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“A Salute to Spring”
Music from 17th c. England, France, and Italy

About the Program

Spring in the seventeenth century, as now, was the season of flowers and fresh air, new beginnings, and most especially was a time for love. Our program celebrates spring in sampling some of the delightful song literature of the seventeenth century that salutes this season (and by extension, summer as well). The colorful beauty, fragrance, and sounds of nature form a backdrop to our program. Part of the appeal of the out of doors to young lovers was that ironically it provided an opportunity for privacy in a secluded garden, behind a bush in the woods, or behind haystack. Our program includes songs that depict birds, discuss flowers, and treat love in many guises from the blush of a first kiss to utter despair in the loss of a beloved.

The first half of our program is drawn from the vast repertory of English music for voice and lute, voice and viol, and voice and basso continuo. Thomas Morley, Thomas Campion, and John Dowland were the foremost composers of lute songs. Composers at this time period were often also well-known poets, as in the case of Campion, as well as singers and players. Dowland was an extraordinary performer on the lute and also wrote a great deal of virtuosic music for solo lute, of which the Corranto is an example of his more lively dance style. Tobias Hume was perhaps the ultimate amateur and Renaissance man of the Elizabethan age. He was a mercenary soldier who worked for the Swedish and Russian armies. He was also a highly skilled amateur composer and viol player, who did much to champion the viol as an equal to the lute. He is also the poet in the pieces you will hear. Nicolas Lanier, one of the chief composers for English court masques, can rightly be credited with bringing the Italian “stile recitativo” to England. On art buying trips for Charles I and the Duke of Buckingham in 1625 and 1628, he became quite taken with the new Italian style. Shortly after his return, he most likely composed “Hero’s Lament,” which pays homage to the great recitative laments of Claudio Monteverdi. The lament dramatizes the story of Hero as she impatiently awaits her beloved Leander to swim the dangerous passage through the Dardanelles Strait to an evening rendevous with her. As she shines a torch to guide his way, a sudden storm comes up, extinguishing the light. As dawn rises, Leander’s body washes up to the shore, and Hero drowns herself to join him in death.

We travel to Italy to begin the second half our program with a group of songs by Barbara Strozzi, whose music has received attention in recent years with the increased focus on music by women composers. Her music holds its own alongside the greatest composers of her day. A student of Cavalli, Strozzi’s music takes solo song from the realm of the simple strophic air or through-composed monodic madrigal toward the more expanded cantata. Her musical syntax includes sweeping melodic arcs, a wide vocal range, inventive and bold use of chromaticism and harmonic dissonance. “Cosi non la voglio” is in her highly syllabic, patter style. “Non volete” is a superb example of her lyrical, poignant style.

The French continuo airs de cour on our program reflect an extremely popular genre of song in the 17th century that is relatively unknown today. We think of Charpentier primarily as an oratorio and mass composer. He had no connection with the court. His delightful character piece “Le Bavolet” (‘The Bonnet’) has been revived by Sally Sanford, who gave the 20th-century premier of it in 1993. Among the duties at court of theorbist and guitarist Robert de Visée was the job of performing at Louis XIV’s bedside in the evening. The Rondeau displays the wit and lyricism which made de Visée’s music so popular. Very little is known of Jean-Baptiste Bousset other than that he was a singer and composer. “Pourquoy doux rossignol” is an exquisite piece, whose delicate filagree of ornamentation (in this case almost all written out by the composer) depicts the song of the nightengale.

Henry Purcell is the foremost English song composer of all time. “Strike the Viol” is from the 1694 birthday ode for Queen Mary and celebrates her patronage of music. “Music for a while” is one of Purcell’s most famous songs, written for the play Oedipus. The song is designed to raise the ghost of Laius, but it is also a meditation of the art of music. The tune of “Lilliburleo” existed in many guises in the late 17th century and 18th century inspiring many parodies, several of which you will hear this evening.