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Name of Work

Purcell, Henry (1659-1695)
Suite

Movements:
I. Symphony from "King Arthur"
II. "Hark, the Echoing Air" Aria from the Fairy Queen
III. Symphony from Act IV of "The Fairy Queen"

Performances:


Feb 10, 2008



Sarah Gartshore, Soprano (vocal)
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Charles Geyer, Trumpet
Barbara Butler, Trumpet
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Michael Kozakis, Percussion
Thomas Wikman, Harpsichord
Peter Lloyd, Double bass


Feb 11, 2008



Michael Henoch, Oboe
Dennis Michel, Bassoon
Charles Geyer, Trumpet
Barbara Butler, Trumpet
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Joseph Genualdi, Viola
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Katinka Kleijn, Cello
Peter Lloyd, Double bass
Michael Kozakis, Percussion
Thomas Wikman, Harpsichord
Sarah Gartshore, Soprano (vocal)

PURCELL-Suite (arranged by Charles Geyer and Thomas Wikman)

Composed in 1691

BACKGROUND
Instead of Italian opera, or the amalgam of opera and ballet that was preferred in Paris, theater-goers in late 17th-century London preferred the semi-opera: an existing or specially-written play to which musical interludes, called Masques, were added. Semi-operas were multi-media undertakings, encompassing drama, music, dancing, elaborate scenery, fanciful costumes, and special stage effects. Commentator Curtis Price has noted that "Spectacle, more than any other ingredient including music, defined semi-opera." Unlike a work such as "Don Giovanni" or "La Traviata," the music of a semi-operas is not continuous; it occurs only in certain types of scenes (ceremonies, love dialogues, battles, appearances by supernatural beings, and onstage entertainment episodes) as playlets within the play.

MUSIC
Besides his one "real" opera, Dido and Aeneas, Henry Purcell produced four semi-operas: Dioclesian, The Indian Queen, King Arthur, and The Fairy Queen, which is based on an anonymous adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream that rewrites the Bard rather thoroughly and focuses particularly on the character and actions of Titania, the Fairy Queen herself, plus King Oberon, Puck, the two pairs of young lovers, assorted fairies, and the rustics: Nick Bottom and friends. King Arthur is a different proposition: instead of working with a haphazard libretto that somewhat deconstructs Shakespeare, Purcell was able to collaborate with a colleague and admirer, the distinguished playwright John Dryden, who crafted a completely new work, partly as a retelling of old legends, partly as a celebration of British nationalism, and partly as a tribute to a particular element of that tradition: monarchy. Arthur, king of the Britons, fights the invading Saxon armies led by King Oswald. Each king employs a private magician, Arthur's being the famous Merlin. By Act 5, the Saxons have been defeated and Merlin arranges a spectacular musical entertainment that forecasts a prosperous, united Britain of the future. The scene is a seascape, and an island is seen to rise magically from beneath the waves to reveal Britannia triumphant. The ascent is heralded by a short Symphony played on violins; the basic, slow-moving tune, an elaborate melody presented by the instruments in close imitation, is contrasted with a recurring faster figure that scurries through the top line, creating anticipation of the brilliant scenic effect to come.

For the second element of their Purcell Suite, Charles Geyer and Thomas Wikman chose a last-act aria from The Fairy Queen. By Act 5, Oberon and Titania have resolved their quarrel, and Puck has unscrambled the affairs of the two pairs of lovers, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius. The musical element is designed as a festivity to celebrate the upcoming double wedding, and the setting is a beautiful Chinese garden: an incongruous yet wonderfully exotic venue for singing and dancing. One of the soprano arias is the brief but brilliant
"Hark, the echoing air a triumph sings/And all around pleased Cupids clap their wings."
First the solo trumpet sets out the main theme, shortly picked up by the voice. The trumpet drops out, leaving the singer to be accompanied only by the continuo; the opening section, setting the first line of text, is repeated with elaborations. For the second line of text, the musical line is more chromatic, with heavily accented notes on the repetitions of the word "clap." A brief trumpet flourish brings the aria to a close.

Act four of The Fairy Queen, set late at night in the forest, is devoted to the complications among the lovers and the settling of the Oberon-Titania quarrel. The musical portion here is a fairyland celebration of the coming of day and the varied beauties of the four seasons, an entertainment to honor Oberon's birthday. It begins with a short multi-movement Symphony. First, trumpet and percussion offer a majestic fanfare. The Canzona portion (canzona means song) is very like an instrumental aria; the strings come to the fore, with imitative, somewhat chromatic lines fluctuating between major and minor. In the Largo, the trumpet sets out the main tune, which the strings then pick up. The Allegro is fanfare-like again; the Adagio is launched first by the lower strings, the higher joining in for a passage that once again fluctuates between major and minor. Now the Allegro is reprised for a festive ending: the dawn of a gorgeous summer day has arrived, and the fairies will begin their celebration.

Program Notes by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: February 10 & 11, 2008



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