The Cleveland Museum of Art Oberlin Baroque Ensemble
Wednesday, September 28, 1998 Gartner Auditorium
Michael Lynn, baroque flute and recorder Marilyn MacDonald, baroque violin James Caldwell, baroque oboe and viola da gamba Catharina Meints, viola da gamba Lisa Goode Crawford, harpsichord
Cantata, "Ecce nunc benedicite" for tenor, recorder, violin, and continuo Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741)
Tombeau fait à Paris sur la mort de Monsieur Blancrocher for solo harpsichord Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-1667)
Aria, "Sospenda le lacrime" from the oratorio Il trionfo della grazia Antonio Bononcini (1677-1726)
Aria, "L'alma smarita, o bella" from the opera Il ritorno di Giulio Cesare for tenor, viola da gamba, and continuo Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
Trio Sonata in C major, S. 1037 for violin, flute, and continuo Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Toccata for solo violin (Transcribed from the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, S. 565, for organ by Jaap Schroeder) J.S. Bach
Cantata, "Meine Seele rühmt und preist," S. 189 for tenor, flute, oboe, violin, and continuo J.S. Bach
Program Notes by Judith Eckelmeyer
(Note: These program notes received commendation from Robert Finn in his Plain Dealer review of the concert)
One of the most difficult aspects of twentieth-century culture for a lover of baroque music is that the contemporary recording and publishing industries--as advanced as we perceive them to be--provide only an incomplete and skewed window on the enormous musical productivity of the years from 1600 to 1750 (roughly). Even setting commercial and marketing interests aside, we must cope with matters of changing historical understanding and varying taste, which allow for "revivals" or "overshadowing" of composers, compositional genres, instruments, and even performance styles from that by-gone era over two hundred years ago. We are, to some degree, at the mercy of those who uncover their gems of antiquity, or those who decide whether or not the discovered information merits publication, and of those who make selections of works for performance. For each work brought before the public today, there remain certainly hundreds not available to us.
Besides the incompleteness of our picture of the baroque era, that information which we think we know is sometime misconstrued from that era to this; truly, we glimpse the baroque era darkly! We are tempted to assume, for instance, that figures such as Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, Corelli, Couperin, Schütz, and Purcell, whose names and works are known in our time, were as familiar and famous in their own time. Historical reality is often quite different from our supposition. While Handel and Monteverdi were indeed widely known and sought after in their lifetimes, Bach was a provincial, known outside his working sphere principally to other musicians, not to the public. It is perhaps the supreme irony that the most famous works of the then-most-famous composers now lie in obscurity, while the-unknown composers' works which all the world recognizes and loves today are sometimes revealed to be by someone else! In a word, things are often not as they appear in the world of baroque music.
A case in point is the life and music of J.J. Fux. This was a man whose conservative and scholastic upbringing in southern Austria led him almost inevitably to travel to Italy, where he absorbed the style of Corelli and also of the late Renaissance composer Palestrina. Becoming adept at sixteenth-century counterpoint, Fux also evolved a more up-to-date practice of accompanied "mixed" style with differing textures and vocal/instrumental combinations. His work became known as the "culmination of baroque music in Austria;" he was clearly more than a passable composer for the emperors Leopold I, Joseph I, and Charles VI, whom he served serially as Kapellmeister in Vienna. His extensive output was understandably almost entirely sacred and vocal. But his Gradus ad Parnassum (1725) is still considered the "most important textbook of counterpoint."
Fux's solo motets fall into his "mixed"-style category, as compared with his mass settings and multiple-voice works, which are consciously modeled on Palestrina. The solo motets incorporate a wide variety of vocal idioms and accompanying modes, heightened by expressivity and beauty of melody line.
Froberger's name seeps into most history books because of the enormous corpus of his keyboard works, which make up nearly one hundred percent of his compositional endeavor. If the middle decades of the baroque could claim a keyboard specialist, it would be he--not only for his own performing ability and extensive output, but also because through his frequent travels (from his birthplace, Stuttgart, to Vienna, where he served Leopold I for a time, then to Rome, Brussels, England, Germany, and France) he became familiar with the trends in compositional styles of the principal musical centers and began to adapt them within his own style of composition. In a sense, he formed a foundation for what would become an international exchange of style later in the century. His works, almost entirely unpublished in his lifetime, form a virtual catalogue of mid-seventeenth-century keyboard genres. He has often been named as the originator of the standard keyboard suite of dances in the order of allemand, courante, sarabande, and gigue; nevertheless, we now know that later publishers of his music imposed this pattern on his very different organization of the dances. What he did accomplish, however, is interior to each dance movement: a regular binary structure and a focus on a single tonality.
