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Why Program Notes Are Good For You

A Program Notes Primer for Listeners

The sound of Aston Magna’s music is one thing entirely, and taken alone, it is entirely rewarding. Yet the program notes accompanying each concert bring context and perspective to the music, the composers, the instruments and their place in the continuum of musical history. Knowing more, in other words, deepens the experience of Aston Magna, and that’s where program notes come into play.

Program-Notes-Orfeo_libretto_prologue“Love & Lamentation,” our 44th season theme and opening weekend moniker, comes with program notes by Erin Headley, lirone scholar and guest director for opening weekend. Her notes weave the connections among the composers whose works will be performed: Monteverdi, Marini, Rossi and Marazzoli. Ms. Headley places the music — and her instrument, the lirone —  in the context of the Catholic church. She writes:
The lirone (trans. large lyre in Italian) was invented in 1505, and early on associated with the poetry and music of Greek antiquity. During the course of the 16th century, that association began to change, as the Catholics recognized that the lirone’s spiritual qualities would suit their cause. By the end of its  career (c. 1680) the lirone was associated exclusively with Catholic spirituality.
The lirone had a leaf-shaped tuning box symbolizing Greek antiquity; its body was roughly similar to that of the cello or viola da gamba, but its unique features were the number and arrangement of the strings: there were from 9 to 14 or possibly more, tuned in rising 4ths and falling 5ths. Groups of 4 to 6 strings were bowed together to produce slow, sustained and shapely chords. A clever tuning system allowed the instrument to be played in nearly all tonalities, even the remotest ones, and incredibly, in purely tuned chords. The instrument was especially associated with the lament; its unique chordal bowing lent it an elevating, sometimes haunting quality. What better instrument to accompany such transcendent music? Read the complete notes here.
Going forward, program notes for Aston Magna will be prepared by the eloquent Joseph Orchard, a Senior Editor at Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM). Mr. Orchard’s vast knowledge of early music and its historical underpinnings – and his wonderful sense of humor – have given depth and breadth to every Aston Magna performance over many years.
Until this season, Joe was Artist Administrator for Aston Magna working behind the scenes with the musicians. He earned his doctorate at Rutgers University, writing his dissertation on rhetoric in the string quartets of W.A. Mozart. At RILM, he oversees editing staff, and the editing of citations related to historical musicology, string and wind Instruments, early performance practice, and music in Christian liturgy and ritual. Joe is a cellist, and he also sings and promotes Gregorian chant. Recently he has developed a course on music and contemplation for Caldwell University, where he teaches as an adjunct.