Program Notes for 10 & 17 September 2000

THE LURE OF LONDON

Trio Sonata in g, op. 2/5..........................................................................George Frideric Handel (1685 -1759)
 Larghetto
 Allegro
 Adagio
 Allegro

Suite #1 in c/C from The Broken Consort, part 2...........................................Matthew Locke (1621/22-1677)
 Pavane
 Ayre
 Courante
 Pavane
 Ayre
 Galliard

Sonata #3 in G..........................................................................................................Thomas Arne (1710-1778)
 Prelude
 Allegro
 Minuet with two variations

Two sets of divisions................................................................................................Nicola Matteis (?-c. 1707)
 Diverso bizzarrie sopra la Vecchia Sarabanda
 Ground after The Scotch Humour
 

*****intermission*****
 

Fantazia..........................................................................................................Alfonso Ferrabosco (1578-1628)

Sonata #4 in d.................................................................................Godfrey (Gottfried) Finger (c. 1660-1730)
 Adagio
 [Allegro]
 [Adagio]—Allegro—Adagio

Trio Sonata II in F.....................................................................................................John Loeillet (1680-1730)
 Largo
 Allegro
 Largo
 Allegro

Program Notes

What makes a city attractive to musicians?  Today, we might mention solvent performing organizations, accessible concert venues, a congenial and talented musical community, and appreciative audiences as positive attributes.  Even in a period as different from our own as the 17th-18th-century Baroque era, and in a city as different from ours as London, ruled variously under a monarchy and a Commonwealth during the Baroque time, the enticements were about the same.  Church, court, and a prosperous merchant class supported and patronized theatres, concerts, their own private musical establishments, and individual composers.  To be sure, some musicians were better paid than others:  for example, opera singers in Handel's time received hundreds of times more than lowly instrumentalists.  Too, some rulers took a more active role in the world of the arts than others:  Charles II, when he returned in 1660 with the Restoration, put together the most ambitious musical establishment of all English monarchs, while William and Mary had little interest in maintaining music at court, and the Hanovers in the 18th century sometimes preferred indirect musical patronage;  under Cromwell, theatres and domestic music-making flourished, even though the ruler was not an ardent champion of music.  Performing organizations changed over the years, of course, becoming increasingly public and commercial and allowing the audience to grow;  and eventually there came to be many public theatres and concert venues—including taverns—and pleasure gardens, where music could be heard.

Throughout the period, London was a magnet for both foreign and native musicians.  They came for the potential artistic acclaim and financial gain, and perhaps also for the air of freedom and sense of potential vested in the individual person.  Some passed through and made a name and a fortune, and others stayed to build a new home.  Of the seven composers represented on our concert, only one was born in London;  two others were from elsewhere in England.  Of the four foreigners, only one left London after experiencing its glories.  We'll look at them chronologically.

Alfonso Ferrabosco's accident of birth placed him in England.  His father, the elder Alfonso, a Bolognese musician who made several trips to Elizabethan England as a court composer—and perhaps as a spy for Elizabeth!—left two illegitimate children, whose mother is unknown, after one visit.  The boy became an accomplished lutenist, gambist, singer, and composer.  He taught music to the young Charles I and was rewarded with a position at his court.  Conservative in mood and musical style, his fantasies for viols are his most outstanding works, demonstrating consistent and interesting counterpoint, with active parts for all participants.

Matthew Locke, a composer of the next generation, raised in more turbulent times because of the English Civil War, was known to both Charles I and Charles II before he left for the Netherlands in the 1640s.  Upon his return to England, he took part in theatre collaborations, including the first English opera, now lost.  During the last years of the Commonwealth, he wrote several notable collections of chamber music, one of which provides us with our selection.  Locke's chamber music was and is held in high esteem for its intensity of expression, exhibited in angular melodic lines, harmonic clashes and dissonances, implied changes in tempo and dynamics, and subtle motivic development.  The Suite in c/C is considered Locke's most beautiful and mature chamber piece.
With the Restoration, Locke obtained several positions at Charles II's court, including one that had been held by Ferrabosco under Charles I and another that on Locke's death was passed to the young Purcell.  Despite his vanity and contentiousness, Locke was well respected by his patron and his peers;  he furnished music for the royal coronation, and continued to supply functional music for other royal needs.

