The Catacoustic Consort has been fortunate to collaborate with Cincinnati Opera in their first ever production of a Baroque opera - Cavalli's La Calisto. (There are also some members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit, playing violin, cello, and bass.) Many people have approached us at intermission and following the concert, wanting to know more about the instruments and us. So, I thought it would be handy to have an extra bit of program note material for people who might like to learn a bit more...
The music in this opera is played in a creative and improvisatory manner that is surprisingly similar to jazz. The composer provides the material for the solo voices, and only a skeletal bass line for the accompanying instruments remains. Instruments such as the theorbo, harpsichord, Baroque guitar, and lirone are expected to know how to play the correct chords according to certain theoretical rules of harmony. This practice, called basso continuo or simply continuo, was a very common way of playing music in the Baroque period.
About the Instruments
The viola da gamba was one of the predominant instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Western Europe. “Viola da gamba” literally means viola of the leg. The viola da gamba (or viol) is a fretted instrument with from five to seven strings and is played with an underhand bow grip, rather than the overhand bow grip of the violin family. The viola da gamba comes in a variety of ranges that correspond to the human voice: soprano, tenor, and bass. The viol is a hybrid of several Middle Eastern instruments and arrived first in Spain with Jewish musicians from the Middle East. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, many went to Italy and worked in the courts of Italian nobles. These nobles (especially Isabella d’Este in Mantua) took this new instrument and worked with their instrument makers to make it an “Italian” instrument, which is the viol we know today. In Italy, the viola da gamba was mostly an ensemble instrument that played vocal music, although it also played virtuosic improvisatory arrangements of solo songs. Jews later traveled to England (around the time of Henry VIII) and brought the viola da gamba. In the Baroque period, the viola da gamba flourished in France and developed into a “French” instrument with the addition of a seventh string on the bass. There is a wonderful abundance of music for the viola da gamba, as it was an instrument that wealthy aristocrats played. The noble class could afford expensive instruments, paper for the music, and professional musicians who would teach and compose music.
The lirone (pronounced lee-roh-nay) was played throughout Italy from the late 16th through the 17th centuries. It is a bowed string instrument that is held similar to a cello, but it has anywhere from nine to fourteen strings, with three or four strings being played at a time. The lirone was used to highlight emotional peaks in music and was considered ideal for dramatic laments. The lirone is a uniquely “Catholic” instrument and was especially favored amongst the Jesuits. It was described in Greek and Roman mythology and was brought into the church to attract parishioners.
The new harmonic language of the Baroque period called for a fuller chromatic range of notes than what came before it in the Renaissance. Whereas earlier harps only played diatonic notes (white keys on the piano), more chromatic notes (black notes on the piano) were now necessary. The Baroque triple harp has two identical diatonic rows of strings on the outside, with an inside row of chromatic notes.
In 17th-century Italy, the bent-neck lute was replaced by the theorbo (pronounced thee-ohr-boe). The bass strings were mounted on an extension, giving them nearly twice the string length of the treble strings. Naturally, this gave the bass more strength and volume. The purpose of the theorbo is to reinforce the bass, whereas the purpose of the lirone is to enrich the harmonies. The composer Giulio Caccini said that the theorbo was the perfect instrument to accompany the voice.
The recorder is a family of instruments (similar to the viola da gamba) with sizes ranging from the sopranino, soprano, treble, tenor, bass, and great bass. It is basically an extended whistle with a thumbhole and about seven holes for the remaining fingers. It was quite popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. With its history tracing back to the Middle Ages, the recorder has undergone several changes in appearance and importance throughout the centuries. Characteristic for this early wind instrument are eight finger holes, including one thumbhole, as well as a block of wood set into the shaped mouthpiece, creating the place for tone production. The German and French names for the instrument “Blockfloete” and “flûte á bec” reflect this feature. Evolved from a one-piece body with cylindrical bore and single holes as seen in medieval iconography, the recorder became popular as a consort instrument during the Renaissance, forming a small ensemble of differently sized recorders from great bass to garklein (one octave above the soprano). By the 16th century, the recorder also began its development into a solo instrument. A substantial portion of recorder music was composed during the Baroque period. Eighteenth-century instruments have a conical bore, some double holes, a wider range, and often a more ornamented design than earlier models. The recorder fell out of use towards the end of the 18th century, and experienced its revival along with the rise of historical performance practice in the 20th century.
The cornetto is a wind instrument made of wood, covered with leather, and played with a small cup-shaped mouthpiece. Rare as it may be today, in the 16th century the cornetto was second in importance only to the organ as an instrument for sacred music, and was considered by many to be the most perfect of all instruments for its ability to imitate the human voice. The extreme difficulty of the cornetto, together with its remarkable agility and expressivity, made it necessarily an instrument of virtuosi, many of whom were among the most famous and well-paid in Italy. After 1600, cornetto virtuosi increasingly had to give way to virtuosi of a new instrument, the violin, but for the first half of the 17th century, the cornetto and the violin were considered virtually interchangeable. Many musical works, therefore, were written "per cornetto overo violino." With fashion moving inexorably in the direction of string instruments, it was inevitable that standards on the cornetto would fall. Though the cornetto was played in Italy until the arrival of Napoleon at the end of the 18th century, the virtuosi had long since disappeared, their "golden age" extending from about 1550 to 1650.
