For Easter Monday I chose a short (not even 2 minutes long) dance movement by one of the best French harpsichord players of the 17th century, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières. He served at the court of both Louis XIII and his son, Louis XIV, and among his pupils were Louis, Charles and François Couperin and Jean-Henri d’Anglebert. Although he was a very skilled musician who was held in high regard by his contemporaries, he also had his shortcomings that costed him his career: he couldn’t play the figured bass well enough to accompany the operas of Lully. And, as you might remember from yesterday’s post, Lully was a very influential man in the court of the Sun King (actually, he ruled the whole 17th century French music life. And he ruled it with a firm hand). So Chambonnières lost the game and had to go. He died a poor man, leaving exactly 142 small dance movements behind as a musical legacy. He published two collections of them during his lifetime, but some of them, as this short Paschalia, exist still only in manuscript.
What I love about this short piece of music is that it is like a dream in a dream: it has a hidden passacaille towards its end that, despite of being only 9 bars long (whole fifteen seconds in this recording), is a complete, perfect little piece in itself.
Because that’s how easy I am to please. You can buy my heart with fifteen seconds of ostinato.
For Easter Sunday let’s have something fun: the motet Laudate Dominum de coelis by Michel Corrette, the Telemann of France. He, just like Telemann, also played every existing instrument you can think of, including hurdy-gurdy. Being as altruistic as he was, he wanted to share his knowledge with everyone so he just kept on writing practical treatises (I’ve read only the one for the flute, but there are so many more). As for the music he composed, most of it can be described with the sole word: cute. All those glittery harpsichord pieces and delightful Noëls, really, pure cuteness. If we would all listen to more Baroque hurdy-gurdy music like this, we could make the world a
funnier better place to live in.
The second movement might sound quaintly familiar which – would I not be so exhausted* – would bring me to the fascinating topic of copyright laws in the 18th century Europe and down the rabbit hole of the conflict of French and Italian music tastes during the 17th century, beginning with Giovanni Battista Lolli***, the most French (Frenchest?! Seriously, my English just keeps on getting worse with every word I type) composer of all times and trendsetter for generations of musicians who were – unlike him – indeed, French. He, btw, was also the one who monopolised the 17th century French music market through securing for himself the right to compose and produce operas, thereby financially ruining lots of his fellow colleagues. A smart businessman, he was.
* I spent the night with watching old series of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. I went to bed at 4 am. Now I feel like I slayed vampires all night. Or, more precisely, like I were a slayed vampire myself**
** I’m totally aware of the fact that this is not the way one is supposed to spend the night of the Resurrection. But I have my excuses, like 1) my family doesn’t celebrate Easter (we still will organize an Easter egg hunting for M&M though, because well, they are children and children deserve to have fun) 2) I’ve had my head and soul full of ICU lately and just crave some meaningless recreation time before starting in a new hospital on Tuesday 3) I’m reliving my teens.
*** you may have heard of him as Jean-Baptiste Lully, the man who lived for and died of French music (literally)
PS 2.: Happy Easter and Happy Passover!
Georg Philipp Telemann, who is one of my favourite composers, was a fascinating character, a Renaissance man of the Baroque era, a self-made musician who mastered about every instrument he composed for and who, at the age of 80, was still mentally active enough to create a tuning system based on logarithmic principles. He was also friends with Johann Sebastian Bach, godfather to his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel and pen pals with Georg Friedrich Händel.
He composed his funeral cantata, betitled Du aber Daniel, gehe hin as his first wife died in childbirth after only 15 months of marriage. The lyrics of its closing choir movement Schlaf wohl, ihr seligen Gebeine (Sleep well, you sacred bones) is based loosely on the text of the Brockes-Passion (which I feel the need to mention every day lately, but well, it’s quite difficult not to be aware of its significance if speaking of Baroque Passion music).
PS.: The last two years’ posts were a Miserere of Zelenka (of course! Zelenka!) and two Jewish liturgical pieces written for the Amsterdam Synagogue by Cristiano Giuseppe Lidarti. I’m planning to do a series on Baroque synagogal music
soon in case I ever manage to finish the Salzburg Series during my lifetime, which at this point seems rather unlikely, haha.
