Harmonia Early Music

Early Music, Modern Instruments, and Historical Recordings

This week we explore historical recordings by Nadia Boulanger, Wilhem Furtwängler and others, and listen to a new release by theorbist Rafael Bonavita.

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old woman teaching lesson

Photo: Al Fenn

Nadia Boulanger teaching a composition lesson (May 19, 1959, Life magazine).

For lovers of baroque music on period instruments, it might be difficult to imagine a world before the influence of the early music movement.  With historical performance being an integrated part of the music scene today, some of you will have difficulty remembering a time before it was relatively easy to hear a period ensemble live or on any number of recordings.  Yet there were few pioneers before the middle of the 20th century who performed music of the baroque other than J.S. Bach.  Nadia Boulanger was one such visionary who explored the music of Monteverdi as well as her native French patrimony.

Cover historical recordings from the early to mid-twentieth century, and you’ll keep on running into one name—J.S. Bach.  With dozens upon dozens to choose from, you might assume that there was difficulty in finding something unique for you to hear.  In fact, we did come across a special performance of the fifth Brandenburg concerto from 1950—a live recording of Wilhelm Furtwängler as director and piano soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Before there was a proliferation of countertenors and the inevitable superstars, there were just two names: Russell Oberlin and Alfred Deller.  Oberlin was America’s answer to the well-respected Englishman Deller.  While Oberlin was a founding member of one of America’s earliest period ensembles, he of course appears on many recordings accompanied by modern instruments.

In 1973, the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Johannes Somary recorded Handel’s entire Royal Fireworks Music in a way that had not been previously done.  They made history by recording the piece with the instrumentation originally called for by the composer: 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 9 trumpets, 9 french horns, and percussion.

Our new release of the week features Rafael Bonavita in his first solo theorbo recording of music by Allessandro Piccinini, Bellerofonte Castaldi, and Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, released on the Enchiriadis label.

Music Heard On This Episode

Alessandro Piccinini: see notes
Rafael Bonavita, theorbo — Música Moderna: Works of Piccinini, Castaldi, and Kaspberger (Enchiriadis , 2007)
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Alessandro Piccinini: see notes
Rafael Bonavita, theorbo — Música Moderna: Works of Piccinini, Castaldi, and Kaspberger (Enchiriadis , 2007)
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Claudio Monteverdi: Madrigals of Claudio Monteverdi: CD1
Hommage à Nadia Boulanger — Recordings 1930-1949 (VEL , 2004)
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Bach: Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, BWV 1050
Wiener Philharmoniker (Wilhem Furtwängler, conductor and piano soloist) — Bach/Beethoven (EMI , 2000)
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Handel: see notes
Russell Oberlin, countertenor — Handel Arias (Deutsche Grammophon, 2007)
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George Frideric Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks: Overture
English Chamber Orchestra, Johannes Somary, conductor — George Frideric Handel (Vanguard Classics, 1996)
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Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger: see notes
Rafael Bonavita, theorbo — Música Moderna: Works of Piccinini, Castaldi, and Kaspberger (Enchiriadis , 2007)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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