Program Notes for 27& 28 March 2004

J. S. Bach, His Inheritance, and His Legacy: Concert IV

Trio Sonata in c minor………………………………...……………….Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729)
Vivace
Largo
Presto

oboe, violin, basso continuo

Trio Sonata in g minor, TWV 42: g9……………………………….….Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767)
Grave, ma non adagio
Vivace
Largo
Allegro

recorder, violin, basso continuo

Trio Sonata in c minor, “Sanguineus und Melancholicus”…………Carl Philipp Emanual Bach (1714-1788)
Allegretto and Presto
Adagio
Allegro

oboe, violin, basso continuo

 

* * * * *

Sonata Terza in G major………………………………...…………Giovanni Battista Bassani (c. 1687-1716)
Allegro
Grave
Allegro
Largo
Allegro, allegro

recorder, violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo

Sonata in c minor, BWV 1017…………………………………….…….Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Largo
Allegro
Adagio
Allegro

violin, obbligato harpsichord

Concerto in D major, RV 84……………….……………………………….…..Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Allegro
Andante
Allegro

recorder, violin, basso continuo

 

In this final program of our series “J.S. Bach, His Inheritance, and His Legacy,” we continue sampling the broad range of musical styles practiced in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with the various composers’ connections to Bach as our theme.

The pre-Bach generation is represented on our program by Giovanni Battista Bassani, an organist, violinist, and composer working in Ferrara, Bologna, and Bergamo. Bach appears to have performed some of Bassani’s Masses during his tenure in Leipzig, adding his own polyphonic settings of the first line of the Credo, which, in a Catholic Mass, would have been intoned by the celebrant. (One of these settings adumbrates the Credo of the B-minor Mass and may in fact have served Bach as a preliminary study for the latter work.) While Bassani wrote mostly vocal music, including psalm settings, solo cantatas, operas, and oratorios as well as masses, he also published two collections of sonatas for two or three instruments with continuo. Our selection is from the second of these collections, comprising 12 sonatas da chiesa, or “church sonatas,” though it doesn’t quite conform to the four-movement, slow-fast-slow-fast design that was to become the norm. Among the attractive features of this sonata are the chorale-preludelike character of the opening Allegro and the quirky, often unpredictable rhythms of the gigue-like third movement.

If Bassani’s music influenced Bach’s, however obliquely, the influence of Antonio Vivaldi was more direct and substantive. Many of Bach’s keyboard concertos are actually arrangements of works by his Venetian contemporary, and Bach’s early biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel went so far as to assert that it was in transcribing and elaborating Vivaldi’s works that Bach learned “how to think musically.” In fact, the acknowledged superiority of Bach’s arrangements was bad for Vivaldi’s posthumous reputation: his music was virtually forgotten until the Bach revival of the mid-19th century, and even then was of interest only to Bach specialists, for whom Vivaldi’s original concertos inevitably suffered by comparison with Bach’s versions. Since World War II, with the publication of modern editions, Vivaldi has come into his own, although his sonatas, operas, and other vocal works are still less well-known than his more than 500 concertos. Our selection, despite its trio-sonata texture, is on the model of the characteristic late-Baroque concerto, where a soloist, or group of soloists, is pitted against the larger ripieno group; the two groups are differentiated both by texture and by thematic material. In our selection, the entire ensemble takes the ripieno role, while the virtuoso solo episodes in the fast movements are played by the recorder with continuo. The songlike middle movement provides the soloist with ample opportunity for ornamentation over slow-moving harmonies in the violin and continuo.

Georg Philipp Telemann’s posthumous reputation suffered vis-à-vis Bach’s much as Vivaldi’s did. As with Vivaldi, this came about as a side effect of the 19th-century rediscovery of Bach, who in his Lutheran-cantor persona became the standard against which Baroque musicians were measured. While Telemann held a church position similar to Bach’s, and in fact probably composed many more cantatas and other sacred works than the Leipzig cantor did, he also composed operas and all sorts of other secular music, and was adept at the modish new style galant. And given the mythology that grew up around Bach during the 19th century, it’s perhaps not surprising that the facile and prolific – and, yes, fashionable – Telemann was long regarded as merely facile and prolific and fashionable. Happily, modern scholarship, along with a proliferation of modern editions, is bringing Telemann out of Bach’s shadow and approaching him on his own terms. Indeed, Telemann needs little or no introduction to ABP audiences; over the years, he has become our most-played composer! The g-minor trio sonata, an example of the galant style, also reflects its composer’s interest in eastern European folk music, as witness the Gypsy flavor of its second and fourth movements.

Another of Bach’s contemporaries writing in the style galant was Johann David Heinichen, who worked for a time in Leipzig before becoming Kapellmeister at the Dresden court. According to George Buelow, writing in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Heinichen had a particular interest in “unusual instrumental colors.” Whether or not the oboe-violin pairing falls under this rubric, it does seem to us that the c-minor trio sonata is one of a relatively small number of Baroque works written expressly for this combination of treble instruments – as opposed to the ubiquitous two-violin works (such as the Bassani and C.P.E. Bach trios on today’s program) that require our oboist to play string parts! While Heinichen wrote music in nearly all genres, he was perhaps more influential as a theorist than as a composer. His treatise Der General-Bass in der Composition, which he published in 1828 and for which Bach acted as the Leipzig distributor, deals not only with practical aspects of continuo playing, but also with thoroughbass as the basis for composition.

In all of the works discussed thus far, the prevailing texture is that of the trio sonata for two treble instruments and continuo (the lone exception is the first movement of the Bassani sonata, where the viola da gamba part is largely independent of the bass line). J.S. Bach did compose three trio sonatas with conventional scorings – one for two flutes and two for flute and violin – as well as six organ trios, some of which ABP has performed as transcriptions for recorder, violin, and continuo. Much more numerous than the “prototypical” trios, however, are the sonatas for a single melody instrument with obbligato harpsichord: three for flute, three for viola da gamba, and six for violin. Interestingly, at least one early source for the violin sonatas, copied in 1740 by Bach’s son-in-law, bears the title Sechs Trios für Clavier und die Violine. And in fact these sonatas are, in large part, essentially trios, with the keyboardist’s hands playing the roles of the second treble instrument and the (unrealized) basso continuo. In the c-minor sonata, the fugal fast movements are marked by violinistic writing in both upper parts, with the bass line also participating in the counterpoint. In the slow movements, on the other hand, the harpsichord writing is at once simpler and more idiomatic to the keyboard; its arpeggiated figures and simple bass lines help give these movements more of the character of accompanied solos – arguably, a galant characteristic.

While Bach’s son and pupil Carl Philipp Emanuel received a thorough grounding in his father’s high-Baroque style, and while much of his mature work is in the galant style to which his employer Frederick the Great was partial, he was also adept at the Empfindsamerstil or “sensitive style,” where music attempts to reflect volatile human feelings through abrupt shifts in melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics. One of the quirkiest and most delightful exemplars of this style, the “Conversation between a Sanguineus and a Melancholicus,” is unique among Bach’s instrumental works in that the composer provided it with a detailed written program. We’ll ignore, for the time being, the philosophical issue of whether verbal cues should be necessary to the understanding of music, and will share the specifics of the program with you before we play the piece.


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