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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

PROGRAM SCHEDULE  •  SUN 17  •  MON 18  •  WED 20  •  FRI 22  •  SUN 24

Sherman Library & Gardens, Central Patio Room, 8 p.m.

Stylus Phantasticus

This concert was partially underwritten through the
generous donation of Steven and Cynthia Dember

Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin, director
Jolianne von Einem, violin
Andrew McIntosh, violin, viola
Rob Diggins, violin, viola
Heather Vorwerck, viola da gamba
Mary Springfels, viola da gamba
Ian Pritchard, harpsichord, organ

Antonio Bertali (1605-1669)
Sonata à 6 in D minor
from Pariturburch Ludwig

Antonio Bertali (1605-1669)
Sonata X in D minor
from Sonate festive

Dietrich Becker (1623-1679)
Sonata 26 in A major

Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV 163
for solo harpsichord

Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613)
Moro, Lasso
No. 17 from the Sixth Book of Madrigals

Monsieur de St. Colombe (c. 1640-1700)
Les Pleures
from Tombeau les Regrets

Tobias Hume (1579-1645)
Harke, Harke
from The First Part of Ayres, French, Pollish and Others

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)
Fantasia à 6 in G major

Johann Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680)
Sonata No. III à 6 in C major
from Sacro-profanus concentus musicus



Heinz Ignaz Franz Biber (1654-1704)
Sonata à 6 in E minor
from Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes

Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667)
Lamentation in F minor on the Death of Ferdinand III
for solo harpsichord

Heinz Ignaz Franz Biber (1654-1704)
Sonata à 6 in D major
from Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes

Heinz Ignaz Franz Biber (1654-1704)
Sonata No. 5 in E minor
for violin and basso continuo

Johann Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680)
for three violins and basso continuo

Johann Schmelzer (c. 1620-1680)
Sonata IV à 6 in A minor
from Sacro-profanus concentus musicus

Reception in the Gardens

No, I did not make this title up! Stylus Phantasticus was the name given to a unique philosophy of composing and performing music that developed primarily in Italy and the German-speaking regions north of the Alps in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Perhaps at no other time in Western musical history has so much striking emotive content filled a few short minutes! Stylus Phantasticus composers wrote sonatas in short contrasting sections, sometimes with as many as eight or even ten players; these works are like musical pageants of strongly characterized affects and effects designed to shock, delight and move their listeners.


Our first sonata was composed by the versatile Veronese Antonio Bertali, who spent his adult life working in Vienna at the court of Emperor Ferdinand ll. His Sonata à 6 begins in an arresting fashion, with short, intense, isolated outbursts. There follow three more similar sections. The brevity of each, and the way the piece stops and starts, creates an oddly hesitant urgency: the piece has begun, yet it has not, quite. After these four attempts, it hits its stride in a very energetic contrapuntal section, followed by several more sections of alternating mood and meter. You may notice some extremely pungent harmonies in the slow sections! BACK


The second Bertali work — a trio sonata, the Sonata X — seems fairly conventional and wholesome for quite a while, but it catches a nasty chromatic virus towards the end. This manifests itself first as a rash of sneaky, manic figurations, and ends with the virus destroying its host. BACK


We turn next to an utterly sunny little Sonata 26 in A major, a trio sonata by Dietrich Becker. Primarily a violinist who worked for the Hamburg City Council (I can only dream of living in a world where city councils have their own orchestras!), Becker was evidently an accomplished composer, though of slight productivity. He ends his sectional sonata with a darling, exuberant little ciacona that ends all too soon. BACK


The Danish-born Dietrich Buxtehude wrote an enormous amount of vocal music, but is still known primarily as a composer of music for the organ and harpsichord. His Praeludium in G minor is a bit like a contest between the two musical Greek gods, Dionysus and Apollo. The Dionysian predilection for freedom, sensuality and expressive spontaneity, here represented in the several iterations of the rhythmically flexible prelude sections, and the Apollonian principles of rationality, clarity, and elegance, exemplified in the three fugal sections, take turns in a musical debate that is never conclusively resolved. Indeed, this debate informs much of the music of the Stylus Phantasticus. Vive la différence!  BACK


Veronese Carlo Gesualdo, Frenchman Monsieur de St. Colombe, Scotsman Tobias Hume, and Welsh-born Thomas Tomkins may not generally be considered exponents of the Stylus Phantasticus, but the music of each has characteristics that make them honorary club members — for tonight at least — such as harmonic fearlessness, improvisatory freedom and affectual power.

