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Who has ever heard of such a thing?

December 24, 2009

Who has ever heard of such a thing?
Who has ever seen something like this?
Marvel, O heaven;
Wonder, O earth;
Behold, O universe.

God has descended to flesh, and flesh has ascended to God.
The Word has become flesh.
The virgin adores Him whom she bore.

O deepest descent, O highest ascent!
He lies on hay in a manger Who sits on the throne of glory in heaven;
He mingles with rough animals Who is praised by angelic choirs;
He is quiet at His mother’s breast Who always speaks in the lap of His father.
He is hidden in a lowly stable, but is shown to the world by a shining star;
He is wrapped in swaddling clothes but is visited by kings;
He cries and weeps Who is the laughter and joy of Paradise.

Behold, what majesty, behold, what humility: majesty inside, humility outside, power inside, infancy outside, the riches of divinity inside, the poverty of humanity outside.
O true birth, most worthy of God and man!

Who has ever heard such a thing?
Who has ever seen something like this?

So let us, devoutly and humbly, adore Him with the shepherds, praise Him with the angels, let us praise the Solomonic King in the bodily diadem with which the virgin Mary, His mother, has crowned Him.

(Anonymous, set by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, Quis audivit unquam tale?, 1650)

“Soften the voice as if, little by little, going away”

December 16, 2009

Gloria in altissimis – New Release from The Cozzolani Project

Click Here to Listen and Download

First page of Gloria in altissimis from the Canto Primo part book. (Click for pdf of the complete facsimile parts.)

The Cozzolani Project’s first new release is the Christmas Dialogue Gloria in altissimis, one of the Cozzolani’s most immediately appealing works, in which she vividly captures the brilliance and wonder of the Christmas narrative. The anonymous text alludes to Luke 2:10 and 14, and in Cozzolani’s hands it is infused with a gleeful exuberance and a touch of chromatic mystery. The Angels (two sopranos) are “glorious” and the shepherds (scored for alto and tenor) are at first astonished and then jubilant.

After the shepherd’s initial encounter with the angels, increasingly expressive solos are given to the four voices in turn, sung on Magnificat’s recording by soprano Catherine Webster, alto Suzanne Jubenville, soprano Andrea Fullington, and alto Karen Clark, who sings the tenor part at notated pitch. David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ complete the ensemble.

In an almost theatrical gesture, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani instructs the four singers at the end to “soften the voice as if, little by little, going away” in imitation of  the Angelic choir disappearing as they ascend back to Heaven after announcing their good news to the awestruck shepherds.

Soften the Voice

Gloria in altissimis is designated in the part books (download facsimile) as a “Dialogue between the angels and the shepherds, for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord”. Robert Kendrick has observed that “of all the new genres found in Seicento Milan, the dialogue was the most central, a phenomenon evident in Cozzolani’s motet books…providing a vehicle for the expression of individual affect, whether of generic figures, scriptural characters, or historical saints…”  The dialogue genre embodied the idea of direct communication between humans and the divine that dominated Milanese spiritual writing of the first half of the 17th Century.

Eight of Cozzolani’s works are explicitly designated as dialogues, four in each of the two surviving collections. The range of works so designated is remarkable, encompassing as it does acclamatory (Psallite superi, O caeli cives), biblical (this work for Christmas, Maria Magdalene stabat for Easter), consolatory (Ave mater dilectissima), and liturgical (Beatus vir) settings, as well as the only two penitential motets in Cozzolani’s entire output (O mi domine, and Quid miseri).

Magnificat first performed Gloria in altissimis on the San Francisco Early Music Society series in December 1999.  We performed the dialogue again earlier this month on our own series in a program structured around the Midnight Mass. The recording was produced by Peter Watchorn and engineered and mixed by Joel Gordon.

Photos from Magnificat’s Cozzolani Performances

December 14, 2009

We’ve uploaded photos from our wonderful week of Cozzolani to our Flickr page. Beyond the excellent musicians, we benefitted from assistance from a four footed advisor in Berkeley. Here’s a sample from the photo set:

Magnificat at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco

Sound Check at St. Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley

Berkeley Continuo Advisor

Meeting with the Audience

Monteverdi, Grandi and The Company of San Marco

December 10, 2009

While reveling in the beauty of music from the past, we seldom consider the “office politics” and professional competition that surrounded its composition and original performance. The goal of simultaneously creating beauty and paying rent has always been proven challenging and even among highly respected and gainfully employed artists, competition has frequently led to conflict.

