Orphee et Euridice has been called the pinnacle of the baroque opera. It has everything -- music, singing, dancing, and presumably sumptions decorations and dress. Orphee's aria "Che ciaro ciello", with oboe and flute accompaniment, is exquisite, especially as performed by the countertenor Derek Lee Ragin. My husband and I used this aria as the processional at our wedding.
When I heard Pergolesi's Stabat Mater on the radio, I was instantly smitten. The balance of a soprano and countertenor voices was the most exquisite thing I've ever heard. I went out the same night and bought a recording of it with Emma Kirkby and James Bowman and the Academy of Ancient Music. This performance is on original instruments, though I bet modern performances with alto instead of the countertenor, might be more pleasing to some people who find countertenors unbearable. I, on the other hand, am seduced by their voices. Ever since I saw Farinelli, with a beautifully synthsized castrato voice, I have been exploring Baroque opera and vocal performances, especially ones featuring countertenors.
By any account, Saint Hildegard of Bingen was an extraordinary figure --- a Renaissance woman before the age of Renaissance. See Life and times of Hildegard for biography and musi-bibliography.
Until recently Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679 - 1745) enjoyed respect of music historians only. He was often compared to his more renowned contemporary and called "Bohemian Bach." In recent years, however, popular interest in his music grew, and so grew the number of recordings. Zelenka was found to be "appealing to the modern ear," in one critic's words.
Little is know about the life of this reclusive, secretive man. He was born in the Bohemian village of Launowitz, as a son of a local organist and choirmaster. He probably received musical education in a Jesuit college in Prague, though much of his formal musical training occurred when he was well into his 30's. By all accounts he was a pious and reclusive man. Not a single picture of him exists, though it was both fashionable and popular for people from all walks of life to commission portraits of themselves. Most of his creative years were spent in Leipzig. Zelenka was not skilled in court politics, and grew very bitter when he was denied a coveted position of a Kapelmeister, a position given to Hasse, who popularized Italian Baroque opera in Germany.
Of his music, I like the choral works the best. The melodies are haunting, the pure voices of soloists are beautifully showcased on top of rich Baroque background. Missa Dei Filii is a frequent resident of my CD player. The second of the Last Masses, Missa Dei Patris, while does not shine overall as much as the first work, contains very beautiful countertenor parts. Credo, to my knowledge, contains one of the earliest examples of syncopated rhythms. It makes my heart skip a beat.
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