumina sua lumina solis.
Sistite, viatrici
Praeparate Trophea, spargite flores,
Et obvient Divae, suae teneri Amores.

JUDITHA: Summe Rex, strenue miles,
Nabuc Regis cor, cuius in manu
Stat suprema potestas, nutui cuius
Fortuna, et sors obedit,
Et cuncta iura sua gloria concedit.

HOLOFERNES: O quam pulcrior in pulcro
Virtus est ore sonans! Quidnam petis,
Suavissima supplex?

JUDITHA: Non mihi, Patriae meae
Spem salutis exoro,
Et sic Bethuliae a te pacem imploro.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Quanto magis generosa,
Plus victori gloriosa
Venia victo magis cara.
O quam pulchratua potentia
Illustrata tua clementia?
Parce Dux, ac tolle amara.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Magna, o foemina petis,
Quae maxima si dentur!
Majora sed a me tibi debentur.
O timpana silente, recedite, o Phalanges,
Cedite amori meo, cedite invictae
Faces, tela, segitae,
Et vos bellica in campo impia tormenta
Estote in gaudio meo nova contenta.
Hic sede amica mea.

JUDITHA: Non tantus honor
Tuae famulae donetur.

HOLOFERNES: Tu me honoras.

JUDITHA: Te colo.

HOLOFERNES: Sedeas hic.

JUDITHA: Non debeo, non.

HOLOFERNES: Sic jubeo, et volo.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Sede, o cara, dilecta speciosa,
Mea vivida rosa,
Mea fulgida fax.
Tu Marti triumphant,
Tu bellico amanti
Pulcherrima Pax.

JUDITHA, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

JUDITHA: Tu Judex es, tu Dominus, tu potens
In exercitu tanto,
Et tuae dextrae victrici
Semper aspectu sint astra felici.

HOLOFERNES: Felix per te, magisque felix ero,
Si dum sepulta manet
Lux Apollinis unda, me te dignum
In convivo tu reddas,
Ut melius pacis nostrae amatae, et carae,
Solemnia tecum possim celerare.

JUDITHA: Inter convivia, et dapes
Torpescent labia mea
In jeiunio ascueta:
Tristis, nec unquam laeta
In eduliis astricta
Nescia est delitiae tantae anima afflicta.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Agitata infido flatu
Diu volatu
Vagabundo maesta hirundo
It plorando boni ignara.
Sed impulsu aurae serenae
Tantae cito oblita poenae
In dilecta dulcia tecta
Gaudij ridet haud avara.

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
In tentorio supernae sint in ordine coenae.
Quid, quid natat in Ponto,
Quid, quid in Caelo, et eterra nutrit
Ne sit legere grave.
Inc nostrae Reginae,
Cui Vagae, tu deservies,
Sit cretensis Lyei donum suave.

VAGAUS WITH CHORUS OF SERVANTS
O servi volate,
Et Domino meo vos mensas parate
Si proxima nox.
In victo Holoferni
Cantemus alterni,
Honoris, amoris sit consona nox.

VAGAUS, ABRA (Recitative)

VAGAUS: Tu quoque hebraica ancilla in nostro gaudio tanto
Eris in corde tuo laeta, et tranquilla.

ABRA: Quam audacter discurrit
Non minus servus suo Domino nequam.
Porperemus Juditha: Ubique semper
Tecum sperans in Caelis
Ero Dominae meae Socia fidelis.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Veni, veni, me sequere fida
Abra amata, sponso orbata.
Turtur gemo et spiro in te.
Diae sortis tu socia confida
Debellata sorte ingrata,
Sociam laetae habebis me.

ABRA (Recitative)
Venio, Juditha, venio: animo fave,
Amori crede tuo nil erit grave.

ABRA (Aria)
Fulgeat sol frontis decorate,
Et afflictae abeat Aurorae
Ros a vaga tua pupilla.
Ama, langue, finge ardere
Nostrae sorti si favere
Potest una tua favilla.

ABRA (Recitative)
Un Urbe interim pia
Incertas audi voces, aura levis
fert murmur voti,
Et gloriae, credo, tuae.
Gemunt, et orant una
Virgines Juda,
Incertae sortis suae.

CHORUS OF BETHULIANS
Mundi Rector de Caelo micanti
Audi preces, et suscipe vota
Quae de corde pro te dimicanti
Sun pietatis in sinu devota.

In Juditha tuae legi dicata
Flammas dulcis tui amoris accende
Feritatis sic hostis domata
In Betuliae spem pacis intende.

Redi, redi iam Victris pugnando
In cilicio, in prece revive
De Holoferne sic hodie triumphando
Pia Juditha per saecula vive.

PARS ALTERA

OZIAS (Recitative)
Summi Regis in mente
Mihi sunt alta arcana:
Hostis Tyranni, bellatoris iniqui
Prope, caelo favente,
Fata extrema praevideo.
Deus Abraam
Exercituum Deus es, Potens in bello,
Tuo nomini inimicam
Virtute dexterae tuae dissipa Gentem.
Te supplices precamur: tibi gloria
Sit diligentium Te nova victoria.

OZIAS (Aria)
O Sydera, o stellae,
Cum luna cadenti
Estote facellae
In hostem ferales.
Cum nocte felici
Ruant impii inimici,
Et sole sorgenti,
Sint luces mortales.

OZIAS, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

OZIAS: Jam saevientis in hostem
Castae nostrae Judithae
Gratae sunt Caelo preces, triumphando
Ad nos cito redibit,
Et Duce ablato ria gens peribit.

HOLOFERNES: Nox in umbra dum surgit,
Radiante in mare sol lumine cadit;
Sed tu pulcra Juditha
Luminose mi sol in caeco orrore
Resurgis coram me vivido ardore.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Nox obscura tenebrosa,
Per te ridet luminosa
Miro fulgida splendore.
Neque lucis novae Aurora
Tam superba tam decora
Victa tuo surget splendore.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Belligerae meae sorti,
Quaeso, o cara condona:
Haec numine conviva
Non sunt fercula digna.

JUDITHA: Magnitudinis tuae bene sunt signa.

HOLOFERNES: Magnum meum cor tu reddis,
Si a mantem vultus tui Iure me credis.

JUDITHA: Nil nisi sui Factoris
In orbe a creatura est conservanda Imago.

HOLOFERNES: Ad tantum cogis me
Vultu tuo vago.

JUDITHA: Quid, quid splendet in ore
Est pulvis, umbra, nihil.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Transit aetas, volant anni,
Nostri damni causa sumus:
Vivit anima immortalis
Si vitalis, amor, ignis, cuncta fumus.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Haec in crastinum serva: ah, nimis vere
Esse ignem sentio amorem,
Si nimis sentio in me viscera ardere.

JUDITHA: Tanti caloris aestum
Tempere strenue Dux, Flammas evita.

HOLOFERNES: Uror…

JUDITHA: Longe ibo

HOLOFERNES: No cara Juditha.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Noli o cara te adorantis
Voto ducis non favere,
Et suspiria animae amantis
Salem disce non horrere.

JUDITHA, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

JUDITHA: Tibi dona salutis
Precor e Caelo Dux.

HOLOFERNES: Prosit: bibendo
A te salutem spero,
Et si tu amabis me, tua salus ero.

CHORUS OF DRUNKEN SOLDIERS
Plena nectare non mero
Aurea pocula almi amores
Myrto et rosis coronate.
Et in mutuo gaudio vero
Horum numinum ardores
Dulcis flamma prosperate.

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
Tormenta mentis tuae fugiant a corde,
Et calicem sumendo
Vivat gloria Judithae, et belli face
Extincta, amor per te vivat in pace.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Vivat in pace,
Et pax regnet sincera,
Et in Bethulia fax surgat amoris.
In pace semper stat laetitia vera,
Nec amplius bella sint causa doloris.
In pace anima mea tu cuncta spera,
Si pax solatium est nostri moeroris.
In pace bone Deus cuncta tu facis,
Et cara tibi sunt munera pacis.

JUDITHA (Recitative)
Sic in Pace inter hostes
Sit mea Patria inofensa.
Sed quid video! Holofernes
Accensus mero suo dormit in mensa!
Consurgam. Vestro Duci
Huc accurrite, o servi: huc Abra veni,
Hic in tentorio stantes,
Dum dormoit inimicus
Precemur vere Deum nos vigilantes.

VAGAUS (Aria)
Umbrae carae, aurae adoratae
Deh gratae spirate;
Di Dominus dormit stet tacita gens.
A cura tam gravi
In somno suavi
Sit placida mens.

VAGAUS, JUDITHA, ABRA (Recitative)

VAGAUS: Quae fortunata es tu, vaga Matrona,
Quae de tam strenuo Duce triumphasti,
Et hostium domatorem tu domasti.

JUDITHA: Faxit de Caelo Rex,
Reges qui regit,
Et cordis mei devota
Exaudiat pietas Dei suspiria et vota.

VAGAUS: Bene in thalamo quiescat,
Mensas tollo,
Et hic pulcra Juditha
Potes cum Duce tuo sola laetari,
Et poenas cordis tui tu consolari.
Sed huc ancilla venit,
Jam festinans discedo,
Et sic amori tuo locum concedo.

JUDITHA: Bene venisti, o fida,
En tempus nostrae gloriae,
Et suspirata tandem hora victoriae.ABRA: Cuncta fauset succedant,
Et tibi, o mea Judita
Eris, et Patriae tuae,
Salus, et vita.

JUDITHA: Nil ultra, claude fores,
Impedi viatores,
Et caelesti fervore cor accende,
Et mox victricem me tacita attende.

ABRA (Aria)
Non ita reducem Progeniem noto
Raptam a gelido
Mater expectat,
Ut ego fervida expecto te.
Sed poena barbarae,
Et brevis morae
Animam nimium
Vexat amantem
Timore, et spe.

ABRA (Recitative)
Jam pergo, postes claudo,
Et te nostra Eroina expecto, et laudo.

JUDITHA (Recit. Accompagnato)
Summae Astrorum Creator,
Qui de nihilo jam cuncta eduxisti,
Et tibi ut servi essemus
Ad imaginem tuam tu nos fecisti,
Clemens in Caelo Pater,
Potens in Mundo Deus,
Qui Jaheli victrici,
Qui Deborae pugnanti vim dedisti,
Adiuva nos in prece, et culpas tolle,
Et de forti tua dextra
Imbelli dextrae meae robur extolle.

JUDITHA (Aria)
In somno profundo
Si jacet immersus
Non amplius sit vigil
Qui dormit in te.
Quiescat exanguis, et sanguis
Sic exeat Superbus in me.

JUDITHA (Recit. Accompagnato)
Impii, indigni Tiranni
Conopeo hic apensum
Denudo ferrum, ictus tendo, infelicem
Ab Holofernis busto
Deus in nomine tuo scindo cervicem.
Salvete, o pia tentoria,
In vobis semper clara
Et caelo, et mundo sit alta victoria.

JUDITHA, ABRA (Recitative)

JUDITHA: Abra, Abra accipe munus,
In saculum repone, et fida ancilla
Me sequere, festina,
Et clemens extra castra
Tuto perducat nos dextra divina.

ABRA: Quid mihi? Oh mira res!
Diro Draconi
Tu caput obtruncasti,
Et simul una in uno omnes domastri.
Eamus cito, eamus,
Et mille mille Deo gratias agamus.

ABRA (Aria)
Si fulgida per te propitia caeli fax
Si dulci anima spe
Refulsit alma pax,
Solum beato duci increato
Debetur nostra pax,
Et nostra gloria.
Dat ille cordi ardorem,
Ille dextrae vigorem,
Et manus donum suae
Nostra victoria.

VAGAUS (Recitative)
Jam non procul ab axe
Est ascendens Aurora, undique rara
Caelo syndera micant: in tentorio
Pallet incerta lux: patet ingressus,
Neminem video.
Sed heu, heu, quid cerno?
Fusus undique sanguis!
Heu quam horrendum visu!
Truncus Domini mei jacet exanguis.
Milites huc venite,
Surgite, o servi, excubiae non dormite.
Omnes perditi sumus:
Bethulia amissa, et Holoferne extincto.
Heu cuncti, cunti miseri ploremus,
Et Ducis nostri funus vindicemus.

VAGAUS (Aria)
Armatae face, et anguibus
A caeco regno squallido,
Furoris sociae barbari
Furiae venite ad nos.
Morte, flagello, stragibus
Vindictam tanti funeris
Irata nostra pectora
Ducis docete vos.

OZIAS (Recitative)
Quam insolita luce
Eois surgit ab oris
Floribus cincta suis roscida Aurora!
O quam ridet serena
Jucundo nobis dies Lumine plena!
En venit tandem venit
(Eam a longe prospicio, ad eam curramus)
Venit, Juditha, venit,
Et Juditha triumphans. Filia electa
Quanto gaudio te amplector: Summe Deus
Exultat ecce in te spiritus meus.

OZIAS (Aria)
Gaude felix Bethulia laetare
Consolare,
Urbs nimis afflicta.
Caelo amata es fortunata
Inter hostes semper invicta.

OZIAS (Recit. accompagnato)
Ita decreto aeterno
Veneti Maris Urbem
Inviolatam discerno,
Sic in Asia Holoferni impio tiranno
Urbs Virgo gratia Dei semper munita
Erit nova Juditha,
Et pro popolo suo Pastor orabit,
Et fidelis Ozias
Veram Bethuliae suae fidem servabit.

Eja Virgines Sion
Festinate cum gloria
Insperata victoria,
Et pietatis in sinu
Cum psalterio sonanti
Applaudite Judithae Triumphanti.

CHORUS OF JUDEANS
Salve invicta Judithae, formosa
Patriae splendor spes nostrae salutis.
Summae norma tu vere virtutis
Eris semper in mundo gloriosa.

Debellato sic barbaro Trace
Triumphatrix sit Maris Regina.
Et placate sic ira divina
Adria vivat, et regnet in pace.

PART ONE

CHORUS OF ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS

The sword, carnage, vengeance, rage,
Fear and want precede us.
In the hurly-burly of the fight
May the fortunes of war deal
A thousand wounds, a thousand deaths

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
This is a happy and auspicious day,
Great-hearted heroes, beloved of fortune;
the oracles, the stars, the heavens favour you;
after many a year, at last has come
that longed-for, wished-for day
in which you shall be great in your leader
and your leader great in you;
all equally shall share in victory,
and your unconquered king will earn
honor and glory.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Of no avail are arms, or war,
Or the fury of battle,
If the soldier’s heart
Fail him.
But if he fight in hope,
His courage in battle
Thrives on that hope

VAGAUS, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

VAGAUS: My master, my lord

HOLOFERNES: What would you

VAGAUS: I bring news of good fortune for you.

HOLOFERNES: What good news do you bring?

VAGAUS: Something that will add greatly to your glory, a very prodigy.

HOLOFERNES: Speak…

VAGAUS (Aria)
A noble lady of the enemydemands an audience,great leader, Holofernes ;and soon, believe me,
she will be no enemy
once you have seen her face.

