Go to Home Page
Read about the Musicians

“Orpheus Old and New”
About the Program

We have long been captivated by the story of Orpheus, and in fact, Ensemble Chanterelle grew out of collaborating together almost thirty years ago in performances of Monteverdi's and Peri's operas on the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Our program opens with a virtuosic strophic variation aria by Carlo Milanuzzi which celebrates Orpheus. The metaphor of the virtuosic singer who moves the listener as Orpheus moved his listeners is embodied in every aspect of the piece. Milanuzzi was a member of Monteverdi's circle and spent much of his career in Venice. “Tien del mio cor” is from his 9th book of songs, published in 1643. Both of the excerpts from Monteverdi's Orfeo are sung by Orfeo (a tenor role, originally sung by the singer-composer Franceso Rasi) in Act II, and they juxtapose the sharp contrast between Orfeo's joy in his love for Euridice and his grief as he laments her death. “Vi ricorda” is a lively strophic aria with an instrumental ritornello with a wonderful alternation between triple and duple meter. “Tu sei morta” is a stunning example of Monteverdi's skill with the new expressive recitative style.

Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (also known as Johann Hieronymus Kapsberger) spent most of his career in Rome in the service of Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Kapsberger enjoyed a rich musical and artistic environment with many eminent colleagues, including Girolamo Frescobaldi, Luigi Rossi and Stefano Landi. A noted performer on the lute, guitar and theorbo, the New Grove Dictionary describes him as “seminal in the development of the theorbo as a solo instrument.” His music was widely praised by his contemporaries. Toccata Arpeggiata is possibly one of the few written out examples of what may otherwise have been an improvised practice. The style appears in short segments in the Kapsberger Chiacone also on our program. In some ways, the Toccata foreshadows the first prelude in the Well-Tempered Clavier, especially in its steady harmonic rhythm. While on the surface it appears to be just arpeggiated chords, the fingering for the theorbo is actually quite complex. The lovely eponymous piece on our program is a set of variations in G major over a ground. It is possible that the chord progression was one that Kapsberger was hoping other composers would pick up, such as the "Ruggiero," and that he named it for himself so that it would remain identified with its creator. The chacona was considered a rather lewd, immoral dance with roots in the New World and Spain. When it spread throughout Europe, it was nearly banned by the church. Kapsberger's Chiachone is written out in tablature rather than in a chord-strumming formula and is a more refined version of the earlier dance, while echoing its origins.

One of our dreams as an ensemble is finally being realized today-it has been a long journey, but we are thrilled to finally be able to encourage and present new music for old instruments. When we first spoke with James Blachly about the possibility of his writing a piece for soprano Sally Sanford and Ensemble Chanterelle, we envisioned performing it in just the sort of program we are presenting this afternoon. We wanted a piece in German (because it is Sally Sanford's favorite language to sing in), and we wanted an extended piece that could balance a dramatic lament such as Lanier's Hero and Leander or Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna. He could not have selected a more wonderful text than the penultimate poem of Ranier Maria Rilke's Orpheus Sonnets. Composed during a flurry of intense creativity in February 1922 (and what would be his last period of creativity), the Orpheus Sonnets is a collection of 55 poems dedicated to the memory of Vera Knoop, a dancer and childhood playmate of his daughter. Vera had tragically died at the age of 19 several years before the sonnets were written. Rilke's poetry is highly metaphorical and lyrical. As Orpheus travels between the earthly realm and the underworld, so Rilke's poems seek the connecting middle between the spiritual and the physical and call us to find our own transcendence. While he was writing the Orpheus Sonnets, Rilke had a drawing of Orpheus by Cima da Coneligano (around 1459-1518) over his desk.

Rilke's poetry became quite popular during the 20th century, so much so that it is surprising that composers have tended to shy away from setting his texts. Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern each set one or two. Perhaps the most well-known Rilke setting is Paul Hindemith's cycle Das Marienleben. Very few settings exist of poems from the Orpheus sonnets. Five sonnets were set in 1956 by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. More recent Orpheus settings by Peter Lieberson and Richard Danielpour use English translations and not Rilke's original text. James Blachly is the first composer to set the sonnet “O komm und geh” in either language.

