Bringing “The Rebel Queen,” Armonia Celeste’s second recording, to life

Posted in Programs and repertoire, Recordings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 13, 2015 by armoniaceleste
Queen Christina as Minerva Unknown artist, 1700s

Queen Christina as Minerva
Unknown artist

As you may recall, Armonia Celeste recorded its second CD last fall.

Sarah, Dianna, Rebecca, Lyle, and Paula convened in Silver Spring, Maryland, to make the recording. An all-star cast was brought in to help: UK-based producer Malcolm Bruno oversaw the festivities, and guest artists Cynthia Roberts and Madeline Adkins on baroque violin and Allen Whear on baroque cello supplied bowed-string color (and brilliant panache) on a couple of the selections.

The ensemble was able to record all the music, but must raise money to finish the editing and post-production processes before the recording can be submitted to the record label for distribution. (Yes, in these dark days of the music industry, musicians must fund the costs of their recordings on their own.)

Armonia Celeste needs your help to raise $6000 by August 2 in order to finish this historically and musicologically important recording and release it to the public.

And what wonderful music comprises this CD? Music from the chapels and courts of Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), who was enamored of Italian musical, religious, and political culture–so much so that she abdicated the Swedish throne and moved to Rome to set up court, where she patronized the finest composers and performers of her time. Armonia Celeste’s The Rebel Queen features haunting sacred and stirring secular music from such musical lights of the era as Mazzocchi, Rossi, Carissimi, Pasquini, and the harpist-singer Marazzoli, exquisitely sung with the ensemble’s signature blend, and accompanied with verve and style on period instruments.

drottning kristina igen

“King Christina” with sword and crown, 1650. 18th-century copy after the lost original by David Beck

By all accounts, Queen Christina of Sweden was a strong-willed, mischief-making, and rule-breaking woman. Her shocking exploits included cutting her hair short, wearing men’s clothing, and chatting flippantly with common merchants and beggars. We delve more into her mold-breaking character and remarkable life here and in the video below.

You’ll also hear a preview track from the album: La Corista by Lelio Colista, featuring our guest artists on bowed strings and Lyle and Paula on plucked-string continuo (theorbo and baroque triple harp).

Have a look and a listen to the delights that await you and the 21st-century audience if Armonia Celeste succeeds (with your help) in bringing this recording to the public! As always…many thanks for your support.


Recording a new CD

Posted in Recordings with tags , , , , , , , on November 2, 2014 by armoniaceleste

There are major differences in recording an album versus performing the same program live. The amount of focus, stamina, and energy needed to capture everything on recording (which is, let’s face it, FOREVER) is really hard to sustain. The only way to deal with it is to just do it…hopefully more than once! That was my attitude going into recording The Rebel Queen album with Armonia Celeste this month. I was looking forward to the recording process now that we had already been through it together as a group for the Udite Amanti album. We made it through that experience with flying colors, and I was eager to see what would happen this time.

Di and the Barberini harp in position as the mics are being set up

Di and the Barberini harp in position as the mics are being set up

Well, what happened is even more polished, expressive, and (if I do say so myself) impressive singing and playing than even I was anticipating. I am constantly humbled and honored working with such fantastic musicians!

recording Christina 2

View from the control booth as Armonia Celeste lays down an ensemble track

The music on The Rebel Queen is extremely special. Every piece is very personal to the members of the group, and we have spent a long time honing the repertoire and narrowing it down to the strongest, most varied, and most moving pieces. One of my personal favorites on the album is “Memento homo. Anima peccatrice” by Marazzoli. This is a piece that is full of chromatic, almost shocking harmonies—things like unresolved suspensions just hanging in midair, cluster chords between the three voices for whole measures at a time, odd dissonances and cross relations–as well as rangy, dramatic solos, all serving the purpose of portraying the text, which is a fervent plea for sinful man to repent and be transformed by God. Other favorite pieces on this album include Sarah’s exciting and flashy piece entitled “Sdegno” (Disdain!) by Rossi, Rebecca’s dramatic “Circondata di mali” from the opera La vita humana by Marazzoli, and the hauntingly beautiful “Benedictus Deus” by Carissimi featuring the complete ensemble.

All in all, it was an exciting week of intense music making! I’m already looking forward to the next Armonia Celeste recording project…

–Dianna Grabowski, mezzo soprano, Armonia Celeste

singers recording Christina

L-R: Dianna, Rebecca, and Sarah record the a cappella trio sections from Marazzoli’s “Memento homo. Anima peccatrice”

How we made our own Vespers

Posted in Concerts, Programs and repertoire on January 28, 2014 by armoniaceleste

HIP_Logo_2014date (1)Armonia Celeste is collaborating with the Duke Vespers Ensemble as part of the North Carolina HIP (Historically Informed Performance) Festival in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle Area. The Festival runs from January 21 to February 7, and features a wide variety of performances by well-known ensembles. Concerts range from  Handel’s opera Theodora, with the English Concert, to a new contemporary concerto for period instruments by Stephen Jaffe, and take place in various venues in Durham and Chapel Hill. See the complete listing at:

Our concert, “Roman Vespers in the Seventeenth Century,” will be performed in Durham on Friday, February 7, at 8:00 p.m. in the Duke Memorial United Methodist Church.