Nicola Matteis was born in Naples and arrived in London via Germany in the early 1670s.  At first sponsored by a wealthy merchant, and much touted for his sweet violin playing and his excellent compositions, he nevertheless failed to acquire royal patronage.  Apparently he was not sufficiently obsequious.  He became quite well known outside of the court, though, for his concerts, in which he displayed twin interests in technical prowess and compositional devices.  The two pieces we'll perform are sets of divisions on pre-existent tunes or chord patterns;  while the continuo players repeat the same bass line over and over, the treble players weave inventive variations around the original, simple melody.

Godfrey, or Gottfried, Finger is the only one of our seven composers who chose to leave London despite having a successful career there.  Born in Germany and employed for a time in Italy, he crossed the Channel to join the Catholic court of James II, probably as a viol player.  When James fled in 1688 (the "Glorious Revolution," and the accession of William and Mary), Finger remained in London, giving concerts, writing incidental music for plays, and contributing music for royal occasions.  Like Matteis,  he became a successful independent musician.  After a musical competition in which he was judged the clear winner by professional musicians but accorded a lowly fourth place by the audience, he left in a huff and returned to his homeland, where he occupied several court positions.
Though Finger's style in general is Italianate, his music for viol is more Germanic and English.  The viol, after all, had fallen out of favor in Italy but was still popular as a solo instrument in both Germany and England—in France, too, for that matter, but Finger did not use the French style, which would not have been appreciated by his English audience in this context.   This sonata is dignified in its slow movements, dramatic in its fast ones, and lyrical throughout.  There's a great deal of thematic development, sometimes asymmetrical and unpredictable, and some of the movements run together.

The Flemish composer Jean-Baptiste Loeillet, called John because he made London his home, arrived in London in the early 18th century, where he took up positions in theatre orchestras as a wind player.  Tradition has it that he introduced the transverse flute into England from the continent.  Eventually he began to offer weekly concerts in his home and became a sought-after harpsichord teacher and composer of chamber music.
The trio sonatas of Loeillet's opus 2 were published in 1725.  They are typical sonatas da chiesa—that is, they have four movements, alternating slow and fast tempos.  Our selection has a treble part marked specifically for recorder, and, indeed, the recorder has a solo in the middle of the last movement.

Surely the most famous composer among our seven is George Frideric Handel.  Like Finger, he came to London from Germany via Italy, but his greatest enthusiasm was music for the theatre, and that's what he focused on:  first Italian operas, then English oratorios.  Other than the concertos composed for performance during intermissions of these theatre works, a great number of Handel's instrumental pieces cannot be dated with certainty, and some of those published in England had roots in his earlier years.  Since each sonata within a set may have a different origin, the instrumentation and style sometimes aren't consistent.  So it is with opus 2, a set of six trio sonatas published in London in 1733.  The second of this set, for example, probably dates from the 1690s, when Handel was a teenager.  The fifth, which we will perform, was composed in England in the late 1710s, and the treble parts were most likely intended for two violins.  Yet, oddly, one violin overshadows the other;  we have assigned this dominant part to the oboe, which brings it into even greater relief.

Thomas Arne, our most recent composer, was a native Londoner.  Showing early musical aptitude, he was taken to hear London's best performances.  He and two of his siblings—including his sister Susanna, who became the well-known and somewhat infamous actress-singer Mrs. Cibber, a soloist in some of Handel's later productions—put on a pirated performance of Handel's Acis and Galatea, a performance that reputedly convinced Handel to spend more time writing English-language works.  Arne, for his part, subsequently devoted himself to the development of English opera, contributing significantly to the genre.  Besides operas and oratorios, he wrote songs, catches and glees for the numerous singing clubs in 18th-century London, and a few instrumental pieces.  These last include eight "sonatas or lessons" for the harpsichord.  Unpretentious and direct, they show his talent for melody;  they were for the amateur keyboardists of London, not the professionals.

London's allure for composers didn't stop with the Baroque.  J. C. Bach and Abel moved to London and established a successful concert series there later in the 18th century, and the young Mozart met J. C. Bach in London.  Haydn found London's atmosphere refreshing after several decades of working for the Esterházy family in Austria.  Both Weber and Spohr were welcomed in London, and Mendelssohn was extremely popular. As the 19th century progressed, the city attracted such prominent composers as Chopin, Verdi, Wagner, and Debussy.
 


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