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Praetorius Christmas Vespers

19 December 2015 @ 8:00 pm


Doors open at 6:45 pm. Pre-concert talk at 7:10 pm.

Early Music Vancouver Vocal and Instrumental Ensemble, La Rose des Vents Cornetto and Sackbut Ensemble (Montreal), St. Christopher Singers (Victoria), David Fallis, music director (Toronto)

Soloists: Jolle Greenleaf, soprano, Jane Long, soprano, Emma Hannan, soprano, Danielle Sampson, soprano, Laura Pudwell, alto, Liz Hamel, alto, Joshua Haberman, alto, Orrin Doyle, tenor, Jacques-Olivier Chartier, tenor, Sumner Thompson, tenor, Stephen Bélanger, baritone, Paul Grindlay, baritone, Martin Auclair, bass
Instrumentalists: Linda Melsted, violin, Steve Creswell, viola, Paul Luchkow, viola, Nathan Whitaker, cello, Natalie Mackie, violone, Curtis Daily, double bass, Matthew Jennejohn, cornetto, Catherine Motuz, sackbut, Peter Christensen, sackbut, Trevor Dix. sackbut, Katrina Russell, dulcian, Konstantin Bozhinov, theorbo, Gus Denhard, theorbo, John Lenti, theorbo, Michael Jarvis, organ

Praetorius Christmas Vespers

Thirteen vocal soloists, a string band, cornetti and sackbuts, three theorbos, multiple keyboards and the St. Christopher Singers join together to recreate the joyful celebration of Christmas Vespers as it might have been heard under the direction of Michael Praetorius in 17th-century Germany. In the spirit of celebration, the audience will join the assembled mass musical forces in singing favorite early Christmas carols.

“The music was balanced and period-perfect. The whole effort felt authentic in a natural, unforced way…David Fallis is a magician.” TORONTO STAR

A Northwest Baroque Masterworks Project produced by Early Music Vancouver in partnership with EMSI, the Portland Baroque Orchestra and the Early Music Guild of Seattle. Supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, BC Arts Council and the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres de Quebec. In cooperation with Christ Church Cathedral.
CBC North by Northwest interview
Sheryl MacKay of CBC’s North by Northwest interviewed David Fallis and began the conversation by asking him about Michael Praetorius. Listen to the interview.

