Com­ing up in Philly Music: Catch­ing wind of Renais­sance woman Isabel­la d’Este

2 minute read
Piffaro will play music of the court of Isabella d’Este with the Newberry Consort. (Portrait retrieved via Wikimedia Commons)
Piffaro will play music of the court of Isabella d’Este with the Newberry Consort. (Portrait retrieved via Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve all heard about that legendary figure, the multi-talented Renaissance man. But what about the Renaissance woman? Piffaro’s next concert focuses on music created at the court of Isabella d’Este, an Italian marchese who was a diplomat, military leader, musician, and mother in addition to being a ruler who conducted advances in matters like criminal justice and public health in her city of Mantua. She defended Mantua against French attacks while her husband was a prisoner and spent her entire life coping with the trials created by a period of intense warfare.

Pushing boundaries

Piffaro’s kaleidoscope of Renaissance wind instruments will partner with the voices and bowed instruments of the Newberry Consort, a Chicago early music group that has acquired the same kind of national and international reputation Piffaro has achieved. The program has been prepared by the leaders of both groups and it will premiere in Chicago before its Philadelphia performances.

Isabella patronized most of the leading composers of her day and supported the development of an Italian song form, the frotollo. The program will feature frotollos by major composers, instrumental fantasies, and dances performed at Isabella’s court. It will open with a trumpet fanfare and include songs that reflect the fortunes and sorrows of war.

Piffaro was founded in 1983 as an offshoot of the University of Pennsylvania's early music program. Based on the town bands of the Renaissance, the ensemble members each play several instruments, producing sounds that range from the gentleness of recorders to the assertiveness of bagpipes and buzzing krumhorns. The Newberry Consort was founded in 1981 as a project of Chicago’s Newberry Library, and its repertoire encompasses the whole range of early music from Medieval through Baroque. Any concert that combines the musicianship, scholarly resources, and instrumental variety of both groups should be an exceptional event.

You can watch a brief visual tour of Isabella’s life, with musical accompaniment, here.

What, When, Where:

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band and the Newberry Consort will present “First Lady of the Renaissance: Music in the Court of Isabella d’Este” on February 21 at 7:30pm at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 23 South 38th Street, Philadelphia; February 22 at 7:30pm at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia; and February 23 at 3pm at Christ Church Christiana Hundred, 505 East Buck Road, Wilmington, Delaware.

Tickets range from $29-$49, and are free for children and full-time students. They’re available online, by phone (215) 235-8469, and at the door.

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