Walter Bitner

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BACHanalia 2016

our friend Sebastian

our friend Sebastian

Next Friday, April 15, from 5 – 11 pm, more than 100 Nashville musicians align efforts to perform the 10th Annual BACHanalia at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway in downtown Nashville. This unique, beloved event is a continuous, six hour concert of our friend Sebastian’s music presented once a year as a gift to the community. Click here for the church’s official announcement of the event.

In past years I have brought student ensembles to perform in this event, and this year I am fortunate to be performing myself. I was also very lucky, and was leaked a sneak peak at BACHanalia 2016‘s performers and selections, which I am now going to share with you here, dear readers of Off The Podium. Warning: Spoilers Ahead!

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Meet Telemann

Telemannwide

To his 18th century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous, influential, and highly-regarded German musician of the day. Four years older than his friends J.S. Bach and Händel – both of whose reputations have now eclipsed his – Telemann was more prolific than either, wrote sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music in virtually every genre, published on a nearly unprecedented scale, and did more than any other musician of his time to break down barriers that kept music a separate and elite component of civic, court, and church ceremony to elevate the role of music in the life of the middle class.

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Music City Baroque & Vox Grata: Music from the Venetian Ospedali

Music City Baroque & Vox Grata perform music from the Venetian Ospedale, January 24, 2016, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Music City Baroque & Vox Grata perform music from the Venetian Ospedali, January 24, 2016, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville ~ photo by George Riordan

Like much of this part of the country, last week Nashville was hit by a record snow storm – the largest snowfall recorded here in the last 28 years. Between 5 and 10 inches fell on Friday and Saturday, depending on what part of town you live in (8 inches was the official recorded snowfall at Nashville International Airport).

When snow falls here the city shuts down. Not only do schools and businesses close, but it’s simply not safe to be on the roads. We have few plows and they only attempt to clear main roads, leaving most neighborhoods treacherous and ice-bound. My family did not leave our house on Friday or Saturday, except on foot to walk the dog or to scout out the state of neighboring streets.

So by Sunday afternoon, when the city had begun to thaw out, I was happy to make my way across town to hear an afternoon concert of old music performed in collaboration by two local ensembles.

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Petrarch’s Lyre

Petrarch

The Lute Part IV

The Lute and the New Humanists

The lute was already well-established as a favorite instrument in Italy by the 14th century (the Trecento). The happy circumstances that led to the rise of the lute as the emblematic and most revered instrument of the European Renaissance can be traced to its being readily on hand for the new humanist philosophers and poets who created the movement.

Already the lute was so familiar that in the early years of the century Dante (1265-1321) had used this simile to describe the counterfeiter Master Adam encountered in the eighth circle of Hell:

Io vidi un, fatto a guisa di lēuto
(I saw one, who would have been shaped like a lute)

~ Inferno XXX, 49

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante's Master Adam

Inferno: Canto XXX by Priamo della Querci (c.1400-1467) ~ surely the potbellied man in the scene on the right is Dante’s Master Adam

But Petrarch actually played the lute, and equating it with the the lyre of Classical Greece, he imbued the cultural perception of the instrument with a rich symbolism that permeated European art, music, and poetry for centuries.

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The Boar’s Head Carol.

with the Boar's Head before a Tastes & Sounds of the Season performance, Nashville School of the Arts, 2012

posing with the Boar’s Head before a Tastes & Sounds of the Season performance, Nashville School of the Arts, 2012 ~ photo by Brooke Semar

This is the first holiday season in years that I have not spent consumed by the preparations and execution of a big school performance. Over the last 25 years I directed many of these, with students of all grade levels K-12. In fact, for much of my adult life, I have spent most of each fall listening to, arranging, teaching, and rehearsing Christmas and holiday music – beginning as early as August in some years.

However, in the last few months when I found myself reminiscing about it, I realized that it was already far too late to write anything that would be of any immediate use or interest to choir directors and elementary or middle school music teachers who may read this – most initial planning for these extravaganzas happens in the summer.

I decided to put off writing in earnest about my experiences producing these performances – and my thoughts on how and why to do so – until next summer, when it will hopefully be more useful. But so as not to gloss over the whole issue without any consideration at all, we will content ourselves with a single post this season about a carol whose performance became a hallowed and beloved tradition for so many of my students over the years. I am talking about, of course, The Boar’s Head Carol.

