Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.
ARTEK presented a newly re-staged version of "I'll Never See the Stars Again", directed by Paul Peers, and the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University on October 20, 2012. This is ARTEK's theater show that was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005 - now, with a outstanding singing cast increased to 6, and a stellar instrumental ensemble. Yes, Theseus still walks on chairs...and I am still Ariadne. (Clearly, a non-singing part!) Enjoy these scenes.
Following our performance at Middlebury College on April 28 (not to mention a lovely reception following the concert), we had a good night's sleep at Middlebury's Swift House Inn (highly recommended). And a fabulous breakfast. Then we piled into the cars and drove back to New York City where we arrived at Corpus Christi Church just in time to set up quickly and prepare for our Madrigals Book 4 concert.
Although a bit road-weary, the magic of Monteverdi lifted our spirits and carried the day, and we had a very well-received performance of the complete book of madrigals. Read the review from Allan Kozinn at the New York Times below. (Click to make the annoying ad - sorry! - go away.)
ARTEK performed Monteverdi at the Middlebury College Second Annual Bachfest. Yes, that's right - Monteverdi and Bach.
A bit of a strange pairing, you say? Well, not so strange actually. Both composers really had a way with setting texts.
But logistically a challenge. Dan Swenberg brought two instruments; I brought two harpsichords, my lovely new folding harpsichord and the ever-practical small "Mersenne" harpsichord that I own - so we could have the appropriate temperament for each repertoire. The singers, some of them, brought two voices...Sarah Chalfy, a soprano, stepped in for mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead, who was unable to participate because of a serious family illness. New-to-ARTEK tenor Owen McIntosh brought his ever-so-high Bach tenor (at 440 no less!) and his Monteverdi sometimes-quite-low voice. Peter Becker brought his Bach baritone and his Monteverdi bass voice. So goes it...
The first half of the concert was an ARTEK performance of Monteverdi madrigals; the second half, a collaboration with students and local community members in Bach's Easter Oratorio. I had visited Middlebury earlier in the winter to do some pre-coaching of the students, who were remarkably talented and adept at their instruments.
The best part playing side-by-side with my college organ professor (now retired), Emory Fanning, who played chamber organ with us for the Bach. Still a great player!
The Bach Festival in Mead Chapel at Middlebury College.
My husband Dongsok Shin and I attended Antiqua Nova, the 2012 Joint Meeting and Festival of the Midwestern and Southeastern Historical Keyboard Societies, on March 23-25, 2012. We drove there in our van in order to transport our antique Benedict fortepiano. Travelling with us was my student Christina Kwon, a graduate student at Montclair State University. It's a long way from New York to Cincinnati, and we had fun getting to know Christina better. At the conference, I performed a solo organ recital, and together Dongsok and I performed four-hands Mozart on the Benedict piano. Dongsok also gave a wonderful talk, complete with Powerpoint visuals, about his research into the history of the piano, and why he feels the instrument was likely built by Karl Benedict. We also met old friends, got tips on goose-quilling from Owen Daly, and renewed our acquaintance with Stephen Birkett, who has promised to supply us with sufficient amounts of his historically-produced iron wire to enable us to restring my Flemish harpsichord with his wire (after my daughter paints a beautiful 18th century design on the soundboard, of course!) Here's a few photos from the event. First, Owen Daly's Vaudry harpsichord, which we've always loved, and were happy to visit again.
The Juget-Sinclair organ in Roberta Gary's studio at the Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. This is the organ I performed my recital upon.
Ach Herr Strafe of Johann Rosenmuller, 2/10/12, with mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead
In te Domine of Johann Rosenmnuller, 2/11/12 with soprano Laura Heimes
Beatus Vir of Johann Rosenmuller, 2/11/12 with entire ARTEK and Piffaro ensemble.
In the spring of 2010, our countertenor Ryland Angel came to
me and said, “We need to perform and record these great alto cantatas by
Rosenmüller!” Of course, like most baroque musicians, I knew a few of his
instrumental pieces for strings, which are played fairly often. And I knew other
early German cantatas by contemporaries of Rosenmüller. But ARTEK’s main focus
for performing and recording has always been the works of Monteverdi.
After listening to a few recordings of alto cantatas,
Rosenmüller’s music had totally fired my interest, and I decided to go forward
with the project – enlarging it to include not only alto cantatas but also soprano
cantatas for our mezzo-soprano, Barbara Hollinshead. Thanks to Ellis Hilton of DrewUniversity,
our next CD of Solo Cantatas by Johann Rosenmüller has been recorded and will
probably be released in fall 2012. Hopefully this will be volume 1 of more
recordings of this fabulous repertoire!
