haydn in london: program notes

This evening’s concert is an emotional affair, featuring the talents of baritone Brian Mulligan and conductor Carlos Kalmar. We begin with Musique Funèbre, Witold Lutosławski’s tribute to fellow composer Béla Bartók. Mulligan sings John Adams’ setting of Walt Whitman’s text in the elegiac piece, The Wound-Dresser. Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 provides a palate cleanser before Rossini’s stirring Overture to the opera The Italian Girl in Algiers.

Witold Lutosławski’s Musique Funèbre is a heartfelt commemoration of composer Béla Bartók. As a student, Lutosławski studied Bartok’s music extensively, which left a distinct impression in the young composer’s style. With Musique Funèbre, Lutosławski seems to reference Bartók’s oeuvre, but not overtly. The scoring of the piece is rather specific: the violins are divided into four groups, and the violas, cellos and basses are divided in into two groups each.

Musique Funèbre does not rely on the language of tonality for its expression—it does not have a “home key”—but its emotional impact is potent regardless. Lutosławski veering away from the tonal system was something different, and he called it the “first word” in a language that was new to him. This one-movement work has four sections, titled Prologue, Metamorphoses, Apogee and Epilogue. The first and last of these are both canons, and they share a similar tempo. The Prologue begins in the low strings and builds slowly, expressing great intensity as it climbs upwards and adding voices as it goes. This intensity eventually recedes, and the section ends quietly with the notes traveling in a downward trajectory. Metamorphoses is an apt title for the next section, which features new material in addition to musical ideas from the first section, as Lutosławski subjects both to developing transformations. These begin almost as tremors that sound like primitive first steps. As the music continues, however, the metamorphoses become more complex. Apogee, a mere dozen measures, is true to its name as the apex of this journey.

Celebrated poet Walt Whitman was forever changed by what he saw during the American Civil War. As men returned wounded from the battlefield, he sat with them, listened to them, wrote letters for them and cared for them in their suffering. In The Wound-Dresser, composer John Adams sets Whitman’s eponymous poem. Its text, inspired by Whitman’s visit to a Civil War hospital, details both the mundane duties of wound-dressing and the spiritual experience of witnessing death. Adams notes that the text itself is “astonishingly free of any kind of hyperbole or amplified emotion,” as well as the absolute precision of the speaker’s observations. Despite the businesslike manner in which the wound-dresser approaches his work, he is nevertheless touched by the sights around him. He dresses the soldiers’ wounds “with impassive hand, (yet deep in [his] breast a fire, a burning flame.)”

A composer of innovative and affecting operas, Adams demonstrates his sensitivity to Whitman’s text, allowing these two moods—the mundane and the spiritual—to coexist musically as well as textually. The piece opens with a musical gesture in the strings that suggests the ghosts of the past, but the solo violin soon cuts through the mist, followed by the solo voice. The opening stanza evokes a sense of endlessness, with a progression in the strings that seems itself never-ending. A solo trumpet emerges as well, a reminder of the horn calls of the battlefield, and as the work progresses the rhythm stumbles forward, the narrator singing about cleaning a gangrenous wound. After this impassioned crisis, the voice falls silent for a moment as the solo violin rises out of the orchestra. When the voice returns, it is to affirm that the wound-dresser remains “faithful” and will “not give out.” Adams’ musical setting highlights the wound-dresser’s care, his compassion and his hope.

We visit the Classical period with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98, which, despite not having a catchy nickname like “The Drumroll” or “The Clock,” has always been one of the composer’s most popular works. It is a typical Classical symphony in many ways, but it features two quirks that are somewhat unusual for Haydn: a slow introduction, and a first movement with only one main theme, as opposed to  two, as was common. Throughout the movement, all of the musical material draws in some way on the main theme, appearing at both transitions and arrival points. The movement is exceedingly charming in its courtly grace. A notable passage by the solo flute appears in the recapitulation.

The second movement provides a change of pace with its languid opening theme played by the oboe and cello. This theme returns frequently, each time with embellishments in the strings. The orchestra punctuates the quiet texture of the movement with the occasional forte chord, including an appearance by the trumpet and timpani, a first for Haydn in a slow movement. The third movement, a minuet, is just the kind of dance we’ve come to expect from the composer. The elements of peasant dances are present, but Haydn surprises his listener with an unexpected harmonic shift here or a dynamic jolt there.

The final movement is full of surprises as well. At the time of its composition, its form was something new for Haydn, a hybrid of the sonata form (found in the first movement) and the rondo form (whose musical theme returns in between passages of other material). The theme Haydn presents in this movement comes in two parts, allowing Haydn to return with either one part of the theme, without repeats, or with a new harmonic interpretation. However, one barely has time to notice as the movement never stops moving (some have called it a perpetual motion finale). All too quickly, a stately fanfare brings Haydn’s enchanting Symphony to a firm and unambiguous ending.

Gioachino Rossini was one of the most successful opera composers of the nineteenth century, with thirty-nine operas in both French and Italian to his name. At the age of 21, he composed L’Italiana in Algeri, or The Italian Girl in Algiers, a two-act drama giocoso—an opera that features a mix of serious and comedic elements. Rossini completed it in a very short time; his own account says it took less than three weeks, though it may have actually taken almost four. The opera premiered in spring of 1813 and wowed audiences with its beautiful melodies, Rossini’s specialty. The Overture is often performed on its own, and it packs a surprise with a quiet opening and a sudden forte, not dissimilar to Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony. This was likely no accident as Rossini was a great admirer of Haydn. The overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers  is effervescent and bubbles with energy and many musical delights. It bears some of Rossini’s signature gambits such as memorable melodies, surprising developments and exciting build-ups. It’s a perfect finale for a program filled with many dramatic turns, and luckily, it offers us a joyful ending to the evening’s program.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO

storm large sings 7 deadly sins

Tonight’s program features two works by Kurt Weill, a German composer who immigrated to the United States after the Nazis came to power in 1933. The concert opens with a suite of songs from musicals he composed between 1928 and 1943 and closes with a set of songs he originally conceived as a ballet. In between we will hear Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto, which is based on the life of Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who urged his fellow Jews to flee Germany when it fell under Nazi control. Eventually Prinz himself fled, seeking sanctuary in the United States, where he participated in the Civil Rights movement.

