Program Notes for 21 & 22 November 2009

Fantasy and Fugue: Concert II

Selected instrumental music from Armide.............................................................................................. Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Ouverture
3 Menuets
Première entrée
Sarabande en rondeau
Canaries
Air pour la suitte de la Haine
Passacaille

oboe, recorder, violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV 163 .................................................................................................Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)

harpsichord

Sonata VI, in G minor, from Il pastor fido .................................................................................................Nicolas Chédeville (1705-1782)
Vivace
Fuga da cappella: Alla breve
Largo
Allegro ma non presto

oboe, continuo

*****intermission*****

Grounds and Divisions
Drunken Wives of Carlisle (anon., Scottish, 18 th c.)
violin

John come kiss me now Christopher Simpson (c. 1605-1669)
viola da gamba, continuo

Tollett’s Ground Thomas or George Tollett (both fl. late 17 th c.)
recorder, continuo

Mr Baptiste of France His Ground (anon., English, 18 th c.)
recorder, violin, continuo

Trio sonata in C major, op. 1/5, BuxWV 256.............................................................................................................. Buxtehude
Vivace
Violino solo: Allegro
Largo—Allegro
Adagio—Allegro

violin, viola da gamba, continuo

 

Trio sonata in C major, formerly BWV 1037 ..................................................................Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756)
Adagio
Alla breve
Largo
Gigue: Presto

oboe, violin, continuo

 

Program Notes

Interesting stories seem to characterize most of the pieces on our November program—not that they should overshadow the good music!

We open with a selection of pieces from an 18 th-century arrangement of instrumental music from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s tragédie en musique—loosely, a French Baroque opera—Armide. Opera, as a genre, simultaneously thrilled and repelled composers in France, and the result was, unsurprisingly, both similar to and different from its Italian inspiration. One difference was the abundance and importance of instrumental music for the French: dances, mood-inducing interludes, processionals, mimed scenes, and of course the attention-grabbing introduction, the ouverture.

Giovanni Battista Lulli was brought to France from Italy as a tutor for a cousin of the French king, Louis XIV. He quickly took advantage of instruction in music and dance and acquired experience on the stage, developing into a talented actor and an expressive dancer. Louis admired and rewarded him, and after Lully became a French citizen and married the daughter of a prominent French composer, his close relationship with the king was cemented, as was his power within Parisian musical establishments. Not an ingratiating person—bad-tempered and sometimes violent, vain and inflexible, jealous of his contemporaries, and vulgar in habits and language—he nonetheless eventually secured a virtual monopoly over music for the stage, serving as director of the new Académie royale de musique—nowadays called simply the Opéra. His own musical tragedies were presented both at court and in town. The clarity, coherence, and effectiveness of his music, along with very fine librettos, guaranteed him success.

Armide, generally considered Lully’s masterpiece, was his last work. A true synthesis of poetry, music, and dance, it drew its subject from an episode in Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, from which Philippe Quinault, Lully’s favorite librettist, fashioned the French text. Armide is a sorceress who subdues crusading Christian knights, overwhelming them with her beauty. Rinaldo, though, resists her advances, and she instead falls in love with him. The only named character in our instrumental selections, La Haine, or Hatred, aims to move Armide to kill Rinaldo. But Armide isn’t able to do that, and Rinaldo repudiates and abandons her. She flies off in a huff, presumably to make mischief elsewhere.

Louis XIV refused to see this work, because he’d been deeply offended by a scandal involving Lully’s seduction of a young male page. Despite that, Lully’s name and music were so highly venerated that revivals of his musical tragedies were still being mounted in the late 18 th century, and some 18 th-century French composers had to suffer being accused of not being sufficiently Lullian, meaning sufficiently French—surely ironic, since Lully was, by birth, an Italian. The year after Armide was produced, Lully died of gangrene resulting from a wound to his foot: his vanity as a dancer would not allow him to agree to amputation.

Dietrich Buxtehude led a more secluded and calm life than did Lully, yet his innovations attracted notable visitors, including Handel, Mattheson, and J. S. Bach. Indeed, Bach traveled over 250 miles to reach Buxtehude in Lübeck, in North Germany, and he stayed there for three months. The visitors came in order to experience Buxtehude’s famous Abendmusik, afternoon concerts of both sacred and secular works. Buxtehude had established the series from his position as church organist, and much of his music was performed in that setting rather than within the confines of the Lutheran liturgy. His visitors also came in order to hear Buxtehude’s music. Like Frescobaldi’s, Schütz’s, and Bach’s, Buxtehude’s output was far more wide-ranging and varied than what his job required of him. For Bach, especially, Buxtehude became a major influence.

The keyboard Prelude in G minor exhibits, more than other works on our program, the distinct tension between fantasy and fugue, or freedom and control. Improvisatory sections alternate with imitative ones, sometimes interrupting whatever preceded. There’s not much relaxation in this Prelude, as the free sections consist mostly of ourbursts of activity, and the fugues have no episodes, or places where the theme might be dropped and the texture thinned.

