Program Notes for 2 April 2005

Some of Our Favorite Things…: Concert IV
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 2 April 2005, Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m., Sunday, 3 April 2005, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corra

L’Impériale, from Les Nations .......................................................................François Couperin (1668-1733)
Sonade: Gravement; Vivement; Gravement et marqué; Légèrement;
Rondement; Vivement

oboe, 2 violins, basso continuo (viola da gamba, harpsichord)

Sonata in D major ..............................................................................................Georg Muffat (c. 1653-1704)
Allegro; Adagio; Allegro; Adagio

violin, basso continuo (viola da gamba, harpsichord)

Trio Sonata in F major, after BWV 529 in C major ..............................Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

recorder, violin, basso continuo (viola da gamba, harpsichord)

Partia in A major, from Harmonia artificioso-ariosa............................................ Heinrich Biber (1644-1704)
Praeludium: Allegro
Amener: Presto
Ciacona: Canon in unisono

2 violins, basso continuo (viola da gamba, harpsichord)

Concerto in a minor....................................................................................... Francesco Mancini (1672-1737)

recorder, 2 violins, basso continuo (viola da gamba, harpsichord)

Program Notes

Since the favored treble instrument for ensemble music during the 17th and 18th centuries was indisputably the violin, and since the favored texture and scoring was for a trio of two violins and basso continuo, much Baroque repertory is, sadly, inaccessible to the Albuquerque Baroque Players. We’ve eased some restrictions by transcribing music that, though intended for strings, seems workable on winds. (You’ve probably heard complaints about this practice from our wind player, who often has to deal with a dearth of breathing places and with melodies that would be easier to negotiate on four strings!) Another, more direct way to expand our programming possibilities is to invite a guest violinist to join us, and that is what we’ve done for this set of concerts. We are delighted to welcome Stephen Redfield and hence to be able to perform some of the wonderful violin music of Biber, Mancini, and Muffat with him. His collaboration has also increased our options for timbre in the trio by Couperin.

All five pieces we’re playing were composed in the 50-year period between the late 1670s and the late 1720s, and all are either Italian-influenced or Italian. Yet together they serve as a reminder that variety was one of the dominant features of Baroque music. None of these pieces is quite like the others.

The earliest piece here is by organist Georg Muffat, who was for some years a colleague of Biber in Salzburg and who later became the chapelmaster in Passau. While he was still an adolescent, Muffat studied with Lully in Paris, and in his 30s he obtained a leave of absence from his employer to study with Pasquini in Rome, where he met and heard Corelli. Muffat is well documented as one of the most important transmitters of French and Italian styles into Germany, and we are indebted to him for including significant information about French and Italian performance practices in the forewords to his publications.

These two styles permeated Muffat’s own music, and he was and is best known for his dance suites and concerti grossi, along with organ music. In contrast, his violin sonata stands alone, the only extant chamber piece by Muffat. And what a marvelous piece it is! Hardly French or Corellian in style, it seems to harken back to earlier 17th-century Italian violin music. Some sections are free, some are virtuosic, one is fugal, one is gigue-like. Some slide into unanticipated enharmonic modulations or expressive chromatic inflections. Motives from the opening section—the only discrete movement—invade the rest of the piece, and after a sort of violin cadenza, a large part of this opening recurs, rounding out the piece very satisfactorily. One might seriously ask how a young composer could reach such accomplishment and then not heighten the achievement by composing more chamber works.

Muffat’s contemporary Heinrich Biber, the chapelmaster for the ecclesiastical court in Salzburg, was surely one of the great virtuoso violinists of his generation, and his solo violin sonatas reflect his capabilities and high standards. His trios aren’t as daunting or as unpredictable, but they are fine works, rich in harmony and counterpoint. Biber’s Harmonia artificioso-ariosa, consisting of seven trio suites, or partitas (partias) , was published in 1696. Perhaps he intended these pieces for his daughter, who followed in her father’s virtuosic footsteps, playing violin and viola d’amore.