For today’s music let’s go back to the ancient Corsican tradition of performing the Passion story during the procession of Good Friday: Lamentu di Ghjesu, based upon the folia theme, which is probably the oldest known ostinato ground (a harmonical line played repeatedly while the player/singer improvises a melody upon it). I could write pages about its origin and use through the centuries* without making you understand what it actually is, so let’s make it really simple instead:
Christina Pluhar‘s band L’Arpeggiata has been lately accused in early music circles** with “popularizing” early music, but I’m not sure if this expression really fits what they do, and even if it does, I don’t mind it at all. Because, actually, that’s exactly what this music needs: to made be known and loved by as many people as just possible. And, a fact that most of these devoted and oh so critical early music players tend to forget: this kind of music was intended to be performed mostly by common people. Just for pleasure. With no higher purpose than to serve everyday life events and/or to entertain. It should be taken for what it is: popular music at its best.
PS: While last year’s Good Friday music was the great classic Es ist vollbracht from the Johannespassion, the year before I posted another, very beautiful Corsican passion song on another ancient ostinato line: Maria (sopra la Carpinese).
* I’ve actually done this for one of my music theory courses at the university
** not that I’ve had anything to do with early music circles since my depression other than writing vague, very unprofessional music posts twice a year, haha
For Maundy Thursday (is there any part of the world where it is still Thursday?) let’s have another version of the Brockes-Passion, composed by another Bach-contemporary and former Sängerknabe of the famous Thomasschule of Leipzig, Johann Friedrich Fasch. Although they have not met at Leipzig (having been at the same age, Fasch just finished his study years ten years before Bach arrived to begin his teaching career at a position that was originally intended for Fasch); their sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Karl Friedrich Christian Fasch were friends and even roommates when both employed at the Potsdam court of Friedrich the Great. Their job was to play continuo for the king, a flute player and amateur composer himself, whose teacher was Johann Joachim Quantz, the author of the the bible of all traverso players of all times (myself included), Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen, which is an endless source of information on the performance practice of the first half of the 18th century.
Back to Papa Fasch – although he composed numerous cantatas and some other vocal works, this is his only oratorio. The opening movement is a nice choral in a polyphonic setting, the violins doubled with oboes, which is a great plus in my eyes. The voice of the Baroque oboe is one of the (very few) things that make life bearable.
Two years ago I posted Pater dimitte illis from the oratorio Agonia di Cristo (Le Ultime Sette Parole) by Niccolò Jommelli with some stunning obligato bassoon part. Last year’s music for Maundy Thursday was Jesus in Gethsemane by Francesco Antonio Rosetti, which unfortunately seems to have disappeared off
the face of the Earth YouTube since then. That’s what happens to good music in our days. I am so sad.
According to my own tradition I’m supposed to post something French today. Two years ago I wrote about the most beautiful Tenebrae music of all times, Troisième Leçon de Ténèbres pour deux voix composed by the 18th century royal harpsichord teacher François Couperin. Last year it was Leçon de Mercredi by another royal harpsichord teacher, Michel Delalande. I can’t make up my heart to leave my eternal love and longterm imaginary boyfriend, Jan Dismas Zelenka completely out of this year’s series though, so for Holy Wednesday let’s listen to one of his beautiful lamentations, Lamentatio I pro Habdomana sancta, based upon Prophet Jeremiah’s laments. While it’s definitely not French music, it fits the Tenebrae-tradition perfectly.
I again feel overwhelmed by the amount of beautiful music composed for this special time of the year – I wish I could listen to the Bach-Passions all the time and call it done without missing out on everything that led to them: the smaller composers and their small steps on the way to Bach’s perfection. Fortunately I have a thing for small composers and their imperfect music that makes me happy without making me hate myself (which is the case if I listen to too much Bach at a time, haha). So for Holy Tuesday let’s have a so-called “small composer”, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, Bach’s contemporary who, before ending up as a Kapellmeister at the court of Gotha, travelled through Europe serving in cities like Rome, Prague and Wrocław, made friends with names like Vivaldi, Fasch and Bononcini and gained a reputation in the eyes of his peers as high as Johann Sebastian Bach himself. He even made it into Johann Mattheson‘s Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte*, a collection of contemporary musicians’ biographies. One of his compositions (Bist du bei mir) is included in the collection of small exercise pieces Bach edited together for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and that was later passed on to his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach. Unfortunately only a small amount of Stölzel’s work survived his successor Jiří Antonín Benda‘s ruthless selection process, who considered the majority of them simply as “useless junk”.
After Barthold Heinrich Brockes published his libretto Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus in 1712, it became quickly a thing of fashion to set it to music. People like Händel, Telemann, Fasch and even Bach (in his Johannespassion) all made their versions of it and so did Stölzel in 1725. His Brockes-Passion has a stunning first and an airy, sweet last movement and some (quite uninteresting but very German Baroque) filling in between. Since it is one of all the twelve of his surviving works, it is really worth listening to.
