Music of the Season

by wjw on December 23, 2008

On a bitterly cold night last Saturday we motored up to Santa Fe to catch a baroque Christmas concert at the Loretto Chapel. The Loretto Chapel was at one point the only Gothic structure west of the Mississippi, and was built at the behest of Archbishop Lamy, the aristocratic, autocratic priest who drove wretchedly poor New Mexico Catholics even farther into poverty in order to support his building projects, and who was subsequently forgiven his sins by Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop.

The Loretto Chapel was built as an hommage to Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, and though it fails to equal the colossal stained-glass magnificence of the latter, it’s quite a fine space in its own right.

The choir loft features a Miraculous Staircase which, depending on who you talk to, was built either by St. Joseph, the putative parent of Jesus, or by someone else. A couple decades ago I climbed this cantilevered spiral stair, which swayed alarmingly beneath me. Now, in our more corrupt age, we are not allowed to set foot on it.

The chapel has been desanctified and is now used mainly for weddings, with occasional concerts thrown in.

The concert was by Santa Fe Pro Musica. They opened with selections from The Fairy Queen by Purcell, worthy but dull, followed by J.S. Bach’s air from the Orchestral Suite No. 3, better known as “Air On a G String.” Though of course I’d heard this music all my life, this was the first time I’d heard it performed live. The performance was sensitive and lovely. I think I would like to adopt the first violinist.

There followed the Four Seasons— not that of Vivaldi, but that of Boismortier, a name that had escaped me to that point. The soprano Kathryn Mueller began to sing and the whole damn place lit up, musically speaking. The acoustics for the instruments weren’t bad, but Loretto Chapel was made for a soprano. I just sat there in bright astonishment and listened. (The lyrics, by the way, have nothing to do with Christmas, being an invocation of one pagan god after another.)

After this was Telemann’s Concerto for Recorder, Flute, and Strings— much fun watching and listening to the duel between a recorder and a proper German flute (authentic to the period, without keys). Our friend Scott, a particular fan of Telemann, was transported. After which Ms. Mueller returned for a selection of baroque carols, and the place lit up all over again.

After much applause we went next door to the Inn at Loretto for warm drinks. Then was a walk to the car over crunchy snow, and through Santa Fe’s smoke-laden air, a feature of the season which nonetheless aggravated Kathy’s asthma.

I think it highly probable that Louis IX, and possibly not even Archbishop Lamy, ever heard music this good.

Phy December 23, 2008 at 1:09 pm

I spent the summer of 1980 and the years of 1984 and 85 out in Glorieta outside of Santa Fe. I know that chapel, and I remember those stairs!

Santa Fe – my favorite place in the world. I saw the Blues Brothers film and Star Wars V in the theater that was the old opera house down by the plaza. Favorite place to eat was the Bobcat Bite on the old Las Vegas highway. I remember the green chile hamburgers, and the hummingbirds outside the rear window facing the Sangre de Cristos mountains. I met my wife out there. We married 23 years ago yesterday. Great times. Those were the best days of my life.

dubjay December 23, 2008 at 11:07 pm

Let’s hope there are better days to come, Phy.

What were you doing in Glorieta? Digging up dead Confederates?

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post:

Contact Us | Terms of User | Trademarks | Privacy Statement

Copyright © 2010 WJW. All Rights Reserved.