Maddalena Laura Sirmen, nee Lombardini, was an Italian composer, violinist, and vocalist. Noble by birth, she was born in Venice to poverty-stricken parents. She began her studies at the San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti (a well known hospice which trained orphaned girls in music) at the age of seven. Hoping to play the violin professionally in a European classical scene almost entirely dominated by men, Lombardini was occasionally given permission to leave and study with the virtuoso violinist and composer Giuseppe Tartini, who paid her tuition himself for musical lessons at the orphanage. At age twenty-one, Lombardini received her maestro license at the orphanage, and was given permission to pursue a musical career outside of Venice. In 1767 she married the renowned violinist Ludovico Sirmen and the two began touring together that same year. Although little is documented about their relationship, it appears he encouraged Maddalena's career, respecting her compositions and relishing her successful solo performances. Maddalena Lombardini soon established her reputation as one of the finest and most famous violinists and composers ever taught in a Venetian orphanage. Composer Quirino Gasparini wrote "She won the hearts of all the people of Turin with her playing . . . I wrote to old Tartini last Saturday telling him the good news. It will make him all the happier, since this student of his plays his violin compositions with such perfection that it is obvious she is his descendant".Maddalena Lombardini was perhaps an even more successful composer. "The 'Mercure de France' speaks in glowing terms of M. and Mme Sirmen's execution of a double violin concerto of their own composition." In 1771, she debuted her "Concerto on the Violin" in London, met by rave reviews and lavish support. Her compositions displayed the violin in all its virtuosic brilliance in the dynamic yet restrained early Classical tradition. Lombardini visited London for a final time in 1772, performing as a vocalist. Although her career faded in its final years, she is remembered as a dynamic inventor and brilliant performer in 18th-century classical music.
Caroline Shaw (1982- )
Caroline Shaw is an American composer, violinist, and vocalist. She was awarded the Pulitzer Price for Music in 2013 for her a cappella piece Partita for 8 Voices and the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Narrow Sea. Shaw is a musician who moves among roles, genres, and mediums, trying to imagine a world of sound that has never been heard before but has always existed. She works often in collaboration with others, as producer, composer, violinist, and vocalist. 2022 will see the release of work with Rosalía (on upcoming album MOTOMAMI), the score to Josephine Decker’s film The Sky Is Everywhere (A24/Apple), the premiere of Justin Peck’s Partita with NY City Ballet, the premiere of the new stage work LIFE with Gandini Juggling and the Merce Cunningham Trust, a premiere for NY Philharmonic and Roomful of Teeth, the premiere Wu Tsang’s silent film Moby Dick with live score for Zurich Chamber Orchestra co-composed with Andrew Yee, a second album with Attacca Quartet called The Evergreen (Nonesuch), the premiere of Helen Simoneau’s Delicate Power, tours of Graveyards & Gardens (immersive dance theater work co-created with Vanessa Goodman), and tours with So Percussion featuring songs from Let The Soil Play Its Simple Part (Nonesuch), amid occasional chamber music appearances (Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, Caramoor Festival, La Jolla Music Society). Caroline has written over 100 works in the last decade, for Anne Sofie von Otter, Davóne Tines, Yo Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, LA Phil, Philharmonia Baroque, Seattle Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Aizuri Quartet, The Crossing, Dover Quartet, Calidore Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, Miro Quartet, I Giardini, Ars Nova Copenhagen, Ariadne Greif, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Britt Festival, Vail Dance Festival, and many others. She has produced for Kanye West, Rosalía, Woodkid, and Nas. Her work as vocalist or composer has appeared in several films, tv series, and podcasts including The Humans, Bombshell, Yellowjackets, Maid, Dark, Beyonce’s Homecoming, jeen-yuhs: a Kanye Trilogy, Dolly Parton’s America, and More Perfect.
Random fact: Shaw's great-great-grandfather and great-great-granduncle are Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins from then-Siam (now Thailand) who received great fame during their lifetime.
In her own words: Limestone & Felt presents two kinds of surfaces – essentially hard and soft. These are materials that can suggest place (a cathedral apse, or the inside of a wool hat), stature, function, and – for me – sound (reverberant or muted). In limestone & felt, the hocketing pizzicato and pealing motivic canons are part of a whimsical, mystical, generous world of sounds echoing and colliding in the imagined eaves of a gothic chapel. These are contrasted with the delicate, meticulous, and almost reverent placing of chords that, to our ears today, sound ancient and precious, like an antique jewel box. Ultimately, felt and limestone may represent two opposing ways we experience history and design our own present.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist of the Classical and early Romantic periods, and remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music. His career has conventionally been divided into early, middle, and late periods. The early period is typically considered to have lasted until 1802. From 1802 to around 1812, his middle period showed an individual development from the styles of WA Mozart and FJ Haydn, with whom he studied for a short time. During this time, he began to grow increasingly deaf. In his late period, from 1812 to 1827, he extended innovations in musical form and expression.
String Quartet Op 18 #6 Beethoven successfully staved off the pressure of high expectations that came with writing a string quartet through much of his first decade in Vienna. It wasn’t until 1798 that Prince Lobkowitz (for whom Haydn also wrote string quartets) commissioned from Beethoven a set of six quartets that became Op. 18. The set was finished in 1801. While each Op. 18 quartet is highly inventive, Beethoven’s equalization of part writing and his exploration of variations on a theme are particularly evident in No. 6. No. 6 is Beethoven’s answer to “Papa” Haydn, and we can hear this in the texture of the first movement, Allegro con brio. The movement begins rather modestly, the theme’s importance growing as it moves through turn figures and elegantly dotted rhythms. The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo, is truly exquisite – one of the most expressive of the composer’s early slow movements. Its simplicity of form and major/minor contrasts among sections hold the listener’s attention, as do the sudden swells in dynamics, and the coda, which recalls the minor mode of the middle section. The Adagio comes to an end with two gentle pizzicato chords. The Scherzo starts out like the tumbling act of a circus troupe – with syncopations and quick, bouncy surges. After two movements of basically straightforward rhythmic patterns, the Scherzo is a blast of vivacity and rhythmic eccentricity. Nevertheless, the heart of the quartet is the fourth movement, labeled La malinconia: Adagio; Allegretto quasi allegro. Perhaps the only thing that could trump the rhythmic genius of the Scherzo is the stunning harmonic spectrum of this finale. The “Melancholy” introduction makes way for a merry 3/8 Allegretto. Then, suddenly, between measures 195-212, the Malinconia of the beginning and the Allegretto (Tempo I) begin an agitated trade off with one another, pulling the listener in two very different directions. Finally, the main Allegretto theme returns, though at a much-slowed Poco adagio leading into a Prestissimo (the fastest tempo marking found anywhere in Beethoven’s works) that sweeps to the end in a rhythmic unison of fortissimo 16th notes. — Jessie Rothwell
Caroline Shaw (1982- )
In her own words: Blueprint,composed in 2016, takes its title from that familiar standard architectural representation of a proposed structure: the blueprint. This piece began its life as a harmonic reduction — a kind of floor plan — of Beethoven's string quartet Op. 18 No. 6. As a violinist and violist, I have played this piece many times, in performance and in joyous late-night reading sessions with musician friends. Chamber music is ultimately about conversation without words. We talk to each other with our dynamics and articulations, and we try to give voice to the composers whose music has inspired us to gather in the same room and play music. Blueprint is also a conversation — with Beethoven, with Haydn (his teacher and the "father" of the string quartet), and with the joys and malinconia of his Op. 18 No. 6.
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