Program Notes for 14 & 15 September 2002

Albuquerque Baroque Players
MaryAnn Shore, Baroque oboe and recorders Linda Vik, Baroque violin
Mary Bruesch, viola da gamba Susan Patrick, harpsichord

Concert I: The Virtues of the Baroque
7:30 p. m. on Saturday, 14 September 2002 at Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m. on Sunday, 15 September 2002 at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church


Sonata 12, from Book 2 of Sonate concertante..................................................Dario Castello (fl. 1621-1644)
recorder, violin, viola da gamba, continuo


Concert #4, in Bb major, from Pièces de clavecin en concerts...................Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
La Pantomime: Loure un peu vive
L’Indiscrète: Vivement
La Rameau
violin, viola da gamba, harpsichord


Suite in C, from Pièces en trio.................................................................................Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Prélude
Rondeau
Fantaisie
Chaconne
recorder, oboe, violin, continuo


*****intermission*****


Trio Sonta in c minor, op. 6/6.........................................................................Gottfried Finger (c. 1660-1730)
Adagio
Allegro
Vivace [ma poco]
Allegro
recorder, violin, continuo


Through the wood, laddie: Slow............................................................William McGibbon (1690-1756), arr.
violin, continuo
Tollett’s Ground, from The Division-Flute..............................Thomas or George Tollett (both fl. late 17th c.)
recorder, continuo


Sonata in C major, Wq. 136...............................................................Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Andante
Allegretto
Arioso
viola da gamba, continuo


Trio Sonata in G major, op. 5/4...............................................................George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Passacaille
oboe, violin, continuo

Program Notes

What are the virtues of the Baroque? That is, what qualities of Baroque music contribute to its integrity and power?

Though it’s well established that the artistic fruits of the Baroque were nourished in the deep soil of the Renaissance, any casual listener to musical works by, say, Palestrina and Handel can hear that they don’t sound alike. Some differences are obvious, such as the Baroque composer’s focus on solo voices and instruments, in contrast to the Renaissance ideal, a full blend of equal parts. Other distinctions, though, may not always be so specific, yet they often carry greater weight in determining what we hear as dissimilar styles. Can we discover the essence of the Baroque and find apt vocabulary for it? This is what we mean by Baroque “virtues”: intrinsic values that informed music from the early 17th century until about 1730 or later. We’ll use three words, though there are others we might have chosen, to express our thoughts about the inherent nature of Baroque music.

Fantasy, embellishment, and passion: these terms will figure in all four of the ABP 2002-2003 season concerts. All may be expressed in various ways by a composer, depending on his/her nationality, the decades during which he/she was productive, his/her patrons, and his/her personal inclinations. These virtues hold much significance for performers, too, who must recognize, support, and even augment what they perceive from the written score. Also, listeners may actually hear more if they understand and accept the precepts and conventions of a musical style.

Fantasy denotes caprice, freely creative imagination, whimsy. It’s a trait that was especially enticing in the early Baroque, when many composers were enthusiastically disobeying rules of harmony and voice-leading and, in vocal music, text-setting. Our selection by Castello is a fine example of the unrestrained display common in early 17th-century Italian style. When only one of the three solo instruments is active, tempo and rhythm can be quite free, contrasting strongly with the stricter ensemble sections. The exuberant final cadence, over a long pedal point, coyly teases the listener. (By the way, the title “fantasy” or “fantasia” often means something quite different: a learned imitative piece!) Composers’ interest in the fantastic or whimsical could also break out in other ways. In Rameau’s Pièces en Concerts, for example, the composer adds a descriptive, often enigmatic title to each movement. Furthermore, there are quasi-operatic contrasts in the musical materials used and consequently in the performers’ approach to the music. What would pantomime in music be? And an indiscreet piece? Is “La Rameau” a self-portrait or a self-parody? On the other hand, C. P. E. Bach’s fantastic element derives from a more serious impetus, his preference for mid-18th-century Empfindsamerstil, or the sensitive style, in which each small musical figure might convey its own mood. There might be unusual or unexpected harmonic or melodic shifts or abrupt changes in dynamics. In the sonata on our program, the two instruments alternately withdraw from and then interrupt each other in what seems to be a disconcertingly spontaneous way. Their dialogue is certainly not an easy one! In C. P. E. Bach’s view, this kind of musical behavior mirrored the kaleidoscope of human feelings.

Embellishment also took on several guises. Most obviously, melodies were ornamented, by both composer and performer. Basso continuo parts were fleshed out from the bass line and figures provided. Indeed, whatever stood on the page might be modified. Four of our selections, however, show a more systematic kind of embellishment, where one musical element serves as the basis for a series of variations. Clear examples are the last movement of our Marais trio, a chaconne, and the single movement by Handel, a passacaglia. Each is built over a four-measure bass line, repeated many times and sometimes itself altered (thank goodness, say the continuo players!). Above it, two treble instruments offer various countermelodies, constantly changing moods. (Another piece of this type, perhaps more familiar, is the famous Pachelbel “Canon.” The “Crucifixus” from J. S. Bach’s Mass in b minor is also constructed over a repeated bass line. Examples abound.) English composers called their repeating bass lines “grounds,” as in “Tollett’s Ground.” Here, over a brief harmonic progression, which is heard in two meters, the recorder arranges lively figuration. Varying melodies was a common pasttime, too. The Scottish tune on our program as arranged by McGibbon is presented unadorned, then followed by a more elaborate version. Yet another type of embellishment concerns the formal structure called a rondeau, where one section opens a piece, then recurs after each new idea, sometimes with new ornaments. The second movements of the Rameau and Marais pieces and the third movement of the Finger sonata are of this type. A performer or a listener might reasonably feel that these embellished variation forms could go on as long as imagination and fingers held out.

Passion, the broadest and most widely applicable of our three virtues, permeates all Baroque music. The passions, or affections, as defined in the Baroque era as well as much earlier—and later, even into the 19th century!—were states of being brought on by the physical movement of humors in the body. Thus, Baroque “feelings” are corporeal, not, as in modern parlance, emotional. They were deemed sensual and tangible, and Baroque composers sought to evoke in listeners the same passions that had inspired their music. Well and good, one might say, as long as there are words to name these passions, yes? For our February concert, we’ll have texted pieces, but for now we have to cope with purely instrumental ones, where there are few words to guide us. Tempos are helpful, and so are dynamics; fortunately, composers of the Baroque era often furnish both. We can obtain clues from dance types—for example, in the Marais trio—and from textures and harmonies and...well, you’re getting the point: we search for clues in the music itself. Each of the works on our program exhibits its own passions, and it’s our job to find them and express them through our instruments. One might characterize the beginning of the Castello piece as martial, the Marais rondeau as tender, the Handel passacaglia as gentle, and so on. Some perfomers invent narratives to accompany music, and most try to name the passions they believe belong to each piece. There’s no such thing as feeling neutral about the Baroque!

 

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ABP would like to give sincere thanks to Mike Zenge for his help.


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