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Noon Edition

Catching Up With The Boston Camerata, Part 2

Anne Azema with the Boston Camerata.

Time capsule for this episode: 1715

The Medici Codex

Early musical manuscripts provide us with much of the music we know of the medieval and renaissance periods. In 1518 the Medici pope Leo X presented one such manuscript to his nephew Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino on the occasion of his marriage to a French princess.

The Medici Codex, now housed in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, is a collection of 53 motets by many composers associated with the French court at the time, among them Jean Mouton, a favorite of Pope Leo X. Let's hear Mouton's Nesciens mater, set as an 8-voice motet, performed by The Brabant Ensemble.

Other composers in the manuscript include Josquin Desprez, Mouton's student Adrian Willaert, Johannes de la Fage, and Andreas de Silva, just to name a few. We know very little about De Silva and La Fage, except that they were both highly regarded by Leo X. De Silva served as a private singer to the pope from 1519-1520, and La Fage was known as "a contrabass, the best in Italy."

Music from the Medici Codex: Cappella Pratensis, directed by Joshua Rifkin, performed Andreas de Silva's 5-voice motet Omnis pulchritude Domini and Johannes de La Fage's Videns dominus civitatem desolatam, very likely a prayer to ward off the plague.

Catching Up with the Boston Camerata, Part 2

The Boston Camerata is one of the longest lived early music ensembles in the world. This week on Harmonia, we're continuing my conversation with Anne Azéma. Anne took on the role of artistic director of the Boston Camerata in 2008, but she has been singing with the group for much longer than that and is well versed in many different repertoires. In this portion of the interview, we talked specifically about American music.

AM: I'm interested to know how an American early music group is received by a European audience in Europe especially in terms of some of these programs, for example you mention the one about patriots and American heroes. What were your observations about how it was received?

AA:…the very first time that the Boston Camerata sung American music, it was when we were invited by the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and the director of the Théâtre de la Ville had given kind of a "carte blanche" (blank check) to Joel Cohen the director of the time, saying, "Hey we know you! Just come and do us a concert!" And Joel was in the middle of really taping very intensively American music at that time…and I remember that we came in the hall which was filled up to the brim and there was a bit of a tension in the hall, actually. And you could feel that people were like, "Well, what is that American music!?" They were a bit of worry in a way, and we started singing and within 3 minutes it was as if the hall as a giant muscle had completely relaxed and let go and said "Oh! That's what it is! We love it we like it, we can understand it!" And when we did Patriots and heroes, (Saw ye me my hero), the program the Cité de la Musique commissioned for us in February, I told the director of the hall, right away, "You know...the public will need to at some point be with us. Make music with us, and dance! At the end, dance with us!" And the director of the hall said, "Well, honey, that's good for Americans, but you're in Paris." I said, "Let us try!" We tried and we did it! They danced with us at the end, they got a fuller picture of what music and music making and a cultural event in the late 18th century and early 19th century America might have been like.

AM: It's so wonderful when you can get an audience involved that directly. And they have such a personal experience of it with the dancing and so on. It's just wonderful.

AA: I think this is the landmark for the Boston Camerata. For these concerts we push the envelope a little bit… for us, music is not something to be admired in glass case, you know, with a very careful and very precious way of taking care of it. We need to get out of the glass case. And that's where the Camerata‘s work I think is fascinating to me and the challenge is, but also the vision for the seasons to come, is that the concert arena where you have artists on stage far, far away sharing with you the most beautiful and precious thing is not enough. It's necessary perhaps up to a point, but then sharing and asking the public to take part and to reflect with us, be moved with us, sing with us sometimes in some of our programs, move with us in other programs or be witnesses is very important part of our work and I believe deep down that that's where we'll bridge with new eras of music making.

AM: Well, I'm thinking what we should do now is play the music.

AA: Good! This is the piece called The Harvest Hymn by Jeremiah Ingalls. Jeremiah Ingalls is the, was published in Exeter, New Hampshire, so he's a northeast composer. And it's excerpted from "The Christian Harmony." The harvest of souls at the last judgment is a very frequently used them in early American sacred song and it's probably this tune is probably derived from an English type tune, but the treatment is absolutely American.

AM: Isn't it interesting all of these wonderful octaves and fifths…

AA: Ah, that's where you see, you see that where for me as a European, when I first heard that, it's like if a house had fallen on me because it was in a way so reminiscent of earlier polyphonies-at the same time, clearly atavistic, I mean, clearly American, that I never came back from that shock. So you were asking me earlier about how is an American ensemble is received in Europe. I'm definitely a European, I was brought up in Europe, I now live in America, but it's clear that you do have these bridges inherent in the music as well, and one feeds the other. (I find that fascinating in many of these American pieces that you have those bridges with the Old World.)

AM: What you're saying about the shock of recognition happens the other way around to, because as Americans, some of us who grew up you know singing hymns in churches and so on and so forth, and then the first time we hear this Medieval music, we think, "Wait a minute, there's something in there, it's definitely different but at the same time there's something in there that I identify with, there's something in there that feels familiar to me…" and that interesting exchange works both ways.

AA: I have to illustrate this point. "Ontario," which is based on a theme that's very dear to me, which is the theme of travels and journeys that we've developed several programs around that…"Ontario" is piece which is an American piece…and it comes from the Mennonite hymnody repertoire…from the Philharmonia published there in 1875. Perhaps we could listen to "Ontario."

AM: Yes, please!


AM: It's so interesting when how when we contrast that with the previous one with this one you get that beautiful chorale texture.

AA: Absolutely, but I have another example if you want of Scottish connection which is a less square and less you know much more American.

AM: Sure!


AM: Is that second piece from the Scottish tradition or is that… it sounds…

AA: No, that's an American piece!

AM:Â I was just going to say that sounds like an American shape note hymn to me

AA: So we heard Scots Wha Ha'e which is from Scotland, 18th c, sung by William Hite, which is the Scottish piece that is fairly well known, and then we heard Bruce's Address from the New Harp of Columbia in Nashville, 1867, an America piece, with those beautiful crossing of the tenor and the open, and those very square ways of creating polyphony, which indeed comes from England where we had the trio, the favorite trio in England, Tenor tenor bass, and then once in America that got developed Tenor tenor bass, added with Women of course, because this is America! And then an alto voice developed as they went along.

AM: Its' so interesting-that particular style of early American hymnody, and also the shape note singing. It's interesting how it's associated in some cases with southern America and yet with the shape note singing, you have this flourishing practice of that up in New England, but now you have groups that take part in singing this all over the country… So it's become a real America phenomenon as well.

AA: I think it's wonderful! I think this is this country's repertoire and it should be as you know part of the regular music making and if we've taken part in trying to raise attention and bring it back, I'm very proud of that.

AM: And you have. It's wonderful.

Click here for the extended interview with Anne Azéma.

Featured release: Quixote & La Changeante

Why is a Viola like a lawsuit…? …Everyone's happy when the case is closed!

Poor viola! It always ends up being the brunt of musician jokes. Even in 1752, Quantz wrote in his treatise, [quote] "The viola is commonly regarded as of little importance in the musical establishment…it is often played by persons who are either still beginners in the ensemble or have no particular gifts with which to distinguish themselves on the violin…"


But in all fairness, the viola hasn't always been so under-appreciated. In a 1774 letter, CPE Bach said that his father, J.S. Bach, liked best to play the viola! Like Bach, Telemann must have also held the viola in high regard, or at least, seen the instrument's potential! Telemann's G major Viola Concerto is generally regarded as the first solo concerto ever composed for the instrument, and we'll hear this piece on this featured recording by the ensemble Europa Galante.

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