Program Notes for 29 & 30 March 2008

The Baroque Sonata, Concert 4: Spiritoso

with Carol Redman, Baroque flute

Sonata in D major............................................................................................................. Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht (1722-1794)
Allegro ma non troppo
Andantino, ma grazioso
Tantino allegro

flute, obbligato harpsichord

Sonata in D major, op. 2/2.................................................................................................................. Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Adagio—Allegro—Largo
Arietta with variations
Largo—Vivace

violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo

Trio Sonata in C minor.......................................................................................................................... Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787)
Adagio
Alla breve
Vivace

flute, violin, basso continuo

 

*****intermission*****

Sonata in C major............................................................................................................................... Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Andante—Presto
Allegro
Adagio
Menuets 1 and 2

flute

Second Concert, in D major................................................................................................................. François Couperin (1668-1733)
Prélude: gracieusement
Allemande fuguée: gayement
Air tender
Air contre fugué: vivement
Echos

flute, viola da gamba, basso continuo

 

“Paris” Quartet no. 1, in G major......................................................................................................... Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767)
Grave—Allegro—Grave—Allegro
Largo—Presto—Largo—Allegro

flute, violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo

 

With this weekend’s concerts, we arrive at the spiritoso finale of our season-long Baroque sonata. As we have seen in our previous “movements,” terms that we now think of as tempo markings often had rather different meanings during the Baroque era. Grave, for example, meant solemn or serious but not necessarily very slow, while vivace denoted a lively, but only moderately quick, tempo. In general, these terms tell the performer less about speed than about character or affect.

The term spiritoso has had an intriguing history. Sébastian de Brossard’s dictionary, published in 1703, defines it as “with spirit, with soul, with judgment and discretion … rather like affettuoso” – the latter term is paraphrased elsewhere in the dictionary as “tendrement” – hence the occasional appearance, during the early 18 th century, of such apparently self-contradictory terms as adagio spiritoso! The later meaning of spiritoso, still current today, is closer to its English cognate “spirited.”

All of the music on our program arguably captures, to some degree, both senses of spiritoso. We open with a sonata by Jakob Friedrich Kleinknecht, a contemporary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. An accomplished flutist and violinist, Kleinknecht wrote fluently for both instruments, and has recently begun to be rediscovered as a composer. Our selection, for flute with obbligato harpsichord, recalls C.P.E Bach’s style.

Kleinknecht’s near-exact contemporary Carl Friedrich Abel was a virtuoso gambist and composer as well as a business partner of C.P.E Bach’s younger brother Johann Christian, with whom he produced a series of London concerts between 1765 and 1781. While most of Abel’s compositions are in the light galant or pre-Classical style favored by J.C. Bach, the C-minor trio sonata on our program recalls the Empfindsamerstil (sensitive style, sometimes more appropriately described as the “quirky style”) of Carl Philipp Emanuel. In Brossard’s terms, the opening Adagio is surely to be played “with soul” – even if the soul in question is a more tortured one than Brossard might have had in mind. Chromaticisms, wide melodic intervals, and dramatic sighing motifs pervade this movement. By contrast, the musical building blocks of the fugal second movement could have been composed by J.S. Bach – but are combined in unconventional and unpredictable ways. The lively triple-meter finale is perhaps the most Classical movement of this trio.

While Abel’s adagio movement plays a major dramatic role in the C-minor trio, a typical Baroque slow movement, or slow section, acts primarily as a foil for more spirited movements or sections. In Dietrich Buxtehude’s D-major trio sonata, the lively, fugal outer movements are introduced by brief homophonic sections that could almost pass as fragments of chorale settings. Unique among this composer’s 14 published trio sonatas is the central Arietta with nine variations, although this movement is not really a theme and variations, but rather is composed over a ground (a repeated bass line) – a favorite device of Buxtehude’s.

Johann Sebastian Bach’s C-major flute sonata has come down to us only in a manuscript by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel – a manuscript that has generated some controversy among Bach scholars, in large part because of its somewhat lackluster bass line. Robert Marshall has suggested that the elder Bach may have composed this sonata for unaccompanied flute, possibly as a companion piece to the A-minor solo-flute partita (BWV 1013), and that the teenaged Carl Philipp Emanuel added the bass line as an academic exercise. Our flutist will perform the piece without continuo accompaniment. Arguably little or nothing is lost, especially in the first two movements, by an unaccompanied performance: the harmonies prescribed by the figured bass are already implicit in the flute part. Somewhat unusual for a high-Baroque sonata – it’s more characteristic of the pre-Classical or early Classical period – is the final movement, comprising a pair of minuets.

Of all the works on our program, François Couperin’s D-major concert perhaps comes the closest to a synthesis of the different spiritoso characters. Recall Brossard’s “judgment and discretion,” with its implication of “good taste” – a very French-Baroque notion – and compare the more modern “spirited” with its Italianate (think Vivaldi!) connotation. Certainly the French-Italian dichotomy, often characterized as a musical battle, is a recurring theme in the history of Baroque music. Around the turn of the 18 th century, a craze for the music of Arcangelo Corelli had French composers of Couperin’s generation, according to Brossard, “madly composing sonatas in the Italian manner,” and Couperin’s later works would explicitly embrace the “union of styles” (les goûts réünis). Our selection is in the form of a French suite, comprising a prelude, dance movements – the Air tendre is really a sarabande – and character pieces exhibiting a French sensibility, while the more extroverted Allemande fuguée and Air contrefugué are more Italianate.

Also Italianate, despite its title, is Georg Philipp Telemann’s first “ Paris” quartet for flute, violin, viola da gamba or cello, and continuo. It’s one of a set of six quartets that Telemann first published in Hamburg, then republished in Paris along with a second volume of quartets for the same instruments. The second set, written for four of Paris’ most prominent virtuosi, comprises six French-style suites, while the first set includes pieces entitled “Concerto” and “Sonata” (in the four-movement church-sonata form) as well as two suites. Our selection is a concerto in the broad Baroque sense of a “concerted” piece for a diverse group of instruments, but its presto movement borrows the Vivaldian ritornello structure (where the soloist, or group of soloists, is pitted against the ripieno group or orchestra), and all three obbligato instruments engage in brilliant virtuoso displays. There are no true slow movements – just brief grave and largo fragments that set off the quicker movements, bringing our season-long sonata to a spirited conclusion.

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