2012 Festival Newsletter
Issue 9, February 2012
HANDEL AND THE RIVAL QUEENS
Christian Curnyn writes...
World-class performers gather to perform and compete for a fiercely partisan audience!
Huge sums of money change hands!
Fights break out between rival factions, and even politicians and royalty are swept up in the hysteria!
Olympic London 2012? Let's wait and see...
Operatic London 1726? Most definitely!
Handel's constant struggle to make Italian opera both financially and socially stable led him to one of his most intriguing, risky, and ultimately downright disastrous ideas. Why have one Prima Donna when you can have two? Francesca Cuzzoni had been Handel's leading lady at the Royal Academy for three years, creating roles like Rodelinda and Cleopatra, and had enjoyed huge success and popularity. But Handel and the other Academy directors decided that variety was the spice of life, and brought in one of Europe's other greatest sopranos, Faustina Bordoni, to sing in their operas alongside Cuzzoni. Apart from being an aberration of the Italian language, an opera company with two prima donnas was never going to be plain sailing ... join us and find out just what happened to these 'Rival Queens' before, during and after their reigns in London, as celebrated actor Christopher Benjamin intersperses our programme of arias, duets and overtures with readings from letters, journals, newspapers and satirical writings from those turbulent years!
BACH V. THE WORLD
Kimberly Marshall writes...
The coincidence of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music and the Olympic Games offers the opportunity to reflect on the nature of competition, especially as it concerns musicians.
Many a musical career has been launched by a major competition, replete with prize money, engagements and publicity. The proliferation of musical contests attests to the public's affinity for competition, even in domains where the results are far less quantifiable than in sports: instead of determining who is the fastest or strongest, juries must assess the relative merit of different approaches to a selected musical repertoire.
Whereas the vast majority of musical competitions today evaluate interpretation of notated repertoire, this was not true in the 17th and 18th centuries. Musicians faced off in a presentation of their technical and improvisational skills, creating music ex tempore. Johann Jakob Froberger's harpsichord "contest" with Matthias Weckmann c.1649 at the Electoral court in Dresden led to a lasting friendship between the two men. What began as a competition ultimately provided an opportunity for musicians to share ideas; indeed the Hintze manuscript, an important source of Froberger's music, is believed to have been copied by Weckmann.
The most famous keyboard contest of the 18th century was also set to take place in Dresden. In 1713, Louis Marchand left France for a tour of Germany, performing for the Emperor and several Electors, who were very taken with his keyboard virtuosity and masterful improvisations. Four years later, he agreed to a contest of harpsichord playing with Bach in Dresden.
Interestingly, there are no French accounts of the meeting, and the detailed description in Bach's obituary betrays an understandable partiality, referring to the "haughty" Marchand. It would seem that the day, time and place were set, but Marchand, after having accepted the challenge, evidently had cold feet and left Dresden very early the same day by special coach. The obituary concludes: "Bach, who thus remained sole master of the scene of the contest, accordingly had plentiful opportunity to exhibit the talents with which he was armed against his opponent... Whether Marchand's Musettes for Christmas Eve, the composition and playing of which is said to have contributed most to his fame in Paris, would have been able to hold the field before connoisseurs against Bach's multiple fugues: that may be decided by those who heard both men in their prime."
Although these keyboard Olympics never took place, my programme for the Lufthansa Festival uses extant organ repertoire by the two composers to give an impression of the music that might have been heard had Marchand stayed to compete. Bach wrote a number of pieces that pay homage to the French style, and Marchand's surviving organ music shows great virtuosity, with demands to play double pedal lines and three keyboards simultaneously.
It is tantalizing to imagine that the improvisations of these master musicians might even have surpassed their notated compositions, especially with the heightened adrenaline of a contest!
Buy a ticket for both concerts on Saturday 26 May and receive a voucher for a free glass of wine.
The concert by Retrospect Ensemble directed by Matthew Halls (pictured) and recorded on 21 May at last year's Festival will be broadcast at 1pm this Sunday, 26 February on BBC Radio 3.
For your further interest...
London Bach Society's Journal to be published on 5 March
'Bach Notes' is a 'special' that celebrates the 800th anniversary of a unique partnership, Leipzig's world-famous Thomanerchor-Thomasschule-Thomaskirche (the Thomana). A musical history without parallel, the Thomanerchor counts Sethus Calvisius, Johann Hermann Schein, Sebastian Knüpfer and Johann Kuhnau among its earliest influential cantors. Schütz composed for them, but in 1723 the city appointed a certain Johann Sebastian Bach... Copies are downloadable from www.bachlive.co.uk/bachnotes/
Stabat Mater by A. Scarlatti and two Mystery Sonatas by Biber
Saturday 3 March, 8.15pm
St. John's, Downshire Hill, Hampstead NW3
Rachel Elliott (pictured) soprano
Sally Bruce-Payne alto
Nicolette Moonen violin
Tickets: 020 8815 0197