It was a natural outgrowth of my interest in the solo
cantatas to further investigate the music of Rosenmüller, which seemed to speak
to me in a personal way much like the music of mid-17th-century organ composer
Heinrich Scheidemann also appeals to my heart. That led me to YaleUniversity
and Kerala Snyder, who provided me with microfilms of many of the large Vespers
settings. The result is the two programs you will hear on this two-day mini-festival.
Johann Rosenmüller, born about 1619, graduated from the University of Leipzig
in theology in 1640, and by 1642 was working at St. ThomasChurch
– the same church where Bach would work from the 1720s on. By 1653 the city
council had promised him the position of Kantor when it would become available.
By 1654, Rosenmüller had published his collections of small sacred cantatas,
Kern-Sprüche and Andere Kern-Sprüche, as well as several instrumental collections.
A promising career for a young musician! If his history had gone on in this
expected manner, perhaps we would all know TWO celebrated German composers who
worked in Leipzig
the greater part of their lifetimes.
All was derailed when in 1655 Rosenmüller was accused of
homosexual activities, as were several of the schoolboys. He was imprisoned,
but managed to escape. Eventually he made his way to Venice. Some authors have speculated that the
charges may have been caused by political jealousy – what better way to remove
a rival for the position of Kantor? – but others have pointed out that Venice, in the 17th century,
was a city where by and large the authorities were very tolerant of many kinds
of lifestyles that were anathema to pious Lutheran Germany. The answer will never
be known. What is certain, however, is that Rosenmüller had to start all over as
a musician, beginning as a trombonist in the employ of St. Mark’s Cathedral, not
becoming established as a composer until 1660. Moreover, in modern times, he
remains far less known and studied as a composer, likely as a consequence of
the stain on his personal reputation.
Rosenmüller stayed in Venice
until approximately 1682, when he returned to Wolfenbüttel, Germany
for the final two years of his life. Rosenmüller’s large concerted music with
winds, strings, and singers date from this period in Venice, as do some of the smaller cantatas
not printed in the Kern-Sprüche collections. Most of Rosenmüller’s manuscripts
are of German provenance, either from the time when he returned to Germany, or from other musicians who visited or
studied with him in Venice
and brought back his music. Though his life was greatly affected by the scandal
of his young years, Rosenmüller nevertheless does seem to have been greatly
admired in Germany
by the end of his life.
Friday’s concert of music for smaller forces includes music
from the Kern-Sprüche (1648)/Andere Kern-Sprüche (1652-3) collections and
Rosenmüller’s published set of instrumental sonatas in 2, 3, 4 and 5 parts
(published in Nüremberg in 1682) and cantatas found only in manuscript versions.
Rosenmüller’s solo cantatas take the early German solo cantata as developed by
Schütz (who was himself greatly influenced by his sojourn in Venice with Gabrieli in the early part of his
life) into the mid-17th-century style typical of Italian composers such as
Carissimi, with a clearer distinction between recitative and arioso/aria. The
program includes cantatas written in both German and Latin; since the
Kern-Sprüche collections published before Rosenmüller left for Venice
include both German and Latin language cantatas, one cannot conclude, for
example, that Latin cantatas are from Venice,
and German cantatas from Leipzig
Saturday’s concert includes a selection of music that one
might conjecture would be heard in festive liturgical services at a large
Venetian church – perhaps even St. Mark’s. The large cantatas are incredibly reminiscent
of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers and 1640 Selva morale. They also reflect the fl
owing triple-time practice of Cavalli, Monteverdi’s direct successor at St.
Mark’s. I chose several of the largest cantatas, with 8-part voices and 5-part
string and 5-part wind choirs, in the polychoral style first popularized by
Gabrieli but also used by Monteverdi with great effect. Then I also chose
several 4-voice cantatas for contrast, where the beautiful interplay between strings
and voices is entirely engaging. In the place where a Venetian Vespers service would
have a small vocal concerto as a substitute for the antiphon, we are performing
several of Rosenmüller’s smaller cantatas for one or two voices.
Lastly I chose to include the interesting piece Jube Domne. This
is actually an invocation piece for Compline, but not having any Rosenmüller
setting of Deus in adjutorium, I felt that something was needed to begin our
concert and this piece fit that need admirably. Lastly, of the two large
Magnificats we have of Rosenmüller, the one we present in C minor was the most
interesting, with its extremely chromatic instrumental ritornello recurring several
We had many problems to solve for this performance: first
and foremost, obtaining scores (some I transcribed, some were specially
transcribed for us by Brian Clark, and some were available in the limited
amount of Rosenmüller material in modern editions). Our second problem was pitch.
Knowing that German and Venetian pitch was generally very high, about A = 465
Hz, and having our Piffaro friends with their instruments available also only
at that pitch, it seemed logical that most pieces would be best at high pitch.
