Program Notes for 19 & 20 Feb 2011

CONCERT III: MUSIC FROM NORTH AND CENTRAL GERMANY

 Trio Sonata in F major......................................................................................................................... Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Larghetto
Allegro
Largo
Tempo di Minuetto

oboe, violin, continuo

Sonata in E minor..................................................................................................................... Johann Wilhelm Furchheim (c. 1635-1682)
Adagio—[Allemande]—[Adagio]—Courant—[Ballo]—Sarabande—[Ballo]—Adagio—[Galliard]— Adagio

recorder, violin, continuo

Sonata in g minor............................................................................................................................. Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729)
Largo
Allegro
Lamentabile et appogiato
Allegro

oboe, continuo

*****intermission*****

Trio Sonata in C minor..................................................................................................... Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello (c. 1690-1758)
Largo—Allegro
Adagio
Allegro

oboe, violin, continuo

 

“Paris” Concert #1, in G major..................................................................................................... Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Grave—Allegro—Grave—Allegro
Largo—Presto—Largo—Allegro

recorder, violin, viola da gamba, continuo

The Saxon court at Dresden, known in its heyday as “Florence on the Elbe,” might be just as aptly characterized as “Versailles on the Elbe.” The Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) had reduced the Holy Roman Empire to a loose federation of German principalities, with the Austrian emperor as its titular head. By the turn of the 18 th century most German princes, concerned with rebuilding their territories and advancing their own positions, had adopted the absolutist model of the French monarchs. Most ambitious in this respect were the Saxon princes, who for a brief period elevated Dresden to the apex of German cultural as well as political influence.

Dresden’s musical hegemony can be traced to the early 17 th century, when Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) was appointed Kapellmeister (roughly, “music director”) at court. Schütz, who studied in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli, helped to create a synthesis of German sacred polyphony with Italian innovations in opera and instrumental music. By midcentury, there was a significant Italian presence at court.

Johann Wilhelm Furchheim, the oldest composer on this weekend’s program, arrived in Dresden as a young violin student and spent his entire career at court: as violinist, director of church music, occasional organist and, ultimately, vice-Kapellmeister under Elector Johann Georg III. As a composer Furchheim was influenced by Schütz, whose style of vocal composition he adapted to the violin; Schütz himself had recommended that German violinists study Italian techniques before attempting to perform his works. The E-minor trio is on the model of the early Italian sonata, comprising short sections played without pause rather than discrete movements. The Italian idiom is most pronounced in the two quasi-improvisatory solo episodes, where a relatively static bass line allows the violinist (and, in our performance, the recorder player) considerable rhythmic freedom. The dance sections – only the Courante and Sarabande are explicitly named, but the Allemande, Ballo (evoking, perhaps, a court ballet), and Galliard are easily recognized as such – suggest a hybrid of sonata and dance suite.

Dresden entered its golden age with the accession of Friedrich August I (“August the Strong”) to the Saxon throne in 1694. August studied music under the eminent theorist and composer Christoph Bernhard, whom Johann Georg III had appointed Kapellmeister after dismissing the Italian contingent as a cost-cutting measure. The new Elector travelled extensively and cultivated a love for French poetry and theatre as well as for Italian music. Like Louis XIV before him, August recognized the political advantages that might be gained by lavish cultural display. To this end he built opulent palaces, mounted extravagant theatrical productions, and established the finest orchestra in all of Europe. The musicians in this elite band included the violinists Johann Georg Pisendel and Francesco Maria Veracini, lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss, and bassist Jan Dismas Zelenka – all prominent composers as well as instrumentalists.

In 1717 August appointed Johann David Heinichen to the position of Kapellmeister, a position he held until his death in 1729. Heinichen had previously worked in Leipzig, first as a lawyer and then as a composer at court and for the opera. Between 1710 and 1716 he worked in Venice, studying and composing Italian operas and meeting such important Italian composers as Lotti and Vivaldi. As a composer and theorist, Heinichen advocated what Quantz called the “mixed” style – a blend of German, French, and Italian idioms that is more pre-Classical (or “galant”) than Baroque. The G-minor sonata on our program, probably composed for one of the virtuoso oboists in the Dresden orchestra, is very much in the galant idiom: the tuneful solo line dominates the texture, with the bass providing harmonic and rhythmic support.

