Ars Antiqua, established in Rochester, NY in 1957, was a performing group of musical theater that, over a period of ten years, mounted a remarkably rich repertoire of programs offering a unique synthesis of the history and arts of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The group was founded and directed by Dorothy Purdy Amarandos, a cellist and viola da gambist, who earned a Masterâ€™s Degree in Music History and Performerâ€™s Certificate on the cello from the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester. From its early beginnings as a small instrumental and vocal ensemble to its later successes as a major dramatic touring group, Ars Antiqua maintained an important association with the arts community in Rochester. In particular, with the significant enthusiasm and support of Gertrude Herdle Moore, curator of an extraordinary collection of Renaissance art at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, Ars Antiqua found a magnificent home in the Galleryâ€™s beautiful and resonant Fountain Court. The compilation of Gallery performances on these CDs recaptures precious moments of the brilliance of Ars Antiqua in that special setting.
Within the intimate walls of the Fountain Court, Ars Antiqua delighted audiences with lavish re-creations of musical and dramatic experiences from the 12th through 18th Centuries. Each Ars Antiqua production represented an important idea, tradition, development, or time in history, or the influence of an important individual across the social and cultural currents of a particular period. The ideas were unlimited...from the practical revival of Medieval Church dramas commemorating Biblical legends, to the representation of colorful patrons of the arts, such as Lorenzo dei Medici, Louis XIV, Ferdinand and Isabella, and Elizabeth I, to historical, social and political influences on the evolution of music, and to the lives and works of great artists themselves, such as Dante, Shakespeare and Moliere.
Such recreations have become popular over recent years. But in the early 1960s, Ars Antiquaâ€™s productions were path-breaking, offering a renaissance of all-but-forgotten treasures of early music and theater, some silenced for nearly 200 years due to lack of interest, awareness or the unavailability of period instruments. Ars Antiqua was one of the earlier groups to perform on instruments authentic to the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Dorothy Amarandos played a six-string bass viola da gamba. Other viols played by members of the company included the five-string violino pomposo, the seven-string viola dâ€™amore (with seven sympathetic strings), six-string tenor and treble viols and the lute. Wind instruments included the recorder and similar instruments such as the rauchenfife and sordune, the hand horn (without valves), the double-reed crumhorn, and trombone-like sackbut. The vocal ensemble replicated the historical style of madrigal, troubadour, and sacred singing. The harpsichord, in the roles of both solo and accompaniment, provided continuous cohesion to the groupâ€™s period sound.
The Ars Antiqua had a distinctive period â€œsoundâ€. The groupâ€™s interpretation of period music reflects approaches and techniques influenced by Eva Heinitz, a New York-based musical authority significantly responsible for the revival of the viola da gamba, as well as by Luigi Silva, Dorothy Amarandosâ€™ professor at Eastman who was an authority on Baroque cello. Although different from more recent interpretations of compositions for original instruments, Ars Antiquaâ€™s spirited performances stand on their own as products of superior skill and artistry.
Performances were enhanced with colorful period costumes and interpretive sets, and were heralded by extravagant written programs, which were themselves masterpieces of art and design. Ars Antiqua aimed to provide total immersion in the senses as well as sounds of the chosen period. Many performances were complemented with extravagant banquets of food prepared from recipes of the period accompanied by elaborate printed menus. Subscribers to the Ars Antiqua â€œsocietyâ€ were treated to regular newsletters dense with historical information on the political, religious and social contexts of the music and arts showcased in the seasonâ€™s selections.
The company was built on the abundant talents of the highly skilled musical and theatrical performers, dancers, artists, and researchers available in Rochester. The core repertory group of performers included six instrumentalists, each a virtuoso player on instruments of antiquity, and five expert solo or ensemble singers, with the addition of other narrators, actors, dancers, singers, and instrumentalists, as each program demanded. Many of the musicians were graduates of and/or faculty at Eastman. Dorothy Amarandos was assisted in historical research by musicologist Dorothy Parker, a violinist and violist who performed frequently with the University of Rochester Orchestra. They mined the riches of the Sibley Music Library of the Eastman School of Music, which has one of the worldâ€™s most extensive collections of early music and rare historical books. Ms. Parker also researched the Library of Congress, finding and transcribing all but forgotten compositions such as the comedy ballets of the â€œQuerelle of the Theatre,â€ a marionette opera revived by Ars Antiqua in its program Theatre de la Foire.
For its dramatic performances, Ars Antiqua was indebted to the talents of Kenneth Cameron, head of the drama department of the University of Rochester, who wrote original scripts incorporating historical background and theatrical excerpts to enhance the musical part of the productions. He and his wife, Marilyn Cameron, were responsible for all of the staging and acting in the dramatic episodes.
Almost as important as the musical and dramatic productions were the immensely creative graphics of Sylvia Farrer, an exhibited artist who was a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and art instructor at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. Ms. Farrerâ€™s original wood cuts, line drawings and innovative layouts lent an inimitable style to all of Ars Antiquaâ€™s collectible programs, brochures, newsletters and menus. Photographic illustrator, Dan Oâ€™Toole, who took on Ars Antiqua as his graduation â€œthesisâ€ for the Rochester Institute of Technology, left a legacy of indelible photographic memories of the Ars Antiqua experience. Many examples of the singular work of Sylvia Farrer and Dan Oâ€™Toole are reproduced in this booklet.
Until recently, Ars Antiqua was a vivid experience that resonated in the memories of only a privileged few. Many Ars Antiqua programs were never recorded and are lost forever. Only 17 performances staged between 1960 and 1965 were preserved in audio recordings. Unfortunately, all of the recordings were made on amateur reel-to-reel equipment. Now modern digital technology has made it possible to retrieve and restore many of the recordings, untouched for nearly 45 years, revealing a long lost treasure trove of Ars Antiqua concert-productions. The highest quality recordings were selected for these CDs.
To reflect the wide-ranging contrasts of musical and dramatic styles performed by the group over those years, the selections on these CDs are presented in an eclectic mix. The selections deliberately shift back and forth among recordings from approximately 16 shows reflecting music and theater spanning six centuries. The selections also highlight the expertise and versatility of individual players and singers as well as the variety of productions. The result is a true renaissance of the sound and sense of Ars Antiqua performances, transporting the listener across the ages and back in time to the delightful sounds reverberating in the Fountain Court, unretouched, fresh and real.
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