We’re investigating the moniker Monica this week on Harmonia. We’ll trace a tune dubbed “Monica” that was popular throughout Europe for two centuries, we’ll shine a spotlight on violinist Monica Huggett, and we’ll hear music for the glass “armonica.” Plus, a featured release from Monica Groop and the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra with music by Joseph Martin Kraus.
We’ll start with these two tracks: Tarquinio Merula’s Ballo Deto Eccardo and Ballo Detto Pollicio, performed by the ensemble La Monica. Stay with us: many more Monica monikers coming right up!
What’s in a name? Lots! At least when it comes to the name, Monica.
One of early music’s most famous Monicas on the scene today is English violinist Monica Huggett—a fixture in the field of historical performance for the better part of the last four decades.
Monica Huggett was only six when she started playing the violin, an instrument that has since taken her all over the world teaching and performing. In 1982, Monica founded her chamber ensemble Sonnerie, a group with which she has made countless recordings. Let’s hear some music from their 1993 recording—a CD of 17th-century English chamber music.
Let’s hear Monica Huggett and Trio Sonnerie perform Thomas Baltazar’s “John Come Kiss Me Now” from The Division Violin.
Quite apart from her own trio, Monica’s recording collaborations with other ensembles have over the course of her career grown to the hundreds. And she continues to make new recordings in her current role as artistic director of both the Irish Baroque Orchestra in Dublin and the Portland Baroque Orchestra in Oregon.
Here’s a track from Portland Baroque’s most recent recording of Bach concertos for 1, 2, and 3 violins. Violinist Monica Huggett was joined in this performance by fellow soloists Carla Moore and Rob Diggins.
In 2009, Monica Huggett was named the first artistic director of the Juilliard School’s then newly inaugurated Historical Performance Program. Monica currently continues her relationship with the school as an artist-in residence and artistic advisor, training a new generation of early music performers. Recently, the faculty ensemble in residence at Julliard, Julliard Baroque, made a recording of the French chamber music of Francois Couperin.
We’re listening to music about “Monica” this hour, and this might be a stretch, but it’s hard to resist playing some music written for the glass armonica.
Not to be confused with the mouth-blown HAR-monica played by many of today’s blues and folk musicians, the 18th-century glass armonica was a popular but short-lived musical instrument.
[Music bed: Glass Harmonica, Thomas Bloch, Naxos (2001), Johann Gottlieb Naumann, Tr. 5 Andantino amoroso (excerpt of 2:21)]
Making music with water-filled glasses is something people have been doing for ages. An early European reference to the musical glasses can be seen in a woodcut illustration from 1492 in Gaffurius’s “Theorica musicae.”
Pictured in the illustration are several glasses sitting on a table, each filled with different amounts of water so that they produce different pitches when hit with a mallet. Sound could also be produced by stroking the rims of the glasses with the fingers.
But it wasn’t until Benjamin Franklin heard a concert of glass music while he was in England that the “armonica” in its proper and most popular form was invented.
Elaborating on the very simple concept, Franklin mechanized the water glasses. Rather than tuning the glasses with varying amounts of water, he fashioned glasses of many sizes with different diameters and thicknesses and then fitted them together concentrically along the length of a spindle, which was rotated by a pedal. Large glasses produced the bass notes, while the smaller glasses made higher pitches.
Franklin’s design allowed for the glass rims to be much closer together, making it easier for performers to play chords and attempt more complicated music.
The instrument was a sensation in Europe! Marie Antoinette is said to have played the instrument, as did the good doctor Franz Mesmer who used it as a tool to “mesmerize” patients in his hypnosis practice. And composers, (more than you might think!), began writing serious music for the armonica, among them Donizetti, Mozart, Beethoven, Hasse, and many other minor composers.
Let’s hear a piece by one of those minor composers, the little-known Karl Leopold Röllig.
Sopra la Monaca
“La Monaca” was a tune popular throughout Europe from the 16th century to the 18th, but its roots are in an Italian folk tune called “Madre non mi far monaca”—“Mother, don’t make me become a nun!”
This song is about a girl resisting her fate to be confined to a convent and was most well-known in France by the title “Une jeune fillette.”
In Germany, the “Monica” tune circulated with many different texts and was eventually even set to the text “Helft mir Gott es Güte preisen” and was printed in Lutheran hymnals, while in England, “La Monica” became “The Queen’s Almaine.”
Let’s hear Bertrand Cuiller play a variation on an English reincarnation of “La Monica,”—“The Queen’s Alman,” set by William Byrd in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.
Here’s another instrumental set of variations on the tune “La Monica,” this one for dulcian—a type of early bassoon—by German composer Philipp Friedrich Böddecker.
Our last Monica moniker this hour is Finnish mezzo-soprano Monica Groop. She performs with the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra on our featured release of arias and overtures by composer Joseph Martin Kraus. The disc features several of Kraus’s works that until now have never been recorded.
Kraus’s sacred aria “Parvum quando cerno Deum” is one of the premieres included on this disc. Written in 1776 possibly for a local church nearby, Kraus would have been about 20 years old at the time of its composition. It’s a sweet lullaby about Mary and baby Jesus with lovely intertwining solos for the voice, violin, winds, and horns.
Joseph Martin Kraus was Mozart’s exact contemporary. Both were born in 1756—Mozart in Salzburg, Kraus in Miltenberg in central Germany. But Kraus didn’t stay in Germany. When he was 22, he took off for Stockholm and within a couple years was appointed deputy Kapellmästare in the court of Gustav III.
Kraus was a well-traveled man. In 1782, Gustav financed a European tour for the composer to Germany, Austria, Italy, England, and France where he absorbed the latest musical styles and met important composers like Gluck and Haydn.
Several of the songs on this disc reflect these travels—the texts written in Italian or French. But at home in Stockholm, Kraus composed some of his songs in Swedish.
Here’s a little Swedish song he wrote as an insertion aria intended as a musical interlude during a play.
The original manuscript was lost in a theatre fire in 1827 but has been reconstructed for this performance given by the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra and Monica Groop.
[Music bed: Joseph Martin Kraus: Arias and Overtures, Monica Groop and Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Naxos (2014), Konung Gustav III Begrafnings-kantat, VB 42: Tr. 10 Overture (excerpt of 6:19)]
Break and theme music
:30, Glass Harmonica, Thomas Bloch, Naxos (2001), Johann Abraham Peter Schulz, Tr. 1 Largo for glass harmonica in C minor (excerpt of 3:37)
:60, Ensemble La Monica (self-titled recording), SFZ Music 2006, Phillip Friedrich Böddecker, Tr. 27 Sonata Spora La Monica, for bassoon and basso continuo (excerpt of 5:24)
:30, Fagotto, Basson, Dulcian, Curtal, Syntagma Amici / Jeremie Papasergio, Ricercar (2013), Eustache du Caurroy: Tr. 13 Fantasy No.3 on “Une jeune fillette” (excerpt of 3:43)
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal
The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Janelle Davis.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.