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Noon Edition

Everybody Hates a Prodigy


Prodigies inspire and amaze us. Often, they accomplish things in their teenage years that most of us cannot hope to achieve in a lifetime. This hour on Harmonia, we listen to music and poetry by brilliant young minds. Then, stay tuned for featured release Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5, performed by Blue Heron.

“Ave Maria mater dei” performed by Blue Heron, from their 2017 release, Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5.

London Prodigies

Let’s begin our exploration of early music by child prodigies in the city of London. Rumor has it that Henry Purcell wrote his first compositions when he was nine years old. The earliest extant work by Purcell is a birthday composition for Charles II, written in 1670, when Purcell was 12. I have to confess that I am amused by the thought that the title, “Blow up the trumpet in Sion,” might have been especially appealing to a 12-year-old composer.

Henry Purcell’s “Blow up the trumpet in Sion,” written when Purcell was 12 years old, and performed by the Oxford Camerata, led by Jeremy Summerly.

Our second prodigy, Felice Giardini, was not a native Londoner; but like many in his generation, he was an Italian transplant. Born in 1716, Felice’s father sent him at a young age to Milan to study singing, harpsichord, and composition. Upon finishing his studies, Giardini returned to his first love — the violin, becoming a section leader in the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples in the 1740s.

We’ll hear the musette from Giardini’s Op. 1, No. 6 violin sonata.

A musette, from Felice Giardini’s violin sonata (Op. 1, No. 6). We heard Simon Standage, violin, and Friederike Chylek, harpsichord.

Forever Young

For some prodigies, everything happened too soon. Baroque composers Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Johann Gottlieb Goldberg both died before they reached the age of 30.

Pergolesi suffered from ill health his entire life. He was born with polio and ultimately died of tuberculosis. Pergolesi’s family suffered from many painful losses as well; his two brothers, and sister all died in infancy, and his mother — and then later his stepmother — died when he was young. Considering his frail health, it is astounding that Pergolesi even lived into his 20s.

We’ll hear the opening duet, “Stabat mater dolorosa” from Pergolesi’s last work, Stabat Mater, composed when he was 26. The work became wildly popular, and was reprinted frequently in the following decades.

“Stabat mater dolorosa” by Pergolesi — with Lucy Crowe, soprano and Tim Mead, countertenor. David Bates led La Nuova Musica in that 2017 harmonia mundi release of works by Pergolesi and J. S. Bach.

Like Pergolesi, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg died of illness before the age of 30. Little is known about his life, and much of his history is clouded by dubious accounts. For example, Goldberg was reported to be the pupil of J. S. Bach — or was it W. F. Bach? — and was a skilled composer — or was it that he was an excellent sight-reader at the keyboard? The most famous bit of speculation surrounding Goldberg’s life has to do with Bach’s so-called “Goldberg Variations.” Bach first published this work as “Clavier Ubung” or “Piano Exercise.” It was 18th-century music historian Johann Nikolaus Forkel who created the narrative of Goldberg’s association with the piece. We don’t know if the piece was written for Goldberg, if he ever played it, or if Forkel simply fabricated the whole story. Whatever the reasons, Goldberg’s name is now permanently tied to the work.

Here is music from Goldberg’s Psalm 12 setting. Then, we’ll hear variation 25 from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”

Harpsichordist Ignacio Prego performed the aria and variation 25 from Bach’s "Goldberg Variations," from a 2016 Glossa release. Before that we heard the chorus “Hilf, Herr! Die Heilgen haben abgemenommen” from Johann Gottlieb Goldberg’s setting of Psalm 12. Florian Heyerick directed Ex Tempore.

The Tenth Muse

Known in her lifetime as “the tenth muse” and “Mexican Phoenix,” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz continues to fascinate lovers of poetry for her radical leanings. She was remarkable in her time for being a progressive female writer, who advocated for women, prostitutes, and black slaves and aboriginals in colonial New Spain. As a young girl, she was said to have read her grandfather’s entire library of over 3,000 books. Sor Juana Inés's extraordinary abilities led her to a life at court, working for the Spanish Viceroy and his wife in Mexico City in the 17th century, She eventually became a Hieronymite nun at the monastery of Jeronimas de Puebla.

Let’s listen to Juana Inés’s “Las fuentes mi von socorran” set to music by Spanish baroque composer — Ruiz de Ribayaz. Then, we’ll hear “Traigo conmigo un cuidado” by Gaspar Sanz, a setting of a text by Juana Inés.

Gaspar Sanz’s “Traigo conmigo un cuidado” followed by Ruiz de Ribayaz’s setting of “Las fuentes mi von socorran,” both with text by Juana Inés de la Cruz, performed by Constantinople & Françoise Atlan on the 2011 recording Early Dreams.

Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5

This week we feature Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5 performed by Blue Heron, directed by Scott Metcalfe. This 2017 recording is part of Blue Heron’s 5-CD project to record works from the Peterhouse Partbooks. These books are named after the building where they were housed, Peterhouse in Cambridge. The collection includes English choral part-books from the 16th and 17th centuries.

An anonymous setting of the Agnus Dei. That was Blue Heron performing music from our featured release, Music from the Peterhouse Partbooks, Vol. 5.

Break and theme music

:30, Pergolesi, G. B.; Stabat Mater / Bach, J. S.: Cantatas, BWV 54, 170, La Nuova Musica, harmonia mundi 2017, Tr. 6 O quam tristis et afflicta

:60, The Best of Purcell (1659-1695), Naxos 2009, Tr. 11 Chacony, Z. 730 

:30, Italians in London! Sonatas and other Music by Italian Visitors, Simon Standage, violin and Friederike Chylek, harpsichord, Chandos 2015, Tr. 9 Violin Sonata in G Minor, Op. 1, No. 6: III. Allegro

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Sarah Huebsch.

Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at

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