Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



program notes: baroque conversations 1

Thursday January 26, 2012

Biber Gavotte & Gigue from Mystery Sonata No. 13 “Pentecost”

orchestration:

Bach Toccata in D minor, BWV 913

orchestration:

Bach “Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen” (“Mute sighs, silent cries”) from Cantata No. 199

orchestration:

Bach “Schafe können sicher weiden” (“Sheep may safely graze”) from Cantata No. 208

orchestration:

Bach “Bist du bei mir” (“If you are with me”), BWV 508, from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (formerly attributed to Bach, actually composed by Stölzel)

orchestration:

Bach Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1038

orchestration:

Bach “Bete aber auch dabei” (“Pray nevertheless also”), from Cantata No. 115

orchestration:

Bach “Echo” Aria from Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248,“Flösst, mein Heiland, flösst dein Namen” (“O my Savior, does your name”)

orchestration:

Bach “Mein gläubiges Herze” (“My faithful heart”) from Cantata No. 68

orchestration:

Bach Canons from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

orchestration:

Bach “Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit” (“Before your Throne I now appear”), BWV 668a

orchestration:

Principal oboe Allan Vogel, known internationally as an “aristocrat of his instrument” (Los Angeles Times), celebrates an astonishing 40 years with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra this season. Renowned for his performances of the Baroque literature, it seems only fitting that Vogel be at the helm for the opening concert of the 2012 Baroque Conversations series.

The program offers a selection of genres that were popular in the high Baroque period: the sonata, the toccata, the trio sonata and the cantata. The first three of these are instrumental genres, while the last features both instrumental and vocal components. The term sonata, for example, has a broad definition; a sonata is simply a piece that is played, literally “sounded,” on an instrument, as opposed to a cantata, which is sung. In the Baroque period there were two types of sonatas, those played in the church (sonata da chiesa) and those played at court (sonata da camera). Each type has its own form and sequence of movements: church sonatas usually have four movements, slow-fast-slow-fast, while court sonatas often began with a prelude followed by stylized dance movements. A sonata can be played on any instrument, but the violin was a popular choice in the Baroque period. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber wrote most of his work in the last quarter of the 17th century, specializing in works for violin. As a composer from Bohemia, Biber was influenced both by the Italian and German traditions. He was an innovator on the violin, experimenting with new tunings and bowings and using this usually monophonic instrument to play thrilling counterpoint. His Mystery Sonata displays both his virtuosity on the violin and his inventive compositional techniques.

Unlike the sonata, which has formal specifications, the toccata is a work of no set structure. The sole purpose of the toccata is to allow a performer to show off his or her ability on an instrument. Often full of fireworks and virtuosic passages, the toccata is not meant to be a complex, pensive musical study; it’s meant to be a show-stopper. Late Baroque composer JS Bach (1685–1750) often paired his toccatas with fugues, which are imitative studies with more of a set structure. By pairing a work composed in a free style with one that had more formal constraints, Bach showed great contrast in different types of writing.

The most popular of the early Baroque ensembles was the trio sonata, which featured two soloists and the basso continuo. 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 one entity. Tonight’s program features a trio sonata by Bach, although the trio sonata’s heyday occurred earlier with Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713), a famous violinist who traveled around Europe pleasing patrons with his virtuosic playing. By Bach’s time, the trio sonata was still a viable ensemble that allowed for great interplay between the two solo instruments. Each soloist could play in counterpoint with the other, or they might play together in harmony.

Bach’s vocal music is particularly beautiful, and it’s a shame that he composed no operas in his lifetime. The cantata, however, provided him an opportunity to write vocal music that was both dramatic and narrative. It is important, though, to clarify the term. “Cantata” may refer to one of two different types of vocal pieces from the Baroque period. The Italian cantata was a secular art form, usually a short collection of recitatives and arias for a soloist. We may think of it as an unstaged mini-opera with a single character. The German cantata, on the other hand, was a sacred genre, a staple of Lutheran church music of the Baroque era. JS Bach wrote many of these cantatas when he worked at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (1723–1750). There is evidence to suggest he may have written five complete year-long cycles of cantatas, one for every Sunday. Unfortunately, only about 200 cantatas survive, but these are among Bach’s most famous works. While employed at St. Thomas Church, Bach also wrote secular music for the Collegium musicum, a group of amateur musicians who attended the University in Leipzig. Among these works are some secular cantatas, the most famous being the “Coffee” Cantata. Historical sourcessay Bach may have written as many as 40 of these secular cantatas, however, only about 20 are left to us.

A cantata has no set ensemble, but instead may feature a single soloist and continuo, a small group of soloists both vocal and instrumental, or even soloists and choir. Just as there is no set ensemble for a cantata, there is also no set formula. Some of Bach’s larger church cantatas begin with a choral movement accompanied by the entire ensemble. Some of the smaller cantatas feature recitatives and arias sung by the soloist(s). There are two types of recitatives. The first type, called secco or “dry,” features the voice accompanied by only the continuo instruments. A recitative of this type has a rather thin texture, but the collaboration of soloist and continuo allows for more rhythmic flexibility in the vocal line. The other type of recitative is called accompagnato or “accompanied” because instruments of the orchestra support the voice. There is less rhythmic flexibility, but the texture of the music is fuller and thicker. In Bach cantatas, recitatives are usually paired with arias, florid song-like pieces. In each pair, the recitative often has more lines of text but is shorter in duration, while the aria tends to be longer despite its briefer text. Florid passages in the vocal line and repeated phrases and sections account for this.

In 1747 Bach was fortunate to meet with Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great, a meeting that was enabled in part because CPE Bach worked as a court musician there. Frederick showed Bach the piano, which had been invented only a few years previously, and gave Bach a musical theme on which he wanted the old man to improvise a fugue. Bach did it with ease, of course, but then Frederick asked for a six-voice fugue. Bach took on the challenge and wrote out what he called The Musical Offering. He presented it to Frederick with the Latin inscription: “Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta,” which translates to ‘the theme given by the king, with additions, resolved in the canonic style.’ Also, the first letters of the Latin inscription spell “Ricercar,” a fugal genre. The Musical Offering has two ricercars, ten canons – some of which are performed tonight – and a trio sonata.

– Christine Gengaro, PhD



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