Notes on the Program
Sacramento Baroque Soloists
March 9 & 10, 2013
Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713) – Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6 No. 1
Roger North spoke of Corelli’s works, “wch are to ye musitians like ye bread of life.” Corelli was the founder of a Roman school whose influence touched practically every violinist in Europe. He had widespread fame as a composer and was the teacher of Geminiani, Locatelli, Veracini, and Somis, who taught Leclair. His works were published repeatedly throughout Europe and were seen as models of style for their purity and poise. Although the twelve concerti grossi were published in 1714, some of them must have been composed thirty years earlier, according to the testimony of Georg Muffat, but Corelli, continually polishing, was unwilling to publish them until his death, leaving instructions for their publication in his will. His opus 6 concerti grossi resemble trio sonatas with orchestral reinforcement and echo effects. In many ways the concerto grosso was the precursor of the solo concerto, as it was the opposition of a solo trio against an orchestra. The Concerto Grosso we hear tonight is in chamber sonata form, with alternating dance-like movements.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - “Spring” from The Four Seasons, “La Notte,” Cello Concerto in A minor
Venice in the 18th century was best known as a center for revelry and high living. Europeans traveled from afar to attend the theater, opera, concerts and the masked revelries of Carnival. In the midst of this extravagance Antonio Vivaldi made his fame as a violinist and composer of concertos, opera, chamber music, and church music.
Born the son of a violinist at the Basilica of San Marco, Vivaldi was raised to be a priest and a musician. He was ordained in 1703 but was unable to say mass due to a chronic bronchial ailment; soon thereafter he took a position as violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta, a school for orphaned girls. Soon the school was regarded as the best music school in northern Italy, as illustrated by the bronze plaque attached to the outside of the south wall calling down the threat of “fulmination” (being struck by lightening) on anyone who attempted to pass off his legitimate daughter as an illegitimate one in order to get her accepted into the music school. Noblemen paid for the privilege of sending their daughters to the school, which at one time had as many as 6000 students.
Vivaldi held the position of violin teacher at the Pieta from 1703 to 1738, also taking on the post of “maestro de concerti.” In this position he wrote over 400 concertos to be performed by his students at weekly Sunday concerts. Screened by lattices, the girls played for the public, who were not allowed to applaud but rather had to cough, hem and blow their noses to express admiration. By 1709, Vivaldi’s concertos were famous throughout Europe and Vivaldi soon spent much of his time traveling.
In Venice, Vivaldi was known for his violin performances in the opera interlude, when he would nearly frighten the audience with virtuostic displays. He applied this virtuosity to his concertos, which heavily influenced violin technique as well as the concerto form. Until this point concertos had relied heavily on counterpoint and polyphony. Vivaldi brought a dramatic simplicity to the form and created a structure which led to the classical concerto.
Vivaldi’s concertos usually follow a three- movement pattern, beginning with an Allegro, followed by a slow movement in the dominant key, ending with another Allegro. The fast movements follow ritornello form, in which the opening orchestral tutti alternates with episodic material played by the soloist. Simple techniques such as scale passages, arpeggios, and broken thirds achieve dramatic effects, with Vivaldi’s powerful and vital rhythmic sense driving the music and continually surprising the audience. He was the first composer to give the slow movement, with its slow cantabile melody, equal importance to the faster movements.
The Concerto in E major RV 269, La Primavera “Spring” was published in 1725. It had most certainly been played for years and was highly edited and polished. It is probably the most famous of Vivaldi’s programmatic concertos, in which the music was descriptive of nature and in fact was written to narrate an anonymous sonnet.
The sonnet is translated to read as follows:
(Mvt. 1) Spring has come, and birds greet it
Festively with a cheerful song;
And with the breath of gentle breezes
Springs trickle with a sweet murmur.
Lightning and thunder, elected to announce it,
Come and cover the air with a black cloak.
Once they are quiet, the birds Return to their enchanting song.
(Mvt. 2) Then on the pleasant, flowered meadow
A goatherd, with his faithful dog at his side,
Sleeps to the sweet murmur of fronds and plants.
