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
Julian Wachner (1969 – )
The Vision of the Archangels (2020)
Sicut sponsus Matris
Erik Satie (1866 – 1925)
Les Anges, from Trois mélodies (1889)
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 (1642 – 1678)
Sonata 5, Op. 6
Alessandro Scarlatti (1660 – 1725)
From Il Comodo Antonino (1696)
Coronato di lauri
Cara e dolce
Il desio di vendicarmi
TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
Click here to read the texts and translations.
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, usually paired with at least one voice and other instruments such as the organ, viol, lute, harp, violin and trombone. The connection with angels will not be systematic or complete. Instead, it is a conceptual image, a conceit, which is a point of departure for an aural journey that ranges from 1600 to the present day. There are pieces, to be sure, on texts containing or describing angels, but there are others whose only connection to the theme lies in the angelic nature of the pairing of the cornetto with the human voice.
Some of the works on the program were written explicitly to exploit the similarity in timbre and expressive qualities of the cornetto and the voice, but more often the cornetto takes the place of a second voice or of a violin. These were well-consolidated roles for the instrument
in its golden age. Many pieces were written for violino overo cornetto, but in those not specifying the wind instrument, the possibility was often implied. And according to well-documented performance practices, the cornetto (or the trombone or violin) could equally stand in for a voice.
During the final decade of the 17th century, the cornetto enjoyed an unusual and surprising flowering in the world of opera, especially in Naples. Virtuoso parts for the instrument appear in works of Giovanni Bononcini, Giacomo Antonio Perti, and Alessandro Scarlatti. Imagining that a brilliant cornettist might at times have taken over the occasional aria written for violin obbligato, we have created a mix of arias with obbligati for cornetto and others for violin, which we have appropriated with pleasure.
Furthering a wish to promote the cornetto as an instrument in contemporary music, we have also commissioned two new works. We expressed two wishes to the composers: to involve angels in some way in the texts they set, and to focus on weaving the sounds of the voice and the cornetto into a tapestry inspired by earlier concepts of the instrument. To link these new works to the older repertoire, we have taken the step – that some will perhaps find daring – of adapting a beautiful little chanson of Eric Satie for soprano and piano to the voice and theorbo. The text is a perfect description of angelic fingers bringing music from the strings of the lute, so the connection seemed perfect. We hope listeners will find that no damage has been done to Satie’s eloquent music.
About two decades ago a surprising discovery was made at a flea market in Vienna. An item, which sold for a small sum, turned out to be one of the most significant discoveries of our time in the field of solo song. It is a large manuscript of sacred monodies and duets compiled (and largely composed) by someone with the name “Carlo G.” The reason for the mysterious initial is simply a smudge on the first page that obscures most of the author’s last name. The initial seems to comprise three letters – Gra – before descending into totally illegibility. Musicological speculation has focussed on a Roman origin and a composer name of Graziani,
though this remains conjectural. All the pieces are for one or two voices (mostly sopranos) with occasional indications of instruments: organ for most of the pieces, theorbo for some, lirone for a few, and occasionally a violin obbligato.
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.
I have chosen a motet on an angel text of Palestrina, Angelus Domini descendit, upon which to construct a set of improvisatory diminutions in the style of the late 16th century. Inspiration has come from the diminutions of Giovanni Battista Bovicelli, and Ricardo Rognoni as well as the descriptions by cornettist Luigi Zenobi.
The compositions of Ivan Moody show the influence of Eastern liturgical chant and the Orthodox Church of which he is a member (he is a protopresbyter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). For the piece commissioned here, he has chosen two stichera (verses) from the service of Little Vespers for the Feast of the Angels, celebrated on November 8 in the Orthodox Church. He has set them in English, but added in Greek the text of the Communion Hymn for the day, “He maketh His angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire”, which is a phrase taken from Psalm 103 (104). Moody points out that Angels in Orthodox tradition are reflections of the glory of God, but not sentimentalized. Rather, when we see the depiction of the Archangel in the icon of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the composer suggests that we should feel with Rilke that “Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich” (“every angel is terrifying”). The texts he has set are meant to reflect the role of the hierarchy of angels in Creation.