Johann Adolf Hasse arrived in Dresden in 1731 at the invitation of the Saxon ambassador to Venice, where Hasse had established himself as a composer of Italian opera. He had previously served as court composer at Naples, having studied with Nicola Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti. During his 32-year tenure at Dresden (punctuated by frequent stays in Italy and in Vienna), Hasse produced 34 of his own operas at the court. Upon August I’s death in 1733, his son Friedrich August II appointed Hasse Kapellmeister, a position he held until August II’s death thirty years later. He was released from service by August’s successor Friedrich Christian, who eliminated all forms of extravagance at court – marking the end of absolutist rule in Dresden. Hasse retired to Venice.

The bulk of Hasse’s output consists of vocal works: Italian operas, cantatas, and oratorios as well as a large body of church music. His skill in composing for the voice is echoed in his relatively small instrumental output, including the F-major trio on our program. One can easily imagine this ingratiating music as part of an early-Classical Neapolitan opera!

At the Württemburg court in southern Germany, the Stuttgart Opera flourished. The sole non-German on our program, the violinist Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, was appointed Kapellmeister there in 1717. Brescianello’s career got off to a rocky start: his one opera was never performed, he fought off challenges from Reinhard Keiser for his position, and lost his job when the court went bankrupt in 1737. He was reinstated in 1744, having focused on composition in the interim. Most of his output consists of chamber music for the violin in various instrumental combinations; the style is galant. The first movement of the C-minor trio on our program is reminiscent of the French overture, prototypically a stately opening section in dotted rhythms, followed by a quicker fugal section. In Brescianello’s French overture, however, the slow opening is more affective than stately, and the fast section contains points of imitation rather than a fully worked out fugue. The Adagio suggests an operatic dialogue between the oboe and violin, and the concluding Allegro might be described as a quirky minuet.

As in Dresden and Stuttgart, much of the musical life elsewhere in Baroque Germany was centered on the courts. Notable exceptions included the free city-state of Hamburg, a major commercial and cultural center that was connected only very loosely to the German Reich. Hamburg was governed by a patrician Senate and an elected citizen’s assembly – elected, that is, by the wealthiest 10 percent or so of the population. The inherent elitism of the system was mitigated, however, by a booming commercial economy coupled with an active social consciousness on the part of wealthy burghers, as well as by Hamburg’s cosmopolitan atmosphere. The city thus provided fertile ground for the arts, and in 1678 the first public opera house outside of Venice was established in Hamburg.

Georg Philipp Telemann came to Hamburg in 1721 as music director at the Johanneum Latin school and at the city’s five main Lutheran churches. The latter post required him to write two new cantatas for each Sunday, as well as oratorios and cantatas for special occasions. His works dominated the Hamburg opera repertory for two decades. In addition, he revived the city’s dormant Collegium Musicum, and maintained a busy public-concert schedule almost until the end of his life.

Telemann engraved, published, and marketed much of his own music, including two sets of “Paris” quartets for flute, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo. The first of these sets was published in Hamburg in 1730; it acquired the “Paris” moniker seven years later when it was re-published in the French capital, along with a second volume of quartets for the same instruments. The first set, from which our selection is taken, includes two concertos, two sonatas in the Corellian church-sonata form, and two French suites. Our selection is a “concerto” in the broad Baroque sense of a “concerted” piece for a diverse group of instruments, but its Presto movement borrows the Vivaldian ritornello structure (where a soloist, or a group of soloists, is pitted against the ripieno group, or the orchestra), and all three obbligato instruments engage in virtuoso displays.

As mentioned earlier, German Baroque composers tended to cultivate a mix of national styles, with the Italian style gaining ascendancy in the 18 th century. For more Italian music, we hope you’ll join us for our next pair of concerts, as soprano Kathryn Mueller returns to sing a selection of cantatas with us. Mark your calendars for April 16 or 17!

 

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