HOLOFERNES, VAGAUS (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Let the lady enter, be she
a Hebrew Bellona, companion of Mars.
In Bethulia our enemies are sore afflicted,
miserable, wretched;
on all sides lamentation,
on all sides dreadful wailing; this one gasps,
that one groans, another howls,
all are suffering;
nothing but fear, nothing but cowardice, despair,
affliction, famine, all drowning in tears.

VAGAUS: Come, noble lady,
fair warrior whose gaze and bearing
dazzle the beholder’s eye. Nobly advance.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Wherever love of country lead me,
And the sweet hope of freedom,
May, guided by the light of heaven,
My steps go safely amid the armies.

ABRA (Recitativo)
Fear not, rejoice,
O chaste and heaven-beloved widow,
Await the sure reward of your virture.

ABRA (Aria)
Before your radiant countenance
Wrath gives way, love smiles,
And your noble bearing
Is loudly acclaimed by all.

ABRA, JUDITHA (Recitative)

ABRA: See humbled at your feet
By the splendor of your countenance
This people in arms, however warlike

JUDITHA: Tarry not! To Holofernes
Lead me, noble warriors,
Glorious in the field,
I bring tidings of peace, not war.

VAGAUS WITH CHORUS OF ASSYRIAN SOLDIERS
O how bright, how beautiful, how comely
are you, our true and only hope of victory.
Pray honour the tent of the leader by your presence,
put your trust in Holofernes, and hope.

VAGAUS (Recitative)
He whom you see there,
terrible of aspect and comely,
is he whom you seek.
In love and confidence
put your trust in him, fair Jewess, and hope.

VAGAUS (Aria)
However terrible in sword and armour,
he will be a gentle and loving leader
to you, beautiful one.
Your fate and fortune are in your own hands,
he will not rage against you,
your eyes are your protective talisman.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: What do I behold? My dazzled eyes, what do you see?
The glory of the sun and heavens.
O noble lady,
the glory of her eyes outshines the sun.
Stay, for our guest
prepare garlands, strew flowers,
let sweet amoretti go to meet their goddess.

JUDITHA: All-powerful ruler, mighty warrior,
inmost heart of Nebuchadnezzar,
in whose hand is supreme power,
whose will fortune and fate obey,
whose might is the basis of all law.

HOLOFERNES: O, how much lovelier is virtue,
by lovely lips expressed. What will you,
charming suppliant?

JUDITHA: Not for myself, but for my country
I beg for hope of deliverance, and so
I beseech of you peace for Bethulia.

JUDITHA (Aria)
How much nobler a quality is mercy,
how much more glory does it bring to the conqueror,
how much more blessing to the vanquished.
How wonderful would be your might if
it were tempered with mercy.
Spare us, o king, free us from our misery.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Lady, you ask for much;
were it more, it should still be granted!
But I am still deeper in your debt.
Be silent, drums, soldiers, withdraw,
yield to my love, to this unconquered one,
torches, spears, and arrows,
and all the terrible engines of war on the field,
withdraw, be content to share my newfound joy!
Sit here, fair friend.

JUDITHA: So great an honour
should not be paid to your servant.

HOLOFERNES: It is you who honour me.

JUDITHA: I pay you respect.

HOLOFERNES: Sit here.

JUDITHA: No, I may not.

HOLOFERNES: So, then, I order you, this is my will.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Sit, o dear one,
o fair and lovely one,
my living rose, my shining light.
You, to triumphant Mars,
to me, your warrior suitor,
most lovely bringer of peace.

JUDITHA, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

JUDITHA: You are the judge, you are the master,
you have command of this mighty army,
may your victorious exploits
be ever favoured by the stars.

HOLOFERNES: Happy am I that you are here, more happy
shall I be if, while Apollo’s lamp
lies buried in the sea, you will
honour me by supping with me,
the better to celebrate this dear,
this loving peace between us.

JUDITHA: At feast or banquet
I could eat nothing,
being accustomed to fasting;
ever sad, never taking
pleasure in feasting,
my afflicted soul knows not such delights.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Tossed by the inconstant wind
in its long pilgrimage,
the unhappy swallow laments as it flies,
knowing no contentment.
But at the touch of a gentle breeze
it quickly forgets past misery;
in its soft welcome nest,
it is happy, seeking no other joy.

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
In my tent let choicest foods be set.
Whatever swims in Pontus,
Whatever flies in air or grazes on the earth,
Nothing is too rare.
To this our queen,
Whom you, Vagaus, will serve,
Let there be brought the gift of joyful Bacchus.

VAGAUS WITH CHORUS OF SERVANTS
O servants, fly,
And for my lord prepare the feast,
For night draws on.
To the invincible Holofernes
Let us sing in turn.
To honour and to love let our voices sound together.

VAGAUS, ABRA (Recitative)

VAGAUS: To you too, her handmaid, will our great joy
bring happiness and peace.

ABRA: How extravagantly talks this servant,
no less so than his lord.
Let us make haste, Juditha; always
and everywhere, sharing your trust in heaven,
I shall remain a faithful servant to my mistress.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Come, follow me, my true
and beloved Abra, widowed as I am,
to you like the turtle dove I make my lament.
In this terrible hour your are my trusted friend,
and when the dreadful deed is done,
I shall be your companion in happiness.

ABRA (Recitative)
I come, Juditha, I come. Take heart; to the power
your love, believe me, nothing will be difficult.

ABRA (Aria)
Let the glory of your fair face shine out,
and the sad dew
be banished from your flashing eye.
Love him, swoon, feign ardour,
if our cause may be advanced
by your fire.

ABRA (Recitative)
Meanwhile, from our pious city
I hear a confusion of voices,
the breeze tells of your vow
and, I believe, of your glory.
With one voice the Hebrew maidens
are praying, and bewailing
their uncertain fate.

CHORUS OF BETHULIANS
O ruler of the world, in the starry heavens,
accept the offerings and hear the prayers
which by a heart that fights in your name
are piously offered.

In Juditha, who has dedicated herself to you,
kindle the sweet flame of your love, and,
the barbarity of the enemy thus overcome,
give Bethulia hope of peace.

Return, return victorious, your weapons
in penance and prayer; live again
O patriot Juditha who today will defeat Holofernes,
may your name live down the ages.

PART TWO

OZIAS (Recitative)
In my inmost heart I hold the deepest
secrets of the greatest of Kings:
the end of our tyrannical enemy,
that evil warrior, is near,
by the grace of heaven; this I foresee.
God of Abraham,
you are the Lord of Hosts, mighty in war;
by your name and the might
of your arm scatter our enemies.
We, your supplicants, pray: to your greater glory
be the victory of your loving people.

OZIAS (Aria)
O stars and heavenly bodies,
O waning moon,
be death fires
to the enemy.
This blessed night
will the godless enemy be destroyed,
and with the rising of the sun
their lives will end.

OZIAS, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

OZIAS: Now the prayers of our virtuous Juditha,
who is even now smiting our enemy,
have been heard in heaven,and triumphant she will soon return.
Robbed of their leader the accursed race will perish.

HOLOFERNES: Night’s shadows now are advancing,
the blazing sun sinks into the sea,
but you, fair Juditha,
my shining sun,
in this dread darkness rise in glory.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
The dark and gloomy night
by you is made to shine
in blazing splendour,
and no day will ever dawn,
however bright and fair,
but will be outshone by your brightness.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Forgive me, my dear one,
this rough soldier’s meal
is not worthy
of such a divine guest.

JUDITHA: But it is a sign of your greatness of heart.

HOLOFERNES: My heart indeed will swell,
if you will but believe I love your fair face.

JUDITHA: No likeness but the Creator’s
by earthly creature should be venerated.

HOLOFERNES: I am driven to these lengths
by the splendour of your countenance.

JUDITHA: Whatever splendour is in the face
is but dust, shadows, nothing.

JUDITHA (Aria)
Life passes, and the fleeting years;
of our misfortunes we are ourselves the cause.
The soul lives on, immortal, while this life’s
love and passion are as smoke.

HOLOFERNES, JUDITHA (Recitative)

HOLOFERNES: Leave such talk till morning:
ah, the more I feel the pangs of love,
the more my heart burns within me.

JUDITHA: Temper the heat of passion,
brave prince, beware its flame.

HOLOFERNES: I burn …

JUDITHA: I shall leave …

HOLOFERNES: No, dear Juditha.

HOLOFERNES (Aria)
Do not spurn, dear one,
the pleas of him who adores you,
do not shrink from the wild beating
of a loving heart.

JUDITHA, HOLOFERNES (Recitative)

JUDITHA: The gift of salvation
I beg of heaven for you, O king.

HOLOFERNES: So be it! I drink
to being saved through you,
and, if you will love me, I shall be your salvation.

CHORUS OF DRUNKEN SOLDIERS
Filled not with finest wine, but with nectar,
are the golden goblets; tender amoretti,
crown them with myrtle and roses,
and in mutual joy
may the love of these divine beings
rise in a pure flame.

HOLOFERNES (Recitative)
May all torment be banished from your heart!
Raising the goblet, I say:
Long life to Juditha; and when the torch of war
is doused, may love, through you, live on in peace.

JUDITHA (Aria)
May it live in peace,
and may true peace reign,
let the torch of love be lit in Bethulia.
In peace true happiness is ever found;
let wars no more bring sorrow.
In peace, my soul, place all your hope,
if peace be the cure for our ills.
In peace, O God, you accomplish all,
and dear to you are the fruits of peace.

JUDITHA (Recitative)
So in peace, among enemies
may my country remain inviolate.
But what do I see? Holofernes,
overcome by wine, is asleep at the table!
I shall rise. To your leader,
servants, here! Abra, come,
let us stay here in the tent
while our enemy sleeps,
keep watch, and pray to God.

VAGAUS (Aria)
Dear shades, lie lightly on him,
delightful zephyrs,
on him gently breathe.
When the master sleeps, let all be silent.
From burdensome cares in gentle sleep
let his soul be freed.

VAGAUS, JUDITHA, ABRA (Recitative)

VAGAUS: How fortunate are you, noble lady,
who over such a bold warrior have triumphed;
the conqueror of his enemies you have conquered.

JUDITHA: The Kind of Heaven has done this,
who rules over all kings;
and may God in his mercy hearken to the
humble prayers I offer from my heart.

VAGAUS: May he sleep soundly in the tent;
I shall remove the food,
and here, fair Juditha,
may you enjoy alone the company of our leader,
and ease the anguish of your heart.
But here comes your maidservant;
I’ll now haste away,
and leave you to your loving.

JUDITHA: You come at the right moment, faithful one,
behold, our hour of glory is upon us,
the longed-for hour of victory.

ABRA: May all go well,
and to yourself, O Juditha,
and to your fatherland you will bring
salvation and life.

JUDITHA: Enough! Close the entrance,
admit no one,
inflame your heart with heavenly fervour,
and here in silence await my triumph.

ABRA (Aria)
Not more eagerly
is a homecoming child,
buffeted by the bitter wind,
awaited by his mother
than I eagerly await you.
But the anguish of a cruel
though brief delay
torments greatly the loving soul
that waits, and hopes.

ABRA (Recitative)
And now, I go, I close the tent, and,
praising you, our heroine, I await your return.

JUDITHA (Recit. Accompagnato)
Great Creator of the heavens,
who made all out of nothing,
and, that we might be Your servants,
fashioned us in Your image,
merciful Father in heaven,
mighty God of our world,
who to the victorious Jael
and warlike Deborah gave strength,
hear our prayer and take away our guilt,
and with Your mighty right arm
lend strength to mine.

JUDITHA (Aria)
If in deep sleep sunken,
he needs not be watchful
who sleeps in your care; but let
this sleeper here be drained of blood,
and let his gushing blood
bring greatness to me.

JUDITHA (Recit. Accompagnato)
The godless dishonourable tyrant’s sword
hangs by his bed’s canopy;
I draw it, and strike
from the destroyer Holofernes,
in your name, God, his evil head.
Farewell then, sheltering tent,
may this victory won here be for ever
renowned in heaven and on earth.

JUDITHA, ABRA (Recitative)

JUDITHA: Abra, Abra, take what I have won,
put it in your bag and, faithful handmaid,
follow me, hasten, and from the camp
may the merciful hand of God
lead us safely.

ABRA: What? O miracle!
The fearful monster’s
head you have hewn off,
with one blow you have conquered all.
Let us go, quickly,
giving a thousand thousand thanks to God.

ABRA (Aria)
Although through you shone
the blessed light from heaven,
although through you in our souls
shone the light of hope and peace,
only to the Holy One,
the eternal God
do we owe our peace and glory.
He lends fire to the heart,
strength to the arm,
and our peace is a gift from his hand.

VAGAUS (Recitative)
Now soon in the east
will arise the dawn; over all
the heavens the stars are flickering;
in the tent a dim, uncertain light.
It lies open, I see no one.
But, O woe, what is this?
Blood everywhere!
Ah me, what a dreadful sight!
Here lies the headless murdered body of my lord.
Soldiers, ho! Here servants!
Sentries, bestir yourselves!
We are all lost; we have lost Bethulia,
and Holofernes has been slaughtered.
Let us lament our loss,
and avenge the death of our leader.

VAGAUS (Aria)
Armed with your torches and your snakes,
from your dark and dreadful kingdom
your dread companions,
the Furies, come to us,
teach our inflamed hearts
with the lash,
with death and slaughter
to avenge the death of such a leader.

OZIAS (Recitative)
With how strange a light
does dawn rise from the world below,
garlanded with dewy flowers.
O how happy smiles this day
on us, suffused with joyous light!
See, she comes, at last she comes,
(I see her from afar, I hasten to meet her)
Juditha comes, she comes,
Juditha comes in triumph. O chosen one,
with what joy I embrace you, see, o God,
how greatly my soul rejoices in You.

OZIAS (Aria)
Rejoice, happy Bethulia, rejoice,
be comforted,
sore-afflicted city,
beloved of heaven and of fortune,
delivered from your conquering enemies.

OZIAS (Recit. accompagnato)
So, by heavenly decree,
the city of the Venetian sea, I prophesy,
will remain invilate. As in Asia,
against the godless tyrant Holofernes
the virgin city ever defended, by the
grace of God, will be a new Juditha;
the shepherd will pray for his flock,
and as a faithful Ozias
will maintain the true Faith of his Bethulia.
Arise, daughters of Sion,
come, celebrate
this victory we had hoped for,
and from pious hearts,
to the sound of your harps,
sing Juditha triumphant.

CHORUS OF JUDEANS
Hail, fair and invincible Juditha,
the glory of our country and our hope of salvation,
the glorious model of true virtue
for all time will you be to the world.

The Thracian barbarian thus defeated,
the queen of the sea shall triumph,
and, divine wrath thus assuaged,
may Adria live and reign in peace.

(Line-by-line translation by Thomas A. Quinn)

 

 

RELEASED 6/26: MOZART Il re pastore

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Heidi Grant Murphy, soprano (Elisa); Lisa Saffer, soprano (Aminta); Margaret Lattimore, mezzo-soprano (Tamiri); Iain Paton, tenor (Alessandro); Michael Slattery, tenor (Agenore)
Originally performed in September 2007.
NOTE: This video will expire on August 10, 2020.

