The Cleveland Museum of Art Zuzana Rüžičová, harpsichord
Wednesday, April 10, 1985 Gartner Auditorium
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1975): English Suite No. 2 in A minor, S. 807 Prélude Allemande Courante Sarabande Bourrée I Bourréd II Gigue
JS Bach: Toccata in C minor, S. 911
JS Bach: Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, S. 903 Fantasic Recitativo Fuga
JS Bach: French Suite No. 5 in G major, S. 816 Allemande Courante Sarabande Gavotte Bourrée Loure Gigue
JS Bach: Italian Concerto in F major, S. 971 (Allegro) Andante Presto
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
In his well-known monograph on the baroque era in music (Norton, 1947), Manfred Bukofzer devoted an entire section to Johann Sebastian Bach and one to Georg Friedrich Handel, the two giants with whom the period is said to end. The latter, in Bukofzer's terms, wrote music which "coordinated" the several national styles identifiable at the time, balancing recognizable traits from the predominating French and Italian "schools" in his own work. Bach, on the other hand, created music in which these national styles were "fused," in Bukofzer's words; that is, elements of Italian melodies, tonal harmonic clarity, and instrumental structures appeared in works that also contained aspects of French rhythm and ornamental graciousness; to these were added German contrapuntal writing and enriched harmonic idiom. Bach's commingling of the available resources of his generation penetrated virtually every type of composition he wrote, particularly in the realm of secular instrumental music. This concert is rich in examples of this fusion in works for the harpsichord, the quintessential baroque instrument.
We should note briefly that this evening's repertoire is almost entirely drawn from Bach's years as Capellmeister for Prince Leopold in the small court at Cöthen from 1717 to 1723. In this employment, Bach was responsible for providing mainly secular instrumental works. Among these were the Brandenburg Concertos, but there were also numerous works for the keyboard: pedagogical books such as the Clavier-Büchlein for his son Wilhelm Friedemann, which includes the Two- and Three-Part Inventions; the Well-Tempered Clavier; and two Clavier-Büchlein for his wife Anna Magdalena, the first of which included the first five French Suites. The English Suites were also begun during the Cöthen years and were completed in 1724 in Leipzig. Additionally, while in Cöthen, Bach wrote a number of independent characteristic keyboard works such as the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, other fantasias, and toccatas such as the C-minor.
Bach's enormous output for "string keyboard" (as opposed to organ) reflects not only his own interest in the harpsichord and clavichord, but also the ready acceptance of such works by his employer and his own family. It could also be said that the instruments themselves were congenial to the composer in their own right, for they afforded Bach some very important performing (and thus composing) capabilities. For instance, the harpsichord could produce clearly graded volume levels on the two independently-strung manuals; even more important, with this multiple-stringing, the harpsichord was capable of producing several different tone colors, depending on the individual manuals and how they were joined together. Consequently, despite the lack of dynamic control with any one key (as available on the clavichord or the newly-born piano) the harpsichord could effect broad dynamic and timbral ranges by the imaginative use of the manuals separately or coupled. Bach's clear designation of his Italian Concerto for a two-manual harpsichord was crucial to the musical effects he envisioned for the work, as we shall see later.
The six English Suites were begun in Cöthen but completed in 1724-25. Their designation as "English" is not Bach's, but may have been the result of their tenuous connection with the French composer Dieupart, who was active in London and whose works Bach copied out for himself, thus evidently giving him access to a theme used in the first suite of the set. Alternatively, the designation came as the result of a visit to Cöthen by a distinguished Englishmen, whose presence inspired the works. Each of the six suites begins with a prelude, which is actually an extended movement modeled after the first-movement form of contemporary Italian concertos. The process employs an opening theme, forte and usually chordal, which is called a ritornello because it returns several times through the movement, marking the start or finish of more contrapuntal and delicate episodes in different keys. The ability of the two-manual harpsichord to vary dynamics and tone colors becomes vital not only to volume but also to mark the thematic recurrence of the ritornello. Subsequent movements of the suites are dances, each with its distinctive meter and dance rhythm treated contrapuntally and each with two repeated sections. Typically, the repetition of each section would be a vehicle for the performer to create improvised ornaments (agréments) after the French practice. The second English Suite contains the Prelude, Allemande (4/4, moderately fast), Courante (fast triple meter) Sarabande (slow triple meter, with Bach's own completely written-cut ornamented variation, or "double"), Bourrée I in A minor and Bourée II in A major, followed by a repeat of Bourrée I (relatively fast duple meter), and Gigue (fast 6/8).
The Toccata in C minor is full of surprises!
It starts with a dramatically intense single-line statement, in which a highly audible rhythm stands out:
This leads to an adagio section, with principal rhythm now embedded in the weak beats and in longer note values:
At the conclusion of the adagio, Bach introduces a three-voice fugue, with the focal rhythm now integrated as a vital central motive of the subject. The fugue is brought to a halt in a free section which concludes with a semi cadence, only to begin again with a new idea added over the old; in the concluding moments of this double fugue, we hear a highly active form of the rhythm, now reduced to:
The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue is one of the wonders of Bach's imagination as applied to the keyboard. It is indeed chromatic in its scale progressions, its alterations of chords, its exchanges of tonal center by renamed common tones, and its "color" devices of ornamentation. The highly dramatic nature of the work up to the beginning of the fugue suggests the rhetorical influence of the theater or the emerging interest in the emotional world of Empfindsamkeit (the expression of constantly changing feelings) that would so capture Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Electrically-charged utterances form the first sections and dramatic gestures and tragic sighs pepper the second "recitative" section. The regulated rhythm of the fugue, by comparison, seems to control the eccentricity of the chromatic subject, and bring coherence and rationality to govern the extraordinary harmonic content of the work.
Like the English Suite, the French Suites were not so called by Bach, but acquired the designation through the dance types and their French titles. Five of the six were included in the first notebook for Anna Magdalena; a sixth was added later. The suites do not contain a prelude as do the English Suites; they rather begin with an Allemande. On the whole, they are shorter and less complex than the English Suites. The fifth also includes a Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, Bourrée, Loure (6/4, moderate tempo, with a characteristic rocking motion), and Gigue.
Bach's Italian Concerto was actually designated by him as a "concerto after the Italian taste... for a harpsichord with two manuals..." Published in 1735 along with his "overture in the French Style as Part II of the monumental Clavier-Übung, the concerto has the three-movement form that dominate Vivaldi's works and served as a model for Bach in so many instances. The Italian Concerto is so fine an example of that model that one is led to believe it is yet another transcription of a work by the "red priest," but this is not the case--the concerto is Bach's alone. The first movement contains the typical ritornello structure which we observed in the Prelude of the English Suite. The second movement is a kind of arioso in the relative minor, showing a liquid melody line which unfolds over a regular pulse of simple chord patterns and the ghost of a pedal point in the low note repeated at the beginning of each measure. The final movement is in fast duple meter with a ritornello structure like that of the first movement.