Program Notes for 26 & 27 January 2002


Music from Germany and Austria
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 26 January 2002, Los Altos Christian Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 27 January 2002, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

Partia 6, in Bb major, from Musikalische Ergötzung........................................Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
 Sonata:  Adagio
 Gavotte and Variatio
oboe, violin, and continuo

Sonata in Bb major, op. 2, no. 1.....................................................................Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
 Adagio;  Allegro
 Vivace;  Lento;  Poco adagio;  Presto
violin, viola da gamba, and continuo

Partita in G major, K. 321...............................................................................Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741)
 Entrata in canone:  Allegro;  Largo;  Grave e sotto voce;  Entrata in canone
 Alternativamente:  Minuetto primo and Minuetto secondo
 Rondeau:  Allegro ma commodamente
oboe, violin, and continuo

Trio Sonata in G major, after BWV 525 in Eb major (organ trio)...........Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
recorder, violin, and viola da gamba


Sonata in d minor.........................................................................................Christoph Schaffrath (1709-1763)
oboe and continuo

Sonata 5, from Mystery (Rosary) Sonatas..................................Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704)
 Praeludium;  Presto
 Sarabande and Double
violin and continuo

Sonata in b minor, op. 2, no. 1, HWV 386b.............................................George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
 Allegro, ma non troppo
oboe, violin, and continuo
Program Notes

The irresistible influences of the Italian Baroque made their way into German-speaking lands early in the 17th century, thereafter irregularly, and in different doses for north and south.  The eminent early-17th-century German composer Heinrich Schütz traveled twice to Venice, first to study with Giovanni Gabrieli and later to observe Claudio Monteverdi in action.  No doubt Schütz learned much from these masters, but the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), a complex and devastating series of religious conflicts, interrupted the flow of the new style from Italy to Germany.  As a result, German composers were still using earlier Baroque techniques and forms even into the late 17th century.  Notably, too, since the early Italian Baroque focused on vocal music, as did the very influential Schütz, German instrumental music remained somewhat old-fashioned until the second half of the 17th century, when it was open to the French influences that arrived with the taste for French dances, social graces, and language.  Only close to 1700 did the more modern Italian influences regain their hegemony among German composers.

The earliest composers we’ve selected are Biber, a southerner, a musician whose jobs at court and as Roman Catholic church musician took him from Graz to Salzburg; and Buxtehude, a northerner, a Lutheran organist in Lübeck for nearly 40 years.  A virtuoso violinist but not a touring artist, Biber is best known for the challenging and colorful works he composed for his own instrument.  Many of his violin sonatas were written for scordatura violin, which is a fiddle tuned abnormally.  These odd tunings aren’t just a device to confuse violinists, as they permit certain multiple stops and open harmonies that couldn’t be managed or would sound very different if played using a normal tuning.  The scores do look daunting, since they’re notated as if the tuning were normal.  Our selection, for example, requiring an A-e-a- c# tuning, has a “key” signature of two sharps plus Fb!  The collection from which this piece is taken has been called, alternately, the Mystery Sonatas or the Rosary Sonatas.  It was never printed, but we know it dates from the 1670s.  Fifteen of the 16 pieces in that collection are preceded by engravings depicting the 15 mysteries of the rosary.  They were later furnished with descriptive subtitles;  ours is “the rediscovery of the 12-year-old boy Jesus in the temple.”  Some scholars claim that the whole cycle was intended for October, the “rosary month” in Salzburg, and that it was a part of the Counterreformation movement.  Buxtehude’s sonata, from the 1690s, is among the few printed works by him.  It wasn’t for the Lutheran liturgy, but possibly found a hearing in Buxtehude’s famous Abendmusik concert series, so well-known that the young J. S. Bach traveled on foot to experience one of them.  Each of Buxtehude’s trio sonatas has its own number and order of movements, and some movements are multisectional, a trait derived from an older Italian style.

