Booking and details
Dates Fri, May 05 — Sun, May 07, 2023
Duration 80 minutes, no intermission
The Folger Consort is excited to be joined by Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble. Kaleidoscope, directed by Arianne Abela, is recognized for presenting vocal music with artistic distinction, while celebrating racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. Like Folger Consort, the ensemble delights in performing both early and new music. For this program, Kaleidoscope’s singers will join our ensemble of violins, viol, and harpsichord for a program centered around the timeless music of Claudio Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The program also includes works by living composers Caroline Shaw and Jonathan Woody.
This program will also be available for on-demand streaming from May 12, 2023 to May 26, 2023. Click here to purchase advance on-demand access today.
Artistic Director for Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble
Guest Artist Ensemble
Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble
Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble
Playlist | Early Music Seminar
Pre-Concert Discussion – Friday, May 5
Join Christopher Kendall and Robert Eisenstein, co-Artistic Directors of the Folger Consort, for a lively discussion with guest artists from 7:00pm-7:30pm before the Friday, May 5 performance.
Free entry with concert ticket.
Program and Notes
Folger Consort with Kaleidoscope Vocal Ensemble
Claudio Monteverdi: Hor che’l ciel e la terra
Marco Uccellini: Aria sopra la Bergamasca
Monteverdi: Quel sguardo sdegnosetto
Monteverdi: Interrotte speranze
Alessandro Piccini: Ciaconna, for theorbo
Monteverdi: Laudate dominum
Monteverdi: O rossignuol
Caroline Shaw: Dolce cantavi
Monteverdi: Zefiro torna
Giovanni Battista Fontana: Trio Sonata no. 8
Monteverdi: Nigra sum from Vespro della beata Virgine
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Toccata, for organ
Frescobaldi: Canzona per due bassi
Jonathan Woody: Nigra sum
Monteverdi: Eri già tutta mia
Salamone Rossi: Sonata sopra l’aria di Ruggiero
Monteverdi: Beatus vir
by Robert Eisenstein
Claudio Monteverdi (1547-1643) is unquestionably one of the greatest composers in the western tradition. He stands on the cusp of the transition from Renaissance to Baroque style. Like certain other composers (Beethoven comes to mind) who witnessed great changes in musical style during their lifetimes, Monteverdi did not reject the old styles at all, but instead combined them with radically new ideas to create his own unique synthesis. Monteverdi was the son of a chemist-barber-surgeon from Cremona. His early musical training was in the capable hands of Marc’Antonio Ingegneri, maestro di capella at Cremona Cathedral. By the 1590s Monteverdi was employed at the Mantuan court as a string player and was promoted to the post of maestro di cappella in 1602. He composed his opera, L’Orfeo in 1607, and soon after he became maestro at the much more prestigious San Marco in Venice, where he remained until his death. By 1600 his reputation as a madrigalist was well established, and attacks on his harmonic innovations by the conservative theorist Artusi soon appeared. Monteverdi’s views on dissonance (which so upset Artusi) were expressed by others of his time as well, and freer treatment of dissonance in the service of the text is present in the works of many composers. Monteverdi met the challenge head-on. In the Fifth Book of Madrigals (1605) he issued a famous defense, describing the two “practices”, the traditional one of Renaissance polyphony, and the second based on ancient Greek principles. The highest goal of the latter was that of moving the affections, of using music in the service of the text. The new style has its roots as early as the 1560s, when certain madrigal composers began to be willing to break up the smooth flow of Renaissance polyphony and to introduce unprepared dissonances in the service of the text. The humanistic gentlemen-scholars of the Florentine Camerata, in their quest to duplicate the effects of ancient Greek music, decided to do away with polyphony completely, and developed a way of singing solo with a simple chordal accompaniment that could more powerfully express a poem. This texture, known as monody, becomes the common one for music of the 17th-century.