Program Notes

Mozart: Il re pastore

The image of the Shepherd King, or “re pastore” — a benevolent ruler who tends his subjects like a flock, rather than preying upon them — has been a favorite trope since ancient times. We have such examples as Theseus, the “Shepherd of Athens,” who liberated his people from the predatory tyrant Minos, gave them laws, and made them citizens; as well as the biblical King David, literally a shepherd boy chosen by God to lead his people. In Pietro Metastasio’s Il re pastore, one of the most enduring libretti of the eighteenth century, we find both archetypes. At the center of the drama is the towering figure of Alexander the Great (Alessandro), Macedonian warrior and social engineer, who expanded his empire by founding cities, creating systems of law, and promoting the intermarriage of his elite Greek troops with native populations. The more Davidian role is played by Amyntas (Aminta), a shepherd whose innate nobility is recognized by Alessandro, who eventually enables his ascent to the Syrian throne and his marriage to an aristocratic lady (Elisa) of Sidon. Thus the true Shepherd King in Il re pastore is Aminta, while Alessandro represents an idealized imperialism tempered by virtue and benevolence. 

Metastasio’s libretto, commissioned by Austrian Empress Maria Theresia in 1751, had already become famous through multiple operatic interpretations before Mozart encountered it. First set to music by Maria Theresia’s court composer Giuseppe Bono, Il re pastore would soon be taken up by leading composers throughout Europe, including Hasse, Galuppi, Gluck, Piccinni, and Sarti. Its popularity as an opera seria may be traced to its Arcadian vision of “noble simplicity,” as espoused by Rousseau and Gluck, as well as its traditional operatic conflicts of duty versus love, social order versus personal desire. In two of its many pre-Mozartean productions, in Venice in 1769 and Munich in 1774, Il re pastore was shortened from three acts to only two, effectively reducing the amount of action while concentrating the narrative’s emotional affect. It was the Munich version, with music by Neapolitan composer Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi, which aroused Mozart’s interest.

In December 1774, the 18-year old Mozart journeyed with his father to Munich to supervise the production of his new opera, La finta giardiniera. While there he received a commission from his employer in Salzburg, Archbishop Colloredo: to write a serenata to celebrate the visit of the Archduke Maximilian Franz to Salzburg in April 1775. When Mozart returned to his home town after the successful debut of his opera, he set to work on the new project, working with the two-act libretto of Il re pastore that he had acquired in Munich, along with Metastasio’s original. It should be noted that a serenata was more of a dramatic cantata than an actual opera; shorter in length, more modest in scale, and generally presented without elaborate staging or costumes. The popularity of the serenata in Venice and Rome had spread by this time to Vienna, and was favored in aristocratic circles as a way to honor special guests or occasions. Thus this seemed an appropriate way to celebrate the presence of the Empress’s son, especially since Maria Theresia herself had commissioned the original libretto.

Domenico Fischietti, official court composer in Salzburg, was also commissioned to write a serenata (Gli orti esperidi) for the Archduke; so Mozart’s work formed part of a pair of festive cantatas, both performed in April 1775 for the nobility of Salzburg, and both scored for a soprano castrato, two sopranos, and two tenors with orchestra. An important artist from the Munich Court Opera, castrato Tommaso Consoli, was engaged for these performances; as Mozart would write to an Italian colleague only a few months later, “We are in a bad way [in Salzburg] for singers. We have no castrati, and we shall never have them, because they insist on being handsomely paid, and generosity is not one of our faults.” Clearly a visit from the Archduke was exceptional, and merited the extra expense. Also hired from Munich was virtuoso flautist Johann Baptist Becke, while the rest of the cast and orchestra was drawn from Salzburg’s Hofkapelle. We have little other information about the first performance of Il re pastore; however, we do know that although it was not performed again in its entirety during Mozart’s lifetime, he did think highly enough of its music to recycle sections of it in other works, and to revise individual arias for concert purposes. Only in the twentieth century has this serenata, or opera in miniature, been revived.

Il re pastore presents a symmetrical drammatis personae with two pairs of lovers and one central figure who, though standing above and outside the others, yet bridges the two pairs. Mozart, with his extraordinary gift for characterization, creates two separate musical worlds for the lovers: that of Aminta and Elisa is an Arcadian world infused with the sounds of shepherds, peasants, and Nature itself; the sphere inhabited by Agenore and Tamiri is more courtly and formal. The composer also builds in balances between the characters that reflect both their essential equality and their differences in status. Each character, for example, receives one full aria in the first act; however, Aminta’s importance is underlined with an extra song linked directly to the overture (as Gluck had done in his 1756 setting), and the primary pair of lovers, Aminta and Elisa, join in a duet to close the act. In Act II each character again offers an aria, with the exception this time of Alessandro, who requires two arias to confirm his status as warrior-general and his blessed connection with the gods.

Alessandro’s first aria, No. 4 (“Si spande al sole in faccia”), establishes his martial persona with a triumphal D-major introduction and the brilliant sound of trumpets and horns. The abundant use of virtuosic coloratura writing in the vocal part also stresses Alessandro’s noble stature. In his first aria of Act II (No. 9, “Se vincendo vi rendo felici”) a brilliant solo flute part, no doubt written for Becke, enhances the vocal coloratura. There is a uniform grandeur of style in Alessandro’s arias that suggests his massive confidence and control; while he may in the end change his mind, he does not alter his personality or policy. 

In Aminta’s role, on the other hand, we witness growth and revelation as his other identity – that of legitimate heir to a throne – emerges, and as he contends for the right to marry his true love. His music in the first scene is that of a shepherd, pure and simple; pastoral 6/8 rhythms and piping flutes evoke an atmosphere of rusticity. However, Aminta’s recitative and aria upon meeting with Alessandro (No. 3, “Ditelo voi pastori . . .Aer tranquillo e dì sereni”) reflect a more complex nature. Here the running figures in the violins still depict the “babbling brook” and “tranquil air” of Aminta’s pastoral world, but the aria’s large proportions, its impressive coloratura figures for Aminta, and its sudden changes of tempo and meter as he ponders the potential for change in his life, show him as a more significant being than his shepherd’s garb at first implies. Even more remarkable is the aria Aminta sings in Act II after weighing the choice of ruling a kingdom or marrying Elisa, and choosing Elisa (No. 10, “L’amerò sarò costante”). Here Mozart underlines the essential words, “I shall love her, I shall be constant” by setting them within a rondeau form in which they repeat each time to the same music. More significantly, Mozart creates the most unique and delicately crafted sound world of the entire opera here, embellishing Aminta’s love and joy with a pair of English horns among the other winds, a beautiful solo violin part, and gently muted strings. The effect is one of rapture, which spills over in two small cadenzas that Mozart wrote out for his castrato singer.

Two arias, set quite simply with strings alone, provide a contrast with the more elaborate arias and belong to the lesser pair of lovers, Agenore and Tamiri (No. 5, “Per me rispondete,” and No. 11, “Se tu di me fai dono”). Another critical aria with special features is the one that exposes Agenore’s torment as he confronts his conflict between love and duty (No. 12, “Sol può dir come si trova”). Set in a dark C-minor key, the turbulent sigh figures and tremolos of the violins introduce us to Agenore’s emotional state, and the use of four horns in two different keys (C and E-flat) creates an unusual richness and depth in the sound.

Though written for a private celebration rather than a public performance, and thus overlooked and underplayed in Mozart’s own lifetime, Il re pastore certainly deserves its restoration to the repertoire. Still a youthful work, written in the same year as his violin concertos, this serenata – or dramma per musica, as Mozart called it – already shows abundant technical mastery and a warmly engaging grasp of human character that presage the great operas of his mature years.

– Kathryn L. Libin, ©2003

Kathryn L. Libin is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Music at Vassar College. She serves as President of the Mozart Society of America, and is Editor of Early Keyboard Journal

RELEASED 7/3: HANDEL Sinfonia from Saul; LOCKE Music from The Tempest; PURCELL Suite from The Fairy Queen; ARNE Concerto for Harpsichord No.5 in G minor; LAWES Consort Sett in 6 parts No. VII in C major; HANDEL Concerto Grosso Op. 3, No. 5 in D minor; HANDEL “The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon

Richard Egarr, conductor and harpsichord
Originally performed in September 2012.
NOTE: This video will expire on August 17, 2020.

Program Notes

There’s an old Chinese curse that goes: may you live in interesting times. Such was the lot of the 17th-century English as they staggered through decades of nonstop socio-political churn. Three civil wars; a king deposed and beheaded; a commonwealth that smacked of military dictatorship; a monarchy restored; an outbreak of plague; a dreadful fire. Eventually a near-bloodless revolution brought about a measure of stability and pointed towards the relatively halcyon days to come.

Populist music history would have it that English music took ill during the later years of Charles I’s reign, died from a nasty dose of Puritanism during Cromwell’s ironclad rule over the Commonwealth, then was reborn anew once the 1660 Restoration brought the arts-loving Charles II to the throne. Real life wasn’t quite so tidy. There never was any absolute stoppage of music-making; composers plied their trade continuously through all three English Civil Wars and people most definitely did have music. On the other hand, the lack of court patronage during the Commonwealth, not to mention the chill of Puritan dourness, made for lean career pickings and stunted artistic growth. But the solid achievements of William and Henry Lawes bear eloquent witness to England’s steadfast love of music even in times of difficulty.

Things got a lot better after 1660. Both Henry Purcell and Matthew Locke epitomize the heady exuberance and theatrical splendor of the Restoration. After Purcell, England produced another fine native son in Thomas Arne, who shone forth amidst the frolicksome, albeit largely imported, musical effulgence of the 18th century. George Frideric Handel may have been German born and Italian influenced, but upon settling in London he triumphantly rode the wave of the English Baroque to its apex.

 

George Frideric Handel: Symphony from Saul

The German-born Handel—born in 1685 along with J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti—settled in England by 1712, where he stood at the helm of British music until his death in 1759. Saul, written between July and September 1738, was premiered on January 16, 1739 in London with Handel presiding at the new organ he had commissioned for the performance.

Saul, the compelling drama of a noble man’s descent into madness, is Handel’s fourth English oratorio and one of his finest achievements. It hails from a difficult period marked by Handel’s transition from opera to oratorio, as well as his recovery from a 1737 “Palsy, which took entirely away, the use of 4 fingers of his right hand; and totally disabled him from Playing,” according to biographer John Mainwaring, who added that “the Disorder seemed at times to affect his Understanding.” In all likelihood Handel had suffered a stroke, but Saul’s splendiferous musical banquet demonstrates that he had bounced back in full form.

Saul boasts a spectacular orchestration that includes trombones, organ, and a keyed glockenspiel that Handel had ordered for use in just one choral movement. The oratorio establishes itself as an orchestral extravaganza in its opening four-movement Symphony, which includes in third place a mini-concerto for organ and orchestra—possibly Handel’s way of assuring his public that his virtuoso keyboard chops were as potent as ever.

 

Matthew Locke: Music from The Tempest

Matthew Locke was born about 1622 in Devon. Credited as the ‘father of English opera’ due to his many works for the stage, he was a strong influence on both Blow and Purcell. He died in London in August 1677. The Tempest was performed in London in 1674 then published in “The English Opera” the following year.

Restoration audiences wanted their plays lavish and their endings happy. If that meant a King Lear that closes with a rescued Cordelia reunited with her loving (and living) father, so be it. Newly-written plays sparkled with wit and whimsy, while Elizabethan dramas were freely subjected to copious embellishment and elaboration. The Restoration’s cavalier attitude towards textual fidelity might seem reprehensible nowadays, but that’s our problem, not theirs. They liked their Shakespeare big, bold, and brassy, and if Shakespeare himself had failed to deliver the goods, Restoration playwrights stood ready at hand to whip up the requisite frou-frou.

Thus Davenant and Dryden’s 1667 The Tempest provided extra characters, toned-down and rewritten dialogue, and “Scenes, Machines; particularly, one Scene Painted and Myriads of Ariel spirits, and another flying away” ensuring that “not any succeeding Opera got more Money.” Such a smash hit deserved a revival, which duly came about in 1674 with music mostly by Matthew Locke and John Banister, together with assorted tidbits from various popular London composers. That 1674 production included 30-plus singers and an orchestra beefed up with members from the King’s Twenty-Four Violins, all in the service of a sparkling score that reflects King Charles II’s preference for the new French dance styles over the decorous English polyphony of earlier days.

 

Henry Purcell: Suite from The Fairy Queen

He may have lived a mere 36 years, but Henry Purcell stands securely amongst the titans of English music. Born in 1659, right before the Restoration, he died on November 21, 1695 from causes that remain undetermined. The Fairy Queen was first performed on May 2, 1692 at the Queen’s Theater then revived the next year with revisions. The score was lost shortly after Purcell’s death but fortunately was re-discovered in the early 20th century.

The 1674 Tempest was only a harbinger of things to come, as Restoration playwrights and composers continued to season the Shakespearean pot with copious measures of sugar and spice. Henry Purcell’s 1692 five-act semi-opera The Fairy Queen represents the zenith of Restoration theatrical flamboyance, blending as it does a trimmed-down and buffed-up Midsummer Night’s Dream with a cornucopia of musical offerings, the whole wrapped up in the most costly stage production of the 1690s.

Purcell’s score consists of self-contained interludes (masques) grafted on to the play, rather than being an operatic adaptation per se. The instrumental movements include short “symphonies” that serve as overtures to each act in addition to jigs, hornpipes, airs, and a Dance for the Fairies. A “Dance for a Chinese Man and Woman” makes it clear that Purcell has wandered quite far afield from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but to worry unduly about Shakespeare’s original is to misjudge The Fairy Queen. In its own way it is no more a desecration than modern film adaptations that add music and spiffy visuals, along the way taking abundant liberties with the text in the interest of cinematic effectiveness. More to the point, The Fairy Queen contains some of Purcell’s finest theatrical music and has provided generations of singers with superb arias in addition to its smorgasbord of delightful orchestral pieces.

 

Thomas Arne: Concerto for Harpsichord No. 5 in G minor

Thomas Augustine Arne was a lifelong Londoner, born on March 12, 1710 to a respectable middle-class family. Educated at Eton and apprenticed to an attorney, Arne went into music with his family’s approval, enjoying a successful career spent mostly in musical theater. He died in London on March 5, 1778. Sadly, much of his voluminous output has not survived.

Thomas Arne was Georgian England’s version of Gioachino Rossini; both were theater men through and through who produced the occasional instrumental morceau. Arne’s surviving non-theatrical pieces made it out of the 18th century on a wing and a prayer. His six keyboard concertos weren’t printed until 1793, well after his death, and only after considerable difficulties caused by mutilated and incomplete manuscripts.

Concerto No. 5 in G minor may date from as early as the 1730s. Its style is solidly Baroque rather than Classical, witnessed by its opening French-overture Largo, by its skillful contrapuntal textures, and by its flamboyant cross-hand keyboard writing that reflects the influence of Domenico Scarlatti.

 

William Lawes: Consort Sett in Six Parts No. VII in C Major

Born in Salisbury to an eminent musical family in late April 1602, William Lawes spent his short career in service to King Charles I, dying in battle on September 24, 1645, another tragic victim of the English Civil War. His six-part string consorts or “fantasies” date from about 1635.

