Christ Church Cathedral
Artists: Hana Blažíková, soprano; Bruce Dickey, cornetto; the Breathtaking Collective
During the height of its popularity, from the mid-16th century into the 18th, the cornetto was frequently depicted in art as an instrument of angels. Paintings, sculptures, and engravings abound in which the cornetto takes a prominent place among the choirs of angelic musicians. The connection with angels in this program serves as a point of departure for an aural journey that ranges from 1600 to the present day, exploring the ways in which the cornetto and the human voice can interact, imitate each other, and entwine musically.
Works by illustrious 17th-century composers Francesco Cavalli and Giacomo Carissimi will be heard next to pieces from a recently discovered manuscript from around 1600 that turned up recently in an auction and then promptly disappeared again after the sale. Two new works by Ivan Moody and Julian Wachner will explore both the instrumental-vocal duality and the theme of angels. These worlds will be bridged with a wonderful chanson of Erik Satie called Les Anges. This concert is sure to bring us closer to angelic realms.
This concert is generously supported by Zelie & Vincent Tan
Carlo G (fl. ca. 1600)
From the Carlo G Manuscript, ca. 1600
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525 – 1594)
Angelus Domini descendit
(divisions by Bruce Dickey)
Ivan Moody (1964 – )
O Archangels and Angels (2020)
Francesco Cavalli (1602 – 1676)
Sonata a 3
O quam suavis
Julian Wachner (1969 – )
The Vision of the Archangels (2020)
Sicut sponsus Matris
Erik Satie (1866 – 1925)
Les Anges, from Trois mélodies (1886)
Giovanni Bononcini (1670 – 1747)
From Il Trionfo di Camilla (1696)
Prenesto: Se Ninfa o Dea tu sei
Camilla: E’ pur ver ch’a soffrir
Prenesto: Tutte armate
Giovanni Maria Bononcini
Sonata quinta a 3
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725)
From Il Comodo Antonino (1696)
Coronato di lauri
Cara e dolce rimembranze
Il desio di vendicarmi
The sound of the cornetto together with the human voice is unfamiliar to many people. According to Hana Blažíková and Bruce Dickey, the combination is literally breathtaking. The Breathtaking Collective is an ensemble of musicians who strive for one thing—to show audiences how rich a musical and sonic experience the human voice can create in combination with this unique wind instrument.
The idea behind our program is to present repertoire united by the theme of angels, a response to sixteenth and seventeenth-century depictions of the cornetto in works of visual art, in which the instrument often appears in ensembles of angel musicians. More a point of departure than strictly a theme, some of the pieces have texts involving angels, while some simply invoke the “angelic” nature of the pairing of cornetto and voice. The program ranges widely over the cornetto’s historical repertoire, from diminutions on sixteenth-century motets to virtuosic opera arias of the late seventeenth century with a couple of excursions to later periods as well.
The opening set of pieces focuses on music from the enigmatic Carlo G Manuscript, a recently discovered manuscript of highly florid vocal solos and duets probably created for use in convents in and around Bologna in the early years of the 17th century.
Panis angelicus is the penultimate strophe of the hymn Sacris solemniis written by Saint Thomas Aquinas. The strophe beginning with the words Panis angelicus has often been set to music separately from the rest of the hymn. The setting by Carlo G with which we have chosen to open our CD begins dramatically with a brief toccata for violin, lirone, theorbo, and basso di viola. The florid aria which follows is intended for soprano and violin or a second voice si placet, though it is not texted throughout. We have given the violin part to the cornetto, feeling that this instrument on the high florid part evokes the angel bearing bread from heaven.
Mater Hierusalem is set for one soprano and a violin with organ, and that is the way we have chosen to perform it. Both upper parts, but especially the violin, are highly ornamented in the composer’s remarkable and individual style, with many unexpected changes of rhythm and elaborate embellishments employing leaps and redoublings of speed.
A motet by Palestrina on the text Angelus Domini provides Bruce Dickey an opportunity to create virtuoso ornamentation after which we present a work commissioned for the program from the British composer and Orthodox priest Ivan Moody. His wonderful work for voice, cornetto, and organ on a liturgical text from the Orthodox church, draws influences from Eastern chant. Moody points out that angels in Orthodox tradition are reflections of the glory of God, but not sentimentalized. In his words, when we see the depiction of the Archangel in the icon of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, we feel with Rilke that “Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich” (“every angel is terrifying”).
After exploring instrumental and vocal works of the prolific Venetian Francesco Cavalli, we move on to our second commission, this one from Julian Wachner who sets a poem by Rupert Brook from 1906. Brook was a popular figure in the years before and during the first World War, writing many poems of antiwar protest. While The Vision of Archangels was written before the war, it still resonates with the horror of violence against innocent children. In it, two Archangels are carrying a tiny casket, clearly that of a child, to the top of a mountain. They then cast it off the mountain, at which point it “drops forever into emptiness and silence.”
