Wednesday, June 25, 2014

PROGRAM SCHEDULE  •  SUN 22  •  MON 23  •  WED 25  •  FRI 27  •  SUN 29

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

Dawn of the Baroque
Arias, Sonatas, Canzonas, Dances and
Capriccios of the Italian Early Baroque

Alexandra Opsahl, cornetto
Nicholas Daley, sackbut

Festival Orchestra
Elizabeth Blumenstock, leader

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612)
Canzon IV à 4, Ch. 198 ·  Form: CANZONA

Tarquinio Merula (c. 1595-1665)
Ciaccona ·  Form: DANCE
from Canzoni overo sonate concertate per chiesa e camera, 1637

Tarquinio Merula (c. 1595-1665)
La Strada ·  Form: ARIA
from Il secondo libro delle canzoni da suonare, Op. 9, c. 1631

Tarquinio Merula (c. 1595-1665)
La Lusignuola ·  Form: CANZONA
from Canzoni a quattro voci, Libro primo, 1615

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612)
Canzon à 4, “La Spiritata,” Ch. 186 ·  Form: CANZONA

Biagio Marini (1594-1663)
Sonata à 4 ·  Form: SONATA
from Per Ogni Sorte d’Stromento, Sonate da Chiesa e da Camera, Op. 22, 1655

Biagio Marini (1594-1663)
Zarabanda III ·  Form: DANCE
from Per Ogni Sorte d’Stromento, Sonate da Chiesa e da Camera, Op. 22, 1655

Biagio Marini (1594-1663)
Sonata sopra l’aria “La Monica” ·  Form: SONATA
from Opus 8

Biagio Marini (1594-1663)
Passacalio à 4 ·  Form: DANCE
from Per Ogni Sorte d’Stromento, Sonate da Chiesa e da Camera, Op. 22, 1655

Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Canzon à 6 ·  Form: CANZONA


Dario Castello (c. 1590-c. 1658)
Sonata XII ·  Form: SONATA
from Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro primo, Venice, 1658

Dario Castello (c. 1590-c. 1658)
Sonata XV per strumenti d’arco ·  Form: SONATA
from Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro secondo, 1644

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1584-1643)
Capriccio III sopra “Il Cucho,” F4.03 ·  Form: CAPRICCIO
for harpsichord solo

Andrea Falconieri (c. 1585-1656)
Passacalle ·  Form: DANCE
from Il primo libro di Canzone, Sinfonie, Fantasie, Capricci, Brandi, Correnti, Gagliarde, Alemane, Volte, 1650

Andrea Falconieri (c. 1585-1656)
Folias echa para mi
Senora Dona Tarolilla de Carallenos
·  Form: ARIA
from Il primo libro di Canzone, Sinfonie, Fantasie, Capricci, Brandi, Correnti, Gagliarde, Alemane, Volte, 1650

Marco Uccellini (c. 1610–1680)
Caporal Simon ·  Form: ARIA
from Sonate, arie et correnti, Op. 3, Venice, 1642

Marco Uccellini (c. 1610–1680)
Aria quinta sopra la Bergamasca ·  Form: ARIA
from Sonate, arie et correnti... terzo libro, Venice, 1642


This program features pieces composed in roughly five distinct formal categories. Rather than a serious discussion of each piece — there are, after all, 16 of them! — these notes will instead discuss the forms; the program informs you (no pun intended) which category each piece belongs in. The formal categories to watch out for are, in order of first appearance in the program, canzonas, dances, sonatas, capriccios (just one of these), and arias (popular tunes or chord patterns).


Canzona (or canzon)

Wikipedia has this to say about canzonas: “Literally ‘song’ in Italian, a canzone (plural: canzoni; cognate with English to chant) is an Italian or Provençal song or ballad. The term canzone is also used interchangeably with canzona, an important Italian instrumental form of the late 16th- and early 17th-century. Often works designated as such are canzoni da sonar; these pieces are an important precursor to the sonata. Terminology was lax in the late Renaissance and early Baroque music periods.”