“…till ye Divell Incarnate confounded ye publik with his civill warrs, wealth, reputation, and arts, flourished more than ever was knowne before…And amongst other Arts, musick flourished and exceedingly improved…during this flourishing time it became usuall to compose for instruments in setts…These setts alltogether very much resembled ye designe of our sonnata musick, being all consistent in ye same key.”

That’s from Roger North’s The Musical Grammarian, a look at 17th-century English music from the reasonably close perspective of 1728. Of the composers who flourished during the troubled reign (1625–1649) of Charles I, none gathered more admirers than the lavishly gifted William Lawes, who rose quickly to prominence in the King’s chapel but came to a sad end, shot dead in battle in 1645 as he fought for a monarch whose public beheading was only four years in the future. Prolific and daring, Lawes excelled in imaginative suites for string instruments, including the popular fretted viols that played such an important role in 17th century English musical life.

Lawes’ consort setts, a.k.a. string fantasies, apparently date from his appointment to the Caroline court, around 1635. They are written for five or six parts, played by violins and viols. The Consort Sett No. VII in C Major opens with paired Fantazy movements that contrast solemnity with flowing motion. The flexible treatment of the leading tone in minor mode sections of the first Fantazy might surprise modern ears, and the concluding Aire is for all practical intents and purposes another Fantazy, contrapuntal and rhythmically complex.

 

Handel: Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op. 3 No. 5, HWV 316

“Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon, HWV 67

That “Opus 3” ribbon around Handel’s first set of concerti grossi might give the impression of a planned and cohesive body of work, but that’s not the case. The collection was published by John Walsh in 1734 and pulls together a diverse group of works written between 1712 and 1722 for various instrumental combinations. Furthermore, the Opus 3 concertos are largely ‘borrowings’—i.e., music adapted from other sources, including Handel’s operas Ottone, Amadigi di Gaula, Il Pastor Fido, and the Chandos Anthems.

Given that Handel produced the masterful Opus 6 concertos just five years later, poor motley Opus 3 tends to get short shrift. But to dismiss the Opus 3 concertos as mere pasticci carelessly assembled by Walsh’s copyists is to miss out on a remarkable array of works that document Handel’s brilliant, multifaceted output for the decade or so leading up to the 1734 edition.

No. 5 in D minor, scored for two oboes and strings, “seems to have some untold operatic plot as a subtext,” according to Richard Egarr. The opening two movements comprise an effective pair, a stately Largo followed by a finely-wrought Allegro fugue, its subject a descending scale that deftly mirrors the ascending triplet figures of the previous movement. The brief third-movement Adagio doubles the violins with the oboes, rather than assigning the oboes their own individual parts as in the previous movements. That arrangement stands for the Allegro, ma non troppo fourth movement, a bright canonic affair that cannot help but remind us that Handel spent his formative years in Italy, soaking up the music of Corelli, Geminiani, and Alessandro Scarlatti. The Allegro finale provides a crisp wrap-up by way of foursquare dance rhythms and sturdy orchestral unisons.

Solomon was premiered on March 17, 1749; it was not particularly popular during Handel’s lifetime but has subsequently risen in esteem. Each of the three acts views Solomon from a different perspective. In Act I we see Solomon the Happily Married, not to mention Solomon the Most Exceedingly Wealthy. Solomon the Wise takes center stage in Act II with the oft-told story of the two women claiming the same infant. In Act III Solomon the Host dazzles the Queen of Sheba with the splendor of his kingdom. The Act III Sinfonia, a.k.a “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” welcomes the visiting monarch with what is for all practical intents and purposes a peppy concerto movement for two oboes and orchestra.

— Scott Foglesong, Scholar in Residence

RELEASED 6/12: GEMINIANI The Inchanted Forrest; LOCATELLI Concerto Grosso Op. 7, No. 6 in E-flat major, Il pianto d’Arianna;
HEGGIE To Hell and Back (world premiere)

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano; Patti LuPone, soprano.
Originally performed in November 2006.
NOTE: This video will expire on July 27, 2020.

Program Notes

Program Notes

Geminiani: The Inchanted Forrest

Locatelli: Concerto grosso Il pianto d’Arianna

Characters from mythology and historical and epic figures have inspired musicians for centuries. This was especially true during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as the renewed interest in Classical culture made its way more and more from artistic, scientific and literary circles into musical ones. Many Italian operas of the seventeenth century centered around mythological or historical figures – Monteverdi’s Orfeo or Handel’s Giulio Cesare are two of the most well-known examples.

Yet it was not only in the realm of opera that these themes abounded; mythological subjects in particular pervaded the Baroque cantata as well. Instrumental music was less likely to have ties to specific personages or storylines, as programmatic music was not yet very common – but in the instances which do appear, the theme can indeed be found.

Torquato Tasso is often called the greatest Italian poet after Dante – he was certainly the predominant poet in Italy in the second half of the sixteenth century. His works Aminta and Gerusalemme liberata have continually inspired composers, from his contemporaries Cavalli and Monteverdi to 19th- and 20th-century composers such as Rossini and Dvorak. Gerusalemme liberata, an epic telling a fictionalized tale of the first Crusade and the conquest of Jerusalem, includes such characters known to us through later musical settings as Tancred, Clorinda, Armide, Rinaldo and Alcina, and was the inspiration for Francesco Geminiani’s The Inchanted Forrest.

Commissioned by the 18th-century stage director Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni, who staged many works for the French theater, The Inchanted Forrest was set as a pantomime, with elaborate theatrical visual effects, and first performed at the Tuilleries in Paris on March 31, 1754. The original version of The Inchanted Forrest was in five acts, to accompany the staged tableaux, reflecting different portions of the stories set out in two parts of Tasso’s poem: Cantos XIII and XVIII. The pantomime’s plot was simple and only rather losely follows Tasso: the Crusaders need to build new weapons out of wood only found in an enchanted forest. Godfrey, Tasso’s main character, tries unsuccessfully to enter the forest and bring back the wood; he then commands Rinaldo, who is ultimately successful, to break the enchantment, and all ends well.

Neither the pantomime nor its music were particularly well-received upon their first performance. Geminiani later published a concert version of the piece, which removed the five-act division and created a two-part suite, with the first part in D minor and the second in D major. The music itself seems to balance two worlds, one of the Corellian-style concerto grosso, and the other of the French stage. Elements of both can be seen in Geminiani’s writing in this piece – the texture, division of movements, and utilization of the basso continuo are all in the same vein as Geminiani’s other concerti grossi, while the shortness of some of the movements, coupled with their harmonic shifts, give the piece a tangible theatrical feel.

The Inchanted Forrest was Geminiani’s only work for the stage. A violinist himself, he composed two sets of violin sonatas, one set of cello sonatas, three sets of concerti grossi, and numerous other arrangements of his own earlier works. He also wrote six musical treatises, including the 1751 The Art of Playing on the Violin, one of the 18th century’s most influential writings on the subject.

Ariadne’s lament was a popular topos for 17th-century Italian composers. The most significant of the settings was the Lamento d’Arianna from Monteverdi’s now-lost 1608 opera Arianna, which inspired many of his contemporaries to write and publish their own Ariadne lamenti. Most of these were vocal, and set for solo voice, though Monteverdi himself, as well as others, set the lament in madrigal form as well.

Pietro Antonio Locatelli was a virtuoso violinist who wrote no vocal music. In his Il pianto d’Arianna, a concerto grosso for violin from 1741, it is the solo violin that “sings” Ariadne’s plight. The surrounding instrumental writing supports the lament topos with its rich harmonies. The piece combines elements of concerto grosso writing with stylistic devices found in vocal cantatas of the period, both in the dramatic contrasts between movements and in the writing style for the violin. Though the piece does have many movements in which the violin plays idiomatically – fast passages, virtuosic writing – it is in the more lyrical and indeed song-like movements that the vocal style is clearly evoked. Andrew Manze, one of todays foremost Baroque violinists, describes even describes the work as “a scene from a voiceless opera for stringed instruments: no words are necessary to show us the peace of Ariadne’s sleep, or her disbelief, yearning and anger.”

– Kaneez Munjee

Heggie: To Hell and Back

Composer Jake Heggie discusses how To Hell and Back, commissioned by PBO, came into being. These concerts are the premiere performances of the piece.

Early in 2003 – about 250 years after the end of the Baroque era – Nicholas McGegan invited me to create a new work for the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. He wanted to initiate the orchestra’s first commissioned work to celebrate PBO’s 25th season and his 20th year with the ensemble. A new commissioned work to showcase one of the world’s foremost period- instrument orchestras! I was thrilled and humbled. And terrified. I was deeply impressed. Maestro McGegan clearly is an adventurous and brave soul.

Nic is a restlessly inquisitive artist. He is full of surprises, as you know from his fascinating and adventurous programming for PBO. He has presented his audiences with many new works: sparkling music written hundreds of years ago, brand new for each audience hearing it for the first time. Is that “new music?” If you are a PBO subscriber, you’ve heard dozens of new works that are quite old, thanks to Nic.

Our initial idea was to create a 20-minute cantata-like piece. In fact, my commission agreement states very clearly that the piece is not to exceed 20 minutes. So, of course, tonight you are getting a one-act opera that clocks in just under 40 minutes. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. I really am an opera composer.

I thought a lot about that combination of new and old: old instruments, contemporary players,
old music, new listeners, old stories with timeless resonance. Since I am a theater composer, I knew I wanted to set a dramatic story. I also wanted to acknowledge the history of the instruments and orchestra without actually writing in a neo-Baroque style: to write as myself using the sounds of these extraordinary instruments.

I considered old legends and stories that were often set by Baroque composers, and which might have contemporary counterparts. My mind went to Ovid’s Metamorphoses as I had just seen a great production of these tales in a Broadway production by Mary Zimmerman. These ancient stories of gods and mortals were so vital and surprising.

For a libretto, I turned to the New York writer Gene Scheer. He and I have collaborated extremely well on songs (the cycles Statuesque and Rise and Fall) and I love our work together. Gene is a marvelous librettist and storyteller, but a poet at heart. I asked him to look at the Metamorphoses and see if anything resonated with him. Shortly after, he called to say he’d been particularly struck by The Rape of Persephone. It was not only Persephone’s plight that moved him, but also the story of Cyane, the water nymph who cried out against Pluto and was brave enough to tell him he was doing something terribly wrong. She ultimately dissolved into tears. The seeds of a powerful modern story were there.

I knew I wanted to write for two women, and Gene liked this, too. And based on the story of Persephone, Gene formulated a modern tale of two women: Stephanie and Anne. He read the many versions of the Persephone myth and then read modern stories of spousal abuse. Based on these, he created an original libretto with extraordinary resonance. I was inspired and heard music instantly. Gene gave me the libretto in March and we worked on it and shaped it until I felt I could begin composing.

This is a story of gods and mortals – the ones within each of us. Stephanie (Persephone) is a young woman who has survived a violently abusive marriage to Peter (Pluto), thanks to a heroic act by Anne (Cyane). Both women are from a very small town in Appalachia. The story unfolds as Stephanie calls Anne. She has written her story down as part of her rehab in Arizona and calls to see if Anne has received a copy. Anne is her hero, but she is still in Appalachia living a far- from-perfect existence; living with the fact that it was her own son, Peter, who married Stephanie and nearly beat her to death; trying hard to make believe it was something other than what it was; trying to create a reality where she can live and not be torn apart by anguish.

Gene found chilling parallels between the myth and his original story, and it was up to me to create a musical world where his beautiful language and narrative could lift off – and we could get to know the unspoken parts of the story. I, too, wanted to explore those parallels between the mythical (or historical) and the modern.

The casting needed to be unusual: the story demanded it and the project deserved it. Nic was open to anything we wanted, which was a great blessing. Our dream was a classical soprano
for Stephanie, and a cabaret or Broadway singer for Anne. Though I’d never worked with the stunning Isabel Bayrakdarian, I had heard her many times and she seemed very right for this piece. Much to our delight, she said an enthusiastic “yes” right away! Our ideal for the role of Anne was the legendary Patti LuPone. Is there a more powerful singing actor? She is iconic, passionate, radiant and deeply human. I was dubious about being able to interest her in our unusual project, but we suggested it and the next thing I knew, my phone rang and a voice said: “Hi, Jake? My name’s Patti LuPone!” I burst out laughing and we were instantly on the same page. It is a real dream cast with Patti and Isabel – they are both extremely brave, adventurous performers who are open to just about anything.

The Baroque elements of the piece are certainly in the economy of means and stylistic references. The piece opens with an overture reminiscent of the French overture style (dotted rhythms), with two solo violins struggling to find a tonal center while the orchestra moves along in g minor. This material lays the groundwork for everything that will follow. There is a faster, B section foreshadowing the anxiety of much of the piece. I am a composer who loves motifs that return throughout a piece and there are several of these in To Hell and Back. The piece is tonal and lyrical, but with twists and turns throughout, and always in service to the drama. Much of the piece is in duet, but there are big solo moments for each of the singers, as well. Another Baroque element is the use of dance rhythms and forms. This pervades through most all of the music I write, but it seemed particularly right in this piece.

The biggest challenge and most exciting task I faced as a 21st-century composer was the orchestration. I am accustomed to the liberties afforded by modern instruments. In working on the composition, I was in touch with many of the players to find out about specific aspects of their instruments. As much as possible, I included these in my first draft of the orchestral score. Nic, thankfully, was on call during the process and he was able to help me, as I could never know the instruments as well as he. The players, too, have been very helpful and generous in making the piece work idiomatically.

More than anything, this is a piece of music theater. It was created to tell a compelling story with two extraordinary singers and the very special sound of period instruments. It is a tribute to new and old–and the timelessness of the dramas we have lived through history and will undoubtedly live again in the future. I am grateful for Nicholas McGegan’s bravery, as well as that of Patti LuPone and Isabel Bayrakdarian, the board of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and you, the audience. Welcome.

Jake Heggie

Libretto

TO HELL AND BACK

 

A Lyric Drama

for Two Singers and Baroque Orchestra

 

 

Music by Jake Heggie

Libretto by Gene Scheer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commissioned by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

in celebration of its 25th season, and the 20th anniversary season of

its music director, Nicholas McGegan.

 

 

 

CHARACTERS

 

STEPHANIE (Isabel Bayrakdarian): a young woman from Appalachia who survives a violently abusive marriage to Peter.

 

ANNE (Patti LuPone): Peter’s mother; Stephanie’s mother-in-law. She works as a waitress at a small diner in a small Appalachian town.

 

LIBRETTO

 

There are two chairs in separate pools of light. One is occupied by STEPHANIE and the other by ANNE. STEPHANIE lives in Arizona, where she is in a program for battered women. ANNE continues to live and work in the small town where she grew up; where STEPHANIE married her son, PETER, and the story began.

 

OVERTURE

 

STEPHANIE enters and hesitantly picks up the telephone to make a call. She puts it down. She picks it up again and almost musters the courage to call, but puts it down again. Finally, she gets up her courage to dial and wait. ANNE’s phone rings and rings. On the table, next to her phone, is a letter. ANNE is a waitress and frantically getting ready for work. She finally picks up the phone.

