John Yankee's Program Notes
The idea of Baroque Splendor came from a few personal “musts” on my bucket list: to celebrate composers of the Baroque era—both well-known and lesser-known—who made major contributions to the vocal and choral repertoire; to feature a “fresh,” rarely performed work from this rich musical period (in this case, Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus); and finally, to perform some part of Bach’s Mass in B Minor—a work too massive for many choruses, including the Falmouth Chorale, but one that sits at the top of my bucket list. Keeping orchestration, soloists, sequence, and presentation all in mind, I offer the program we share with you today.
Having enjoyed Purcell’s Music for a While as a perfect “opener” in more than a few recitals in the past, I could find no reason not to open our own concert with this aria and at the same time introduce one of our soloists, Meredith Ziegler. Purcell wrote Music for a While as incidental music in the tragedy Oedipus by Nathaniel Lee and John Dryden. Calm and reassuring at the beginning and end, the middle section describes one of the Furies, Alecto, who is capable of “freeing the dead from their eternal bands” and has snakes dropping from her head--which Purcell depicts through rests separating the numerous statements of “drop.”
Our second featured soloist, Erin Smith, is introduced by way of Allesandro Scarlatti’s Si Suoni la Tromba. As an ex-trumpeter, I am very familiar with this work: it is a quintessential example of the brilliant collection of Baroque works for voice and trumpet. In recounting and illustrating the excitement of a war setting, the two “voices” trade and sometimes seem to compete by way of imitation, ornamentation, improvisation, dynamic innovation, and more.
It seems fitting that the opening arias culminate in Claudio Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir. All three composers were principal contributors to the development of opera—Monteverdi above all. Beatus Vir, though a sacred work, displays countless examples of the composer’s theatrical and dramatic bent.
Nowadays it seems rather risky to program the Pachelbel Canon in D, but I was fascinated with the challenge of programming this supposedly banal work; besides, I knew of the piece long before it became so popularized and commercialized in the United States. With that in mind, I have chosen to have the orchestra play the work as the Chorale takes the stage—and to conclude the piece with the festive and spirited Gigue from the original work.
Three short yet important works introduce the Falmouth Chorale to the audience. The first, Hassler’s Cantate Domine, is a classic in the choral repertoire, performed by high school, college, and adult choirs worldwide. The second is from one of the most popular and performed composers in Italy in his day. Lotti, whose music ranges from sacred masses to secular opera, was prolific and also very accessible, as seen here: this Sanctus and Benedictus is from a Missa Brevis that is only 13 minutes long—which no doubt appealed to priests and parishioners alike! The set concludes with Telemann’s canon Ich will den Herrn. Based on a simple I-IV-V progression, the canon “chases” itself at every bar line and, through irregular and contrasting phrasing, creates a dazzling display of Baroque counterpoint at its best.
Händel’s Zadok the Priest brings the first half to a close. The piece challenges the Chorale and orchestra to unite in a compact, brilliant delivery of one of the composer’s best-known works.
I have always been charmed by Bach’s Wir eilen mit schwachen, with its unusual bass-dominant accompaniment and sense of excited hurrying and fervent prayer throughout. The piece, from Bach’s Cantata No. 78, displays our soloists’ charms and skills in duet.
I researched and considered numerous works before selecting Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus to be our most extended piece in the program. I was drawn to its immediate appeal, its unusual orchestration (requiring a single solo trumpet), and—as with almost all of Vivaldi’s music—the challenging yet totally “singable” choral writing.
And finally, the perfect conclusion to our program: Bach. The conclusion of the B Minor Mass. Dona Nobis Pacem. Grant Us Peace. Enough said.
[Notes of the four larger-scale works:]
Without doubt, Claudio Monteverdi (1567–1643) was the greatest of the Italian Renaissance composers. He revolutionised the music of the theatre and the church with his dramatic and imaginative use of instruments and voices, and with his daring harmonies. In 1613 Monteverdi was appointed Master of the Music at St. Mark’s, Venice. He remained there until his death in 1643, devoting his time to directing the choir and composing a series of wonderful sacred pieces which spread his fame throughout Europe.
