Music and nature are closely intertwined, the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of our planet inspiring musicians for centuries, even millennia. The ancient philosophical concept of a Harmony of the Spheres as proposed by Pythagoras suggests that the sun, moon and planets all emit their own unique pitch frequency based on their orbital revolution, and that the quality of life on Earth reflects the harmony of celestial sounds which are physically imperceptible to the human ear. Although Aristotle later contested this theory, the idea of Harmonia mundi continues to be reinvented and interpreted by composers in new and exciting ways. For example, in 1996 the Dutch composer Joep Franssens premiered his massive Harmony of the Spheres for chorus, combining minimalist and spectralist approaches to create a work that captures both the profound immensity of the universe and the bright shimmer of far-off stars.

Between Pythagoras and Franssens lies a wealth of nature-inspired music, from silly and serene to severe and stormy. Birds in particular have been a source of inspiration: German Baroque pipe organs contained special stops such as the nightingale, which produced a fluttering, high-pitched whistle (the organ at Metropolitan United has a nightingale stop, a generous donation from an organ aficionado), while French Baroque musicians such as Daquin and Rameau wrote imitations of birds in works such as Le Coucou and La Poule. Perhaps the greatest ornithological composer in history is Olivier Messiaen, who faithfully transcribed bird calls noting the species and location, and wove these threads into masterful pieces of music. It is nearly impossible to find a late work of Messiaen that does not incorporate bird song as an integral and essential component.

Bach and Handel used the pastoral as a musical model, illustrating idyllic scenes of shepherds tending their sheep. Mozart wove birds into The Magic Flute through the character of Papageno, an earthy birdcatcher who, when he finds his perfect match in Papagena, rejoices with an imitation of bird-like courting sounds. Beethoven and Brahms both enjoyed long walks through the woods, put to paper in Beethoven’s case in Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral, portraying everything from bubbling brooks and bird calls to a violent thunderstorm. Mahler used his mountain retreat as his summertime escape from Vienna, hiking, walking, rowing and composing his greatest works in a nearby hut, mirroring the intensity of his temperament and the immensity of the mountains in his large-scale symphonies.

Summer continues to be a time of escape and refuge for many, whether braving traffic on Highway 400 to reach a familiar lakeside cottage hideaway or taking a road trip and exploring new and exciting places. While many use the summer months as a chance to get away and recharge, musicians sometimes seem to grow busier over July and August, as evidenced by the plethora of festivals and concert series that continue to increase in number and scale each year. A quick glance at the Green Pages in this issue of The WholeNote provides some idea of the sheer number of exciting opportunities available to hear new, old and endearingly familiar masterpieces. Regardless of where your travels take you, there is something to see and listen to. Here is a brief overview of this summer’s early music festivals and events:

June

May and June offer season-ending performances by organizations across the city, grand finales showcasing great ensembles and equally great musical works. As seasons end, others begin, and this June serves as the starting point for numerous summer programs and concerts.

The Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI), a world-renowned training program for advanced students, pre-professional and professional musicians in instrumental and vocal Baroque performance practice, is led by some of the world’s finest musicians in the field. This year’s TBSI runs from June 10 to 23 and features five separate performances by faculty and students at venues across Toronto’s Bloor-Annex corridor, including Jeanne Lamon Hall and Walter Hall, with the grand finale at Grace Church on-the-Hill. As a former participant in this superb training program, I cannot speak highly enough of the quality of repertoire and tutelage each participant receives, and strongly encourage lovers of early music to attend at least one of these performances. Keep the program, too – you’ll be amazed at how many names return as fully formed performers in following years!

Alison Melville, recorder player and flutist of North Wind Concerts, when she hosted CBC Radio 2’s 'This Is My Music'North Winds Do Blow! On June 16, some of Canada’s most celebrated Baroque music specialists play a cornucopia of beautiful tunes from Handel operas and oratorios. ”Handel: Airs for the Theatre” showcases tunes from Rinaldo, Acis & Galatea, Riccardo Primo, Orlando, Admeto and other Handelian hits, arranged by Toronto’s own Colin Savage after 18th-century models, as well as a few 18th-century arrangements published by Handel’s contemporary, John Walsh. Featuring Baroque woodwind wizards from across the city playing a diverse and colourful array of period instruments, this concert is an ideal celebration of summer’s arrival, and the debut performance of North Wind Concerts, an evolution of the group formerly known as Baroque Music Beside the Grange. Taking place at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, this concert is perfectly located, just down the road from Tafelmusik’s Summer Institute.

