Program Notes for 18 & 19 February 2006

Trio sonata in D major, op. 4 no. 4 ......................................................................................................Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Preludio: Grave
Corrente: Allegro
Adagio
Giga: Allegro

violin, oboe, continuo

Sonata no. 6 in G major, BWV 1019......................................................................................... Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Allegro
Largo
Allegro (cembalo solo)
Adagio
Allegro

violin, harpsichord

Suonata in c minor...................................................................................................... Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (c. 1665-1729)
Grave; Vivace; Largo; Vivace; Adagio; Aria affettuoso


oboe, violin, continuo

 

INTERMISSION

 

Sonata in D major, op. 5 no. 11..................................................................................................................................................... Corelli
Preludio: Adagio
Allegro
Adagio
Vivace
Gavotta

viola da gamba, continuo

Suite in e minor, from Pièces en trio............................................................................................................... Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Prélude: Lentement
Fantaisie
Gavotte
Rondeau
Sarabande en rondeau
Menuet
Caprice: Lentement
Passacaille

recorder, oboe, violin, continuo

Trio sonata in g minor, from Essercizii musici......................................................................... Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Mesto
Allegro
Andante—Largo—Andante
Vivace

oboe, violin, continuo

 

Much of the history of Baroque music has been portrayed as a conflict between French and Italian styles, a conflict that would ultimately resolve itself in the international or mixed style of the high Baroque – or, if you prefer, in the triumph of the Italian. While it’s always misleading to reduce any facet of human affairs to such simple dichotomies, it’s also true that we tend to regard the extroverted Italian style, grounded in vocal expression and instrumental virtuosity (think Vivaldi!) as the norm. And in fact, Italian musicians contributed heavily to the shaping of Baroque music in the German-speaking countries and in the British Isles. In Louis XIV’s France, by contrast, Italian influences would gain a foothold only at the end of the 17 th century. On the other side of the coin, the earlier French styles – based on highly stylized courtly dances on the one hand and on the very un-Italian (and un-Germanic) rhythms of French speech on the other – were the order of the day at Versailles but relatively opaque to non-French ears. Even today, many people find this music to be the least accessible of the Baroque era.

 

A series of lively pamphlet wars, or querelles, during the 17 th and 18 th centuries helped to promulgate the mythology that grew up around Jean-Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli, who came to personify, respectively, the two styles. To give two examples, both probably fictitious: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a partisan of the Italian style, has a jealous Lully running Corelli out of Paris, while Evrard Titon du Tillet, on the French side (or perhaps on the fence), has Corelli modestly deflecting praise of his music by crediting the influence of Lully. If you attended our November concert, you’ve heard the trio sonata from François Couperin’s Apothéose de Lulli, a musical allegory that imagines an encounter on Mount Parnassus between the shades of Lully and Corelli. In the end, Apollo persuades the two composers, along with their respective national muses, that the union of French and Italian styles will raise the art of music to perfection.

 

Arcangelo Corelli was a well-known violin virtuoso and pedagogue as well as a composer of sonatas and concertos for the violin. He achieved instant international success with the publication of his opus-1 trio sonatas, which were quickly reprinted not only in Italy but also in London, Amsterdam, and Antwerp. As mentioned above, it would be another decade before his music caught on in France; however, the 1690s saw the beginning of a French craze for Corelli that, according to Sébastian de Brossard, soon had “every composer in Paris … madly writing sonatas in the Italian manner.” For this weekend’s program, in addition to a trio and a solo sonata by Corelli, we’ve selected a French trio “in the Italian manner” and, by way of contrast, another French trio in the more conservative Lullian style.

 

Corelli published four sets of trio sonatas for two violins and continuo – two sets each of sonate da chiesa (church sonatas) and sonate da camera (chamber sonatas incorporating dance movements and hence sometimes also called suites). Our selection, from opus 4, falls into the latter group, comprising two abstract slow movements and two binary dances. Interestingly, while the first of these dance movements bears the Italian title “Corrente,” its shifts between duple and triple rhythms are among the defining characteristics of the French courante.

