Baroque Spring - A Journey
What’s this? We promised you a Baroque spring, and yet here we are presenting a mix of Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque works. Then again, it is only with a backwards glance that artistic periods are defined. Indeed, Baroque architecture precedes Baroque music, so perhaps our desire to tie up entire artistic periods with ornate bows (in the case of the Baroque, very ornate), is to oversimplify. Read on to learn more.
Alphonso X El Sabio
Cantiga de Santa Maria
This evening we begin with a simple tune by an extraordinary Spanish Monarch known as Alphonso X El Sabio (1221-1284). El Sabio (The Wise) was known for his extraordinary and sophisticated range of knowledge and talents, in everything from mathematics to law to music. While his plans to undermine the Papacy and substitute himself for the German Emperor didn’t pan out, he was still beloved in his homeland. One of his pastimes was to write melodies to verses in praise of the Virgin Mary (Cantigas de Santa Maria), and we’ve selected one of 400 such works to present to you.
Ricercada No. 5
Skipping forward a few hundred years, and we come across a prominent gamba (predecessor of the modern cello) player and composer, Diego Ortiz (c. 1510-c. 1576), who published in 1553 the Trattado de Glosas Sobre Clausulas Y Otros Generos de Puntos en la Musica de Violines Nuevamente Puestos en Luz. This mouthful of a treatise focused on instrumental performance practice of the time and contains the largest body of Renaissance gamba music extant. The Ricercada No. 5 heard this evening is from this treatise, and features a ground bass (repeating bass pattern) known as the Passamezzo Antiguo. If it were in major they would call it the Passamezzo Moderna. In any event, over this the viol (in this case, flute, oboe, and violin), take turns playing ever more elaborate melodies.
Hurtling to the blurry lines when Renaissance turns to Baroque, we encounter Frenchman Jean-Marie Leclair (May 10, 1697 - October 22, 1764), and his Tambourin for Flute, Violin, Continuo, and Percussion. One of the distinctions between Renaissance and Baroque music is the assignment of instruments. Up until this point, composers often simply wrote out parts for different voice types — soprano, alto, tenor, bass — to be performed by whatever instrument was available. In fact, we’ve taken advantage of this tradition several times already in this program. And we continue to do so here. Leclair was an incredibly talented violinist who did much to advance the performance practice of the instrument. He wrote vocal music, stage music, even an opera, but he is most well known for his dozens of sonatas for one or two violins. The Tambourin is the final movement of the third sonata from the Fourth Book of sonatas. Fritz Kreisler made an arrangement of this very work for piano and violin, but placed it in C major instead of the original D major. Why? The world may never know, but you can simply soak in the joyful, carefree nature of this little stunner, with a little extra percussion added in to help the work live up to its name.
Concerto in G minor RV 103
While Leclair was helping establish the “French” school of violin playing, another great violinist by the name of Antonio Vivaldi (March 4, 1678 - July 28, 1741) had already been dominating Italy with his own inimitable style. With over 500 concertos (most written for the orphaned girls and young women under his charge at the Ospedale della Pietà) and well over 100 additional works to his name, Vivaldi was not only one of the Baroque’s most prolific composers, but among its greatest. The Concerto in G minor for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Continuo, RV 103, is unusual in his output, both because it is a triple concerto, and also because it is written in such a way as it can be performed unaccompanied. In the Fast-Slow-Fast three movement form that Vivaldi pioneered and standardized for concerti going forward for hundreds of years, the work gives each of the solo instruments it’s due, while relying on those not taking the solo line to fill out the orchestration. For this concert the harpsichord will be included, adding depth and richness.
While the Saltarello is a “hopping” dance, the next work on the program, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Sonata Representativa for Violin and Continuo, imitates an actual hopper, namely a frog, among many other animals. Biber (August 12, 1644 - May 3, 1704), was a Bohemian-Austrian composer who, like Leclair and Vivaldi, was a master violinist, and had a broad compositional output from operas to sacred music to chamber music. But, he is most well remembered for his brilliant and imaginative violin works. Among them is the Sonata Representativa from around 1669, which uses the violin to brilliantly replicate the actual sounds of a number animals one might encounter whilst out and about, including a human in the form of a marching musketeer.
Joan Ambrosio Dalza
Saltarello Alla Veneziana
Staying in Italy, but stepping back about 200 years or so, we turn to the music of Joan Ambrosio Dalza (flourished 1508), a lutenist and composer who very little is known about. What we do know is that his music was included in Ottaviano Dei Petrucci’s fourth volume of collected lute music in 1508. Included were 42 dances, nine ricercars, four lute arrangements of vocal works, and an original work. Among the dances is the Saltarello Alla Veneziana (Venitian Saltarello). A Saltarello is a sprightly, hopping Medieval Italian dance typically in three, which is the case here.
Johann Friedrich Fasch
Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Continuo
A couple of generations after Biber, German composer Johann Friedrich Fasch (15 April 1688 – 5 December 1758), started his musical path as a choirboy in Weissenfells, before studying composition and law in Leipzig. He held numerous posts, including as violinist in Bayreuth and organist in Zietz, before being appointed in 1722 as court Kapellmeister in Zerbst, where he remained until his death. He is known to have composed one Passion, 14 masses, some 100 church cantatas, 60 concerti, 4 operas, overtures, orchestral suites, symphonies, and trio sonatas like the Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Violin, and Continuo we hear today. The quality of his output and his fame was enough to make him a contender for the post of Kantor of the Thomasschule in Liepzig against J.S. Bach, but he withdrew his name from consideration. Bach, for his part, deeply admired Fasch, and copied out 5 of his orchestral suites. Unfortunately, most of Fasch’s music was lost to history, and none of it was published in his lifetime. However, we have this lovely sonata, written in the standard slow-fast-slow-fast movement configuration popular at the time. Upon hearing it, one can easily understand why Bach thought so highly of this underrated composer.
We head back to Italy for our fiery finale, with the innocent sounding Chaconne for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Continuo, and Percussion by Andrea Falconieri (born 1585, died 1656, Naples). Although little is known about Falconieri’s early years, he was Court lutenist of Parma by the age of 25. There he composed songs, motets, and chamber music. Only a few years later, he quit without the Duke’s permission and took off for stints in the courts of Mantua, Florence, and Rome. He got married in Modena in 1621, but soon was off to Spain, alone. In 1632, he took a post teaching at Santa Brigida Convent, but in 1637 the Mother Superior demanded he leave because his music was “disturbing the nuns.” The prodigal son returned to Naples in 1639 as lutenist in the royal chapel, and was eventually promoted to Maestro di Cappella in 1647. The Chaconne we hear tonight was published in 1650, and one can infer from its verve, joie de vivre, and straightforward virtuosity that, taken with his peripatetic lifestyle, Falconieri may have been an early model for a modern day rock star. He certainly had the name for it.