Program Notes for 20 & 21 November 2010

Albuquerque Baroque Players

with guest Elizabeth Blumenstock, Baroque violin

7:30 p. m., Saturday, 20 November 2010, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday 21 November 2010, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

JOURNEY OF THE ITALIAN SONATA

 

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

oboe, violin, basso continuo

Sonata #4 from Sonatae unarum fidium…………………………………..Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680)

violin, basso continuo

 

Concerto in D major, RV 84……………………………………………………………………………Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Allegro
Andante
Allegro

recorder, violin, basso continuo

*****intermission*****

Trio in G minor, adapted from the organ trio in D minor, BWV 527……Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Andante
Adagio e dolce
Vivace

recorder, violin, basso continuo

Trio sonata in B b major, op. 2/3, HWV 388………………….…………………….George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Andante
Allegro
Larghetto
Allegro

oboe, violin, basso continuo

 

Program Notes

The genesis and genius of the Baroque sonata lie squarely in Italy. With the experiments—successful ones!—of the early 17 th century in the realm of vocal music, a parallel type of instrumental music emerged. Sometimes called canzonas and sometimes sonatas, these brief works were sectional, often with sudden changes in mood effected by changes in texture or tempo, melody or harmony. To be sure, except in the tersest pieces, the composer might desire some kind of unity, which might be accomplished through repeated motives, repeated sections, or variations over a repeated bass line or harmonic pattern. Sonatas were composed most frequently for one or two solo instruments with basso continuo, a shorthand method of indicating accompanying harmonies over a bass line. ABP has performed quite a few such pieces over our years together, by Castello, Frescobaldi, Uccellini, Selma y Salaverde, Fontana, Marini, and Merula.

Very quickly, this new aesthetic traveled to German-speaking lands, where it was a major influence on Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. A violinist, Schmelzer worked for most of his career in Vienna at the Hapsburg court, with such eminent colleagues as Froberger and Bertali. Only a few months before Schmelzer died of the plague, Leopold I appointed him Kapellmeister, the first non-Italian to hold that position. Schmelzer’s Sonatae unarum fidium (1664) was the first publication by a non-Italian composer dedicated fully to sonatas for violin and continuo. Our selection from that collection, the fourth sonata, is largely lyrical until the outburst of virtuosity at the end. Sections have somewhat lengthened by 1664, and some are discrete—that is, they end with full stops, or cadences. In this case, Schmelzer’s long first section is set over a repeated descending bass line, rather like a ciacona, whose triple meter permits an easy segue into a sarabande, and then into a gigue. A recitative-like transition leads into the concluding violin fireworks. Interestingly, the title of Schmelzer’s publication, Sonatas for One Violin, is sonically echoed (with the fi- sound) and punned in the composer’s dedication of the opus to Cardinal Carlo Caraffa, in which the single fiddle is likened to faithfulness, allegiance, loyalty (fides).

In the late 17 th century, another strong infusion of Italian style brought the German sonata and trio sonata into the late Baroque: Arcangelo Corelli’s music. Corelli inspired even hitherto unsusceptible French and English composers—and occasionally Spaniards and musicians in the New World—as well as Germans. Georg Philipp Telemann and his long-time friend George Frideric Handel furnish our examples.

Telemann’s final publication, of 1740, was his Essercizii musici. Encompassing 12 solo sonatas and 12 trio sonatas for various instruments, it perhaps served as a pedagogical work. The pieces are not drily pedantic, though, and are both musically and technically satisfying. As was Telemann’s wont, he included French and Polish elements as well as Italian ones, but Italians clearly supplied the basic scheme, called by then a sonata da chiesa, of four movements in alternating slow and fast tempos. The short sections of earlier sonatas have mostly disappeared, so lengthy movements carry the burden of demonstrating contrasting moods. Prior to 1740, Telemann had composed an enormous number—unfathomable, really, since many are lost—of sonatas and trio sonatas.

Handel wasn’t nearly as prolific in his production of instrumental music as Telemann, and the authorship of many of his trio sonatas has been disproved or questioned. One problem is that, when Handel’s name became synonymous with commercial profit, publishers availed themselves of that name for otherwise anonymous, and sometimes mediocre, instrumental works. Further complicating matters, Handel’s instrumental music was often published quite a bit later than its date of composition. One useful test for Handel relies, since he was such a self-plagiarist, on whether elements of a piece can be found in other works by him. For example, the third trio sonata of the six in his opus 2 has been authenticated partly because it’s closely related to the opening sinfonia of his early oratorio Esther. Which piece predated which is argued, as both were written about 1717-18, though recent scholarship gives the nod to the sonata, published only in 1733. Esther’s sinfonia needs only the first three trio sonata movements; later, Handel rewrote the fourth for his organ concerto op. 4/2, HWV 290. This trio sonata, like Telemann’s, is a sonata da chiesa.

In the early 18 th century, yet another Italian superstar blazed across the skies, Antonio Vivaldi. Best known then and now as a composer of concertos, rather than of sonatas, Vivaldi infused many of his own chamber works with formal and textural traits associated with his larger-scale concertos. To the eye, what’s now labeled as his RV 84 looks like a trio sonata for two unlike instruments, a recorder and a violin, accompanied by basso continuo. To the ear, in contrast, it sounds like a concerto for recorder with string accompaniment. (This perhaps was a factor in Vivaldi’s decision to call the work a concerto rather than a sonata—though Baroque composers weren’t as intent on categorizing by title as we seem to be!) There are only three movements, in a fast-slow-fast format. The whole ensemble functions as the ripieno, or the full group, while the recorder emerges at intervals—and for the entirety of the middle movement—as a soloist. The two fast movements are in ritornello form, common in Vivaldi’s concertos, where the material first presented recurs in various key areas, alternating with the soloist, then in the home key at the end. Like many works by Vivaldi, this one is in galant style, where harmonic rhythm is slowed, texture is thinned, and melody dominates.

After Vivaldi died, his music was hardly known until after World War II, while Johann Sebastian Bach’s had been published in the mid 19 th century in a scholarly edition and was widely deemed the epitome of late Baroque style. Consequently, the significance of Bach’s encounter with Vivaldi’s music in the early 1720s wasn’t recognized until the second half of the 20 th century. The pieces by Bach most immediately and obviously affected include his transcriptions of other composers’ concertos for keyboard and his own Italian Concerto for harpsichord, but a great many others of his works, both vocal and instrumental, evidence the solo-ripieno contrast and ritornello form typical of Vivaldi’s concertos. In Bach’s organ trio in D minor, for our performance transposed into G minor, the outer movements are governed by ritornello form. Moreover, if we listen to Bach’s organ trios as his son C. P. E. Bach described them, in terms of their melodic beauty rather than in terms of their contrapuntal complexity, they depart from the High Baroque and become part of the Age of the Enlightenment.

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