The music is by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) except where noted.
Opening Chorale: Geborn ist Gottes Söhnelein (Please see carol sheet)
Psalm: Jauchzet dem Herren – Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
Ten Commandments: O Herr, das sind die deinen Gebot
Credo: Wir gläuben all an einen Gott
Lord’s Prayer: Vater Unser
Pavane d’Espagne
Hymnum de tempore: Quem pastores laudavere
Antiphon: Christum unsern Heiland
Magnificat Part I: Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn
Carol: Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem
Magnificat Part II: Denn er hat grosse Ding an mir getan
Carol: Freut euch ihr lieben Christen
Magnificat Part III: Er stösset die Gewaltigen vom Stuhl
Carol: Von Himmel hoch – Praetorius & J. H. Schein (1586-1630)
Magnificat Part IV: Wie er geredt hat unsern Vätern
Carol: Joseph lieber, Joseph mein – Johann Walther (1496-1570)
Collect: Der Herr sei mit euch
Blessing: Benedicamus Domino
Closing Chorale: In dulci jubilo (Please see carol sheet) – Praetorius & Walther
Programme Notes
Michael Praetorius is one of the most prolific and influential composers of the early German Baroque. There is some uncertainty about his birth date – contemporary sources suggest from as early as 1569 to as late as 1572 – but the most generally accepted date is February 15, 1571. He died on February 15, 1621 at the height of his powers, on his fiftieth birthday. During his lifetime he published an astonishing amount of music in a wide range of styles, from the simplest of chorale settings to the most complex polychoral masterpieces, and many of his compositions are still used in churches today.
His Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica (named after Polyhymnia, the muse of sacred poetry) is the largest and most important collection of Lutheran church music of the period. Published in 1619, it appeared after a period of six years during which Praetorius published his extensive three-volume theoretical treatise Syntagma Musicum, but no music. This break in the chronology of Praetorius’ compositions is particularly notable because earlier, from 1605 to 1613, while he was both Kapellmeister and court organist to Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Praetorius produced sixteen volumes of music, sometimes four in a single year. But with the death of Heinrich Julius in 1613, Praetorius lost a supportive patron of music, and for the next few years, while retaining his posts at Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, he travelled to and worked in a variety of northern German cities, most notably Dresden, at the court of the Elector of Saxony.
Dresden was a leading centre of the most innovative Baroque musical techniques being developed at the time in Italy, and Praetorius would have come into contact with many Italian musicians and heard firsthand many newly-composed Italian works there. Polyhymnia Caduceatrix has been compared to Claudio Monteverdi’s volume of sacred music published in 1610 (containing the famous Vespers of 1610), in terms of both its variety and significance; the apt comparison also extends to the new Baroque musical techniques and forms of expression found in both volumes.
No work in Polyhymnia Caduceatrix displays these innovative techniques better than the last piece in the collection, a large-scale setting of the German Magnificat “Meine Seel erhebt den Herren”. Here, in one of Praetorius’ most important masterworks, one encounters all the wonderful new musical techniques which up until 1619 had not appeared in his music: masterful use of madrigalian word-painting; virtuoso ornamentation in the vocal writing; colourful use of a large basso continuo group; echo effects; elaborate instrumental ritornellos; and contrasting vocal and instrumental forces, all combined and recombined in seemingly infinite variety. And like Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, “Meine Seel” is also distinguished by a brilliant treatment of pre-existent plainsong material, in this case the so-called tonus peregrinus, a reciting tone to which the Magnificat was often chanted in Lutheran services. This simple melody can be found in one guise or another throughout “Meine Seel”, from the charming opening treble duet to the spectacular finale of “Und von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit, Amen”. “Meine Seel” does indeed compare favourably with Monteverdi’s brilliant and justly renowned music.
* * * * *
Although the word “vespers” derives from the Latin vesper, meaning evening, by the time of the early Baroque, vespers was the name given to the afternoon service of the church, and in both Catholic and Lutheran rites, the musical centrepiece of vespers was the singing of the Magnificat. But, while the Lutheran mass retained almost all of the elements of its Catholic predecessor, significant changes occurred to the makeup of the reformed vespers service. To determine the form of the Lutheran vespers service in Praetorius’ time, we have consulted various north German “Instructions to Churches” or Kirchenordnungen from the late 16th and early 17th centuries. While it is fair to say that regional variants are found more often in vespers services than in the morning mass, certain common elements are discernible.
The most important factor affecting the vespers service was the fact that Sunday afternoons in the Lutheran tradition were centred on the instruction of young people learning their catechism. According to most of the Kirchenordnungen consulted, the catechism students gathered at one o’clock to examine and learn the essential elements of the faith, with special emphasis on the psalms, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Ten Commandments. At two p.m. the vespers service began, with the young people being joined by the wider congregation. Where the Catholic vespers service contains five psalms and the Magnificat as its main musical elements, the 17th-century Lutheran vespers reduces the psalms to one or two, retains the Magnificat, but adds pieces the young people had been studying in the hour before, namely the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. These last occur, with the reading for the day and a psalm, at the beginning of the service. Then follows a seasonal hymn, a sermon, the singing of the Magnificat (sometimes in German, sometimes in Latin), the collect of the day, and finally the blessing Benedicamus Domino.
* * * * *
Today’s performance reconstructs a possible vespers service for Christmas as it might have sounded in a large north German church in the early 17th century. A number of important performance practice issues have been addressed, as suggested by Praetorius’ writings and contemporary tradition.
In Megalynodia Sionia, Praetorius publishes a number of Magnificat settings with German carols or hymns inserted at various points into the Magnificat. A further carol follows at the end. As he explains elsewhere, this is to allow the “best-loved German songs” to be sung in the vespers service, a practice which was most common at Christmas time, but which Praetorius suggests could be used on any important feast day. He recommends that only one or two verses of the hymn be sung, and provides a wide selection of the kind of pieces appropriate for insertion.
This practice of adding music into the Magnificat was widespread and long lasting. (There is a version of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat with Christmas carol insertions.) In the early 17th century, whole volumes of Christmas music were published in which the bulk of the examples were deemed suitable for insertion into the Magnificat at Yuletide. Some scholars have suggested that the practice arose because the pageants at the crib required non-liturgical excuses for more carols, and it is true that some of the most commonly found insertions, such as “Joseph lieber” and “Von Himmel hoch”, centre on the Christ child at the manger. For this performance we have selected our interpolations from among Praetorius’ many suggestions, being guided by his advice of an upper limit of two verses per carol, except in the case of “Ein Kind geborn” where we have followed the example of his “Magnificat super Ecce Maria” in which he inserts a number of verses of “Geborn ist Gottes Söhnelein” with each successive verse employing an added voice. “Meine Seel” is divided by Praetorius into four parts, allowing for easy and logical insertion points.