Montréal Baroque: If you are planning a trip to Montreal in June, make sure to explore the 2018 Festival Montréal Baroque’s “Hallelujah Handel,” taking place from June 21 to 24. This overview of Handel’s output from his solo sonatas to opera will be a first for Montreal, focusing on rarely heard music including the complete keyboard works, the complete sonatas for flute, recorder, violin and gamba, the complete trio sonatas, concerti for violin, organ and harp, and rarely heard oratorios and masques, performed by many of Montreal’s Baroque ensembles, established and novice, as well as invited guests. Taking inspiration from Berlioz’s description of Handel as a “tub of pork and beer,” the Montreal Festival events will include food and wine tastings. (Handel, a famously corpulent person, was a well-known epicurean famed for downing two bottles of red each evening – he eventually developed a serious case of gout!)

July

Elora and Parry Sound: If June is the month of Handel, July presents a mixed-bag assortment of much-loved early music. The Elora Festival, renowned for its varied and eclectic programming, offers performances by both guest ensembles and the resident Elora Singers and Festival Orchestra. This year’s guests include the Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal in a concert of three settings of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah, written by the 16th-century composers Tallis, Morales and de Lassus; the renowned English ensemble The Gesualdo Six, making their Canadian debut; and two concerts by the Elora ensembles, featuring Bach’s Lutheran Masses, Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum and Mozart’s Mass in C.

Further north, the Festival of the Sound presents six concerts from July 25 to 27, pairing works by Bach with pieces by other canonic composers such as Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Debussy. This series (titled “Papa Bach”) explores Johann Sebastian Bach’s influence on subsequent generations of musicians, as each concert features a solo cello suite followed by a work from a composer who was inspired by his music. Featuring a wide range of performers playing on modern instruments, this varied series presents an interesting contrast with the Baroque specialists featured throughout June’s festivals.

Angela Hewitt -Photo by Keith SaundersAugust

Stratford Summer Music: Although August marks the beginning of the end of summer (and back-to-school ads appear earlier and earlier each year), the music continues – notably in the Stratford Summer Music series. Angela Hewitt returns to Stratford on August 11 and 12 to present Books One and Two of Bach’s inspiring keyboard work The Well-Tempered Clavier. Through two performances, Hewitt will play the complete 48 preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys. Seldom heard live in its entirety, The Well-Tempered Clavier is an astonishing masterpiece and this will be a rare and memorable opportunity to experience one of the world’s most profound works of creativity performed by one of today’s leading Bach interpreters.

Music Garden:Tucked away in Toronto’s waterfront, the Toronto Music Garden was conceived by internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy in partnership with the City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation department. Through its labyrinthine landscape, the garden interprets Bach’s Suite No.1 in G Major, BWV 1007 for unaccompanied cello. Each summer the Toronto Music Garden is home to Summer Music in the Garden, presenting a tremendous range of chamber and world music. On August 19, “Sunday Afternoon at the Opera” offers scenes and arias from Mozart operas; late medieval love songs, including works by Guillaume de Machaut and Johannes Ciconia, are the focus of the August 23 concert “Elas mon cuer”; and on August 26, a program of chamber music and dance from the French Baroque is presented in “Confluence: Baroque Dance in the Garden.”

Navigating the Summer

As anyone who has travelled to an unfamiliar place knows well, navigating is often the trickiest part of going somewhere new. This issue of The WholeNote serves as your musical road map, helping you traverse the winding roads of summer music in all its forms without a GPS shouting “Recalculating!” With so many opportunities to hear splendid music, it is impossible to make a wrong turn and I encourage you to delve into some of these magnificent concerts and festivals.

If you have any questions or want to hear my two cents on anything early music this summer, send me a note at
earlymusic@thewholenote.com. See you in September! 

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Discussing early music is similar to discussing winter in Canada, particularly here in Toronto. We know where each is supposed to begin and end: early music covers everything from the Medieval era to the end of the Baroque, widely considered to be 1750 (the year of J.S. Bach’s death); winter begins with the winter solstice near the end of December and lasts until the spring equinox in March. This year, though, Toronto was treated to an intense April ice storm, causing almost 1,500 car accidents over a single weekend, wreaking havoc on property, and instilling regret in those who switched over their vehicle’s winter tires too soon. The Farmer’s Almanac may have told us one thing, but as we well know, real life scenarios rarely match our neat-and-tidy theoretical assumptions.

When attempting to categorize early music, we encounter many of the same practical and theoretical conflicts we face when discussing the weather. As time moves forward, formerly avant-garde composers such as Cage, Messiaen and Berio become part of music’s history, relics from the past century, while the greats of long ago, including Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, move even further into the distant past. When this happens, we realize that this inevitable progression of time pushes composers and their works further and further back in history, thereby blurring our outdated and neatly conceived 19th- and 20th-century categorizations of classical music’s epochs.

