Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi defined a “first” and a “second” practice in baroque music.
According to the website of Chicago-based and nationally known classical group Music of the Baroque that is devoted to performing these 17th and 18th century works, Monteverdi said harmony and counterpoint took precedence over the text in the “first.” In the “second,” the need to express the meaning of the words suppressed any other concern, he said.
“In the baroque, it is the spirit of the second practice — using the power of music to communicate — that came to dominate the era,” the website said.
Monteverdi wrote some of the most influential compositions of the early baroque period under this definition of an era, including using poetry, such as “Ah, dolente partita!” by Giovanni Battista Guarini, to emulate that same intense emotion through his music like he did in Book IV of his famous nine books of secular madrigals published 1587-1651.
“The poetry didn’t have a place in music much earlier than (the baroque era). It is so secular, so sensuous. The writing style of Monteverdi really reflects that poetry,” said Patrick Clark, founder and artistic director of the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra. “He places achingly poignant dissonances on every one of these Italian words. … The music is astonishing anyway and then you read the poetry; you can’t believe how effective it really is.”
Audiences will hear Guarini’s words and Monteverdi’s music come to life from that madrigal at the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra’s next concert, “The Early Baroque: Echoes From Seventeenth-Century Cathedrals,” at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at Central United Church of Christ, 118 W. Ashley St.
Traveling back 400 years from music at the orchestra’s last, well-received concert highlighting modernist era composers, the Southside Philharmonic Orchestra is still delivering music that is rarely heard in a live concert setting in Missouri.
“You find a lot of modernist composers have an affinity for what is called early music. Renaissance music in particular was highly complex and in full blossom. But the baroque came out like rock and roll did after what preceded it, which was jazz. There is a relationship between these transitional eras,” Clark said. “Once we are a few hundreds year into the future, rock and roll will be part of the modernist movement. We only make that distinction, but it was part of that modernist era and an answer to the heavy romantic movement that preceded it.”
During a large part of the baroque period, composers were often commissioned and made a living from their writing under religious or political institutions. Monteverdi became “maestro di cappella” of the historic Basilica di San Marco Cathedral in Venice, Italy, in 1613. Many of his works were played in this church, illuminating the expressive music he put forth that included a wealth of symphonic instruments and choral pairings that created echoes in a globally known 17th century cathedral.
“Monteverdi has among the greatest vocal works ever written. They are very subtle and the most expressive ever written. … We are going to have a choir of six very fine singers doing Monteverdi madrigals (with showcased selections from Book IV). They are just jewels in the choral cannon. Three of those choir members are members of Vox Nova, led by director Christine Jarquio Nichols,” Clark said, noting she is a frequent collaborator and a “fine singer, director and will direct for the upcoming concert.”
Giovanni Gabrieli, who also held a position at Basilica di San Marco Cathedral, was another influential early baroque composer whose Antiphonal Brass Works from his book “Sacrae Symphoniae” will be performed at the upcoming concert. Clark said the Venetian cathedral is 30-40 times larger than Central United Church of Christ and has two opposing choir lofts, allowing for a beautifully full sound that amplifies Gabrieli’s pieces.
“He conceived the idea of putting a brass choir in one loft and brass choir in the other loft and brass choir on the floor. The music is in a dialogue, with lots of echo effects. We don’t have opposing choir lofts, but we do have a balcony and we are going to position brass players on both sides and on the floor on both sides,” he said, noting Todd Yatsook has comprised 12 exceptional brass players — calling themselves SPO Champion Brass — to complete these pieces in the program. “It is going to be truly a sonic phenomenon. In some cases, it will be quadrophonic sound.”
With Southside Philharmonic Orchestra being a chamber orchestra, Clark said he has had to make a few instrumental arrangements of his own to provide a more authentic sound, particularly as many musicians would improvise their obbligato parts that accompanied the singers. However, he said the inclusion of the vocals, brass and SPO players on a variety of instruments including harps, guitars, harpsichords and much more has made an amazing delivery of important early baroque pieces.
“Todd and Christine are equal in choosing this program. Without them, this program wouldn’t be what it is. This program has a symmetry and a kind of perfection in that symmetry that is a result of the three of us working together,” Clark said, noting there will be 19 pieces total alternating between vocal and brass collaborative works. “What is astonishing about this music is its freshness. … These two composers, among others, had this fresh new sound and fresh new ideas that would strike the ears of the listeners much like — as I like to compare it to — The Beatles. When The Beatles first came out, that sound was something that was unknown, and Monteverdi and Gabrieli had that new sound, too.”
Southside Philharmonic Orchestra will return as the pit orchestra for Dancer’s Alley’s “The Nutcracker” at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 and 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 16 at Miller Performing Arts Center, as well as plan to present a chamber orchestra version of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony this spring. SPO will also do a program with the Odyssey Chamber Orchestra Series of Columbia on Feb. 15 in Columbia and Feb. 16 in Jefferson City. Katie Smith, SPO principal flute player and vice president, will also perform Antonio Vivaldi’s “Piccolo Concerto in C Major” on Feb. 16.
Tickets to the Oct. 19 concert are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets are available at the door and at southsidephilharmonic.org.