Program Notes for 9 & 10 September 2006

Saturday, 9 Sept. 2006, at Los Altos Christian Church

Sunday, 10 Sept. 2006, at The Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

A Musical Banquet: Apéritifs and Hors d’oeuvres

La Treccha.............................................................................................................Tarquinio Merula (1594/95-1665)
La Cattarina

recorder, violin, continuo

 

Suite in E b major...............................................................................................................Georg Böhm (1661-1733)
Allemande
Courante
Sarabande
Gigue

harpsichord

2 e Récréation (selections)...................................................................................Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764)
Ouverture
Sarabande
Menuets
Badinage
Chaconne
Tambourin

oboe, recorder, violin, continuo

 

INTERMISSION

 

Sonata in F major.................................................................................................Alessandro Besozzi (1702-1793)
[Moderato]
Andante
Allegro

oboe, continuo

 

Sonnerie de S te Geneviève du Mont de Paris...........................................................Marin Marais (1656-1728)

violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Trio Sonata in C major............................................................................Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756)
Adagio
Alla breve
Largo
Gigue: Presto

oboe, violin, continuo

 

Some of the jewelry worn by the Albuquerque Baroque was created and donated to us by Terri Reck. We thank her very much!

Program Notes

For our 2006-2007 season, we offer you fine dining through music, a real musical feast, beginning with selections to prepare your palate for what’s to come in future concerts. We’ll lead you through a satisfying meal of elegance, whimsy, substance, and varied textures and tastes and colors. But beware, you gourmet concert-goers: though we might have convinced our male auxiliary, aka spouses, to serve up intermission tidbits to echo our first course, we doubt they’ll be so accommodating when it comes to soups and entrées!

None of the composers represented on this concert is very famous. To be sure, Marais is a favorite among viol players, and the name Goldberg might resonate with anyone who has heard of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Still, the average music-lover doesn’t hear much about the six composers whose music we are sampling on this program. For that reason, and not because the pieces we’ll play are negligible, we think of them as whetters of musical appetite.

Of the six, Tarquinio Merula is probably the least known—by anyone, including practicing musicians. Yet in his day he was quite progressive. An organist and a violinist as well as a composer, he traveled and worked in Poland and in various cities in his native Italy, enjoying both church and court appointments. His instrumental canzonas from the 1630s began to broaden the earlier 17th-century canzona structure, so that sections became longer and more developed. During that decade, he seems to have been especially fond of ostinatos, or brief repeated patterns. Each of the two canzonas we’ll perform, given titles whose meaning is lost, contains several of these patterns, some more obvious than others. Each of them ends with the same material as it began, rounding out the form rather than leaving it open-ended.

History books tout Georg Böhm as an important figure in the development of the chorale partita (a series of variations on a Lutheran hymn tune) and an influence on J. S. Bach. Böhm worked as organist for many years in the North German city of Lüneburg, where Bach lived under the tutelage of his brother for a brief period in his youth. Böhm’s own merits are best heard in his keyboard music, notably in a few large preludes and fugues for organ and eleven dance suites for harpsichord. French dances are often the models for Böhm’s dances, but he superimposes on that style his personal penchant for rhythmically quirky figuration, unexpected harmonic “purple patches,” and wide-ranging melodies.

If Leclair’s name is at all familiar to modern audiences, the likely reason is that he was murdered, possibly by a nephew. Before that sad end, though, he led a particularly colorful life. Lace-maker, dancer, and violinist, he received his musical training mostly in Italy, then became famous enough to secure positions and engagements and publishers in Paris, The Hague, London, and Germany. Most of his jobs were of brief duration, however, because he clearly had a knack for angering people. (Recall the murderous nephew.) Leclair’s style is heavily Italianate, but he could never completely distance himself from his French background. Nor, apparently, could he avoid moments of pure silliness in his music. In the trio from which we’ve excerpted movements, the Badinage is simply playful and uncomplicated. Even the Chaconne, usually of noble character, contains episodes of genuine farce. The piece ends with a Tambourin, a lively theatre dance over simulated drumbeats.

Alessandro Besozzi rivals Merula as least-known composer on our program. He came from a musical Italian family. Indeed, it’s speculated that many of his hundreds of chamber works should be attributed jointly to him and to his brother Paolo Girolamo. Surely our selection, an oboe sonata, is Alessandro’s own, for he became a virtuoso oboist. In that capacity, he worked in Parma and Turin and earned great acclaim in Paris when he was barely in his 20s. Besozzi’s style is quite galant, light and tuneful, and he, like Leclair, occasionally permits a certain silliness to emerge. At the same time, he makes serious demands on the oboist.

Another virtuoso, gambist Marin Marais, was sufficiently comfortable in his court appointments that he could afford largely to ignore the Italian style, which was so attractive to his contemporaries. Though he composed four full-scale operas, Marais’s most significant output encompasses several books of dances and character pieces—his term—focusing on viola da gamba. One of the character pieces in trio texture is the Sonnerie, as its title is usually abbreviated. The ostinato of the Ste Geneviève du Mont church bells lies in the continuo, where it goes through some key changes and occasionally breaks out into livelier rhythms, while the violin and viol overlay it with continuous variations. Presumably such a piece could go on forever, but Marais does bring it to a gentle close.

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is perhaps less well known as a composer than as the alleged first performer of J. S. Bach’s so-called Goldberg Variations, although the story of his playing these very difficult Variations for his insomniac employer is certainly apocryphal. To be sure, Goldberg was reputedly an amazing talent, but if he studied with or knew old Bach at all, he would have been a mere boy in 1741, when the Variations were printed. A second controversy revolves around this same Goldberg, and it concerns the Trio Sonata in C major that’s on our program. Goldberg’s life was so short—even shorter than Mozart’s—he could hardly have developed a convincing style for his own compositions. Yet all the works that are safely ascribed to him, whatever their style, are in a more modern idiom than the C major trio. Despite this and other evidence to the contrary, many scholars remain reluctant to give up the possibility that old Bach wrote this piece, which was in fact given a BWV number (1037) in the 19th century. Whoever wrote it can be commended for the harmonic and contrapuntal richness of the two slow movements, the complex double fugue in the second movement, and the rhythmic vitality of the final gigue. Of all the pieces on this program, this is the least like an hors d’oeuvre.

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