(Mvt. 3) To the festive sound of a rustic bagpipe
Nymphs and shepherds dance under the beloved canopy
At the brilliant appearance of spring.
The birds’ sweet chirping and the violent shakes and sweeps of thunder and lightning are easily identified in the first movement. In the slow movement the viola plays a startling sound of a barking dog. The third movement concludes with a rustic dance accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.
Vivaldi wrote the first bona fide cello concertos, 27 to be precise. The Cello Concerto in A minor RV 420 is an important early contribution to the cello repertoire, written as early as 1708. He follows the usual three-movement form, with the unusual exception that the solo cello begins the concerto with a first movement Andante. We have chosen to contrast an organ and cello continuo in the solo with a harpsichord continuo in the tutti section (Saturday performance).
“La Notte” Concerto in G minor RV 544 was published in 1728 as a concerto for flute and strings. It is a revision of an earlier chamber concerto written for a smaller ensemble. This concerto is unusual in having a six-part form. Like the concerto “Spring,” “La Notte” is program music in its truest sense. The concerto opens with a Largo evoking quiet images of the night. It is followed by an Allegro labeled “Fantasmi,” or ghosts. One can hear the ghosts sweeping through the darkness. The fifth section is called “Il Sonno,” which means sleep, evoked with muted slow-moving strings.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Johann Sebastian Bach is possibly the most highly regarded composer in music history. His works are noted for their intellectual depth, technical command, and artistic beauty.
Bach’s working life can be divided into three distinct periods: First, he was organist and chamber musician to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar in 1708, where he composed many of his finest works for organ. At his appointment to Kapellmeister at Cöthen in 1717, the Duke held him prisoner for nearly a month before finally allowing Bach to leave for his new post. The court at Cöthen was Calvinist and did not use music in services, so during this time Bach concentrated on instrumental composition. In 1722 Bach’s employer, Prince Leopold, married, and his bride’s lack of interest in music led to a decline of support. Bach applied for the post of Director of Music at Leipzig and Kantor of the Thomasschule there. He was offered and accepted the post after the preferred candidates, Telemann and Graupner, had declined. In Leipzig Bach wrote magnificent church music, as well as a number of instrumental works including Musical Offering and Art of Fugue.
In his lifetime Bach fathered 20 children with two wives. He died in 1750 after several operations for his deteriorating eyesight.
Although in his time Bach was relatively obscure, he was highly regarded by his musical contemporaries. His son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, wrote that “no musician of any consequence visiting Leipzig would fail to call upon my father.” Only after Mendelssohn’s performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1827 did Bach begin to receive the recognition he richly deserved.
The Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor was written in the late 1730s, when Bach was involved in the Collegium musicum concerts in Leipzig. Essentially a student society, the Collegium included about 40 musicians. They gave public concerts in two coffee-houses in Leipzig owned by Gottfried Zimmerman. The orchestral suite is modeled after the ballet suites of French court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, consisting of a French Overture followed by a sequence of stylised dances. It features the transverse flute, an instrument newly popular at the time.
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) - Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 1
George Frederic Handel first visited London in 1710. By this time London was the richest and one of the most musically active cities in the world. He had just returned from three years in Italy, where he became well-versed with the compositions of Vivaldi, Scarlatti, and Corelli. His opera Rinaldo had great success with the London audiences. With the permission of his employer, the Elector of Hanover, Handel returned to London in 1712. In 1714 the Elector was made King George I of England and Handel was able to compose and play for him in London, staying there until the end of his life. Handel’s lifetime effort was to compose and produce operas, but he had limited financial success. These financial struggles led him to produce oratorios, the most famous of which is Messiah. During one of Handel’s most fertile periods in 1739, he wrote the Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 1, one of a set of “Twelve Grand Concertos.” In the enterprising English way, these concertos were published “by subscription,” or inviting purchasers to pay in advance. The concertos are written in a Corellian style, but more varied, with fugues, song-like movements, and dances side by side. Tonight’s concerto features two solo violins and solo cello with ripieno strings.
Notes by Lisa Marie Lawson