It has been an interesting challenge to find a program that would unite the forces of the Duke Vespers Ensemble and Armonia Celeste. The Duke Vespers Ensemble, directed by Brian Schmidt, provides service music for the Duke Chapel, and Armonia Celeste is primarily a group that is focused on Italian secular music for seventeenth-century Rome—slightly different focuses. Luckily, there was a logical link to be found in the seventeenth-century Vespers tradition, which unites the riches of the sacred music repertory for three sopranos with the seventeenth-century Vespers choral repertory. A concert based on this Vespers tradition provides the structure for a program that involves both this wonderful music and these two ensembles.

In the middle of the seventeenth century, Rome was a musical epicenter of festive, dramatic works of exceptional quality that often employed large performing forces. This style permeated operas, cantatas, masses, and concerti, but found its special focus in the great Sunday evening Vesper services, especially at St. Peter’s and other important churches. The greatest Roman composers often reserved their best works for these services. Five psalms—Dixit Dominus, Beatus Vir, Confitebor, Laudate Pueri, and Laudate Dominum—are commonly at the heart of the Vespers service. At major services, the psalms were sung polyphonically and were generally paired with a chant antiphon that changed daily. However, in the more festive services, these antiphons were frequently replaced with sacred concerti, performed by solo voices and sometimes accompanied by instruments. In the service, the psalms were always followed by the Magnificat, the Marian canticle found in the Gospel according to Luke. Other elements in the service, such as hymns, a Bible reading, and a homily or sermon were also often found. The service ended with a blessing.

It is this basic overall form that organizes our program. The five psalms are being sung using larger ensembles on four or five parts. The music of the sixteenth-century Roman composers, Felice Anerio (who followed Palestrina as the official composer for the papal choir) and Tomas Luis de Victoria, is included because their fame led to their music being performed for decades after their deaths, especially in Rome. (Victoria was engaged at the Pontifical Seminary and the Collegio Gemanico [see below] before returning to Spain.) These works were composed and performed in alternatim style, where the verses alternate between polyphony and chant. We have also included psalms of the most famous Venetian composers, Claudio Monteverdi and Giovanni Rovetta, whose music was performed though out Italy and certainly reached Rome.

The composer Giacomo Carissimi

The composer Giacomo Carissimi

Aside from these composers, the musical focus of our Vespers is on the works of the most important seventeenth-century Roman composers: Virgilio Mazzochi and Giacomo Carissimi. Mazzochi’s “Surge amica mea” will be performed as the opening hymn; Carissimi’s “Si linguis” will stand in as the antiphon/Bible reading, while his “Quo tam loetus” serves as the little sermon. The magnificent double choir setting of the Magnificat, one of Carissimi’s Vespers masterpieces, is the focus at end of the service, followed by his lovely blessing, “Benedictus Deus.” Instrumental pieces were sometimes included, and we are using the trio sonata “La Chorista” by Lelio Colista, a well-known Roman composer and lute player. Virgilio Mazzochi was one of the most important composers in the first half of the century; he was the maestro di cappella at St. Peter’s, and also had connections to the Cardinal Francesco Barberini. Probably the most famous composer in the middle of the century was Giacomo Carissimi, head of music at the Collegio Germanico, the Jesuit training facility for clergy from German-speaking countries that included music as a central part of the training.

Commemorative plaque on the 400th anniversary of the composer's birth. "Every note was a gem"

Commemorative plaque on the 400th anniversary of the composer’s birth. “Every note was a gem”

Much of his music, including the famous oratorios Jepthe and Jonas, was first performed at the Collegio. He also became the head of chamber music for the Swedish Queen Christina upon her abdication and move to Rome. When Carissimi died, the Collegio decreed that they would keep all of his music manuscripts and none were to be published—a tragic policy as it turns out, since his manuscripts were eventually given to nineteenth-century fishmongers for wrapping their wares. The original manuscripts disappeared forever. Luckily, much of his music was copied by students and others, and was widely distributed across Europe. Despite the great amount of music left to us, one wonders how much was lost to the world.

