Concert II: J. S. Bach, His Inheritance, and His Legacy
Trio Sonata in F major………………………………………………………...…..Antonio Lotti (1667-1740)
recorder, viola da gamba, continuo
Sonata in g minor, Wq. 135………………….……………………..Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Vivace, with three variations
Selected pieces in a minor from Books 3 and 4…………………………………Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Sautillante, with Double [variation]
Muzettes 1 and 2
viola da gamba, continuo
Sonata in C major…………………………………………………………………………...…………..Graun
Suite in e minor……………………………………………………………….Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
Sarabande, with Double [variation]
Trio sonata in F major, from organ trio in C major, BWV 529……………………..J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
recorder, obbligato harpsichord, continuo
In this second concert of our series “J.S. Bach, his Inheritance, and his Legacy,” we continue our exploration of Bach’s musical world. As before, we’ll be presenting music by Bach himself, by composers whose work he studied, and by his musical heirs – most notably his son Carl Philipp Emanuel.
For exemplars of Bach’s musical inheritance, our first program focused on Italian influences: the instrumental canzonas of Girolamo Frescobaldi and the violin sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. This time we’ll look at the French, and French-influenced, dance suite, which was to play a prominent role in Bach’s output – as witness the suites for unaccompanied cello, the partitas (somewhat of a catchall term that was often synonymous with “suite”) for violin and for harpsichord, and the four orchestral suites or overtures. We’ll perform two contrasting suites, one by Johann Pachelbel and one by Marin Marais. Both of these composers were represented in the library of Bach’s older brother Christoph, who had studied with Pachelbel and who was probably Johann Sebastian’s first – and possibly only – keyboard teacher.
Pachelbel’s e-minor harpsichord suite is of the “classic” type, consisting of a standardized sequence of binary dance forms and possibly rooted in early French lute music. The character of this suite is predominantly French, especially in the Allemande and in the Courante, where our harpsichordist will be using notes inégales, a uniquely French performance practice in which certain rhythms are “swung” rather than played in strict time. Only in the Double, or variation, of the Sarabande does a more Italianate style come to the fore. Incidentally, Pachelbel’s suites as a group anticipate the Well-Tempered Clavier in their tonal organization; they’re ordered according to key, though unlike the preludes and fugues of the WTC they don’t exceed four sharps or four flats.
The suites of Marin Marais are more loosely organized than Pachelbel’s or Bach’s. Most are too long to perform at a sitting, and it’s understood that performers will pick and choose a selection of movements (or pièces) from a given suite – or even from two or more different suites in the same key. Marais’ suites contain both dances and descriptive pieces, and most include a prelude. The preludes tend to be improvisatory in character, reflecting their origins in lute music, and the expressive capabilities of the viola da gamba allow for a more “vocal” and declamatory character as well. In addition to a prelude, we’ve selected three dance-based descriptive pieces; the Muzettes in particular have a pastoral flavor that is quintessentially French.
For our Bach selection we return to the more Italianate trio sonata. And – a relatively rare occurrence for ABP – we will be performing this trio sonata with exactly three musicians! As we and our audiences have discovered over the years, a Baroque “trio” comprises three musical lines but can involve anywhere from one to four (or possibly more) performers. Our selection is one of six originally composed for the organ, probably as teaching pieces for Bach’s eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. Thus the “performers” in the original scoring are the organist’s two hands and, working together on the bass line, two feet. In the past, we’ve played this piece in a more standard trio-sonata configuration: violin and recorder on the treble lines with harpsichord and viola da gamba supplying the basso continuo. This time we’ll play the same music (minus the realization of the continuo), scored for recorder and obbligato harpsichord with the viola da gamba reinforcing the pedal line. As mentioned above, this piece shows Italian influences – specifically, the influence of the Vivaldian concerto, with its three-movement (fast-slow-fast) scheme, ritornello structures, and violinistic writing.
The other Italian trio sonata on our program is by Antonio Lotti, best known for his operas and church music; Bach’s library included a Kyrie and Gloria from one of his masses. The scoring of the F-major trio sonata is somewhat anomalous for a late-Baroque Italian composer: the viola da gamba had long since given way to the cello on the Italian peninsula, and the transverse flute, for which the piece was originally scored, is more characteristic of French or German music. (In fact, Lotti was born in Hannover and worked for two years in Dresden.) Lotti is known as a skilled contrapuntist equally at home in the high Baroque style and the lighter style galant of the 18th century. Our selection is in sonata da chiesa (slow-fast-slow-fast) form and includes some contrapuntal and motivic work, but the overall effect is galant: largely homophonic and melody-dominated, with a relatively slow and regular harmonic rhythm.
Bach’s second-eldest son Carl Philipp Emanuel also worked in the style galant – not least because this was the preferred style of Frederick the Great, his employer for thirty years. Much of his finest work, however, is in the later Empfindsamerstil or “sensitive style,” where music might attempt to reflect volatile human feelings through unpredictable shifts in melody, harmony, rhythm, or dynamics. The oboe sonata was probably written in 1735, while the 21-year-old Bach was studying law in Frankfurt, and already shows the beginnings of a strikingly individual style – perhaps even adumbrating the Empfindsamerstil with its somewhat melancholy character, expressive melodic contours, and changeable, quirky rhythms. The final movement is a particularly intriguing blend of old and new. It’s a set of variations over a chaconne bass, but with a break in the chaconne-bass pattern at the beginning of the second section of each variation. Moreover, this movement has the character of a minuet, a standard type of finale in the galant sonata.
Our remaining selection, a sonata for flute –
we’re using recorder – and continuo, was written by either Johann
Gottlieb Graun or his brother Carl Heinrich Graun (the one extant manuscript
source, done by a copyist, attributes the piece only to a “Signor Graun”).
Like C.P.E. Bach, the Graun brothers were employed at the court of Frederick
the Great, and Johann Gottlieb taught violin to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. We
won’t try to speculate on which of the two wrote this sonata; suffice
it to say that, again like C.P.E. Bach, the composer shows a highly individual
musical style within the framework of the style galant.
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