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Harmonia Early Music

Names of the Rose

This week on Harmonia we’ll look at the rose as a symbol for a person, place, and thing.

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The rose has been a symbol for both love and beauty for centuries. It has also been used to describe feelings that can’t quite be expressed in any other way. So when the title character from Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo expresses his love directly to Euridice, he doesn’t call by her name… but refers to her as “rose from heaven.”

Like many Italian composers from the early baroque, Luigi Rossi set poetry that inevitably used the rose and its symbolism, but, in his aria A qual dardo it’s only part of the point. As its words beckons, “to which dart is the heart indebted?” The paleness of a hand? Flowing blond hair? Rosy lips? A stunning glance? To which dart, indeed?

Sometimes a rose is just a rose. When Handel set his native language, he did so to words by fellow countryman Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Handel’s nature loving Nine German Arias includes a small tribute to the rose in Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden (“Flaming Rose, ornament of the earth”).

Perhaps one of the most famous uses of rose symbolism is Heinrich Biber’s “Rosary sonatas” for violin. The fifteen mysteries in the lives of Mary and Jesus (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious) are depicted in special ways. Biber added a unique piece at the end for violin alone—a passacaglia.

The need for a lover is the subject in Purcell’s mad song From rosy bow’rs. While a rosy place is important, it is only a starting place for the mad protagonist. The rosy bowers are a place where cupids are beckoned to sway the lover in question. The song itself is a mini-drama intended for a larger setting, the play Don Quixote by Thomas D’Urfey.

The popular song The Red Red Rose was set to music many times before the words and music became a classic in the early 19th century. But in the years prior, singer and composer Pietro Urbani made his own rendition, set to words by Robert Burns.

Sometimes a rose is just a rose and sometimes it’s an entire opera. Such is the case in Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco’s setting of the traditional story of Venus and Adonis. Entitled La Púrpura de la Rosa (“The Blood of the Rose”), we ultimately discover that the rose gets its color from the blood of Adonis. Torrejón y Velasco’s work also has the distinction of being the first Spanish opera composed in the New World.

Our new release this week features lutenist Nigel North in the second installment of his complete recording of John Dowland’s music for solo lute.

Here’s a video of  Nigel North performing the music of John Dowland:


The music heard on this episode was performed by the New London Consort, Suzie Le Blanc, Dorothea Röschmann and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Reinhard Goebel, Jamie MacDougall and Concerto Caledonia, and Ensemble Elyma.

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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