The other Buxtehude piece on our program presents of necessity less opportunity for rhythmic freedom than his Prelude, since it’s a trio. But the outer sections are fugal, and inner sections are not. Moreover, of those inner sections, some are dances and some are not. The whole structure could aptly be labeled thus: fugue (vivace), sarabande with variation (violin solo), interlude and gigue (largo—allegro), and interlude and fugue (adagio—allegro). In the manner of the 17 th-century sonata, there is no prescribed number or sequence of movements.

You’ll notice clear similarities, on the other hand, between the other two sonatas on our program, both from the late Baroque. Each has four discrete movements, of which the second is a clever fugue, the second and fourth are fast, and the third is slow. There are dancelike movements, though sometimes not titled as such: Chédeville’s third-movement siciliana and, clearly labeled, Goldberg’s fourth-movement gigue. Yet in spite of a certain structural predictability, the two pieces aren’t merely clones of some theoretical model, and each is accompanied by its own story.

Nicolas Chédeville belonged to a family of musicians, none very distinguished, kin to the better-known Hotteterres. This Chédeville was an oboe player, but more than that was a popularizer and teacher of the musette, a small bagpipe. Playing at being rustic was a common pastime among the French nobility and the idle wealthy in the 18 th century: witness the tales of Marie Antoinette, dressed in her shepherdess costume and “tending” her sheep.

In 1737 Chédeville made a secret agreement with Jean-Noël Marchand, a sometime publisher, that Marchand would print and sell Il pastor fido (The faithful shepherd), Vivaldi’s op. 13. In fact, the six sonatas in this opus were composed not by Vivaldi, but by Chédeville, though some of them, including our selection, were based on themes by Vivaldi. No one knows precisely why Chédeville resorted to such tactics, but Vivaldi was then at the height of his popularity in France, so perhaps his name could be capitalized on. Another likely scenario is that Chédeville wished to expand the renown and repertory of the musette by implying that the great Vivaldi had espoused the instrument. The title page of Il pastor fido did indeed state that the pieces could be performed on musette, hurdy-gurdy, flute, oboe, or violin—in that order.

The story doesn’t end there. Marchand had an attack of conscience in 1749, or perhaps he acted under some less exalted stimulus, and he admitted the deception in writing. In more modern times, though, his confession wasn’t understood for its import until very late in the 20 th century. Il pastor fido is still listed among Vivaldi’s works in many sources.

Chédeville was the author of his own story, but Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was not. This is the Goldberg of the “Goldberg” Variations, Bach’s virtuosic set of 30 variations on a sarabande, published in 1741. Bach didn’t name that piece for Goldberg, nor did he dedicate it to him or in any way refer to him. Johann Forkel, rather, the writer of the first biography of Bach (1800), related that Goldberg played these variations to ease the sleepless nights of his employer, claiming that Bach’s sons had given him this information. Though by all accounts the young Goldberg was a real keyboard whiz, it’s unlikely that he could play Bach’s variations at age 14, his age in 1741, with any finesse. He may have studied with either J. S. Bach or Bach’s son W. F. Bach, but there’s no clear evidence one way or the other.

Again, the story doesn’t end there. Because in his other compositions Goldberg showed competence but no brilliance at all, while the trio on our program is quite complex and compelling, “BWV 1037” was long ascribed to J. S. Bach. For a variety of reasons, that attribution has been rescinded—at least by most scholars. Moreover, since there are some musical traits in the trio that are encountered in other works by Goldberg, such as a liking for syncopation and chromaticism and wide-ranging melodies, the piece has been restored—by some—to Goldberg’s oeuvre.

For fun, we offer you a few brief pieces under the heading “grounds and divisions.” A ground is a piece built on a repeating series of notes, usually in the bass and usually short. Over this ground the composer might write a continuous piece or a set of variations. Variations might be called divisions. During the 17 th and 18 th centuries, there were many manuscripts of such pieces, especially in the British Isles, and even a few printed books, and the same well-known tunes reappear from source to source. Many of these brief works are anonymous, some are identified cryptically, and some are by well-known composers. It’s the process that’s important here more than the piece as written down: the variations could conceivably continue for as long as the performer’s energy and creativity last.

“Drunken wives of Carlisle” comes from an early 18 th-century Scottish manuscript. Given its range and somewhat odd harmonic implications, it was probably originally for bagpipe. The Scots name for the tune is “Gie the mawking mair o’t.” We wouldn’t want to hazard a guess as to what that means!

“John come kiss me now” was a popular English tune in the 16 th and 17 th centuries. Christopher Simpson, a theorist, composer, and gambist, first published his very successful Division-Viol, or an introduction to playing on a ground, in 1659. Our selection isn’t found there, though, but in a manuscript from about the same time.

There were two Tolletts, and whichever composed “Tollett’s Ground” is represented in several sources. Both Thomas and George were Irishmen who worked as street musicians in Dublin before seeking their fortunes in London. This ground was published in London by John Walsh in 1722 in The Division-Flute.

The last of our variations comes from another English source, The Division-Violin, part 2, published by John Playford in 1702, but the ground was said to have originated in France. It’s reasonable to assume that “Mr Baptiste” is Lully.

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