Carlo Gesualdo is infamous for the (unpunished) murders of his first wife and her lover, a crime committed upon discovering them in flagrante delicto. His astonishing five-voice madrigal Moro, Lasso, here arranged for five string players, exhibits his morbid, wounding harmonies and passionate outbursts to perfection. BACK


Monsieur de St. Colombe — thus referred to because his life was so private that there remains no record even of his first name — may have been the first to add a seventh string to the basse de viole, thereby giving the world some wonderfully growly low notes; he certainly gave the world hundreds of works for the instrument. His piece for two bass viols, Les Pleures (“The Cries,”), which is the second part of a longer work, Tombeau les Regrets, mines a deep vein of sadness. BACK


Tobias Hume is the only composer I know of who was also a career soldier, serving — as Scotsmen of his time frequently did — in the Swedish and Russian militaries. In the preface to his collection of works for solo viol, he writes movingly:

My Profession being, as my Education hath beene, Armes, the onely effeminate Part of me hath beene Musicke, which in me hath always been Generous, because never Mercenarie. To prayse Musicke, were to say, the Sunne is bright.

Apparently feeling some need to defend his unique music, he continues, “These are mine own Phansies expressed by my proper Genius, which if thou dost dislike, let me see thine”!

The opening of his ayre Harke, Harke is boldly rhetorical, featuring pizzicato: he instructs the performer, in the score, to “play nine letters with your finger.” At the end, Hume incorporates the first known use of another special technique, col legno, which requires the performer to strike the strings with the wooden part of the bow. BACK


Thomas Tomkins’ wonderful Fantasia à 6 (surely at least one fantasia belongs in this program!) employs a few basic and powerful techniques: chromaticism, falling and rising lines, ornamental diminutions and syncopation, all of which carry the piece seamlessly from initial mournfulness to final triumph. BACK


At the risk of slighting the sonatas in the remainder of the program (I have used up most of my allotted program note words!), I will address all the Schmelzer and Biber six-part sonatas in a generic way, as they have much in common, formally, at least. All are made of a series of contrasting sections; you cannot help but notice the frequent changes of mood, tempo and meter. But listen also for the following techniques, which are liberally employed to complement these contrasts:

  • Homophony (or very nearly), in which all parts are written in the same rhythm), appearing in grand sections (end of the Biber in D major) or dance-like sections (the Schmelzer in C major).
  • Contrapuntal sections, in which all voices enter with similar thematic material, but never at the same time.
  • Mixed textures, usually with the violins in lively mutual imitation, while the lower parts are homophonic. A wonderful later example of this texture is the opening movement of Bach ’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, which we performed in 2017.


Biber’s Sonata No. 5 in E minor for violin is taken from a set of eight sonatas published in 1681. In addition to his usual free, improvisatory prelude, he here offers not one theme with variations, but two! A theme with variations is perhaps Biber ’s favorite formal vehicle for virtuosity and contrast. BACK


Johann Jakob Froberger was grieved at the death of his employer, the music-loving Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand III. Froberger’s Lament in F minor is deeply touching, with a searching, meditative, profoundly regretful sadness. The very unusual ending poignantly conveys the high, very high regard in which this remarkable ruler was held by the composer. BACK


Schmelzer’s lovely Sonata for three violins begins in a mood of easy companionship. The (by now expected!) contrasting next section rises steadily in excitement, followed by a brief dolorous patch and an even briefer little canzona. The piece ends with a wonderful section: three separate little ideas are introduced, and, in an eager free-for-all, they then jump in at will, cleverly interlocking with each other. A delight to play, to study, and to hear. BACK

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock


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