Monteverdi was able to integrate Renaissance practice with the revolutionary techniques of the Florentine monodists, using them in chamber music and opera, and was instrumental in bringing the new developments in theatrical music to church forms. Monteverdi first made his mark with madrigals. He left us nine books of madrigals, of which the first five are Renaissance style for the most part, usually with five voices and no obligatory accompaniment. The sixth adds chordal instrumental accompaniment, and the final three books are wholly in the new concertato style of the Baroque, with various numbers of voices accompanied by figured bass and frequently with independent instrumental parts. We have indicated the source for our selected madrigals on page 3 to make clearer the evolution of his style over the years.
Although sacred music around 1600 was in general much more conservative than theater music and madrigals, Monteverdi was one of the first to use the new styles in liturgical composition. His famous collection for Vespers of 1610 is in many ways his masterpiece, being a compilation of psalms and sacred songs for the evening service that is at once a meditation on the age-old chant and a brilliantly theatrical and modern conception. We include here from the Vespers the sacred song Nigra sum, which sets verses from the Song of Songs.
Monteverdi’s 1642 publication, the late work Selva Morale e Spirituali, or “moral and spiritual forest” provides a refuge for various musical and poetic creations. By the 1630s Monteverdi had become much less active in the day-to-day affairs of San Marco and had turned over most of his compositional duties to his younger colleagues. He had taken holy orders in 1632 and seemed ready to enjoy an old age of quiet contemplation and retreat. However, the last few years of his life witnessed an incredible burst of creative activity, including the Eighth Book of Madrigals, his operas Ulysses and Poppea, and the Selva. It is a huge publication, in ten part books containing 37 distinct pieces in all the current styles and textures of the time. Of course, it is likely that many of these compositions date from much earlier than 1642, and in fact some are based on a few of his earlier pieces. Nonetheless it is a monumental undertaking. Laudate Dominum, for solo voice and continuo, is one of the many Vespers psalm settings in the collection. We close with another Vespers psalm from the Selva, the Beatus vir for six voices, two violins, and continuo. This piece has a secular model- Monteverdi’s canzonetta Chiome d’oro. The relentless ground bass, lively violin ritornelli and virtuosic and expressive voice writing combine in a wonderful example of Monteverdi’s concertato style.
But Monteverdi’s great gift to us is that he did not reject the old practice while he embraced the new. He succeeds in moving our emotions with all his music, whether it is in his most conservative church music, his passionate madrigals, the stark declamatory recitative of the radical Florentine humanists or the synthesis of all these styles present in so much of his music.
Marco Uccellini (1603-1680) was a violinist who served as the head of instrumental music at the Este court in Ferrara from the 1640s. Uccellini’s solo violin sonatas are quite adventurous, both in terms of violin virtuosity and harmonic invention. Our selection, for two violins and continuo, the Aria sopra la Bergamasca, is a bit different. It is from his 1645 publication, which contains numerous settings of popular dances, tunes, and grounds like the Bergamasca, the simplest and perhaps most engaging of 17th-century ground basses.
The Bolognese lutenist-composer Alessandro Piccinini (1566-1638) was a member of a musical family. He and his two brothers were taught the lute by his father, Leonoardo Maria Piccinini, and Alessandro in turn taught his son, also named Leonardo Maria. Alessandro is known today primarily for the two volumes of music for lute and theorbo he composed. The second was published posthumously by his son in 1639. Piccinini claims in the preface to his first publication to have invented the archlute in the 1590s- it is possible that he did, although the long-necked theorbo (also known as cittarone) had already been in use at the time. Piccinini was a gifted composer, as this wonderful ciacona demonstrates. Unfortunately, the two books of lute and theorbo music are all that survive of his output.
“Dolce Cantavi” by Caroline Shaw is an exquisite, chant-like evocation of birds and breezes and all they connote, in poetry by Francesca Turina Bufalini Contessa di Stupinigi (1544-1641), for treble voices. It was commissioned and premiered by TENET Vocal Artists.
