Renaissance Program Expresses the Divine
The San Francisco Renaissance Voices, founded in 2004, is an ensemble dedicated to singing lesser-known and rarely performed early music, and this June they'll do just that. Their coming run of "The Darkness and The Dawn" (on June 13, 14, and 21) is an exploration of the Italian Renaissance, and the final installment of "The Polyphony Project," which explored the five major Renaissance schools.
The "Darkness" in the program is a Requiem Mass by the Veronese priest Giovanni Matteo Asola (c. 1528-1609) for men's a cappella voices — a piece described by J. Jeff Badger, executive director and founder of the group, as having an "almost modal, antico style with a very dark, dense sound"; achingly beautiful voice crossings lend to its pathos. Although Asola was prolific in his lifetime, composing for St. Servero church in Venice and also writing a number of secular madrigals, he has fallen into obscurity and Badger believes this might be the first American performance of this contemplative work.
In contrast, the "Dawn" is music of the Milanese Benedictine nun Sister Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1678) for women's voices, and presents a brighter, florid sound typical of the early Baroque. Cozzolani wrote four volumes of music, all within the confines of her convent, the Santa Radegonda. When she later became the Abbess, she stopped composing. It is thought that some of her motets might have been smuggled out of the cloister for publication, and in fact, more than a dozen nuns published sacred works in Italy at the time. She herself had a virtuoso alto voice and sang first alto in the choir. Cozzolani's music is written for women's voices, with tenor and bass parts that were most likely sung by women, as well.
The San Francisco Renaissance Voices take this opportunity to arrange the parts for mixed voices — a 17th-century impropriety, but one that is sure to bring a richness of timbre and broader register to the music. The singers will be joined by guest instrumentalists Steven Lehning on viola da gamba and harpsichordist Jonathan Rhodes Lee in this joyful music — the early rhythm section that enhances that special swing between duple and triple meter common in the era.
Katherine McKee, assistant music director, takes the podium for this concert, and provides this insight: "Our concert in no way seeks to re-create an order of worship, or even to imply a monastic atmosphere. Rather, we're seeking to illuminate one of the miracles of the world of music and art: That despite the strictly cloistered environment in which Cozzolani composed, and the service-oriented nature of Asola's writings, this music escaped the confines of church and convent to be enjoyed by listeners throughout the secular world, both in their own time and through the centuries down to us."