* Well, he actually submitted himself, because he had a sense of business. But hey, that’s how the world of music works, even today. All you need is the ability to promote yourself in a shameless way and make as much superficial friendships as possible for future use. Being talented and/or a good musician is only an added plus, not the least mandatory.
The genre of “The Virgin’s Lament”, the passion story told from the perspective of Mary, originates from around the 5th century and has its roots in the Byzantine rite built on that particular teaching of the Council of Ephesus in 431 which declares Mary not only as the mother of Christ but also as the mother of God. It appears in various literary forms and musical settings throughout the centuries, but its purpose is always the same: to express the suffering of a mother who has to watch his son being unjustly killed.
The aria Sventurati miei sospiri is part of the cantata Il pianto di Maria (Cantata sacra da cantarsi dinanzi al Santo Sepolcro) which, for a very long time was attributed to Georg Friedrich Händel but was actually composed by Giovanni Battista Ferrandini, an 18th century Italian composer. I really would love to share the intimate details of his life here but unfortunately the only sensational thing ever happened to him was having the 15-year-old Mozart play at his house while on one of his Wunderkind-tours in 1771.
Last year’s music for Holy Monday was the choir movement He smote all the first-born of Egypt from Georg Friedrich Händel‘s oratorio Israel in Egypt.
The time has come again for the Holy Week Series, for the third year in a row. I’m sure you all are as happy as I am to witness my musicology writer career blossoming, haha. I am kind of late with Palm Sunday music though since we’re already deep into Holy Monday, but life has been pretty busy lately and left me no time for this blog.
I had a weird Palm Sunday, so I decided to post a similarly weird music, because I am vindictive.
The only cantata Johann Sebastian Bach ever composed for Palm Sunday is the cantata Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (BWV 182) which I have already posted last year. At the times Bach served in Leipzig, the practice of tempus clausum (closed time), which means that during the weeks of Lent and Advent no festivities and also no music at the liturgy other than Passion plays are allowed, was kept quite strictly. The only exception was the ceremony of Annunciation which, in the year 1725, fell exactly on Palm Sunday. This, and the fact that the text (written by Philipp Nicolai in 1597, btw) also mentions Jesus as the Son of David, makes this cantata perfectly eligible for Palm Sunday in my eyes; even if it has nothing to do with Lent at all. I am a free spirit, if it comes to interpreting music written for liturgical purposes. I can sell you the Christmas Oratorio as a perfect fit for Easter Monday, so watch out.
Because nothing can happen in this part of the world without the supervision of The Cat, including reading.
Today we celebrate the most important national holiday in Hungary, the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against the Habsburg Empire. There are festivities held everywhere right now, but I am so annoyed by the way things go here* that I refuse to participate in anything Hungarian. If you are interested in the history of this day, you can read my post on it from two years ago.
I took these photos yesterday, after getting pissed off both by my previous workplace, the Medical University of Budapest and by the Chamber of Hungarian Health Care Professionals. My problem is that I lived in Western Europe for the last 10 years. And I expect logic in official administration. I tend to forget that this is Hungary, where logic has simply no tradition.
* well, actually by how they don’t go**
** I had some major frustrations caused by Hungarian bureaucracy lately***
*** what lately! Every f*cking day there is a new, totally pointless frustration just to make life a little less bearable than it already is; and by every day I mean every. single. day. I’m about to lose my sanity, because life here is really that ridiculous.
P.S.: I did not intend to leave my flat today, because the weather is terrible and I’m in no patriotic mood, but I had to pick up my mother at the bus station. So I kept myself entertained on the underground by guessing my fellow passengers’ political sentiments and calculating the results of the April elections, using this scheme I just invented (I was born to be an independent political analyst):
In my independent opinion, Fidesz will win the April elections and will form a coalition with Jobbik. Hungary will declare itself as a politically independent kingdom, that will still accept (demand) financial help from the EU, but is superior to other countries of the world. Women will lose their right to vote and have to pay “childless tax” if they are still single (and childless) at the age of thirty. Gay people will be publicly prosecuted. Children have to practise archery at school. Books will only be printed using runes and Hungarians have to learn to read from the right to the left. Falcons and mangalica pigs will be the only pets allowed. All men will be obliged to wear moustaches and/or beards (this will make us a land full of outdated hipsters).
Don’t say I haven’t warned you.