The operas of Francesco Cavalli have earned him a secure place among the masters of the seventeenth century, yet he has remained almost completely unknown as a composer of sacred music, despite having written a half dozen motets, a Magnificat, a collection of Vespers compositions in the style of the prima prattica, a Requiem for his own funeral, and the Musiche sacre of 1656. The Sonata a 3 heard here comes from this latter collection of Vespers music. The six sonatas in three to twelve parts were most likely intended as antiphon substitutes to follow each Psalm and the Magnificat.
The other commissioned work on the program is from Julian Wachner and 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 protesting the terrible violence of war. 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.” Wachner (an organist and conductor) has composed in many styles over the course of his distinguished career, but he has written extensively for old instruments and eagerly took up the challenge of writing a piece referencing both angels and the vocality of the cornetto.
Sicut sponsus Matris relates the story of doubting Thomas, known generally in art as the Incredulity of Saint Thomas. The text in this case is based closely on one of the homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus. In his motet, Carlo G employs four viols and two sopranos (quattro viole et cantar due soprani). While the instrumental parts do not appear in the manuscript, they can easily be extracted from the organ partitura. They are played here on two violins and two viole da gamba, and the second soprano part is here taken by the cornetto. While the top two strings double the sopranos, they do not play the rather extensive ornamentation notated in the voices. The resulting sound is rich and vibrant. The vocal writing here is more rhetorical than in many of the other motets, with joyous dotted rhythms on virginitatis, beati, and alleluia, but they give way after a sudden change of octave to a breathless delicacy on the words et crediderunt. Thomas’s touching of Christ’s wound is depicted with a repeated and echoed quarter note motif on the words palpavit autem.
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. His 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.
Giovanni Bononcini’s lengthy career began in Bologna, where he moved when he was orphaned at age eight, and where he later studied with G.P. Colonna at San Petronio. His travels then took him to Rome, Vienna, London, Paris, Madrid and Lisbon. His operatic style was enormously influential across Europe until political currents in England and changes of fashion began to take a toll on the popularity of his music in the later part of his life. His biggest success was undoubtedly Il trionfo di Camilla, which premiered in Naples in 1696, before productions in Paris and in London, where it enjoyed 63 performances. Several versions of the opera are extant, some of which contain arias with obbligato parts for cornetto of surprising difficulty. This recording includes three arias from Camilla, only one of which (Tutte armate) calls for cornetto. Since the others require a lower voice, we have instead adapted two of the arias with violin obbligato.
Giovanni Maria Bononcini was the father of Giovanni Bononcini. He was a violinist and an important composer, particularly of instrumental music. Having studied in Modena with Marco Uccellini, he carried on the tradition of Modenese violinist-composers initiated by his teacher. He was one of the first to transform the sectional, canzona-style sonata into a multi-movement work. His compositions are characterized by a fine mastery of counterpoint and a forward-looking harmonic language that accepted tonality as a regular process, even while showing traces of modal thinking and rapid tonal shifts.
Among the Neapolitan operas of the late 17th century which include obbligati for the cornetto are several by Alessandro Scarlatti. Here we present a group of pieces from Il Comodo Antonino of 1696, premiered in the same year as Bononcini’s Camilla, and perhaps originally played by the same cornettist. Both the triumphant Coronato di lauri and the languishing Cara e dolce call for a cornetto with an extremely high tessitura as the obbligato instrument.
The brilliantly virtuosic aria of revenge, Il desio di vendicarmi, which ends our program, calls for two violins. We have extracted a cornetto part from the violin lines in order to create a dialogue with the voice.
The writing for cornetto from Carlo G through D’India, Bononcini and Scarlatti to Moody and Wachner calls forth many facets of the cornetto’s sound: at once vocal and instrumental, sweet and strident, intimate and disembodied. None of us knows, of course, how the cornetto sounded in earlier centuries, but it has given us great joy to explore once again how the timbres of the cornetto and the human voice can play off of each other, entwine, echo and respond in so many different musical worlds. We hope that the radiance of our sounds holds in it something angelic.
- Bruce Dickey
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 wth 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 and was chosen in 2017 by Diapason Magazine as one of the 100 best CDs of Baroque Music of the past half century. His second solo CD, entitled “La Bella Minuta”, was released on the Passacaille label in 2011, and was described as, “simply a brilliant recording”.
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 from17th-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.