Vanitas Vanitatum

August 9, 2014 | 8:00pm | Pre-concert chat with host Matthew White at 7:15
Roy Barnett Recital Hall | Map


Les Voix Baroques; Jacqueline Woodley, soprano; Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano; Sylvia Szadovszki, mezzo-soprano; Colin Balzer, tenor; Jacques-Olivier Chartier, tenor; Sumner Thompson, baritone; Hank Knox, guest music director

“A sellout crowd knew that this very particular evening of music was as special as it was spectacular.” – David Gordon Duke, The Vancouver Sun, August 16, 2012

“Farewell laughter, farewell singing, farewell delights of the world!” wrote Luigi Rossi. In the 17th century, Roman composers were surrounded by the remains of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known, so it’s no surprise that their texts explore the passing of Time and the ephemeral nature of physical beauty and pleasure. These rich and intense musical settings are passionate, dramatic arguments for the value of enjoying life’s fleeting pleasures. Music by Carissimi, Rossi, Marazzoli, and more.

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Vanitas Vanitatum, Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674)

Toccatta Setima, Libro primo d’intavolatura di lauto (1611), Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (1580-1651)

Sospirate bellezze, Luigi Rossi (1597-1653)

Ricercar Terzo (1614), Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)

Elena Invecchiata, Marco Marazzoli (1605-1662)


Ergi La Mente Al Sole, Luigi Rossi

Da Tutti Gli Horologi Si Cava Moralita, Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665)

Sonata sopra Fuggi dolente core, Biago Marini (1594-1663)

Si Quis Daret Concentum, Luigi Rossi

Passacaille, Biago Marini

Passacalli Della Vita, Anon (arranged by Sean Dagher)

Programme notes

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
”I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
”The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
”The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon….

Horace Smith, Ozymandias (1818)

Qu’une chose aussi visible qu’est la vanité du monde soit si peu connue, que ce soit une chose étrange et surprenante de dire que c’est une sottise de chercher les grandeurs. Cela est admirable.

Vanity.—How wonderful it is that a thing so evident as the vanity of the world is so little known, that it is a strange and surprising thing to say that it is foolish to seek greatness!

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Pensées (1669)

Living in Rome in the first half of the seventeenth century in a time of political, religious and scientific turmoil, where images of war and disease played on a background of great splendour amid the ruins of Antiquity, it is not surprising that seventeenth-century moralists, philosophers and artists would meditate on the transience and fragility of human life and glory. The music heard this evening reflects those sober, and sobering, meditations. And yet, despite the potentially dark subject matter, this music draws on the full palette of 17th-century musical styles and techniques to move the listener with music of great beauty and power.

In this context, there is a fine irony in the fate of the music from the hand of Giacomo Carissimi. This Roman musician was among the most influential composers working in the first half of the seventeenth century. Shortly before he turned 25, he became maestro di cappella at the Collegio Germanico e Hungarico in Rome and remained in the post until his death. The Collegio Germanico, a Jesuit seminary that trained young men from German-speaking countries for the priesthood, already had a long tradition of musical excellence, going back at least to the time of Victoria in the late 16th century. Over the course of his career, he produced an impressive body of work in a variety of styles; his motets, cantatas and oratorios in Latin were among the defining examples of these new genres. He attracted students from across Europe, many of whom went on to significant careers, including Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Johann Caspar Kerll, and Christoph Bernhard and he was lauded as one of the most celebrated musicians of his day. Following his death, his scores were jealously guarded by the Collegio; a 1674 papal brief forbade anyone from removing Carissimi’s compositions from the college under pain of excommunication. And yet today the autograph scores are no longer at the Collegio. Many were sold as scrap paper when the Society of Jesus was suppressed in 1773, others were pillaged during the Napoleonic invasion. More copies of his music survive outside of Italy than within. The oratorio Vanitas Vanitatum, is a series of meditations, inspired in part by the Book of Ecclesiastes, on the vanity of pleasures and human works such as science, philosophy, power, and even music. Even so, the “Vanitas” refrain is a remarkably ‘catchy’ hook, designed to help the lesson remain with the listener long after the final chord.

Marco Marazzoli was another Roman musician whose fame was celebrated across Europe. Singer, harpist and composer, Marazzoli served various members of the influential Barberini family in a variety of venues for much of his career. Under their patronage, he spent several years in Paris where, among other activities, he composed chamber cantatas for the court of Anne of Austria who is said to have been moved to tears by his work. Elena Invecchiata is a remarkably personal meditation by Helen of Troy as she looks back with surprise and some bitterness on the years of war waged over her beauty, now ravaged by the implacable hand of time.

