Tuesday, September 13, 2016

With His Air of Angels: Purcell Fantasies for Viola da Gamba Consort

Catacoustic Consort opens its 16th season Saturday, September 17, at 7:30pm at Church of the Advent, 2366 Kemper Ln in East Walnut Hills (45206).

Died? No, he lives while yonder organ’s sound
And sacred echoes to the choir rebound.
On the bill is music of Henry Purcell (1659-1695), universally considered one of the greatest English composers of all time.

Purcell wrote a huge variety of music, including opera, sacred, and music for royal occasions. But his intimate chamber music, in particular the Fantasies for four viols, holds a special place in the hearts of performers. In the early 20th century, when viol consorts were extremely thin on the ground, many composers re-worked his melodies for modern ensembles. Percy Grainger went so far as to call it “the most sublimely beautiful many-voiced democratic music known to me.” 

Percy Grainger was a fan
Why democratic? Because unlike the modern string quartet, which places the spotlight firmly on the first violin with the other instruments often reduced to supporting roles, the viol fantasies consider each voice equal. Four intricate, complicated parts, all of a similar complexity and difficulty, weave around each other to create a tapestry of themes.

The Fantasia form was outside the regulation strictures of the dance forms of the era, and it has a modern, almost improvisatory feel. By the time Purcell composed these pieces, this form was quickly going out of style – his employer the King of England was certainly no fan – so one imagines Purcell composing purely for his own pleasure, and stretching his wings a bit in consequence.

Catacoustic welcomes Wildcat Viols, a San Francisco-based ensemble with which Annalisa also plays. After the performance the musicians will stay in town and begin a recording session. A CD of this music will be available for purchase in the coming months.

Tickets $25, students $10, under 12 free.  Tickets available at the door or in advance at www.catacoustic.com/tickets/

At this concert only, Season Ticket packages for the 2016-2017 season will also be available at the door. Buy five flexible tickets for only $100, a 20% savings. Season tickets are also available online now.

So was G. M. Hopkins
"Henry Purcell," by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that, whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man’s mind, he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man as created both in him and in all men generally.

HAVE, fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell,
An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal
Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here.
Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear,        5
Or love or pity or all that sweet notes not his might nursle:
It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal
Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.
Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I’ll
Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under        10
Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while
The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder,
If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile
Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.

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