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Upcoming Events

Concerts

Gerrod Pagenkopf, Countertenor
“Hopelessly Devoted” — Scenes of Turmoil and Triumph”
A concert of early Vivaldi, Handel, Monteverdi, Zipoli.

Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 8 pm
Cambridge Friends Meetinghouse
5 Longfellow Park, Cambridge

Sunday, November 7 at 3 pm
Loring Greenough House
12 South Street
Jamaica Plain Cambridge Friends Meetinghouse
5 Longfellow Park Cambridge

with Janet Haas, violone, Emily Dahl, Cynthia Freigvogel, and Benjamin Shute, violins.

Admission $15/$10

Early Music

Vivaldi and Me.

I first played the Vivaldi cello sonatas in the late 1950s when I was 11 or 12 years old. I remember the room in my childhood home where I first learned these pieces.

I’m in my childhood bedroom where I practiced, looking out the window at the darkness on a winter late afternoon. My family is in activity in the house. My mother is reading, and my brother upstairs practicing the violin. My sister is quietly occupied somewhere in the house. My dad is still at work, but will come home on the train soon. The train makes a soulful hooting sound as it enters the station, which I can hear faintly through the winter night.

All this is gone now and only in memory. My parents are no longer living. They’ve been gone for over 30 years, although, like Vivaldi, they are within me always. My brother and sister no longer live nearby – we have all scattered. But we are all still connected through memories, family ties, and music.

The house in New Jersey has been occupied by a different family for 33 years. I visited 10 years ago, and like a time capsule, nothing had changed, except the house and yard seemed smaller, and strange people (not our family) occupied it.

The Vivaldi sonatas remain a constant in my life, as do lingering, bittersweet memories from the past. Vivaldi always invokes in me those times, and my lost family.

I always have loved these pieces, and go back to them often. Each time I go back, I play the pieces differently, because I am a different person with different memories and knowledge each time I revisit. As I connect with them, I think about that girl on the cusp between childhood and adulthood in the bedroom of her family home in the dark winter, playing and hearing the pieces for the first time. I can imagine the purity of the tone coming out of that first experience of encountering Vivaldi’s loving and profound soul, in that little New Jersey house so long ago.

There is a touchstone of sadness in all music. Music is in essence the unfurling of emotion through time. Performed music is an act of love, inextricably linked to sadness and loss in some way. As an adult musician, I have experienced many more of life’s joys and burdens than that girl encountering Vivaldi for the first time so long ago in that room. When I play those notes now, they are mediated through my present life and experience. And yet the past is also there imbedded in the notes, the lost past, with its innocence, dark winter’s afternoon, and sadness.

– Laurie Israel 2/15/06, updated 05/18/14.

Early Music

On Stradella’s Sinfonia #12 for Violin

What does it mean to have a basso ostinato pattern of thirteen whole note measures? How are the measures grouped? Is there ambiguity that lends interest? How do the cellist and harpsichord gain so much pleasure, in fact, receive ineffably profound emotions in playing the same thirteen whole notes 26 times? (Once for the “theme” and then again, for 25 variations.)

The first four measures consist of a “stock” cadential pattern. The word cadence comes from the Latin word for “falling”. In speech, the cadence is the falling inflection of the voice, as at the end of a sentence. In music, very often there is some subtle slowing up at the cadence. Without the subtle changes in tempo occasioned by expressiveness and meaning, music sounds like a click-track on a pop recording.

This is one of the places where baroque music (performed by real humans, and not synthesizers), breathes with life.

What seems to be made up of fixed patterns, gets burnished and shines with inner light when performed with sensitivity. Baroque, after all, means not the same way each time. Ornaments are not just little trills (or thrills, if you will). Meter and breathing meter can be ornaments, as well as the spaces between the notes, which can (and should) vary endlessly.

In this piece, you will hear microscopic changes in tempos and falling-away cadences and differences as great as microbes seen under microscopes in well-performed baroque music.

This first pattern is quite strong — primal, perhaps, as it consists of the root note (tonic) its dominant (a relationship like sun and earth, or rather earth’s attraction but repulsion from the sun), then the dominant’s dominant (like the earth and moon), and back to the dominant. This is not the original “key”. A new key has been set. We have been moved, literally and figuratively.

The next pattern is bars 4 through 7, or 4 through 9. Why 4? Because 4 is the end of a cadential pattern, and the beginning of a step-wise exploration of bass line, whose travel is unknown, unguessable, surprising, but ending, in measure 9, at the same note (the dominant) that the pattern started on.

In measure 10 something amazing happens. A new note, a new chord, in C even, a majestic noble key. It is related to the original note, but on top of it a chord is constructed in quite a different universe as the tonic first note. This note starts the conclusory cadential chord progression of 4 notes. It seems a big truncated — it seems to want to be more measures — this gives the ending of the pattern a sense of ambiguity, even though it is clearly a cadential formula.

It is the measure 4 though measure 9 adventure/investigation that has to much experience or wisdom to express to us, and gives the piece its depth. The challenge of ostinatos or ground basses for the composer is to overlay originality and unexpectedness on the ground. Grounded yet not grounded, you might say.

In the violin part, listen for those little details in the variations – figurative notes going down rather than up within measures that give it the meaning that comes with experience.

Or the relationship of notes between the end of a measure to the beginning of the next which further create instability, vibrancy, and poignancy. Through these little details come hugely experienced and intense emotional meaning.

The expressing of musical ambiguities, and thereby, the moving of the human heart is the work of a composer and of ourselves as human beings. Doing it with the grace, subtlety and impact with very small changes as Alessandro Stradella does in in this Sinfonia is why Stradella has given us a gift for the ages.

– Laurie Israel
July 6, 2003

A baroque ensemble dedicated to the performance of unusual music

For information, e-mail us at: info@ensemblesuave.com

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