André Campra (1660-1744): from Cantatas françoises, livre 1er (1708)
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Toccata in D minor, S. 913
Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764): Sonata in G major, Op. 9, No. 7 Dolce: Andanta Allegro ma non troppo Aria: Affettuoso Giga: Allegro moderato
Michel Lambert (1610-1696): Airs de cour Vos mépris chaque jour Par mes chants tristes et touchants Ombre de mon amant
J.S. Bach: Trio Sonata in G major, S. 1039 Adagio Allegro ma non presto Adagio Presto
J.S. Bach: Arias Schweigt, ihr Flöten (from cantata 210, "O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit") Mit zarten und vergnügten Trieben (from cantata 36b, "Die Freude reget sich")
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
Let us say at the outset that the French composers on this evening's program represent a very long tradition of compositional perspective in France, and even if they are not particularly familiar to most American audiences, they were highly visible and widely recognized in their own time. The progression of musical thoughts and creativity represented by these three composers, of course, emanates out of their own particular culture, but there is also a real link with quite old trends in French arts. To understand the remarkable positions of these baroque composers, we must briefly unfold our historical telescopes and observe the music of a more distant past.
From the time of the Middle Ages, vocal music in France represented the leading edge of compositional endeavor in western Europe: yet even from these early times, and through the history of music in France, vocal music necessarily had to be regarded in light of the exceptional importance the French have always given to the literary aspects of vocal genres. It was in France we remember, that the motet was born--the original motet, that is, in its thirteenth-century manifestation with layers of two different texts, sometimes in two different languages, riding simultaneously over a foundation of pre-existing Latin liturgy with yet another text. In roughly the same period, the northern trouvères and southern troubadours had "found" a relation between poetic structures and musical forms in secular aristocratic songs. And further, out of the constant references to the classical models, composers had reached back into Greek antiquity (the Renaissance was not the first era to dig up our western roots) for examples of poetic meter with which to govern the layers of musical information they were learning to create.
The ground broken in thirteenth-century France shaped compositional concerns for years to come. Some three or four hundred years later, in the flurry of sixteenth-century humanist studies of Greek culture, not only France but Italy as well investigated at a new level the relation of literature and music, again seeking Greek models. The Italian experiments focused on the affective, expressive projection of the text in music, but the French were interested in formal and proportional aspects of the text setting. Out of the French academic approach, embodied in the aesthetic "guidelines" of the Académie de Musique (formed in 1571), composers evolved the vers mesuré, a text setting without fixed meter but with syllables regulated durationally by the old poetic meters--the same ones that thirteenth-century French composers had found so important.
In addition to the relation of music to poetry and classical meters, however, the French passion for dance now became significant in that it offered a medium by which verbal information of all kinds could be enacted in consort with music. By the end of the sixteenth century, the ballets de cour included not only dances mimes or entrées, but also sung or spoken explanations or récits, and a grand concluding dance as well in which royalty and courtiers often participated. Within the ballets, secular songs known as airs de cour appeared as one of the kinds of music for the dance. The airs de cour, also published in collections apart from the ballets, were typically syllabic, strophic, often accompanied by lute, and sometimes for several voices set choradally. But inevitably, these airs were without a fixed meter, harking back to the older vers mesuré.
The first half of the seventeenth century saw the ballets de cour evolve into relatively unconnected segments, each of which presents its own little tableau and offered little substance in text. But with the appearance of Isaac de Benserade's (1613-1691) literary strength about mid-century, the genre turned a significant corner: the unified plot and high-quality poetry again became a prime factor in the ballets de cour. And by that time, too, Louis XIV had begun a long reign, heavily influencing the course of the arts in France for more than half a century.
Louis' court was, of course, the principal home for generations of leading French composers. One is always tempted to fall into the textbook generalization of the extent to which Louis promoted things French, to which he indeed embodied France; but paradoxically, his patronage not only sheltered but elevated the Italian-born Jean-Baptiste Lully to unprecedented power over the taste and events of court-sponsored artistic life. Furthermore, it was the Italian Lully whose music became the touchstone of the "French style" or "goût" in the second half of the century.
But by Lully's time, there was also a strong interest among many in France in the quite different Italian "taste," often to the point that some musical events became sparring grounds for the political and/or aesthetic loyalists of the two styles. The beginning years of the eighteenth century, however, marked a waning of the preeminence of Lully's artifice and controlled style, and the increasing inclusion Italian features in French compositions. François Couperin pointed directly to this mixing of styles in his 1724 collection of works entitled Les goûts réunis (the united tastes), and J.J. Quantz was later to approved of the mixed style in preference to mere nationalism in music.
Lully's father-in-law was Michel Lambert, a singer who had studied his art in Italy and returned to France to perform and teach singing, and to compose in Louis' court. In this association Lambert composed récits for the "Ballet Royale de la nuit" of 1653. By far his greatest output was songs or airs, of which the New Grove Dictionary indicates there were twenty collections; most of these were lost, and yet 200 individual airs are extant. Published between 1689 and the first years of the 1700s, Lambert's airs show a variety of types; most of the works clearly derive from the older air de cour having a short binary structure with a "double" or ornamented version. A number of the airs show dance structure (rounded binary), or are actually in dance rhythm, such as a sarabande. Among those with strong suggestions of the recitative is "Ombre de mon ament" on this program.
