[CONCERT REVIEW] Jocelyn Hagen's The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

Minnesota composer Jocelyn Hagen

Minnesota composer Jocelyn Hagen

Everybody knows a Renaissance man or two—people with a lot of knowledge in a few subjects or guys with perfect scores on Buzztime. But the poster child for this term, Leonardo da Vinci, possessed not only what art historian Helen Gardner describes as “feverishly inventive imagination,” which led to his ground-breaking innovations in art, science and engineering, but the rounded approach to education that reflected the ideals of 15th century humanists.

Evidence for both interpretations appears in his notebooks. And in the world premiere of Minnesota composer Jocelyn Hagen’s concert piece, “The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci,” at the Hopkins High School auditorium (March 30) and at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, MN (March 31), the dual facets of his nature receive spiritual expression for the first time.

Music is said to give voice to the mystery contained within its melodies. What Hagen accomplishes through her seven movements is to voice the pent-up side of human nature, that “unquenchable curiosity” and search for worlds waiting to be born, which characterizes Leonardo’s investigations and the rebirth of knowledge on a human scale.   

Hagen’s score starts with the basics: Leonardo’s sketches and drawings, which the libretto (translated from Leondardo’s notebooks), equates to a “poem seen but not heard” as “a poem is a painting heard but not seen.” From there, her music expands upon the ineffable mystery of scientific investigation through its application (Practice) to the greatest good (Knowledge) to the Vitruvian Man (Universal laws) and on to Nature, its Perception and mankind’s Look at the Stars, paying homage to “Time! Consumer of all things” while bestowing “Wisdom . . . the daughter of experience.”

Dedicated to “serious rehearsal and quality performance” of traditional and commissioned material throughout the Twin Cities,” the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra more than lived up to those ideals. Music director and conductor William Schrickel elicited all of the spiritual highs and lows within the score while expertly coordinating Hagen’s music with Ion Media’s animated projections of da Vinci’s words and drawings.

Of equal weight was the Minnesota Chorale’s reading of the libretto. In particular, its powerful interpretation of the lengthy recitation of measurements contained within The Vitruvian Man provided the musical foundation for the outward-looking, almost mystical appreciation and acceptance of the universal contained within the final movement.   

Otterino Respighi’s evanescent tone poem, “Botticelli Triptych” set the proper intellectual and sonic mood for the explorations that followed. Everyone and everything involved including the host facilities deserved the standing ovation the audience gave in appreciation of a heartfelt yet rational expression of Leonardo’s and mankind’s reborn search for knowledge in a mysterious yet comprehensible universe.  

— William Fietzer