The continually expanding exploration and development of performance practice in music mirrors this passing of time. The Historically Informed Performance (HIP) movement, for example, was started 60-or-so years ago, when Leonhardt, Rilling and Harnoncourt began recording the complete Bach cantatas, and has since grown to encompass Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and even Mahler. As what we consider contemporary continues to move ahead and composers continue to utilize technology and digital media as compositional techniques to be included along with live performers, we look back at the music of the past through a constantly-changing lens.

Is this to say that we should consistently take the pruning shears to Western music, judiciously weeding out repertoire that no longer serves a purpose or that seems too old or outdated? Probably not – we wouldn’t want to cause a riot, after all, by acknowledging the inherent clunkiness of some of Beethoven’s compositions or the influence of Leopold Mozart on young Mozart’s symphonies and concerti, or echo Pierre Boulez’s critiques of Schoenberg’s structural schizophrenia. Instead, we should look at music as a whole, do away with our naïve categorizations and acknowledge the ancient nature of this music and its place in history.

By taking a large-scale look at individual repertoire in its historical context – as a progression of musical lineage and development that bridges the enormous gulf between the beginning of medieval staff notation and monophony to the monstrous complexity of Ferneyhough and Finnissy, ultimately ending up with the products of today’s composers – we see that everything is connected. If we acknowledge the innate interconnectedness between Schütz and Scelsi, Fasch and Ferneyhough, we can throw away the idea of narrow-minded specialization in music and increase our own awareness of the greatness of all musics, and then pass on this awareness to our audiences. As Robert Heinlein writes: “specialization is for insects.”

Toronto Bach Festival

The month of May provides many interesting opportunities to see presenters straddle the lines more frequently, offering concerts of music taken from different eras and showing the progression of musical history over time, whether in shorter segments or over large, epoch-spanning periods. The third annual Toronto Bach Festival, which takes place from May 11 to 13, explores Bach’s influences, the musical figures from the Renaissance and early Baroque that combined and incubated to result in one of classical music’s primary figures. Featuring three concerts and a lecture by professor Michael Marissen, this year’s Bach Festival, curated by artistic director (and Tafelmusik oboist) John Abberger, focuses on the music of Bach and Heinrich Schütz, regarded as the most important German composer before Bach and an influence on later composers such as Brahms and Webern. The opening concert includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos No.2 and 4, Concerto for Oboe d’amore and Orchestral Suite No.4, with Abberger (as oboist and director), Baroque violinist Julia Wedman, and natural horn player Scott Wevers among the orchestra’s 14 players.

Toronto Bach Festival artistic director John AbbergerBritish composer Brian Eno recently spoke of our contemporary cult of genius, stating that “although great new ideas are usually articulated by individuals, they’re nearly always generated by communities.” Through performances of Bach’s orchestral music, including two Brandenburg Concerti, Schütz’s stunning Johannes Passion and an organ recital by Rachel Mahon featuring works by Dieterich Buxtehude, this year’s Toronto Bach Festival will paint a large-scale picture of Bach in relation to his peers and predecessors, an engaging portrait that removes Bach from his isolated, elevated pedestal of genius and contextualizes his works within his musical community.

21C Music Festival

Continuing the theme of multi-era concerts, The Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival presents pianist Simone Dinnerstein with chamber orchestra A Far Cry, in what looks to be a magnificent juxtaposition of the complex counterpoint of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor with the deceptively simple minimalism of Philip Glass’s Piano Concerto No. 3. While Bach uses counterpoint to create an overall effect greater than the sum of the parts, Glass’ counterpoint sounds less complex than it actually is, with characteristically repetitive themes and gradually evolving, large-scale processes combining to create works that bring to mind Michael Caine’s quote on the duck: calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.

Lest one say that Glass’ music is “light” or “superficial,” it is helpful to remember that Glass received the same intensive training as many of his compositional contemporaries, even studying for two years with Nadia Boulanger, the legendary French pedagogue. Glass’ music, particularly his large-scale works, contains moments of distinct compositional ingenuity, thematic developments sharing similarities with the age-old fugue, and ideas that are combined, contrasted and displayed in virtuosic versatility. This ingenuity correlates perfectly with Bach’s own ideas on counterpoint, and this unexpected combination of old and new works not only provides a vehicle for virtuosity that spans the centuries, but also contains a consistent set of underlying principles, albeit within distinctly different soundscapes.

