Formerly Houston
Harpsichord Society

Emma Kirkby

 

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Emma Kirkby, Soprano
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord

"Aria d'Amore"

Monday, March 2, 1998, 8:00 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church, 5300 Main Street

Early Conversations Lecture:
7:00 p.m., Chapel

The "divine Emma" returns! The crystalline, hypnotic, quality of her voice in songs of love and passion interlaced with the elegance of harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen guarantees an evening of beauty and delight for the senses.

 

 

Program

Aria d’Amore

G.F. Handel Nice, che fa?
Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in F minor K 184
Maurice Greene Orpheus with his lute

Sweet smile

Like as a huntsman

Bel mirar

John Blow Lysander I pursue
William Croft A Ground
John Blow Draw out the minutes
Henry Purcell If music be the food of love
John Blow The self-banished
William Croft Allemande, Courante
John Blow The world was hush’d
Henry Purcell Music for a while
William Croft Sarabande, Hornpipe
Henry Purcell From Rosie bow’rs

 


Program notes

 

Aria d’Amore

The cantata Nice che fa? probably dates from Handel’s early years in Rome, where he provided music for evening entertainment in the Ruspoli household. Here he met and worked with the great violinist Corelli and other composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti and Pasquini. Opera was not encouraged by the Church but these evenings of chamber music saw exuberant ‘scene’ whose pastoral texts may have hinted at actual intrigues among the listeners and participants. Nice che fa? appears to be a serious text in which the despairing lover asks Cupid to bring him news of his Nice, and to give her in return the message that her lover’s death will be worth it if she comes to shed a tear for him. But the whole thing is worked out with such delicious relish that one suspects this lover may have rather a habit of sending elegant suicide notes....

Domenico Scarlatti’s more than 560 sonatas for keyboard constitute a unique musical universe, which even to this day remains insufficiently explored. Spending most of his professional life on the Iberian peninsula, Scarlatti was profoundly interested in Spanish and Portuguese folk-music. His own music reflects not only this interest, but also a fascinating blend of other musical influences like Renaissance polyphony and ‘modern’ instrumental and vocal styles. The Sonata K 184 is an example of Scarlatti’s very personal senses of form and humor and of his almost unsurpassed feeling for instrumental color.

Maurice Greene was, we are told, a good friend of Handel until, for unexplained reasons, the two men fell out, such that thereafter Handel never mentioned Greene without an ‘injurious epithet’. Perhaps he resented his colleague’s success: Greene, who seems to have been a genial man, held the highest positions of the time, including Organist of St Pauls, organist of the Chapel Royal, Master of the King’s Musick, and honorary Professor at Cambridge. His songs show him to have been versatile and individual, from the delicate setting of Shakespeare’s Orpheus with his lute to the exuberant invocation of spring in the ‘Anacreontic’ Bel Mirar. Perhaps most striking are his settings of 25 sonnets from Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti of 1595. These Greene dedicated to his young patroness the Duchess of Newcastle, maybe for her education in ‘ancient’ literature, but his response to the colorful Elizabethan images seems very personal, robust and tender by turns.

We frame the second half of our program with ‘mad songs’. These were especially popular in Restoration theatre, and Purcell’s From rosy bow’rs was written at the end of his short life, for Durfey’s Don Quixote. It is not a true mad song, but a play on the genre, an elaborate show put on by Altisdora to convince the aged Don of her love for him. In Durfey’s libretto it is a cruel play on Quixote’s naivety, but, as so often with Purcell, while perfectly conceived for its context, the song also stands on its own as an exuberant yet moving parade of emotions.

Likewise with Musick for a while; the grim purpose of the song in ‘Oedipus’ was to raise the spirit of Laius from the dead to explain the plague of Thebes, and thence to reveal the awful truth about Oedipus himself, but Purcell created something that long ago transcended its original context and endures as a hymn to music, salve for earthly cares and token of eternity. If music be the food of love, a ‘single song’, hijacks the famous first line of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, to work with music on a lower level, harnessing its powers for an elaborate song of seduction.