A serene chanson by Erik Satie, Les Anges”, from 1889, serves perhaps surprisingly as a link to the later repertoire of the second half of our concert. We have adapted Satie’s work for soprano and piano to the voice and theorbo. The text is a perfect description of angelic fingers bringing celestial music from the strings of the lute, so the connection seems perfect. Erik Satie wrote, “Do not forget that the melody is the Idea, the outline; as much as it is the form and the subject matter of a work.” What more gorgeous melodic evocation of angels could there be than Satie’s brief chanson. Satie’s conception is always directed toward the future while at the same time incorporating elements inspired by earlier styles. We thus offer our interpretation of his song as something timeless in its beauty as is its divine poetic evocation of angelic music.
In the second half of the program we explore the popularity of the cornetto among Neapolitan opera composers of the later seventeenth century. We offer suites from operas of Giovanni Bononcini and Alessandra Scarlatti. There are fireworks for both the voice and the cornetto, testifying rather surprisingly to the virtuosity of players of this instrument right to the end of the century. The two little opera suites are linked by a beautiful sonata for strings by Giovanni Bononcini’s father Giovanni Maria Bononcini.
Hana Blažíková, soprano
Hana Blažíková was born in Prague. As a child she sang in the children’s choir Radost Praha and played the violin. Later she turned to solo singing, graduating in 2002 from the Prague Conservatory in the class of Jiří Kotouč and undertook further study with Poppy Holden, Peter Kooij, Monika Mauch and Howard Crook.
Today Hana has achieved high acclaim as a leading specialist in the interpretation of Baroque, Renaissance and medieval music, performing with ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the Collegium Vocale Gent, the Bach Collegium Japan, Sette Voci, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, L’Arpeggiata, Gli Angeli Genève, La Fenice, Nederlandse Bachvereniging, Tafelmusik, Collegium 1704, Collegium Marianum, Musica Florea, L’Armonia Sonora and others.
In 2010 and 2013 she took part in a highly praised world tour of the St. Matthew Passion under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe and in 2011 she made her debut in Carnegie Hall with Masaaki Suzuki´s Bach Collegium Japan. In 2017 she appeared in major venues all over Europe and North America in the trilogy of Monteverdi operas mounted by John Eliot Gardiner for the composer’s 450th birthday. In the three operas she sang six roles including the title role in Poppea.
Hana appears on more than thirty CDs, including the well-known series of Bach cantatas with the Bach Collegium Japan. She also plays gothic and romanesque harp and presents concerts in which she accompanies herself on this instrument. In addition she is a member of the Tiburtina Ensemble, which specializes in Gregorian chant and early medieval polyphony.
Bruce Dickey, cornetto
Bruce Dickey is one of a handful of musicians worldwide who have dedicated themselves to reviving the cornetto – once an instrument of great virtuosi, but which lamentably fell into disuse in the 19th century. The revival began in the 1950s, but it was largely Bruce Dickey, who, from the late 1970s, created a new renaissance of the instrument, allowing the agility and expressive power of the cornetto to be heard once again.
His many students, over more than 30 years of teaching at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, have helped to consolidate and elevate the status of this once forgotten instrument. For his achievements the Historic Brass Society awarded him in 2000 the prestigious Christopher Monk Award for “his monumental work in cornetto performance, historical performance practice and musicological scholarship.” In 2007 he was honored by British conductor and musicologist Andrew Parrott with a “Taverner Award” as one of 14 musicians whose “significant contributions to musical understanding have been motivated by neither commerce nor ego.”
In the course of his long career as a performer and recording artist he has worked with most of the leading figures in the field of early music, including the legendary pioneers of historically informed perfomance, Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He was a member for over ten years of Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XX , and has frequently and repeatedly collaborated with Ton Koopman, Monica Huggett, Philippe Herreweghe and many others. Of special importance has been his long-time friendship and collaboration with Andrew Parrott, and in more recent years with Konrad Junghänel.
Bruce Dickey can be heard on countless recordings. His solo CD (“Quel lascivissimo cornetto…”) on Accent with the ensemble Tragicomedia was awarded the Diapason d’or. His second solo CD, entitled “La Bella Minuta”, has just been released on the Passacaille label.
In addition to performing, Bruce Dickey is much in demand as a teacher, both of the cornetto and of seventeenth-century performance practice. In addition to his regular class at the Schola Cantorum he has taught at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, as well as master classes in the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan. He is also active in research on performance practice, and has published, together with Michael Collver, a catalog of the surviving cornetto repertoire, and, together with trumpeter Edward Tarr, a book on historical wind articulation. In 1997, together with his wife Candace Smith, he founded Artemisia Editions, a small publishing house which produces editions of music from 17th-century Italian convents.
For more information, please visit brucedickey.com.
The Breathtaking Collective
In 2014, Bruce Dickey began a project together with Czech soprano Hana Blažíková to explore the affinity of the cornetto and the human voice. The project was called Breathtaking: A Cornetto and a Voice Entwined. With the program that evolved from that project, Bruce and Hana recorded a CD for the Passacaille label and toured the world performing the program more than forty times in North America, Europe and Australia. In order to make the touring financially viable, they have paired with backup ensembles in Europe, the USA and Australia. They now call the pool of musicians involved in the project, The Breathtaking Collective, transforming the project Breathtaking into an ongoing ensemble. With this ensemble, they have now launched a new project called On the Breath of Angels.