The next generation of German composers includes Pachelbel and Fux, both southerners and both heavily influenced by the French style.   Pachelbel, lately of “Canon” fame, held church and court positions in Nuremberg, Vienna, and many towns in central Germany.  His partia, or suite, like Biber’s, was composed for scordatura violin, but the tuning has nothing to do with the sound of the music.  The aim was merely pedagogical, so that amateur violinists might have some experience with different tunings.  The six suites in the 1695 Musikalische Ergötzung (Musical Delight), from which this piece is taken, make no virtuoso demands on the performers, but they are charming and lively.  Fux’s partita—yet another way to say “suite”—is perhaps more overtly learned than Pachelbel’s, as was its composer.  Fux occupied not only musical positions, especially in Vienna, where he was employed by three emperors over a 40-year period, but also administrative ones.  He was also well respected as a theorist;  the Gradus ad Parnassum presents his version of “Palestrina style” from the late Renaissance—what students today study as species counterpoint.

The last generation of the German Baroque will be represented by recognizably great composers, Bach and Handel.  The Bach trio sonata we’ll play is a transcription of an organ piece, one of six that are trio sonatas for one performer.  The organist’s two hands play, respectively, the two solo parts, which ABP has assigned to recorder and violin.  The basso continuo line, originally taken by the organist’s feet, is here given to the viola da gamba.  The organ trios were heavily influenced by the new Italian style:  movements are discrete, motivic work is clear and continuous, and melodic lines seem quite violinistic.  Handel’s trio sonata also is Italianate in the manner of the late Baroque.  Though many instrumental pieces by Handel are today considered spurious, the op. 2 sonatas are most probably his.  One of Handel’s friends passed on the information—presumably obtained from Handel—that at least some parts of op. 2 were written when the composer was a young man, still in Germany.  But to be totally honest with our audience, our selection might not date from Handel’s German years, but from the 1720s, when Handel was living in England.

Thus we’ve dealt with six of our seven composers.  The split between northern and southern geographical areas—the southern areas including, generally, Austria and Bavaria—can be demonstrated by examining the pieces we’ll perform.  Buxtehude, Bach, and Handel were active in north and central Germany, and their pieces on our program are sonatas, or series of abstract movements.  There’s a tension about this music, a sense of forward movement and urgency that impels performer and listener alike.  Biber, Pachelbel, and Fux, on the other hand, lived and worked in the south, and their pieces are suites (even when they’re called sonatas!), or sets of dances, often with a strong French accent.  Their music is more relaxed, less demanding.  Can we hope to describe a “German” style, then?  Do we have a German parallel to the British “tunes and trifles” and to the Italian fiddle tradition?   There is one compositional precedure favored by a great number of German composers, both northern and southern:  counterpoint, the art of writing more than one melody for simultaneous appreciation, or of writing one melody competing with itself imitatively.  Even the French-style dances, which in the hands of a French composer might have been unrelentingly homophonic, offer interesting and clever examples of contrapuntal writing.  Some of our selections are overtly imitative:  Pachelbel’s first and last movements, nearly all of Buxtehude’s and Bach’s sonatas, Fux’s first movement (a canon, or exact imitation, between the two solo lines), and all but the second slow movement in Handel’s piece.

There remains one composer, one who can’t be squeezed into any of the above categories.  He simply lived too late and isn’t really a Baroque composer at all.  Schaffrath, who worked alongside C. P. E. Bach at the Prussian court of Frederick the Great, composed only instrumental music, most of which is in the lightweight 18th-century style termed “galant.”  The piece we’ve selected, however, is a fine example of another 18th-century musical dialect, the Empfindsamerstil, or the sensitive style: quirky, unpredictable, constantly changing, spun out, with ideas succeeding each other end to end.  Even here, in a very different world from the Baroque music on our program, what do we hear?  Counterpoint—in particular, imitative counterpoint—in all three movements.

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