Interesting personalities: the world of music is full of them. I’d like to tell you about a few who will be gracing our stages and charming our senses during the coming month.
Take, for example, Jan Dismas Zelenka, one of those talented people whom history might well have completely forgotten, had it not been for the determination of some who “discovered” and sought to revive his music long after his death in 1745. This Bohemian composer, whose lifetime spanned more or less the same years as that of J.S. Bach, spent most of his career at the Dresden court (a flourishing centre of music and the arts in 17th- and 18th-century Germany) where he played double bass, conducted the Dresden Court Orchestra and became Court Composer of Church Music. His music is acknowledged as being extraordinarily creative, with unexpected turns of harmony and a freshly expressive outlook.
Of course, as part of his duties he wrote masses. One of these, the Missa votiva, has quite a touching genesis: Zelenka wrote it to give thanks after recovering from a long illness, dedicating it as follows: “J.D.Z. composed this Mass ad majorem Dei gloriam to the greater glory of God in fulfillment of a vow, after having recovered his health through God’s favour”.
You can hear it, along with a beloved motet by one of his acquaintances and admirers, in Tafelmusik’s “Glorious Bach and Zelenka” performances, which take place on various days, and at various times, between October 14 and 20.
And consider Johann Rosenmüller, 17th century German composer and virtuoso trombonist, who is credited with being an instrumental figure in the transmission of Italian musical styles to Germany. He had a promising career as teacher and organist in Leipzig, and was in line for the position of cantor at the Church of St. Thomas, but his career was abruptly halted in 1655 when he and several schoolboys were arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of homosexuality. Aha; he escaped, fled Germany and next turned up in Italy, where by 1658 he had established himself at St. Mark’s in Venice as a trombonist and composer. Years later he also held the post of composer at the Ospedale della Pietà (the girls’ orphanage soon afterward to become famous as fertile ground for Vivaldi’s prolific creative output).
Rosenmüller’s music was clearly inspired by the brilliant acoustic of the Cathedral of St. Mark’s. You’ll be able to hear the effect of this magnificent space when, on October 21 and 22, the Toronto Consort brings together voices, strings, cornetti, sackbuts, lutes and keyboards to present “Venetian Splendour: The Music of Johann Rosenmüller.”
A towering figure of the 15th century, the Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Ockeghem led a life that is somewhat obscured to us now, some five or six centuries later. We know that he was employed as a bass singer in the chapels of various royal courts, most notably the French courts of Charles VII, Louis XI and Charles VIII; that his life was very long; that though his surviving output of compositions is not large, it reveals a highly innovative style; also that he was admired throughout Europe for his expressive music and his technical prowess.
It’s obvious that he revelled in creating musical problems and working out solutions — for example, his motet Deo Gratias is a magnificent, pulsating canon for four nine-part choruses (36 parts in total). His Missa Cuiusvis Toni is a mass that may be sung in any one of four different modes, at the performers’ choosing. Enormous technical feats of composition, these — yet (to quote one account) “music of contemplative vastness and inward rapture”.
Both these works will be performed this month — the Deo Gratias in “surround sound,” the Missa Cuiusvis Toni in — well, you’ll have to attend the concert to find out which mode. They’ll be heard in the Toronto Chamber Choir’s first concert of the season, “Ockeghem: Medieval Polyphony,” on October 23.
A much-admired musician of the 21st century, the acclaimed English conductor and keyboard player, Harry Bicket, will be bringing his ensemble, the English Concert, to town — alas on one of the same nights as the Toronto Consort performs. Bicket is renowned for his interpretations of the baroque and classical repertoire and for his work in opera, though his biography is chock-full of music making in wide-ranging styles and periods, all over the world. It’s especially telling that he was chosen in 2007 to succeed Trevor Pinnock as artistic director of the English Concert, one of the finest of the U.K.’s period orchestras.
The concert takes place in an ideal venue for this group, the Royal Conservatory’s Koerner Hall, on October 21. The music is ideal too, a true representation of their art: suites from semi-operas by Purcell, solo and orchestral concertos by Vivaldi and Telemann.
A compelling musical personality whose star is definitely on the rise is the French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. He’s been described as a “young singer with the tone of an angel and the virtuosity of the devil.” Perhaps because he began his musical life as a violinist, his singing displays a very pure sound quality and high, sweet timbre; this combined with his dazzling vocal feats, expressive phrasing and handsome stage presence have catapulted him into an international career in a relatively short time.
Jaroussky’s art is ideally suited to the virtuosic coloratura of the baroque; this will be evident when, on November 1 at the RC’s Koerner Hall, he’ll be joined by the acclaimed baroque orchestra from Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire, in a programme of fiery operatic arias and orchestral music, entitled “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks.”
Others in a nutshell
• October 8: “Apt for Voices, Viols or Violons”: For its first concert of the season, the Musicians In Ordinary presents a programme of consort songs, dances, lute songs and solos from the Elizabethan and Jacobean courts, by Holborne, Byrd and Dowland. Soprano Hallie Fishel and lutenist John Edwards are joined by a renaissance violin band of five parts, led by violinist Christopher Verrette.
• October 8: Cardinal Consort of Viols presents “Oktoberfest!”:
Beautiful German music from the 16th and 17th centuries, with refreshments included, in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere at Royal St. George’s College Chapel.
• October 15 and 16: “Best of Baroque”: Andrew Davis conducts the TSO, and plays harpsichord and organ in a rich tapestry of music by Bach, including Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, Concerto for Oboe and Violin and Davis’ own orchestrations of Bach organ works.
• October 16: Windermere String Quartet on period instruments presents the fourth in their six-concert survey of “The Golden Age of String Quartets,” juxtaposing three great works by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
• October 22: “A Celebration of Victoria: 1611–2011”: Tallis Choir commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of Victoria, presenting some of his greatest works and those of his contemporaries, Guerrero, Lobo and Esquivel.
• October 29: Our ever-energetic friends in Kingston, Trillio, present their third annual “Baroquetoberfest” with music on period instruments by Telemann, Bach, Matthes and others — not to mention home-prepared German food including choucroute garnie and a German beer sampling!
Simone Desilets is a long-time contributor to The WholeNote in several capacities who plays the viola da gamba. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.