 

SCENE ONE: A Phone Call And A Letter from Arizona

 

ANNE: Hyello.

 

STEPHANIE: Anne?

ANNE: Stephanie?

STEPHANIE: Yes.

 

ANNE: Oh. You all right out there?

STEPHANIE: Yes, I’m fine.

 

ANNE: Good.

 

STEPHANIE: I had to call. I thought maybe you were angry with me. I had to call.

 

ANNE: Angry with you? Why should I be angry?

STEPHANIE: The letter.

 

ANNE: Oh that.

 

STEPHANIE: Did you read it?

ANNE: I gave it a glance. Things have been crazy.

 

STEPHANIE: At the Center, we wrote our stories.

 

ANNE: I’m not at the Center, honey.

 

STEPHANIE: Our leader…

 

ANNE: Yeah.

 

STEPHANIE: Margaret…

 

ANNE: Yeah.

 

STEPHANIE: …says that we survivors are the heroes.

 

ANNE: Good for Margaret. Good for you.

 

STEPHANIE: But, if my story has a hero, it’s you, Anne.

 

ANNE: Nonsense. Look, you and Peter weren’t getting on. I helped you out. That’s all it was. I drove you to the airport and left. You did the rest. You two just didn’t get along. That’s all.

 

STEPHANIE: (Pause) I have a garden in the desert. In Arizona. Can you believe it?

 

ANNE: Of course. Didn’t I teach you?

STEPHANIE: You taught me.

 

BOTH: Things grow.

 

ANNE: Look, Honey, I better go. I gotta get to work now.

 

STEPHANIE: You’re working afternoons, too?

ANNE: And nights. I’m broke again.

 

STEPHANIE: I just wanted to thank you and say I love you.

 

ANNE: You just weren’t getting on. It’s just not a good match. Things are different. People change. Sugar, I really gotta go.

 

STEPHANIE: Yeah. I… Anne!

 

ANNE: You take care now.

 

ANNE hangs up the phone. She picks up the letter, which has been opened. It is unclear for a moment if she is going to read it. Slowly, and without opening it, she begins singing what STEPHANIE has written. She knows it by heart. STEPHANIE also sings, telling her story to us as though we are the rehab group.

 

ANNE: “In the small towns of Appalachia no one buys flowers for a wedding.”

 

BOTH: “So, on my wedding day, my friends and I crossed the field to gather flowers: Lilies, daisies, lilacs, maybe roses, too. Iris, bluebells, columbine.

 

STEPHANIE: “Enough to fill the church and the altar…”

BOTH: “…with the scent of summer.”

 

ANNE: Jesus Christ, I need a chardonnay.

 

STEPHANIE: “I heard the blessing from the minister. It would be all right. One of many lies I would tell myself. Yes, I knew he was trouble, but how much was a surprise.”

ANNE tries not to think about the letter or what happened.

 

ANNE: Flowers in the desert. Sounds beautiful.

 

STEPHANIE: “Did the earth crack open? Did the sky disappear? There is no light.”

 

ANNE: Dabs of color in the sand. There’s so much light.

 

STEPHANIE: “I feel like screaming. But, I’m too afraid. I say nothing.”

 

ANNE: Didn’t I teach her? Yes, I taught her well. Anything is possible.

 

STEPHANIE: “Nothing.”

 

ANNE: Anything.

 

STEPHANIE: “Nothing.”

 

ANNE: Anything.

 

STEPHANIE: “Nothing.”

 

ANNE: Anything.

 

STEPHANIE: “Nothing at all.”

 

ANNE: Anything at all.

 

As STEPHANIE goes into the terrible details of what happened that night, ANNE becomes more distressed. Up until she received the letter, she never knew exactly what had happened on STEPHANIE’s wedding night. She isn’t happy to have the information and has been trying to forget about everything since STEPHANIE left.

 

STEPHANIE: “Peter’s driving. He’s drunk again. I want to get out.”

ANNE: Anything is possible. Anything.

 

STEPHANIE: “The car is flying. It’s filled with fumes. I can’t breathe. So I shout: Stop. Please stop. Please stop!”

 

ANNE: Please stop. Please stop!

 

STEPHANIE: “We cross the river. The wheels are whirling round in the mud.”

ANNE: What does she want?

 

STEPHANIE: “And there, by the river, he stops the car, he rips my dress, he tears my hair and throws me down in the mud.”

 

ANNE: Enough. Stop! I can’t listen.

 

STEPHANIE: “Oh God, what’s happening?”

ANNE: Why can’t she see it’s time to move on?

 

STEPHANIE: “Is this rape? I should scream but I can’t.”

ANNE: I have to let go. Don’t want to know.

 

STEPHANIE: “I don’t know anything.”

ANNE: I’d do anything…

 

STEPHANIE: “Nothing…”

BOTH: “…but it hurts.”

STEPHANIE: “Oh God, it hurts so much.”

 

(MUSIC)

 

STEPHANIE: “I am eighteen. This is my wedding day. The muddy river bank, my wedding bed.”

BOTH: “All the flowers in my hair are lying scattered: Lilies, daisies, lilacs, all the roses, too. Iris, bluebells, columbine.”

 

STEPHANIE: “It is my first day as the queen of hell…”

 

BOTH: “And the end of summer.”

 

The lights fade on STEPHANIE. ANNE is sitting and begins a slow world-weary lament that grows and grows in intensity.

 

SCENE TWO: Anne’s Lament (Cyanne’s Lament)

 

ANNE:

I bet he’ll blame his childhood.

That’s the easy way.

He’ll explain it’s not his fault

How he treated you today.

 

His brother got the heavens

While he was stuck in hell.

To justify his cruelty,

That’s the story he will tell,

And tell, and tell.

 

Sweet sister, run away

Sweet sister, hear the voice

Sweet sister, please believe

Sweet sister, you’ve a choice.

 

Sooner or later, without doubt,

Your dreams will start slipping away.

Sooner or later it’s time to get out

Can you be that strong

When you belong to the devil today?

 

This isn’t a story. The people are real.

The nightmare won’t end.

Shadows will bleed and drown every hope.

And where are you?

Do you see the place to which you descend?

 

He always begs forgiveness.

He always is contrite.

He always swears from this point on

He’ll only do what’s right. Right.

 

Remember, it’s the river

That sings this song.

A river of the tears of those

Who waited a day too long.

 

So go. Get away.

Now’s the time to run!
You can leave a husband.

But how? How? How do I leave my son?

 

Sweet sister, run away

Sweet sister, heed the voice

Sweet sister, please believe

Sweet sister, make the choice.

 

Lights down on ANNE. Lights up on STEPHANIE.

 

SCENE THREE: The Queen of Hell

 

STEPHANIE:

 

When I was a young girl,

I had an old, wool blanket

the color of an Indigo crayon.

In my hands it became a kite, a sail,

a magic carpet flying;

and on my shoulders, a royal, regal robe.

I, a queen: a mighty queen with treasures and powers;

powers no one in this world could take away.

 

How does that treasure get stolen?
Why is there no one to tell?
How does a soul fill with shadows?
How does a girl of dreams

Become the Queen of Hell?

After that first night, the mighty queen was gone.

He beat me seven times in that first year.

A new queen had taken the throne.

 

Why did I stay? Where could I go?

Consumed with shame,

I wouldn’t tell or see another soul.

I hid underneath the blanket

and prayed today would end,

tomorrow would never come.

 

A kite, a sail, a carpet with no magic;

the robe, my dream, nothing but a blood-stained blanket.

Yet, I am a queen.

The flesh and blood queen of hell.

 

How does that treasure get stolen?
Why is there no one to tell?
How does a soul fill with shadows?
How does a girl of dreams

Become the Queen of Hell?

(Lights up on Anne.)

 

SCENE 4: The Garden

 

STEPHANIE: She knew. Though I said nothing. Anne, Peter’s mother.

 

ANNE: I knew. I could see.

 

STEPHANIE: My folks had moved away. They knew nothing.

 

ANNE: There were bruises. She was frightened.

 

STEPHANIE: Anne would come. She was kind.

 

ANNE: I came. I tried.

 

BOTH: And together, we would garden. Every Saturday, we would work. We’d wear hats and gloves. First, take off our rings.

 

ANNE: Mine, a precious ruby from my mother.

 

STEPHANIE: Mine, a worthless band of brass from Peter.

 

ANNE: Brass?

STEPHANIE: My finger’s green.

 

ANNE: (to herself) My son’s an ass.

 

(They work in the garden.)

 

ANNE: (Gasp) Be careful!

 

STEPHANIE: Oops.

 

ANNE: Be careful!

 

STEPHANIE: Sorry.

 

ANNE: No more than a cup per yard.

 

STEPHANIE: No more than a cup…

 

ANNE: Now water.

STEPHANIE: Ack!

 

ANNE: Don’t drown it!

STEPHANIE: Did I?

 

ANNE: And don’t pinch back the leaves so hard.

 

STEPHANIE: Pinch? Like this?

ANNE: Stop! Go easy.

 

STEPHANIE: I think I killed it.

 

ANNE: Remember…

 

STEPHANIE: It’s dead.

 

ANNE: …gently set the stake like so.

 

STEPHANIE: Gently set the stake like so.

 

ANNE: Loosely, but supported.

 

STEPHANIE: (sigh) Crap.

 

ANNE: Tender shoots need room to grow.

 

STEPHANIE: They bruise and die.

 

ANNE: They bruise, but they’re stronger than you know.

 

Earth and sun, water, sky,

Aren’t enough without our hands.

Every fragile seed needs space;

Roots need room to expand.

 

Be careful.

 

STEPHANIE: Anne!

ANNE: What?!

 

STEPHANIE: Be careful!

ANNE: Ack.

 

STEPHANIE: Two more plants just bit the dust.

 

ANNE: Oh my God, I crushed ‘em.

 

STEPHANIE: Yup.

 

ANNE: You’re laughing.

 

STEPHANIE: Am I?

ANNE: (dryly) Hilarious. Let’s review. When feeding?

STEPHANIE: No more than a cup per yard.

 

ANNE: When pruning?

STEPHANIE: Don’t pinch back the leaves too hard.

 

ANNE: When staking?

STEPHANIE: Gently set the stake like so.

 

ANNE: Very good! Remember:

BOTH: Loosely, but supported.

 

STEPHANIE: If only they could talk and tell the secrets we want to know.

 

ANNE: The heavens don’t ever speak. Their secrets stay locked and buried. Far beyond anyone’s reach. Buried, forgotten, forever unknown.

 

STEPHANIE:

Earth and Sun, Water, Sky

Aren’t enough without our hands.

 

ANNE:

Every fragile seed needs space.

 

BOTH:

Roots need room to expand.

 

Secrets stay hidden and unknown,

But here, in the garden, something whispers:
“See what love has grown.”

 

ANNE: Be careful.

 

(Lights down on Stephanie.)

 

SCENE 5: Anne’s Decision

 

ANNE:

Nothing hurts like this. To live to see your child become a stranger.

 

Where is the boy who smiled so easily?

When did the child I carried in my arms become someone to despise – capable of this?

What am I to do? Leaving things as is, he’ll kill her.

 

Nothing cuts this deep. Watching what remains of him just slip away.

 

Is there a choice? No matter who’s son he is.

Is there a price for ending her sorrow?

Who I am is all that’s left to me today. And who I will be tomorrow.

 

Maybe tomorrow.

 

(Lights up again on Stephanie.)

 

STEPHANIE: Then one Saturday she came over.

 

ANNE: Yoo-hoo! Stephanie!

 

STEPHANIE: All was quiet. I was silent.

 

ANNE: Yoo-hoo! Stephanie!

 

STEPHANIE: She went round the back to the garden.

 

ANNE: Stephanie? The stakes in the garden have fallen down. There’s something wrong. No wind. And then I notice in a heap on the ground. Oh God! Stephanie! Stephanie! She’s barely breathing.

 

STEPHANIE: It’s you. You came.

 

ANNE: Your hair’s torn out, there’s so much blood.

 

STEPHANIE: My ring was off. He thought I was cheating.

 

ANNE: I’m not too late.

 

STEPHANIE: He wouldn’t stop hitting.

 

ANNE: It’s over now.

 

STEPHANIE: I hid. I knew you’d find me here.

 

ANNE: I’m here. I’m here and now I’m getting you out of this place. I bought you a ticket.

 

STEPHANIE: Where? How?

 

ANNE: I called your folks. You’re going to them.

 

STEPHANIE: Arizona?

 

ANNE: They know now. Go on inside. Pack up some things.

 

STEPHANIE: I’m frightened.

 

ANNE: I knew all along. But I didn’t do anything. I’m sorry. Now move!

 

(Transition)

 

STEPHANIE: From inside, as I cleaned up and packed, I could see her tear apart our garden. I could hear her words.

 

 

ANNE:

With an axe and a rake,

With my bare hands I swear I’ll starve the planet.

 

What kind of god allows this misery?
What kind of world perpetuates this sorrow?
Everything will die.

I’ll dry up all the earth.

Nothing will be left unless you save her.

Help me save her.

 

STEPHANIE: I went outside and stood beside her.

 

ANNE:

I’ve had my chances,

Yours should just be starting.

We have to carry this with us all our lives.

Maybe though, if three out of four days you’re not in hell …

Well, let’s get going.

 

STEPHANIE: That’s when I noticed her mother’s ring was gone.

 

ANNE: I should have sold it sooner. Go now. Fly!

 

STEPHANIE: On the plane, I kept crying: Go! Go! Go! Go! The flight attendant asked me: “Are you all right?” I am now. I’m flying!

 

(Music)

 

STEPHANIE: That’s my story. And for now, three days out of four I’m fine.

 

(STEPHANIE’s telephone rings suddenly.)

 

STEPHANIE: Hello?

ANNE: It’s me.

 

STEPHANIE: Anne!

ANNE: I don’t think you should call me any more.

 

(ANNE hangs up. Lights fade.)

STEPHANIE: (still holding onto the phone) Anne? Anne? Anne.

 

(The lights fade to black.)

 

THE END

 

RELEASED 6/5: VEJVANOVSKÝ Sonata natalis; ESTERHÁZY Cur fles, Jesu; HAYDN Ave Regina Coelorum in A major; VIVALDI Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109) in D major; ZELENKA Missa Nativitatis Domini

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Dominique Labelle, soprano; Christopher Ainslie, countertenor; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Dashon Burton, bass-baritone; Bruce Lamott, chorale director.
Originally performed in December 2014.
NOTE: This video will expire on July 20, 2020.

Program Notes

Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis. (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”) This most Baroque of Biblical texts conjures up images of a swirling multitude of angels announcing the nativity of Jesus. The chiaroscuro of the radiant heavenly host against the night sky contrasts with the peaceful innocence of dumbstruck shepherds below on earth. Similarly, in Baroque art and music, ceilings soaring “in the highest” with apotheoses of saints and classical gods contrast with the pastoral conceit of an imaginary Arcadia of rustic flock-tenders.