In 2013, violinist Daniel Hope commissioned a suite of Kurt Weill’s music from British composer, conductor, and arranger Paul Bateman. The resulting work – “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” – takes the listener on a musical journey through some of Weill’s most popular and recognizable songs. With this Suite, Bateman seeks to represent an important period in Weill’s life: his emigration from Germany to the United States. This transition fostered in Weill two contrasting compositional goals, one concerned with uncompromising exploration and experimentation, and the other with catering to a massive, demographically broad audience. Historian David Drew, widely considered the world authority on Weill, introduced the idea of “two Weills,” each epitomizing one of his disparate ambitions. In his arrangement, Bateman juxtaposes works from each of the “two Weills,” evoking a sense of his development over time.

The Suite opens with “Havana Song” from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which premiered in 1930. The opera, with a libretto by Bertolt Brecht, is set in a destination-city for pleasure-seekers. The piece itself is sung by a young woman who discusses the price of her companionship. Next comes “September Song” from Weill’s Knickerbocker Holiday, a 1938 musical with book by Maxwell Anderson. This melancholy discourse on the passage of time is the finale of the musical’s first act, but has found a second life as a standard. Then, Bateman switches gears with the lively “Kannonen-Song” from The Threepenny Opera (1928) and “My Ship” from Lady in the Dark (1941). The latter, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, features Liza, the musical’s protagonist, struggling to remember a nursery rhyme from her childhood. Bateman follows these with a song from One Touch of Venus, whose Broadway premiere in 1943 makes it the latest work presented in the Suite. The song in question, “Speak Low,” has lyrics by renowned poet Ogden Nash. The finale, The Threepenny Opera’s best-known song, “Mack the Knife,” is versatile enough to encapsulate the work of the “two Weills” and thus provides a fitting ending to the Suite.

Weill fled Nazi Germany because both his music, which was strongly influenced by jazz and other popular styles, and his Jewish heritage put him in serious danger. Also in danger was Joachim Prinz, a German-born rabbi who lived in Berlin until 1937. Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto “I Will Not Remain Silent” tells his story. Prinz warned his fellow Jews of the coming crisis and encouraged many of them to leave. By doing so he saved countless lives. When Prinz immigrated to New Jersey, he did not settle down for a quiet life. He continued to speak out as part of the World Jewish Congress, and he became involved in the Civil Rights movement. Prinz even gave a public oration during the famous March on Washington, right before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech. Adolphe chose Prinz as the subject for his Concerto to celebrate his profound contributions to both Jewish culture and American Civil Rights.

As a composer, educator, performer, and author, Adolphe has enjoyed a successful career. Fueled by his interest in the interplay between music and neurology, he authored a book of exercises to help develop what he calls “Musical Imagination.” Furthermore, he has taken up the appointment of composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute in Los Angeles. His passion for learning also bleeds into the realms of history and social consciousness, as is evidenced by his Concerto. As Adolphe himself explained, “The violin represents the voice of Joachim Prinz throughout the Concerto. In the first movement, the orchestra represents Nazi Germany; in the second movement, the orchestra represents America during the civil rights era.” The way Prinz’s voice manifests itself in the violin is passionate and urgent. This contrasts drastically with the dissonant, martial, and uncompromising voice of Nazi Germany in the orchestra. The second movement begins more peacefully, although there is still plenty of strife in Prinz’s new home. Steeped in this struggle, Prinz’s voice continues to “speak out” against injustice, racism, and prejudice. A beautiful soliloquy in the form of a passionate violin cadenza brings the Concerto to a close.

On his way to the United States Kurt Weill stopped in Paris, just in time to witness the creation of a new dance troupe, Les Ballets. Choreographer George Balanchine and dancer Boris Kochno commissioned a sung ballet – or ballet chanté – from Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Although he had no interest in working with Brecht again, Weill begrudgingly collaborated on this, their last project together. The resulting piece, The Seven Deadly Sins, was dedicated to the influential patron of the arts Marie-Laure de Noailles, who was involved with some of the most important artists of the 20th century including Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dalí, and filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

The Seven Deadly Sins features roles for five singers and one dancer. Weill’s wife Lotte Lenya originated the singing role of Anna I, and Tilly Losch danced the part of Anna II. The two communicate with each other, giving the sense that they are two separate people, but one could interpret the two roles as two aspects of a single personality. Anna I’s strong will and fierce determination help her to convince Anna II to suppress her true feelings. A male quartet provides commentary, acting as the Annas’ “family.”

The Prologue introduces us to Anna, who, too proud to sell herself, decides to travel to seven different cities to seek her fortune, but she encounters a deadly sin in each. In the first movement, Sloth, Anna’s family sings a church chorale, warning her to avoid laziness. The second movement, a waltz titled Pride, finds Anna performing topless dances in Memphis. Wrath is a foxtrot and takes place in Los Angeles, where Anna works at a movie studio, though her anger quickly gets her fired. Then the family assembles in Philadelphia for Gluttony, an (almost) a capella barbershop quartet that warns Anna to watch her weight. She moves on yet again, but must contend with Lust in Boston. She is torn between a wealthy man she does not love, and a poor man she does. Greed (Tennessee) is an aria sung by Anna’s father, who expresses the family’s concerns about Anna’s reputation. Finally we will hear Envy in San Francisco, where Anna expresses her jealousy of those who can be true to their feelings. In the epilogue, Anna moves back to her family’s “new little house” in Louisiana. The Seven Deadly Sins received mixed reviews, and was mostly forgotten until its revival shortly after Weill’s death in 1950. Since then, it has grown in stature, becoming one of Weill’s most respected post-emigration works.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO


tonight’s compositions in LACO’s history


All three works on tonight’s program are new to the LACO repertoire. American composer Bruce Adolphe’s contemporary work, Violin Concerto, “I Will Not Remain Silent,” is bookended by two works from Kurt Weill. A collection of Weill’s popular songs, “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra” (arranged by Paul Bateman for violinist Daniel Hope), receives its US premiere. Vocalist Storm Large and vocal quartet Hudson Shad perform Weill’s famous The Seven Deadly Sins.

yo-yo ma plays haydn & brahms

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is fortunate not only to have so many talented musicians, but also to be able to invite guests of the highest artistic caliber. Tonight we welcome international cellist YoYo Ma, who, along with our own Jeffrey Kahane, presents a special evening featuring music by Haydn and Brahms.

Joseph Haydn spent most of his career in the service of the Esterhazy family. On one hand, this was a fortuitous circumstance —Haydn had unwavering financial support and a plethora of fine musicians for whom to write—but on the other it limited his ability to travel, perform and compose for a larger public. When Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy died in 1790, Haydn was released from his duties, and thus began a new phase in his career. We know of Haydn’s time in London from the dozen symphonies he wrote during his two visits, but he also composed some exciting showpieces for the English audience, who adored his music. His Piano Trio No. 39 in G major is one such piece. Its nickname, “Gypsy,” comes from its final movement, which is marked with the directive “all’Ongarese,” or “in the Hungarian style.” Haydn dedicated the work to Rebecca Schroeter, a music copyist with whom the composer was romantically involved.

