Concertos and a cassation are on the menu for this Baroque Conversations concert. The concerto is, of course, one of the dominant instrumental genres for the Baroque period, highlighting the contrast between the presentation of material by the ensemble and the more virtuosic performance of the soloist.
A cassation is a musical genre related to the divertimento, also meant to be played outdoors as light entertainment. Although it is not a term used as often as divertimento or serenade, cassations were popular from about 1750 to 1775, in southern Germany, Austria and Bohemia, and were often just a set of short movements assembled in a non-standard fashion or order.
Haydn’s Cassation in C major for Lute, Violin and Cello provides the welcome to the concert. Composed sometime in the mid-1760s, this Cassation has four movements, the opening Presto, a dance-inspired Minuetto, a contrasting Adagio and a Presto finale. The version on this program has been arranged by an unknown hand for strings and lute from the string quartet original.
Austrian composer and lutenist Karl Ignaz Augustin Kohaut was born in 1726 and died in 1784, which meant that his career began just as the Baroque period was drawing to a close. Still, he wrote for and performed on the lute—a distinctly Baroque instrument— well into the Classical period. Although Kohaut also played the violin and had a career as a diplomat, he was well known as a lutenist. Kohaut seems to have straddled the borderline between the Baroque and Classical periods quite gracefully, writing compositions like the Concerto in D major for Lute, Two Violins & Cello that we hear tonight, as well as works in Classical genres like the symphony. In fact, there’s a record of a 1777 concert in which Kohaut offered one of his lute concertos and a symphony on the same program.
Adam Falckenhagen was a German composer and lutenist. His historical position, roughly contemporaneous with Bach and Handel, makes him one of the last important composers of lute music. Stylistically, Falkenhagen’s music is very much identifiable as Baroque, but elements of the nascent galant style (a light, early classical idiom) seem to be emerging. His entire life as both a composer and performer centered on the lute. Although trained early in life on harpsichord, Falckenhagen turned exclusively to lute after studying with Johann Jacob Graf in the city of Merseburg. He worked in various courts and orchestras in Germany, and his output includes sonatas for lute, partitas for lute, and of course, lute concertos. The Concerto No. 3 in D major for Lute, Flute and Cello (Opera Nuova) begins with a Larghetto—Recitativo evoking a singing quality. An Allegro follows, and for the final two movements, Falckenhagen chose the markings Tempo di Polonese—suggesting Polish music—and Tempo di Minuetto.
Antonio Vivaldi is known for his concertos, especially his concertos for violin, but Vivaldi wrote concertos for many instruments. The composer’s Concerto in D major for Lute, Two Violins and Basso Continuo, composed for a Bohemian count, Johann von Wrtby, is likely Vivaldi’s most popular work for the instrument. But there are some questions about which specific instrument Vivaldi intended for the work. Lutes in Italy differed from the ones in Germany and Austria, but the music does not seem to fit either lute in an idiomatic way, and von Wrtby’s instrument, an 11-course or 13-course lute, is not well-suited to performing this Concerto either.
Speculation suggests that the piece might have been composed for a mandolino, a smaller lute, but we can’t say for sure. But no matter what instrument is used for the piece, the most popular part of this Concerto is the slow middle movement. In the opening and closing movements, the interplay between soloist and ensemble is by turns graceful conversation and spirited repartee.