About the Catacoustic Consort
The Catacoustic Consort presents a variety of vocal and instrumental music from Renaissance chamber music to Baroque opera, with the intent of recreating the sound of the music when it was originally composed. The music is performed on period instruments such as the viola da gamba, theorbo, organ, harpsichord, Baroque guitar, and lute. In addition to a historically informed approach to performing music, Catacoustic is dedicated to approaching music with an understanding of the life and times when it was originally played. Some favorite composers of early music include J.S. Bach, John Dowland, Marain Marais, and Claudio Monteverdi.
The Catacoustic Consort is dedicated to the early music community in the greater Cincinnati area with its annual subscription series of five or six concerts. Catacoustic also provides a rental program of early instruments; concert tours (travels to San Francisco, Colombia, Portland, etc.); offers an annual scholarship for instruments, training, or early music education; and sponsors the annual Cincinnati Early Music Festival, which celebrates local musicians engaged in the performance of early music. Catacoustic is also committed to outreach to senior citizens.
Based in historic East Walnut Hills (Cincinnati), Ohio, the Catacoustic Consort is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. For more information about the Catacoustic Consort, visit www.catacoustic.com.
Annalisa Pappano (Founder and Artistic Director of Catacoustic Consort, bass viola da gamba, and lirone) studied at Indiana University’s Early Music Institute and at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Her playing has been described by critics as “mercurial and enchanting” and “with a sound that is lighter than air with the airy luster of gilding on the mirrors of a rococo drawing room.” She has performed throughout Belgium, England, Ireland, Colombia, Canada, and the U.S. and has appeared on nationally syndicated radio and has played at the Berkeley and Vancouver Early Music Festivals and the Ojai Music Festival. Pappano is a member of Atalante (England) and has performed with numerous other ensembles including the Houston Grand Opera, the Cleveland Opera, the Portland Opera, the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (San Francisco), Les Voix Baroques, Opera Atelier, the Toronto Consort, the Concord Ensemble, Cappella Artemisia (Bologna), Wildcat Viols, and Consortium Carissimi. She has taught at Viola da Gamba Society of America national conclaves, the Viola da Gamba Society Pacific Northwest and Northeast chapters, the San Diego Early Music Workshop, ViolsWest, the Madison Early Music Workshop, and has been a guest lecturer at numerous universities. Pappano led the Catacoustic Consort to win the grand prize in the Naxos / Early Music America Live Recording Competition and recorded a program of Italian laments on the Naxos label. Pappano teaches viola da gamba at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Michael Leopold holds both an undergraduate degree in music and a master’s degree in historical plucked instruments from American Universities as well a degree in lute and theorbo from L’Istituto di Musica Antica of the Accademia Internazionale della Musica in Milan, Italy. Originally from Northern California, he continues to reside in Milan and has performed both as a soloist and as an accompanist throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, Chile, Mexico and the United States. He has played with a number of leading Italian early music groups, including Concerto Italiano, La Risonanza, La Venexiana and La Pietà de’ Turchini and several American period-instrument ensembles. He has also collaborated with several orchestras and opera companies, including Orchestra Verdi di Milano, Opera Australia, San Francisco Opera, Barcelona Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Gulbenkian Mùsica, and Portland Opera. His performances in operas have been noted in various reviews, “Michael Leopold was a standout on theorbo, providing some of the most sensitive and heartfelt musical moments of the evening,” (Kathryn Bacasmot, Chicago Classical Music. Teseo, Chicago Opera Theater) and “High marks especially to the marvelous theorbo, lute and baroque guitar specialist, Michael Leopold, whose recitatives added dazzling color.” (Harvey Steiman, Seen and Heard International. Xerxes, San Francisco Opera). He can be heard in recordings on the Stradivarius, Glossa, Naïve, and Naxos labels.
An accomplished and versatile harpist, Elizabeth Motter’s career has taken her across the U.S., as well as to Italy, Japan, Singapore, and Israel. Highlights include the Aspen Music Festival, two seasons with Des Moines Metro Opera, three summers in Italy at the Spoleto Festival, playing with the New World Symphony in Miami, and the Cincinnati and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras. She spent three months performing in Japan and, as a finalist in the Singapore Symphony auditions, was invited to perform a series of concerts there in 1997. She has had the privilege of playing in orchestras supporting such legends as Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Manhattan Transfer, Al Jarreau, The King’s Singers, and Frank Sinatra. Elizabeth began her study of the baroque triple harp in 2011. She has attended the Amherst Early Music Festival, Accademia d’Amore in Seattle, Oberlin's Baroque Performance Institute, and the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. She holds a Bachelor of Music in Harp Performance degree from the Oberlin Conservatory. She currently resides in Cincinnati, teaching at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory Department and performing with many professional ensembles throughout the region. She has participated in recordings made by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra, The Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestras, as well as two Christmas CD’s with Cincinnatis Vocal Arts Ensemble.
