Saturday, December 17, 2011, Emmanuel Church, Boston
Sunday, December 18, 2011, First Unitarian Church, Worcester

Noëls en trio                                         Michel-Richard Delalande (1657-1726)
    Simphonie• Où s’en vont ces gays Bergers • Noël cette journée    
    Vous qui désirez sans fin • Notre bon père Noé • Carillon
L’Hyver [Winter]                                         Joseph Bodin de Boismortier


L’Hiver (from Les Saisons amusantes)                                         Arranged and adapted by Nicolas Chédeville (1705–1782) from concertos, op. 8, by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Il Decembre                                         Gregor Joseph Werner
    I’Inverno [Winter]    (1693-1766)
    Il sole in Capricorno [The sun in Capricorn]
    Il somno
    Il fine dell’ anno [The end of the year]

Songs set to Shakespeare texts                                         Thomas Augustine Arne
    Under the Greenwood Tree    (1710-1778)
    Blow, blow thou winter Wind
    The Owl

Kristen Watson, soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violins
Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes

The depiction of the seasons through music has a long history dating back to Medieval times. While Antonio Vivaldi’s four violin concertos known as The Four Seasons is the most well-known example of a composer’s depiction of all four seasons, there were certainly many predecessors, including vocal and instrumental works by Christopher Simpson, Jeremiah Clarke, and Jean-Baptiste Lully, among others. This program focuses on works about Winter, the season that is both the most cruel and the most festive.

The instrumental noëls of Michel-Richard Delalande that open this program were a staple of the Christmas season repertory of the Concerts Spirituel in Paris. This famous series of public concerts flourished through much of the eighteenth century. Delalande held many musical positions at the court of Louis XIV and was known and remembered after his death for his Grands motets, which were customarily performed as the opening and closing selections of the Concerts Spirituel. His noël settings derive much of their charm in their use of variation technique and in the alternations between tutti and soli passages.

Known chiefly as a prolific composer of instrumental works, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier composed and published two sets of cantatas, of which Le Quatre Saisons, op. 5 was the first. L’Hiver, the final work of this set, is also its most substantial. It depicts the bleakness of winter at the outset with a haunting instrumental accompaniment of three high treble parts. The hardships and ravages brought about by nature are vividly depicted in the following two recitative/aria pairs. To mollify this bleakness, the Muses make appearances in the following movements to bring pleasure to humanity. The cantata concludes with the sentiment that winter “helps us to cherish the fruits of all seasons.”

Nicolas Chédeville was an oboist and a virtuoso on the musette, or hurdy-gurdy, an instrument fashionable at the time for the pastoral aesthetic it embodied. Chédeville composed many works that included the instrument, among them a very free arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. For Chédeville’s version of Vivaldi’s Winter concerto, he chose to substitute the entire piece for selections from some of the other concertos in Vivaldi’s opus 8. The first movement is taken from op. 8, no. 7, while the other two movements are from op. 8, no. 9. Because Chédeville did include the second movement of Vivaldi’s Winter in his arrangement of Autumn, we have chosen to use this Largo movement in our performance. In the original partbooks, the accompanying treble parts are designated “violino secondo” and “flauto ou violino terzo,” indicating that a violin could substitute for the musette, an option we have employed in our performances.

Gregor Joseph Werner was an organist and composer who served as Kapellmeister of the Esterházy court when the young Joseph Haydn was hired in 1761. Although relations between the two were strained during that time, Haydn paid homage to the older composer in 1804 by arranging some of his fugues for string quartet. Though principally a composer of church music and oratorios, Werner also composed symphonies and trio sonatas in which representational effects are used. His Neuer und sehr curios Musicalischer Instrumental-Calendar, published in 1748, consists of twelve suites, each representing a month of the year. The December suite is written in a brilliant instrumental style. A noteworthy movement of the suite is Il somno, a depiction of sleep that uses muted strings in a tremolando effect.

Thomas Augustine Arne enjoyed a long, colorful career as a composer for the theaters and pleasure gardens of London. Among his most well-known vocal works are settings he made to songs from Shakespeare’s plays. Arne’s settings of Under the Greenwood tree and Blow, blow thou winter Wind were written for a 1740 revival of As You Like It at the Drury Lane theater. For this revival, the play was renamed Love in a Forest and also incorporated songs from Love’s Labour’s Lost, including Arne’s charming setting of The Owl.

—Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf

Werner: Il Decembre