The opening movement, a charming Andante waltz, eschews sonata form in favor of a set of double variations. True to the era’s prevailing style, each variation offers something special: a more complex part for one of the players, a version in a minor key, or a more chromatic rendering of the theme. The second movement slows the tempo to Poco adagio and provides a lovely melodic exploration, at first in the piano, but later, and more notably, for the violin. The third movement, a lively Rondo, is really what this Trio is known for. It is even occasionally performed as a stand-alone piece. This lively Rondo features a melody that evokes folk tuneswith its syncopated accents and almost dance-like, rhythmic quality. As with any rondo form, we revisit the same melody numerous times, but with each subsequent appearance Haydn treats us to some surprises: excursions into minor keys, dynamic shifts, and pizzicatos. Later piano trios would give the cello a more prominent part in the conversation, but here the violin and piano do most of the quick passagework. The Rondo is an exciting movement, made all the more special by its brevity.

Johannes Brahms wrote only two Cello Sonatas in his life. He completed the first in 1865 but waited until 1886 (more than two decades!) to compose the second. It is the latter composition—the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major—which we will hear this evening. Brahms dedicated the work to its first performer, cellist Robert Hausmann, who also played in a string quartet led by Joseph Joachim, a famous virtuoso violinist of the time and a close friend to Brahms.

Content with the traditional forms and ideas with which he was accustomed, Brahms did not involve himself with the exploratory Romanticism of his contemporaries. Unsurprisingly, he constructed this Sonata in four movements, with a sonata form Allegro vivace to begin the piece. Brahms’s writing is passionate from the very first moment, with stormy mood shifts and effusive declamations, especially in the cello. He labeled the second movement Adagio affetuoso, calling for a slower pace and a deeper emotional quality. It is a quiet meditation, less concerned with drama and more with pathos. Pizzicato passages, including the opening theme, provide some contrast to the long and flowing melodic lines. The lyrical third movement brings back a feeling of impetuousness. Even though Brahms was in his fifties when he wrote this sonata, it feels youthful and passionate, even brooding and angsty at times. The central F major section places us in the eye of an emotional storm before returning to the more comfortable F minor introduced in the opening. The fourth movement, a rondo, is the shortest section of the Sonata, but it provides something of an optimistic ending to the work. It is not without its emotional turbulence, however, as Brahms withholds a complete harmonic resolution until the very last moment.

Brahms’s passion for the music of his past is evident not only in the forms of his pieces. He also collected published scores of Baroque and Classical masters and analyzed them, often copying out works that particularly intrigued him in order to study their styles. In the 1870s, Brahms found a divertimento for wind instruments (supposedly by Haydn) titled “Chorale St. Antoni.” Its theme, which may have actually been written by Haydn’s student Pleyel, Haydn moves primarily by step, but has a few leaps as well. Interestingly, the first phrase is five measures long instead of the usual four.

Brahms composed a set of variations on this theme in 1873, which he titled Variations on a Theme by Haydn. The piece begins with an introduction that quotes the original chorale theme. Brahms then works through eight variations in which he changes tempo, texture and mood, but keeps that unique initial five-bar phrase (and a four-bar coda) as a structural anchor. Each variation ranges farther afield, obscuring the identity of the theme more and more as the piece progresses.

In the finale of the work, Brahms used the old-fashioned technique of building variations over a repeating bass line—a passacaglia. Brahms’s bass line adapts the opening five-measure phrase; he retains the length of the phrase, but simplifies the notes. He then spins out 17 variations over the passacaglia. Little by little, the theme works its way through different parts of the texture until it regains its place as the melody. Throughout the piece, Brahms shows his harmonic inventiveness and creativity despite his strict, self-imposed framework. Brahms’s unique gift was to marry the forms and techniques of the past with the harmonies and rhythms of the Romantic period. He did this in many of his works, but nowhere is it as evident as in Variations on a Theme by Haydn.

We close out this spectacular evening with Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major. The work, written as the forms of the Classical period were coalescing, features both Baroque influences and the sonata form that would become the central formal concept in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Haydn used the traditional three-movement structure found in most Classical concertos, wherein two energetic movements bookend a slower middle section. In each of these, Haydn calls upon the skills of the soloist often. The first movement opens up, in typical fashion, with the strings taking the lead, but Haydn also evoked color in the woodwinds. After the orchestral exposition, the cello soloist presents similar material to which Haydn adds flourishes and variation. The woodwinds sit out the slow movement, changing the color and mood a bit. The cellist’s sustained notes in this section are achingly beautiful, and there is a cadenza for the soloist, a slightly unusual touch. The finale, again in sonata form, features more opportunities for the soloist to shine. LACO and Yo-Yo Ma are sure to bring Haydn’s Cello Concerto to a satisfying and scintillating close.

baroque conversations 1

Mahan Esfahani, LACO’s very first Baroque Conversations artistic partner, has named three different cities to be the focus of the music during his three-year tenure. Tonight he leads us to the first stop, Berlin in the 1740s and 50s. The composers on this evening’s concert did not merely overlap geographically, but also shared many similar experiences. Three worked at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia (CPE Bach, Janitsch and Benda), three were German (Benda was Czech), two studied law before pursuing music as their central focus (WF Bach and Janitsch),  and three came from musical families (Janitsch was born of a merchant). While all four lived during the important decades between the end of the Baroque period and the beginning of the Classical period, each chose a unique way to navigate through these transitionary times, some carrying the past with them, some looking firmly ahead.

Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was a German composer who became very active in the musical community in Frankfurt while he was a law student at the University there. Not only did he write music, but he also conducted and played in Prince Frederick’s orchestra. When Frederick II – known as Frederick the Great – ascended the throne, Janitsch was named contraviolinist in his court orchestra in Berlin, where Janitsch was to remain for the rest of his life. While there, he also began a weekly concert series called the “Friday Academies” that featured musicians from the court orchestra, enthusiasts from the community and guests. These concerts flourished for years and inspired other concert series of a similar nature. Janitsch witnessed the transition from High Baroque complexity to the beginnings of a cooler symmetry and simplicity in the Classical period. His musical style reflects both of these shifts. Some of his works show great mastery of counterpoint, while others use the simpler, gallant style found in the works of CPE Bach. Among his surviving works are about three dozen trio sonatas and 40 or so quadro sonatas. The theme of his Quadro in G minor for Harpsichord and Strings is the Lutheran chorale, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden,” whose text is related to the Passion story in the Bible.

