Spelunkers and churchgoers and small children in bathrooms have always loved to hear their own voices bouncing back to them, and composers haven’t been immune to the lure of echoing air. We’ll hear musical echoes, short and long, from across Europe.
Here’s music from Henry Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. In this opera, Dido, Queen of Carthage, dies of thwarted love. And this being opera, she dies singing: Purcell sets her death scene as a vivid, anguished lament. We hear an echo of the Queen’s pain in the opera’s final chorus, With Drooping Wings.
In ancient mythology, Echo was a captivating nymph who wandered the mountains of Greece in love with the sound of her own voice. She was so articulate that she distracted Zeus’s wife, Hera, by telling long, drawn-out tales while the god cavorted with Echo’s fellow nymphs.
It was a dangerous game: when Hera discovered the ploy, she took Echo’s voice from her, dooming the storyteller to a life repeating back the words of others.
That act of sonic reflection is what we’re up to this hour on Harmonia. We’ll hear musical echoes from a range of times and places, savoring sounds that don’t just come around once.
Up first, an echo motet. Writing echoes into vocal music became popular in Italy in the late 1500s and early 1600s, and Giovanni Paolo Cima, a musical bigwig in Milan, tried his hand. We’ll hear Cima’s echo motet, Surge, Propera, Amica Mea in a version recorded by Ensemble la Fenice. Listen for Jean Tubery’s cornetto echoing, wordlessly, the phrases of countertenor Phillipe Jarousky.
Lodovico Viadana, an Italian contemporary of Cima’s, wrote at least four different echo motets in the first ten years of the 1600s. We’ll hear a kind of wordless echo—the imitation between instruments—in Viadano’s Canzon per cornetto & violino in Rispota, again performed by Ensemble La Fenice.
A fascination with echoes wasn’t restricted to Italy. The genial Englishman Henry Purcell used echoes to tell stories. In his opera Dido and Aeneas a group of evil sorceresses plots to take down a happy royal couple. To do so, they head to a cave to cast a spell, listening as the words of their evil song bounce back:
In our deep vaulted cell/the charm we’ll prepare/too dreadful a practice/for this open air.
Let’s listen to the evildoers of the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, accompanied by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. We’ll follow that with another example of Purcell playing with echoes in instrumental music from The Fairy Queen directed by Jordi Savall.
Have you ever gone into a cave or a canyon or a very large room and shouted, just to hear your own voice return to you? Some places inspire echoes.
One of those is St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, or San Marco. San Marco is domed in the style of the east and filled with elaborate mosaics. For many centuries it has been known as the “Chiesa d’oro,” or church of gold.
It is also very, very large, as Giovanni Gabrieli discovered when he became principal organist at San Marco in 1585. Gabrieli and his uncle, Andrea, experienced such a sound delay when their choirs faced one another across the space that they often opted to have only one choir sing at a time. This evolved into an echo effect: opposing choirs tossing melodies from one side of the church to the other.
Gabrieli wasn’t shy about taking advantage of his cavernous space. Let’s hear a piece from Gabrieli’s Sacrae Symphoniae of 1597.
The hills are alive this hour on Harmonia, as we explore musical rebounds –the use of the echo effect in music from across the European continent. We’ve heard echoes from Italy and England…what about other regions?
Let’s travel east to listen to Sonata ‘Cucu,” a bird-fancier’s violin sonata by Austrian composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Even if you’ve never seen a cuckoo bird, you’ve likely heard someone imitate its two-note call. Or maybe you’ve heard a cuckoo clock, the kind that echoes back a “cuckoo” for every hour of the day.
There’s a cuckoo caught in Schmelzer’s sonata; see if you can hear it.
Next we’ll hear another Germanic echo, this one by the organist and composer Hans Leo Hassler. His use of the echo effect may not have been a fluke: Hassler spent time studying with echo masters Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli in that Venetian echo chamber, the Basilica San Marco. Let’s hear Ton Koopman at the organ in Hassler’s Echo Fantasie.
“First Bouquet”—what a lovely title for a collection of music. The title has a French kind of floweriness, and indeed, Georg Muffat, who published both first and second bouquets of string music, was trained in Paris. But he didn’t stay there. Instead, Muffat traveled the continent, spreading the French style wherever he went—and picking up a few continental tricks along the way. We’ll hear two pieces by Muffat from Florilegium primum, or First Bouquet: First, an overture, and following that, a brief “echo.”
Let’s hear one final echo, this time from a churchyard in the Low Countries. Jacob van Eyck, a blind organist and carillonneur, used to pick up extra money playing tunes on his recorder on the church grounds over the lunch hour. We’ll hear Swedish recorder player Dan Laurin playing van Eyck’s Fantasia & Echo, from Der Fluyten Lust-hof.
Featured recording: Biagio Marini’s inventive techniques
We’ll continue our theme of sound effects on our featured release. The ensemble Galatea and violinist Monica Huggett perform a diversity of curious inventions from Biagio Marini’s opus 8 on a 2013 release on the Stradivarius label.
Marini’s first known musical appointment began in 1615 at St. Mark’s Basilica. There, Marini worked as a violinist under Claudio Monteverdi, likely gaining some of his inspiration for later harmonic innovation and treatment of the basso continuo.
Marini’s collection, published in 1629, explored all of the instrumental forms popular at that time. Marini highlighted solo sonatas such as the Capriccio in modo di un lira with scordatura and triple stops at a time when both techniques were still rare.
Theme and Break music
:30 Biagio Marini: Curiose invenzioni dell’opera ottava, Galatea with Monica Huggett, Tr. 19 – Curiose Invenzioni dall’opera ottava_ XIX. Sonata in ecco
:60 Biagio Marini: Curiose invenzioni dell’opera ottava, Galatea with Monica Huggett, Tr. 13 – XIII. Sonata Variata
:30 Biagio Marini: Curiose invenzioni dell’opera ottava, Galatea with Monica Huggett, Tr. 10 – Curiose Invenzioni dall’opera ottava_ X. Ritornello terzo
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992, B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
Claudio Monteverdi was another denizen of San Marco. The Italian composer took over the management of the music program in 1613. Only a few years earlier, he had explored echoes in the Vespro della Beata Vergine, or Monteverdi Vespers.
This substantial work’s most resounding echoes can be heard in Audi Coelum, a duet for two male voices in which one man, often standing at a distance from the action, acts as an echo for the other. We’ll hear a recording by the group Apollo’s Fire, conducted by Jeanette Sorrell.
[See the full playlist by clicking on the “Music on this episode” tab just above the image at the top of this web post.]
The writers for this episode of Harmonia are Anne Timberlake and Laura Osterlund.