Friday 27 October 2023

A bold statement of cultural synthesis: Vache Baroque's Jonathan Darbourne on celebrating the art of Salmone Rossi

Vache Baroque (Photo: The Photography Shed)
Vache Baroque (Photo: The Photography Shed)

This Autumn, Vache Baroque is presenting a multi-event project to commemorate 400 years since the Jewish-Italian composer Salomone Rossi (ca. 1570 – 1630) published his ground-breaking collection The Songs of Solomon in 1623. Here, Vache Baroque's artistic director Jonathan Darbourne introduces their Rossi 400 project.

Joanthan Darbourne (Photo: Vache Baroque)
Joanthan Darbourne (Photo: Vache Baroque)
I’ll admit something from the outset: before this project, I can’t remember ever having sung a piece by Salomone Rossi. This has made discovering his music all the more exciting, as everything I played through or heard on recordings when planning the programmes was brand new. Parallel to this was researching those who have performed his music or have an interest in his life, which has led to connections being made with all sorts of wonderful people - novelists, academics, rabbis, cantors, instrumentalists, organ builders, broadcasters. Over the course of about eight months, we will have celebrated Rossi through film, dance, instruments, voices, interviews, and even a Jewish-Italian dining experience. And next year we will take one of the programmes to Italy, his homeland.

So why Rossi? 2023 marks 400 years since the publication of his ground-breaking vocal collection The Songs of Solomon. This highly novel work contains over thirty pieces with Hebrew texts - mostly psalms - set to music of a contemporary polyphonic style. Of course, composers across Reformation Europe had for quite some time set vernacular texts to a style of sacred music originally used for Latin, the lingua franca of the Church. Rossi’s task, however, was different: there was no precedent in the remembered or notated Jewish musical tradition for multi-voiced sacred music, and Hebrew, being read from right to left, presented an obvious problem when printing it with left-to-right musical notation. (This last issue was resolved in a rather democratic manner by printing the full word at the start of a phrase and letting the singers decide how to space the syllables.)

The long, multi-authored preface attests to the time and thought Rossi and his close circle had put into such an experimental project. It was absolutely a ‘grand plan,’ with the aim to rediscover (or reinvent) the music that would have been heard in the First Temple in Jerusalem thousand of years before. The Songs of Solomon was a bold statement of cultural synthesis, an attempt to breathe new life into Jewish ceremony and worship by utilising a Gentile art form.

We think this mixing together of seemingly clashing cultures deserves celebration and chimes so strongly with our mission at Vache Baroque and those of so many other arts organisations. Taking inspiration from this, our first offering was to mix old and new by making two music videos with madrigal backing tracks - one by Rossi, the other by a fan of his, Thomas Weelkes. We gave the texts modern storylines which were realised through the movement of two dancers from BirdGang Ltd and choreographed by the dancer-actor Ukweli Roach. [watch FAREWELLS on YouTube]

To place Rossi within his musical and cultural world, we are now in the middle of a series of performances being given in London synagogues [11 November 2023, further details] and in the hall of The Vache house [4 November 2023, further details]. These programmes place the sacred and secular vocal music by Rossi alongside pieces by contemporaries such as Monteverdi, Caccini, Byrd, Weelkes, Campion, and Kapsberger. Madrigals, solo songs, motets, metrical psalm settings, and a handful of settings from ‘The Songs of Solomon’ attest to a highly diverse and experimental musical climate - what we like to view now as a shift from Renaissance rules to Baroque rule breaking.

To finish the year, the acclaimed ensemble La Vaghezza will join eight singers and two instrumentalists from Vache Baroque at St John's Smith Square [13 December 2023, further details]. Here we will plot the story of Hanukkah through Rossi’s psalm settings and pieces on the same texts by composers including Schütz, Cavalli, Ravenscroft, and Purcell. It promises to be an evening of surprising contrasts and a chance for us to celebrate not just Rossi’s vocal music but his ravishing compositions in trio texture, in which he was the first composer to make publications. It has been a fantastic journey so far for so many of us and we are looking forward to the final 'gala' feel of this closing concert. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month