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Sat. 26 Jan. 2019

7: 30 PM //

Seattle Baroque Orchestra

Music and Medicine

Alexander Weimann, Music Director
Henry Lebedinsky, Guest Conductor

Guest conductor Henry Lebedinsky leads the Orchestra on a journey into the world of early modern medicine, from the humorous to the terrifying. Music includes Marin Marais’ Tableau of a Gallbladder Operation, selections from Lully’s The Love Doctor, and works by Charpentier, Geminiani, Farina, and Zelenka.

INTERVIEW | Henry Lebedinsky


More Information

Program Length

2 hours with one intermission

Program Notes

What we call Western medicine can be traced back over two millennia to Classical Greece and Rome and the writings of Hippocrates and Galen. By the beginning of 17th century, remarkable little had changed. Medicine was a mysterious amalgam of empirical science, religious superstition, and opportunistic quackery. Physical and mental ailments were governed by the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and illness and wellness was diagnosed and treated in terms of balancing their effects upon the body. While anatomy was generally well understood, the actual purpose and influence of many of the body’s organs was still often relegated to the realm of tradition, superstition, and lore.

Starting in the late 1500s and throughout much of the early 17th century, melancholy became not only a fad, but also the mark of a superior and sensitive temperament. This fad pervaded the arts, from Dowland’s immensely popular lute songs such as Flow, My Tears and In Darkness Let Me Dwell to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 1621, the Oxford scholar, mathematician, clergyman, and author Robert Burton (1577-1640) pubished The Anatomy of Melancholy, an encyclopedic study of depression that examined the medical, spiritual, and historical contexts behind the illness, along with causes and cures. Richard Browne (fl. 1674-1694) was an English doctor who advanced the notion, dating back to Greek times, that music could both change a person’s emotional state and induce physical changes in the body. His 1671 book Medicina Musica; or a Mechanical Essay on the Effects of Singing, Music, and Dancing on Human Bodies: with an Essay on the Nature and Cure of the Spleen and Vapours could be regarded as the first treatise on music therapy.

Hypochondria was first mentioned by Hippocrates as an anatomical term. The left hypochondrium was the spleen, and the right was the liver and gall bladder. By the second century AD, Galen of Pergamon used the term to define a broad range of digestive issues, often accompanied by anxiety, nightmares, and preoccupation with disease, ultimately linking its symptoms to melancholy. That played into the larger view that mental illness, whatever the physical cause, manifested as either mania or depression, and that a small amount of madness was necessary for the creative spark to exist. A sensitive disposition, tendency toward a weak constitution, mood swings, even what psychiatrists now call full-blown bipolar disorder – all these conditions were held up as habits of superior people. This is the backdrop to tonight’s music.

Jan Dismas Zelenka has suffered in contemporary times from being compared, mostly unfavorably, to Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann. All three relied heavily on counterpoint in their musical construction. Bach was able to sweeten the staggering complexity of his fugal mastery with the captivating beauty of Italian bel canto. Telemann infused his music with the effervescent lightness of the French ballet. While Zelenka’s music approached Bach in his harmonic daring and the sheer density of his counterpoint, it never quite shakes off the stolid sturdiness of his Eastern European heritage. Born in the small town of Louňovice pod Blaníkem outside of Prague, Zelenka studied counterpoint with Fux in Vienna and served most of his life as a musician in the Dresden court orchestra, where he played double bass and eventually rose to the position of chief composer of church music. He was a close friend of both Telemann and Bach, who held him and his music in high esteem and performed some of it in Leipzig. Zelenka’s overture Hipochondrie illustrates the mood swings from melancholy to mania that characterized the condition through contrasts in tempo, sudden and surprising twists of harmony, and an obsessively driving fugue subject.

Starting in the early 16th century, the Spanish vicerealm of Naples served as the epicenter for training generations of church musicians, and, as opera took its place as the most important genre of public music, both opera singers and composers. As a young man, Francesco Durante studied with Alessandro Scarlatti, whom he eventually succeeded at the Conservatorio di Sant’Ononfrio. He later took over for Nicola Porpora as head of the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto. Among his many famous and successful students were the opera composers Pergolesi, Paisiello, and Sacchini. Durante was also notable for not composing opera himself, instead choosing to concentrate on sacred music. His concerto La Pazzia (Madness) comes from an unpublished set of eight that survives in a manuscript now held at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella in Naples. Like Zelenka’s Hipochondrie, Durante’s concerto depicts mania and melancholy through the medium of the orchestra. The first movement alternates between obsessive perseveration, sighs of despair, angry outbursts, and doleful brooding, the last affect musically illustrated by extended duets for two unaccompanied violas. A quiet and lucid interlude follows, but the music is overshadowed by building tension, which explodes in the final movement into a fever pitch of anxiety.

Francesco Geminiani was born in the Tuscan town of Lucca, and studied with Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli before moving to London, where he became an influential teacher, composer, and writer. His Art of Playing the Violin, published in London in 1751, is considered one of the most important sources of information on late Baroque string performance practice. Geminiani took three collections of Corelli’s sonatas and arranged them as concerti grossi, a scoring that originated in Rome and uses a group of two violins, cello, and basso continuo as the soloists. The concerto #12 is based on Corelli’s sonata for violin and basso continuo Op. 5 #12, an extended set of variations on La Follia. One of the oldest known snippets of European music, the Follia or Folia is a melody and chord progression that musicians and composers have been using as the foundation for improvisation and compositions for close to 500 years. It originated as a Portuguese fertility dance where a man would carry another man dressed as a woman on his shoulders. The quick tempo and rhythms of the dance was said to drive the dancers mad. From the 17th century to the present, over 150 composers have set this tune to music, including Vivaldi, Lully, Marais, Salieri, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Vangelis, and Tangerine Dream. One could say that the tune truly went viral.