Tafelmusik plays Beethoven

Tafelmusik’s Beethoven collaborations with conductor Bruno Weil, culminating in a recently-released set of the complete symphonies, expand the repertoire conventionally assumed as suitable for a Baroque orchestra. This May, the Tafel/Weil duo reunites to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” and his magnificent Violin Concerto, with Jeanne Lamon as concertmaster and Elisa Citterio as soloist. Many are familiar with Romantic interpretations of this symphony – think Furtwängler and later – rife with pictorial depictions of rolling hills, birdsong and the inevitable storm. By performing this work on period instruments – thereby reducing the kaleidoscopic range of expression typically available on modern instruments – the characteristically caricatured interpretation we have come to expect may be tempered somewhat. It will be worthwhile to hear this work in the context of its time, rather than as a scene-painting predecessor to Wagnerian drama!

There are many other fantastic concerts happening in the early music world this month, too many to

mention here, and I hope that you’ll do some exploring, both in this magazine and in the Toronto arts scene as a whole. With the last blast of winter hopefully behind us, take some time this spring to get outside and take in some music. Not only will you be able to walk around in something other than a parka and boots, you will also have the opportunity to hear marvellous music from all eras performed by some of the city’s most talented artists.

I hope to see you at some of this month’s musical events. As always, feel free to get in touch at earlymusic@thewholenote.com

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

The act of musical transcription has existed as long as notation has, used over the past millennium to facilitate artistic cross-pollination and the exchange of ideas across international borders. Utilized in centuries past as equal parts pedagogical tool, musical tribute and vehicle for musical propagation, transcriptions exist from some of music’s greatest figures, including Johann Sebastian Bach.

Historically, transcribing involves some element of copying, whether for pedagogy, plagiarism, or practicality, such as copying performing parts from a full score, a task for which Bach received much help, often from his wife and children. It is often from these copies that a work is passed down through centuries. According to the late-18th-century German musicologist Johann Rochlitz, even the Thomaskirche did not possess the full score for Bach’s motet Singet dem Herrn, but only the vocal parts which were preserved “as if they were a saint’s relics.”

Bach’s use of transcriptions extends throughout his lifetime, from his student days copying forbidden scores by candlelight to his organ tablature transcriptions of music by Reincken and Buxtehude, as well as his transcriptions for organ of Vivaldi concerti and his own Schübler Chorale Preludes. In fact, a well-documented theory postulates that Bach’s most famous organ work, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, wasn’t written for organ at all, but was an organ transcription of an earlier work for violin.

In its modern conventional use, the term transcription refers to two similar but distinct actions: notating a piece or a sound which was previously unwritten, such as Bartók’s folk song transcriptions or Messiaen’s notations of birdsong; and rewriting a piece of music, either solo or ensemble, for another instrument or other instruments than those for which it was originally intended, including Liszt’s piano versions of the Beethoven symphonies.

Transcription in the latter sense is often conflated with arrangement. In theory, transcriptions are faithful adaptations, whereas arrangements change significant aspects of the original piece. In practice, though, there are many works which fit equally well into either category. Consider, for example, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or Mahler’s re-orchestrations of Beethoven and Schumann symphonies. There is an equal amount of faithful adaptation and significant change in each of these examples, which ride the line between transcription and arrangement.

The act of transcribing is, at first glance, an uncomplicated one – nothing needs to be changed in a work’s notes or rhythms – the piece simply needs to be re-notated for a different instrument. It is in this adaptation, however, that the art and craft of the transcriber is made apparent, for each instrument contains its own idiosyncrasies, technical challenges and limitations, particularly if the music being transcribed and the instrument being transcribed for have their origins centuries apart – Hildegard von Bingen for saxophone and theremin, for example!

Better by the Dozen

One of the relatively recent instruments for which old music is regularly arranged is the modern classical guitar, designed in the 19th century after earlier classical models. Although not in existence during Bach’s time, a great deal of J.S. Bach’s music has been transcribed for the modern guitar, including preludes, fugues, sonatas, partitas, cello and orchestral suites, as well as lute, keyboard and ensemble music by other Baroque composers. One of the most interesting facets of these arrangements is the constant accommodation and adaptation being made by the transcriber and performer, particularly in fugues, where it is nearly impossible for all three or four voices to be as distinctly present on a guitar as they would be on a keyboard. This adjustment creates another arranging/transcribing hybrid, for Bach’s original counterpoint must be compromised to be played, often resulting in a work that is familiar yet new when heard in performance.

