The Concerto Resplendent
Sacramento Baroque Soloists
February 24, 25, 26, 2023
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.
William Hayes (1708-1777) -- Harpsichord Concerto in G major
William Hayes is considered one of the finest English composers of the 18th century. His successful musical career covered many facets, including composer, organist, author, and conductor. Born in Gloucester, England, Hayes spent his early years serving as a chorister in the Gloucester Cathedral. In 1734 he moved to Oxford where he became an integral part of the musical scene - serving as a professor of music, organist at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and organizing many of the town’s large-scale musical events. He served as Master of the King’s Music from 1764 until his death. As a composer, Hayes was particularly known for his vocal works which were often published to great acclaim. His collection Catches, Glees, and Canons was so popular it reached a third printing during his lifetime. He was also well-known for his written publications, one of which, Anecdotes of the Five Music Meetings, provides an in-depth description of the organization of provincial concerts during the mid-eighteenth century. Hayes was a great admirer of Handel’s works, and was one of the most active conductors of Handel’s works outside of London, presenting many large-scale pieces such as the Messiah and Judas Maccabaeus. Hayes was often hired by other towns to conduct Handel’s compositions, and received excellent payment by not only conducting, but also serving as one of the soloists and providing his own personal copies and parts of Handel’s music.
Hayes’ Concerto in G Major for Harpsichord is one of three concertos he composed for keyboard. His instrumental output is quite small. Unlike his vocal music, it was never published and only exists in manuscript. There is a possibility that some of the music may have become lost over time. One can hear the influence of Handel in Hayes’ instrumental works, but he brings his own unique drama and harmonic twists to the work. This concerto is comprised of 3 movements following the typical style of fast - slow - fast. The first movement, Allegro, is a cheerful and jaunty tune. It opens with full orchestra, but very soon the harpsichord asserts its soloistic roll, with virtuosic runs and surprising melodic twists. The second movement arrives at a slower pace, allowing the harpsichord dramatic moments full of musical tension. The piece ends with a lively Minuet, a sparkling movement with virtuosic spurts of joy.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) -- "La Notte" Concerto in G minor RV 544, Concerto for Bassoon in G minor, RV 495, Concerto for Two Cellos, RV 531
Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice, the son of a professional violinist at St. Mark’s. He held the position of violin teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta, a girl’s orphanage in Venice, 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. By 1709 his concertos were famous throughout Europe and Vivaldi soon spent much of his time traveling. He was a highly virtuostic violinist, applying this virtuosity to his concertos which heavily influenced violin technique as well as the concerto form. Vivaldi brought a dramatic simplicity to the form, creating a three-movement structure which led to the classical concerto.
“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 that it has 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.
Vivaldi’s thirty-nine solo concerti for bassoon make up more than ten percent of his solo concerto output, and rank second only to violin in number. This dwarfs the solo bassoon output of all other major composers (of every era) combined. But the question that has vexed scholars since these concerti were rediscovered in the 1920s is: for whom did he write them? None were published during Vivaldi's lifetime, which suggests that he wrote them for the use of specific bassoonists. Yet only two of these concerti bear dedications: one to Count Wenzel von Morzin of Prague (whose orchestra included a virtuoso bassoonist named Anton Möser), and the other to a Venetian bassoonist named Giuseppe Biancardi. It has long been supposed that Vivaldi wrote some or all of the remaining concerti for the young women musicians at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà. But, frustratingly, there is only circumstantial evidence that this might have been the case, nothing concrete. Whoever the now-forgotten soloist who first played these works might have been, he or she was clearly a virtuosic player; the technical prowess that Vivaldi’s concerti demand outstrips anything previously written for the instrument. The Concerto in G minor, RV 495, is no exception, with ornate passagework for the bassoon in the outer movements. The middle movement forgoes the upper strings entirely; an insistent bass line is the only accompaniment to the plangent solo part.
Vivaldi wrote the first bona fide cello concertos, 27 to be precise. The Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor RV 531 is an important contribution to the cello repertoire. It is believed to have been composed in 1720, presumably for the students at the Pieta in Venice. The concerto makes use of the beauty of two cellos playing in thirds and sixths, in which the instruments compete with each other as well as lament together in sonorous expression. Where there is a lack of high register virtuosity in the cellos, Vivaldi compensates with sparse orchestral accompaniment and contrasts this with exciting tutti sections. The slow movement portrays a melancholia only achievable with two brooding cellos playing in imitation and suspension. The third movement employs a catchy syncopated theme throughout.
This work, along with the other 27 concertos Vivaldi wrote for the cello, portrays the rise in popularity and virtuosity the violoncello was enjoying in this early part of the eighteenth century, as smaller models were being made and string technology advanced. One can hear the vocal nature of Vivaldi’s writing in the middle movement and in the rapid exchange of dialogue in the faster passages, almost suggesting an operatic approach, bringing to mind Vivaldi's final years in Vienna where he migrated to stage operas.
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) -- Concerto for Violin in A minor, BWV 1041
Johann Sebastian Bach was equally as prolific as his contemporary Vivaldi, but rather less well known. While Vivaldi was considered to be exciting and contemporary, Bach was considered to be old-fashioned in his musical tastes. Only in the 20th century was Bach rediscovered and has become one of the revered musicians of all time. Bach’s musical output was governed by each of his positions in his life. While Bach was employed at Anhalt-Cöthen his works were mainly secular, since as the court of Prince Leopold was Calvinist Bach had no chapel duties. During this period he wrote the violin concertos as well as the Brandenburg Concertos and the Violin and Cello Suites. Bach was quite familiar with the concertos of Vivaldi; in fact he arranged several of Vivaldi’s concertos for harpsichord. The Concerto in A minor for violin follows Vivaldi’s fast-slow-fast form. It has none of Vivaldi’s concertos’ simple excitement and descriptive expression; instead it relies on regal counterpoint and singing beauty.
--Notes by Michael Lawson, David Wells, Faythe Vollrath, and Lisa Lawson