ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with special guest Mary Springfels, viola da gamba
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 21 January 2012, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 22 January 2012, The Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
Double the Bass!
January, from The Monthes Christopher Simpson (1602/06-1669)
recorder, two violas da gamba, continuo
Suite in C minor/major Matthew Locke (1622-1677)
two violas da gamba
Cinquième concert, from Nouveau concerts François Couperin (1668-1733)
Allemande: gayëment, et les croches égales
Gavotte: coulãment, et les croches égales
Muséte dans le goût de carillon: rondeau
Suite in G major, from Pièces à une et à deux violes (Book I) Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Gavotte en rondeau
two violas da gamba
Contrapunctus VIII, from The Art of Fugue Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
recorder, tenor and bass violas da gamba
Sonata in D major, BWV 1028 J. S. Bach
viola da gamba, harpsichord
Sonata in A minor, op. 37/5 Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)
recorder, viola da gamba, continuo
Double the bass! Our title refers 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) 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. (Note that the terms “viola da gamba” “gamba,” “viol” and “bass viol” will be used more or less interchangeably in these program notes.)
The viol consort, along with the recorder consort and the mixed or “broken” consort, was the dominant form of instrumental chamber music in England from the 16th century through the early years of the Restoration in the mid-17th. Favorite genres of consort music included the dance suite and the fantasia. The latter, modeled at first on Renaissance sacred polyphony and, later, on the Italian madrigal, typically featured passages of imitative polyphony interspersed with contrasting homophonic sections. We open our program with the first of twelve fantasias from Christopher Simpson’s The Monthes, composed not for the traditional viol consort but for the more “modern” combination of violin (we’ll use recorder), two bass viols, and continuo. Simpson is perhaps best known among gambists for his treatise The Division Viol, and “January” incorporates division technique, with the second viol playing an ornamented version of the continuo line.
The Fantazie that opens Matthew Locke’s suite for two viols is, in many ways, more typical of the genre than Simpson’s fantasias, although Locke’s quirky, unpredictable musical language is very much his own. Locke had become acquainted with French dance suites during a three-year stint on the European continent, and the two dances that follow the Fantazie show his fluency in that idiom – albeit with a strong Lockean English accent! The Saraband is quite unlike the two French sarabandes you will hear later on our program: the early English version of the dance was somewhat closer to its purportedly wild and lascivious origins in Latin America and Spain.
From the last quarter of the 17th century through the middle of the 18th – i.e., during the era of Louis XIV and Louis XV – the French school of virtuoso viol playing dominated the European scene. The leading exponent of the “classical” French style of playing, and composing for, the viola da gamba was Marin Marais, a protégé of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Praised for his musicality as much as for his technical prowess, Marais was also his generation’s leading composer of French music for solo viol. His first book of pièces, published in 1686, includes two suites for two bass viols with continuo; we will perform a selection of movements from the suite in G major. In this suite, as in all of Book I, dance movements (introduced by a prelude) predominate; the character pieces for which Marais is now known were still some years in the future. The two solo viols are very much equals, with their lines often crossing; the second (and occasionally the first) viol frequently doubles the continuo line, sometimes enriching the texture with double stops or chords. Many of Marais’ finest pieces are in variation forms, and the suite concludes with one of these: a tour-de-force of a chaconne.
Marais was largely untouched by the Italian influences that had been suppressed under Lully’s autocratic regime. François Couperin, on the other hand, was one of many French composers to come under the spell of Arcangelo Corelli’s sonatas; Couperin went so far as to sign his own early sonatas with Italianate anagrams of his name. Couperin’s ultimate objective, though, was not to compose “Italian” music but to create a synthesis of French and Italian styles – an ideal that’s captured in the title of his 1724 collection Les goûts réünis, ou Nouveaux concerts (“the styles united, or New concerts”), a continuation of his earlier Concerts royaux. While the Concerts royaux, in deference to the tastes of the aging Louis XIV, are basically French, the Nouveaux concerts combine the two idioms. In the fifth concert, the most pervasive French element is the use of ornaments specified by the composer. In terms of overall character, the most purely-French movements are the graceful Prélude and the Sarabande – both of which implicitly call for notes inégales (evenly-notated eighth or sixteenth notes played unevenly) —and the concluding Musette. More Italianate are the Allemande and Gavotte — both of which explicitly prohibit notes inégales — with their quick tempi and busy, almost motoric bass lines, not to mention the use of imitative counterpoint in the Allemande. You may notice a marked contrast in style and character between Couperin’s Gavotte and Marais’ more characteristically French one!
While Couperin’s “united styles” retain a French as well as an Italian sensibility, a later generation of French composers assimilated Italian styles to a greater degree. One of the most prolific of these, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, was fluent in both of these musical languages. Our selection, from his opus 37, falls squarely on the Italian side and is in the three-movement form of the Vivaldian concerto. Boismortier’s original title page indicates that the opus-37 trio sonatas are to be played by one treble and two bass instruments, and that the possible solo-instrument combinations include oboe and bassoon; violin and cello; and flute and viola da gamba. Our performance will feature recorder and gamba as obbligato instruments, with the second gamba on continuo.
Germany and the Low Countries also 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 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 we have chosen two examples of his work for this weekend’s program.
Bach’s gamba sonata in D major, like all of his sonatas with obbligato harpsichord, is essentially a trio sonata, with the harpsichord playing the bass and upper treble lines and the gamba taking the middle voice. In this sonata Bach alludes to the melody-dominated galant style – for example, in the opening Adagio with its short melodic phrases over an arpeggiated (aka Alberti) bass line. At the start of the second movement the upper voices (i.e., the harpsichordist’s right hand and the gamba) state a graceful, dancelike theme in parallel tenths – which soon submits to the demands of imitative counterpoint. Scholarly criticism of the D-major sonata ranges from Laurence Dreyfus’ suggestion that the piece is Bach’s critique of the fashionable (and lucrative) galant style, on the one hand, to speculation, on the other, that it was actually the relatively inexpert work of one of Bach’s sons. But even if the D major lacks the technical polish of Bach’s other two gamba sonatas, it is a thoroughly engaging work, from the opening movements described above, through an unusually grave siciliana, to the exuberant perpetual-motion finale.
For our other Bach selection we turn to Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue), a project that occupied the last decade of the composer’s life. This monumental work comprises fifteen fugues, or “contrapuncti,” and four canons, all derived from a single theme and making up a compendium of contrapuntal techniques. Our selection, Contrapunctus VIII, is a triple fugue, in which Bach juggles three main subjects, the third of which is the inversion (i.e., an ascending fifth becomes a descending fifth, and so on) of the unifying theme. Musicians and scholars have long debated Bach’s intentions in composing Art of Fugue: is it strictly a theoretical treatise on counterpoint and fugue, or perhaps an esoteric essay in purely abstract music? Or is it meant to be performed – and, if so, on what instrument or instruments? Evidence suggests that the work was at least conceived in keyboard terms, although the open-score format of Bach’s manuscript has sometimes been taken as license to orchestrate at will. While some orchestrations doubtless lie beyond the pale of historically-informed performance, arrangements for viol consort have proved sympathetic; we will perform Contrapunctus VIII as a mixed consort of voice flute with tenor and bass viols. Should all of this leave you hungry for more Bach, be sure to mark your calendar for our all-Bach concert on March 10 and 11!