Program Notes for 20 & 21 November 1999

    Los Altos Christian Church (11900 Haines Ave. NE) [November 20]
     Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales [November 21]

     THE ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
MARY BRUESCH, viola da gamba and Baroque cello     SUSAN PATRICK, harpsichord
MARTY RONISH, recorder and Baroque flute     MARYANN SHORE, recorder and Baroque oboe
KEVIN VIGNEAU, Baroque oboe     LINDA VIK, Baroque violin

with
Special Guest Artist MARILYN MCDONALD, Baroque violin
and
VIRGINIA LAWRENCE, Baroque viola and CHERYL SMITH-ECKE, Baroque violin

Trio sonata in E major, HWV 394…………………………………….George Frideric Handel? (1685-1759)
 Adagio
 Allegro
 Adagio
 Allegro
two violins, continuo

Sonata in D major, op. 5/2………………………….…………Johann Christian Schickhardt (c. 1682-1762)
 Allegro
 Adagio
 Allegro
 Menuet
flute, two oboes, continuo

Concerto in a minor, BWV 1041………………………………………..Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
 [Allegro]
 Andante
 Allegro assai
solo violin, strings, continuo

INTERMISSION

Passacaglia……………………………………………………..Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)
solo violin

Trio sonata in g minor………………………………………...……….Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
 Mesto
 Allegro
 Andante-Largo-Andante
 Vivace
violin, oboe, continuo

Sinfonia in d minor, #5…………………………………………………….Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)
 Spiritoso, e staccato
 Adagio
 Allegro
 Adagio-Allegro assai
two recorders, strings, continuo
 

Perhaps because of the Baroque interest in drama and affective performance, composers of the 17th and 18th centuries were well disposed toward the use of solo instruments.  The most versatile of these, favored for its agility and nuance, its brilliance and sweetness, was the violin.  Emerging from a 16th-century tradition of professional dance accompaniment, it was suddenly thrust into the courtly musical realm of expressive solo pieces, chamber sonatas, and, by the 18th century, concertos.  Four of the six pieces on our program feature the violin in these various capacities.

Heinrich Biber was one of the most renowned violin virtuosos of the 17th century.  Though he composed a great deal of vocal music and both large- and small-scale instrumental music, he’s best known for his solo violin sonatas.  The Passacaglia for solo violin was appended to his collection of 15 "Mystery" sonatas, intended for liturgical use and written for scordatura violin—that is, a violin with its strings tuned in unusual ways--with basso continuo.  It is thought that this final piece somehow functioned as part of this set, perhaps for a special feast day or perhaps as a prayer to end the series of "mysteries" of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.  Yet it requires no scordatura and no continuo accompaniment.  Biber presents the descending four-note theme followed by over 60 variations on it, plus regular repetitions of the theme.  Relatively sober and meditative due to the nature of the passacaglia theme, it nonetheless is a kind of compendium of fiddle techniques of the second half of the 17th century.

The most popular scoring for chamber pieces in the Baroque era was the trio for two solo instruments and continuo, and the most popular solo instruments were violins.  Trio sonatas were frequently composed in four movements, alternately slow and fast.  Handel, whose main focus was always on his large-scale vocal works, operas and English oratorios, did compose a number of trio sonatas, but our selection is probably not among them.  It’s full of harmonic and melodic quirks that don’t sound particularly Handelian, and it’s considered a doubtful work for another, more backhanded reason:  its themes aren’t found anywhere else in the Handelian canon!  Handel tended to reuse so much of his own music that whatever he didn’t cannibalize might reasonably be deemed spurious or questionable.

Of the numerous solo violin concertos Bach probably composed, only two remain.  He, like Handel, tended to recycle his music, though not in the same way or for the same reasons as Handel.  Much of Bach’s instrumental music was written between 1717 and 1723, while he was working in Cöthen, and later rescored for the Leipzig collegium musicum.  For example, this concerto, in the key of a minor for violin, is also known in the form of a harpsichord concerto in g minor.  Its models were solo concertos by Vivaldi, whom Bach much admired, so the solo violin stands out in relief against the less virtuosic orchestra.

There’s a second trio on our program, but it introduces a solo instrument other than the violin:  the oboe.  Each of the Baroque wind instruments, including oboe, recorder, flute, and bassoon, has a different background and history, but met in the second half of the 17th century in the workshops of French instrument-making familes, notably the Hotteterres.  Bores were changed, keys were sometimes added, and the instruments were jointed,  all these alterations allowing the performer greater control over pitch and expression, though not as much as violinists had.  Wind instruments subsequently acquired new repertory, competing with the violin but never overshadowing it.

Violin and oboe are well-matched in the trio sonata by Telemann.  Unlike Bach and Handel, Telemann stole from himself relatively rarely—he simply composed new music whenever he needed it.   Incredibly prolific, he was also consistently good.  He was the most popular and versatile composer of his time.  Telemann published this trio as #6 of his Essercizii musicii in about 1740.

The two remaining pieces on our program highlight the winds.  Alessandro Scarlatti, like Handel, was most involved with his vocal works, operas and church music.  After 1715, though, he began turning out concerti grossi—some of which he called sinfonias--sonatas, and keyboard music.  None of these pieces are among his finest works, but they are effective and clever and fun to play.  The same could be said for the quartet by Schickhardt.  This type of light music, undemanding for both performers and listeners, proliferated in the 18th century, when amateur music-making was at a peak.  Schickhardt left dozens of such works.

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