Program Notes for 13& 14 September 2003

J. S. Bach, His Inheritance, and His Legacy

Two Canzonas………… ……… … ……… ………………………..Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
recorder, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo

Sonata in c minor……… ……… ………………“Signor Bach” (Johann Jacob Bach? [1682-1722])

oboe and continuo

Sonata in D major, BWV 1028………………… ……… ……………...…………..J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

viola da gamba, harpsichord

Trio sonata in C major………… ……… ……………………………Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783)
Allegro ma non molto

recorder, violin, continuo

Sonata op. 5/9…………………………… ……… …………………..…….Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
with ornaments by Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762)
Preludio: Largo
Giga: Allegro
Tempo di Gavotta: Allegro

violin, continuo

Trio sonata in C major, “BWV 1037”…… ……… ………Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756)
Alla breve
Gigue: Presto

oboe, violin, continuo


Over the past five years, the Albuquerque Baroque Players have been exploring the incredible range of musical styles that came out of Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We’ll be doing much the same during our 2003-2004 season – this time by way of delineating a context for the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. As our program title suggests, we will be performing music not only by Bach himself, but also by composers who influenced, and were influenced by, this giant of the Baroque era.

Bach’s inheritance and legacy were shaped both by nature and by nurture. It’s well known that he came from, and carried on, a long line of musicians; accordingly, during the course of the season we’ll perform works by one of his brothers and at least one of his sons. We’ll also explore music by composers represented in his extensive personal library. We don’t know the exact contents of this library (many items have been lost), and our claim to be presenting “music from Bach’s library” shouldn’t be taken too literally. Rather, we hope to give you a sense of the musical world in which Bach lived and worked.

We do know that Bach’s library included a copy of Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali, a collection of organ works comprising organ masses, toccatas, canzonas, capriccios, and ricercars; the younger composer’s use of the old-fashioned term “ricercar” in the Musical Offering may be a tribute to the Italian master. While Frescobaldi is perhaps best known as a composer of keyboard music, he also published some vocal works and a large collection of ensemble canzonas – forerunners of the instrumental sonata with roots in Renaissance polyphonic song – for one to four instruments with continuo. We’ll perform two short pieces from this collection, both scored for two treble instruments, bass instrument, and continuo. The style of the canzonas is somewhat conservative: the instrumental writing features imitative counterpoint rather than the free fantasy and virtuosity that characterize much Italian music of the period – including, by the way, Frescobaldi’s own keyboard toccatas.

Corelli, like Frescobaldi, spent most of his career in Rome, where he became well-known as both violinist and pedagogue. Practically all of his musical output is for
violin or for string orchestra: church and chamber sonatas with continuo, trio sonatas, and concerti grossi. Bach knew Corelli’s music well. The B-minor organ fugue (BWV 579) takes its subject from the trio sonata opus 3, number 4; and Bach’s recent biographer Christoph Wolff notes that Corelli served Bach as a model for part-writing, formal design, and handling of thematic material. In fact, Corelli’s innovations had much to do with the development of what we now regard as the canonical Baroque style, in contrast to the more experimental and unpredictable writing of the early 17th century. Among the hallmarks of Corelli’s style are symmetrical formal design, a strong sense of tonality, and a balance between homophonic and contrapuntal textures. The melodies – especially in the slow movements – invite elaboration, and violinists have been happy to oblige. Our violinist will be using ornaments written out by Francesco Geminiani.

All we know for certain about “Signor Bach” is that he was probably a relative of Johann Sebastian. There is, however, a fair amount of evidence pointing to Bach’s older brother Johann Jacob Bach. One of the many Bach family members employed as town musicians, Johann Jacob served under the king of Sweden as military oboist, and later studied the flute in Constantinople. (Sadly, recent scholarship has cast doubt on the tradition that J.S. Bach’s youthful Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother was occasioned by Johann Jacob’s departure for Sweden.) The manuscript source for the sonata on our program indicates that it, like most of J.J. Bach’s work, is intended for the flute. Another contemporary source, however, lists it as an oboe sonata, and Bach, who probably wrote music primarily for his own use, may well have performed it on both instruments. This sonata reveals Signor Bach (whoever he might have been!) as a talented amateur composer with a flair for attractive melody in his slow movements. In the fast movements, the composer falls somewhat short of J.S. Bach’s mastery of the working-out of thematic material; the music might thus strike one as naïve, but, we think, rather charmingly so.

Around 1730, the late Baroque style practiced by the Bach brothers began to give way to the melody-dominated stil galant. While this lighter, often deceptively simpler style might seem antithetical to the learned Bach, many of its practitioners were represented in his library. Among these was Johann Adolf Hasse, best known as a composer of Italian opera seria. His trio sonatas for two flutes (or violins; we will use recorder and violin) and continuo may have been composed while he was Capellmeister at the court of Dresden, where the flautist-composer Johann Joachim Quantz was also employed. The C-major sonata is quintessentially galant, with the treble instruments (often in parallel motion) playing graceful, ingratiating melodies over a simple, somewhat stereotypical bass line.

That Bach was not averse to the galant is apparent from the D-major viola da gamba sonata. Like Bach’s other sonatas with obbligato harpsichord, this piece is really a trio sonata, with the harpsichord playing the bass and treble lines and the gamba taking the middle voice. One can hear intimations of the newer style in the opening Adagio with its short melodic phrases over an Alberti bass, a newly-fashionable type of arpeggiated bass line. At the start of the second movement we find the two upper voices (i.e., the harpsichordist’s right hand and the gamba) stating a graceful, dancelike theme in parallel tenths. But whereas a Hasse would maintain this kind of texture throughout most of a trio sonata, Bach cannot forswear counterpoint for long, and the new sensibility enriches, rather than supercedes, his compositional method.

The trio sonata formerly known as BWV 1037 is now thought to be the work of Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who may or may not have been a pupil of Bach’s, and who may or may not have played the master’s “Goldberg” Variations for his insomniac employer. Not all musicians are convinced, however, that this work is not by Bach. This is partly because Goldberg’s style generally leans more toward the galant and even toward the Empfindsamerstil or “sensitive style” of C.P.E. Bach – although his cantatas and trio sonatas show the influence of the elder Bach. But equally compelling evidence comes from the quality of the music: note, for example, the florid melodic lines and rich harmonies of the opening movement, the double fugue in the second movement, and the rhythmic vitality of the concluding Gigue. Assuming that this sonata really is Goldberg’s, this young man was clearly a worthy heir to Bach’s musical legacy.

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