Yet another celebrated Roman composer connected to personalities associated with the papacy is Luigi Rossi. He was active in Naples, Rome and Paris. At about the time Carissimi began his work in the German college, Rossi was selected as organist at the French national church, S Luigi dei Francesi and later became part of the entourage of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. When the Barbarinis were forced to flee Rome in 1646, he followed them to France where his music was greatly appreciated by, among others, Cardinal Mazarin. His canzonettas and cantatas were widely popular, and he wrote operas for both the papal family and the French royal court. Sospirate Belleze is an apt introduction to the lament of Helen of Troy: it warns those beauties over whom we sigh that time will inevitably take its revenge. The extended cantata, Ergi la mente al sole, combines elements of all of the genres in which he excelled: the solo-voice cantata, the madrigal and the vocal trio. It is paean to the power and light of the sun, whose first light in the morning calls forth worship from the songs of birds and the rustling of the wind… And yet, even the powerful Sun tells us how he is but a pale reflection of the eternal light of God: even the most mighty must yield to the Divine. It is perhaps the only way to overcome the melancholy brought on by contemplation of our own vanity. The exquisite Latin trio, Si Quis Daret Concentum, repeats the moral: there is nothing in the delights of the world to compete with the sweet song of angels or the musical consorts of heaven, and so farewell to the delights of the world. The musical setting, including both ravishing close harmony from the three vocalists and lush, sensuous writing for the instrumental consort, are intended to invite the listener into the sound world of the eternal.

The final, anonymous work on the programme will send us out dancing into the dark night. This modest canzonette spirituale repeats its refrain (‘Bisogna morire’, You must die) repeatedly between verses steeped in the vanity of life and the cruel progress of time. Repeatedly but infectiously: the somber text unfolds over a lilting and catchy Passacaglia bass line, like so much music heard for centuries set to texts covering the entire gamut of human experience: love, faith, betrayal, celebration…. and even death. Life may be short, but that shouldn’t stop us from living it to the fullest!

Artist Bios

Les Voix Baroques

Founded in 1999, Les Voix Baroques is an ensemble of vocalists produced by Matthew White that works in conjunction with prominent period instrumentalists, ensembles and guest directors to present works from the Renaissance and Baroque.

Past collaborations include Bach's St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, the St. John Passion with the Portland Baroque Orchestra/Monica Huggett, Bach Cantatas with Ensemble Les Boreades and a 2007 Juno-nominated and Opus Award-winning ATMA recording of Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri with Les Voix Humaines and conductor Alexander Weimann. They have appeared in concert for the Vancouver Early Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival, Houston's Mercury Baroque Orchestra, the Montreal Baroque Festival, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the Sackville Early Music Festival, Domaine Forget, the Elora Festival, and in two Opus Award-winning concerts produced by CBC for the McGill Concert Series. Their 2012 Juno-nominated recording of Bach's St. John Passion with Montreal's Ensemble Arion is the latest recording in their longtime collaboration with Atma Classique.

Jacqueline Woodley, soprano

Canadian soprano Jacqueline Woodley has been praised for her fearless versatility, changing styles fluidly from early music to contemporary, from opera to art song.

Recent performances include her Montreal Symphony Orchestra debut under Kent Nagano; the role of Adele (Die Fledermaus) with Edmonton Opera; appearances at the Vancouver Early Music Festival and the Ottawa International Music Festival with Les Voix Baroques; a soprano and trumpet programme for Clavecin en Concert and La Fête de la Musique de Mont-Tremblant; and Handel’s Messiah both for the National Arts Centre Orchestra and in a staged version for Against the Grain Theatre.

Sought after for her “exceptional talent” in performing modern works, Jacqueline created the role of Milice-Bride in the première of Ana Sokolovic’s opera Svaba-Wedding with Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, as well as the American première with Philadelphia Opera and subsequent Canadian and European tours. Other well-received performances of contemporary music include works by György Kurtág, Kaija Saariaho and Judith Weir.

A recent alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble (2010-2012), she performed and covered several main stage roles, among which Olympia (Contes d’Hoffmann), Amore (Orfeo ed Euridice), First Priestess (Iphigénie en Tauride), Page (Rigoletto), Lace Seller (Death in Venice), and was heard in the Studio Ensemble productions as Iris in Semele and the “deliciously sexy” Papagena in Die Zauberflöte.

Possessing a strong affinity for concert works, Jacqueline has sung Bach’s Saint John Passion, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Fauré and Mozart’s Requiem, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Mercure’s Cantate pour une joie, Haydn’s The Creation, Pärt’s Stabat Mater, and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.

Jacqueline holds a master’s in opera from McGill University, and upcoming performances include Messiah with Aradia Ensemble and Papagena with Edmonton Opera.

Krisztina Szabó, mezzo-soprano

In the 2016-17 season, Krisztina Szabó will sing the title role in Rossini’s Cenerentola with Edmonton Opera, and will appear in concert with Tafelmusik (Toronto), Music of the Baroque (Chicago), Grand Philharmonic Choir (Kitchener-Waterloo) and Pax Christi Chorale (Toronto). She will also be a featured performer in Canadian Stage’s All But Gone, a production featuring short plays by Samuel Beckett.