John Blow, Purcell’s teacher who famously ceded his position at Westminster Abbey to his pupil and then resumed it at Purcell’s death, is, like Maurice Greene, best known today for his sacred music, but he also wrote a great number of secular songs which are quite as varied and individual as those of Purcell himself. He wrote very little for the theatre, but in Lysander I pursue it is clear he could portray a lover’s madness with the best of them!

The world was hush’d is altogether more poised. This lover has his despair exquisitely crafted, and is easily consoled by the arrival of an insouciant and cynical Cupid.

In The Self-Banished we strike gold: a perfect minuet, elegant and touching, typically daring in its chromaticism, yet tuneful and unmistakably English.

In 1663 the music publisher John Playford brought out his Musicks Hand-Maide, a collection of secular music for harpsichord or spinet. This edition was aimed at the steadily increasing number of amateur musicians, and it was followed later in the century by a series of similar publications containing music by, among others, Locke, Purcell, Blow and William Croft. The repertoire of these editions was mainly suites - with the typical English allemande-courante-sarabande sequence, and single movements like hornpipes, rondeaux or grounds. A superb example of the latter type is found in Croft’s Suite in C minor, with its ostinato bass line, written-out continuo realization and expressive melody. Indeed, the piece is attributed to Henry Purcell in several contemporary sources.

 


Performers

Emma Kirkby, soprano

 

"For two decades, Kirkby's clear, agile voice has epitomized the pure sound of early music singing. She remains one of the treasures of the music world."

Toronto Globe and Mail

 

As a soloist Emma Kirkby performs throughout the world, appearing with an everwidening circle of orchestras and chamber ensembles, including the Academy of Ancient Music, London Baroque, the Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment, Freiburger Barock, Tafelmusik and Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montreal. She was involved in the first years of the Taverner Choir and the early Decca Florilegium recordings with the Consort of Musicke and the Academy of Ancient Music, at a time when most college-trained sopranos were not seeking a sound appropriate for early instruments. She therefore had to find her own approach with enormous help from Jessica Cash in London, and from the directors, fellow singers and instrumentalists with whom she has worked over the years, making well over a hundred recordings of all kinds, from sequences of Hildegarde of Bingen to madrigals of the Italian and English Renaissance, cantatas and oratorios of the Baroque, and works of Mozart and Haydn. Ms. Kirkby particularly enjoys live concerts, especially the pleasure of repeating programs, with colleagues, whether Consort of Musicke, London Baroque, or larger baroque and classical orchestras, when nothing is ever quite the same as the last time. The incisive intelligence, as well as the uniquely beautiful voice and brilliant musicianship she brings to her performances, make hearing Emma Kirkby an experience not to be forgotten. (February 18, 1998)

 

Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord

 

Danish harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen studied at The Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen (harpsichord with Karen Englund, figured bass with Jesper Boje Christensen) and with Trevor Pinnock in London. He is active as a soloist and chamber musician in Europe, the United States, Mexico, South America and Japan. From 1988 to 1990 Lars Ulrik Mortensen was harpsichordist with "London Baroque" and until 1993 with "Collegium Musicum 90". Together with John Holloway and David Watkin he is a member of the "Trio Veracini". He also performs regularly with distinguished soloists like John Holloway, Emma Kirkby and Jaap ter Linden, and in 1996 he was appointed professor for harpsichord and performance practice at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen is also active as fortepianist and conductor, and he teaches numerous courses for Baroque music in Europe. He has recorded extensively for DGG-Archiv, EMI and Kontrapunkt, and his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations was awarded the "Diapason d'Or" in France. 1995 was marked by the appearance of the first complete recording of Buxtehude's chamber music, with John Holloway and Jaap ter Linden, which received the Danish "Grammy" award for best classical recording of the year - as well as Maurice Greene-Songs and Keyboard Works with Emma Kirkby. 1996 releases include violin sonatas by Corelli and Veracini with "Trio Veracini" and cantatas by Buxtehude with Emma Kirkby.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen has received a numerous prizes and distinctions, among them the Danish Music Critics' Award in 1984.

 



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