Biber had broader compositional interests than Muffat, and he furnished the Salzburg establishment with vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular music, for various forces, large and small. He wasn’t as enamored as Muffat was of the French and Italian styles being imported into Germany, so he made a deliberate effort to avoid their direct influence. Even today his music seems strikingly original. A hallmark of much of his music, besides considerable technical demands on the violinists, is scordatura, or retunings. The A major suite, for example, requires two of each violin’s strings to be tuned up a step, meaning that open strings and multiple stops can be used to enhance the key of the piece. Listen to the opening 50-measure explosion on A major! Another hallmark is variation forms. Six of these seven suites include a set of variations, either on a melody or over a bass line. Our selection ends with a ciacona, with an obviously repeated pattern in the basso continuo. To complicate matters, the two upper parts are in canon, or exact imitation, throughout. Like the Muffat sonata, this ciacona incorporates a gigue-like section.

François Couperin’s environment was very unlike Muffat’s and Biber’s. Like Muffat, he was a touted organist, but mostly he was expected to provide music for the king’s pleasure—not an easy task. No doubt he was also composing for the salons in Paris, burgeoning despite (or because of) the gloom at court. In the 1690s, when Corelli’s sonatas became available in France, Couperin and many other French composers were attracted by the vivacity and brilliance of Italian style, and they took to composing Italianate ensemble pieces for the court and for whoever would buy them. Couperin even confessed that he took delight in disguising his name and pretending that his early sonades were by an Italian composer. Some French musicians were content to ape the Italian style, but Couperin’s eventual aim was to combine it with native French tendencies.

Besides solo pieces, called concerts, Couperin left nine trios that show the fruits of his Franco-Italian labors. Four of these trios, three of them expanded from the sonades of the 1690s, were published in 1726 as Les Nations: Sonades et Suites de Simphonies en Trio. Each group of pieces includes a multipartite sonata followed by a series of dances and character pieces. No treble instruments were named, nor was there any prohibition against doubling upper parts. The composer even suggested that a harpsichord alone might play the works. In general, one might say that the sonatas are Italianate, while the dances and other pieces wear French dress, but the two styles are sometimes subtly woven together. We will perform only the sonata of the trio called L’Impériale, which is the only work in this set that was completely new in the 1720s.

The only composer represented on our program who didn’t pay attention to the controversy over national styles was Francesco Mancini. A Neapolitan organist who fashioned himself as the rival of Alessandro Scarlatti but who didn’t supplant the more famous composer until Scarlatti was safely dead, Mancini wrote mostly vocal music, operas and serenatas and oratorios and church music. Oddly, several concertos by Mancini for recorder and strings were copied into a 1725 manuscript that also contains similar works by Scarlatti and others—oddly, because no one knows how these 24 pieces functioned and because their composers focused so strongly on vocal, not instrumental, music. Indeed, the author of the article on Mancini in the The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians finds Mancini’s instrumental writing “peculiar.” The recorder in the concerto we’ll perform acts like a member of a quartet at times and like a soloist at other times. In other words, the piece is sometimes a sonata and sometimes a concerto.

The same could be said about the Bach trio we’ll play, as it has elements of both these Italian genres, sontata and concerto. Bach composed this difficult piece, one of six such works, in the late 1720s for a single organist, possibly himself and possibly his son Wilhelm Friedemann. The keyboardist would play each of the two treble lines with one hand and the bass line with both feet. Using different registrations on two manuals of the organ for the two treble parts and yet a third registration for the pedals would ensure that all three lines would be clearly apparent. It’s thus a trio sonata—that is, in the favored Baroque texture. We’ve transcribed it into a more typical setting, for two treble instruments and a bass line played by two other instruments, and changed the key to accommodate instrumental ranges. The trio is also a concerto, as Bach’s formal structure is like that of a three-movement Vivaldi concerto. The outer movements are in ritornello form, where the opening theme returns in various keys between musical excursions using other ideas. The middle movement is similarly akin to many of Vivaldi’s, a slow and expressive cantilena over a slow-moving bass line. Bach’s own proclivities are most evident in the consistently contrapuntal textures and the tightness of the motivic construction.

In the four concerts of our 2004-2005 season, we’ve presented you with some of our favorite pieces and composers, but we certainly haven’t yet tackled all the music we love. Notice, for example, that—gasp!—there’s nothing by Telemann on this program. We’re sure that next year we’ll return to Telemann and to other really good Baroque music, and that we’ll discover new “favorites.” We hope to share these discoveries with you.



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