Monteverdi’s madrigals are just as ground-breaking as his sacred music. In them he introduced adventurous, chromatic harmony and instrumental accompaniments. Their highly dramatic character anticipates the stylistic devices he later employed to such powerful effect in his operas. Though Monteverdi was not the first to compose operas, his Orfeo (1607) is recognised as the first truly dramatic example.
Beatus Vir was probably composed in 1630. The motet, a setting of Psalm 112, is a superb example of Monteverdi’s dramatic style. It contrasts small groups of voices with the weight of the full chorus, a technique known as stile concertato—one of the most characteristic features of baroque music. The piece is scored for six-part chorus, with organ, basso continuo, and two obbligato violin parts.
Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706) was a German composer, organist, and teacher. Although his life began and ended in Nuremberg, he lived in a number of southern German and Austrian cities. His large output includes sacred and secular music, but he is particularly remembered for his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue.
The circumstances of the composition of the Canon and Gigue are unknown, but it is speculated that it was written in 1694, though not published until 1919. The Canon has been the inspiration for numerous popular songs, movie and television series’ themes, and commercials. In this most popular of works, Pachelbel skilfully combined a Canon (a polyphonic device in which several voices play the same music) and a ground-bass (a repeated independent voice, in this case the continuo).
Zadok the Priest, by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685–1759), opens with a tour de force that no degree of familiarity can stale. The long ritornello, based on rising violin arpeggios over richly spaced repeated chords for lower strings and woodwind, prepares the way for a resplendent climax at the entry of the voices in seven parts together with the trumpets and drums. Händel specifies no tempo and no dynamics except soft at the start and loud at the chorus entry; but the music implies a long sustained crescendo that conveys an overwhelming sense of expectation and suspense.
The anthem is in three sections with the chorus for the most part moving homophonically to present the text clearly: there is scarcely any counterpoint. There is little harmonic surprise and the piece is firmly rooted in the tonic D major (the key dictated by the old valveless trumpets): thus Zadok is a supreme example of Händel’s power to make a unique statement by the simplest means. The words of Zadok the Priest have been sung at every coronation since that of King Edgar in ad 973, and Händel’s setting has been sung at every one since 1727.
—Aylesbury Choral Society www.aylesburychoral.org.uk
Until the late 1960s, only one setting of Dixit Dominus (RV 594) by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) was known to exist. Then, Vivaldi scholar Michael Talbot discovered a second large-scale setting (RV 595), for five voices (soprano divisi), in the National Library of Prague. “This new Dixit Dominus was almost certainly composed before 1717,” according to Talbot. “No fewer than three of the movements are closely based on material borrowed from other men. Vivaldi’s personal collection of sacred vocal music by other composers … provided an irresistible temptation for him. …”
The opening movement, Dixit Dominus, is an exultant chorus in D major, followed by Donec ponam, a chorus that unfolds slowly in B minor and culminates with sublime harmonies over a sustained pedal point. The soprano solo, Virgam virtutis, is followed by Tecum principium, with its unusual instrumentation for two cellos* paired with sopranos. The climactic fifth movement, Juravit Dominus, features the text in which “The Lord swore an oath, and will not repent. …” Here, the altos act as cantor to whom the other three voices respond. Tu es sacerdos is, according to Talbot, borrowed from an anonymous Dixit Dominus dated 1708. The soprano aria, Dominus a dextris tuis, gives fair warning “even to kings in the day of his wrath.” The Last Judgment arrives in Judicabit, “He shall judge among the heathen.” In De torrente, “He shall drink of the brook,” the soloist is accompanied by unison violins depicting a babbling brook.
The Psalm is followed by the requisite Lesser Doxology. In Talbot’s words, “First we have a charming choral terzet … a cunning paraphrase of Lotti’s Ingani dell’ unanita. … This leads straight into the Sicut erat in principio, which is an abridged restatement of the opening movement. The triumphant concluding fugue on Et in saecula saeculorum is a re-scored and cleverly expanded version of an anonymous Laudate pueri Dominum … which dates back to 1690.”
