Program Notes for 5 & 6 February 2005


A Few of Our Favorite Things…: Concert III
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 5 February 2005, Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m., Sunday, 6 Feb. 2005, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

Balletto and corrente quinto, from op. 8 ..................................................Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692)
Ciaccona, from op. 7

recorder, violin, continuo (viol, harpsichord)


9e Concert, intitulé Ritratto dell’Amore ..........................................................François Couperin (1668-1733)
Le Charme: Gracieusement, et gravement
L’enjouement: Gayement
Les Graces: Courante françoise
Le Je-ne-scay-quoy: Gayement
La Vivacité
Sarabande, La noble fierté: Gravement
La Douceur: Amoureusement
L’et Coetera, ou Menuets

oboe d’amore, continuo (viol, harpsichord)


Sonata in A major, BWV 1015 ...............................................................Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
(Dolce)
Allegro
Andante un poco
Presto

violin, obbligato harpsichord


***intermission***


Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1038 ..............................................................................................................Bach
Largo
Vivace
Adagio
Presto

oboe, violin, continuo (viol, harpsichord)

Pièces in D major ......................................................................................................Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Prélude: Lentement
Fantaisie
Les Voix humaines
Rondeau

viol, continuo (harpsichord)


Trio Sonata in a minor, TWV 42:a 4 ......................................................eorg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Largo
Vivace
Affettuoso
Allegro

recorder, violin, continuo (viol, harpsichord)


Program Notes


Though some of our selections for this season’s concerts have including pieces by less-than-famous composers, our program for this weekend presents, with one exception, very familiar names.

The exception is Giovanni Battista Vitali, cellist and maestro di cappella in Bologna, his home town, and Modena, where he worked under the patronage of the powerful Este family from 1674 until his death. In both cities, he was active in local academies as well as in his jobs. Since academies often supported what was considered learned music, Vitali’s 1689 collection of 60 contrapuntal pieces arranged in order of difficulty probably arose out of this connection. The significance of this publication is brought clearly into focus by mentioning the finest and most elaborate of its descendants, Bach’s Musical Offering. Vitali was important in another realm, too, a more modern one: the development of the trio sonata. The sonatas of Vitali and of other Bolognese composers were notably influential on the famous Corelli, who in turn became internationally recognized and imitated.

ABP is performing neither contrapuntal work nor trio sonata, but a few selected dances from Vitali’s op. 7 and 8, printed in 1682 and 1683, respectively. A balletto might be a general term for dance music, or it might indicate an introductory movement, often related to an allemande, for a group of dances. A corrente is a fast Italian dance in triple meter. By the 1680s, the ciaccona was a set of continuous variations, using conventional rhythmic and melodic figures, over a brief harmonic sequence. Again, the name of Bach might be invoked, this time for the monumental ciaccona that concludes the partita in d minor for solo violin.

Another composer influenced strongly by Italian instrumental music was François Couperin, called “le Grand.” When several of Corelli’s publications of trios became available in France in the 1690s, many French composers felt prompted to create their own sonatas. What perhaps caught their fancy were the contrasts between French grace and delicacy and Italian robustness and brilliance, between French extra-musical implications and Italian abstractions, between French homophony and Italian polyphony. Couperin, naming Corelli as his inspiration yet claiming not to discredit his native French style, consciously made an effort to combine French and Italian traits in his music.

Our selection comes from Couperin’s Goûts-réunis, ou nouveaux concerts of 1724. Its ten suites, or concerts, a continuation of the four already printed in 1722 as the Concerts royaux, were performed at court to entertain Louis XIV during his final years in the mid 1710s, and they may have existed even earlier, as French composers were not always quick to publish their music. Couperin specified instrumentation only rarely, and he listed the harpsichord, violin, flute, oboe, and bassoon as possibilities. The eighth and ninth suites are the largest of the fourteen concerts. We performed the eighth last September using a multiplicity of instrumental timbres—oboe, violin, bassoon, harpsichord—and now we tackle the ninth using only one treble instrument, the dark-hued oboe d’amore, with continuo. Though this ninth concert is subtitled in Italian—the title means A Portrait of Love—each movement has a French title, and few movements if any are in a unrelieved Italian style. Perhaps “La Vivacité” seems most Italian, and the final two pieces are surely Italian minutes, not French ones. Some movements are dances even though they lack that designation: L’enjouement,” for example, is an allemande, and “La Douceur” is a forlane.

In contrast to Couperin, Marin Marais was a French composer hardly touched by the craze for Italianisms. His operas are decidedly French, as are the pieces in his five books of music for viola da gamba and continuo. Marais was a virtuoso gambist and a teacher as well as a composer, and he marked his viol music abundantly with detailed performance indications: bowings, fingerings, and ornaments. He expounded further on these matters and more in the prefaces to his publications.

Like Couperin’s, Marais’s suites, or ordres, consist of a variety of dances and character pieces and no particular number of them. Also like Couperin’s, Marais’s might be played, according to the composer, on different instruments. It’s obvious, though, in the ornaments and expression, that Marais had his own instrument in his ear and mind. All of our selections are in D major, and most come from Marais’s book 3 (1711). “Les voix humaines,” a lovely piece with a mysterious title, is taken from book 2 (1701). All four are character pieces.

Johann Sebastian Bach has already been cited twice in these notes. Indeed, it’s difficult not to mention Bach when speaking of Baroque music! We’ll play two pieces by him, a trio sonata for two treble instruments with continuo and a, shall we say, manipulated trio sonata for violin and keyboard. Bach on numerous occasions took an established texture or genre or style and rescored it or used it in unanticipated circumstances. In this sonata, the violin and the right hand of the harpsichordist are the treble lines, while the left hand of the harpsichordist furnishes the bass. To be sure, there was a taste for what were termed “accompanied” sonatas in the 18th century, but Bach’s six sonatas for violin, his four for flute, and his three for viola da gamba, all with elaborate written-out harpsichord parts, go far beyond them: while in an accompanied sonata, the instrumental line other than the keyboard could usually be dispensed with or incorporated into the keyboard part, in Bach’s trios of this type both of the instruments are absolutely essential as equals.

Both of the Bach sonatas are in the Italian sonata da chiesa format, with four movements arranged in a slow-fast-slow-fast sequence. Slow movements tend to be affective, and many movements are imitative. The third movement of the A major sonata is especially clever: even while it maintains its intensely expressive nature, the two melody lines proceed in strict canon over a bass line that ticks along like a clock.

Ah, Telemann. How could ABP present a concert lacking a piece by the prolific and versatile Georg Philipp Telemann? The trio sonata we’ve chosen, another sonata da chiesa, is well known and much recorded and performed. Telemann published it in 1739/40 as part of his Essercizi, a set of twelve solo sonatas and twelve trio sonatas for six different instruments in various combinations. He’d probably composed it in the 1720s, near the beginning of his long tenure in Hamburg, where he worked from 1721 until his death. The piece is witty and a bit reckless, showing a cosmopolitan and popular style that sometimes masks the composer’s careful artistry.


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