Of Bach’s many children, a few carried on the musical tradition of the family. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was his oldest son and the second child born to him. Like his father, who was also his teacher, he was known as a fine organist with incredible skills as an improviser. When WF Bach finished at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig, where his father was working, he briefly studied law at Leipzig University but changed focus to mathematics. When he began finding employment as a musician, however, his interest in math became more of a leisure activity. WF Bach worked as an organist, first in Dresden and then in Halle. Unhappy in the latter position, he left without any other prospects for employment, and his professional life fell into disarray, though is unclear exactly why things went sour. Perhaps it was WF Bach’s uncompromising personality or his unwillingness to write music that was easily accessible to the public. Unlike his brother, CPE Bach, who embraced the clarity emerging in the nascent Classical period, WF Bach continued to write in the complex contrapuntal style that was his birthright, as is evidenced in his Sonata in D major for Solo Harpsichord. His reputation is somewhat sullied by the fact that he, as one of the caretakers of his father’s manuscripts, sold off some of these precious documents to pay his debts. Regardless of whatever troubles he may have experienced in his personal life, his music masterfully displays the scintillating joy of counterpoint and improvisation. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s contribution to this concert is his Sonata in B minor for Violin and Harpsichord. As a composer and musician, CPE Bach worked tirelessly, producing dozens of works including sonatas (for various instruments, but especially keyboard), symphonies, liturgical works and songs. In addition, he published a keyboard treatise while he was working in Berlin of which Haydn and Beethoven were reportedly big fans.

Jirí Antonín Benda, known as Georg Anton Benda, was a Czech composer born in Bohemia. Like Janitsch, Benda also found a place at Frederick the Great’s court. He was just 19 years old when he was appointed second violinist of the orchestra. In 1750, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Duke of Gotha, where he wrote primarily instrumental works, but he was very interested in writing for the voice as well. He traveled to Italy to absorb the Italian style, and was particularly interested in opera there. A young Mozart admired Benda’s stage works – melodramas and singspiels (vocal dramas with spoken dialogue). Benda was well-known for his instrumental works, of which the Concerto in G minor for Harpsichord and Strings is a prime example.


– Christine Lee Gengaro PhD © LACO

prokofiev classical program notes

Tonight’s concert is book-ended by two symphonies in D major. Although their composition dates are separated by more than a century, these two works have an interesting connection. Twentieth- century composer Sergei Prokofiev claimed that his “Classical” Symphony is what Haydn might have written had he lived another 100 years. Any fan of Haydn knows that he would have appreciated the humor and the craftsmanship of Prokofiev’s work, but you can
judge the composer’s statement for yourself when you hear Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and Haydn’s “The Clock” Symphony on the same evening. The program also features the Los Angeles premiere of Mason Bates’s Cello Concerto. Joshua Roman, the cellist for whom the concerto was written, performs this extraordinary piece with the Orchestra.

Sergei Prokofiev spent his formative years as a young student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. This was a time of considerable political turmoil in Russia. At the tender age of 17, he played his first compositions in public, and his music was perceived as avant-garde and difficult to understand, an opinion that suited the proud Prokofiev just fine. He was more than willing to trade on the image of himself as something of a musical renegade. The premieres of his First and Second piano concertos also caused a scandal in his homeland because of the bold, virtuosic writing, and dissonances some critics deemed disturbing. His reputation as a progressive composer was sealed.

It is interesting, then, that one of his most famous works is a piece that looks back to the older style of Haydn, known by the nickname “Classical.” Prokofiev wrote the Symphony No. 1 in D major in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution. The composer toured quite extensively during that year, in part to escape the turmoil and tumult in Russia. It was also a creatively productive period for him, as he composed and premiered many works on his tour.

In the time between Prokofiev’s graduation from the Conservatory and the premiere of the “Classical” Symphony, the composer had traveled to London and met many of the musical figures that were shaping modern music in Europe. The idea of using 20th-century harmonies and resources in the service of a classical form, like the symphony, was one that many composers would explore in the early part of the 20th century and beyond. Although we would call this “Neo-classicism,” Prokofiev did not see the “Classical” Symphony as part of a neo-classical trend in his style. For him, it was an isolated experiment, and he disliked fellow Russian Igor Stravinsky’s preoccupation with neo-classicism, famously calling it, “Bach on the wrong notes.”

The “Classical” Symphony is an extremely interesting work that meshes the tradition of clarity and formality with the renegade spirit of Prokofiev’s early works. Classicism was attractive to the unsentimental Prokofiev because it eschewed the overwrought emotionality of Romanticism. There are Haydn-esque qualities in the “Classical” Symphony, like the sudden changes in volume we experience in works like “The Surprise” and “The Clock” symphonies. There is also reference to the classical practice of alternating opposites: loud and soft, high and low, gravity and levity. Furthermore, there is a 20th-century sensibility in Prokofiev’s harmonic and rhythmic inventiveness. This experiment, juxtaposing 20th-century style with the traditional four-movement formality of the classical symphony, allows for moments of parody and humor.

Award-winning composer Mason Bates curates a style that boasts elements of narrative forms, jazz harmonies, innovative techniques for traditional instruments and rhythmic influences from electronic music. He is an advocate of new music and of bringing new work to unique performance spaces. His symphonic music often meshes with electronic sounds, revealing new possibilities of electronic sound sources in the composition of art music. Bates composed the Cello Concerto, which was commissioned by Seattle Symphony Orchestra, LACO and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, for Joshua Roman. The work has a three movement structure, with the typical fast-slow-fast paradigm, while thoroughly exploring an imaginative soundspace. Bates, who often relies on narrative structures or ideas in his music, put such things aside in favor of a work that would focus more on the instruments involved, particularly the cello. The first movement features cello, in the words of the composer, “singing a plaintive melody.” The sound of the orchestra provides harmonic and rhythmic support. The second movement forms the emotional centerpiece of the Concerto, with a focus on lyricism. Sections of the Concerto found inspiration from a musical idea suggested by Roman, something Bates calls the “ping-pong ricochet.” It is a rhythmic gesture featuring a bouncing that grows faster, like a ping-pong ball bouncing on the ground. The final movement begins in a lively mood and progresses to a display of astounding virtuosity. The orchestra supports the impressive work of the soloist with a full complement of percussion instruments, requiring three players. Bates takes a few opportunities to surprise us, such as the use of a guitar pick instead of a bow, emulating a “punk rock bassist.” Bates characterizes the three movements of his work as “dreamy-lyrical-rhythmic.”

