Category Archives: Baroque era

Athanasius Kircher’s global reach

Musical commodities frequently accompanied European explorers, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries who traveled to Asia in the early modern period. During this time, numerous theoretical treatises and musical scores—both printed and manuscript—were disseminated throughout Asia.

One of the most significant of these musical imports was Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, which provided far-flung missions with vital information on music theory, history, organology, composition, and performance. An unexpected letter to Kircher from Manila, sent just four years after the treatise’s publication in Rome, provides testimony to its importance:

“I am so obliged to Your Reverence not only for the great kindness with which Your Reverence treated me in Rome, but also for the instruction that Your Reverence gives me all day in these remote parts of the world by means of your books, which are no less esteemed here than [they are] in Europe.”

“Here in Manila I am studying the fourth year of theology, and I see for myself the many marvels that Your Reverence recounts in his books. I have been the first to bring one of these, that is, the Musurgia, to the Indies, and I do not doubt that it will be of great usefulness to the Fathers of the missions, where music is taught publicly. Father Ignatio Monti Germano, Rector of Silang, wants to read it, and I will send it to him shortly.”

This according to “The dissemination and use of European music books in early modern Asia” by David R.M. Irving (Early music history XXVIII [2009] pp. 39–59; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-5091).

Today is Kircher’s 420th birthday! Above, the frontispiece to the first volume, engraved after a drawing by Johann Paul Schor; below, Kircher’s celebrated musical cure for a tarantula bite.

Related article: Baroque birdsong

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Reception

Molière and music

Throughout his career in Paris (1658–73), Molière regularly incorporated music and dance into his plays. Account books, bills and receipts, contracts of association, musical scores, and other documents attest to Molière’s employment of professional instrumentalists, singers, dancers, choreographers, and musical directors at the Grande Salle du Petit Bourbon and the Théâtre du Palais Royal.

In 1671, in response to the success of Pierre Perrin’s Académie Royale des Opéras, the Troupe du Roy embarked on a new direction in music theater. The troupe’s renovation of the Palais Royal and their installation of a state-of-the-art transformation stage indicate an increased commitment to large-scale performances involving music, dance, and spectacle. This gives credence to the hypothesis that, before their split, Molière and Lully planned to acquire Perrin’s privilège and move into opera.

This according to “Musical practices in the theater of Molière” by John S. Powell (Revue de musicology LXXXII/1 [1996] 5–37).

Today is Molière’s 400th birthday! Below, Ensemble Tempus Fugit performs an excerpt from Le bourgeois gentilhomme, one of Molière’s collaborations with Lully.

Related article: Comedy versus opera

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Filed under Baroque era, Dramatic arts

Bach, anger, and fear

In an experiment, two musicologists analyzed J.S. Bach’s sonata for unaccompanied violin, no. 1 in G minor, BWV 1001) from the standpoint of how its structural features were associated with the expression of different emotional categories from the perspective of the composer and through the eyes and ears of the analysts themselves.

They then constructed two empirical experiments to test whether contemporary listeners could identify the same emotions identified by the analysis, targeted at two groups of subjects: relatively inexperienced popular music students; and musicians, composers, and music academics (including some of the world’s leading Bach scholars).

Results suggest that emotional attributions by low-level experts are led by surface acoustic features, and those by high-expert listeners are led by both acoustic and formal features; that this applied much more to the emotions of sadness and tenderness rather than to anger or fear; and that despite the common confusion between anger and fear in real life, listeners were capable of differentiating these emotions in the music, supporting analytical findings in the score.

This according to “The effects of expert musical training on the perception of emotions in Bach’s sonata for unaccompanied violin no. 1 in G minor (BWV 1001)” by Michael Spitzer and Eduardo Coutinho (Psychomusicology: Music, mind and brain XXIV/1 [March 2014] 35–57).

Above and below, the piece in question.

More posts about J.S. Bach are here.