–Lyle and Patricia Nordstrom

Armonia Celeste presents “The Rebel Queen: Music from Christina’s Swedish Court in Rome”

Posted in Programs and repertoire on January 14, 2013 by armoniaceleste
Christina in 1650

Christina in 1650

“She walked like a man, sat and rode like a man, and could eat and swear like the roughest soldiers.” So she was described by one of her biographers. This was Queen Christina, the Rebel Queen, a queen like no other.

Christina was constantly upending expectations of her. This even happened at her birth in 1626 where, because of her hairy appearance, they first thought she was a boy. The daughter of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, she became queen at age six when her father was killed in the Thirty Years’ War. Before he left for battle, the king had ordered that she be raised and educated like any prince, and she took great advantage of her education. Obviously very bright and extremely curious, she could speak six languages; it was said that her talent for languages was “nothing short of unique.” She slept only about six hours a day and spent the rest of the day in her studies, often dressing in male clothes as she felt it was more efficient. Christina eventually invited the French philosopher René Descartes as well several other foreign artists and intellectuals to her court. She amassed one of the largest libraries in Europe and became known as “the Minerva of the North.”

Through conversations with Descartes and probably her Italian musicians, she gradually became interested in the Catholic faith. Queen Christina eventually decided not to marry. In June 1654, she abdicated the Swedish throne, discarded the Lutheran faith, converted to Catholicism, and began her journey to Rome to take up residence there. Christina traveled though Europe, often dressed as a knight, and finally arrived in Rome in December of 1655 to great fanfare. She entered the city though the Porto del Popolo, newly redecorated in her honor by Bernini, where she could read Pope Alexander VII’s personal greeting that is still inscribed over the gate: “Felice faustoque ingressui – 1655” (“May your entry be happy and propitious”). Over the next few weeks she also attended a special performance of Carissimi’s oratorio Il sacrificio d’Isacco at the German College, along with several theatrical and opera performances at the Barberini palace.

Christina at first took up residence in the Palazzo Farnese, eventually settling in the Palazzo Riario. Music and the arts remained an important part of her life and patronage as she quickly established her Academia d’Arcadia, where participants enjoyed and took part in music, theatre, literature, philosophy, science, and languages. She named Carissimi her Maestro di Cappella del Concerto di Camera, making him central to the musical aspects of her gatherings. This was a major coup, as Carissimi was firmly situated as the chapel master at the Jesuits’ German College and had already refused several important positions elsewhere. She also had close relations with the Barberini family, and “borrowed” several of their musicians, including Marazzoli, Pasqualini, Vittori, and Giuseppe Melani. (She apparently took voice lessons from the castrato Loreto Vittori and was accompanied by Marazzoli, probably on the famous Barberini harp.) Eventually she became patron to the composers Bernardo Pasquini and the future important composers Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti.
Christina was a member of the “Libertines,” the freethinking branch of the Catholic faith, and she often made disparaging remarks about the Pope and others in power. She was an advocate of women performers who commonly participated in events at the academy and in operas she staged. She had several women musicians in her employ such as the singers Maria Landini and her daughters Angelica and Mariuccia. Other singers included Angela Maddalena Voglia (who also played lute, theorbo, and keyboards) as well as the famous soprano Antonia Cortesi, who had been one of the leading opera singers in Venice. It is also possible that she heard one of the other ensembles of women in Rome (an important inspiration to Armonia Celeste), as detailed by André Maugars in a visit to Rome towards the middle of the seventeenth century:

There was also the Leonora Baroni and her daughters who were in Rome for several years…. I must tell you that she did me the special favor of singing with her mother and her sister, her mother playing the lirone, her sister the harp and she the theorbo. This concert, composed of three beautiful voices and three different instruments, so affected my senses and so ravished my spirit that I forgot my mortal condition and thought I was among the angels enjoying the delights of the blessed.

Christina was known for often going against conventional Roman customs and mores. This applied not only to promoting women performers but to other traditions as well. For example, in Rome, there was a reprehensible custom of chasing Jews through the streets during Carnival; she issued a proclamation that Roman Jews were under her protection. It was said that she took a practice shot with a cannon at the Castel Sant’Angelo without bothering to aim it, and hit the door of the Villa Medici. (The dented door is still there, and the supposed cannon ball is now atop the fountain in front of the entrance.) She became both the darling and the scandal of Rome and at the same time, one of the great patrons of the arts.

Christina died in 1689 and was buried in St. Peter’s Grotto, one of the few women ever to ever receive that honor. In 1933, the great Greta Garbo appeared in “Queen Christina,” a fictionalized movie about her life and abdication. Christina remains one of the most interesting women in history, and numerous books and articles have been and continue to be written about her. Her lasting reputation as a witty and freethinking historical figure is complemented by the enormous musical legacy she fostered during her years in Rome as patron to the arts. The music on Armonia Celeste’s program is a testament to the strong musical traditions cultivated in her courts and academies.

