Program Notes for 29 April & 6 May, 2001

Program

La Agguzona.  Sonata a 3....................................................................................Biagio Marini (c. 1587-1665)
 and La Foscarina. Sonata a 3 con il tremolo

Canonic Sonata #5 in A..........................................................................Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
  Vivace
  Cantabile
  Scherzando

Suite in d minor.................................................................................................Nicola Matteis (fl. 1672-1700)
  Preludio:  Prestissimo
  Fuga in fantasia:  Presto
  Grave:  Adagio—Prestissimo—Adagio

Sonata in C, H. 515............................................................................Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
  Allegretto
  Andantino
  Allegro

Duettos #3 in G and #2 in F, BWV 804 and 803......................................Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Trio sonata in a minor........................................................................................................................Telemann
  Largo
  Vivace
  Affetuoso
  Allegro

Program Notes

The question we Albuquerque Baroque Players are asked most often doesn't concern composers' biographies, or the construction and sound of Baroque instruments, or subtleties of musical decisions we must make, but something more basic:  how can one tell from the titles on the program how many of us will be coming out to play each piece?  After all, if we were presenting works by Beethoven or Brahms, a trio would require three performers, and a quartet, four.  So how can an ABP program describe a work as a trio, while the audience clearly sees four persons and four instruments on stage?  And if we accept that a trio can be played by four persons, why isn't a quartet always played by five?  Even more confusing, how can two persons—or even one, sometimes!—perform a trio?

The simple answer is that the titles of Baroque chamber pieces, unlike titles of later works, indicate only the number of written musical lines, not the number of performers.  But a fuller answer isn't so glibly given.  Composers aren't consistent in the titles they use, and they expected performers to make changes in their scores.  Ensembles, then, have choices to make in scoring, or in assigning instruments to parts.  Moreover, the realization of the continuo line, or the filling out of the harmony, doesn't count as a numbered musical part even if the realization furnishes many, many extra notes!

Normally, a Baroque composer of chamber music wrote out a part for each soloist and a bass line, the (basso) continuo.  This bass line might have numbers and other signs above or below it, which indicate harmonies to be added, or the realization.  Instruments that can most easily accommodate adding chords are keyboards (harpsichords, organs, and, later, fortepianos) and plucked strings (lutes, theorbos, chittarones, and Baroque guitars).  A bass viola da gambist can also play chords, but it's more awkward.  Sometimes pieces sound fine without a realization, in which case the keyboardist is dispensed with, since it would look quite odd for the keyboard player to use only the left hand, playing only one line of music.

Here's a typical example.  A trio sonata—let's save the slippery word "sonata" for future program notes!—has three musical lines written by the composer.  Three instrumentalists, one for each line, could perform this work adequately.  If two continuo players are used, that makes four performers.  In many modern performances, this grouping is the normal one.  Even more than two continuo players might work well, especially in 17th-century music, adding up to five or more players for only three musical lines!  As another variant, an adept keyboardist might be able to play the whole piece, all three lines, on just one instrument.  Similarly, the same piece could be refashioned for two performers, a keyboardist for the continuo line plus one of the solo lines, and another instrument for the third line.

So far, you might be thinking that the musical line offering the most options and creating the most confusion is the basso continuo.  In general, that's true, but there are in fact pieces, especially from France, in which solo lines might be shared among instruments or even doubled.  This means you could read the title "trio" on the program but see what looks like a small orchestra on stage!

Let's use the selections on our program as examples.  They come from 17th- and 18th-century Italy, Germany, and England.  We'll tell you more about the music and composers during the concert.  The pieces include duos, trios, and quartets, but we will perform each with, as our program title indicates, "twos and fours."  We'll begin with a quartet (for four), then play a duo (for two), a trio (for four), a trio (for two), and a duo (for two), and end with a trio (for four).

The duos on our program are the Canonic Sonata by Telemann and the two Duettos from the Clavier-Übung III by Bach.  One of twelve such pieces by Telemann, the Canonic Sonata was written for two flutes or violins.  We're using another common instrument of the time, an oboe, along with a violin, but it's hard to imagine making any more substantial changes.  For example, playing the piece on a single keyboard instrument wouldn't highlight the two lines very well.  In contrast, since Bach's Duettos are part of a collection for keyboard, they were presumably intended for a single performer, but they work very well for two separate instruments.  Adding more performers would probably only confuse the already complex texture.

There are three trios on our concert, two of them to be performed in our renditions in exactly the same way, the Matteis suite and the Telemann trio sonata.  Each of these two works was composed for two solo treble instruments and continuo.  Matteis's suite was originally for two violins;  we're substituting a recorder for one of them.  We've retained the original scoring for the Telemann trio.  For both pieces, viol and harpsichord will function as the continuo team, the viol playing the bass line and the harpsichord playing the bass line and fleshing out the harmony.  The C. P. E. Bach sonata is quite different, as the keyboard part includes the bass line along with a written-out, melodic right-hand part.  The right-hand line serves effectively as a "soloist" equal in importance to the oboe line (originally written for flute).  Sometimes this type of piece is called an obbligato sonata, meaning that the keyboard part is to be played as written, and that it's not merely an accompaniment.

The two remaining pieces on the concert, sonatas by Marini, are quartets, composed for two solo treble instruments, one solo bass instrument, and basso continuo.  Since there are only four Albuquerque Baroque Players, we don't have the option of doubling the continuo line with a second instrument, but if we had another bass player—a bassoonist, for example, or another gambist—we might successfully do that.

Because modern audiences are becoming increasingly sophisticated about style in older music, it's probably fairly well known that composers during the Baroque era expected performers to have a lot of choice about ornamentation, tempo, dynamics, and articulation.  It's perhaps less well known that the realm of choice might include such basics as how many performers would play a piece and which instruments they would use.

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