Onion River Chorus Presents
Baroque Masterworks by Zelenka and Charpentier

Onion River Chorus December Concert poster

Montpelier’s Onion River Chorus presents two versions each of two of the most loved sacred texts – “Magnificat” and “Te Deum” - by the Baroque masters Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) and Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704). The concerts will be held Saturday, December 22 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, December 23 at 4:00 pm, both at the Montpelier Unitarian Church, 130 Main Street. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $17 for students, seniors and low-income. Advance tickets are available at North Branch Café (cash or check only) for the discounted prices of $18 and $15.

The 60-voice chorus and 16-piece Baroque-instrument orchestra is led by Larry Gordon. Vocal soloists are Mary Bonhag, soprano, Lindsey Warren, mezzo soprano, Lysander Jaffe, tenor, and Zeb McLellan, bass. Zelenka worked most of his life at the royal court in Dresden, which was, at the time, the richest musical establishment in Europe. He was highly regarded by Bach, and most musicologists trained in the music of the Baroque period agree that his compositions are on a par with those of his contemporaries Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann in their advanced use of counterpoint, their extreme demands on the players and singers, their ingenuity and resourcefulness, and their overall beauty. One of Zelenka’s contemporaries, Johann Gottlob Kittel, wrote:

"You, most highly praised, perfect Virtuoso
Your fame - all of your own making - is world-renowned and great;
To the glory of God and in order to delight the soul
You compose church music
Which is so touching that the rapt breast
Has a foretaste of the heavenly pleasures;
So your own praise will forever keep your name green,
Both here on Earth and on the platform of the stars.”

Charpentier is widely regarded today as the foremost French Baroque composer. Early in his life, he went to Italy where he studied with the Italian composer Carissimi. Returning to France, he worked for eighteen years under the patronage of Mademoiselle de Guise. After that, he served as the chief composer for the Jesuits. He also collaborated with Molière on music for the theater. Charpentier’s music is remarkable for its lyricism, constant rhythmic energy and variety, sometimes startling harmonies, and constant contrast of mood and texture. After several centuries of obscurity, a Charpentier renaissance began in 1953 when the overture to his “Te Deum” became the theme music for French Eurovision TV.

The “Te Deum,” a hymn of praise, thanksgiving and supplication, has been used since the 4th century as a solemn act of praise after the mass, for the consecration of a bishop or abbot, and on other festive occasions. In the Baroque period, settings of the “Te Deum” text were often used to celebrate important military victories or other state occasions, Zelenka’s and Charpentier’s settings are both appropriately grand and magnificent, using an expanded orchestra of trumpets, tympani, oboes, flutes, and strings. Both also divide the text into successive movements, alternating solos and small ensembles with full chorus and orchestra.

The well-known “Magnificat” text, attributed to Mary, has inspired composers continuously through the centuries. Zelenka’s and Charpentier’s settings are quite different from each other. Zelenka’s composition is concise, yet grand, using the same full orchestration as his “Te Deum.” A heroic opening chorus leads to a lyrical soprano solo, which in turn leads to a long fugal “Amen.” Charpentier’s setting uses a pared-down orchestra (no trumpets or tympani), but it divides both singers and orchestra into two choirs. In the choral movements, the two choirs answer each other back and forth before combining at the cadences. These large movements alternate with many different combinations of lyrical solo voices.

Heightening the contrast between the Zelenka and Charpentier works, the chorus and soloists will be using French Latin pronunciation in the French works and standard church Latin in the Zelenka pieces.

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