In the 2015-16 season Krisztina Szabó sang the role of Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle (Colorado Music Festival), Thisbe in Pyramus and Thisbe (Canadian Opera Company). She appeared as soloist in Handel’s Messiah (Symphony Nova Scotia, Calgary Philharmonic), in concert with Bravissimo! at Roy Thomson Hall, with Soundstreams, with the Toronto Children’s Chorus, and with Talisker Players.

In 2015, she was nominated for 2 Dora Awards for her performances as The Woman in Erwartung with the COC and in Booster Shots with Tapestry Opera. Career highlights include The Woman in Death and Desire (Against the Grain Theatre), Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, and Sesto in La clemenza di Tito (Vancouver Opera), Le Pèlerin in L’Amour de loin and Idamante in Idomeneo (COC), Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos (Stadttheater Klagenfurt), Rosalind in The Mines of Sulphur (Wexford Festival Opera), Cherubino (Le nozze di Figaro) and Meg (Little Women)(Calgary Opera), Dorabella (Mostly Mozart Festival, NY), St. Matthew Passion (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Nerone in Agrippina (L’Opéra de Montréal), and Ruggiero in Alcina and Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos (Les Violons du Roy).

Sylvia Szadovszki, mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano Sylvia Szadovszki studied at the Manhattan School of Music (B.Mus.‘06) and the University of British Columbia (M.Mus.’09/DMPS.’11). Most recently, Sylvia sang the role of Nancy in Albert Herring with Vancouver Opera. She was a member of the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program at Vancouver Opera during their 2012/2013 season, singing the roles of Papagena in The Magic Flute and Kate in The Pirates of Penzance.

Sylvia made her German debut as Rosina in Theater Hof’s new production of Der Barbier von Sevilla in 2012. She also joined Pacific Opera Victoria’s Resident Artist Program that year, singing Mercedes in Carmen. Sylvia sang the role of Hansel in the Vancouver Opera In Schools 2011 fall tour of Hansel and Gretel. She was selected as a Northwest Region Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in both 2011 and 2012. Sylvia has performed as a soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Victoria Symphony, the West Coast Symphony, the Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, the Vancouver Academy Orchestra and the Northern Czech Philharmonic. Sylvia will make her debut with Edmonton Opera this fall, singing Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

Colin Balzer, tenor

With assured musicality and the varied tonal palette of a lieder specialist, Canadian lyric Colin Balzer’s North American engagements to date include recitals at New York’s Frick Collection and on the Philadelphia Chamber Music series; concerts with the Portland, New Jersey, Utah, Victoria, Ann Arbor, Québec,  Atlanta and Indianapolis Symphonies; Early Music Vancouver; Toronto’s Tafelmusik and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Les Violons du Roy; the National and Calgary Philharmonics;

Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Musica Sacra and the Oratorio Society of New York (both under Kent Tritle) at New York’s Carnegie Hall.  In addition he is regularly featured in opera productions at the Boston Early Music Festival, including Steffani’s Niobe, Händel’s Almira, Lully’s Psyche and Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow.

Guest soloist appearances abroad include Collegium Vocale Gent/ Philippe Herreweghe, Fundacao OSESP Orchestra/Louis Langrée, Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski, Rotterdam Philharmonic/Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Akademie für alte Musik/Marcus Creed, as well as with the RIAS Kammerchor, Het Brabants Orkest, Luxembourg Symphony, Leipzig Baroque Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Museumsorchester Salzburg, Radio Kamer Filharmonie (Amsterdam Concertgebouw), Philharmonischer Chor Berlin, Estonian Chamber Choir, Camerata Salzburg and Musik Podium Stuttgart.  Operatic forays include Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Bolshoi and in Aix-en-Provence and Mozart’s La finta giardiniera in Aix and Luxembourg.

Particularly esteemed as a recitalist, he has been welcomed at London’s Wigmore Hall (accompanied by Graham Johnson), the Britten Festival in Aldeburgh, the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, the Wratislavia Cantans in Poland, and at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden.  Recordings to date include Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch and Eisler and Henze song anthologies.   A prizewinner of  Holland’s  ‘s-Hertogenbosch Competition,  the U.K.’s Wigmore Hall Song Competition, Stuttgart, Germany’s Hugo Wolf Competition and Munich’s 55th International ARD Competition, Mr. Balzer also holds the rare distinction of earning the Gold Medal at the Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau with the highest score in 25 years.   Born in British Columbia, he received his formal musical training at the University of British Columbia with David Meek and with Edith Wiens at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg/Augsburg.