André Campra is often mentioned in the same breath with Couperin as one of the foremost composers of Louis' later years. About the turn of the century he developed a hybrid genre called opera-ballet, which largely supplanted Lullian opera in France. Born in Aix-en-Provence, but of Italian extraction, he enjoyed a long career of composing mixed-style works that were founded in the French tradition. His first book of Cantatas françoises (1708), bears his preface stating, "To the best of my abilities I have endeavored to temper the delicacy of French music with the liveliness of Italian music." Those cantatas, like Marin's of about the same time, often show a direct line to Italian cantata themes and texts, and contain a more personalized and animated melodic line than was typical in the more stylized French manner.
Jean-Marie Leclair's musical family may have been surprised by his achievements, by the age of nineteen, in dance and lace-making. By then, however, he was also a skilled violinist in the best tradition of his family, and throughout his adult life he performed and composed widely for his instrument. His travels to Turin, Kassel, and London were separated by periods of time in Paris, where he appeared as performer and composer for the Concerts Spirituels, and for a time worked in the court of Louis XV; he also resided in the Netherlands while he was employed by the House of Orange. After 1743 he returned to Paris and spent his later years there in retirement. He was murdered in 1764--probably by a nephew with whom he had had a falling-out; no one was ever charged with his eath. Leclair had known Corelli's sonatas and adapted many of their features into works rooted in the French "taste." He also absorbed Vivaldi's style of fast movement, and employed a variety of demanding techniques that rivaled or went beyond the Italians: multiple stops, double trills, left-hand tremolo, and a variety of articulations. He would typically retain the French style for his slow movements and continue Lully's style in dance movements. His Sonata in G major is in four mixed movements. The second and fourth have the "mechanical" regularity of the Italian fast movements; in some passages the bass also becomes an active partner, producing some brief imitations of the melody. The slower first and third movements show somewhat more ornamentation and contain examples of rhythmic divisions of the beat into three, four, and even six notes. Leclair indicated that the sonata could be performed by either violin or "German flute;" two versions are provided for the third movement.
Johann Sebastian Bach's awareness and application of the French and Italian tastes are well documented and a matter of practical experience to the audiences of the Gala Subscription Series concerts. Bach typically mastered and employed the traditions of the different cultures in his own way, not by "mixing and matching," but rather sustaining a particular style for an entire work. And while it is clear that he did know the French devices intimately, one might venture to say that he was truly taken with the Italian style, if only on the basis of his extensive transcriptions of Vivaldi's works. The trio sonata, represented as a genre on this program, was developed in late seventeenth-century Italy through Corelli, particularly, and also Albinoni and Vivaldi. Similarly, the dramatically-conceived cantatas of Bach owe much to the Italian examples of the genre.
The Trio Sonata in G major is designated for two flutes and continuo, although Bach revised the work (or rather, reorchestrated it) for harpsichord and viola da gamba (S. 1027). Composed in Cöthen about 1720, it has the four-movement scheme of an Italian church sonata. The first movement ends with an open cadence, leading directly into the second. The third begins in E-minor and might be taken for a Vivaldi slow movement; it concludes in B major. The fugal fourth movement returns to the original key.
Bach's secular cantatas were written for a variety of functions ranging from weddings to promotions to birthdays to civic ceremonies. Cantata 210 is a wedding cantata, actually a late reconvening of earlier materials, for soprano and chamber accompaniment. It is one of a very few secular cantatas from Bach's years in Leipzig. The text, possibly by Picander, at first disparages music, then suggests that music is like love and can lead to a higher plane; finally, there are wishes for the bridal couple's joy and good fortune. The aria "Schweigt ihr Flöten" is the end of the negative comments about music.
Cantata 36b is also from Bach's Leipzig years and also existed earlier--in three prior versions, one of them an Advent cantata. In its latest manifestation, Bach (through Picander) celebrated the birthday of Johann Florens Rivinus, and attorney and professor at Leipzig University. The entire work employs chorus; soprano, alto, and tenor soloists; flute; strings; and continuo. The text is a cheerful one, raising joy and the Sons of the Muses, good wishes, and so on.
Bach's keyboard Toccata in D minor, written before 1708, is unique among his works generally, in that the title by no means conveys the extensive proportions of the whole composition. Further, although it is the work of a young and only moderately experienced composer, the toccata is extraordinarily intense and heavily laden with dramatic impetuosity that suggests a venture into Italian theatrical style at times, as well as the German tradition in organ composition. The work is actually in four movements, only the first of which is designated "toccata." The second movement is a fugue, peculiar in that the subject appears in its first and second statement in the same key, an octave apart, and the third and fourth statements are both in the dominant, two octaves apart. The third movement, Adagissimo, borders on the recitative style, repeating a minor third pattern in an almost obsessive rhythm harmonized with expressive chords; the highly modulatory movement ends on the dominant, A major, leading to the final D-minor movement marked Fuga: Allego. This movement has been described by Spitta as a double fugue, the subjects of which are "certainly petty and unimportant when compared to what we have been accustomed to in Bach." It is possible, however, to read the energetic motive as the true subject, for with its characteristic drive, energetic octave leap and fierce brevity it dominates the movement and particularly the long episode section. Moreover, it is derived both rhythmically and melodically from the reverse of the first few notes of the second-movement fugue. This is a young, sometimes diffuse work indeed, but the sense of drive, particularly in the last movement, and the colorful stylistic variety it contains are just as surely hallmarks of the creative imagination we know of Bach's music of the years to follow.