 

Although in the Scriptures they only appear at the Apocalypse to signal the Last Judgment, trumpet-playing angels are essential to the musical iconography of Christmas. Moravian trumpeter, Pavel Josef Vejavanovský (c.1633-1693), introduces his Sonata natalis with a pair of trumpets, placing a well-known (even then) Vespers antiphon-turned carol, Resonet in laudibus (known in German as Joseph lieber, Joseph mein), in a gilded Baroque frame. He spent most of his career in Kroměříž (now in the Czech Republic), exchanging musical influences with the great violinist Heinrich I.F. von Biber, his colleague in the employ of the prince-archbishop of Olomouc. A virtuoso music copyist as well as trumpeter, he also copied some 1,300 items from the Imperial Library in Vienna for his patron.

 

The brief Sonata natalis, one of over a hundred compositions listed in Vejavanovský’s personal inventory, begins with a grand homophonic (chordal) introduction between six-part strings and two trumpets. The trumpets then introduce the carol tune alone, trading antiphonal phrases with the strings in the manner of Venetian polychoral music. The meditative Adagio which follows departs from the carol tune (for a brief et in terra pax moment) with an expressive violin solo over sustained string harmonies à la Biber.

 

The delicate simplicity of a Christmas lullaby composed by Prince Paul I Esterházy (1635-1713), the first prince in a lineage that continues to this day, belies its aristocratic origin. Cur fles, Iesu from his collection Harmonia caelestis (1711) is a bittersweet strophic song to the infant Jesus with an introductory “sonata” and brief interludes for two violins and continuo, similar in style to the “little sacred concertos” of Heinrich Schütz. The vocal line is naive and tuneful, possibly derived from one of the Hungarian or German folk melodies found elsewhere in the collection. As the Virgin bids the Christ-child not to cry but sleep (despite premonitions of his eventual death) the violins alternately rock in repeated triplets. It’s hard to envision this poet-harpsichordist-composer leading regiments against the Turks at the siege of Vienna some 30 years earlier.

 

By the time Haydn wrote Ave Regina coelorum (1771), he was Kapellmeister for the grandson of Prince Paul I, Prince Nikolaus I Esterházy (1714-1790), and had earned an international reputation despite living at their estate in rural Hungary. There he was responsible for conducting the orchestra and composing symphonies, operas, string quartets, and church music both large and small. Tonight’s work is among the latter, a setting of one of the four hymns to the Virgin Mary known as “Marian antiphons,” sung since the thirteenth century in the monastic services known collectively as the Divine Office.

 

Haydn’s setting is a gracious, elegant work in three sections. Although the string introduction (ritornello) seems to prepare for an aria di bravura, the vocal line delivers an aria di cantabile–more lyrical than pyrotechnical. The fluid coloraturas are discreetly supported by the 3-part strings (no violas), who either double the voice or provide harmonic foundation. There’s a surprising resolution to what we expect to be the final vocal flourish (cadenza); Haydn brings back the ritornello in minor, forcing the form into overtime and a second cadenza before the proper resolution in major. The choral section (Gaude virgo) is written in simple hymnbook (homophonic) style. Staggered entries superficially suggest a fugue at “super omnes,” but it is sleight-of-hand; the parts simply pile up in blocks of harmony, not as interwoven contrapuntal lines. The third section is a gentle leave-taking of the Virgin, with continuous staccato rising figures in the strings over a pulsating bass suggesting her ascent to heaven while the soloist and choir pray for her intercession.

 

While most of Vivaldi’s fifty or so sacred works were written for the all-female Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, commissions elsewhere allowed for works with tenor and bass parts not available to him there. Though the specific origins of tonight’s Dixit Dominus are unknown, its score somehow arrived at the Saxon court in Dresden in the 1750s, where it languished incognito until discovered by a stylistically savvy Australian musicologist in 2005. Copied in the hand of a Venetian copyist notorious for forgeries, the title page reads “Dixit a 4/Con Strumenti/Del Sig. Baldassar Galuppi…1745.” By the 1750s the dead Vivaldi was stylistically out-of-date compared to the popular Venetian Baldassare Galuppi (1706-1785), maestro di coro at St. Mark’s Basilica and composer of comic operas. Though at the time Galuppi enjoyed an international career in London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna (where to this day Vivaldi lies in an unmarked grave) both composers had faded into obscurity by the nineteenth century. The Vivaldi revival in the first half of the twentieth century launched his rise to superstardom, but Galuppi, not so much.

 

That a work of Vivaldi could pass as one by Galuppi can be attributed to its galant style, in which genteel balanced phrases, tuneful melodies, and simpler harmonic progressions rejected the contrapuntal complexity and extravagant virtuosity of the Baroque. Dixit Dominus is a setting of Psalm 110, the opening psalm of the liturgy for Vespers. Vivaldi separates the psalm verses into separate movements of contrasting tempi, styles, textures, with the alternation of solos and choruses found in oratorios and concerted masses of the period.

 

The work is a sampler plate of stylistic variety. It opens with the majesty of descending block chords in dotted rhythms (long-short, long-short) over a vigorously rising bass. The recurrence of this passage in the final movement is a musical pun commonly found in the period: sicut erat in principio (“as it was in the beginning”). The interplay of unison first and second violins in canon creates an aural equivalent to the “coextensive space” in Baroque art; the ear hears the same notes imitating one another from different locations within the orchestra. Vivaldi uses this device again in the duet for two tenors (no. 4) and two sopranos (no. 9). An anomalous dramatic entrance of the tenor soloist in the midst of an allegro aria (no. 6) betrays its operatic origins: Vivaldi recycled the aria from his own opera La fida ninfa (1732), further evidence of his authorship of the whole work.

 

Musical devices which paint the text abound. Brash, abrupt falling figures accompany the lyrical alto aria (no. 2) illustrating the Lord making a footstool of his enemies. A jocular tenor duet (no. 4) accompanied by a rustic tune in the strings reflects the common folk making offerings. A solo trumpet makes a surprise appearance at Judicabit in nationibus (no. 7) to herald the Day of Judgment, in keeping with its Scriptural role. Undulating figures in parallel thirds, typically used for breezes and waves in Baroque opera, depict a brook (no. 8). The double fugue which concludes the work (no. 10) juxtaposes a chromatically descending “Amen” with an tongue-twisting Et in saecula saeculorm, accelerating into an exciting più allegro stretto at the conclusion.

 

In 1733, two prominent musicians sought positions at the Dresden court of the new Elector of Saxony, Friedrich Augustus II. One was Johann Sebastian Bach, who submitted a magnificent concerted Missa, the same Kyrie and Gloria he later reused in what we know as the B Minor Mass. Another was Jan Dismas Zelenka, a 20-year veteran violone player/composer in the court orchestra. Neither man got the job of Kapellmeister, though both later received largely honorary titles. The opera-philic elector chose instead Johann Adolf Hasse, husband of the reigning diva, soprano Faustina Bordoni. That Bach was destined for immortality and Zelenka for obscurity reflects in part the general neglect by music historians of Bohemian composers (Mozart’s mentor Mysliveček foremost among them). On hearing this mass–but without claiming equality for the rival composers–we can clearly hear that Zelenka’s omission from the Pantheon of Baroque composers is undeserved.

 

When the father of Friedrich Augustus (as well as his rumored 300 illegitimate siblings), Augustus the Strong made the decision to convert to Catholicism in order to become the King of Poland, the Dresden court went into high gear to produce suitable music for the newly-built Catholic court chapel. Zelenka himself had already written 150 compositions, mostly sacred, before his job application in 1733, including our Missa Nativitatis in 1726. As evidence of its high regard, a copy of this work was found in the estate of Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, court composer in Berlin and Sebastian’s second surviving son.

 

Zelenka’s Christmas Mass reflects not only the sumptuous elaboration of the Mass text but also the high degree of instrumental virtuosity in the legendary Dresden court orchestra. In addition to the strings, there are prominent parts played by two trumpets, two oboes, and–a specialty of the Dresden band–transverse flutes (as opposed to the more commonly used alto recorders). Zelenka features them prominently in the Domine Deus (no. 3), isolating the flute duo from the unison violins and violas without cellos, bass, or keyboard continuo. The soprano and alto soloists respond in elegant galant phrases to the flutes, creating a pastoral setting for the “lamb of God” referred to in the text. It’s entirely possible that Sebastian Bach was inspired by this movement–or one similar to it–when writing for flute duet over pizzicato strings in his own Domine Deus in the 1733 Gloria later incorporated into the B Minor Mass.

 

The Mass is divided into movements, although the textual units are much larger than in the more familiar Bach setting. The Kyrie opens with a tuneful phrase finessed with a graceful appoggiatura (in gender-insensitive musical terminology, a “feminine ending”). This is the signature of the galant style, what J.S. Bach reportedly called “the beautiful Dresden ditties” [Dresden Liederchen]. Soloists and choir enter without regard for the penitential text, and the Kyrie and Christe are intermixed with no change of movement, key, or loss of momentum.

 

In the signature movement of a Christmas Mass, Gloria in excelsis Deo, the trumpets are released from their genteel role in the Kyrie to engage in a three-level dialogue from heaven to earth with the oboes and strings. “Peace on earth” lasts but a few measures before the hymn of praise resumes. Throughout the mass, the secular spirit of the Dresden Catholic court prevails. Ten measures of B Minor suffice for the Et incarnatus, and the Crucifixus duet in G Major is positively sunny. This isn’t all that surprising for a court that could switch from Protestant to Catholic for political gain with nary a theological qualm.

 

The Sanctus departs from the stile moderno of the concerted movements (with independent parts for the instruments) to the stile antico, the polyphonic style of the sixteenth century championed by Zelenka’s teacher in Vienna, J.J. Fux. The playful minuet of the Benedictus, however, sports another opportunity to display galant flute virtuosity.

 

The one element missing from this Mass which is found in many–possibly most–Baroque works for the Nativity is a pastorale or siciliana (e.g., the Pifa in Messiah), the lilting, cradle-rock over a drone bass imitating the folk music of the shepherds. Zelenka clearly prefers to draw the attention of the electoral court to the regal magnificence of the occasion rather than to its rustic origins. Although the two-fold Agnus Dei is written in the most austere antique style, there is no attention to “peace on earth” when the text calls for it; rather, the third iteration, Dona nobis pacem (“grant us peace”) rises into an extravagantly florid fugue topped off by the climactic entry of the trumpets.

 

Bruce Lamott is the director of the Philharmonia Chorale and Philharmonia’s scholar-in-residence.

Texts & Translations

Texts and Translations –Dec 2014 – Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

 

December

 

Prince Paul Esterházy (1635-1713)
Cur fles, Jesu

 

Cur fles, Jesu, tam amare,
Tuis pave lacrimis!
Tempus erit, cum, mi care,
rivos dabis sanguinis.
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule,
Dormi, dormi, Jesule,
Sub materno ubere,
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule.

ecce, tibi cara mater
casta figit oscula,
et arridens Joseph pater
blanda tendit oscula.
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule,
Dormi, dormi, Jesule,
Eia, dormi, dormi,
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule!

ecce, gaudent in extremis
cuncta mundi partibus.
Cur, mi care, solus tremis
tantis in doloribus?
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule,

Dormi, dormi, Jesule,
Differ hos, o, Jesule,
ne, ne, ne, mi Jesule,
Dormi, dormi, Jesule!

Why do you weep, Jesus, so bitterly?
Shake with fear at your tears!
A time will come when, my dear one,
you will shed streams of blood.
Yes, yes, yes, my little Jesus,
sleep, sleep, little Jesus,
beneath the maternal breast,
yes, yes, yes, my little Jesus.

Behold, on you the dear mother imprints her chaste kisses,
and smilingly Joseph the father presents his fondling kisses. Yes, yes, yes my little Jesus, sleep, sleep, little Jesus,
oho! sleep, sleep,
yes, yes, yes, my little Jesus!

Behold, all things are rejoicing
to the furthest ends of the world.
Why, my dear one, do you alone tremble
with such great sorrows?
Yes, yes, yes, my little Jesus,
sleep, sleep, little Jesus,
put these aside, O little Jesus,
yes, yes, yes, my little Jesus,
sleep, sleep, little Jesus!

 

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Ave Regina Coelorum in A major, Hob. XIIIb:3

 

Ave Regina coelorum
Ave Domina Angelorum,
Salve, radix, salve porta,
Ex qua mundo lux est orta.
Gaude, virgo gloriosa
Super omnes speciosa
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
Hail, Queen of heaven,
Hail, Lady of the Angels,
hail, thou root, hail, thou gate,
from whom, unto the world, a light has arisen.
Rejoice, O glorious virgin,
splendid above all others.
Farewell, O most seemly one,
and intercede for us with Christ.

 

 

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Dixit Dominus

Dixit Dominus Domino meo:
Sede a dextris meis.

 Donec ponam inimicos tuos
scabellum pedum tuorum.

 Virgam virtutis tuae
emittet Dominus ex Sion:
dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.

Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae
in splendoribus sanctorum.
Ex utero ante luciferum genui te.

Juravit Dominus
et non poenitebit eum:
Tu es sacerdos in aeternum
secundum ordinem Melchisedech.

Dominus a dextris tuis,
confregit in die irae suae reges.

Judicabit in nationibus,
implebit ruinas,
conquassabit capita
in terra multorum.

De torrente in via bibet,
propterea exaltabit caput.

Gloria Patri, et Filio,
et Spiritui Sancto.

Sicut erat in principio,
et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum.

Amen.

The Lord said unto my Lord:
Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies
thy footstool.

The Lord shall send the rod
of thy strength out of Zion.
Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,
in the beauties of holiness.
The dew of thy birth is of the womb of the morning.

The Lord hath sworn,
and will not repent.
Thou art a priest for ever
after the order of Melchizedech.

The Lord at thy right hand
shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

He shall judge among the heathen,
he shall fill the places with the dead bodies;
he shall wound the heads
over many countries.

He shall drink of the brook by the way;
therefore will he lift up his head.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end.

Amen.

 

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745)
Missa Nativitatis Domini, ZWV 8

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison.

Gloria in excelsis Deo
et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te, benedicimus te,
adoramus te,
glorificamus te, gratias agimus
tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.

Domine Deus, 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.
Amen.

Credo in unum Deum,
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem coeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Credo in unum Dominum Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum.
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum non factum,
per quem omnia facta sunt,
consubstantialem Patri.
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.
Sedet ad dexteram Patris,
et iterum venturus est cum Gloria,
judicare vivos et mortuos:
cujus regni non erit finis.
Credo in unum 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.
Expecto resurrectionem mortuorum

Et vitam venturi saeculi.
Amen.

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.

Osanna in excelsis.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi:
Miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi:
Miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi:
Dona nobis pacem.

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

Glory be to God on high
And in earth peace, goodwill towards men,
We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee,
we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee,
for thy great glory.

O Lord God, God the Father Almighty.
O Lord, the only-begotten Son Jesu Christ;
O Lord God, Lamb of God,
Son of the Father.

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

For thou only art holy;
thou only art the Lord;
thou only, O Christ.

With the Holy Ghost,
art most highin the glory of God the Father.
Amen.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in being with the Father.
Through Him all things were made.
For us men
and our salvation
He came down from heaven:

By the power of the Holy Spirit,
He was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.

For our sake He was crucified under Pontius
Pilate; He suffered, died, and was buried.

