FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: (January 9, 2020)
“Early music ensemble to perform only surviving music from colonial Louisiana”
AUSTIN – The Austin Baroque Orchestra Chamber Soloists will present “Masterless Mistresses,” a concert of music from 18th-century Louisiana, at the Cathedral of St. Mary (203 E. 10th St., Austin, TX, 78701) on Saturday, February 15, 2020 at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the door or online, and an informal pre-concert talk will begin 30 minutes before the program. A limited number of “pay as you are able” tickets will also be available at the door the day of the program. Noted for their many performances colonial Latin American music, this program will the ensemble’s first devoted entirely to music from a French colony.
Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus began in 2011 as Ensemble Settecento, a ten-person chamber ensemble. Since that time, the ensemble has grown into an orchestra and choir with a roster of some thirty-five young musicians with specialized training in historical performance. The players use period-appropriate performance practices and replicas of early instruments, while the chorus sings in an historically-informed manner, including the use of minimal vibrato and period diction
“Though New Orleans is one of the most musical cities in the United States today, we still know very little about its musical life pre-1800,” said Billy Traylor, the group’s artistic director, a native of Louisiana and a musicologist specializing in colonial repertoire. “The New Orleans Ursuline Manuscript is the only surviving example of music from Louisiana’s colonial era, and while the pieces in the collection was composed by well-known French composers, we’re still not fully certain what the Ursuline Sisters, or anyone else, did with this music.” According to Traylor, the manuscript resided in the Ursuline Convent library for over 200 years, allowing it to survive the fires in 1788 and 1794 that destroyed virtually every other building in the city. Because of its importance, singularity, and fragility, it is now housed in a climate-controlled vault at the Historic New Orleans Collection, an archive and research center devoted to the study of the Crescent City.
The collection is a handwritten copy of a seven-part book of printed music, Nouvelles poesies morales, published in the early 1730s (the manuscript copy only consists of the first four parts). The pieces in the manuscript are contrafacta: songs whose texts were altered after their composition. In this case, recitatives and arias from operas and cantatas by such luminaries as Jean-Baptiste Lully, André Campra, Louis-Nicolas Clérembault, and Henri Desmarets had their secular texts removed and replaced with sacred poetry on a number of subjects, including human vices, virtues, and the mysteries of Christ’s life. The manuscript’s preface suggests an instrumentation of voice, violin, flute, bass viol, harpsichord, and theorbo, so only those instruments will be used in the performance. The musical pieces will be interspersed with selections from the nuns’ letters and other documents related to Louisiana history, read by Sara Schneider of KMFA 89.5 FM; over the course of the concert the audience will hear from documents stretching from 1689 until 1803.
The Austin Baroque Orchestra & Chorus seeks to entertain and engage their audiences by presenting high-caliber performances of both well- and lesser-known works from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Their concerts, using period instruments and informed by the latest research in performance practice, include works by renowned masters as well as pieces by less familiar composers. Each performance is preceded by an informative and informal discussion of the music and composers, led by the artistic director.