The Tombeau fait à Paris sur la mort de M. Blancheroche is a highly evocative movement of his twenty-second suite. It carries the further rubric: "lequel se joue fort lentement à la discretion sans observer aucune mesure"--that is, the expressive content of each measure will guide the performance, freeing it from a strict, bar-line-dominated dance tempo and rhythm. In each of the two repeated sections, there are astounding rhythms and dissonances; in the second, particularly, dissonant and chromatic passages become excruciating outcries, and near the end an anguished rising line is followed by descending figures forming grief-filled cataracts of tone over a dominant pedal.
The Bononcini brothers, Giovanni and Antonio were like Fux and Froberger in service at court in Vienna: Giovanni to Leopold I and Joseph I, Antonio to Joseph I and his successor Charles VI. Both had left their home in Modena to study with Colonna in Bologna, then went to Rome, Vienna, and Berlin before employment at the Hapsburg court. Antonio, the younger brother, remained firmly associated with Charles' court even though in his later years he was actually working in Italian cities "owned and operated" by Austria. His output was almost entirely vocal and quite extensive, including more than twenty "dramatic" works (operas and oratorios), some forty cantatas, and twelve sonatas for his own instrument, the viola da gamba.
Giovanni, on the other hand, had made an enormous name for himself and began his prodigious output at a relatively early age. His career in Rome took on the character of international stardom; by 1700 his musical style had become a resounding success and was imitated everywhere in Europe. His Viennese career ended about 1714, and after four more years in Rome, he went to London as composer to the Royal Academy of Music. Here he enjoyed two wildly successful seasons, becoming principal competitor with Handel for public and royal favor. His association with the Jacobites brought a political end to his success, but after a few trips to France he returned to England to direct the private concerts of the Duchess of Marlborough. Evidently not a careful man in his musical commitments, he was dismissed by the duchess for publishing a series of sonatas for her mother, her social and political rival, and he was removed from the Academy of Ancient Musick at the discovery of his plagiarizing a motet of Lotti. His late career blossomed again, however, at the Hapsburg court, where Empress Maria Theresia awarded him a pension for life. The style of his enormous output (more than sixty dramatic works, sixteen published and some 250 unpublished cantatas for solo voice and continuo, and well over twenty large sacred works) helped to establish the "galant taste" at the turn of the century.
Antonio Bononcini's Il trionfo della grazia,overo La conversione di Maddelena is an oratorio for the Emperor Charles VI's chapel in Vienna for Lent 1707. Giovanni's Il ritorno di Giulio Cesare vincitore della Mauritania is a court "festa," composed in late 1704 or early 1705 during his service to Joseph I.
In spite of his relative obscurity in the eighteenth century (in comparison, especially, with the Bononcinis), J.S. Bach seems well-known to us today, both his music and his personal life. But Even this familiarity carries with it a "caveat," for modern scholarship is constantly revising information about him and his works. The three pieces attributed to him on this evening's program among those which are now considered unlikely to be the products of his hands.
The Trio Sonata in C major, S. 1037, is scored in the "authoritative" edition of Bach's works for two violins and continue. In Bach's time the work may well have been performed by any other two viable melody instruments instead of the violins; these exchanges of medium were an accepted practice and part of the baroque esthetic. The sonata, however, is most currently entered in the "Doubtful or Spurious" list in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, with the name of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756) given as the possible composer. This is the same Goldberg of the "Variations," although there is some uncertainty that Bach wrote them, as Forkel's story has it, through Goldberg's attempt to soothe Count Keyserlingk with music; for, talented harpsichordist that he was, Goldberg would have been about fourteen at the time the variations were published!
In these days of Webber's Phantom of the Opera, we are again reminded of the once enormous popularity of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ, and its role (through Stokowski's transcription of it for the orchestra, for instance) in the Bach revival earlier this century. It now seems that this is not Bach's own work; even though it appeared at one time in a collection with authentic works of his, there is no evidence of a copy in his own hand. A recent theory is that (the same!) Goldberg may have composed the music about 1750. Furthermore, on the basis of the music itself, it is likely that the work may not have been for the organ to begin with, but is rather, perhaps, a transcription of a work for solo violin or violoncello piccolo. Jaap Schroeder's transcription for solo violin is thus a return to the supposed original medium.
In the mid-1950s, Karl Anton and Alfred Dürr proposed that Bach's Cantata No. 189 was actually written by Melchior Hoffman (1685-1715), who succeeded Telemann in 1704 as director of music at the Neukirch, the Opera, and the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Hoffmann's total output is small but otherwise representative of the vocal genres of the time. This cantata for solo tenor and small ensemble differs from the usual pattern of Bach's Leipzig cantatas by the omission of the grand opening chorus and the concluding chorale.
We might well ask, "Is nothing sacred?" Regardless of attribution, this music which has borne Bach's name for so long is still as powerful, charming, and enjoyable as ever. Now it is a rose by another name.