Vintage Renaissance and Beyond (2005) by William Kraft
for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano
Earplay/Koussevitzky commission

"Beyond" in the title refers to going into the past beyond the renaissance into the Middle Ages and also moving forward into the 21st century for this setting. What has always attracted me to early music was the directness and clarity of expression as opposed to the dramatic and emotionally laden works in the 19th century repertory. Also, the combination of different instruments thus offering a multitude of colors, plus the use of small ensembles, spoke directly to the 20th century (and beyond!) Pierrot Lunaire of Arnold Schoenberg and Histoire du Soldat of Stravinsky.

Three sections make up Vintage Renaissance and Beyond:

1. Danza Alta, Francesco de la Torre, 1483-1504
2. O Rubor Sanguinis, Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179
3. Bransle, Anonymous

Nothing in the three pieces on which Vintage Renaissance and Beyond is based has been altered. In Danza Alta, the piccolo plays the entire tune with comments by the viola, and, occasionally, with the other strings. The rest of the ensemble joins in and gradually draws the music into the 21st century, where fragments of the tune are exploited.

Danza Alta is the only instrumental piece of the 12 or so surviving works by Francesco, the rest being secular or sacred vocal music.

Hildegard von Bingen's antiphon O rubor sanguinis is found in the large work 11,000 Virgins, chants for the Feast of St. Ursula. I felt it would be a violation to do anything but state the chant as it was written. Therefore, it is set in a statement-response structure. Phrases of the chant are stated in unison, followed by responses from the ensemble.

On the other hand, the Bransle invites tinkering. It is rather bawdy piece that one can readily imagine hearing it played by the shawm, the precursor to the oboe that arrived in Europe from the near east in the 12th century. In France, where it originated, it was also called "branle", in Italy "brando", but in England by any of 3 names: "brawl, brall, brangill".

Bransle is harmonized primarily with the interval of the 5th, characteristic of the period. When the tune is completely stated, it is joined by Danza Alta. The two play together and then as if being played by two minstrels wandering off into the forest (or wherever), Vintage Renaissance and Beyond comes to a quiet conclusion.

Composer bios:

Not much is known about Francesco de la Torre, the composer of Danza Alta. We do know that he sang in the chapel of the Arogonese Court from around 1483 to 1500. He later became curate at the cathedral of Seville. It is assumed that he died in 1504 since nothing is known about him after that year.

Hildegard von Bingen is the renaissance woman of the middle ages. As little as there is to know about Francesco de la Torre, much is known about Hildegard von Bingen. This is because of her voluminous correspondence and her memoirs. Hildegard von Bingen is hard to imagine. Her accomplishments extended into science, medicine, poetry and music. She spoke of experiencing visions since childhood and through these visions created voluminous works. To mention just two may suggest the scope:
1. A scientific encyclopedia in two parts: a book of herbal medicine, titled Physica, and a book of compound medicine, Causae et curae;
2. Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Celestial Revelations), a collection of poetical–musical works written between 1150 and 1160.

— W. K.    

[from program for October 20, 2009 concert]