 

Besides appearing in multiple editions on the Italian peninsula and beyond, Corelli’s works also spawned numerous arrangements and transcriptions. Among these is an anonymous 18 th-century transcription, for viola da gamba and continuo, of the twelve violin sonatas (six da chiesa, six da camera) that Corelli published as his opus 5. We will perform one of the chamber sonatas, comprising four abstract movements and a concluding gavotte – a rather showy, Italianate gavotte!

 

Marin Marais, a disciple of Lully and chamber musician at the court of Louis XIV, was largely immune to the Corellian influences that were making themselves felt in France by the 1690s. His four operas, or tragédies en musique, are very much in the Lullian mold, and his instrumental music consists almost entirely of suites in the French style. While the Pièces [N.B.: not “Sonates”!] en trio, from which the e-minor suite on our program is taken, have been credited as the first such works written in France, the trio texture in fact pervaded Lully’s operatic scores, juxtaposed with the more basic five-part string writing. Marais is best known for his five books of pieces for viola da gamba, in which he explored and expanded that instrument’s technical and expressive possibilities. It is perhaps this gift for expressiveness that makes him one of the most accessible of the non-Italianizing French Baroque composers.

 

The French man of letters Evrard Titon du Tillet, in Le Parnasse françois (1732), assigned Marais to the second-highest level – second only to Lully – of Parnassus, the mountain sacred to Apollo and the Muses. On the same plane, rather remarkably for the time, he placed Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. A onetime child prodigy and a protégée of Louis XIV’s mistress Mme. de Montespan, Jacquet de la Guerre became the first woman in France to compose an opera; she also wrote numerous sacred and secular cantatas as well as instrumental music. In contrast to Marais, Jacquet de la Guerre worked in both Italian and French styles and genres. The c-minor trio sonata on our program is on the pre-Corellian model of continuous sections rather than separate movements, and its harmonies are often rather quirky by Corellian standards. Characteristic of Jacquet de la Guerre’s trios is the concluding “Aria affettuoso,” a songlike piece in a simple, “popular” style, in which duo rather than trio textures predominate, and whose C-major middle section provides further contrast.

 

Johann Sebastian Bach’s trios, including the sonatas for melody instrument with obbligato harpsichord, are also Italianate. Five of his six sonatas for violin and harpsichord follow the four-movement (slow-fast-slow-fast) sonata da chiesa form, albeit with a wide variety of movement types within this framework. Our selection, in five movements, is the exception. Bach’s recent biographer Malcolm Boyd has observed that the first, second, and fifth movements form “a coherent concerto structure” – presumably in the manner of Corelli’s pupil Antonio Vivaldi. (Actually, this doesn’t quite work; the second movement is tightly linked tonally to the third but not to the fifth.) The third movement, a harpsichord solo in binary form, is unique among Bach’s sonatas, and its e-minor tonality allows for a fourth movement in b minor, relatively far afield from G major, but with a final cadence on D that leads smoothly into the G-major finale.

 

The Lully/Corelli dichotomy apparently lingered in the European musical consciousness at least until 1739, when Johann Mattheson wrote: “A Lully is renowned/Corelli may be praised/None save Telemann/Above all praise is raised.” Certainly Telemann, the most celebrated German composer of his day, moved easily between French and Italian – not to mention Polish – styles, and his debt to Corelli is explicitly acknowledged in the six Sonates corellisantes for two treble instruments and continuo. Also largely Italianate, and leaning towards the newer galant style, are the twelve sonatas and twelve trios of the Essercizii musici (“Musical Exercises”), from which the g-minor trio sonata on our program is taken. The title of this collection may or may not reflect a pedagogical intent; suffice it to say that both the technical challenges and the musical substance of this trio are thoroughly satisfying to us as performers and, we hope, to our listeners as well.

 


return to home page.