Program Notes for 17 May, 2002

noon on Friday, 17 May 2002
Albuquerque Public Library, 501 Copper NW



Thomas Burke and Planxty Browne.................................................................Turlough Carolan (1670-1736)
The Wood Lark, from The Bird Fancyer’s Delight....................................................Mr. Hill (fl. early 18th c.)
The Narcissus, from Airs for the Seasons:  Spring.................................................James Oswald (1710-1769)
 1. Air
The Bullfinch.........................................................................................................................................Mr. Hill
The Narcissus.........................................................................................................................................Oswald
 2. Giga

violin, recorder, continuo


Trio Sonata in G major, after BWV 525 in Eb major................................Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
 1. [Allegro]
 2. Adagio
 3. Allegro

violin, recorder, viola da gamba


Suonata in D major...........................................................Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
 1. Grave;  Vivace e presto;  Adagio
 2. Allegro;  Adagio;  Allegro
 3. Aria affetuoso;  Allegro

violin, recorder, continuo


Concerto in D major, RV 92................................................................................Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
 1. Allegro
 2. [Larghetto]
 3. Allegro

violin, recorder, continuo

Program Notes

During the 17th and early 18th centuries, a period we now call the Baroque Era, composers in nearly all areas of Western Europe actively supplied music for small combinations of instruments.  The favored grouping was two treble instruments, often violins, and basso continuo, which is simply a bass line.  The continuo, along with its implied harmonies, functions as the accompaniment for the solo lines.  Some composers indicated the correct harmonies through numbers and other signs above or below the bass line, which then might be referred to as the figured bass.  Except for the bass line itself, the accompaniment is improvised.
Albuquerque Baroque Players is an ensemble of two performers on treble instruments, violin and either recorder or oboe, and two continuo players, on viola da gamba and harpsichord.  Sometimes the gambist has her own part, but when she and the harpsichordist are both furnishing the accompaniment, the viola da gamba plays the bass line while the harpsichordist plays the bass line plus the added harmonies.
Each country, or geographical region—for neither Italy nor Germany became nations until late in the 19th century—had its own musical dialect.  Italy was definitely the forerunner in progressive styles, and German composers traveled there to learn and make use of what was most modern.  For various political and social reasons, French and English composers kept to themselves until about the mid-17th century, when they, too, were caught up in the fad for Italian style.
We will present one piece from each of these four regions, in this order:  the British Isles, Germany, France, and Italy.  (Composers on the Iberian peninsula didn’t write instrumental ensemble music, preferring to concentrate on sacred music and keyboard music.)
The first group of short pieces includes attractive trifles by an Irishman, an Englishman known only as “Mr. Hill,” and a Scot.  The Irishman Turlough Carolan, who sometimes styled himself the more aristocratic “O’Carolan,” was a blind itinerant harpist whose talent for composition was reportedly greater than his talent as a performing musician.  His dance tunes and airs, some unabashedly folklike and others more genteel, remain popular to this day.  The next-to-anonymous Englishman Mr. Hill compiled and published a collection of 40-odd tunes, The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, for persons wishing to teach birds to sing on command.  After repeatedly listening to and imitating the appropriate tunes, which would have been played on recorder or flageolet, the trained birds would bring high prices.  The Scot James Oswald, now forgotten by concert musicians, was the most prolific 18th-century composer in Scotland.  Our selections come from but one of his 96 Airs for the Seasons.  He also published 12 volumes of the Caledonian Pocket Companion, from which some tunes were taken to fit Robert Burns’ poems.
From Germany, Johann Sebastian Bach needs no introduction.  However, this piece does.  Bach’s version was for organ:  the organist’s two hands were the two soloists, while the feet played the basso continuo.  We’ve transcribed it for a typical Baroque ensemble, where each line is taken by a different musician.  In contrast to the easy melodiousness and directness of the British music on our program, the intensely contrapuntal texture of this piece is what stands out—that is, all three lines frequently vie for the listener’s attention.   Its melodies, beautiful as they are, are difficult and wide-ranging.  Because Bach’s harmonies are so complete in the written notes, we aren’t adding a harpsichord realization.
The court of Louis XIV in late 17th-century France sponsored much music-making.  Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet was already playing keyboards and singing at court when she was a mere child.  Even after she married the organist Marin de la Guerre, and even after Louis XIV became too morose to be much interested in a brilliant court life, she continued her musical career as a composer.  She was the first female composer to have an opera staged in France, and she delighted in the new Italian style that was being imported.  The piece on our program is one of her Italian-inspired works, but there’s a delicacy and elusiveness about it that could be only French.  After her father, husband, and son had died, she instituted a recital series in her home, and she remained in the public eye until her death.
The Italian Antonio Vivaldi, like Bach, hardly needs an introduction.  An opera composer who left hundreds of sonatas and concertos for himself or his students in Venice to play, a priest who apparently never celebrated Mass, he’s a study in contradictions.  Our selection, though called a concerto, isn’t like the famous Four Seasons.  There is no orchestra, but only two treble solo instruments and two continuo instruments.  This piece is by far the most overtly virtuosic of the pieces on our program.
We will be speaking to the audience between selections during our concert, when we’ll offer information on the instruments we play.

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