Voice of the Cello
Sacramento Baroque Soloists
October 28 & 30, 2022
Michael Lawson, cello
Timothy Stanley, cello
David Wells, bassoon
Kristin Zoernig, contrabass viol
Ryan Enright, harpsichord and organ
The violoncello, or cello as we know it today, is the bass member of the violin family. This family of instruments became popular in Italy and all of Europe through the 17th and 18th centuries, due to the instruments’ large, singing tone. We can understand the development of the cello by following the development of its name. This member of the violin family originally took on many sizes and was usually larger than the modern cello. It was called by many names, including violone, violoncino, and basso de viola. In the 1680s, as the needs of more virtuosic players and improvements in string technology came about, these bass instruments were able to be made smaller, thus violoncello, which refers to a small bass instrument. This nomenclature eventually became simply the cello.
The program this evening also features the contra bass viol, which is the bass member of another family of instruments, the viol family. These instruments are often thought of as ancestors to the violin family, while they are actually more closely related to the guitar. The viol da gamba (viol held at the leg) was prevalent in France during the 16th and 17th centuries, and was eventually ousted by the bolder and louder violin family of instruments. The viol da gamba has a fretted finger board, 6 or 7 strings instead of four, and is bowed in an underhanded fashion. The contra bass viol is the lowest pitched member of this group. These instruments have a pure tone, which while being sweet and less compressed than that of a cello or violin, project less well in larger venues. The viols were favored by the French court for their sophistication, while the violin was considered useful for dance accompaniment especially in the French Ballet.
From its emergence in the early 1500s until the 17th century the cello was played primarily as a continuo instrument, providing and reinforcing the bass line in ensemble and vocal pieces. As the technology of string design developed, gut strings being wound with metal, the instrument gained focus of sound and became a viable solo voice.
The baroque era was a time of transition for the bassoon. The bassoon’s predecessor, known today as the dulcian, was (like most other Renaissance-era wind instruments) made in families of multiple sizes. By the early baroque era, the bass dulcian had established itself as a soloistic instrument and thus outlived its smaller brethren. The bass dulcian has a range similar to that of the bassoon, but it is made from a single piece of wood. This presents difficulties in both construction and transportation. The multi-jointed bassoon emerged some time in the mid-17th century, at least partially as a solution to these problems. It will probably never be possible to know exactly where or when the transition between dulcian and bassoon began, not least because the two were often called by the same name in any given language (e.g. “fagotto” in Italian, “basson” in French, etc.). Bassoons did not immediately supplant dulcians, either; J.S. Bach seems to have written for both dulcians and bassoons at different times, and dulcians were still in use in some Spanish churches as late as 1900.
The works on today’s program, however, were certainly intended to be performed on the multi-jointed bassoon. Bassoons of the early 1700s had four or five keys, compared to the 25+ on modern instruments. Most of the sharp and flat notes are obtained through the use of cross- or forked-fingerings, coupled with reeds that have much more flexibility of pitch than those of today. This flexibility in the reeds also allows for the production of wide ranges of tone color and articulation. The apparent simplicity of the instrument’s mechanism is belied by the vast array of complex solo literature written for it during the baroque era. Bassoon sonatas and concertos by Telemann, Corrette, Boismortier, Fasch, Graupner, Graun, Vivaldi (who alone wrote 39 bassoon concertos), and others were clearly written with virtuoso players in mind.
Martin Berteau (1708-1771) – Sonata No. 3 in G major and Trio Sonata No. 6 in E minor
Martin Berteau is a composer whose biographical details are shrouded in mystery and confusion. Most sources agree that he started off as a viol player and that his switch to the cello was inspired by a performance of the legendary Italian virtuoso, Francesco Alborea, known as Francischello. Berteau became an influential performer and teacher – he is often referred to as the father of the French school of cello playing - but very little of his music has survived. The sonatas on this program come from a collection of six sonatas. Sonatas from this collection have long been a staple of the cellist’s repertoire, and until recently were attributed to Sammartini, Dall’Abbaco, and several other composers. A copy of Berteau’s original copy of the works, published in 1748, was discovered in the British Museum.
Johann Ernst Galliard (1687–1749) - Sonata No. 1 in A minor
Monsieur Galliard was born in Celle, Germany, were he studied composition with Farinelli, the music director at the court of Hanover. He was proficient on the flute and oboe and joined the French orchestra in Celle at the age of 11. Galliard served on the court of George of Denmark, the consort of Queen Anne, and later in England at Somerset House as organist and chapel master. He was a composer of opera, and while not overly successful, his opera “Calypso and Telemachus” was esteemed by Handel. His instrumental works include six sonatas for flute, six sonatas for bassoon (or cello), and six sonatas for cello.
Giacomo Basevi Cervetto (1682-1783) – Trio No. 1 in A minor
Giacomo Basevi Cervetto was among the many Italian string players of Sephardic origin who settled in Britain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Little is known about the first half of his exceptionally long career, but after emigrating from Venice in 1738, he became an important fixture in British musical society. There are many accounts of his performances as a member and later director of the important Drury Theater. Virtually all of Cervetto's surviving music is for the cello. The opening Adagio of the A minor trio takes full advantage of the rich, lyrical textures that this ensemble affords, while the witty Allegro and elegant Minuets reflect the burgeoning galant style.
Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1691-1755) - Sonata No. 1 in D minor
The French composer Boismortier is most well-known for his popular and prolific composition of more than 100 vocal and instrumental music works. He was one of the most prolific composers for flute in the first half of the 18th century. He published the first solo sonatas for bass instruments, his Opus 26, in Paris in 1729. Boismortier's compositional style influenced sonatas by Berteau and Barriere. He self-published all of his compositions, and it is notable that the instrumentation on the title page specifies bassoon or violoncello, allowing his music to be appealing to a larger market. Their popularity made him a wealthy man, without the aid of patrons.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Sonata no 7, RV 44 in A minor
Although Vivaldi is wildly popular today for his concertos, his first effort, Opus 1, was a book of trio sonatas dedicated to Annibale Gambara, a Veronese nobleman. These works, published in 1705, are most certainly a tribute to Corelli, whose five collections of sonatas, published from 1681 to 1700, defined the form. Vivaldi's works won the disapproval of conservatives such as English composer Charles Avison, who was to condemn Vivaldi’s works as “only a fit Amusement for Children; nor indeed for these, if ever they are intended to be led to a just Taste in Music.” Though less well-known than his hundreds of Concertos, his sonatas display an equal proficiency and charisma.
The sonatas for cello and basso continuo demonstrate Vivaldi's rich technical and musical contribution to baroque literature for the cello. Tonight's sonata was probably written in the 1720s but not published until 1740. It follows the traditional sonata da chiesa, or church sonata, form, slow-fast-slow-fast. The dotted rhythm of the first movement recalls a French style with its repeated dotted rhythms and stately theme, and is interrupted by the declamatory theme of the second movement which follows Vivaldi's typical episodic style. The melancholia of the third movement is broken by the last allegro's vigorous dance-like energy.
--Notes by Michael Lawson, David Wells, and Lisa Lawson