The “Other” Virgin Queen: Instruments of Time and Truth
Review: Instruments of Time and Truth Summer Concert Series, at Christ Church Cathedral, from 28 June - 2 August 2022. Details of IT&T's next performances here.
[Disclosure: IT&T provided me with a ticket to this concert for the purposes of this review.]
The “Other” Virgin Queen was the final concert in IT&T’s Summer Series. This concert series has been such a lovely, tranquil way to spend a Tuesday evening – I am sad that it’s over for another year.
This final concert was, I think, the most fun. The programming of the concert told the story of the extraordinary Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689), her conversion to Catholicism and her time in Rome. Prior to this concert, I only had the vaguest knowledge of Queen Christina; I hadn’t understood what an extraordinary personality she was.
Picture of enamel miniature of Queen Christina, made by Pierre Signac (11624-1684).
In this concert, multi-talented violinist Persephone Gibbs, herself a true Renaissance woman, gave an extremely entertaining talk in between each piece – telling us the connection of the piece to Queen Christina’s time in Rome.
Violinist, Persephone Gibbs.
Many of the pieces were written for Queen Christina, such as Cesti’s Sinfonia and ritornelli in C major from L’Argia, which was written especially to welcome Christina to Innsbruck, on her way to Rome.
I enjoyed hearing Queen Christina’s stories and Gibbs is a great public speaker – warm, funny and knowledgeable. It was fun to hear how Queen Christina’s conversion to Catholicism was a huge public relations coup for Pope Alexander VII, who tried and failed to turn her into a symbol of the counter reformation.
All concerts in IT&T Summer Concert series were held in Christ Church Cathedral. This is a picture from the concert Art of Fantasia and Fugue provided to me by IT&T.
Christina’s intellectual curiosity could not be constrained and her lifestyle and behaviour did not fit the Pope’s idea of what a modest Catholic woman should be. Eventually, the Pope famously described Christina as,
'a woman born of a barbarian, barbarously brought up and living with barbarous thoughts ...'*
I took this photo, at the exit of Christ Church Cathedral, after the Art of Fantasia and Fugue concert.
Christina was a patron of the arts and an advocate for gender and racial equality. She founded an academy of the arts, whose members included Stradella, Corelli and the sculptor Bernini and which still exists today.
Portrait of Queen Christina, painted in 1661 by Abraham Wuche
The concert’s programme reflected Christina’s life as an exile from Sweden and was both inspirational and fascinating. The performance by IT&T’s musicians - Persephone Gibbs, Elizabeth MacCarthy, Imogen Seth Smith and Christopher Bucknall - was crisp and sympathetic – they clearly loved playing the pieces and this enjoyment communicated itself to the audience.
The concert's programme.
IT&T’s 2022 Summer Concert Series has been a beautiful and fun contribution to the cultural life of Oxford over the summer. It’s been wonderful to see the very diverse audience too, thanks to the Cavatina Music Trust, who have paid for every ticket booked by someone under 26. The future of Baroque music and historically informed performances looks bright indeed.
Feature image of a painting of Queen Christina, by Sebastien Bourdon, 1653 held in Museo del Prado.
*Georgina Masson, Queen Christina, New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1969, p.301.