Program Notes for 20& 21 January 2007

Entrées et Salades

with guest Mary Springfels, viola da gamba

La Sultanne............................................................................................................................. François Couperin (1668-1733)
Gravement—Gaiement—Air (Tendrement)—Gravement
Légèrement—Vivement

oboe, violin, 2 violas da gamba, basso continuo

 

Sonata II in A minor, from Echo du Danube........................................................................... Johannes Schenck (1660-c. 1712)
Adagio
Giga
Adagio
Vivace—Largo—Vivace

viola da gamba, basso continuo

 

Konzert in G minor ...............................................................................................................Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Largo
Vivace
Soave
Vivace

oboe, violin, basso continuo

 

***intermission***

Sonata in G major......................................................................................................................................................... Telemann
Dolce
Allegro
Soave
Vivace

recorder, 2 violas da gamba, basso continuo

Suite of dances (arranged) ...............................................................................................................Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

oboe, violin, basso continuo

 

We kicked off our season-long musical banquet in September, serving “apéritifs and hors d’oeuvres” in the form of appetite-whetting works by relatively unfamiliar composers. In November, for the soup course, we brought you a selection of music by such well-known and well-loved composers as Bach, Handel, and Telemann (soup is comfort food, after all!). And now, as we roll out our main course, we are delighted to welcome Mary Springfels as our guest. In this weekend’s program, we will be showcasing the viola da gamba as solo and obbligato instrument – with the added luxury of indulging in the rich timbre of paired gambas. And since our theme is “Entrées et salades,” we offer not just serious – dare we say “meaty”? – fare, but also some lighter galant selections as well as a suite of airs and dances for the theater.

Most of François Couperin’s instrumental chamber music is scored for two treble instruments and continuo, and includes Italianate trio sonatas as well as the more typically-French suites of dances and character pieces. Couperin’s preference for trio-sonata scoring reflects his project of uniting French and Italian styles – fueled by a general Parisian love affair with the music of Arcangelo Corelli. Our selection, La Sultane, is his only quartet. Not surprisingly, given the French predilection for the viola da gamba, the third melody instrument in this quartet is indeed a basse de viole (one of the many synonyms for “viola da gamba”). A second gamba serves as a continuo instrument but also, at times, breaks away from the continuo line and takes on an obbligato role in tandem with the first gamba. The seemingly programmatic title La Sultane is typical of Couperin’s sonatas but, in this instance, has no apparent relationship to the musical content. Philippe Beaussaint has suggested that the title alludes to an early 18 th-century Orientalist craze, but adds that “this Sultane is from Paris via Rome.” Certainly this quartet reflects Couperin’s goûts réünis (“union of [French and Italian] styles”) ideal: the overall form is that of the sonata da chiesa with its alternating slow and fast movements (or sections), and the rigorous fugal writing of the opening Gravement—Gaiement, for example, contrasts with the homophonic, dancelike (and very French) Air that follows.

If Couperin’s debt to Corelli was paid in French currency, the a-minor sonata by the Dutch composer Johannes Schenck is rather more faithful to the Italian model – although Schenck, in the cosmopolitan Dutch manner, also drew on French and German styles and produced an eclectic body of music, primarily for the viola da gamba. He shared Couperin’s penchant for evocative titles, and gave his published collections such intriguing names (rendered here in English) as “Echo of the Danube,” “Nymphs of the Rhine,” and “Bizarre Fantasies.” Our selection bears a strong family resemblance to the violin sonatas of Corelli: with its mix of abstract and dance movements (of the latter, we’ll play only the Giga, but there’s also a Corrente), it’s something of a hybrid of the da chiesa and da camera sonata types. Schenck’s warmly melodious Adagios, while still leaving the soloist with room for ornamentation, are somewhat more elaborately written out than the comparatively bare-bones adagios of Corelli. The concluding rondo is a duet for two gambas, with the second player switching between continuo and obbligato roles.

Also Italianate, but owing more to Vivaldi than to Corelli, is Telemann’s G-major sonata for flute (we’re using a recorder in D, a.k.a. voice flute), two violas da gamba, and continuo. While the distinctive gamba-duo timbre pervades the quartet, Telemann thoroughly explores the many coloristic possibilities of this combination of instruments – particularly in the slow movements, where the first gamba shares soloist honors with the flute. Vivaldi’s influence is most obvious in the concerto-like second movement, where the flute is the virtuoso soloist and the two gambas play the role of orchestral violins in the ritornello sections. (Incidentally, Telemann’s copyist supplemented this quartet with an arrangement for flute, two violins, and continuo. It works, but one can surely argue that the more unusual scoring for gambas raises the piece to another level!) The witty finale features intricate rhythmic layering and interplay among the three obbligato parts – culminating, before the final return of the opening theme, in a protracted and truly bizarre B-minor cadence.

As so often happens, we couldn’t resist putting a second Telemann piece on our program. The g-minor trio is part of a collection of six “concertos” (in the broad Baroque sense of the term) that might also be described as Italianate trio sonatas, and six suites in the French idiom. For these pieces, Telemann provided multiple scoring options: transverse flute and obbligato harpsichord (with or without cello); flute, violin, and cello; or flute, violin, and continuo. In the spirit of authentic 18 th-century performance practice, we’re taking yet another option and substituting an oboe for the flute. Like much of Telemann’s work, this trio is in the galant style, opening with an elaborately ornamented (maybe even a bit mannered!) siciliana, followed by a showy Allegro and another charming slow movement. The concluding Vivace, while it may or not fall into the category of “Polish” music that was one of Telemann’s favorite sources of inspiration, nonetheless has an irresistible folk-dancelike quality.

We conclude our program with a selection of airs and dances from Henry Purcell’s Fairy Queen, a semi-opera (i.e., a dramatic work in which only the secondary characters have singing roles) adapted from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. This suite is drawn from an anthology of Purcell’s theatre music compiled by his widow, and is an 18 th-century arrangement for two violins and continuo. We think it’s the perfect entertainment to cap this third course of our musical banquet.

 

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