–Lyle Nordstrom

September concert tour of the Midwest!

Posted in Concerts, Programs and repertoire with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2012 by armoniaceleste

We are performing “Udite Amanti: Lovers, Beware! Music from the Seventeenth-Century Barberini Court,” our exciting program that has gotten audiences to their feet everywhere we’ve toured it. The concert explores the dangers of love in early baroque Italy, giving listeners a glimpse into a forgotten—yet strangely familiar—world.

In the Rome of the mid-1600s, the patronage of the powerful Barberini family engendered a period of great productivity within vocal chamber music and opera. The trios, duets, and solos—both instrumental and vocal—on this program represent the refinement of style that occurred in the Barberini court. Works of the Roman composers who were heard at this court or who served the Barberini family during the mid-seventeenth century are highlighted, with the music of Rossi, Carissimi, and Cesti (named by Perti in 1688 as “the three greatest lights of our profession”) serving as the centerpiece; other composers of the era such as Frescobaldi, Tenaglia, Marazzoli, and Pasqualini (one of the Barbarini castrati) are also represented.

To complete the historical picture, an exquisitely carved and gilded copy of the famous Barberini harp, made for this prestigious family ca. 1630, will be played for this program.

Further in-depth information on the composers and repertoire in this concert can be found here and here.

Please make sure you come back and say hello after the concert—we’d love to meet you!


Richmond, Indiana
Sunday, September 23, 2012  4:00 PM

Earlham College
Stout Meetinghouse
801 National Road West (US 40)
Richmond, IN 47374

Free admission


Cincinnati, Ohio
Tuesday, September 25, 2012   7:30 PM

Christ Church Cathedral
318 East Fourth Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202-4299

$15 general admission; $5 students/seniors; free to children age 12 and under.
Tickets available at the door


Columbus, Ohio
Early Music in Columbus
Friday, September 28, 2012, 8:00 pm
Pre-concert lecture  7:30 pm

Mees Hall
Capital University
1 College and Main
Columbus, OH 43209

Tickets $27 Regular, $22 Seniors (age 62 and over), $12 Students
Buy tickets


Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Academy of Early Music
Saturday, September 29, 2012  8:00 PM
Pre-Concert Lecture at 7:00 PM

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
306 N. Division Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

$20 General/$17 Members and Seniors/$5 Students
Buy tickets


Rochester, Michigan
Sunday, September 30, 2012  7:00 PM

Varner Recital Hall
Oakland University
Rochester, Michigan 48309

Tickets $14 general, $8 students
Buy tickets


Two concerts this weekend in Maryland!

Posted in Concerts, Recordings with tags , , , on June 5, 2012 by armoniaceleste

Armonia Celeste reprises their popular program “Udite Amanti–Lovers, Beware! Music from the 17th-Century Barberini Court” on the Penn Alps concert series in the Western Maryland mountains, and at An Die Musik in Baltimore. The music is a luscious selection from composers active at the Barberini court, which the ensemble recently recorded (expect the CD in late 2012 or early ’13), featuring gorgeous vocal solos, duets, and trios along with toe-tapping instrumental selections. Come see why audiences around the country consistently receive this program with an enthusiastic standing ovation–and be sure to stop by after the concert to meet the ensemble!

Saturday, June 9, 2012 – 7:30 p.m.
Udite Amanti ­– Lovers, Beware!”
Music at Penn Alps, 125 Casselman Rd., Grantsville, MD 21536

Sunday, June 10, 2012 – 5:00 p.m.
Udite Amanti ­– Lovers, Beware!”
An die Musik Live, 409 North Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21201

First edits back from our new CD!

Posted in Programs and repertoire, Recordings with tags on March 1, 2012 by armoniaceleste

We are very excited at having received the first edits back from our January recording session of our upcoming CD, tentatively entitled “Udite Amanti–Lovers, Beware!: Music from the Seventeenth-Century Barberini Court.” You can read more specifics about the repertoire and composers on this CD in recent blog posts, but in brief this looks like shaping up to be an enchanting mix of instrumental solos and duets punctuating sung trios, duets, and solos all accompanied by various combinations of lute, theorbo, baroque guitar, and baroque triple (Barberini!) harp.

The music is alternatively flirtatious, plaintive, lush, and ethereal, with our producer and recording engineer having gotten a very rich sound out of our palette of three voices and historical plucked strings. It is a sound that promises to take you back nearly 400 years, immersing you in a world of intrigue, privilege, and passion.

We are currently preparing some clips to post on our website to give you a sneak preview of what you can expect from the CD. Stay tuned for these and let us know what you think when you hear them…we hope you will be as excited about the finished disc as we are!

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