For my last music post of this Lent/Easter period let’s listen to one of the Great Traverso Moments of the Bach cantatas: Seele, deine Spezereien from the Easter Oratorio. The first version of it was performed almost exactly 290 years ago, on 1725 April 1. And, although I tend to find that Johann Adolf Scheibe‘s criticism of Bach’s “allzugrosse Kunst” actually has some truth in it, this music is still much more beautiful than anything else written during the past 290 years.
François Couperin (le Grand! – indeed he was great), court musician, composer and harpsichord teacher of the Sun King, Louis XIV, composed this Easter motet around 1700. It was most likely performed by his cousin, Marguerite-Louise Couperin, a soprano singer of the Chapelle Royale. Happy Easter!
Passover-themed music for today: Psalm 114, part of the prayer that is recited during the Seder meal, set to music by Jean-Joseph de Mondonville, the favourite composer* of Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, also known as Madame Pompadour, the maitresse of Louis XV.
The great motet In exitu Israel was composed in 1753 and is the only piece by Mondonville I’ve ever played. My favourite movement is the third, when the river Jordan turns back: Jordanis conversus est retrorsum. Happy Passover!
* No wonder. Mondonville was rather sexy**
** He was also happily married to the best sight-reader musician of Paris, the harpsichord player Anne-Jeanne Boucon***
*** I apparently have a thing for long-deceased, married men, haha.
Die Kreuzigung (The Crucifixion) from the famous and unique collection Die Rosenkranzsonaten (The Rosary/Mystery Sonatas) composed by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, one of the greatest violin virtuoso of the 17th century, for the Salzburg archbishop Maximilian Gandolph Graf von Kuenburg, around 1675.
I’m somewhat overwhelmed by the thought of speaking about this piece – more by its historical background than by its religious symbolism though. How could I explain 17th century Catholic customs, scordatura tuning, meantone temperament, stylus fantasticus and Biber’s role in the evolution of Baroque music in Austria in one short blog post? In English, which is only my third language? Totally hopeless. So let’s forget about facts and numbers and historical sources and listen to this sonata instead. It’s beautiful.
For all the stunning church music Antonio Vivaldi composed, he has never gotten to writing a proper passion oratorio. Fortunately, he did compose a Stabat Mater in 1721, the seventh movement of which we can now listen to. Performed by Philippe Jaroussky, because after 8 years of studying the long gone aesthetics of past societies, I only enjoy my soprano arias if sung by males.
I wanted to post a typical French Baroque lamentation today but couldn’t set my mind on one particular piece – so I decided to choose something entirely different in style: an aria from Niccolò Jommelli‘s oratorio “Le Lamentazioni del profeta Geremia per il Mercoledi Santo“. I find it fascinating how this piece, written only one year after Johann Sebastian Bach‘s death, is so definitely not-Baroque anymore.
By the way, Jommelli, just like a lot of other composers of his era, had a life I’d swap my own for at any moment, but it’s 2.30 am and I just don’t have the energy to tell more about it right now. So let’s just listen to his (rather cheerful) adaptation of Prophet Jeremiah’s call to repentance.
Instruments only for today’s music – one of the quartets that are so typical for the work of Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, the viola da gamba player of the Berlin court of the German emperor Friedrich II (der Große). Its third movement, an Adagio ma non troppo, is an adaptation of the old church hymn O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Originally written by Arnulf of Leuven in the 13th century as part of the religious poem Salve mundi salutare/Rhythmica oratio, translated to German by Paul Gerhardt in 1656, adapted to the melody of the love song Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret that appeared first in Hans Leo Haßler‘s 1601 collection Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng, by Johann Crüger already in 1640, but only published in 1656, in the sixth edition of his collection of Protestant church hymns Praxis pietatis melica, and still being a source of inspiration for Janitsch (and co.) somewhere around the middle of the 18th century – this hymn definitively has what we should call a fruitful career.
Although on this recording the melody instruments are the oboe, the violin and the viola, it was originally composed for two violas and the traverso. The latter most likely was played by Friedrich II himself, as he is known to have been an amateur but very enthusiastic and talented flute player (and a lover of music, literature and arts in general. And also a lover of potatoes, but that’s another story). My favourite travelling music historian, Charles Burney has witnessed him playing and, as reported in his Continental Travels 1770-1772, was “much pleased and even surprised” with the King’s musical production. He found it important to mention though, that the capacity of His Royal Lungs has noticeably declined with age and “he was obliged to take his breath, contrary to rule, before the passages were finished”. Poor Friedrich.
According to Antonio Vivaldi, this is how nature mourns the death of Christ – the second movement of one of the two motets he composed as introductions for his now lost Miserere.
Another year of the Holy Week Series, already the fourth since my life turned upside down. Four years of not being a musician anymore. How time flies. And while, on a daily basis, I’m already quite comfortable with the fact that I’ll never be a flutist anymore, this is that special time of the year when I really feel pity for myself and can’t stop having those “what if” and “could have been” thoughts. It’s all pointless, of course, because depression isn’t a matter of choice. And while I haven’t touched my instruments in four years, I still have a lot to say about how 18th century music is the best, so let’s talk passion music (instead of mental health woes, haha). Because, according to Baroque Palm Sunday traditions, that’s what one is supposed to listen to on this day.
Of course, no Lent can pass without me mentioning the Brockes Passion, so Brockes Passion it is, the very first version ever, written by the Hamburg composer Reinhard Keiser who, if we believe Johann Mattheson, was “the greatest opera composer of the world”. He was also a lover of good vines (especially Tokay), which, at times, made him behave “more like a cavalier than a musician” (again, if we believe Mattheson, which I personally have no reason not to do.)
Keiser was the first composer to set Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ (a prominent Hamburg politician) libretto Der für die Sünde der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus aus den vier Evangelisten… in gebundener Rede vorgestellt to music in 1712. It was performed in the same year at one of the weekly concerts organised by Brockes at his home to a neat little audience of “over 500 persons” (apparently, Brockes had rather comfortable living conditions, haha). The première was a big success and the libretto became very popular among other German-speaking composers over the next few years. Händel, Telemann, Fasch and even Johann Sebastian Bach wrote their own versions. Here are my takes on some of them from the previous years: Johann Friedrich Fasch, Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, Georg Philipp Telemann, and some more Telemann (of course it can always be some more Telemann).
I spent the biggest part of February with being sick with different versions of the flu. After being in denial for weeks about my inability to cope with it while working 12 hours a day, it escalated into a sick leave and taking antibiotics.
Milo turned two, which we celebrated with a ladybird cake:
I completed my first month on the cardiology ICU as part of the CPR team. The transition from a Hungarian ICU to an Austrian one is tough, and it isn’t going as smooth as I’ve expected. So I went and listened to some lectures at the Wiener Intensivmedizinische Tage to make myself feel better about my own choices:
I also took some walks with the same purpose…
…and finally started to feel at home in Vienna. I do still miss Salzburg, though.
After a more than ten years long hiatus, I revisited the Jewish Museum.
I spent another few days at home in Budapest and bought two mini skateboards for Milo and Móricka, which they decided to use in a rather unconventional way:
I saw the first snowdrops of 2015:
Finally, on the last day of February I went to see
pretty sparkly stones minerals and fossils at the Spring Fair of the Mineralium Wien:
I may reevaluate my 2015 reading goals to prevent failure. My new goal shall be: one book per month. Bonus point if it’s more and/or it isn’t a detective story.