Program Notes for 22 & 23 March 2014

with Elizabeth Blumenstock, Baroque violin

7:30 p. m., Saturday, 22 March 2014, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 23 March 2014, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

Journey of the Italian Sonata, Part 2

Ballo del gran ducca                                                                      Giovanni Battista Buonamente (c. 1595-1642)
recorder, violin, continuo

Trio sonata in G minor, op. 2/3                                                                       Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Sonata V, in E minor                                                                          Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)
                Variatio:  Allegro—Adagio—Presto—Adagio—Presto
                Aria; Variatio:  Presto—Adagio—[Presto] 
violin, continuo




Trio sonata in A minor, op. 1/6                                                                                Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)
oboe, violin, continuo

Quartet in G minor, TWV 43:g2                                                                  Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
oboe, violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Trio in E minor, after BWV 526 in C minor                                                  Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
recorder, violin, continuo



For this final concert of our “Friends Old and New” series, we welcome back old friend Elizabeth Blumenstock, who last appeared with us in 2010.  Our theme for that concert was “The Journey of the Italian Sonata”, and our program focused on Italian influences in music of the German-speaking lands.  Given the nearly inexhaustible supply of such music for the violin, we’ve decided to bring you another program of Italian, and Italian-influenced, works spanning the Baroque era.
The Baroque sonata was born in Italy, developing in parallel with innovations in vocal music and coinciding with the rise of instrumental virtuosity (especially on the violin). These early sonatas typically comprise brief, contiguous, and contrasting sections rather than discrete movements. Unpredictability – e.g., abrupt changes in mood, improvisatory passages –  is a hallmark of the style, which quickly spread northward as Italian composers found employment in the German-speaking lands.
Among the first of the Italian violinist-composers to carry the new style over the Alps was Giovanni Battista Buonamente, who worked at the Viennese court of Emperor Ferdinand II from 1626 to 1629.  While Buonamente was a prolific composer of both sacred and secular music, all that survives of his work are four of his seven books of instrumental music.  The Ballo del gran ducca, from the earliest of these extant collections, is an example of the “variation sonata,” in which the two treble instruments play continuous variations over a repeating (albeit varied) bass line, or ostinato.  Like many such pieces, this one is based on a popular 17th-century dance tune.
The Ballo del gran ducca, with its roots in courtly dance, is admittedly somewhat conservative as early Baroque sonatas go.  The more unpredictable style – dubbed stylus phantisticus by Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) –  is more typical of such composers as Castello, Fontana, Marini, and Merula, all of whom have been represented on ABP’s programs in years past.  A leading exponent of the stylus phantisticus was the Austrian violinist and composer Heinrich Biber, perhaps best known for his sixteen “Mystery,” or “Rosary,” sonatas of 1676, based on the life of Christ and requiring altered tunings (scordatura).  The E-minor sonata on our program is from a later volume of eight sonatas in mostly conventional tuning.  It features a brilliant, quasi-improvisatory prelude and two sets of variations over ostinato basses; the variation sections are separated by a dancelike segment in double-stops.
Ostinati also figure prominently in Buxtehude’s G-minor trio sonata – in fact, our harpsichordist has suggested that we call the first half of our program “Ostinato Blitz!”  In the opening Vivace, violin and gamba engage in imitative counterpoint over a three-measure ostinato; this section is further unified by a recurring motif (a fugue subject, if you like) in the upper voices.  The music slides into stylus phantisticus as the ostinato breaks down and the strings break into a rapid and skittish rhythmic figure over a much more disjunct bass line, leading into the brief but dramatic and improvisatory Lento.  A truncated version of this stylus phantisticus episode will appear at the end of the fugal Allegro that follows it. Next comes the second ostinato, this one a slow and graceful figure in triple meter, underpinning a rather more animated dialogue between violin and gamba. A poignant Grave introduces the Gigue – a standard AABB dance form, but with points of canonic imitation between the solo voices.
The unpredictability of the early Baroque sonata ultimately gave way to the innovations of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Among the hallmarks of Corelli’s style are symmetrical formal designs, a strong sense of tonality, a balance between homophonic and contrapuntal textures, and highly idiomatic and elegant writing for the violin – features so attractive to his contemporaries that his style was appropriated, and built upon, both in Italy and abroad, to the degree that his very innovations have come to seem … predictable!  Corelli’s influence is evident in the opus-1 trio sonatas of Tomaso Albinoni, published when the composer was in his twenties. Our selection is on the model of the prototypical sonata da chiesa, or “church sonata,” in four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast).  As in many of Corelli’s sonatas, the solo parts in the relatively brief slow movements are quite plain, inviting the performers to improvise. The second movement is a fugue, and the final movement is in a dancelike triple meter, with all three voices in canonic imitation.
Also following the four-movement sonata da chiesa form is Telemann’s G-minor quartet for oboe, violin, gamba, and continuo. Variously titled “Sonata” and “Concerto” in manuscript sources, it’s perhaps best characterized as a Sonate auf Concertenart (“sonata in the style of a concerto”), and has been described as a concerto for oboe.  That description nicely fits the second movement, where violin and gamba provide bustling quasi-orchestra ritornelli – i.e., recurring material that alternates with solo episodes – in contrast to the oboe’s more lyrical utterances.  In the slow movements, the musical material is shared more or less equally among oboe, violin, and gamba, while the final Allegro more nearly approximates a trio-sonata texture.  Now the treble instruments are equal partners, while the gamba plays an elaborated version of the continuo line – so lavishly elaborated, in fact, that it threatens to steal the show from the soloists.
The ritornello structure of Telemann’s second movement suggests the influence of Antonio Vivaldi, who also greatly influenced Johann Sebastian Bach.  Bach’s debt to the Italian master is evident in the E-minor trio, one of six originally composed for organ during Bach’s tenure in Leipzig.  As we have done with other organ trios, we will perform this work in a more prototypical trio-sonata configuration: recorder and violin will play the roles of the organist’s hands, while the continuo players take the pedal line.  In its overall design this piece is typical of the newer Italian concerto style, with three discrete movements (fast-slow-fast).  The Vivaldian legacy is most apparent in the first movement, with its ritornello structure and violinistic writing.  What is perhaps more significant than these surface features is the idea, articulated by Bach’s early biographer Johan Nikolaus Forkel, that Bach, by studying (and transcribing) Vivaldi’s works, learned “how to think musically.”  For that matter, Christoph Wolff has noted that Corelli served Bach as a model for part-writing, formal design, and handling of thematic material.  Bach indisputably stands at the pinnacle of the Baroque pantheon, but he stands on the shoulders of the giants who preceded him.


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