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Mozart & Scarlatti this weekend

St. Martin’s Chamber Choir presents a blockbuster set of concerts this weekend, in collaboration with musicians from the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado (click here to watch the promo video I recorded). See bottom of this entry for dates and locations.

Here are the program notes that will appear in the printed program, in case they are of interest:

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The starting point for tonight’s concert was my long-standing desire to perform the Stabat Mater of Domenico Scarlatti, a profoundly haunting work for 10 voice parts that requires the accompaniment of basso continuo. Basso continuo is the practice in the Baroque era of employing a keyboard (chordal) instrument and a bass instrument to provide the harmonic underpinnings of any work of music, that was considered obbligatory (the real meaning of the word “continuo” in this case – continuous, or never absent, as in obbligato). Indeed, I have heard it said that the only common element of the music of the Baroque era is not stylistic consistency, as is so often the case when defining other eras (such as the Renaissance, or even the Romantic), but the universal application of this continuo concept to all pieces written during the period 1600-1750.

So, in order to perform the Stabat Mater, I knew I would have to hire a small group of Baroque instrumentalists to accompany the singers (and, given my friendship with Frank Nowell, it was obvious where I would look for said musicians!). Wanting to exploit the presence of these splendid musicians, I began to think of other works requiring continuo that I’d long wanted to do, and my mind fell instantly to the splendid little Missa Brevis of Leopold Mozart, brought to my attention by the recent research that has discovered it to be the work of Leopold rather than Wolfgang, to whom it had been attributed for centuries. Then, as I thought about what to group with these two pieces, it occurred to me that the thing Domenico Scarlatti and Leopold Mozart had in common was their paternal/filial relationship to another great composer – the father of one, and the son of the other. Voila! A theme.

The concert begins with an a cappella piece – an exquisitely beautiful setting of the Salve Regina by Alessandro Scarlatti. This initially comes off as a typical Renaissance choral work, with its somber feel and graceful pacing. Yet it does not take too many seconds before rather chromatic harmonies emerge that belie its true place as a Baroque work. These chromaticisms add to the expressiveness of the text, and I encourage you to follow along with the translation in order to hear the subtle yet poignant instances of text painting in the music. Alessandro Scarlatti was an extremely prolific vocal composer, and I am of the opinion that his place as one of the foremost composers of the late 17th century has not yet been fully realized.

The instruments join on the Stabat Mater, with its unusual divison into 10 voice parts (SSSSAATTBB). Each part contains both solo and tutti sections, so there is an almost infinite variety of timbres possible between the parts, and Scarlatti exploits this variety to great effect. The Stabat Mater is a haunting text, describing a mother’s anguished feelings while watching her son die, and Scarlatti masterfully portrays the agony, torment, and suffering inherent in the text.

Leopold Mozart’s Missa Brevis in C is not well known or frequently performed, partly due to its being unfinished (it breaks off after nine bars in the Sanctus – and we will perform it as incomplete); but partly also, I believe, dismissed as a juvenile work of Wolfgang, and therefore not worthy of the attention paid to the works of his maturity. But given the new research that has proven it to be the work of Wolfgang’s father Leopold, and therefore more able to be assessed in its own right, it emerges as a work of winsome melodic inventiveness, and no little playfulness, revealing it as work of individuality that, paradoxically, it did not enjoy when thought to be the juvenile exercise of the infinitely more talented Wolfgang. It’s an interesting example of how something looks completely different when placed in a different frame.

The concert concludes with a brilliant double choir anthem of Wolfgang Mozart’s late youth, dating to just before he left the employment of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in his early 20s. Venite populi is buoyant and engaging, with exuberant antiphonal effects between the two choirs, and a humorously lurching melody on the words inebriemur vino laetitiae sempiternae (“drunk with the eternal wine of happiness”), an example of the irrepressible humor that Wolfgang was so well known for.
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So, if this piques your interest, here’s the info about the concert:
Friday, April 13, 7:30pm, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, 4500 Wadsworth, Wheat Ridge
Saturday April 14, 7:30pm, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 2015 Glenarm Place, Denver
Sunday, April 15, 3:00pm, St. Paul Lutheran and Catholic Community of Faith,1600 Grant St., Denver
Tickets available at our website: www.stmartinschamberchoir.org/concerts; or our office at (303) 298-1970.
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The perfect way to celebrate the coming of Spring — and support a good cause: “Jazz and Joie de Vivre” to support St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. The Stu MacAskie duo (Stu MacAskie on piano, Ron Bland on bass) will entertain you with jazz standards (and rumor has it that SMCC singers and jazz moonlighters Donna Wickham and Kathryn Radakovich . . . and possibly MB Krueger . . . will join for a tune or two each). Meanwhile, enjoy drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres in the gorgeous surroundings of a City Park mansion, while mixing with friends.

Contact the SMCC office to reserve tickets ($30 per person, $50 per couple): 303.298.1970