The Floor of the Basilica of San Marco

The Floor of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice

In his biographical sketch of Alessandro Grandi, published previously on this blog, Steven Saunders mentions the composer’s rapid rise to positions of authority at the Basilica of San Marco after returning from Ferrara in 1617. Among the positions that he attained was capo, or head, of the Compagnia di San Marco, a group not unlike a modern musicians’ union that organized singers for “freelance work” outside the basilica.

Already in the 15th Century, musical activity outside the Basilica had been organized through confraternities known as Scuole Grandi. In his seminal article on organizations of musicians in Venice, Jonathan Glixon relates that “sometime in the years before 1553 the singers of the ducal cappella organized themselves into two companies that competed for work at the Scuole and elsewhere. The rivalry between the two became intense and bitter, making it difficult not only for them to secure engagements, but also to work together at San Marco. The solution to this problem, and the ensuing resolutions, petitions, and counter- resolutions, are preserved in a fascinating series of documents that provides unique insights into the business of music in sixteenth- century Venice.” Read more…

SFCV Review: Milanese Mass and Motets

December 8, 2009

Listen to Cozzolani’s Music

The San Francisco Classical Voice published the following review by Anna Carol Dudley. It is very gratifying to be recognized so graciously. Bravi tutti to Catherine, Meg, Jennifer, Kristen, Hugh and Hanneke – it was a wonderful week!

Catherine Webster, Meg Bragle, Jennifer Ellis Kampani, Kristen Dubenion-Smith

Magnificat’s dazzling singers have done it again. As part of their ongoing project to perform and record the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani, four singers brought her glorious music vividly to life in a performance Saturday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley. The four women sang music that Cozzolani wrote for the famous singing nuns in her convent, Santa Radegonda, in 17th-century Milan.

Cozzolani’s setting of a Christmas Mass, In nativitate Domini (The birthday of the Lord), was written to be sung by a male celebrant — in this concert, Hugh Davies, whose expressive chant framed the work. The women formed a chorus, chanting in unison, then blossoming into a quartet to sing the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The quartets, originally sung by women, were published in Cozzolani’s time with tenor and bass parts, which have been given back to women in Magnificat’s performances.

The quartet for this concert consisted of sopranos Catherine Webster and Jennifer Ellis Kampani and altos Meg Bragle and Kristen Dubenion-Smith. Ellis Kampani sang the tenor parts transposed up, Bragle did some at pitch, and Dubenion-Smith, a real alto possessed of a lovely low range, sang bass, sometimes transposed and sometimes at pitch. A bass line provided by cellist Warren Stewart supported the harmony. Hanneke van Proosdij completed the continuo at the organ, playing with wonderful imagination, especially in a couple of solo motets. Read more…

Salmi Bizarri – The Life and Music of Cozzolani (Podcast)

December 5, 2009

Magnificat’s recording Vespro della Beata Vergine included a third CD called “Beyond the Notes” – Salmi Bizarri: Cozzolani and the music of Milanese convents. Patterned on the talks that precede each Magnificat concert, on this CD I discussed aspects of Cozzolani’s life and music with musical examples.

This introduction to the life and music of Cozzolani is now available in streaming audio here:


Click Here to download this podcast

Announcing The Cozzolani Project

December 3, 2009

In 2000, Magnificat and Musica Omnia began recording the complete works of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani. The Cozzolani Project is a continuation and expansion of that venture that will eventually make all of Cozzolani’s surviving compositions available as streaming audio and digital download.

Magnificat’s two CDs on the Musica Omnia label, Vespro della Beata Vergine and Messa Paschale included about half of Cozzolani’s surviving works. As a result, four psalms, another setting of the Magnificat, and eight motets remain to be released in two double CD box sets.

The recordings will be released both digitally and on physical CDs, with a complete recording of Cozzolani’s 1650 collection Salmi a otto voci due for release and shipment in Spring 2010 with her 1642 collection Concerti Sacri, due in Spring 2011. The previously unreleased tracks will become available for individually as they are completed.

In addition to the recordings we seek to promote a wider appreciation and deeper understanding of Cozzolani’s life and music and the cultural context in which she lived. The website Cozzolani.com which will serve as a resource of information about Cozzolani, scholarly work on music in convents in Italy and other related areas of study, news about performances and publications of her music and other materials related to this remarkable composer.

All those pre-ordering CDs from The Cozzolani Project will automatically receive codes and links enabling free digital downloads of all tracks – those previously released and those currently in preparation as they become available.

All digital downloads are available in a variety of lossless formats – FLAC, AIFF, WAV and more. In additional to pre-ordering each individual track is available for download as well.

Pre Order and Subscribe Today!

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