*In our concert, bassoon and cello—JPY
Meredith Ziegler - Mezzo Soprano
Thanks to all who joined us for our first performances of the season.
Passionate Voices of the Upper Cape
Music by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel & other Greats
with soloists and orchestra
October 21 & 22, 2017 at 4PM
John Wesley United Methodist Church
Praised for her “stunning voice” and “delightful portrayals”, Meredith Ziegler has impressed critics and audiences alike with her warm lyric mezzo-soprano voice and her engaging characterizations. Ms. Ziegler's leading operatic roles include Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Opera Company of Middlebury, Opera Theater of Connecticut), Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte (Granite State Opera, Cape Cod Opera), Dido in Dido & Aeneas (Connecticut Lyric Opera), Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti (Connecticut Concert Opera), Hänsel in Hänsel & Gretel (Opera Theater of Connecticut), and Meg Page in Falstaff (Opera North). As a Resident Artist with Connecticut Opera, Ms. Ziegler performed the roles of Mercedes in Carmen, Zulma in L'Italiana in Algeri, and Inez in Il Trovatore.
Internationally, Ms. Ziegler’s work has taken her to Graz, Austria where she was a soloist with the AIMS Festival Orchestra for performances of Bernstein’s Arias & Barcarolles. Closer to home she appeared as a soloist in Rutter's Magnificat and Handel's Messiah with the Falmouth Chorale, Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été with the Holyoke Civic Symphony, and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass the New Haven Oratorio Choir. Additionally, Ms. Ziegler was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Extra Chorus.
Ms. Ziegler holds a Master of Music in voice from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Music and aBachelor of Science in Music Education from the University of Connecticut. She has been a young artist with Opera North, Connecticut Opera, and AIMS in Graz, and has been an award winner in competitions with The Metropolitan Opera National Council, Sullivan Foundation, Connecticut Opera Guild, Palm Beach Opera, and Opera Theater of Connecticut.
Ms. Ziegler teaches voice at the University of Connecticut and also maintains a private studio. Her students have performed with various opera companies and symphonies around the U.S. and internationally including Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, Opera Theater of Connecticut, Opera in the Ozarks, New Haven Symphony, Eastern CT Symphony, Skidmore Symphony, and the AIMS Festival Orchestra. Alumni from Ms. Ziegler’s studio continued their education with scholarships at renowned conservatories and universities such as The New England Conservatory, Eastman School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, University of Maryland, Ithaca Conservatory, and the University of Minnesota. Ms. Ziegler was a 2012 NATS Teaching Intern with George Shirley. She currently resides in Storrs, CT with her husband, Steffen, and three sons, Samuel, Jacob, and Timothy.
Erin M. Smith - Soprano
Praised for her “rich and beautiful voice” (Petoskey News-Review), soprano Erin M. Smith is quickly establishing herself as a versatile and dynamic performer throughout New England. Erin has recently performed as a featured soprano soloist with the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra and numerous pops and operatic concerts with the Hillyer Festival Orchestra. Favorite operatic performances include Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore with Opera Providence, Pamina in The Magic Flute with MetroWest Opera and Piccola Opera, Vixen in The Cunning Little Vixen with Boston Opera Collaborative, Contessa in Le Nozze di Figaro with BayView Music Festival, Donna Elvira in an Educational Tour of Don Giovanni with Cape Cod Opera, and more. As an oratorio soloist with notable choruses and orchestras throughout New England, Erin has performed the soprano solos in Telemann’s Machet die Tore Weit, Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore and Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Faure’s Requiem. Erin has also performed numerous premieres of newly composed works and presented the Boston premier of Oliver Knussen’s Requiem: Songs for Sue with The Boston New Music Initiative chamber orchestra. Internationally, Erin has studied and performed in Italy and Austria. Upcoming engagements include soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah with Chorus North Shore in December and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with Portsmouth Pro Musica in April 2018. For more information, please visit www.erinmsmithsoprano.com.