& Gardens, Central Patio Room, 8 p.m.
Origins of the Classical Style
Lara Wickes, oboe
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758)
Sonata a 4 in B flat major
Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724-1799)
Two Pièces de Clavecin, 1759
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Sonata in G minor, H. 542.5
for oboe and continuo
Johann Baptist Wanhal (1739-1813)
Sonata I in G major
for flute and continuo
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
for harpsichord with violin obbligato
Allegro con moto
Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819)
Étude No. 9
for violoncello solo
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782)
Quintet in D major, W. B76
f you attended our Monday and Wednesday programs, you have now heard a goodly amount of late Renaissance and early Baroque repertoire, both vocal and instrumental. You may have noticed that a lot of that early repertoire is polyphonic — that is, written in many independent parts, played or sung together. With the advent of operatic monody (solo lines usually with subsidiary accompanimental lines) towards the end of the Baroque era, polyphony, or counterpoint, gradually lost its grip as the most important style of composition.
This evolution was largely the result of cultural changes in the Age of Enlightenment. While Renaissance composers conceived of contrapuntal writing as a metaphor for a faith-structured society, making all parts (individuals) equal and governed by strict rules (set forth by God), with an emphasis on the whole group, the emerging humanism of the Age of Enlightenment instead focused composers on individuals in an increasingly secularized society.
It is not surprising that the High Baroque (mid-17th century) became the age of vast numbers of solo sonatas, solo concertos, and operas with their solo arias. As the 18th century progressed, dislike of complexity intensified. Counterpoint was out. Extreme harmonies were out. Charm, melody, lightness, and individual virtuosity were in, as they exemplified the values and tastes of the new bourgeoisie. The largely contrapuntal music of J.S. Bach was considered profoundly old-fashioned; Bach’s composer sons were respectful of their father, but privately called him “the Old Wig,” while J.A. Scheibe, himself a Bach pupil, declared Bach’s music “unnatural,” with a “turgid and confused” style.
The new generation of composers responded with several related but relatively short-lived styles, including what we now call rococo, galante, Sturm und Drang (“Storm and Stress”), and Empfindsamkeit (“Sensitive Style”). The subsequent generation, of which Mozart and Haydn were a part, saw the consolidation of all these impulses into the arguably richer and more ambitious mature Classical style.
he Sonata a 4 quartet by Johann Friedrich Fasch that opens our program — by way of reminding listeners of the prevailing High Baroque style — could have been written by Telemann.
The first movement shows unmistakable signs of catering to the new taste for sweetness and simplicity. The second movement is contrapuntal, albeit with a very lighthearted theme, and the third combines rhythmic severity with lyrical interludes for flute and oboe. The final movement is a mixture of contrapuntal tutti sections and small solo breaks. BACK
ortune certainly smiled on Claude-Bénigne Balbastre. He enjoyed a spectacularly successful career as organist at Notre Dame and La Chapelle Royale, gave harpsichord lessons to Marie Antoinette, and — perhaps most impressive — managed to keep his head during the French Revolution despite his close ties to many doomed royals.
“La Lamarck” sounds as though it could have been written by a lighthearted French Domenico Scarlatti, while “La Lugeac” is more grandly energetic.
mpfindsamkeit, the “Sensitive Style,” can fairly be attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, second-oldest and arguably most talented of J.S. Bach’s several composer sons. An eccentric approach to melody and harmony are integral to this style, and Bach certainly delivers them in the first movement of this sonata for oboe and continuo. The second could almost have been a conventional Baroque piece but for the quirky “Scottish snap” rhythms that pervade it obsessively. The final Vivace is a lively tune, perhaps an incognito minuet of the sort with variations that became so popular in mid-century. BACK
ohann Baptist Wanhal was born a serf in Bohemia to Czech parents, who by virtue of great and early talent as an organist, violinist and composer managed to escape poverty by acquiring a patron in the Viennese court. His symphonies, written early in his life, are composed in the Sturm und Drang style, full of shock and contrast, but as he later began writing for the bourgeoisie, his style mellowed.
The flute sonata here is a lovely example of the light galante style, full of grace, with a floridly ornamented slow movement, and a minuet with variations that accumulate in an increasingly virtuosic manner. BACK
he Italian composer Luigi Boccherini spent virtually all of his professional life in the relative backwater of Spain, where he was employed by various members of the Spanish court and nobility. This little Sonata for harpsichord and violin obbligato is one of six, and lasts just long enough for one to get a sense of his abilities as a composer of party music and affectingly tender Adagios, without fully revealing his mastery of mood and texture.
The harpsichord is the principal instrument here, with the violin merely along for the enjoyable ride. BACK
he latest work on our program, published in 1806, is the étude for solo cello — the 9th of 21 — by Jean-Louis Duport. This date actually puts it towards the end the Classical range, so perhaps we have overshot our program’s mission! It is fascinating that, often at the height of an era, elements of the style which will replace it are discernible, and so it is here. A well-developed Romantic technique is needed to play these pieces, and while Duport’s études are exercises, there is much beautiful music in them. BACK
ohann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian, became known as the “London Bach,” though he spent a good many years as a young man in Italy. Far more than his much elder brothers, Johann Christian was a creature of the post-Baroque era, and he excelled at composing the sort of light, entertaining music that was so popular at the time — and which would probably have impressed his father very little!
His Quintet in D major is nonetheless a masterpiece of its sort, skillfully managing to avoid counterpoint, mostly by dint of swiftly altenating duo and solo writing in a highly ornamented melodic vein. Indeed, the piece could conceivably have been called a Quintet Concertante, as each player eventually gets some sort of solo turn; notice that the harpsichord here is no continuo player, but often a soloist!
However much some musicians might be inclined to dismiss this period in music as rather shallow, this piece has an undeniable high-wattage charm and beauty, particularly in the touching slow movement.
Notes by Elizabeth Blumenstock