Vivaldi Project Newsletter
December, 2022 Issue
In this Issue
Getting Ready for Volume 4 of Discovering the Classical String Trio
Finding Treasure Close to Home
New Territory: 5-string cellos and short bows
Highlights from Spring 2022
Preparations for Volume 4 of Discovering the Classical String Trio are underway.
We are so excited to be working on a new set of trios and getting ready to record soon! Each recording that we make requires a whole process (described below) that often includes more than a year's worth of preparation. We are currently in Phases 3 and 4 and plan to record in June of 2023 in the beautiful Baldwin Auditorium at Duke University. Volume 4 will include works by Maddalena Sirmen, Boccherini, Haydn, Joseph Schmitt, Simon Leduc, and Beethoven.
Jasper, Liz's dog, is a very helpful rehearsal presence.
Phase 1: We gather mountains of trio parts from various library archives and online sources that we then sight-read. (Fortunately we are able to use digital screens for this phase rather than literally creating mountains of paper.) Sometimes we know immediately that we love a piece and sometimes we know immediately that we don't. And sometimes we have to be open-minded and dig a little deeper into the music to see if it speaks to us. It's an exhausting process and requires much patience and perseverence. We tend to spread these reading sessions over multiple occasions when we gather for concerts.
Phase 2: A set of 6 or 7 trios rises to the top of the list and we set a date for a trio retreat to really begin working on them. This we did in October at Liz's home in Washington, DC, wrapping up three days of extensive rehearsing with a house concert for a few friends and musicians.
Phase 3: Arrange a set of performances where we can continue to familiarize ourselves with the chosen trios. Performance is a crucial part of preparing for a recording. Having a live audience listening and responding to what we are playing always reveals new possibilities in the music. We also learn what works and what doesn't in a way that the practice room alone can't teach us.
Phase 4: We are ready to record! Call recording engineer Richard Price of Candlewood Digital and reserve the Hall! (Best to do this as one enters Phase 3.)
Read more in a Strings Magazine article which quotes Liz Field on the recording process.
Finding Treasure Close to Home
In Volume 3, we recorded the trio op. 1, no. 5 by the Venetian composer, Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen. Reviews of the volume often focused on this trio, describing it as "an unalloyed gem," and Sirmen as a composer The Vivaldi Project should record again "as soon as possible." Reviews We could of course look to record among the remaining 5 trios in Sirmen's set of op. 1 trios. But we were also interested in an unknown trio in Bb major which seems never to have been published. Classical string trios written by female composers are rare indeed so every trio is important! Where might this trio be? The answer, as it happens, is just down the road from where Stephanie lives in Durham, NC. The late musicologist Jane Baldauf-Berdes, author of Women Musicians of Venice (Oxford University Press, 1993), left her research papers to the Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University. And in one of the dozens of manilla folders among the 48 cardboard boxes of records, lies the more than 250 year old unique manuscript in Madalena Sirmen's own hand. Pretty exciting stuff for three women who have been dedicating themselves to exploring this little-known genre of the 18th century string trio.
The trio likely predates the six op. 1 trios, published in 1770. It seems also to have been written for a specific person and perhaps a specfic occasion. The lower right-hand corner of the title page reads ad uso di "for the use of" Carlo Gottardi, who might have been related by marriage to Maddalena's sister (or half-sister). There is no way of knowing if the piece was ever played. The manuscript remains in excellent condition and contains a number of obvious but significant mistakes, that would have made it difficult to play from. Perhaps another copy was made for performance.
It is a lovely piece and we look forward to performing and recording it and also to making a modern edition so that it can be added to the list of available works by Maddalena Sirmen.
Stephanie acquired a 5-string cello a few years ago and in addition to looking at some well-known repertoire for the instrument, like Bach's 6th cello suite, she has been exploring other works. She recently performed a little-known and rarely-performed concerto in Bb major by Carl Friedrich Abel. Written sometime before 1759, the unusual range of the concerto, lying primarily in the upper register of the instrument, suggests an additional higher string. The solo cello part does not even touch the lowest string, the C, and only in a few bars does it require the use of the G string. (Both are required however should the soloist wish to play along with the bass lines in tutti sections.) Abel may have played the concerto himself on the bass viol, his preferred instrument. Or perhaps he had in mind something like Sir Edward Walpole’s newly invented pentachord, a kind of 5-string cello tuned C-G-d-a-d’, which Abel played in his first public London concert in 1759. There is no evidence to suggest one way or the other what instrument was intended for the Bb concerto, but it does fit well on a 5-stringed cello tuned C-G-d-a-e’. Here's a short video of Stephanie introducing her instrument and playing a passage from Abel's Bb concerto.
Liz is now convinced that Bach only owned and played on a "short" bow. The "long" baroque bow we are all familiar with, didn’t really become universally popular until the middle of the century, and Bach likely did not have access to one. The short bow is a truly different animal. It is creamier, more resonant and often feels like it disappears in your hand. Seamless bow changes offer long lines of separate bow legato. Up and down bow can feel identical OR be characterized very differently. Here is a clip of Liz wielding her short bow extracted from a YouTube of the A section of the Sarabande from Bach's d minor Partita.
The short bow
Sunday, Feb. 12th @ 3:00 pm
Novelty and Familiarity: The 18th-century String Trio
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Chapel Hill, NC
Part of the 2023 North Carolina HIP Festival
Other events to hear us as we prepare for Discovering the Classical String Trio, Volume 4
Sunday, March 19th @ 7:00pm
Wednesday, March 22 @ 7:00
Chapel Hill, NC
May 12 and May 19, 2023 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, 66 W. Church St.
String Trios by Maddalena Sirmen, Simon Leduc, Luigi Boccherini, Haydn, and Beethoven
Sunday, May 2nd
Emerson Avenue Salon
Part 2, Demystifying Baroque Performance style
Sunday April 3rd & Tuesday April 5th
Friends of Music
String Trios by Sirmen, Hofman, Beethoven, and more
Thursday, April 7th
From Vienna with Love
Midtown Concerts New York, NY
Sunday, April 10th
Lebanon Valley College
Trio performance and Workshop
Sunday, March 20th at 3:00
Baroque and Beyond
Chapel Hill, NC
Working with Students at Lebanon Valley College
Video of Midtown Concert
Highlights from Spring '22
Performing in Chapel Hill for Baroque and Beyond
Meeting the legendary Ruth Slenczynska, the last surviving student of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
She enjoyed our concert!