Supported by generous help from the Turnovsky Endowment Trust

The Queen’s Closet at St.Andrew’s – a window into a seventeenth-century world of music

By , 11/08/2021

St.Andrew’s on-The-Terrace Lunchtime Concert Series presents:

The Queen’s Closet – For the Chapel at the Table

Agostino Steffani Sinfonia from Niobe
Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer Serenata con alter arie
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes
Philipp Jakob Rittler Ciaccona a 7

St.Andrew’s-on-The-Terrace

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

The Queen’s Closet is a baroque orchestra that uses historically inspired performance practice, on period instruments at baroque pitch. Their concerts at various venues have been reviewed on Middle C, but this is the first time that I had heard them play as part of the regular Wednesday Lunch Time Concert series at St Andrews.

The music in this programme was pleasant occasional music, but it also represented the musical world of the late seventeenth century, which was the soil from which sprouted the great works of the next generation, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann and other notable early eighteenth century composers. It was a rare opportunity to hear this music, performed by such highly skilled professional musicians.

For those used to the standard concert repertoire, this was a journey of discovery. Steffani, Vejvanovsky, Schmelzer, Rittler, and even Biber are hardly household names. The theme of the concert was music ‘for chapel and table’, music that is suitable for all occasions. The common bond of the composers was that they all worked in Hapsburg lands. The program featured works that were written for the trumpet especially. The court trumpeter was a person of significance with special privileges at the time when these pieces were written.

Agostino Steffani’s Sinfonia from Niobe featured the following musicians:

Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton, CJ Macfarlane (violins),Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young, Robert Ibell cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley, Peter Maunder (trumpets) and Sam Rich – (timpani)

Steffani was a cleric and a courtier, but he was also a prolific composer, who wrote sacred works, numerous operas, songs and cantatas. This Sinfonia was from Niobe, one of his operas. It is scored for a chamber orchestra with three trumpets with a prominent timpani part.

Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky’s Sonata Tribus Quadrantibus followed, with Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Peter Maunder (sackbut), CJ Macfarlane (violin), Robert Ibell  (cello) and Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord).

Vejvanovky was one of the outstanding trumpet virtuosos of his age. One of his more remarkable talents was the ability to play certain chromatic passages on the trumpet, which is not normally possible on the largely diatonic natural trumpet.  He wrote this piece while employed at the Court of Kromeriz where he was librarian of music and music copyist as well as composer.

Next was Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s Serenata con alter arie, with CJ Macfarlane, Emma Brewerton, Sarah Marten, Gordon Lehany (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord, Peter Maunder (guitar) and Sam Rich (percussion).

Schmelzer was one of the most important violinists of his time and made substantial contribution to the development of violin technique. He was composer and musician at the Habsburg court where he was appointed Kapellmeister and was ennobled by the Emperor Leopold 1. This piece was for strings, harpsichord and percussion and song-like passages contrast with orchestral tutti.

A more familiar name is that of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, who contributed a Sonata VII, Tam Aris Quam Aulis Servientes to the concert, played by Gordon Lehany (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy), Sarah Marten and CJ Macfarlane  (violins), Jane Young (cello), Kris Zuelicke  (harpsichord)and Sam Rich (percussion).

Biber, like Schmelzer, was an outstanding violinist and was influenced by Schmelzer. He is now mainly remembered for his works for violin, with his sonatas seen as precursors of Bach’s solo sonatas. This sonata written for a group of instruments that includes a trumpet, and percussion is one of a set of 12. As the title suggest, these are occasional pieces that can be used in the chapel or around the table.

Finally we heard the music of Philipp Jakob Rittler – his Ciaccona a 7. This was performed by CJ Macfarlane, Sarah Marten, Emma Brewerton (violins), Nick Hancox (viola), Jane Young and Robert Ibell  (cellos), Kris Zuelicke (harpsichord), Peter Maunder (guitar),Gordon Lehany, Chris Woolley (trumpet), Sharon Lehany (hoboy) and Sam Rich hPercussion).

Rittler was a priest as well as a composer. He composed primarily instrumental music before 1675 and after this time he composed mainly music for the church. His instrumental pieces are distinguished by their inventive orchestration and demanding solo parts. This Ciaccona for seven parts grows from a simple ground bass that circles gently in continuo instruments, the work expands outwards, adding ever thicker and more exuberant instrumental embellishments from trumpet and strings, to turn a graceful dance into an ecstatic musical celebration, before reversing the process and dying away to nothing [https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dw.asp?dc=W20784_GBLLH1852607].

The Queen’s Closet, under their musical director, Gordon Lehaney may be the only baroque orchestra in Australasia using authentic instruments, for example natural trumpets. Their presence enriches and expands the musical experience of the people of Wellington. I cannot do better than quote from the group’s website, which states their goal thus: “….TO BRING MUSIC OF THE BAROQUE ERA TO LIFE IN WAYS WHICH ARE FAITHFUL TO THE PERFORMANCE PRACTICES OF THE TIME AND MAKE IT RELEVANT AND ALIVE FOR MODERN AUDIENCES……TO PROVIDE A TRULY IMMERSIVE AND AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCE OF THIS WONDERFUL MUSIC.”

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