However, I have become convinced that the situation in either Germany or Venice
or possibly both was much more complex, with performers of the time likely
playing in multiple pitches at the same time. Our Friday night soloists and our
strings were happiest at A = 415, a whole tone down. Therefore our strings are
always playing at A=415, our winds always at A=463. In some cases, however, the
singers are singing at A=415, a few at A=390 (which was also known in Venice in certain
situations) and also a few at A=463. Our continuo players are likewise sometimes
at A=415 and other times at A=463. That is why you will see us switching instruments!
All this required a huge amount of part-making and transposition, making
adjustments through our week of rehearsals as necessary.
On the instrumentation of the cantatas, there is also some
directorial input. Jube Domne uses instruments in a “colla parte” manner,
doubling voices as was frequently done. All the other pieces have written out
instrumental parts, although we chose to split the parts & voices of Beatus
Vir between two choirs to present it as an antiphonal psalm setting in the
typical “St. Mark’s” style. Rosenmüller used fagotto or violone interchangeably
for his bass line, even as the bass for a 5-part string ensemble, and we
likewise do sometimes fagotto (dulcian) and sometimes violone, which means 8’
violone, not 16’. But we do also include 16’ violone and 16’ dulcian doubling
the bass for color in the largest pieces (we are fortunate to have the only
copy in the world of a 16’ dulcian available to us!) It is also typical in
music of this period to use sacbuts and dulcians interchangeably on tenor and
bass parts. Therefore, some cantatas have a perfectly plausible wind
accompaniment rather than string for the sake of variety.
As appropriate for music being performed to reflect Venetian
17th-century performance, the pronunciation of the Latin is adjusted for
Venetian dialect. What we now think of as sung Italianate church Latin is
typical of Florentine Italian pronunciation, which gradually became the common
Italian language in all of Italy.
In the 17th century, however, Venice
was its own Republic, with its own language. Venetian is thought to be a
Romance language from a branch that is not directly related to Florentine
Italian. So the use of Florentine rules in pronouncing church Latin for Venice is quite
anachronistic. Although much research needs to be done in this area of
performance practice, it is possible to make some conclusions about correct
pronunciation, which may sound different to audiences accustomed to solely German,
French or (Florentine) Italian.
All of these concerns pale besides the main task of
presenting Rosenmüller’s nearly forgotten masterpieces to a North American audience
– perhaps, in some cases, the first public hearing since the 17th century. The
music astounds us with its graceful melodic flow and exquisite harmonies. Surely
we are listening to music by one of the greatest of 17th-century composers.
I would like to especially thank those who have assisted in
the preparation of these concerts: Sara Ruhle Kyle and Susan Hellauer, our
lecturers; Kerala Snyder and Jeffrey Kurtzman, whose musicological assistance
is invaluable; Brian Clark, Kim Patrick Clough, Christine Kwon, and Grant
Herreid, who assisted in preparing scores and parts; Francesca Galesi, Nancy Tooney
and Erin Hanke, for assistance behind the scenes; Gene Murrow, Paul Ross, and
Naomi Morse, who so ably manage our box office stage management; Christine Hoff
man, for preparation of the program; Jeffrey Gall, for assistance with Venetian
pronunciation; Charles Weaver and Brian Clark, for their program notes; Doug
Keilitz and the staff of St. Ignatius of Antioch Church; Christopher Schulze, Pastor
Gregory Fryer, and Karen Rombey of Immanuel Lutheran Church; and lastly to my
dear husband Dongsok Shin, who labors mightily to provide for every need I might
imagine. - Gwendolyn Toth
As I write this, I am looking back from a point several months ahead. What, exactly, made fall of 2011 such an incredibly hectic time in my life? Not so many concerts... One glance at my book tells me. My third child, Adrian, is now 14. Time for high school applications.
Finding a high school in New York City: somehow I escaped this with my two daughters, because they attended a K-12 school and simply stayed on from 8th grade into 9th grade. Not so for Adrian. His school, the British International School, ends at 8th grade (Year 9 British style).
Ah...the pleasure of visiting over 40 different schools, public and private. Some public schools were shockingly below the level of my expectations. Some, surprisingly good. However, all seemed quite certain that no excused days of school would be allowed for any reason. My son is a competitive figure skater, and can reasonably expect to miss between 3-6 days in 2012-2013. Unacceptable, I was told.
This news made us look harder at the private school options (all expensive, but some promising financial aid assistance.) Many more tours and applications, later, we finally applied early decision to a brand new school, Avenues - quite near to the skating rink. (That's approximately two more hours available out of each day in subways travel savings, for Adrian.) This all involved any number of fairly traumatic tests, applications, essays, and complete disclosure of every aspect of Adrian's and our life and bank accounts.
We are happy to report that Adrian was accepted and will begin at Avenues in Fall 2012. I'm looking forward to some rest until college applications. Need advice on New York City high schools? Email me!