The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The weeklong Madison Early Music Festival starts Saturday. It turns 15, puts early Italian music in the spotlight and adds FREE noontime lectures while enhancing the second annual Handel Aria smack-down and using new venues. Part 2 of 2. | July 8, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be 15 years already?

The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”

memf banner 2014

This year’s installment starts on this Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups, free noon-time lectures and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.

Venues are the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

To get things straight, and to provide a larger context, The Ear asked University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.

They graciously agreed, and the results has been posted in two parts, yesterday and today.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/classical-music-the-weeklong-madison-early-music-festival-gets-more-national-attention-as-it-marks-15-years-the-festival-kicks-off-on-saturday-and-focuses-on-italian-early-music-and-art-from-1300-to/

Handel arias Paul and Cheryl Rowe

How does Italian music from that period differ from its counterparts in, say, Germany, France and England? How does it set up and participate in the artistic qualities we identify with the Italian Renaissance? What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world, and what is its legacy today?

Paul: Italy was the leading artistic, educational and philosophical country in Europe until the mid- to late-17th century. Its influence continued to be felt long afterwards. The musical language of Italy spread throughout Europe because many composers came to study in Italy before returning home and because it was the center of publishing.

Many of the developments in music such as polyphony, virtuosic solo writing, opera, monodic song and improvements in instrument-making took place in Italy or in other areas where Italians settled. Italy gradually lost its position of cultural leadership. It was replaced first by France and then by Germany.

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

Monteverdi and Palestrina (below) are probably the most well-known of the major composers from Italy at this time. Others who should be better known are Cipriano de Rore, Luzzaschi, Caccini, Gesualdo, Lassus, Tromboncino, Landini and many others.

Giovanni Pierluigi  da Palestrina

Can you tell us about the program “Trionfi: The Triumphs of Petrarch” for the concluding All-Festival Concert on Saturday, July 19?

Cheryl: Grant Herreid, who is a member of Piffaro, has been a part of the MEMF faculty since the beginning. When we chose the topic for this year, he had a wonderful selection in mind for the July 19 program. I’ve included his notes, which describe the All-Festival Concert that Grant designed for our 15th season.

TRIONPHI: A Poet’s Vision of Love and Truth — Petrarch’s Triumphs Expressed in Music of the Italian Renaissance

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch, July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374, below), considered the father of humanism, was the most influential poet of the Italian Renaissance. Autobiographical, composed and revised over 30 years, his Trionfi, or “Triumphs,” is a series of poems composed in terza rima (the same form and meter as Dante’s “Inferno” in “The Divine Comedy”) in which the poet witnesses a succession of triumphal entries or trionfi, each featuring an allegorical figure more powerful than the first: Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity.

The idea of the succession of trionfi or triumphs was a popular theme in Italian art and literature of the 15th and 16th centuries, and may even have influenced the development of tarot and playing cards (trionfo = “trump”). Many bridal chests were depicted with scenes from the trionfi, and in Florence troupes of young men and women acted out the battle of Cupid and Chastity on decorated wagons during the festivities of Carnival and Calendimaggio (May Day). Two of these “canto carnascialeschi” or “carnival songs” have come down to us without their musical settings, and are incorporated into our performance set to other carnival tunes of the early Renaissance.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

The music chosen to illustrate the Trionfi runs the gamut of musical styles of the 1500s, from light-hearted “frottole” and carnival songs by Bartolomeo Tromboncino and others, through the rise of the polyphonic madrigal as cultivated by Cipriano da Rore and Orlando di Lasso, to Francesco Cavaliere and the beginnings of monody. Some pieces are actual settings of passages of Petrarch’s poem itself, including Wert’s “Nel tempo che rinnuova,” the anonymous “Dura legge d’amor” and Lassus’ “Passan vostri triumph.’ Portions of the Trionfo di Morte are sung to 16th-century melodic formulae designed for reciting terza rima or other kinds of verse.

