The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What makes early Slavic music different? What composers are being rediscovered? And what will the All-Festival concert offer? Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman Rowe talks about the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF). The festival starts this coming Saturday and runs through the next Saturday. Here is Part 2 of 2 parts. | July 7, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens this coming Saturday night and runs through the All-Festival concert the next Saturday night. The topic is “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

Here is a link to the home website where you can information and event, times and prices: http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below), who co-directs the festival with her husband, UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, agreed to talk about the festival and its lineup of workshops, lectures and concerts. Her interview is running in two parts.

Here is a link to Part 1, which ran yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/classical-music-co-artistic-director-cheryl-bensman-rowe-talks-about-early-eastern-european-music-which-is-the-focus-of-this-summers-madison-early-music-festival-memf-the-festival-starts/

Today is Part 2.

Cheryl Rowe color 1

How does early Slavic or Eastern European music differ from its counterparts in, say, Western Europe such as Italy, France, Spain and England. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world?

The early Slavs came from Indo-European lands, spreading from various parts of Asia into Eastern Europe around 2000 B.C. Under the pressure of nomadic hordes, the Slavic tribes crossed the Carpathian Mountains and pushed their way down to the Balkans. Others moved westward toward the upper Danube, and still others eastward toward the River Dniper and Black Sea.

This migration continued from the fourth through the eighth century, giving birth to the Slavic nations that we know today. East of the River (below) explores the dance music and traditional melodies from these indigenous cultures, and you will hear the haunting and virtuosic melodies from these Slavic traditions that influenced the music of many Eastern European compositions.

East of the River

Bob Wiemken (below), from Piffaro explains: “It would seem at first consideration that an immersion in music of Slavic lands and peoples to the East during the medieval through baroque periods would yield some sounds, styles and repertoire strikingly different from that produced by composers from western lands, and in some cases and during certain times that assumption yields expected results.

“However, when comparing what might be considered composed art music, the fodder of courts and cathedrals, a surprising similarity between the two, between East and West, emerges, at least insofar as the lands bordering on what is normally considered “western Europe” are concerned.

“On closer examination the reasons for this similarity seem clear. Political and cultural interchange between East and West burgeoned during the late 15th through early 17th centuries. Eastern rulers, especially in Poland and Hungary, sought to build their courts and chapels after western fashion. They thus attracted some of the best western composers to create and/or head their musical establishments for a time. Easterners studied and worked in western environs, most notably the Slovenian Jakob Handl in Vienna and the Hungarian Bálint Bakfark in Paris and Padua, and many western composers occupied lofty musical positions or spent a portion of their professional careers at eastern courts.

“As a result, western sacred polyphony, the international musical language of the day, traveled east and settled in Slavic courts and cathedrals, and eastern dances, such as the Polnischer Tanz, the Passamezzo ongaro and the Ungarescha journeyed east, creating a tale of cross-cultural influence and engagement in the musical interaction between western and eastern composers.”

And Jordan Sramek, director of the Rose Ensemble, writes:

“During the 17th century there is an often-forgotten relationship between Poland and Italy and there is a striking influence the Italianate style had on Polish composers of the time. Also, Italian composers were invited to the Imperial Russian court to be in residence in St. Petersburg.”

Bob Wiemken

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

Many composers and their works have only been neglected because the music was unavailable to us in Western countries. The music in some of the Eastern European collections has been out of print, or inaccessible in libraries. It’s the same with recordings—Amazon does not have everything!

Ancora String Quartet violist and Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt (below center) should be interviewed about her experience in Hungary. Tom Zajac was in Poland several years ago, and talked to Polish musicians, went to libraries, and tried to soak up as much information as he could while he was there.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

As time goes by, it will become easier to travel to some of these countries, and more materials will become available, there will be more ensembles presenting this music. Music historians from the East have been doing research, but a lot of their books and articles need to be translated into English.

Jordan Sramek (below), the director of the Rose Ensemble, describes the situation so well, “Among scholars and performers of early vocal music, there is, perhaps, an unreasonable lack of attention paid to music from what is contemporarily referred to as “Eastern Europe.” While some musicians spend their careers digging in the “Western” libraries of Florence and Paris, the shelves of the manuscript libraries and monasteries of Krakow, Moscow and Prague often remain dusty, either due to lack of interest or perceived inaccessibility.”

The Rose Ensemble concert features only a glimpse of the great wealth of early vocal repertoire from Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Bohemia, in an attempt to shine some light on some truly brilliant gems.

Jordan Sramek 

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday, July 18th?

At the All-Festival Concert (below is a photo of last year’s, held in Luther Memorial Church instead of Mills Hall) at the end of the festival on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, there will be a wonderful program of Slavic music. The first half will feature Polish composers:

“Missa Lombardesca” by Bartołomiej Pękiel: https://youtu.be/lT8ZBRqQWZ8

That will be followed by a triple-choir “Magnificat” by Mikołaj Zieleński: https://youtu.be/Rb414r9IScE and motets by Mikołaj z Krakowa.

The second half of the program will feature excerpts from a wonderful Hungarian collection that Marika Fischer Hoyt found for MEMF when she was in Hungary this past summer. She was visiting family, but also spent a lot of time in the library researching music that is only available in Hungarian libraries. Libraries are still so valuable, and it’s wonderful to know that we can’t find everything on the Internet!

Take Harmonia Caelestis, a cycle of 55 sacred cantatas attributed to the Hungarian composer Paul I, First Prince Esterházy of Galántha (1635–1713) and published in 1711. They are in the Baroque style, and each of the cantatas consists of one movement, composed for solo voices, choir, and orchestra. https://youtu.be/txE-Levn_vM

The program will end with Ukrainian composers Ephiphanius Slavinetsky (below, depicted revising service books), a sacred choral concerto by Dmitri Bortnianski.

Epiphanius Slavinetsky

Next on the program, you will hear a stunningly beautiful a cappella choral work, “Now the Powers of Heaven,” by Giuseppe Sarti. https://youtu.be/4VI6chNJe50

In 1784, Sarti was invited by Catherine the Great to succeed Paisiello as director of the Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. We will end the program with a work by Nikolai Diletski.

Many of these works have not been recorded, so we hope the Madison community will join us to hear these unknown works. Also, it’s not too late to sign up to sing or play in the workshop! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/classes.htm

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers that you especially recommend for the general public?

I think everything is highly recommended, and I’m looking forward our first day on Saturday, July 11, with the opening concert of the Rose Ensemble. John W. Barker, who is well known to The Ear, will be presenting the opening 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture, “Discovering the ‘Other Europe’”, which will give a wonderful overview for the week. There will be other lectures throughout the week, and the Balkan Dance event with live music, on Wednesday, July 15, will be really fun.

I’ve included the link, which has more information about these and all the other events. Try to see them all! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/events.htm

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’re looking forward to an entire week immersed in the wonderful Slavic sounds.

And in 2016 we will be celebrating Shakespeare!

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2 Comments »

  1. After receiving the Well-Tempered Ear for some time, it stopped coming some months ago. I’m told my name is already on your list. I wish to receive it again.

    Comment by Nancy Klatt — July 7, 2015 @ 8:48 am

    • Dear Nancy,
      I am so sorry about this, but I have no control over subscriptions.
      That beings to WordPress.
      When it has happened with others,
      the best solution has been to
      unsubscribe and then resubscribe.
      Try that and see if it works.
      It is a glitch that has to do with maintaining servers and rebooting, I think.
      Good luck and let me know the results.
      Best wishes,
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — July 8, 2015 @ 8:05 am


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