Program Notes for 15 & 16 February 2003

Concert III: Virtues of the Baroque
7:30 p. m. on Saturday, 15 February 2003 at Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m. on Sunday, 16 February 2003 at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church

with Elisabeth Belgrano, soprano

Sonata a tre, “È tanto tempo hormai”.............................................................Francesco Turini (c. 1589-1656)
recorder, violin, continuo
Fantasia en echo, from Der Fluyten Lusthof...................................................Jacob van Eyck (1589/90-1657)
recorder
Aria sopra la Bergamasca................................................................................Marco Uccellini (c. 1603-1680)
recorder, violin, continuo


Trio sonata in Bb major, op. 1/4.................................................................Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Vivace
Lento—Allegro
violin, viola da gamba, continuo


La morte di Lucretia.....................................................................Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
soprano, oboe, violin, continuo


*****intermission*****


Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903................................................Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
harpsichord


Pan et Syrinx.....................................................................................................................................Montéclair
soprano, recorder, oboe, violin, continuo


Program Notes

For this concert, our notes will be abbreviated in order to leave room for the texts and translations of the two vocal pieces.

In this, the third concert of our 2002-2003 season, we’re still investigating the virtues of the Baroque, those qualities of Baroque music that contribute to its integrity and power. Fantasy, embellishment, and passion: these are the terms we’ll use to express our thoughts about the inherent nature of Baroque music.

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 the “rules” of the late Renaissance. The fantasy by Jacob van Eyck, a blind Dutch bell expert and recorder player, is one of nearly 150 pieces in his mid-17th-century collection for solo recorder, Der Fluyten Lusthof. The other fantasy we’ll present is also for a solo instrument, the harpsichord. By the time of Bach, the element of fantasy had been somewhat tamed and patterned and was usually balanced by the severity of a fugue, as it is in this piece.

Embellishment seems a given in Baroque style, as performers are expected to ornament melodies, to flesh out basso continuo parts, and, indeed, to modify whatever stood on the page. Three of our selections, though, show a more systematic kind of embellishment, where a bass line serves as an ostinato over which the upper lines constantly change. Uccellini, for example, uses a repeating bass line as well as a rudimentary melody, both of which came from a dance popular around the town of Bergamo, as the foundation for continuous variations in his Aria. Turini, organist at the Cathedral in Brescia, also selected a popular song of his time to vary in his Sonata. Based on a more abstract musical idea, the first movement of the Buxtehude trio sonata requires the continuo player to repeat the same bass line—which is asymmetrical, taking three and a half measures to complete—thirty-two times under the melodic and motivic inventions for the violin and viola da gamba.

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 were physical states of being brought on by the 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. In instrumental music, tempos, dance rhythms, time signatures, note values, harmonies, articulations, and just about any other musical trait help to define the affection. These same purely musical characteristics aid in performing vocal music, to be sure, but we must also consider the text—its meaning, its between-the-lines implications, even its vowel and consonant sounds. The two cantatas by Montéclair on our program, one in French and the other in Italian, are of different styles and on different types of texts, but each is very expressive. In each of them, the singer must function as both narrator and character(s), and the obbligato instruments and continuo must mirror the affections of the texts and, hence, of the singer. Lucretia is martyred because she, and therefore her husband, have been dishonored. Her cantata is serious throughout. Syrinx, on the other hand, is seen in pastoral and hunting scenes before she’s stalked by Pan, so there are light-hearted airs as well as doleful ones. Pan ultimately finds consolation in the sounds of the river reeds he sighs into after he’s been spurned by Syrinx. This is the old story of the invention of the panpipes—or, as our wind player would prefer, the oboe (a reed, after all)!

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