Program Notes for 17& 18 January 200

Le tableau de l’opération de la taille............................................................................................................................ Marin Marais (1656-1728)
[Scene of the gall-bladder operation]
Les relevailles [Recuperation] — [Gigue]

viola da gamba, continuo

Saul malinconico e trastullato per mezzo della musica ............................................................................................Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722)
[Saul’s melancholy assuaged by means of music]
La tristezza ed il furore del rè
[The sadness and fury of the king]
La canzona refrigerativa dell’arpa di Davide
[The refreshing song of David’s harp]
L’animo tranquillo e contento di Saulo
[Saul’s calm and contented soul]

harpsichord

Sonata in C minor “Sanguineus und Melancholicus” ....................................................................................Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Allegretto and Presto, alternating
Adagio
Allegro

oboe, violin, continuo

***INTERMISSION***

Engels Nachtegaeltje [English nightingale] ..............................................................................................................Jacob van Eyck (ca. 1589-1657)

recorder

Sonata violino solo representativa ........................................................................................................Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1664-1704)
Allegro
Die Nachtigal [The nightingale]
[Moderato]
CuCu [The cuckoo]
Fresch [The frog]
Die Henne [The hen]: Allegro — Der Hahn [The rooster]: Presto
Die Wachtel [The quail]—Die Katz: Adagio
Musquetir Mars [Musketeer’s march]
Allemande

violin, continuo

Sonata from La Piémontoise ( Les nations, 4o. ordre)......................................................................................... François Couperin (1668-1733)
Gravement—Vivement
Vivement, et marqué
Gracieusement
Air: Gracieusement—Second air
Gravement, et marqué—Légérement

oboe, violin, continuo

“The music speaks” – this, broadly construed, was a fundamental tenet of Baroque musical thought. Baroque musicians inherited the Renaissance precept that music must serve its poetic text; this was accomplished, especially during the 16 th century, by careful attention not only to prosody but also to the meanings of the words. Hence, the prevalence of the madrigalism, a device whereby the shape of a vocal line might paint a tonal picture of a particular word or phrase, or a harmonic sonority might evoke an emotion. These notions were closely tied to Renaissance concepts of rhetoric and oratory – concepts that would become increasingly central to musical thought in the 17 th century. Not surprisingly, then, the rise of abstract instrumental forms during the Baroque era sparked some debate as to whether a sonata, without benefit of a sung text, could rise above the level of mere (background?) entertainment. Two of the composers on this weekend’s program – Johann Kuhnau and C.P.E. Bach – responded in the affirmative, presenting as evidence the sonatas that we’ll be performing for you. Besides these two narrative pieces, along with a third from the French character-piece tradition, we’ll also bring you some lighter pieces that borrow the languages of birds and animals, but within purely-musical sonata and variation forms.

The virtuoso gambist and composer Marin Marais published five books of short pieces for viola da gamba and continuo, loosely organized into suites; a typical suite would comprise a prelude and a set of dances as well as various distinctively-titled character pieces. Most of these pieces are not, strictly speaking, descriptive. Rather, they evoke a character or an affect – although a few do imitate other musical instruments (a guitar, a trumpet, a carillon). The only true narrative piece – and probably the most notorious of the lot – is “Le tableau de l’opération de la taille” from Book V. We don’t know whether the accompanying verbal description of a gallstone operation (N.B.: without anesthesia!) was meant to be spoken, or whether it was to be simply a guide for the performer; in any event, it’s essential to a full understanding of the piece. That said, the music still has its own formal logic: the opening has the improvisatory character of a prelude; the “operation” proper is unified by recurring motivic material; and the patient is carried off to bed in a brief coda. The music alternates between expressions of the patient’s inward state (fear and trembling at the sight of the surgical apparatus; excruciating pain as the stone is removed) and more objective depictions of outward events (the lowering of the operating table, the tying and untying of the restraints – all naturals for tone-painting). Marais follows this rather graphic musical tale with a pair of more conventional dance pieces: “Les relevailles” expresses joy at recovery, if not without a faltering step here and there, and the gigue that follows it assures us that all is well.