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Filed under Analysis, Baroque era

Conversa das antigas

Launched in 2021, Conversa das antigas: Um periódico moderno para (ou sobre) a música barroca, a Brazilian periodical devoted to Baroque music, was born in the early days of the enforced COVID-19 quarantine.

Musicians of the Orquestra Barroca da Unirio decided to transform their virtual conversations, which kept them in touch and active during the quarantine, into something more formalized and more broadly accessible. Very soon, a vibrant virtual community of musicians, scholars, researchers, and teachers came together as a diverse editorial collective, and Conversa das antigas was launched.

The periodical showcases a variety of research subjects, works in progress, interpretative insights, manuscript studies, aesthetic issues, and everything and anything related to Baroque music. Its title, which could be rendered as “Old-style chat”, conveys the informal vitality of the journal and its fluid boundaries, equally attuned to rigorous scholarship and experimental brain-storming. They clearly have a lot of conversas up their sleeves.

Below, the Orquestra Barroca da Unirio in action.

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Filed under Baroque era, New periodicals

A work admired and performed by Bach

In 2020 A-R Editions issued a critical edition of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s Die leidende und am Creutz sterbende Liebe Jesu, edited by Warwick Cole.

Stölzel was a highly respected musician and composer who contributed works in all major 18th-century musical genres. His first Passion, Die leidende und am Creutz sterbende Liebe Jesu, was performed widely during his lifetime, including by Bach in 1734—the same year he composed his Christmas Oratorio, which imitates various aspects of Stölzel’s style.

Several characteristics of Stölzel’s Passion demonstrate the composer’s unusual approach to the genre, including a lack of named protagonists, texts couched in the present tense to heighten the immediacy of the drama, a balance between recitatives and arias, and the employment of primarily 17th-century chorales with plain harmonizations that may have encouraged the participation of the listening congregation.

Evidence of the work’s popularity includes the existence of a truncated and adapted mid-18th century score, several excerpts of which are included in the edition’s appendix.

Above, the Schlosskirche in Gotha, where Stölzel’s Passion was first performed in 1720. Below, an excerpt from the work performed by Cole’s group, Corelli Concerts.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions

Telemann’s wit

Georg Philipp Telemann’s ability to produce high-quality works at lightning speed is well known; less remembered today is his mischievous sense of humor. He was known among his friends for writing wickedly clever satirical verses and playing musical practical jokes, as he once did with a cantor from a nearby village.

Seeking to aggrandize himself, this cantor determined that he would honor a certain festival day by performing a new sacred work by the local master. He repeatedly requested that Telemann write something for him and his choir, and, knowing that their musicianship was decidedly inferior, the composer repeatedly declined. At last the cantor made such a pest of himself that Telemann told him that he and a few friends would arrive with the new work for a rehearsal before the performance.

On the appointed day the composer handed the new work—a treacherously difficult fugue—to the cantor, whispering to his friends “Now the thieves shall confess their sins.” The singers proceeded to produce a dismal, discordant rendition as they unknowingly made fun of themselves. Telemann had set the line “Wir können nichts wider den Herrn reden” (We cannot speak against the Lord) in such a way that the hapless singers were “confessing” their ineptitude by repeating the words “Wir können nichts” (We cannot)!

The composer laughed heartily. “That certainly won’t do” he said. “Let’s see how we can remedy this.” He then took out a different composition, and he and his friends performed it—both saving the day and humiliating the presumptuous cantor.

This according to “Images of Telemann: Narratives of reception in the composer’s anecdote, 1750–1830” by Steven Zohn (The journal of musicology XXI/4 [2005] 459–486; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-6402).

Today is Telemann’s 340th birthday! Below, a merry bit of tone-painting—“Postillion” from his Tafelmusik.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Humor

Rinaldo and the Enlightenment

The resounding success of the premiere of Händel’s Rinaldo, his first opera in England, was tempered by satirical and sarcastic criticism in The spectator, a weekly journal dedicated to combining wit with morality.