For the 30 years that Haydn worked for the Esterhazy family, he did not travel much, except as part of the Prince’s entourage. Although his music was known outside of his patron’s family, he did not have much occasion to bring his music to an international audience. The death of Prince Nikolaus of Esterháza in 1790 caused something of a rebirth for Haydn. The new Prince was not a great connoisseur of music, and he dissolved the family’s musical organization, which ultimately gave Haydn his freedom.

German impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who was living and working in London, proposed that Haydn visit the city. Salomon would arrange for special concerts of the composer’s music. Haydn made two visits to London (1791–92 and 1794–95), and for each, he composed six symphonies. The 12 symphonies are often referred to as the “London” Symphonies. Having a reputation for sophistication and for being quintessential examples of the Classical style, they are among the most popular and most often played of Haydn’s works. Tonight we present the ninth of this dozen, Symphony No. 101 in D major, “The Clock.” Like its predecessor, “The Surprise,” Symphony No. 101 gets its nickname from a musical gesture in the second movement. In this case, it is the “tick tock” first heard in the low woodwinds and pizzicato strings.

The work begins with a slow introduction in a minor key, an opening gambit that Haydn used to build anticipation. This strategy creates an incredibly effective contrast, as from this mysterious haze emerges a major-key Presto, bringing with it a new driving clarity. The colors of the orchestra are rich and full, including brass and drums. This movement is so lively and enthusiastic, one might be forgiven for mistaking it for a rousing finale. The second movement begins with that telltale “tick tock.” The main theme provides contrast with a charming melody, and often long-held notes, rising above the rhythmic accompaniment. Haydn—always one to delight in surprises—offers contrast in the form of a stormy section in G minor. Equilibrium returns with the tick tock, now in a high register, almost bird-like in its character. The rhythmic pulse moves to different sections in the orchestra, revealing great variety in scoring choices, dynamic interjections and bursting energy.

The third movement exhibits a ceremonial character full of pomp and circumstance, aided by the brass and timpani. The Trio displays a pastoral charm that seemingly keeps being interrupted by fortissimo outbursts by the orchestra. The final movement begins with a brisk theme in a major key. Again, there is a stormy minor-key interruption, invigorating an already energetic movement, followed by a stunning double fugue that brings this spirited Symphony to a breathless finish.

baroque conversations 3 program notes

JS Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann were born four years apart. Telemann was the older of the two and the better known in their day. They were friends, and their lives intersected at many points. In 1722, Telemann was offered a position at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, but declined it. This position was given instead to JS Bach, who worked at the church until his death.

Telemann and JS Bach were both quite prolific, both hard working, both masters at the craft of composition. By the time they died, Bach in 1750 and Telemann in 1767, the musical world had left them far behind. The Classical period had dawned, and it seemed as though the two would fade into obscurity along with all the trappings of the Baroque period. Bach’s music survived mostly in copies passed among composers and students of counterpoint (Mozart was a fan). Telemann’s works remained respected until rumbles in the 19th century began to dismiss the composer, partially because he had written so much. As Bach’s star began to rise with the revival led by Felix Mendelssohn, Telemann began to fade. In the wake of Bach’s new popularity, Telemann’s music was compared unfavorably to that of his friend and contemporary. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the world began to reevaluate Telemann’s place in music history.

Although Bach and Telemann lived at the same time, wrote in similar genres, and even knew each other, their musical styles are distinct. It doesn’t make sense to compare the two because there are plenty of significant differences. Telemann, for example, was better traveled, and his style shows influences of French, Italian, German and Polish music. These varied influences don’t necessarily make Telemann the “better” composer. Likewise, Bach’s ubiquity in popular culture does not mean he is more deserving of remembrance. These two individuals made important contributions to the music of the Baroque period Telemann’s Trio Sonata No. 12 in E-flat major begins the evening. This one of many works collected and published as Musical Exercises or Essercizii Musici. Telemann’s Quartetto in D major is an early sort of chamber music. The remaining works on the program are excellent examples of the Baroque concerto.

Both Bach works have multiple soloists. The concept of conversational or competing forces within an orchestra was something that fascinated many Baroque composers. The concerto explored the relationship of solo instruments to the larger group. The concerto grosso (like Bach’s) features a small group of soloists, a concertino and a ripieno. The composer is free to write more virtuosic material for the soloist(s) while the ripieno and basso continuo provide accompaniment. A conversational give-and-take is built into the structure of many concertos though the use of a ritornello. The first and final movements of many concertos feature ritornello form.

In this form, the entire ensemble begins the movement of the concerto by playing a musical passage that will return throughout the movement. This returning idea is called the ritornello (from the Italian “to return”). In between sections of the ritornello—usually played by everyone—the soloist or concertino group explores more difficult musical ideas. The alternating sections of soloist and orchestra provide interesting contrasts between simple and complex, soft and loud, accompaniment and virtuosity.

Bach’s Concerto in C minor for Violin and Oboe is adapted from a concerto for two harpsichords. Further analysis of the concerto’s musical characteristics—the fact that the solo parts exactly fit the range of the violin and the oboe—has led to the widespread belief that the work was originally a double concerto for violin and oboe, in which form it is performed here.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 is one of Bach’s most well-known examples of the concerto grosso. The concertino consists of trumpet, flute, oboe and violin. Bach’s models for choosing instruments of such disparate timbres were certainly different from other German composers like Telemann and GH Stölzel. Interestingly, this piece seems to be the only one of the set of six Brandenburg Concertos written with a specific player in mind. Johann Ludwig Schreiber was a trumpet player at Cöthen, where Bach was working at the time, and he must have had considerable skill to play the part that Bach planned for him. All of the instruments in the concertino have challenging parts, but the trumpet’s part is particularly noticeable, both because of the timbre of the instrument and the high range. The finale of this concerto is absolutely brilliant, one of the most beautiful movements Bach ever wrote and certainly a monument to the High Baroque style. It is a fitting ending to an evening that celebrates the contributions of two of the Baroque’s most important figures.

wolfgang & mozart program notes

Tonight, LACO presents a distinctive world premiere from former Sound Investment composer Gernot Wolfgang, followed by two beloved concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The woodwinds take center stage for the first part of the evening with Wolfgang’s new Sinfonia Concertante and Mozart’s exquisitely delicate Clarinet Concerto, played by our own Joshua Ranz. Finally, Jeffrey Kahane serves as both conductor and soloist for tonight’s finale, the Mozart Piano Concerto in D minor.