While many of us are acquainted with the classical guitar, April brings a supersized surprise to fans of the instrument. On April 15, the Quebec-based ensemble Forestare makes their Toronto debut in Mooredale Concerts’ 2017/18 season finale. What makes this program unusually interesting is the instrumental makeup of Forestare, consisting of 12 guitars and two basses. According to their media release, “Since its 2002 inception, Forestare has participated in the creation of 50 original works and adapted nearly another 100 for its unique configuration – as a result creating the largest repertoire for guitar orchestra in the world.”

ForestareFor their April Toronto debut, Forestare’s program is comprised entirely of arrangements made by David Pilon (also Forestare’s conductor), David Ratelle and Jürg Kindle, taken from their Baroque album. Works including Lully’s Le bourgeouis gentilhomme, Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata (La folia) and numerous works by Bach, including Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, ensure a mixture of familiar earworms and less-familiar discoveries. This concert presents a rare and unique opportunity to experience something that is, for many of us, entirely new: well-known works transcribed for an extraordinary and novel combination of instruments.

Looking Ahead

Scaramella, April 7: In addition to the new and exciting debut of the Forestare guitar orchestra, Toronto hosts a number of other worthwhile early music events this month, including Scaramella’s “Boccherini and Friends,” a survey of Boccherini’s music in the context of his contemporaries, on April 7. With works by Boccherini, Michael Haydn (brother of Franz Josef), Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang) and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, this dip into the late 18th century features those who were lost in the transition between the Baroque and Classical periods, as popular tastes shifted and changed, and many worthwhile and successful composers faded into premature obscurity. According to the late-18th-century author Jean-Baptiste Cartier, “If God wanted to speak to men through music, He would do it with the works of Haydn, but if He wanted to listen to music, He would choose Boccherini.” But don’t take Cartier’s word for it – check out this concert and decide for yourself.

Music @ Met, April 22: Last month’s issue of The WholeNote featured an interview with Dr. Patricia Wright, Metropolitan United Church’s Minister of Music. In her interview Dr. Wright explained that for decades Metropolitan United has hosted a successful and ongoing series of concerts, recently rebranded as the Music at Metropolitan (Music @ Met) program. The next performance in the Music @ Met calendar features Musicians on the Edge and Rezonance Baroque Ensemble in “Mystery of the Unfinished Concerto” on April 22. With music by Corelli, Vivaldi and others, as well as new compositions created on the spot, this presentation continues Rezonance’s exploration of partimenti and Baroque improvisational technique, in both the context of written and unwritten music.

Cantemus, May 5 and 6: Looking ahead to early May, Cantemus Singers present what should be a sublime concert of works from the early Tudor period on May 5 and 6. Although written in social, political, and religious conditions that were decidedly less than ideal, the music produced by such composers as Tallis, Sheppard and Mundy overcame the limitations of their time and began the progression towards what is now considered the English Cathedral style of music. With a rich historical background full of fascinating tales and anecdotes, this performance is ideal for fans of Renaissance music and history buffs alike.

As winter departs, the days grow longer, and the mercury rises, take advantage of a beautiful spring evening or two and explore a concert. If nothing in this month’s column strikes an interest, explore this magazine for hundreds more shows, recitals and presentations – all happening within the area – and find the music that’s right for you. Your feedback is always welcome: send me a note at earlymusic@thewholenote.com or say “Hi” in person; either way, don’t let April showers keep you indoors.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Auditions are terrifying experiences for any musician. An important job, an academic scholarship, the future of one’s career, any and all of these can depend on a few nerve-wracking moments in front of a jury or audition panel. Johann Sebastian Bach was no stranger to auditions, applying for a number of positions, titles and designations throughout his career, in constant pursuit of the next level of 18th-century professional development.

In 1733, at the age of 48, Bach sought a court title from Friedrich August II, the newly appointed Elector of Saxony, by presenting a Kyrie and Gloria, submitted as a “trifling product” and gift to the Elector. These two movements constitute the opening of what would become the Mass in B Minor, a monumental (and decidedly Catholic) essay in the Latin rite. A fascinating piece of auto-plagiarism and self-adaptation, the Mass was completed by Bach reusing a Sanctus from the Christmas of 1724 with only minor adjustments and drawing much of the material for the Gloria and Credo from existing works, including a cantata or two. Despite the incredible beauty, complexity and ingenuity displayed throughout its hundreds of pages, there are no records of a performance from Bach’s lifetime and it is assumed that he died before hearing the Mass in B Minor in its entirety.

Bach’s Mass, much like Beethoven’s equally majestic and complex Missa Solemnis, is far too long for any practical liturgical use, but we are fortunate that it is performed in concert relatively often, somewhere between the frequency of the St. John Passion and the rarity of the St. Matthew Passion. We are even more fortunate this month as there are three large Bach-themed performances in March, two of which feature the Mass in B Minor.