The spectacular scenery and costumes, textual weaknesses, and lack of logic were all points of criticism. Joseph Addison, measuring the performance by the standards of reason, truth, and naturalness, hardly found occasion to mention the music and excellent cast.

The main forum for these ideas of a new moral, social, and national function for opera was the London coffeehouse. Thus the Enlightenment, through the medium of opera, came to influence the thought of large groups and stimulated new social behavior and artistic standards.

This according to “Mit Rindern, Schafen und Spatzenschwärmen: Die Londoner Uraufführung der Oper Rinaldo von Händel” by Wilhelm Baethge (Das Orchester XLIII/11 [1995] 17-22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1995-14126).

Today is the 31oth anniversary of Rinaldo’s premiere! Below, the opera’s march remains one of its most popular excerpts.

BONUS: John Gay’s celebrated repurposing of the march for The beggar’s opera.

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Filed under Baroque era, Opera, Reception

Concio et cantio

In the preface to his collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica (1619) Michael Praetorius engaged in a play on words, juxtaposing the similar-sounding Latin terms concio and cantio. But the passage is not a mere display of cleverness—it is a theological assertion that musicologists have described as a manifesto on liturgical music.

Praetorius wrote (translated here): “it is essential to the highest ideals of church government, as well as to a corporate worship service, that there be not only concio, a good sermon, but also cantio, good music and singing.” By stating that worship would be incomplete without “good music and singing” he was expressing the underlying premise of his entire career as a Lutheran church composer and cantor.

This according to Michael Praetorius Creuzbergensis: The man, the musician, the theologian by David Susan, a Master of Divinity thesis accepted by Concordia Seminary in 1971 (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1971-15384).

Today is Praetorius’s 450th birthday! Below, the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Monteverdi Ensemble, conducted by Matthias Beckert, perform his Puer natus in Bethlehem from the same collection.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities

Giovanni Stefani’s song anthologies

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Giovanni Stefani’s song anthologies (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-14972), which brings together for the first time all three of Stefani’s anthologies in modern transcription, allowing performers to play either from the original alfabeto notation or from a modern realization, given both in modern guitar chord symbols and harmonies in staff notation, making it possible for all instruments to participate in the continuo band.

The three song anthologies of Giovanni Stefani survive as the most abundantly printed seventeenth-century songbooks with the chordal guitar notation known in Italy as alfabeto. Printed in multiple editions from 1618 to 1626, Stefani’s books anthologize nearly one hundred songs, many of which appear copied in numerous other manuscripts, attesting to their widespread appeal in early modern Italy.

While beginners will be drawn to their simplicity, experienced performers will delight in the improvisational opportunities made available by songs built on the spagnoletta, folia, ciaconna, and romanesca.

Above, the cover of Stefani’s first anthology, Affetti amorosi; below, Costanza amorosa as it appears therein.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions

Serenatas for Dublin

Johann Sigismund Kusser (or, as he was known in England and Ireland, John Sigismond Cousser) was a Hungarian-born musician who, after a varied and successful career in the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, settled in Ireland in July 1707.

In Dublin Kusser composed and directed the performances of at least 21 festive serenatas that marked important state occasions in Dublin between 1709 and his death in late 1727. Presented before the elite of local society in semistaged productions featuring costumes, stage machinery, and dancing, these works functioned as something of an operatic substitute in the city’s cultural life.

In 2020 A-R Editions issued Kusser: Serenatas for Dublin (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-1963), a critical edition comprising the three serenatas for which music remains extant. Two of these can be proven definitively to be of Kusser’s own composition, and the third, due to its musical style, overall structure, and subject matter, is almost certainly his creation as well. These works provide remarkably rare musical evidence of a key component of the artistic offerings of Dublin’s viceregal court during the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Below, “Come, lovely peace, the conqu’ror calls” from An idylle on the peace, one of the works included in the volume.

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Filed under Baroque era, Dramatic arts, New editions