Gernot Wolfgang was born in Bad Gastein, Austria, but currently lives in Los Angeles. In addition to LACO’s commission, Wolfgang has written compositions for orchestras, ensembles and individuals all over the world. He is the guitarist for the Austrian jazz ensemble, The QuARTet, and has performed with them throughout Europe. Wolfgang is a graduate of the film and scoring program at USC and works in film and television as an orchestrator. He also is associate artistic director of HEAR NOW—A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers.

The Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds – “The D.A.R.K. Knights” features four solo instruments: flute, oboe, bassoon and horn. The composer had this to say about his new work: “Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds –‘The D.A.R.K. Knights’ was written to honor and showcase the exceptional talents of longserving LACO principal wind players David Shostac, flute; Allan Vogel, oboe; Kenneth Munday, bassoon; and Richard Todd, horn. During the early composing process I decided that in addition to the Sinfonia Concertante concept, which was Jeffrey Kahane’s idea, I also wanted to highlight each of the soloists by incorporating four mini concertos into the piece.

“The composition turned out to be in one movement, with the Sinfonia Concertante portions occupying the energetic outer sections. The lyrical middle part of the piece consists of the succession of said mini concertos. The soloistic parts for each of the featured wind players were inspired by their individual, very specific instrumental sounds, which have become very familiar to me over the years. I also took into account special musical abilities of some of these four musicians—both David Shostac and Richard Todd will get a chance to improvise in selected passages.”

In the last few months of his life, Mozart kept quite busy. He worked on operas The Magic Flute and La clemenza di Tito and of course the Requiem. But one of his last instrumental works—listed after the final two operas in the personal catalogue Mozart kept of his compositions—is the Clarinet Concerto in A major. It premiered in October 1791 in honor of clarinetist Anton Stadler. Mozart first sketched out the work for basset horn, the clarinet’s larger, lower cousin, but later settled on the basset clarinet, which is a clarinet with a simple lower extension that allows the musician to play just a few more lower notes. Some notes in this version could not be played by the clarinet, so when the work was published after Mozart’s death, those troublesome notes were transposed into the regular clarinet’s range. Since the 1960s, musicologists and clarinetists have attempted to reconstruct the Concerto for the basset clarinet, hoping to uncover Mozart’s intentions and hear the work as he had intended.

The Concerto adheres to the traditional three-movement structure—fast-slow-fast. The opening Allegro shows the utter clarity Mozart was so skilled at creating, with its clean phrases, structure and symmetry. The clarinet’s entrance provides a decorated version of the exposition just stated by the orchestra. The lines written for the instrument seem to suggest that Mozart was quite taken with its unique timbre, especially in the lowest and highest extremes of its range. The solo part showcases the work’s dynamic flexibility, quick passagework and beautiful legato phrases. The orchestra provides a supportive backdrop here, coming to the fore now and then, but also content to offer accompaniment to the solo line. The second movement brings a contrast with a slow tempo and more pensive mood. It is tempting to hear this as melancholy and foreboding, with Mozart’s death just two months later, but there is no indication that Mozart had any idea his end was near. Like any Classical concerto, the middle movement is there for a thoughtful respite. Here again, Mozart shows his affinity for the lows and highs of his solo instrument, the two registers known as the chalumeau and the clarion, respectively.

The third movement is a cheerful Rondo, with a lively repeated theme in between episodes of new music. Sometimes these passages may shift mood or dynamics, but Mozart always brings us back to the effervescent conversation between the soloist and orchestra. Although the solo part is challenging and reveals moments of brilliance, this is not an overly showy work. It possesses an intimacy that seems somewhat at odds with the other works he was composing around that time, but there is an easy conversational feel to the writing, the clarinet holding court in a room of lively voices: the life of the party.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 is one of only two concertos the composer wrote in a minor key—in this case D minor—a fact that has helped it become one of his most popular works in the genre. The Concerto was composed in 1785, when Mozart was still very active as a soloist. Mozart presented a few new concertos each year from 1782 to 1785, and his concerts were very well attended. He reaped considerable profits from these ventures and began living well outside his means, courting financial trouble that would eventually plague his family. After 1785, Mozart switched his focus to opera, and what was once a flood of concertos became a trickle.

Like the Clarinet Concerto, Piano Concerto No. 20 has the traditional three-movement form. What is atypical is the overt emotionality of the musical material. It is no accident that many believe this to have been a great influence on Beethoven’s piano compositions. This is the dramatic Mozart we know from his operas and from the Requiem. Although the Concerto features occasional stormy outbursts, it maintains its inherent elegance and charm throughout. The customary crisp phrases and effervescent style we have come to expect from Mozart are in grand supply in all three movements. The work begins with a passage for the orchestra—called the orchestral exposition because it reveals thematic material—while the soloist stays silent. The soloist then reiterates some of those ideas in his own exposition. In No. 20, the orchestra presents a restless and moody theme, which is soon contrasted by a short foray into the major mode. The soloist’s first entrance sounds sweet and melancholy at first, but the orchestra rumbles to life under the solo part, and the storminess returns. The conversation between piano and orchestra continues with the conflict between the second theme’s lightness and the main theme’s darkness. Mozart did not write out a cadenza for this work (he improvised, which was customary), but later composers, such as Beethoven, wrote down their own cadenzas for this Concerto. The quiet ending of the movement comes as something of a surprise considering the tumultuous nature of the work thus far, but great contrast comes in the middle movement.

The second movement of Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto is labeled a Romanze. It is technically in a rondo form because it revisits the same theme three times, with intervening sections of different musical ideas. Although it is primarily in the major mode, this movement still retains strands of the dark and stormy tone that was woven through the first movement. The final movement is also in a rondo form. Once again, the conversation between soloist and orchestra is central to this section, with give-and-take between them, creating tension and harmonic interest. This is unlike the first movement, which ends in the way we expect but teases our sensibility. After the cadenza, the orchestra re-enters to conclude with a buoyant section in D major, instead of D minor.

ravel & beethoven program notes

The works on tonight’s concert all have interesting origin stories. Maurice Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye started as a piano duet for children. Gabriel Fauré’s Pavane has multiple versions, including an orchestral version and one for solo piano. Both pieces by these French composers later inspired fully staged ballets. Beethoven composed his Eighth Symphony in a brisk few months, while Schoenberg started the Chamber Symphony No. 2 in 1906, but put it aside for more than 30 years before completing it. The program for this evening is a reminder that every work of art is a story of creation, nurturing, change and acceptance.