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The Medieval Lute

The Lute Part III

two lutenists from the manuscript of Cantinas de Santa Mariaof Alfonso the Wise of Castile (1221-1284)

two lutenists from the 13th century manuscript Cantigas de Sancta Maria of Alfonso the Wise

By the middle of the 16th century, professional lutenists led by virtuosi such as Francesco da Milano had established the lute, and more importantly secular instrumental music, as a deep, abiding, and richly developed component of Western culture. The impact the early lutenists made on both their contemporaries and on the generations that followed influenced the course and development of our musical traditions in ways that are still felt today.

How did the lute rise from a little-known cultural import to become the defining instrument and symbol of music in Renaissance Europe – including its elevation to preeminent stature as the instrument of princes?

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An Interview with Matthew Halls

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Matthew Halls (photo credit Eric Richmond)

Part 1 of 3

This week Matthew Halls is in Nashville to conduct the Nashville Symphony in four performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos, complete in one concert. The performances will be held October 22-25 and feature Mark Niehaus, trumpet, and Jun Iwasaki, violin. Tickets are available here.

British conductor Matthew Halls is one of the most versatile musicians in classical music today.  In the early years of his career he worked as a keyboard player and early music conductor but he is known today for his dynamic work in music of all periods. Matthew Halls is Artistic Director of the Oregon Bach Festival, and conducts symphony orchestras and opera all over the world.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with Matthew and talk about music and his career for an hour this week before rehearsals began – here follows a transcript from our conversation.

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Francesco da Milano

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

woodcut (of Francesco da Milano?) ~ the cover of Intabolatura di liuto published in Venice in 1536 by Francesco da Forli

The Lute Part II

In one of my first lute lessons with Pat O’Brien (c. 1993) I must have enthused about the music of Francesco da Milano, which I had been listening to on one of the first CDs of lute music I came across at Tower Records, a collection of this composer’s works played by Paul O’Dette that had just been released by Astrée. (This superb recording – still one of my very favorites – is now out of print.)

In what I was to learn was Pat’s typical unrestrained style, he took down two large, thick, heavy, volumes off of the bookshelves that lined the back wall of his studio – or perhaps dug them out from under a pile of other books, I don’t remember – and put them in my hands. This was Arthur Ness’s monumental The Lute Music of Francesco Canova da Milano published by Harvard University Press in 1970, which by then I believe was out of print and generally difficult to come across.  American musicologist Arthur Ness is to Francesco like Ludwig von Köchel is to Mozart: Ness was the first to collect all Francesco’s known works from prints and manuscripts found in libraries all across Europe, catalog, and number them.  As Mozart’s works are known by their Köchel numbers, Francesco’s extant pieces are known and differentiated by their Ness numbers – especially helpful as more than ninety of them are either untitled or simply named Fantasia or Ricercar in the original sources.

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The Brandenburg Concertos

disputed portrait of our friend Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early to mid thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

disputed portrait of Sebastian by Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder (d. 1723) painted c. 1715, which would make him 30 years old here. Sebastian wrote the Brandenburgs in his early- to mid-thirties and submitted them to the Margrave in 1721

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are in the front rank of the masterpieces of Western music, and are his most-performed and best-known works. Ironically, these remarkable pieces are not simply the best or most popular works from a large number of similar efforts, as for instance is the case of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – they are unique in Sebastian’s oeuvre in almost every way.  The Brandenburgs are not representative of Sebastian’s output except in the masterful manner of their composition and in the virtuosic forces needed to perform them.

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Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Saturday

Part 2 of 2

This is the conclusion of the story I began in Nashville Early Music Festival 2015: Prelude & Friday

Participants Chorus - Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo

Participants Chorus – Mareike Sattler is not pictured as she was taking the photo

Saturday

On Saturday morning I made it back to Lipscomb before the 9 am voice masterclass in Ward Hall with Margaret Carpenter.  Brooke sang first and worked with Margaret for a half hour, followed by countertenor Patrick Dailey, who sang Thomas Campion’s Never Weather-Beaten Saile: another lute song, which I also accompanied.  Margaret had many helpful suggestions for each singer – mostly focusing on expression – and the hour went by quickly.  I ended up staying in the room for the next session as well – Participants Chorus with Terri Richter and Mareike Sattler – and served as impromptu accompanist as we sight read sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria.

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