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Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane shocked the world in 1961 with his avant-garde version of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music. Yet he was only continuing a centuries-old tradition of appropriating a well-known song as a medium for instrumental expression. This programme shows how this sort of musical piracy played out around the year 1600 in Italy, Spain, England, and the Netherlands.
“Just as a gifted painter can reproduce all the creations of nature by varying his colours, so can you imitate the expression of the human voice on a wind or stringed instrument.” Sylvestro Ganassi, Fontegara (Venice, 1535)
To download/view the programme page and notes, click here.
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Toccata per spinettina e violin
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583 – 1643)
Non mi toglia il ben mio (Ingegneri)
Giovanni Antonio Terzi (b1580 – ?)
Amarilli di Julio Romano (Caccini)
Peter Philips (c1560 – 1628)
Go from my window
Thomas Morley (Richard Allison?) (c1557 – 1602)
Cancion del Emperador: Mille Regretz (Josquin)
Luys de Narvaez (fl. 1526 – 49)
Recercada segunda sobre O Felici occhi miei (Arcadelt)
Diego Ortiz (c1510 – 1570)
Pavana Lachrimae (Dowland)
Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595 – 1663)
Nasce la pena mia (Striggio)
Johann Schop (c1590–1667)
Quand on arrêtera la course coutumière (le Jeune)
Nicolas Vallet (c1583 – c1642)
Engelsche Fortuyn (Fortune, my Foe)
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621)
Vestiva i colli passeggiato (Palestrina)
Francesco Rognoni (d after 1626)
Aria del Gran duca (Emilio de’ Cavalieri)
After Sweelinck, Buonamente, Scheidt, etc.
“Just as a gifted painter can reproduce all the creations of nature by varying his colours, so can you imitate the expression of the human voice on a wind or stringed instrument.”
Sylvestro Ganassi, Fontegara (Venice, 1535)
Jazz saxophonist John Coltrane shocked the world in 1961 with his avant–garde version of “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music. Yet he was only continuing a centuries–old tradition of appropriating a well–known tune as a medium for instrumental expression, deepening his personal style with a sense of ‘vocality’ even as he threw accepted stylistic boundaries into question. This programme shows how this sort of musical borrowing played out around the year 1600 in Italy, Spain, England, and the Netherlands. Daring players of violin, keyboard, and lute would invent ingenious new forms and help to propel the Renaissance into the Baroque as they riffed on beloved madrigals and popular songs.
In 1533, Diego Ortiz authored the first printed treatise on ornamentation for stringed instruments, calling it Trattado de glosas. His title calls to mind the ancient tradition of glossing – enriching, translating, and interpreting literature by adding commentary. Ortiz offers a sort of catalogue of written-out ornaments, recommending that a musician study them, select the most apt, and copy it into the music in the appropriate place. He demonstrates by elaborating several pieces, calling them “recercadas”, studies or explorations. Nowadays, we tend to relegate glossaries to the back of books. Musical glosses have similarly been consigned to the appendix of music history, considered frivolous or less original than free compositions. However, like beautiful embroidery added to a plain scarf, musical ornamentation adorns and colours, sometimes transforming a piece into a treasure.
Counterpoint in Concert
The art of ornamentation, or coloration, as it was often called, grew from necessity. Lutenists and keyboard players were often required to accompany vocal polyphony. The process was as time-consuming as any embroidery. First the instrumentalists had to copy the music from the singers’ individual partbooks into a kind of notation they could read, a score or instrument tablature. But, once they had an intabulation to play from, they remained at a disadvantage. The lute and stringed keyboard instruments couldn’t sustain sound like singers, and the organ, while it could theoretically sustain forever, could not match the nuances of the human voice. Consequently, instrumentalists improvised running notes and passagework to shape and sustain long notes. Giovanni Antonio Terzi’s madrigal intabulations for two lutes require one player to play the vocal model without ornaments, while the other performs a florid “contrapunto”, which he sometimes labeled “in concerto”, because it could be played as an accompaniment to a vocal performance.