Bach... in B Minor and Beyond

The first performance of the Mass in B Minor takes place at the end of March at Metropolitan United Church on Good Friday. A longtime annual tradition featuring the Metropolitan Festival Choir and Orchestra, this is a modern-scale performance featuring a relatively large chorus and modern-instrument ensemble, led by Dr. Patricia Wright. Bach’s music, loaded with Affekt, expressive gestures and profound spirituality, provides an ideal musical backdrop for Good Friday, solemn yet hopeful, with hints of the joy to come on Easter Day.

Dorothee Mields - photo by Harald HoffmannTafelmusik’s orchestra and chorus focus their attention on Bach’s Mass in B Minor just a week later, April 7, approaching the work with their trademark historically informed outlook. Led by Ivars Taurins and featuring a stellar lineup of soloists including soprano Dorothee Mields, mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell, tenor Charles Daniels and baritone Tyler Duncan, this performance will, as Tafelmusik writes on their website, “captivate your heart and soul from the very opening notes of the Kyrie to the majestic close of the Dona nobis pacem.” Tafelmusik’s previous Mass in B Minor was my first concerted introduction to the beauty of Bach’s choral music, and it remains one of my favourite and most emotionally moving live musical experiences.

The third Bach performance taking place this month is not religious in theme, is unrelated to Lent and Easter and does not involve orchestra or chorus. On March 11 in Mazzoleni Hall, pianist and harpsichordist David Louie presents Book I of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, a two-volume collection of preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys that rivals the Mass in B Minor in monumentality, creativity and ingenuity. Louie will play the first set on a two-manual harpsichord designed and modelled after an instrument built by the French harpsichord and piano maker Pascal Taskin (1723-1793).

Taskin’s instruments are fine examples of the French school of harpsichord building, featuring a wide range, well-distributed pitch divisions (two eight-foot ranks and a four-foot rank) and a warm and rich tone well-suited for the contrapuntal complexity of late Baroque repertoire, both German (Bach’s partitas, suites and fugues, for example) and French (the masterpieces of Rameau, Couperin and Lully). Not only worthwhile for the repertoire being performed, Louie’s use of a period-inspired instrument will illuminate Bach’s contrapuntal genius in a different light than we hear on a piano, while showcasing Louie’s own technical facility on an instrument with its own unique demands and limitations.

David Louie at the harpsichord.

Eine Kleine Lentmusik

The season of Lent, commonly associated with ashes, sackcloth and penitential abstinence (“What are you giving up for Lent this year?”) abounds with music that, although appropriately dark and dour, is nonetheless beautiful and worth hearing. Here are some notable performances taking place this month:

On March 3 the Toronto Chamber Choir presents “Bach’s Foundations,” with works by Johannes Bach, Johann Christian Bach and Johann Michael Bach. Focusing on musically influential members of J.S. Bach’s extended family, this concert will be a fascinating look at the people and pedigree responsible for producing one of music’s greatest minds. I look forward to hearing the similarities and differences in their works and listening for the influence of their great precursor, around whom the entire Bach galaxy revolves.

Cor Unum Ensemble, one of Toronto’s up-and-coming Baroque ensembles, presents Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater on March 10 and 11. The text of the Stabat Mater is a popular one – a Catholic prayer to the grieving mother of Christ as she witnesses her son carrying his cross to Calvary – set throughout the centuries by composers including Rheinberger, Dvořák and Rossini. Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater takes the form of a duet for soprano and alto with obbligato instruments, a simple and straightforward setting relative to the massively Romantic settings penned by later composers (which can also be inappropriately cheeky and jovial – I’m looking at you, Rossini…). In addition to music by Pergolesi, Cor Unum will also perform Bach’s Cantata 170 “Vergnügte Ruh” for solo alto and a suite by Lully. Taking place in the visually appealing and acoustically superior Trinity College Chapel, this concert is definitely worth exploring.