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was one of 17th century France’s most brilliant composers, having studied in Rome with Giacomo Carissimi and developing a style that seamlessly integrated French and Italian musical elements. When he returned to Paris in 1669, his professional opportunities at court were curtailed by King Louis XIV’s master of music, Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose political machinations and heavy-handed authoritarianism prevented Charpentier from working as an opera composer. Instead, he obtained a position as the composer for the Duchesse de Guise. On the side, he began to compose theater music for the playwright Molière, who had just broken off his association with Lully. In 1661, Molière helped to create a new genre of performance that blended a spoken play with a French court ballet. These comedie-ballets closely integrated the music with the action of the play, and Le malade imaginaire was Molière’s grandest collaboration with Charpentier. It was also his last, as the playwright, who was performing in the title role, collapsed on stage during the performance and died a few hours later. The play tells the story of a hypochondriac (in the modern sense) who is constantly convinced that he is ill and spends a great deal of money on quack doctors. Add the usual Molièrian touches of illicit love, mistaken identity, class struggle, and physical comedy worthy of Moe, Larry, and Curly. At the end of the production, the kids get married, the greedy rich doctor gets his comeuppance, and the hypochondriac gets made a doctor because, after all, he knows so much about being ill.

French viol virtuoso and composer Marin Marais worked at Versailles under Lully, with whom he studied, and was thereby allowed to compose operas for the royal court. His most important compositions were his five books of suites for viol and basso continuo, some of the finest and most innovative music ever written for the instrument. His fifth book, published in 1725, includes the extraordinary piece of program music The Bladder-Stone Operation, which describes in painful detail a procedure that Marais most likely underwent and survived. Urinary bladder stone surgery, or lithotomy, was first described in a book by the surgeon François Tolet, published in 1686. The viol part to Marais’ music contains written descriptions such as “Here the incision is made” and “introduction of the forceps”. The harrowing procedure (with no anaesthesia, of course) is followed by a suite of dances called Les Relevailles, which alludes to the recovery from the procedure. The same term was used to describe the forty-day period after a woman gave birth, known in English as ‘churching.’

Often called ‘the father of Swedish music’ or ‘the Swedish Händel’, Johan Helmich Roman served as the Master of the Swedish Royal Orchestra and Master of the Royal Chapel, and founded the first public concert series in Sweden. As a young man, he spent six years in London, where he met and worked with Handel, Bononcini, and Geminiani. Handel especially exerted a strong influence on Roman’s music. Based on the dates of composition, it is likely that Roman composed his orchestral suite Sjukmans Musiqen for the opening of Stockholm’s newly rebuilt Danviken Hospital and Asylum in 1725. The music is classic Roman, blending Italian galant and Handelian influences and concluding with a charming lullaby that incorporates Swedish folk elements into the mix.

Music Director

Alexander Weimann

Guest Conductor

Henry Lebedinsky
Historical keyboardist, conductor, and composer Henry Lebedinsky has been bringing people together through music for the past 25 years. He performs on harpsichord, organ, clavichord, and historical pianos with Pacific MusicWorks, the Seattle Symphony, The Cantata Collective (CA), Sonoma Bach (CA), and The Spire Ensemble (Kansas City). He has also played with Seattle Opera, The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, The Charlotte Symphony, Seraphic Fire, and Boston Revels. He is the co-director of the acclaimed Bay Area band Agave Baroque, with which he has released two albums featuring countertenor Reginald L. Mobley on the VGo Recordings label. With Mr. Mobley, he performed programs featuring 200 years of music by Black composers for audiences from Massachusetts to Morocco. As an organist, has been featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today, and has performed live on APM’s Pipedreams. Mr. Lebedinsky is the founder and director of the ATTUNED series at the California Jazz Conservatory and Pacific MusicWorks’ Underground concerts (formerly Early Music Underground), dedicated to bringing Baroque and Classical music to places where people gather - from brewpubs to wineries and other fun, informal venues - creating experiences that appeal to both seasoned concertgoers and first-timers alike. Now in its fifth season, the Underground offers over 40 boozy, high-spirited, multimedia-driven shows a season across the greater Seattle metro area. If you like stuffy performances where audiences and musicians alike take themselves too seriously, don’t come. You’ll just be miserable and annoy everyone else.

An avid composer of music for choir and organ, his sacred music is published by Paraclete Press, Carus-Verlag Stuttgart, and CanticaNOVA. Mr. Lebedinsky is a former music critic for FANFARE Magazine and is currently editing the complete works of Italian nun composer Isabella Leonarda for Cor Donato Editions. When not at a keyboard instrument, he plays guitar and bouzouki with several Celtic traditional music bands including The Beggar Boys, who were featured in National Public Radio’s syndicated holiday special A Celtic Christmas from Biltmore Estate with Kathy Mattea. Mr. Lebedinsky holds degrees from Bowdoin College and the Longy School of Music, where he earned a Master of Music in historical organ performance as a student of Peter Sykes. He currently serves as Outreach Director for Pacific MusicWorks and as Organist and Choirmaster at Seattle’s historic Christ Episcopal Church. More information at www.henrylebedinsky.com

Concert Master

Linda Melsted

Orchestra Musicians

Linda Melsted - concert master
Christine Beckman
Carrie Krause
Jane Strauss - principal 2nd
Toma Iliev
Libby Phelps
Lindsey Strand-Polyak

Joanna Hood - principal
Steve Creswell

Nathan Whittaker - principal
Annabeth Shirley

Curtis Daily
Curtis Foster - principal
Lot Demeyer

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