On the third day He rose again
in fulfillment of the scriptures.
He is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped
and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one, holy, catholic,
and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the
forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead

And the life of the world to come.
Amen.

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, who takest away the sins of the
world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the
world, grant us peace.

 

RELEASED 5/29: BEETHOVEN Concerto for Violin in D major; WEBER Symphony No. 2 in C major; HAYDN Symphony No. 88 in G major

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Viktoria Mullova, violin.
Originally performed in February 2007.
NOTE: This video will expire on July 13, 2020.

Program Notes

Program Notes – February 2007

Beethoven: Violin Concerto

Beethoven composed his only complete violin concerto for Franz Clement, a renowned performer who also conducted the orchestra at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Beethoven completed the work in only a few weeks, and many contemporaries reported that Clement had to play it virtually at sight, although some evidence suggests that he may have advised Beethoven as the concerto took shape. The première took place on December 23, 1806, at a benefit concert for Clement himself – such public concerts, given by self-supporting musicians, were common throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Beethoven’s violin concerto was therefore not composed at the behest of one of his noble supporters (of which he had many), but instead was designed to showcase the talents of its performer. Beethoven left room for cadenzas in the two outer movements, plus he calls for a cadenza to connect the second movement and third movements. Clement was given a free hand for these cadenzas, receiving no instruction from Beethoven. The composer never wrote (and therefore never published) his own violin cadenzas for the piece, and Clement’s cadenzas have not survived. (The first and third movement cadenzas used in tonight’s performance were written for Ms. Mullova by the noted Italian harpsichordist and conductor Ottavio Dantone; the cadenza linking the second and third movements will be her own.) Still, the influence of the popular performer can be felt strongly in the other solo sections – his admirers primarily praised his expressive and elegant sound, which Beethoven exploited at various points in the piece. Yet Clement was not above certain stage antics: at the concerto’s première he even played a short piece of his own in between the first and second movements, while holding his violin upside down, perhaps for some comic relief.

Beethoven wrote the concerto following the composition of his groundbreaking Eroica Symphony (1803), and while he was working on both the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. It shares a number of features with these symphonic works. The opening movement – like that of the Eroica – is quite expansive, and Beethoven creates a sense of unity by working out a short rhythmic motive, a technique for which he became famous – but one which did not win the immediate favor of audiences. One review even noted that “the endless repetitions of a few commonplace passages could easily lead to weariness.” However,

the sense of organic unity created in his compositions would soon be prized by romantics. The timpani introduces the most distinctive motive of the concerto’s opening Allegro movement. It consists of five repeated quarter notes followed by rests, or silence. According to Andreas Moser, a late nineteenth-century violinist and historian, this motive has intriguing origins:

[it] is said to have occurred to Beethoven during the stillness of a sleepless night, on hearing someone knocking at the door of a neighbouring house. The knocking consisted always of five regular blows in succession, repeated after a pause; and Beethoven, overjoyed at being able to distinguish the sound so clearly, for at this time his hearing was beginning to be seriously impaired, used it as the opening theme for the violin concerto.

Though it bears some similarities to the famous opening motive of the Fifth Symphony, which Beethoven reportedly described as “fate knocking at the door,” the opening motive of the violin concerto is less ominous. Distinctive and easily recognizable to the listener, its various manipulations call attention to Beethoven’s compositional skills. It maintains a constant presence throughout the long and complex movement, building a sense of coherence even as Beethoven experiments with harmony and with the development of longer melodic themes.

The second movement Larghetto is simple and lyrical. Recent scholars have linked its unorthodox structure to the romanze, a genre that composers began to employ in slow concerto movements in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The romanze was modeled after a poetic form, which gave it a strong narrative quality. Beethoven’s Larghetto is more intimate in scale than the opening movement, until its dramatic final bars, which move very suddenly into the Rondo. To explain the sudden shift in mood, listeners must move beyond the symmetry and order that dominated classical sensibilities, and consider extra-musical associations, which therefore allow the Larghetto to seem the most romantic of the three concerto movements. In contrast, the finale shifts back to Classical models, using a standardized rondo form preferred by Haydn (who had been Beethoven’s teacher) in his symphonies and Mozart in his piano concertos.

Its main melody is lighthearted, with an almost folk-like quality. The finale contains the most virtuoso passages for the violinist, and it undoubtedly helped Clement to win the audience over at the première of Beethoven’s challenging new work.

Weber: Symphony No. 2

Carl Maria von Weber was a member of a musical family; his father Franz Anton and uncle Fridolin were violinists; his mother Genovefa a singer. His half-cousins Aloysia, Josepha and Costanze Weber were also all singers, for whom Mozart wrote several pieces, and ultimately Costanze became Mozart’s wife. Carl himself was only four years old when Mozart died, though he very quickly became familiar with Mozart’s music as he began to study.

Franz Anton Weber directed the Weber Theater Company, which travelled from Hamburg in the north to Vienna in the south, so the young Carl had his earliest exposure to music in a theatrical context. He is in fact primarily known today for his operas, which have led many to identify him as the first truly Romantic composer: Weber wanted to write a new kind of opera that united all of the arts, making him an important precursor to Wagner. And yet very little of the Romantic can be heard in the Second Symphony, composed relatively early in Weber’s career, in 1807.

The piece was written during Weber’s tenure at the court of Duke Eugen von Württemberg-Öls at Carlsruhe castle near Brieg, just south of Breslau, which was an important musical center (now in the Polish province of Silesia). The duke was partial to the music of Haydn – who was still alive at the time – so Weber felt obligated to emulate the Classical style, though his Romantic sense of melody is apparent in some of the tunes he wrote. His two symphonies represent the work of a man, only 20 years of age, attempting to find his own voice within a somewhat restrictive environment, and they exhibit the three strongest artistic influences that the young Weber had yet encountered: the music of Haydn, and, in the operatic realm, the genres of Italian opera and of the German Singspiel. It is interesting to note that Weber’s second symphony was written only 12 years later than Haydn’s Symphony 104.

The symphony was written in just under a week: it was begun on January 22, 1807, and finished on January 28. It follows the traditional Classical four-movement model, even including a minuet for the third movement, rather than a scherzo, which was becoming the fashion. What is unusual, however, is that Weber includes both a minuet (the third movement) and a scherzo: the finale.

The symphony includes several solos and prominent moments for the oboe, as the duke himself played the instrument. Weber sets the first theme of the opening Allegro in the oboe, and it also dominates the second movement. In addition to the oboe, Weber places special emphasis on the horn throughout the work. Given that he also wrote a concertino for horn and orchestra during this period, we can deduce that he must have been exploiting the skills of a strong horn player. While the symphony is not as groundbreaking as Weber’s operas, it still provides evidence of his knowledge of Classical form, and it is impressive given his age. His listeners at court must have recognized his promise, and his style would certainly have engaged them. The first movement presents and develops the main themes clearly, and it unfolds at a lively pace, inevitably maintaining our interest.

The Adagio opens with a lyrical and poignant melody played by a solo viola, then elaborated by the oboe. The melodies in this more intimate movement, almost vocal in nature and very moving, provide a hint of the mature operatic composer to come. The rhythmically energetic minuet stands in contrast with the pensive and arguably romantic Adagio, and the Scherzo finale, in keeping with its title, brings the symphony to a lighthearted and audience-pleasing close. The symphony as a whole has touches of color, particularly in the winds and horn, which foreshadow the style that would make Weber’s opera overtures so significant. Even in this early work it is clear that this is a composer who knows how to use his orchestra.

Haydn: Symphony No. 104, “London”

Under the reign of Prince Nicolas Esterházy, Haydn had presided over musical life at the court from the 1760s until the prince’s death in 1790. Nicolas’s successor, Prince Anton, was much less interested in music; thus court’s musical activities diminished and Haydn was given leave to travel. He spent 18 months in London between 1790 and 1792, and since this first trip was so fruitful, he returned from 1794 to 1795. On these two visits, he composed twelve symphonies commissioned by the composer and impresario Johan Peter Salomon. Symphony 104 was the last symphony written for the London concerts, and in fact was the last symphony that Haydn was to write. The symphony’s autograph score bears the inscription – in English – “Sinfonia in d: the 12th which I have composed in England.”

Haydn’s years in London had a profound impact on his late musical style. He had always been instinctually aware of the impact of his music, and though he spent decades preoccupied by the somewhat isolating demands of his position as a court composer, he knew his works would be widely disseminated through publication and performance. However, in England, his relationship with his audience became more tangible. For the first time in his life he came into direct contact with a broad array of listeners, witnessing their reactions at concerts, reading reviews and sometimes making revisions in accordance with their responses. He even told Salomon that he wanted to get a sense of English tastes before writing his symphonies so that he would be guaranteed a positive reception for his works. Scholars have observed that the works became increasingly challenging as Haydn sought to educate his listeners and elevate their tastes; Symphony 104 is in fact one of the most complex of his pieces from this period. Charles Burney, a noted English writer and music lover of the time, who heard Symphony 104’s first performance, described it a few days later as “such as were never heard before, of any mortal’s production; of what Apollo and the Muses compose or perform we can only judge by such productions as these.”

Haydn often began his late orchestral works with a slow adagio introduction to grab the attention of listeners. Symphony 104’s introduction has a dramatic and almost portentous quality, which creates a striking contrast with the cheerful and lilting Allegro which follows. The movement is clearly structured around just a few motives, providing the listener with an easy and immediate sense of familiarity. The second movement – a very typically Haydenesque theme-and-variations – begins with a figure reminiscent of the Allegro’s opening motive. Haydn plays with the same figures, intervals and rhythmic patterns throughout this Andante, offering unusual highlights such as the solo bassoon which joins the violins for the melody towards the end of the first statement of the theme. Haydn’s use of orchestral color here is particularly notable; in addition to the bassoon solo, we hear martial trumpets and horns, delicate woodwind solos, and – rather unexpectedly for the gentle mood with which the piece begins – startling dynamic contrasts which bring the full orchestra in for rhapsodic and emphatic passages.

The Menuet begins with a slightly heavy and rustic quality. Haydn’s element of surprise in this movement comes in his play with the expected and unexpected rhythmic accents, both within individual measures and, in the broader perspective, at the close of both the Menuet and Trio sections, where the expected arrival is delayed, and performers and listeners alike are stopped short in anticipation. Symphony 104’s Finale – like that of Symphony 103 before it and many of Haydn’s other works as well – is built around folk music, in this case, the Croatian song “Oj, Jelena, Jelena” (Oh, Helena, Helena). It is not surprising that Haydn would have been intimately familiar with the songs of the Croatian people, as the Esterházy lands, which stretched sixty to seventy miles across, sat in a region that is currently partly in Austria, but in earlier centuries was all in Hungary. The estates contained several Croatian villages, which to this day retain their cultural and linguistic heritage. Commentators over the years have claimed that the folksong chosen by Haydn for this symphony was familiar to his London listeners as the street cry for “hot cross buns” – whether or not this is true, the folk quality of the theme is immediately apparent. Throughout the movement, Haydn continues to play with the rhythmic impulse and the listener’s sense of unexpected weight and resolution. The movement ends with one final playful flourish; the symphony as a whole provides clear evidence that Haydn learned to balance comfortingly familiar elements with new and challenging material, educating and pleasing his audience at the same time.

– Kara Gardner

Kara Gardner is a lecturer in music at the University of San Francisco. She received her Ph.D. in Music and Humanities from Stanford University in 1999. Her work has appeared in the journals American Music and The Musical Quarterly.

 

RELEASED 4/17: HANDEL’S SAUL

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

RELEASED 3/26: RAMEAU’S LES PALADINS SUITE D’ORCHESTRE and LECLAIR’S SCYLLA ET GLAUCUS SUITE D’ORCHESTRE

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.

The Burial Service

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.

Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower: he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.

I heard a voice from heav’n saying unto me, Write, from henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: ev’n so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours. Amen.

 

Solomon, a Serenata

PART I

OVERTURE (Largo–Allegro–Larghetto)

CHORUS
Behold , Jerusalem! behold thy king,
Whose praises all the nations sing!
To Solomon the Lord has giv’n
All arts and wisdom under heav’n:
For him the tuneful virgin throng
Of Zion’s daughters, swell the song:
While young and old their voices raise,
And wake the echoes with his praise.

RECITATIVE (She)

From the mountains, lo! he comes,
Breathing from his lips perfumes;
While zephyrs on his garments play,
And sweets through all the air convey.

AIR

Tell me, lovely shepherd, where
Thou feed’st at noon thy fleecy care?
Direct me to the sweet retreat,
That guards thee from the midday heat:
Lest by the flocks I lonely stray,
Without a guide, and lose my way:
Where rest at noon, thy bleating care,
Gentle shepherd, tell me where?

AIR (He)
Fairest of the virgin throng,
Dost thou seek thy swain’s abode?
See yon fertile vale along
The new-worn path the flocks have trod:
Pursue the prints their feet have made,
And they shall guide thee to the shade.

RECITATIVE (She)
As the rich apple, on whose boughs
Ripe fruit with streaky beauty glows,
Excels the trees that shade the grove,
So shines, among his sex, my love.

AIR

Beneath his ample shade I lay,
Defended from the sultry day;
His cooling fruit my thirst assuag’d,
And quench’d the fires that in me rag’d;
‘Till sated with the luscious taste,
I rose and blest the sweet repast.

RECITATIVE (He)
Who quits the lily’s fleecy white,
To fix on meaner flow’rs the sight?
Or leaves the rose’s stem untorn,
To crop the blossom from the thorn?
Unrival’d thus thy beauties are;
So shines my love among the fair.

AIR

Balmy sweetness, ever flowing,
From her dropping lip distils;
Flowers on her cheeks are blowing,
And her voice with music thrills.

Zephyrs o’er the spices flying,
Wafting sweets from every tree,
Sick’ning sense with odours cloying,
Breathe not half so sweet as she.

RECITATIVE (She)
Let not my prince his slave despise,
Or pass me with unheeding eyes,
Because the sun’s discolouring rays
Have chas’d the lily from my face.
My envious sisters saw my bloom,
And drove me from my mother’s home;
Unshelter’d all the scorching day
They made me in their vineyard stay.

AIR

Ah simple me! my own, more dear,
My own, alas! was not my care:
Invading love the fences broke,
And tore the clusters from the stock,
With eager grasp the fruit destroy’d,
Nor rested, till the ravage cloy’d.

AIR (He)

Fair and comely is my love,
And softer than the blue-ey’d dove;

Down her neck the wanton locks
Bound like the kids on Gilead’s rocks;
Her teeth like flocks in beauty seem,
New shorn, and dropping from the stream;
Her glowing lips by far out-vie
The plaited threads of scarlet dye;
Whene’er she speaks the accents wound,
And music floats upon the sound.

RECITATIVE (She)

Forbear, O charming swain, forbear!
Thy voice enchants my list’ning ear;
And while I gaze, my bosom glows,
My flutt’ring heart with love o’erflows,
The shades of night hang o’er my eyes,
And ev’ry sense within me dies.

AIR

O fill with cooling juice the bowl!
Assuage the fever in my soul!
With copious draughts my thirst remove,
And soothe the heart that’s sick of love.

