Triumph of the Muses

…or how music has fought pandemics in Europe

Europe has experienced many pandemics in the past. The plague, also called “Black Death”, is the most famous cause. Fortunately, this disease has been virtually eliminated thanks to improved hygiene, but new diseases have emerged such as cholera, the Spanish flu and now Covid-19. Music has played a major role in making fear and uncertainty more bearable and that music is capable of this even today, as Accademia Amsterdam proves with this project.

Pestis Mediolanensis

Melchiorre Gherardini, Piazza di S. Babila durante la peste del 1630The central theme is the work of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704) “Pestis Mediolanensis” or the Plague of Milan. This oratorio for soloists and small ensemble celebrates the good deeds of the Bishop of Milan during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the late 16th century. We could compare the reputation of the bishop with that of a Prime Minister or the virologists of the National Health Service. The work describes the misery but also the gratitude for the disappearance of the disease. The heavenly sounds give the listener hope and peaceful perspective. Accademia Amsterdam precedes this work with a “De Profundis”, a desperate call for help and wisdom. Gratitude is celebrated in Charpentier's famous “Te Deum”, which concludes the program. Everyone knows the opening part, because it is used as the tune of the Euro song contest. Accademia Amsterdam has also chosen the central work “Pestis Mediolanensis” because of its analogy with the current pandemic, which in Europe also originated in Italy, around Milan.

…or how music has fought pandemics in Europe

Europe has experienced many pandemics in the past. The plague, also called “Black Death”, is the most famous cause. Fortunately, this disease has been virtually eliminated thanks to improved hygiene, but new diseases have emerged such as cholera, the Spanish flu and now Covid-19. Music has played a major role in making fear and uncertainty more bearable and that music is capable of this even today, as Accademia Amsterdam proves with this project.

Pestis Mediolanensis

Melchiorre Gherardini, Piazza di S. Babila durante la peste del 1630The central theme is the work of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704) “Pestis Mediolanensis” or the Plague of Milan. This oratorio for soloists and small ensemble celebrates the good deeds of the Bishop of Milan during an outbreak of the bubonic plague in the late 16th century. We could compare the reputation of the bishop with that of a Prime Minister or the virologists of the National Health Service. The work describes the misery but also the gratitude for the disappearance of the disease. The heavenly sounds give the listener hope and peaceful perspective. Accademia Amsterdam precedes this work with a “De Profundis”, a desperate call for help and wisdom. Gratitude is celebrated in Charpentier's famous “Te Deum”, which concludes the program. Everyone knows the opening part, because it is used as the tune of the Euro song contest. Accademia Amsterdam has also chosen the central work “Pestis Mediolanensis” because of its analogy with the current pandemic, which in Europe also originated in Italy, around Milan.

Power of the youth

Decamerone

ImageCaptionIn order to involve current affairs and a younger target group more in the project, Accademia Amsterdam uses quotes and projected images from the “Decamerone” by the 14th-century Italian Giovanni Boccaccio. The collection consists of one hundred novellas, told by a group of young people during a fourteen-day stay in a country estate, fleeing the plague, which is described in a visual way in the introduction. The “Decamerone” is famous for its spicy humour and ridicule of the clergy and authorities and for some slightly erotic stories.

Young talent

In addition to a concert program for an interested audience, this project focuses on young people (upper secondary school), whereby the program has been shortened and adjusted. The pupils actively participate in, for example, the well-known opening part of the “Te Deum” and prepare story fragments from the “Decamerone” in the literature or history lesson. This allows us to introduce this specific target group to culture and music and literature in particular.

The project's secondary goal is talent development. This is achieved through auditions to give talented upcoming singers a chance to become acquainted with the style and to gain stage experience under the guidance of the famous and experienced soloists. Participation in a solid project with Accademia Amsterdam also means a boost for their career and curriculum.

The programme can be performed both with an ensemble of young talented singers, or only with a vocal octet of renowned singers.

Performance

Corona

Especially in a small-scaled project like this, corona measures can be taken into account. The programme can take place in venues which offer sufficient space and ventilation to place the audience safely, like churches. Alternatively and in good weather, it can also be performed outside, in an enclosed courtyard. The length of the program (approx. 60 minutes) makes it possible to perform it twice a day for a smaller audience. This also applies to the school performance.

Artistic collaborators
  • Antonio Magarelli - conductor, organ continuo, singing coach
  • Constanze Backes - soprano
  • Ensemble Constanze Backes - 2nd soprano, alto, tenor and bass
  • Onno Verschoor - oboe / recorder
  • (To be completed later) - oboe / recorder
  • Mariëtte Holtrop and Jan Pieter van Coolwijk - concert masters, violin
  • Niek Idema or Rachael Yates - viola
  • Wilma van der Wardt - viola da gamba and violoncello
  • Hendrik-Jan Wolfert - violone
  • Harjo Neutkens - theorbo
  • Gottfrid van Eck - narrator
Repertoire
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704) “De Profundis” or “Messe des morts” for 2 recorders or oboes, strings, four voices and basso continuo. A requiem.
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704) “Pestis Mediolanensis” or “Le Peste de Milan” for 2 recorders, strings, eight voices and basso continuo. Short oratory in honor of the Bishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo.
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643—1704) “Te Deum” for 2 recorders or oboes, strings, four voices and basso continuo. Trumpet, timpani and bassoon ad libitum. Charpentier composed this Te Deum in honor of the Peace of Nijmegen in 1678 and may have been performed for the first time in the Sint-Stevenskerk there.

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