ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with guest KEITH COLLINS, Baroque bassoon and recorder
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 2 February 2013, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 3 February 2013, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
Trio sonata in E minor, op. 37/2 Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)
oboe, bassoon, continuo
Première suite de pièces à deux dessus sans basse Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, “le Romain” (1674-1763)
Sonata in F minor, from Der getreue Music-Meister Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767)
13e Concert, à deux instrumens à l’unisson François Couperin (1668-1733)
viola da gamba, bassoon
Sonata #6 in F major, book 1/6 William Babell (c. 1690-1723)
Trio sonata in A minor, RV 86 Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
The six composers represented on our program this weekend were active during the late Baroque (c. 1700-1750), and all incorporated musical traits characteristic of that time into their oeuvres. Yet their milieus and career choices heavily influenced the kinds of music they wrote and the specifics of their styles. Since the influence of royalty was waning in the Enlightenment of the 18th century, it’s particularly telling to note whether or not a composer chose to compose for court or for others.
Take our three French composers, for example. By 1700, the allure of court life at Versailles was clearly diminishing, while domestic music-making, popular theatre, and cultural salons where poetry and music and philosophy held sway—well, yes, flirting and gossiping, too—were burgeoning in Paris. François Couperin took advantage of both court and these newer venues, furnishing music for the aging and ill Louis XIV as well as for more informal performances, serving as organist for the church of Saint Gervais and also for the Royal Chapel, managing his own business in music publishing, and acquiring a reputation as an extraordinary harpsichordist and teacher. His music—for solo organ and harpsichord, chamber ensembles, vocalist with accompaniment—emerged from all these activities.
Among the best of Couperin’s chamber music are the 14 concerts he composed over several decades, culminating with those for the final years of Louis’s life, 1714-1715. These suites of dances and character pieces are almost wholly for one unspecified treble instrument with a figured bass line, although some movements expand to three parts. Two of the concerts, though, forgo the figured bass and feature two bass instruments: the entire twelfth concert is for two violas da gamba, and the thirteenth, our selection, is labeled for two instruments “at the unison,” which means they share the same range. The elegant dances in this suite would have appealed to Louis XIV, as he had danced them as a younger man.
Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, like Couperin, was born into a musical family. Perhaps more than Couperin, he divided his attention between town and court. (This Hotteterre took on the appellation “le Romain” after he’d studied and worked for a few years in Italy in his youth. The description also distinguishes him from other Martins in his large family.) Besides performing, the Hotteterres built and remodeled recorders, bassoons, flutes, oboes, and other winds. The remodeling was particularly significant in the development of literature for wind instruments, as it aimed to broaden these instruments’ expressive possibilities, stabilize their tuning, and increase their useable ranges. Jacques-Martin, indeed, composed the first French music for one and two unaccompanied flutes. In order to stretch the marketability of his op. 4 duos (1712), the title page suggests recorders, viols, and “other instruments” in addition to flutes for performance.
If Hotteterre was a successful composer and businessman, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier beat him hands down. Surely one of the most prolific and popular composers of any time, he held no official court post and had no patron, giving himself completely over to music-making in Paris, especially at the foires, or fairs, where there were theatres and outdoor stages. He sold his music directly to the public, gaining acclaim and great wealth from that enterprise. Much of his music, based on pleasant melodies with uncomplicated accompaniment, was written for amateurs. (Keep in mind that “amateur” means a music-lover, not necessarily someone of inferior musicianship or skill.) Besides vocal works, there are at least 500 instrumental pieces—an estimate, to be sure, since many have been lost—for a variety of scorings.
Interestingly, all three of these French composers penned “how-to-play” treatises. Boismortier’s have been lost, but Couperin’s is invaluable for harpsichordists, and one of Hotteterre’s elevated the flute to a respected position.
When we leave France, we find the same sorts of effects created by surroundings and clientele. The duties of both Antonio Vivaldi and Georg Phillip Telemann were tied to their respective religious establishments. Telemann in fact composed a great deal of music for the Lutheran churches of Hamburg—Vivaldi, less, but opportunities were fewer in the Roman Catholic tradition. Neither of these men, however, could claim to have concentrated on service within his faith. Telemann flaunted convention and defied his town council to continue his activities in the opera house and in the homes of middle-class music lovers. Vivaldi was employed off and on by a church-run orphanage for girls, where he taught them and composed concertos and other instrumental works, as well as large-scale sacred music, for them. Both men were incredibly prolific composers. Telemann, of apparently limitless energy, published some of his own music, organized several music periodicals for amateurs, and did sufficient traveling to become the most widely known and admired composer of his time. Vivaldi toured Europe, performing as a violinist, all the while searching hopefully for theatres he could convince to commission operas from him.
Der Getreue Music-Meister was one of Telemann’s periodicals. Typical of such serial publications of that era, each issue contained not articles and essays, but music, some by him and some submitted to him by others (e. g., Zelenka and J. S. Bach) for domestic use. Telemann intended the whole to be a compendium of styles and genres of his age. That is, the aim was didactic. Telemann published this periodical in 25 issues for about a year over 1728-1729, offering a “lesson” every two weeks. The music usually included a sonata or suite or cantata plus several smaller pieces, and even exercises for the subscriber to complete. (No final exam required!) Though the music never called for more than a few performers, the scoring might be surprising. Violin, recorder, and flute were frequently available in middle-class households, but, for example, perhaps no trumpet or horn! The bassoon sonata on our program is from this periodical.
Vivaldi was and is rightfully best known for his concertos, but he did leave us about 100 sonatas. Like Boismortier and Telemann, Vivaldi sometimes combined timbres in an unexpected way: here he highlighted recorder and bassoon.
An English composer who was active in both court and town was William Babell. He played violin in George I’s private orchestra but was also associated with London theatres and served as a church organist. In his short life, he composed mostly small-scale instrumental music rather than music for the king’s orchestra, and his slow movements became internationally known for their elaborate written-out ornamentation. (The oboe was mentioned as the most appropriate instrument for many of these sonatas.) His most brilliant pieces, though, were virtuosic keyboard arrangements of opera arias, especially Handel’s. Tradition has it that one of his “arrangements” was a transcription from memory of Handel’s keyboard version of an aria that he, Handel, used to exhibit his prowess at the harpsichord.