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The pavane was a European courtly dance popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its sedate character made it a good choice for processionals, and even when danced, its simple choreography consisted of steps moving forward and backwards. Gabriel Fauré revisited this dance in the late 1880s with the Pavane in F-sharp minor. He imagined it for strings, pairs of woodwinds and a pair of French horns. Not surprisingly, the Pavane is one of Fauré’s most famous works. It is exquisitely delicate, with an opening line for the flute that displays Fauré’s incredible gift for melody. The woodwinds bring vibrant color to the proceedings. The lines gently dance and sway, but continually move forward. Fauré’s Pavane influenced later composers like Debussy and Ravel, whose Ma mère l’oye contains the Pavane de la belle au bois dormant (“Pavane of Sleeping Beauty”).

Sometimes large-scale works take a significant amount of time to finish, but Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2 is quite an extreme case. Schoenberg began this work in 1906, just as he was on the verge of making a great leap in his stylistic development. However, it took more than three decades for him to complete his masterful work. Even then, Schoenberg needed a small push to pick the Symphony up again to finish it. Conductor Fritz Stiedry asked Schoenberg for music for his New Friends of Music Orchestra, and the composer must have thought it was a good time to finally work through the musical ideas he had started decades before. Schoenberg completed the piece in 1939, and it premiered in December 1940. In the 33 years in between the work’s genesis and its completion, Schoenberg’s style had developed and evolved, and he wondered how to reconcile the pieces of his early attempts with his newer idiom. Schoenberg added almost two dozen measures to what was the first movement, completed the second movement and re-worked the pre-existing parts by rethinking the orchestration based on the forces in Stiedry’s orchestra. There are two movements: an opening Adagio and a contrasting Con fuoco; Lento. There were sketches for a third movement—which was to be an Adagio—but Schoenberg chose to exclude it. When Schoenberg began work on his Chamber Symphony No. 2, he was on the verge of a truly atonal style. However, after more than three decades of artistic evolution, he was willing to allow more tonal elements into his work. The opening movement feels more dramatic than dissonant, although the shifting harmonies do keep the listener surprised. The second movement begins with a more insistent sense of rhythm and greater energy. Overall, Schoenberg’s writing and use of various timbral juxtapositions shows off the richness of the distinct voices of the orchestra. The final part of the work brings back a slow tempo, before the piece builds back to an exciting and evocative conclusion.

In 1910, Maurice Ravel was working outside of the more staid and traditional musical establishment in Paris. He helped to found the Société Musicale Indépendante, an answer of sorts to the more conservative Société Nationale de Musique. Ravel’s piano duet, Ma mère l’oye (“Mother Goose”), originally composed for two children, was one of the works premiered during the inaugural concert of the Société Musicale Indépendante. Ravel drew inspiration, in part, from the stories of French author Charles Perrault (1628–1703).

Ravel is known for his skill as an orchestrator, and he transformed Ma mère l’oye into a lovely work for small orchestra, completing it in 1911. Both the piano duet and orchestral versions contain five pieces. Later the same year he also expanded it into a ballet, separating the five initial pieces with four new interludes and adding two movements at the start, the Prélude (“Prelude”) and Danse du rouet et scène (“Spinning Wheel Dance and Scene”). Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (“Pavane of Sleeping Beauty”) is a slow and languorous movement of delicate grace. The next movement is a waltz that serves as a conversation between Beauty and the Beast. In this part, Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête, Beauty is represented by a clarinet, while the Beast speaks through the contrabassoon. When the Beast transforms into a prince, the violin becomes his voice. Petit Poucet is a lively imagining of Hopo’ My Thumb with a lovely oboe melody; the centerpiece of Ma mère l’oye, Laideronnette, imperatrice des pagodes (“Little Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas”), shows Ravel’s interest in the music of Asian culture. Le jardin féerique (“The Fairy Garden”) is Ravel’s finale and features a haunting melody that reflects all the wonders of that magical place.

About a hundred years before Ravel’s exploration of the fairy tales in Ma mère l’oye, Beethoven was composing his Symphony No. 8 in F major. He was experiencing considerable turmoil at the time, embroiled as he was in his brother’s romantic affairs. However, conflict was normal for Beethoven; it might be safe to say there was rarely an extended period of peace in his life. The Eighth Symphony is nevertheless a lively and cheerful work that Beethoven completed in about four months. It was written around the same time as the Seventh Symphony, a larger and more substantial work. The Eighth, dubbed the “Little Symphony,” premiered in 1814 at a concert that also featured the Seventh Symphony, with Beethoven at the podium, despite his increasing deafness.

The Eighth Symphony has four movements. The first movement, in a quick triple meter, is in sonata form with 12-bar phrasing. The second theme, in the violins, starts quietly, but gradually increases in intensity. As the themes are developed, Beethoven builds a large crescendo through the middle section that comes to fruition as the themes are recapped. The triple meter gives this movement a light dance-like quality throughout. The second movement sounds like a metronome, an invention that had recently been improved by one of Beethoven’s friends. Haydn had done something similar in his “Clock” Symphony, which LACO audiences can hear in April. The quick rhythm of the chords continues throughout the movement, giving the impression that this “slow” movement is not all that slow. There are sonata form elements, but no development section between the exposition and the recap of the main themes. The coda of this movement features a motive with quick moving notes.

By 1812, the minuet was regarded as old-fashioned, but Beethoven used the older style in the third movement of the Eighth Symphony. There are three sections, and the middle contrasting section has solo parts for horn and clarinet. The main theme of the movement is based on an Austrian folk song. Like the first movement, this minuet and trio evoke the spirit of the dance. The last movement of Beethoven’s “Little Symphony,”a hybrid of sonata and rondo forms, is also its longest. The main theme reappears three times throughout the movement. The most significant part of this section is the lengthy coda, featuring interesting and unexpected modulations from key to key. Grander in scale and more serious in tone, the Seventh often overshadows the Eighth Symphony, and this charming work is certainly not as popular as the epic Ninth. But, as you will hear tonight, Beethoven’s “Little Symphony” is a wonderful work in its own right.

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baroque conversations 2 program notes

The most popular of the early Baroque ensembles was the trio sonata, which featured two soloists and the basso continuo. The trio sonata’s heyday occurred with Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), a famous violinist who traveled around Europe pleasing patrons with his virtuosic playing. The term trio sonata is something of a misnomer since there are actually four players in the group, but the basso continuo duo counts as a single entity. Tonight’s program features trio sonatas by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow and George Frederic Handel. While many trio sonatas in the Baroque were written for violins, tonight’s program throws a spotlight on the woodwind instruments and celebrates our host, LACO principal bassoon Kenneth Munday, now in his 40th season with the Orchestra. In Handel’s time, the trio sonata was still a viable genre, and allowed for great interplay between the two solo instruments who could play in counterpoint with each other, or play together in harmony. The evening ends with a sonata, an instrumental genre that in this instance features two oboes, bassoon and basso continuo.