Jacques-Olivier Chartier, tenor

Quebec young light lyric tenor Jacques-Olivier Chartier is known for his beautiful and cultured singing in a wide variety of vocal styles. He has performed many times as a soloist under the baton of renowned conductors such as, Jacques Lacombe, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, Alain Trudel, Monica Huggett, Alexander Weimann, Bernard Labadie, Stephen Stubbs, Boris Brott and Jean-Philippe Tremblay.

Past seasons highlights include some tours with Les Voix Baroques, a US tour and St John Passion recording with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, East Canadian tour with King’s College Halifax, French Music performances with Ensemble Arion under Bernard Labadie, six concert tour of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Orchestre Metropolitain under Yannick Nézet Séguin. Jacques also performed at the Montreal Bach Festival, with Les Violons du Roy at Carnegie Hall, I Musici Orchestra, Laval, Trois-Rivières and Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Seattle’s Pacific Musicworks, Ottawa Chamber Music Festival as well as appearances in Toronto, Lameque Festival (N.B) and Victoria B.C.

His appearances on the operatic stage include Nelligan by André Gagnon with Opéra de Québec Company, Aristée/Pluton in Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers with Société Lyrique du Royaume under Jean-Philippe Tremblay, Zémire et Azor by famous composer André Gréty with Opéra de Montréal, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni under Jean-Francois Rivest and Ferrando in Cosi Fan Tutte with Orchestre de la Francophonie.
He holds a Master’s Degree at Montreal University in both Voice Performance and Musicology. He furthered his studies at the Musik Akademie der Stadt Basel, Switzerland.

His teachers include Lyne Fortin, Aline Kutan, Christopher Jackson, Alexander Weimann, David Blunden and Anthony Rooley.
Next season, Jacques-Olivier will join the Opéra de Montréal’s Young Artist Program.

Sumner Thompson, baritone

Described as possessing “power and passion,” and “stylish elegance,” Sumner Thompson is in high demand on the concert and opera stage across North America and Europe. He has appeared as a soloist with many leading ensembles and orchestras including the Britten-Pears Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Les Voix Baroques, The Handel and Haydn Society, Tafelmusik, Arion Baroque Orchestra, Gli Angeli Genève, and the orchestras of Phoenix, Memphis, Indianapolis, Buffalo, and Charlotte.

Recent engagements include a repeat performance of Handel’s Messiah with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers with the critically acclaimed Green Mountain Project, Britten’s War Requiem with the Boston Philharmonic, Bach’s St. John Passion at the National Cathedral, and the title role in Britten’s Saint Nicolas with Philadelphia Choral Arts. On the operatic stage he performed the role of El Dancaïro in Carmen with the Cincinnati Opera, and the role of Siegmund in a concert version of Act I of Wagner’s Die Walküre in Boston.

Mr. Thompson can be heard on the Boston Early Music Festival’s Grammy-nominated recording of Lully’s Psyché on the CPO label, with the Handel and Haydn Society on their recording of Handel’s Messiah on the Coro label, and also with Les Voix Baroques on Canticum Canticorum, Carissimi Oratorios, and Humori, all on the ATMA label.

In addition to his musical pursuits, Mr. Thompson spends his time restoring his 1885 Stick-style Victorian home, building various types of bass guitars, and entertaining his 4 year old daughter.

Hank Knox, guest music director

Hailed internationally for his “colorful, kinetic performances”, Hank Knox performs on harpsichord in concert halls, churches, museums, galleries and homes around the globe. A founding member of Montreal’s Arion Baroque Orchestra, with whom he has toured North and South America, Europe and Japan, Knox also regularly performs and tours with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Les Violons du Roy, and l'Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, among other ensembles.

Dedicated to sharing the unique sounds of antique harpsichords, as well as fine copies of historical instruments, Knox has released a number of acclaimed recordings on rare instruments, including two collections of Frescobaldi keyboard works on a 1677 Italian harpsichord, and a collection of works by D’Anglebert performed on an upright harpsichord. A recording of Handel opera arias and overtures in transcriptions by William Babell was recorded on three exceptional instruments from the collection at Fenton House in London, and a recording of transcriptions of music by Francesco Geminiani was performed on a 1772 Kirkman harpsichord. A solo recital of works by J.S. Bach, recorded on a copy of an eighteenth-century Flemish instrument, was released to enthusiastic reviews in September, 2013. Hank Knox can also be heard on numerous recordings with Arion and Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestras for, ATMA, and Analekta labels, as well as on national broadcasts for Radio-Canada and CBC.

Hank Knox teaches harpsichord and continuo in the Early Music program at McGill University in Montreal, where he also conducts the McGill Baroque Orchestra. He has directed a long series of Baroque operas for Opera McGill, including Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Lully’s Thésée, Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea, and Handel’s Agrippina, Giulio Cesare, Alcina, Semele, Imeneo, Radamisto and, most recently, Rinaldo.