March is shaping up to be the Month of Bach, both directly and by association! On March 24 the Musicians in Ordinary and St. Michael’s Schola Cantorum present Dieterich Buxtehude’s Jesu Membra Nostri, a set of cantatas focusing on the varied corporal sufferings experienced by Christ over the course of his trial and crucifixion. Buxtehude was a significant influence on J.S. Bach, the young protege travelling hundreds of miles to Lübeck to study the master’s organ music. (By foot, the story in Bach’s obituary goes, though John Eliot Gardiner finds this a bit melodramatic, likening it to an old man “padding his resume,” recounting stories of his youth after a pint or two.) Buxtehude and the North German style of organ playing was indeed influential on the young Bach and provided a model for his early organ works, particularly from the Weimar years. Buxtehude’s Jesu Membra Nostri cantatas are written in an older style and often incorporate modal writing with hints of a conventional tonal system, a style quite similar to the stile antico moments found in the Credo and Gloria of Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

Lent and Easter are extraordinarily rich musical seasons and this year’s concert calendar is an embarrassment of riches. Not only are there numerous performances of some of Bach’s finest works but also explorations of Bach’s familial and national musical influences, as well as a Bach cantata presented by the exciting and fresh Cor Unum Ensemble. If Bach’s insurmountable genius and erudite musicality is not your personal preference however, check out this magazine for other concerts and events taking place and support Toronto’s vibrant arts scene – there’s something out there for everyone! 

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

Reading a survey of “The History of Classical Music” is an experience similar to reading the Toronto Transit Commission subway map. Broken down into its basic elements, our subterranean transit system is a series of independent and direct lines with clear paths and destinations that intersect at a relatively small number of major junctions. These junctions are occasionally chaotic (think Bloor Station at 8:30am, with an obligatory delay or two) and often confusing, with the uninitiated and unfamiliar wondering just how to get from that yellow line to that green line without being trampled by a stampeding horde of commuters.

Our conventional understanding of the history of classical music is, much like our system of underground transport, often considered in linear terms – take the Yonge line to Bloor, Bloor line to Bathurst – directional, but reading more like the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren… or, Buxtehude begat J.S. Bach; and J.S. Bach begat C.P.E. Bach; and C.P.E. Bach begat Mozart... These linear streams of music history intersect, like our Bloor and Yonge lines, relatively rarely (once every 150 years or so) often landmarked by a creative supernova: the masterworks of J.S. Bach; the creation and subsequent development of sonata form by Scarlatti, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven; the operas of Wagner; the invention of Schoenberg’s dodecaphony. These are the junctions which, we are told, changed the course of history and introduced the world to the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern eras, respectively.

Nothing, however, is as simple as it seems. Once we reach the surface and take a bird’s-eye view of these systems, we find that they are infinitely more complex and intertwined than we initially thought. Anyone who has been redirected out of Toronto’s subways (Line One is closed from Lawrence to Bloor this weekend) and forced to take shuttle buses, streetcars, or any other form of surface transportation, immediately realizes, in addition to the linear and direct lines which run underneath the city, there is an entire network of surface routing which connects our city in much more complex, thorough and occasionally hard-to-navigate ways. This is what real-life music history looks like, the apparently direct connections and creative supernovae actually consisting of myriad local and international interactions, increasing in fascinating complexity until our historical concept of “begotten-ness” is replaced by the understanding that everything is connected in one way or another

Once these connections are drawn and acknowledged, we see that it is no longer possible to parcel the history of classical music into comfortable categorizations. National musical schools, for example – Lully the Frenchman, Purcell the Englishman, Monteverdi the Italian, Bach the German – are no longer satisfactory criteria, for we often see that the country of one’s birth is significantly different from the country (or countries) responsible for one’s artistic development and inspiration. With a little bit of insight, broad categorizations, scholastically practical and academically satisfying though they are, are replaced by fascinating tales of professional musicians who worked, travelled, learned and borrowed from other countries and cultures, preserved and passed down through both musical and historical artifacts, such as Bach’s transcriptions of works by Vivaldi or the documented success of composers such as Zelenka and Heinichen, Bohemian composers who thrived within the courts of Dresden.

It is from this perspective that music, particularly the music of the Baroque, comes to life, the world of 17th-century Europe drawing from within itself to produce works of unbelievable creativity and breadth while simultaneously echoing a sentiment written by the Sherman brothers for Walt Disney 250 years later: “It’s a small world after all!”

Continental Contacts

This February is a wonderful month for fans of Baroque music – with the passing of December’s overwhelming musical offerings, the start of a new year gives ensembles time to rehearse, prepare and produce new and exciting programs. There’s something for everyone this month, but remember: whether you prefer your music with a touch of French grace, Italian joviality, German complexity, or English propriety, it’s all connected!

Rezonance: Last year Toronto’s newly-formed Rezonance Baroque Ensemble presented a fascinating concert which put the spotlight on partimenti, the study of improvisation in the Baroque era, drawing parallels between modern jazz and 17th-century classical music. The group is back on stage February 3 with “Versailles Confidential,” a multidisciplinary presentation featuring actress Ariana Marquis as the Marquise de Sévigné. With music by some of the French Baroque’s most esteemed composers including Rebel, D’Anglebert, Couperin and Jean-Baptiste Lully, official court composer of Louis XIV, this performance should be a delightful exploration of life in Baroque France.