We turn these notes now over to James Blachly for his comments:

At its best, the commissioning process is like an upwards-arching spiral. The composer is entrusted with a sacred task: to write specifically for a performer or set of performers, and their request for music to come through one is like opening one end of a cylinder: it demands that the other end be opened as well, and for music to flow through. One is challenged to write for an ensemble that can achieve anything imaginable; and the ensemble, in turn, is charged to bring to life something new, something that grows them. Like a reinforcing cycle, or, if you like, a dance.

Sally Sanford was for several years my voice teacher, and that in itself is already an ineffably strong bond. In our work together, it was she who 'rescued' my voice-she transformed what had become a dreaded experience into a pleasure. To 'teach someone voice' is really to open them, and Sally did this for me. In the process, she asked some good questions. One in particular was to have a profound effect on my work. We were singing a Dowland song which speaks of "my music...." and she turned to me and said, "what would your music be like?"

Later in our time together, I played her a CD of my compositions, and she immediately began hatching a plan to commission me to write for her and Ensemble Chantarelle. With a performing history in Early Music and being a gambist myself, it seemed a good fit. Few composers write for period instruments, but it is only natural that as these instruments become more commonplace (and necessary), composers would turn to them for their unique and irreplaceable timbral qualities and expressive capabilities. Historically-informed vocal techniques, similarly, have opened (or re-opened) beautiful aspects of that most human of instruments.

I'd like to meditate for a moment on the idea of a young dancer, a beautiful young dancer who died too young, who remains in one's mind as a fleeting glance of rapturous beauty-the human body revealed as poetry, but frozen in time. One imagines a statue, perhaps: inherently expressing motion, but unable to move. How do we imagine her dancing? Rilke's extended metaphor for Orpheus that involves this young girl speaks to the very nature of creation. We create, in part, to speak to depths of feeling that can find no other channel. We sing, in part, to bring life back. And we are reminded that in love, we cannot turn back, we cannot doubt so much as to require proof; we have to trust that the lover is walking silently with us.

What a joy!

Nicholas Lanier is credited with introducing the “stylo recitativo” to England, having been exposed to the Italian style on visits to Italy to purchase art works for Charles I. Inspired by laments such as Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna, Lanier composed his lament of Hero, “Nor com'st thou yet,” shortly after his return from Italy around 1628. Lanier manages to adapt the new Italian recitative to the English language, borrowing Italian word rhythms without sacrificng the dramatic and emotional content of the English text.

Lanier's scena is devoted entirely to Hero. The work is divided into four large section. The scene begins with Hero waiting expectantly for her beloved Leander. She wonders why he is late and lustily urges him to hurry to her. Leander has promised to swim to her if the sea is calm, provided she shine a torch to guide his way. In the second section, Hero gives vent to jealous rage, thinking that Leader has taken another lover. In the more lyrical third section, Hero realizes that her fury has gotten away with her and, showing her real love, tries to reassure herself that he is truly hers. She prays to the winds to speed him to her. The final section begins with the sudden storm that will take Leander's life. Hero cries out to Leander to back only to find that her light has blown out. As the storm abates and the first light of dawn arrives, Hero thinks she sees Leander. To her horror, she realizes that it is his corpse floating toward the shore. Hero, choosing to die with her beloved, throws herself into the sea.

Martha Bishop writes about her pieces for solo viola da gamba:

The Preludio (1998) is a rather brooding piece centering on d minor which allows for use of the 7-string viol's low A string. Double and triple note chords make use of the viol's “guitar-like” tuning, as do arpeggiated passages. Harmonics occasionally give atmosphere. The Passacaglia has a 9 bar chromatic theme which receives many variations idiomatic to a solo bass viola da gamba, and in a style both baroque and modern.

Henry Purcell wrote over 250 secular songs. They exhibit a remarkable variety in structure, mood, melody, and bass line. The three songs we have selected for our program today all center on the theme of music and music's power to move the listener. The text of the florid “Tis Nature's Voice,” from the posthumous collection Orpheus Brittanicus, outlines the English version of the doctrine of affections while also presenting the conceit of the virtuoso singer as the modern Orpheus. His famous “Music for a While” from Oedipus, originally for counter-tenor, shows Purcell's fluid use of a ground bass. The text of the Purcell's third and highly virtuosic setting of “If Music be the Food of Love” is based on Duke Orsino's opening lines from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Purcell changes the words and turns the piece into a stunning celebration of the power of music to touch the heart.