Although the Kirchenordnungen seem to suggest that vespers normally ended with the blessing, at the end of our service we have added “In dulci jubilo”, one of Praetorius’ recommendations for music which can “be sung and used at the place of the Benedicamus and for the going forth”. The opening verse of this famous chorale is one of many examples of music by Praetorius marked “ad aequales” in which three treble voices are accompanied by a bassetto part. Following Praetorius’ suggestion elsewhere in Polyhymnia Caduceatrix, we accompany the three trebles with a curtal playing down the octave.
In undertaking this reconstruction, while we make no claim that this is an actual service of worship, we wanted to incorporate into the music-making the aspect of congregational participation, so essential to the reformed tradition. This means two things. First, we are joined in each of the cities on our tour by a wonderful local choral ensemble participating as the German congregation, and singing where a 17th-century congregation would have joined in. Musically, it has been fascinating to experience the added richness of male congregation members singing the melody down an octave, especially in the context of elaborate polyphonic settings such as the final verse of the Creed, or Johann Hermann Schein’s arrangement of “Von Himmel hoch”. In all of the  Magnificat insertions, and in the chorales sung elsewhere in the service, we have employed Wechselgesang, the practice of alternating verses of a hymn between the congregation singing in unison to the accompaniment of the organ (choraliter) and the assembled professional musicians performing more elaborate versions (figuraliter), sometimes ending with a version which combines both methods, that is, with a clear unaltered melody in the top part, and contrapuntal complexity in the other parts.
Secondly, we would like you the audience to take part in this “exchange” during two well-known 17th-century Christmas carols. In each one, the musicians onstage and the audience will sing alternate verses. (Incidentally, you will be singing in English, the musicians in German or Latin; but this too is very much in the spirit of the 17th century, when often the congregation sang in the vernacular, and the choir sang in Latin.)
Both Wechselgesang and the interpolations into the Magnificat provide the congregation with opportunities to participate in the music-making of the more highly trained musicians. In the history of sacred music there has always existed a tension, not easily resolved, between the desire for musical participation by the assembled worshippers and the abilities and aspirations of the professional musicians. In a 17th-century Lutheran vespers service, on a feast day such as Christmas blessed with many familiar and beloved hymns, a balance and integration of these competing desires is achieved which has not often been matched elsewhere in the history of music.
David Fallis
David Fallis, Music Director
David Fallis has been a member of the Toronto Consort since 1979 and its Artistic Director since 1990. He has led the ensemble in many critically-acclaimed programs, including The Praetorius Christmas Vespers, The Play of Daniel, all three of Monteverdi’s operas in concert, Cavalli’s La Calisto, and Carissimi’s Jephte, among many others.
He has directed the group in its many recordings and tours, and has conceived and scripted many of their most popular programs, such as The Marco Polo Project, The Queen, and The Real Man of La Mancha. He is also one of Canada’s leading interpreters of operatic and choral/orchestral repertoire, especially from the Baroque and Classical periods. He is Music Director for Opera Atelier and has conducted major operatic works by Mozart, Monteverdi, Purcell and Handel in Toronto and on tour to Japan, Korea and Singapore. He has conducted for Houston Grand Opera, Cleveland Opera, Wolf Trap Theatre, Utah Opera, Orchestra London, Symphony Nova Scotia, the Windsor Symphony, Festival Vancouver, the Singapore Festival, the Seoul Arts Centre (Korea), the Elora Festival, the Guelph Spring Festival and the Elmer Iseler Singers. Currently he teaches in the Graduate Department at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.
EMV Vocal And Instrumental Ensemble
The Early Music Vancouver Vocal Ensemble is selected by Artistic Director Matthew White from an international pool of artists. Unburdened by a fixed membership, its greatest asset is its ability to assemble the ideal forces for any given project. Given the breadth and variety of repertoire presented at Early Music Vancouver, this flexibility allows the ensemble to fit the needs of the music, and not the other way around.
La Rose Des Vents, Cornetto & Sackbutt Ensemble
La Rose des Vents, Montreal’s newest early music group, was founded by historical trombonist Catherine Motuz and cornettist Matthew Jennejohn. The ensemble has been playing together in various guises since 2009, when it combined with Les Voix Baroques to perform at the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. The name La Rose des Vents – “The Compass Rose” – reflects the spirit of exploration in early music.
In formations from the Renaissance city wind band to the lavish sacred ensemble of the Baroque, La Rose des Vents seeks to promote musical dialogues and story-telling, bringing expressive devices to the foreground of performance. Our concerts have an emphasis on improvisation, exploring early ideas about expression while giving players the freedom to play with ideas, a freedom inherent to chamber music.
The sackbut and cornetto were both renowned in their day for their ability to imitate the human voice, both in their malleable timbres and in their ability to use different articulations in order to imitate speech. Many of our activities will therefore involve collaborations with vocal groups. On October 1st, 2011 we gave a concert as guests of the acclaimed Montreal choir VivaVoce with repertoire from an original Renaissance wind band, and later that year combined with the Ottawa Bach Choir for a concert of German and Italian Christmas music.
The St. Christopher Singers
The St. Christopher Singers are responsible for singing the weekly Anglican Service of Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral.  Under the direction of Madeleine Humer and Michael Gormley, the Singers have become accomplished performers of the unique music written for this contemplative evening service.
Throughout the year, the St. Christopher Singers explore the rich heritage of works written from the Tudor period through to the present day, including canticles and anthems by Orlando Gibbons, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Robert Parsons, Christopher Tye, Adrian Batten, Michael Wise, William Boyce, John Stainer, Thomas Attwood Walmisley, Henry Smart, Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Sumsion, Herbert Howells and Kenneth Leighton.
Every January the St. Christopher Singers help the Cathedral celebrate the Epiphany season, presenting the popular Service of Epiphany Readings and Music.
In 2006, the St. Christopher Singers performed with Fretwork, one of the world’s premier period instrument ensembles, as part of the Early Music Society of the Islands concert series (Renaissance Music from the Chapel Royal).  In 2008, 2010, and 2013, Fretwork returned to the Cathedral and accompanied the St. Christopher Singers at special Choral Evensong Services.

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19 December 2015
8:00 pm


Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral
911 Quadra Street
Victoria, British Columbia Canada