Finally, attesting to its popularity, many characters and themes of the Trionfi are featured in songs and madrigals of the 16th century, including the frottole “Nui siam tutti amartelati,” “Alla guerra” and “Huom terren caduco et frale”; and the early monody by Cavaliere “Il tempo fugue.” The lauda (devotional song) collected by Serafino Razzi, “Dolce Dio,” reflects in its simplicity the poet’s final vision of a world conquered by Eternity, in which Time stands still. In the midst of this vision of Eternity, we rejoice with Claudio Monteverdi‘s setting of Psalm 116.

Program notes by Grant Herreid (below)

Grant Herreid

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers, performances or programs that you especially recommend to the general public?

Paul: This will be a great summer to explore all things Italian with a special emphasis on poetry and painting. Music is always at the center of things at the Madison Early Music Festival, but there were so many other cultural and philosophical developments that this will be a great summer to learn about other aspects of Italian culture.

Cheryl: This is a difficult question to answer, because I am so enthusiastic about everything we have to offer this summer! That said, everyone should be aware that there are new artists at MEMF this summer.

The Toronto Consort is new to MEMF, as is the group Trefoil (below), a hearty trio of medieval minstrels! On Friday, July 18, in Music Hall, Trefoil (at bottom in a YouTube video playing 13th-century Spanish music at a concert on Wall Street) will be performing their program “Dio Mio! That’s Amore!” that features musical works of the trecento and the Italian fixation upon love.

Trefoil

Countertenors Drew Minter (below top) and Mark Rimple (below middle) and soprano Marcia Young (below bottom) have appeared with leading early music ensembles around the country, and it’s the first time we’ve had two countertenors appear on one program.

drew minter

Mark Rimple with lute

Marcia Young

There are special lectures on Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon that are not repeated as pre-concert lectures, but all the daytime lectures from 11 a.m. to noon are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Several University of Wisconsin-Madison professors will be lecturers, including John W. Barker (below), Professor Emeritus of History, who has written music criticism for Isthmus and The Well-Tempered Ear.  Besides the lectures, we have a fun dance event with a live band, featuring dances of the Italian Renaissance. (Costumes are welcome!) The European court dance specialist will be teaching the dances, and she is a delightful presence, all week long!

John-Barker

Please check out our web site to get full descriptions about everything that is happening: www.madisonearlymusic.com

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cheryl: The electrical system in Mills Concert Hall is being overhauled this summer, and this has been our biggest obstacle. We almost used the Wisconsin Union Theater, which would have been really exciting, because we would have been the first group in there after the renovations at the Union. But the cost was prohibitive.

So we decided to use Luther Memorial Church (below top) for the Saturday, July 12, Toronto Consort performance, the Sunday, July 13, LIBER concert, and the final All-Festival Concert on Saturday, July 19. We will be in Music Hall (below bottom) for the other concerts; Ex Umbris on Tuesday, July 15; the second annual Handel Aria Competition on Thursday, July 17; and Trefoil on Friday, July 18.

luther memorial church madison

MusicHall2

The singers in the finals of the second Handel Aria Competition (below is a photo of the first competition last year that featured just a harpsichord accompaniment) will be accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble this year. We had a higher number of applicants this year from all over the country and several from Europe.

Handel arias Winnie Nieh

Also, Piffaro (below), the Renaissance Wind Band, will have their only performance in Edgerton at the Wartmann Prairie, on Friday, July 11, which will benefit the Edgerton Arts Council. MEMF artists have appeared on this benefit concert for the past 11 years. William Wartmann, a great patron of the arts in Rock and Dane counties, invited us to start this series and help raise scholarship funds for students in the Edgerton area to attend summer music programs.

piffaro indoors

Paul: Since this is our 15th year, we will be celebrating some of our past events and planning for new things in the future. We are excited about several new developments that we feel will set us up well for the next 15 years.


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