We include here a trio sonata by Giovanni Battista Fontana (c. 1580-1630). Fontana was from Brescia, but likely worked in Venice. If he did, he most certainly knew and probably played under Monteverdi. These sonatas are both delightful examples of the form and illustrate the rapid development of virtuoso violin music in the early 17th-century. Like most early sonatas, they are made up of a series of short, well-defined sections that prefigure the separate movements of later instrumental music.
Jonathan Woody has this note about his Nigra Sum:
“[The countertenor] Reggie Mobley came to me with the idea for this piece a couple of years ago to draw attention to the microaggressions that so many of us artists of color have faced in the classical music field. From seemingly innocuous statements after concerts to downright blatant racism, his idea really spoke to me. I’ve experienced these moments myself, but rather than add my words to the piece, I wanted (and he suggested) to use the language of our beloved baroque masters to really draw out the contrast of that beauty with ugliness of the sentiments. The first movement conjures a Renaissance motet, inspired by the transition from stile antico to stile moderno in the Italian early baroque. The second movement is inspired by a north German 17th century sort of rhetoric, with fast-moving cadential material giving urgency to the words ‘I’d hate to run into you at night,’ among others. The final movement is a triple time cascading figuration very much inspired by cantata BWV21 of Johann Sebastian Bach, weaving the ‘Nigra
Sum’ chant in amongst the polyphony. My hope is that the performers and audiences will be reassured by the power of music to create universal community while being perhaps horrified by how far we have yet to go in truly achieving that community.”
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was a native of Ferrara and studied with the influential madrigalist Luzzaschi. He was not, according to reputation, a well-rounded or well-educated person. However, he was one of the great keyboard virtuosi of his time. A contemporary theorist said that he “was a very coarse man” and that “all his knowledge is at the ends of his fingertips.” Be that as it may, his playing was highly prized, and his arias and instrumental works, especially the keyboard toccatas like the one performed here, can be as dramatic and engaging as any of the time. He is perhaps best known for his keyboard works today, although he published a great deal of ensemble music and some ravishing vocal music. According to a contemporary witness, “although [his] printed works give sufficient witness of his ability, in order to judge of his profound knowledge it is necessary to hear him improvise toccatas.” The canzona for two bass instruments performed here is a forward-looking work, not at all like the canzoni of the late 16th century. This piece is overtly dramatic and harmonically progressive.
The Jewish composer Salamone Rossi (c.1570-1628) was a string player and composer whose entire career was centered in his native city of Mantua. His earliest pieces are dedicated to Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, and Rossi did have strong connections to the court, appearing from time to time on various salary rolls. He also had connections to the Jewish theatrical troupes in Mantua, which were active not only in the ghetto but in the Christian community at large and at court. Rossi (and his sister Europa, a famous singer) were unusually favored by Vincenzo, as seen in his decree that Rossi did not have to wear the compulsory yellow badge imposed on the Jewish community. Rossi is best known today for his 1622 publication Hashirim Asher Lishlomo, (or Songs of Solomon, pun probably intended.) which contains settings in Hebrew of psalms, hymns, and other prayers for synagogue use. We perform two pieces from this publication. This is the first surviving attempt to print western musical notation underlaid with Hebrew. The music runs from left to right; since Hebrew is written from right to left, the printer’s solution was to retain the right order of letters within a word, but to underlay the words from left to right to correspond with the music. This is not Rossi’s only musical first. He is responsible for the first printed continuo madrigals, preceding his colleague Monteverdi, and for writing some of the earliest violin sonatas. It is not surprising that a string player would compose plentiful instrumental music. We perform the sonata on the Aria di Ruggiero, in which Rossi instructs the players to repeat the last section “a little faster.” Rossi’s last published pieces appeared in 1628. It is possible that he died in the destruction of the Mantuan ghetto and the horrible plague outbreak that followed the sack of the city by Imperial troops in 1630.
Please note: All attendees are required to wear a mask. Fully vaccinated artists will not be wearing masks while performing. The Folger is committed to maintaining the highest level of health and safety precautions around COVID-19. Learn more about how we are keeping our audience and performers safe: COVID-19 safety protocols