ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with special guest Mary Springfels, viola da gamba
7:30, Saturday, 20 October 2012, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00, Sunday, 21 October, 2012, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
DOUBLE THE BASS
Suite in G minor Robert de Visée (c. 1655-1733)
oboe, basso continuo
Chaconne in G major, from Book I of Pièces de viole Marin Marais (1656-1728)
two violas da gamba, basso continuo
Sonata in G minor, BWV 1029 Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
viola da gamba, obbligato harpsichord
Sonata settima a due, from Book II of Sonate concertante Dario Castello (fl. early 17th c.)
recorder, viola da gamba, basso continuo
Quartet in G major, TWV 43: G12 Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767)
recorder, two violas da gamba, basso continuo
Double the bass! Our title alludes to the use of two or more instruments to cover a bass line, as in Baroque continuo practice. In a typical Albuquerque Baroque Players performance, for example, both harpsichordist and gambist play the bass line, which the harpsichordist “realizes” by adding harmonies as indicated by the figures (i.e., numbers and other symbols) on the page and/or as required by the solo lines. For this weekend’s concerts, we have the luxury of “doubling the bass” with a second viola da gamba, and will showcase the instrument both as continuo partner and as soloist or obbligato performer. Note that the terms “viola da gamba,” “gamba,” “viol,” and “bass viol” will be used more or less interchangeably in these program notes.
We open with selections by two instrumentalist-composers at the court of Louis XIV. Robert de Visée performed primarily on, and composed primarily for, the Baroque guitar, lute, and theorbo, and his twelve published suites for solo guitar are counted among the crown jewels of French Baroque music for that instrument. For this program we have selected several movements from one of a set of ten suites for lute or theorbo, published in 1719. While music for plucked instruments was normally written in tablature during the Baroque era, Visée writes in his preface that he had the suites published in staff notation, for treble instrument and (figured) bass, so that these pieces might be accessible to violinists, gambists, and keyboardists. We are taking full advantage of this opportunity, allowing oboist, harpsichordist, and gambist in turn to play the solo role. We’ll play the eight short movements that we’ve selected in the “classic” order: three standard dances followed by a group of lighter galanteries plus a gigue, and concluding with a passacaille.
While Visée was primarily a plucked-string specialist, a letter written by the gambist and theorist Jean Rousseau (1644-1699) tells us that he also played the viol. In that capacity Visée had a distinguished colleague in Marin Marais, musicien en ordinaire to Louis XIV and the best-known and most prolific of the French gambist-composers. Marais’ first book of pièces de viole, published in 1686, includes two suites for two bass viols with continuo; we will perform the Chaconne from the first of these suites. Many of Marais’ finest pieces are in variation forms, and this chaconne—a tour-de-force that stands alone as a work in its own right—is no exception. The two solo viols are very much equals, with their lines often crossing. Each soloist doubles the continuo from time to time, sometimes enriching the resulting two-part texture with double stops or chords.
The viola da gamba as a solo instrument flourished well into the 18th century in France. In Italy, by contrast, solo repertoire for the gamba consisted largely of divisions (a type of variations, often highly virtuosic) from the early 17th century. Italian ensemble music scored specifically for the viol during this period is relatively rare, although we know that the viol was also used as a continuo instrument during this time—in Monteverdi’s operas, for example. A contemporary and probable colleague of Monteverdi’s, Dario Castello served as leader of the wind band at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, where he must have picked up the stile moderno (aka stylus phantasticus). The sonata on our program, for unspecified treble instrument, bassoon or bass viol, and continuo, is an example of this style, alternating lively, rhythmic sections with more declamatory ones. Incidentally, the solo gamba might be said to “double the bass” in this sonata, sometimes playing exactly the same line, but more often a more or less decorated (or “divided”) version of the slower-moving continuo.
The German-speaking world enjoyed a rich and varied tradition of music for viols, spearheaded by an influx of English musicians during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. By the end of the 17th century, English-style divisions had given way to highly virtuosic (and, in some cases, virtually unplayable) sonatas and chamber works inspired by the Italian-influenced Austro-German school of violin playing. The virtuoso tradition continued through the 18th century, culminating in the “Berlin” school of C.P.E. Bach and others. Any discussion of German Baroque music will, however, give pride of place to Johann Sebastian Bach, and our guest artist has chosen the third of his three sonatas for gamba with obbligato harpsichord.
The G-minor sonata has sometimes been described, not altogether facetiously, as a “seventh Brandenburg concerto.” Along with some striking echoes of the third Brandenburg in the first movement, and of the fifth Brandenburg in the finale, this sonata deviates from most of Bach’s sonatas with obbligato keyboard in its three-movement (fast-slow-fast) form, with Vivaldi-concerto-like “ritornello” figures in the first movement. And, in fact, gambist John Hsu and keyboardist Peter Williams have constructed a purely-hypothetical original version of the G-minor sonata—in D minor and scored for the same forces as the sixth Brandenburg: two violas, two gambas, and continuo. Others, in a less speculative mood, have cited this sonata as an exemplar of the Sonate auf Concertenart, or “sonata in concerto style,”—roughly, a hybrid of the concerto grosso and the trio sonata or quartet (Bach’s sonatas with obbligato keyboard are essentially trio sonatas, with the keyboardist covering the bass and one of the upper parts). While the Italianate flavor of the opening movement, with its propulsive rhythmic motives, might conjure up the opening ritornello of a Vivaldi concerto, the texture is still that of the trio sonata, with no clear differentiation between concertato (soloist) and ripieno (orchestral) roles. The central movement recalls the Adagios of Arcangelo Corelli, but with the requisite florid ornaments written out by the composer rather than improvised by the performer, and the sonata concludes with a bravura fugue.
Also concerto-like is the G-major quartet by Georg Philipp Telemann, a reliable provider of music for just about any combination of instruments and a master of quartet textures in particular. While the distinctive gamba-duo timbre pervades this work, Telemann thoroughly explores the many coloristic possibilities of the flute (we’re using recorder) and two gambas—particularly in the slow movements, where the first gamba shares solo 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 ritornelli. 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, almost bizarre B-minor cadence. 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 colorful scoring of the original raises the piece to another level.
For more “doubling of the bass”—not to mention a double helping of double reeds—we hope you’ll mark your calendars for the next concert in our “Friends Old and New” series, when we welcome Baroque bassoonist and new friend Keith Collins as our second distinguished guest of the season!