PART II

SINFONIA (Allegro assai)

RECITATIVE (He)

The cheerful spring begins today;
Arise, my fair one, come away!

RECITATIVE (She)

Sweet music steals along the air—
Hark!—my beloved’s voice I hear!

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, and come away,
The cheerful spring begins today:
Bleak Winter’s gone with all his train
Of chilling frosts, and dropping rain.
Amidst the verdure of the mead,
The primrose lifts her velvet head:
The warbling birds, the woods among,
Salute the season with a song:
The cooing turtle in the grove
Renews his tender tale of love:

The vines their infant tendrils shoot:
The fig-tree bends with early fruit:
All welcome in the genial ray:
Arise, my fair, and come away!

CHORUS

All welcome in the genial ray,
Arise, O fair one! come away!

DUET

Together let us range the fields,
Impearled with the morning dew;
Or view the fruits the vineyard yields,
Or the apple’s clustering bough:
There in close embower’d shades,
Impervious to the noon-tide ray,
By tinkling rills, on rosy beds,
We’ll love the sultry hours away.

RECITATIVE (He)

How lovely art thou to the sight,
For pleasure form’d, and sweet delight!
Tall as the palm-tree is thy shape,
Thy breasts are like the clust’ring grape.

AIR

Let me, love, thy bole ascending,
On the swelling clusters feed:
With my grasp the vine-tree bending,
In my close embrace shall bleed.
Stay me with delicious kisses,
From thy honey-dropping mouth;
Sweeter than the summer breezes,
Blowing from the genial south.

RECITATIVE (She)

O that a sister’s specious name
Conceal’d from prying eyes my flame!
Uncensur’d then I’d own my love,
And chastest virgins should approve:
Then fearless to my mother’s bed
My seeming brother would I lead:
Soft transports should the hours employ,
And the deceit should crown the joy.

AIR

Soft! I adjure you, by the fawns,
That bound across the flow’ry lawns,
Ye virgins, that ye lightly move,
Nor with your whispers wake my love!

RECITATIVE (He)

My fair’s a garden of delight,
Enclos’d, and hid from vulgar sight;
Where streams from bubbling fountains stray,
And flowers enrich the verdant way.

AIR

Softly arise, O southern breeze!
And kindly fan the blooming trees;
Upon my spicy garden blow,
That sweets from ev’ry part may flow.

CHORUS

Ye southern breezes gently blow,
That sweets from ev’ry part may flow.

PART III

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, the doors unfold,
Receive me, shivering with the cold.

RECITATIVE (She)

My heart amidst my slumbers wakes,
And tells me my beloved speaks.

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, the doors unfold,
Receive me, shiv’ring with the cold:
The chill-drops hand upon my head,
And night’s cold dews my cheeks o’erspread:
Receive me, dropping to thy breast,
And lull me in thy arms to rest.

RECITATIVE (She)

Obedient to thy voice I hie;
The willing doors wide open fly.
Ah! whither art thou gone?
Where is my lovely wand’rer flown?

AIR

Ye blooming virgins, as you rove,
If chance you meet my straying love,
I charge you tell him how I mourn,
And pant, and die for his return.

CHORUS of Virgins

Who is thy love, O charming maid!
That from thy arms so late has stray’d?
Say what distinguish’d charms adorn,
And finish out his radiant form?

AIR (She)

On his face the vernal rose,
Blended with the lily glows;
His locks are as the raven black,
In ringlets waving down his back;
His eyes with milder beauties beam,
Than billing doves beside the stream;
His youthful cheeks are beds of flow’rs,
Enripen’d by refreshing show’rs;
His lips are of the rose’s hue,
Dropping with a fragrant dew;
Tall as the cedar he appears,
And as erect his form he bears.

This, O ye virgins, is the swain,
Whose absence causes all my pain.

RECITATIVE (He)

Sweet nymph, whom ruddier charms adorn,
Than open with the rosy morn;
Fair as the moon’s unclouded light,
And as the sun in splendor bright;
Thy beauties dazzle from afar,
Like glitt’ring arms that gild the war.

RECITATIVE (She)

O take me! stamp me on thy breast!
Deep let the image be imprest!
For love, like armed death, is strong,
Rudely he drags his slaves along:
If once to jealousy he turns,
With never-dying rage he burns.

DUET

Thou soft invader of the soul!
O love, who shall thy pow’r control!
To quench thy fires whole rivers drain,
Thy burning heat shall still remain.
In vain we trace the globe to try,
If pow’rful gold thy joys can buy:

The treasures of the world will prove
Too poor a bribe to purchase love.

CHORUS

In vain we trace the globe to try,
If pow’rful gold thy joys can buy:
The treasures of the world will prove
Too poor a bribe to purchase love.

PROGRAM NOTES: Stanley, Croft, Boyce

by Bruce Lamott

The trio of eighteenth century composers heard this evening were major figures in the musical life of Georgian England, and their work influenced the future of Anglican church music as well as the revival of what we know as Early Music. But the arrival of musical émigrés in London following the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 all but eclipsed the work of these indigenous English composers in the eyes of music history. The longest shadow, of course, was cast by the German-born Handel, but he shared the limelight with Italians, notably the opera composer Bononcini and violin virtuoso Geminiani, and, later in the century, other Germans, including Johann Christian Bach.

After Handel’s arrival on the London scene in 1712, comparisons by critics to native-born composers were inevitable, and rarely did the local team win. The most inspired works of his English contemporaries were dubbed “Handelian,” though given his penchant for assimilating if not borrowing outright the music of others, undoubtedly passages of Handel could just as well be termed “Stanley-esque” or “Croftian.” We know, for instance, that Handel was among the many organists who went to hear Stanley’s organ “voluntaries” (solos played before, during, and after the Anglican service). And when he attended ceremonies of state in St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey, Handel would also have heard Croft’s affinity for passages of “For ever, for ever, Hallelujah” in his celebratory anthems.

The legacy of William Croft (1678-1727) has had a significantly enduring presence in the music of the Burial Service. It was first written perhaps for the funeral of Prince George of Denmark in 1708, or his wife, Queen Anne in 1714, and has been used in every state funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey ever since. From the rites for Queen Caroline in 1737 (which reportedly had nearly  80 vocal performers, and 100 instrumentalists from his Majesty’s Band and  the opera), these timeless settings have been sung at obsequies for  Lord Nelson (1806), the Duke of Wellington (1852), Winston Churchill (1965), Princess Diana (1997), and most recently, Baroness Margaret Thatcher (April 2013).  According to the liturgy indicated by Book of Common Prayer for the Burial of the Dead the seven Funeral Sentences are said or sung, the first three during the processional, the rest at the graveside.

Croft succeeded his mentor John Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1704, a post he was to occupy until his death over twenty years later.  Though he wrote anthems for soloists, choir, and orchestra in the newer “sectionalized” style, divided into movements, he adopted an archaic (‘stile antico’) style for the Burial Service. Unaccompanied (though sources indicate that organ doubling was used on occasion), and mostly homophonic, with scrupulous attention to the declamation of the text, these austere and intimate settings suggest the tradition of Anglican chant, harmonized in four parts and sung in the solemn rhythm of speech. (After hearing this work, there can be little doubt that “Since by Man Came Death” in Messiah is decidedly Croftian.)

Stripped of tortured chromaticism and contrapuntal complexity, these settings have stood in sharp contrast to the funereal outpourings of grief supplied by the concerted music spanning several style musical style periods. Croft’s admiration for Purcell is reflected in his judicious inclusion of Purcell’s motet, “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts,” from the Funeral Music for Queen Mary. (This gave rise to the thought that they were indeed intended for Purcell’s funeral, but Croft would have been only seventeen at the time.)  Croft freely admits, “in the rest of that service composed by me, I have endeavoured as near as possibly I could, to imitate that great master and celebrated composer, whose name will for ever stand high in the rank of those who have laboured to improve the English style.”

Of John Stanley (1712-86), composer Gerald Finzi wrote, “Here is a composer of whose work even less is known [than Boyce] and who has suffered from the Handel fetish as much as any of his contemporaries.”  Blind since childhood, Stanley was one of a succession of notable blind organists from Francesco Landini in the fourteenth century to Jean Langlais in the twentieth; even Louis Braille was an accomplished organist. Though organists can be relatively self-reliant in playing solo improvisations and accompanying hymns—as Stanley did for 52 years at the Temple and St. Andrew’s—Stanley was also a conductor, succeeding Handel in leading the annual Lenten oratorio performances for 25 years after Handel’s death. At age 66, he was appointed Master of the King’s Band of Musicians, and even took over the duties of leading violinist when the concertmaster died. Dr. Burney said that “few persons have passed a more active life in every branch of his art than this extraordinary musician.”

Stanley was twenty-nine when his Six Concertos, Opus 2, were published in 1749. Tonight’s B Minor Concerto is full of surprises. The dotted rhythms in the opening Largo suggest a typical French overture, but instead of the expected Allegro fugue, a contrapuntal Adagio follows, full of suspended dissonances in the manner of sixteenth century ecclesiastical music. Though presumably a concerto grosso (that is, featuring more than one soloist), the solo cello and violin rarely interact. The solo violin doesn’t interrupt the extended cello solo in the second movement, but appears only momentarily. And when the violin predominates in the next movement, the cello becomes not a “concerted” partner, but a supportive continuo player. Only in the fourth movement fugue do the soloists achieve parity. The third movement also plays on expectations. Though a slow transition often precedes an allegro movement, they don’t recur; Stanley, however, reiterates it twice more, and concludes not with the allegro but with another solemn passage similar to the first movement in archaic style. This alternation of tempos and styles—more characteristic of the seventeenth century than the eighteenth—creates a scena for the violinist in the manner of operatic recitative and arioso.

Foremost among English composers in the second half of the eighteenth century, William Boyce (1711-79) was a prolific composer who was mentored by Maurice Greene (1696-1755), Croft’s successor as organist of the Chapel Royal. Despite the onset of deafness while a young man, he succeeded Greene as Master of the King’s Musick in 1755. Tonight’s Solomon was his first major success, the first of many; among his later works are twelve trio sonatas, six volumes of songs, stage and liturgical works, and Eight Symphonys (1760). Saddled by posterity with the onerous comparison “except Handel,” Boyce was one of the most celebrated English musicians of his time, called upon to supply ceremonial music for the Georgian court after Handel’s death in 1759. But his music was all but forgotten until a twentieth century revival and increasing interest in that stylistic no-man’s-land between the Baroque and Classic periods previously known as “pre-Classical.”

Boyce’s Cathedral Music (1760-73) was a pioneering work in what was to become the Early Music Revival, not only in its preservation of Renaissance repertoire but in its editorial policies. Begun in collaboration with Greene, it is a monumental compilation of English church music dating from the sixteenth century to his own compositions.  It not only kept these Renaissance compositions in the repertoires of English cathedral choirs well into the twentieth century,  but his expressed intention to preserve this music ‘in its original purity,’ spared it from the heavy-handed editing (such as added dynamics and articulations, “corrected” harmonies and voice-leading, and lugubrious tempo indications) of his contemporaries and 19th century successors.

Perhaps Solomon: A Serenata would be better known to modern audiences if billed by its musical species—an oratorio erotico. English audiences certainly knew its charms, and it received more performances than any other oratorio of its kind through the end of the century (except, of course, Handel’s). For Boyce’s work is based not on Solomon the mediator of harlots (as in Handel’s 1748 Solomon), but on the Song of Solomon, as it is titled in the Anglican Authorized, or King James Version of the Bible. This compilation of erotic and pastoral poetry has very little to do with King Solomon and even less to do with God, mentioned but once both in the Bible and in Boyce’s libretto. It is rather the amorous dialogue of a couple, “The Beloved” and “The Lover” from courtship to consummation, with brief interjections by a narrator and chorus. Its patently sexual imagery made its inclusion in the Hebrew Bible problematic until Jewish and Christian interpreters from the second century AD added a spiritual fig leaf by claiming it as an allegory of the love of God for Israel or the union of Christ and his Church. But Boyce makes no such religious allusion.

The libretto was provided by a linen merchant and amateur poet named Edward Moore (1712-57), relying on an anonymous paraphrase of the biblical source. Living in Ireland, Moore may have arranged for a private but unchronicled performance in Dublin after Boyce signed off the score with “March 1741/2,” as both the libretto and score were published months before the first recorded performance at Ruckholt House, Essex in August and September of 1743. It’s possible therefore that Solomon might have first appeared in close proximity to the celebrated Dublin premiere of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742.

Like its Biblical source, Solomon lolls about in Arcadian bliss without an antagonist or conflict – an Acis and Galatea without the complication of the monster Polyphemus. In Part I the lovers express their amorous intentions separately, joining in connubial rapture in Part II. Moore names the two characters “He” and “She,” though the London advertisement [“A Serenata, call’d Solomon. Set to Musick by Mr. Boyce…as it was perform’d at Ruckholt-House by Mr. Lowe and Mr. Brett…”] clearly suggests that Mr. Brett, likely a countertenor, may well have sung the role of ‘She.’ (Such a performance today would certainly give this work a timely relevance.)

There is a clarity and simplicity in Boyce’s Solomon which clearly parts company with the High Baroque traditions of the opera seria and Handelian oratorio. The vocal lines are not overtly virtuosic, as Boyce had no Italian divas or castrati to placate, and the orchestral textures are tunefully transparent, interacting with the voices in traded phrases and echoed responses. Clearly delineated phrases and buoyant dance rhythms, graced by a sighing appoggiatura at phrase ends, reflect the increasingly popular galant style. English taste was then turning away from the artificiality of Italian opera in favor of the bawdy ballad opera, most notably John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728) with music arranged by another of Boyce’s teachers, the German emigré Johann Christoph Pepusch.

The overture and opening chorus (“Behold Jerusalem, behold thy kin”) seem conventional enough for a sacred oratorio. The stately dotted rhythms of a French overture are mirrored by a grand chorus paraphrasing the Old Testament text. However, the first Air (“Tell Me Lovely Shepherd”) dispels the grandeur in a lilting melody with the flirtatious “Scotch snap” (a short note followed by a longer one, as in “Com-in’ through the rye”) of the popular songs sung in the London pleasure gardens. This Air was Boyce’s most familiar contribution to the English song repertoire, and one of few remnants of Solomon in continuous performance.

Another notable air performed well into the nineteenth century was the tenor’s “Softly rise, O Southern breeze,” with bassoon obbligato, shimmering strings, and choral response.  This is the typical contribution of the chorus throughout the work, echoing the sentiments of the soloists much as they do in the anthems of Purcell, and singing independently only in the opening paean and a brief unaccompanied “Chorus of Virgins” in Part II.

Though Boyce encountered no objections to Solomon in his lifetime, towards the end of the century, some of the more explicit phrases were “bowdlerized”– even before Thomas Bowdler himself sanitized the works of Shakespeare. (Example: “Thy breasts are like the clust’ring grape” became “Thy breasts are of a thousand fair.”) What cannot be censored, however, is the playful sensuality of the music itself, as He and She, “in close embower’d shades…on rosy beds, love the sultry hours away,” in this unabashedly erotic oratorio.