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François Couperin, known as le grand to distinguish him from the other musicians in his family, was heavily influenced by the work of Corelli, especially the trio sonatas. Couperin is perhaps best known as a harpsichord player—he published an important treatise on playing the instrument called L’art de toucher le clavecin (The Art of Playing the Harpsichord) and also wrote four collections of harpsichord music—but he also composed music for ensembles. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes Couperin’s passion for meshing national styles as a “lifelong effort to unite in his music the best of the French with the best of the Italian.” This dedication is readily apparent in his Concerts royaux, four suites published in 1722. Couperin did not specify the instrumentation for these pieces, consequently, they can be played by a harpsichord soloist or by various ensembles. Two years later, Couperin published Les goûts-réunis ou Nouveaux concerts, a sequel of sorts to the Concerts royaux. The title refers to the reunited French and Italian styles. Our performance features the bassoon and the basso continuo, and they are heard in a work in four movements: Vivement, Air, Sarabande and Chaconne.

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow was an accomplished organist, composer and teacher and, although he had a successful career of his own, he is perhaps best known as one of Handel’s first teachers. For most of his life, he held a position as organist at the Marienkirche in Halle (Handel’s birthplace), where he also directed musical performances and composed new works for the choir. His choral works are especially rich, and Handel no doubt learned a lot about writing for the voice from Zachow. Among Zachow’s works, two dozen cantatas and some keyboard pieces survive. He seemed particularly interested in the strict counterpoint of fugues, and he passed this knowledge along to Handel. The Trio Sonata in F major on tonight’s program is one of the only surviving works of this genre associated with Zachow.

We know Handel best as a composer of operas and oratorios, but at the beginning of his musical career, he tried out many different genres, including the trio sonata. The Trio Sonata No. 3 in E-flat major, HWV 382 has four movements, starting with a slow Adagio and ending with an Allegro. Thanks to the teachings of Zachow, Handel had a great understanding of counterpoint, and this is on full display in the Alla breve and Allegro movements. The solo instruments weave individual melodies, but also join in foreground harmony with basso continuo support. In the slow movements, Handel’s gift for melody is even more apparent, with cantabile lines that prefigure the composer’s great vocal works.

Johann Friedrich Fasch was a contemporary of Handel and Bach, but his later works suggest a transition to the nascent Classical style of the mid-18th century. This development can be seen most clearly in his instrumental works. Although Fasch was well-known during his career, not one of his works was published during his lifetime. When his compositions were rediscovered in the 19th century, they were overshadowed by the revival of another famed Baroque composer—none other than the great JS Bach. Fasch’s emergence as a historical figure is still very much in progress. In hearing his Sonata in D minor, FaWV N:d1, as we do tonight, perhaps we can begin to appreciate the unique place Fasch held as a composer of both the High Baroque and the early Classical period.

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baroque conversations 1 program notes

Instrumental music in the Baroque period developed in different geographical locations in Europe. Distinct Italian, French and German styles emerged, but these did not stay perfectly self-contained. As composers traveled, so did music. All of the composers on tonight’s concert are German, but the music they wrote displays characteristics not just of that style, but of the French and Italian styles. One thing they all have in common is the use of the basso continuo, two players who round out the harmonies and bassline of a piece. One person plays a bass instrument, while the other continuo player performs on an instrument that has the capacity to sound more than one note at a time, a “chordal” instrument. In the Baroque period, the combination most often consisted of a violone (a low string instrument) and a harpsichord. The combination of the two instruments provides a harmonic anchor that fills out the texture. The basso continuo allows for greater freedom in the other instruments since they are not responsible for contributing directly to the harmony. Of course, the harpsichord can also be a solo instrument, filling roles both in the background and in the spotlight. Tonight’s concert features four different instrumental genres: overture, sonata, quartet and concerto.

Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was a German composer from the middle Baroque period. His style encompassed elements of the French and Italian styles. He wrote more than 100 instrumental pieces, among them half a dozen overtures like the one on this program. There are six movements in Erlebach’s Ouvertüre IV. Like the Baroque Suite, the Ouvertüre is a collection of dances, preceded by an opening piece (itself called an overture, usually in the French style—two parts, the first slow and stately, the second, fast and imitative). Erlebach’s Ouvertüre IV continues with a Gavotte and Courante, followed by three movements that are featured less often in instrumental works of this nature: an Air Entrée, Air Traquenard and Air Lentement.

Erlebach represents the generation that came before Bach and Telemann, who were contemporaries in the late Baroque. Bach and his contemporaries wrote an extraordinary amount of music. Some of Bach’s output consists of sacred vocal music, like cantatas, and his instrumental music is often for the organ or harpsichord, but he wrote for other types of ensembles, including trio sonatas and concertos that showed off his gifts for counterpoint and melody. Telemann was also very prolific, penning an impressive number of operas (not often performed today), cantatas and passions, but his most programmed works are his concertos and suites. Tonight’s concert features two works by Bach and a Quartetto by Telemann.

Telemann’s style reflects his experiences with not only the German, French and Italian music he encountered in his travels, but also the influence of music he heard when he spent six months working in Poland. Telemann composed the Quartetto in G major while he was in Hamburg in the 1730s. The work’s name, Quartetto, is misleading as it actually calls for five, not four, players; the basso continuo counts as a single entity. The piece alternates tempos in the movements, beginning with a peaceful Largo, followed by a lively Allegro. This alternation continues until the final Vivace.

Bach’s Sonata in G minor for Oboe and Harpsichord is a shining example of the composer’s ability to make the contrapuntal interplay between two instruments a conversation of equals. In his Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, Bach shows his mastery of the concerto, a genre that takes the idea of conversation and brings it to a larger ensemble. This particular Concerto was likely based on a violin concerto that is lost to history. Because the source material had a single-line instrument as soloist (it can only play one note at a time), and because the harpsichord can play many notes simultaneously, Bach’s work in transcribing the original added complexity and left-hand harmony to the harpsichord part. The first and third movements of the three-movement piece are faster in tempo, while the middle movement is marked Adagio. The two outer movements are similar in structure and begin in D minor. They then change to a closely related major key, before returning to D minor. The first and third movements also feature quick passagework both in the harpsichord and in the ensemble. There is intensity in this Concerto, a seriousness and relentless drive that comes to a brief rest only in the middle movement. The soloist must have incredible endurance to play this piece because the activity never stops. It is the quintessential high Baroque concerto: virtuosic, rigorous and unrelenting.