Lax? I’ll say! This may be the scholarly definition, and may apply nicely to strictly vocal works, but examination of actual instrumental canzoni of the period reveals that they very commonly feature imitative counterpoint, something not generally associated with ballads or even, necessarily, sonatas. Musical taxonomy is apparently just as messy as biological!

The composerly construction of imitative counterpoint is a bit like watching someone skillfully putting together one of those wooden Chinese puzzles. All the pieces fit together cunningly, but you suspect that if you tried it yourself, you’d be hopelessly confused from the outset.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how it’s done! I can make some suggestions, though, about how to listen to pieces constructed in this way.

Since it is virtually guaranteed that, in a canzon, you will have sequential entrances of the same theme, or musical figure, you will get at least three or four cracks at learning how that figure sounds. Imagine that Lady Gaga enters a crowded room where you are sitting; you’ve never heard of her, but many people in the room have, and you hear “Lady Gaga!” repeated in rapid succession as she passes people near you. You quickly surmise that this person is Lady Gaga, and if you spot her later in another part of the room, you will be able to identify her.

In listening, one tricky bit is that the principle figure is often quite short — sometimes even shorter than the pronunciation of “Lady Gaga”— and the first imitation of it occurs quite quickly. Don’t be distracted, though. Let your ears focus on the new voice, and notice that the second voice is saying the same “word” as the first, and so on, through all the entrances. If you get just good enough at this, you’ll have a shot at catching the figure as it reappears later during the piece, providing a satisfying “Aha!” moment.

I’ll just note here that the opening Gabrieli canzon gives you an incomplete group of entrances; only four voices come in, instead of all six, and then the whole entrance process is abruptly broken off in favor of a brief noncontrapuntal dance-like section. But this canzon has a wonderful pedagogical feature: the identical opening figure returns four times, each time interrupted by the identical mini-dance, so you will most certainly know its name by the end of the piece! I hasten to add that actively listening to counterpoint is in some ways the most demanding kind of listening there is.



In this category, we have one sarabande and three ciacconas, which can also be called passacaglias. (Don’t worry about the spellings; no one at the time appears to have.) Sarabandes are triple-meter dances which varied in tempo over the course of the Baroque; by the end of that era, which was also pretty much the end of the Sarabande, it was a luxuriously slow dance. Marini’s tiny but lovely example is, perhaps atypically for his time, also slow.

Ciacconas feature a short sequence of bass notes coupled with more or less unchanging harmonies, above which the higher-voiced instruments perform an ever-changing sequence of animated decorations, often in a playfully conversational manner. Listen at first to the bass line in a ciaconna to get an idea of the structure.



The typical early Italian sonata comprises several contrasting sections in one fairly short through-composed movement. The idea appears to have been to provide a near-kaleidoscopic stream of relatively brief and very different mini-movements, which varied in tempo, meter, and affect.

I should just mention that Marini’s Sonata sopra “La Monica” is another example of messy taxonomy; the AABB form of the titular song is present, and a truncated version of the “A” returns to great effect throughout the piece, but there is no contrast in meter, tempo, or, really, in affect either. It’s a fantastic piece, but I don’t think he knew what to call it!



Another example of rather indeterminate formal designation, capriccios most often denote a free-form, spontaneous-sounding piece. But wouldn’t you know, Frescobaldi’s Capriccio sopra “Il Cucho” is in many ways more like a sonata and a canzona, with several contrapuntal and imitative sections, with the added piquant feature of a cuckoo ostinato.



There were several mega-popular songs drifting through 17th-century Italy — some, like the Folia, quite ancient, some, like E tanto tempo hormai, more evanescent. For a rock ‘n’ roll simile, consider Elvis Presley and Gerry Marsden. (Gerry Marsden? Who?)

Composers were pretty uniformly pleased to set these popular songs, partly because they could bask in associated glory, and partly because the songs were often very good tunes! The hallmark of an aria is the verse structure; in the Classical era, this form reappears dressed as a Theme and Variations.

Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock


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