Also on the “sickness and health” topic is the second of Kuhnau’s Biblische Historien (“Bible stories”), one of a set of six sonatas based on stories from the Old Testament. Best known as J.S. Bach’s immediate predecessor at Leipzig, Kuhnau was also influential as a music theorist, and his preface to the Biblical sonatas helped to make the case for instrumental music in the debate mentioned above. Each sonata is preceded by its Old Testament story, and the titles of the individual movements provide clues to the actions and affects being described. As with Marais’ musical account of the gallstone operation, Kuhnau’s second biblical sonata alternately depicts inward states (Saul’s tormented, then peaceful, soul) and outward events (the playing of the harp) – concluding, perhaps, with a joyful dance. The sonata opens with a prelude and fugue, in which chromatic and dissonant harmonies, along with frequent and abrupt rhythmic changes, evoke the king’s melancholia and mania. In the second movement the keyboard mimics David’s harp, and the final movement’s buoyant rhythms and straightforward harmonies portray a Saul transformed by the music.

Melancholia returns to the stage in CPE Bach’s C-minor trio sonata “Sanguineus und Melancholicus.” Bach’s preface to this work tells us that he is attempting, like Kuhnau before him, “to express as far as is possible by means of instruments alone something for which the resources of voices and a text are perhaps more suitable.” There follows a long and detailed narrative, keyed closely to the score and recounting a rather contentious dialogue between a melancholic, portrayed in our performance by the oboe, and a sanguine person, portrayed by the violin. The narrative is perfectly suited to Bach’s Empfindsamerstil or “sensitive [or quirky] style,” where frequent and rapid shifts in mood reflect the mercurial quality of human feeling. The protagonists are sharply delineated by musical means – amplified, in our performance, by the contrasting timbres of oboe and violin (the piece was originally composed for two violins). In the first movement each character has his own distinctive theme: Melancholicus’ in C minor and in a relatively slow duple meter (Allegretto), Sanguineus’ in the relative major of E-flat and in a quick 3/8 meter (Presto). Melancholicus does try out Sanguineus’ theme, even joining him for one extended passage; Sanguineus picks up Melancholicus’ theme only briefly and sardonically – and in his own 3/8 meter. By the second movement, Melancholicus is “mumbling … profound utterances;” Sanguineus reacts with his trademark triplet rhythms, finally bringing his reluctant companion over to his side. The narrative ends here, giving way to a more conventional trio-sonata movement in which oboe and violin share the musical material.

For the second half of our program we turn to more lighthearted approximations of sounds from nature, beginning with a selection from Der Fluyten Lust-Hof (“The flute’s garden of delights”) by the blind carilloneur and recorder player Jacob van Eyck. “English Nightingale,” like most of the pieces in this collection, is a set of divisions (increasingly rapid and elaborate variations) on a pre-existing tune. The tune incorporates a couple of repeated-note motives that evoke the call of the nightingale; while traditional staff notation obviously can’t capture all the nuances of birdsong, Baroque performance tradition allows the performer to use the notes on the page as a springboard for her own creativity.

The nightingale makes another appearance, along with a virtual parade of other creatures, in Biber’s Sonata representativa. In this work – possibly written for a Carnival ball organized by Biber’s employer the Archbishop of Salzburg – conventional sonata movements alternate with passages that mimic various birds, a frog, a cat, and finally a musketeer. (Incidentally, Biber seems to have lifted most of these imitative bits from Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia Universalis, an influential 17 th-century treatise.) Apart from its movement titles the Sonata representativa has no explicit program, but the performer or listener can easily construct one. Violinist Reinhard Goebel suggests that the final Allemande alludes to the nobility who would have been present at the ball; perhaps order has been restored just in the nick of time. As in van Eyck’s variations, the notes on the page provide the performer with a framework for improvising naturalistic sounds.

Our final selection, the trio sonata from Couperin’s La Piémontoise – the title refers to the Piedmont region of the Italian peninsula – is descriptive only in a rather abstract sense. Originally titled L’astrée (“the star-studded one”), this sonata was one of several that the young Couperin wrote as essays in Italian-style composition. Arcangelo Corelli’s first three volumes of sonatas had recently arrived in Paris, setting off a craze for all things Corellian; Couperin would eventually incorporate this influence into his ideal of les goûts réunis (“the [purportedly-warring French and Italian] styles united”). Some thirty years after composing L’astrée, Couperin changed its title to La Piémontoise and published it as part of a set of four large works bearing the collective title Les nations. Each of the four is an ordre, or suite, in the French style, introduced by an Italianate trio sonata; three of the four sonatas, including our selection, are recast from Couperin’s youthful trios. In La Piémontoise the Italian influence is evident in the lively fugal sections, the walking bass of the second movement, and the concluding giga. This is not, however, a purely-Italian sonata. The two airs are unmistakably French; notice, also, the French tempo indications. If music indeed speaks, then Couperin’s work is assuredly bilingual!

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