Alex Opsahl studied recorder with Peter Holtslag and Daniel Bruggen at the Royal Academy of Music. She studied cornetto in Italy with Bruce Dickey, continuing at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. She was the winner of the 2003 Moeck Solo Recorder competition, the 2001 and 2003 RAM Early Music Prize and 2003 Hilda Anderson Dean Award. She works now both as a cornettist and recorder player across Europe and the US. Alex has performed with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Apollo’s Fire, the Green Mountain Project, Le Studio Musique Anciennes de Montréal, Musica Angelica, The Whole Noyse and American Bach Soloists. She has performed at the Berlin Philharmonie, Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room and the Royal Albert Hall, and played in filmed productions of L’Incoronazione di Poppea with both Oslo Opera and Glyndebourne Opera. She recorded Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in C Minor, RV 441, with the Norwegian period orchestra Barokkanerne, and the JD Berlin cornetto concerto with the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra. Alex is a member of the Dark Horse Consort and is the Music Director of the LA-based ensemble Tesserae.
Kiri Tollaksen enjoys a varied career as a performer and teacher. Equally skilled on trumpet and cornetto (a wind instrument used primarily in 17th century Western Europe), Kiri has been praised for her "stunning technique, and extreme musicality," (Journal of the International Trumpet Guild). She has performed extensively throughout North America and Europe with numerous groups such as Apollo's Fire, The Folger Consort, Tenet, Green Mountain Project, Piffaro, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, New York Collegium, Concerto Palatino, La Fenice, the Huelgas Ensemble, the Catacoustic Consort and Seattle Baroque Orchestra. She has performed both at the Boston Early Music Festival, and at the Bloomington Early Music Festival, and she is a founding member of the ensembles Anaphantasia and Dark Horse Consort.
As a professional trumpet player, Kiri performs with the River Raisin Ragtime Revue in Tecumseh, Michigan, and freelances throughout Michigan. From 1996-2005, she played the Eb soprano saxhorn with the Dodworth Saxhorn Band (a re-creation of a 19th century community brass band). From 1995-2004, Kiri was a member of the Greater Lansing Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Gustav Meier.
Kiri maintains a teaching studio in Ann Arbor, has taught cornetto at the Amherst Early Music Festival, and was on faculty at the Early Music Institute at Indiana Univeristy from 2006-2010. Kiri holds performing degrees in trumpet from Eastman, Yale, and a Doctorate in Musical Arts from the University of Michigan. Her discography includes recordings with the Huelgas Ensemble, La Fenice, Apollo's Fire, Piffaro, The New York Collegium, La Gente d'Orfeo, the River Raisin Ragtime Revue and the Dodworth Saxhorn Band.
Michael Unger is a multiple award-winning harpsichordist and organist and has appeared as a soloist and chamber musician in North America, Europe and Japan. He is a First Prize winner of the International Organ Competition Musashino-Tokyo, a First Prize and Audience Prize winner of the National Young Artists’ Competition of the American Guild of Organsits (NYACOP), and a Second Prize and Audience Award winner of the International Schnitger Organ Competition on the historic organs of Alkmaar, the Netherlands. He received favorable international reviews for his debut solo recordings under the Naxos and Pro Organo labels, and his performances have been broadcast on North American and European radio. Recent harpsichord performances include the complete Bach Brandenburg Concertos with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and appearances with the Skaneateles Festival, New York State Baroque, and Publick Musick. Michael holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music, and is a Gold Medal graduate of the University of Western Ontario. Since August 2013, he is Assistant Professor of Organ and Harpsichord at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Lutenist and guitarist David Walker has performed extensively throughout the United States, earning praise for his “surety of technique and expressive elegance,” (Columbus Dispatch) as well as his “tremendous dexterity and careful control” (Bloomington Herald Times). David has appeared with such early music groups as Chatham Baroque, Clarion Music Society, Mercury, the Newberry Consort, and Tempesta di Mare, and is a member of the chamber ensemble Ostraka. He has performed in numerous baroque opera productions, including engagements with the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Glimmerglass Opera, and Boston Baroque. Festival highlights include the Savannah Music Festival, Indianapolis Early Music Festival, and solo recitals for the Bloomington Early Music Festival and the University of Louisville Guitar Festival. Recording credits include Ostraka’s critically acclaimed debut, Division, in addition to recordings for Sono Luminus and Linn Records.