Over the course of the sixteenth century, it became increasingly popular to interpret vocal music on all sorts of instruments and in ensembles. And players used familiar vocal models as canvases on which to experiment with all sorts of idiomatic and fantastic figurations. Christopher Simpson’s seventeenth-century instructions for ensemble improvisation on popular tunes would sound very familiar to jazz musicians today, and Go from my window from Thomas Morley’s Consort Lessons (1599) demonstrates how lute and violin might improvise in dialogue over the rhythmic and harmonic support of a band. Girolamo Frescobaldi understood his toccatas to be the instrumental equivalent of vocal madrigals, making the then radical claim that instruments could “play with affetti cantabile”, conveying all the moods of vocal music, without the help of lyrics. Meanwhile, instrument makers developed tools like the violin, prized for its ability enhance music’s expressive palette with passagework and sound effects impossible for the human voice: rapid leaping figurations, agitated tremolos, double stops and the like.
The Wonder Cabinet
The result was the creation of a veritable wonder cabinet, as Johann Schop called his publication, of instrumental transcriptions of vocal music, a cabinet that collected together the wonders of polyphony, gems of popular songs, and curiosities of instrumental virtuosity from all over the continent. In some cases, like Heinrich Scheidemann’s Pavana Lachrimae, based on John Dowland’s song Flow my Tears, the vocal model is still familiar today and clearly audible in the transcription, giving us the pleasure of experiencing its transformation in performance. In other cases, the vocal model is obscured by history, but arguably, this is no matter. In many cases, these pieces so radically reimagine their source of inspiration that following the manipulation of the original notes or text is not the point. Instead, Girolamo della Casa’s advice applies to musicians and listeners alike: all should turn their attention to the beauty of the instrument, the beauty of the language, and the beauty of the ornaments, la bella minuta, as he calls them. We trust that you will find these instrumental songs of love, loss, and longing a lovely way to pass the minutes of your lunch hour.
— Christina Hutten
Programme Texts and Translations
To download/view the programme page and notes, click here.
Chloe Meyers, violin
Violinist Chloe Meyers is a regular guest leader and orchestra member of baroque ensembles all over North America. She has worked with ensembles including Les Violons du Roy, Tafelmusik, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Les Boréades, the Theatre of Early Music, Les Idées Heureuses and Les Voix Baroques. She recently joined the Pacific Baroque Orchestra as concertmaster and will continue to play principal second with Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal. Most recently she played first violin on a Juno Award winning recording of Handel arias featuring Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin on the Atma Classique label.
Christina Hutten, harpsichord and organ
Organist and harpsichordist Christina Hutten has presented recitals in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She performs regularly with Pacific Baroque Orchestra and has appeared as concerto soloist with the Okanagan Symphony, the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, and the Arizona State University Chamber Orchestra. Christina is also an enthusiastic teacher. She coaches and coordinates the early music ensembles at the University of British Columbia and has given masterclasses and workshops at institutions including the Victoria Baroque Summer Program, Brandon University, the University of Manitoba, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada’s National Music Centre in Calgary, and the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. Funded by a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, she pursued historical keyboard studies in Europe with Francesco Cera, François Espinasse, and Bernard Winsemius. She participated in the Britten-Pears Programme, led by Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin, for which she was awarded the Loewen Prize. Christina obtained a master’s degree in Organ Performance from Arizona State University under the direction of Kimberly Marshall and an Advanced Certificate in Harpsichord Performance from the University of Toronto, where she studied with Charlotte Nediger. She is now a doctoral candidate in musicology at UBC.
Lucas Harris, lute
Toronto-based Lucas Harris discovered the lute during his undergraduate studies at Pomona College, and went on to study the lute and early music at the Civica scuola di musica di Milano and at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. He is a founding member of the Toronto Continuo Collective, the Vesuvius Ensemble and the Lute Legends Collective (an association of specialists in ancient plucked-string traditions from diverse cultures) and is the regular lutenist for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Lucas plays with many other ensembles in Canada and the USA and has worked with the Smithsonian Chamber Players, Atalante, and Jordi Savall / Le Concert des Nations amongst others.
He teaches at the Tafelmusik Summer and Winter Baroque Institutes, Oberlin Conservatory’s Baroque Performance Institute, and the Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School, and is a regular guest artist with Early Music Vancouver. Lucas is also the Artistic Director of the Toronto Chamber Choir, for which he has created and conducted more than twenty themed concert programs. One of Mr. Harris’ many pandemic projects was the reconstruction of 12 solo voice motets by the Italian nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.