Melos: For those further east in Ontario, Melos Choir and Period Instruments ensemble performs in Kingston on February 9. Their concert, “A Venetian Carnevale,” puts the spotlight on period vocal and instrumental music, theatre and dance from the time of Carnevale celebrations of Baroque Europe. Featured composers include Gabrieli, Lassus and Telemann, a musical kaleidoscope coloured by some fascinating bits of history. The Gabrielis were a dominant musical force in Venice and bridged the transition period between Renaissance and Baroque eras. Giovanni Gabrieli studied with Orlando di Lasso (Lassus) in Munich and subsequently taught the German composers Hans Leo Hassler and Heinrich Schütz, who brought Gabrieli’s works to Germany and ultimately influenced the music of later composers such as Bach and Telemann. An innovator of the highest calibre, Gabrieli is attributed with being the first to use specified dynamics (forte, piano, etc.) in his compositions, as well as introducing the concept of instrumentation!

Thomas Hobbs. Photo by Benjamin Ealovega.Alexander’s Feast: George Frederic Handel is another composer whose influence on later generations of composers cannot be understated, his oratorios and operas crafting a path for the development of an entire genre of dramatic expression. Handel was an international artist himself, German by birth but writing enormously successful works in English such as Messiah, and Italian operas including Giulio Caesare. This month (February 22 to 25), Tafelmusik’s orchestra and chorus unite to perform Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, or The Power of Music with soprano soloist Amanda Forsythe, tenor Thomas Hobbs and baritone Alexander Dobson. In addition to his concert appearances, Hobbs will host a masterclass on February 24 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, where he will work with advanced students and professional musicians on Baroque vocal repertoire as part of Tafelmusik’s Guest Artist Masterclass Series. Masterclasses are fine opportunities for the public to see how much care, attention and preparation it takes to put together even the smallest amount of musical material at a professional level, a rarely seen peek behind the curtain.

St. Matthew: The works of Johann Sebastian Bach are, perhaps, the pinnacle of an individual’s internal musical synthesis, the product of an encyclopedic knowledge of musical styles coupled with a tremendous intellect and prodigious propensity for high-quality compositional output. One of Bach’s most immense, profound, and legendary masterpieces is his St. Matthew Passion, which will be performed by Chorus Niagara and the Talisker Players on March 3 in St. Catharines. If we look beyond the staggering creativity displayed within this work, it is, furthermore, incredible to think that Bach wrote such a staggering piece to be played within the context of a church service, surrounded by all the additional elements of Lutheran liturgical ritual (including a proper Protestant sermon)!

QUICK PICKS: Choir and Organ Music from Canada and Beyond

While on the topic of church music, there are two concerts taking place this month that focus on music written by legendary church musicians, one highlighting works by Healey Willan, the “Dean of Canadian Composers,” the other the inimitable organ music of J.S. Bach:

Matthew Larkin in recital on the Casavant organ in St. Matthias Anglican Church, Ottawa. Photo by Judith van Berkom.On February 16 at 8pm, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene hosts “Willan 50,” a concert commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Willan’s death. With the combined forces of St. Thomas’s Anglican Church, the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and organists Matthew Larkin, Simon Walker and Andrew Adair, this is bound to be a heartfelt, musical and moving tribute to one of Canada’s most renowned and influential compositional characters who considered himself “English by birth; Canadian by adoption; Irish by extraction; Scotch by absorption.”

Two days later, on February 18 at 4:30pm, fans of Bach’s organ music will be treated to an appearance by British organist David Briggs at St. Thomas’ Anglican Church in Belleville. Briggs, former artist-in-residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto and a renowned performer and improviser, will play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G BWV541, Pièce d’orgue BWV572, Passacaglia BWV582 and more, as well as an improvisation. If you missed the chance to hear Briggs in concert as part of the “Splendours of Notre Dame” concert at St. James Cathedral last month, take advantage of this opportunity; he is a delightfully skillful player!

As always, I encourage you to explore the full range of listings in this issue of The WholeNote – in addition to these few highlights, there are a great many fine concerts and events taking place in our city this month! Your feedback is always welcome, either in person or, if you prefer to spend the month of February in solitary hibernation, emerging only when the trees are budding, send me a note at
earlymusic@thewholenote.com.

Matthew Whitfield is a Toronto-based harpsichordist and organist.

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