Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Concerto for 2 horns
Suite from Tafelmusik
Music of the Baroque’s 45th Anniversary Season closes with Principal Guest Conductor Nicholas Kraemer at the podium for a delicious program of sparkling instrumental music by Telemann, Vivaldi, and J. S. Bach. The evening’s feast for the ears begins with a suite from Tafelmusik and ends with the dazzling Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.
Carl Grapentine will give preconcert lectures on Sunday, May 22, 6:30 pm, at the DoubleTree Hotel adjacent to the North Shore Center, and Monday, May 23, 6 pm, at the Chicago Cultural Center in the Garland Room on the first floor (near the Washington entrance of the building, west side).
- Concerto for 2 Horns in F major, mvt 1
- Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, mvt. 1
- Suite from Tafelmusik, mvt. 1
- Concerto no. 8 "La Pazzia," mvt. 1
TELEMANN Ouverture in B Minor, TWV 55:h1
Georg Philipp Telemann was in many ways a composer of the people, beloved for his tuneful melodies, straightforward use of harmony, and writing that suits each instrument perfectly. As the eighteenth-century critic Johann Christoph Gottsched commented:
In particular I hear people praise Mr. Telemann because he knows how to suit the taste of all amateurs. He sometimes uses the Welsch [i.e. Italian], sometimes the French, and very often also a mixture of styles when setting his pieces. He avoids all excessive difficulties which could please masters only, and he always prefers tunes of the pleasant variety to far-fetched ones, even if those are more artistic. And what could be more sensible?
Fluency with a wide variety of national musical styles was a much-prized skill in Telemann’s day. In a letter to the Leipzig town council written in August 1730, J. S. Bach complained, “It is, anyhow, somewhat strange that German musicians are expected to be capable of performing at once and ex tempore all kinds of music, whether it come from Italy or France, England or Poland.” Telemann, on the other hand, admired this admixture of musical language; as he complimented another musician in 1730, “You effortlessly combine the French liveliness, melody, and harmony; the Italian flattery, invention, and strange passages; and the British and Polish jesting in a mixture filled with sweetness.” Telemann’s facility with this “mixed taste,” as it became known, was one of the keys to his success.
Like most German composers of his time, Telemann was drawn to the overture-suite (or orchestral suite), a large-scale work consisting of a series of dances that became one of the most popular symphonic genres prior to the symphony itself. The Ouverture in B Minor illustrates Telemann’s facility with the genre and with different musical styles. The stately tempo and dignified dotted rhythms that open and close the first movement are typical of a French overture, while the sprightly middle section prominently features solo instruments, a technique more typical of the Italian concerto. French dance and Italian concerto elements continue to be intertwined in the movements that follow. In the Air en rondeaux, solo violins and oboes enliven the spirited music. Oboes and violins also intensify the slightly wistful tone of the Chaconne and sprightly Gavotte II, while the bassoons take center stage in the second Menuet.
DURANTE Concerto No. 8 in A Major (La Pazzia)
Born in 1684 in Frattamaggiore, Francesco Durante began his musical studies at an early age, eventually studying with Alessandro Scarlatti. While exact details of his life remain unclear, he worked as a composer and teacher at several institutions in Naples, including the Conservatorio di Sant'Onofrio and Santa Maria di Loreto. Renowned for his pedagogical skills, Durante counted such famous composers as Niccolò Jommelli, Giovanni Paisiello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Niccolò Piccinni, and Leonardo Vinci among his students, who referred to themselves as “Durantisti.” Durante was reportedly a man of “simple manners,” but his knowledge and wisdom on the topic of music was said to be unparalleled, and his students often sought his counsel.
While most Neapolitan composers wrote at least a few operas, Durante concentrated on sacred music, composing works that favored expressive use of dissonances, dynamics, and harmony over rules of counterpoint. This innate theatricality is also present in his small body of instrumental music, known for its diversity of stylistic and formal features. Just as text expression must have prompted the composer’s unconventional choices in his sacred music, the conceit of “madness” in the Concerto No. 8 in A Major liberates Durante from certain dictates of form, as he overlays the concerto’s three movements with the solo violin’s frequent interjections of lunatic ranting.
VIVALDI Concerto for 2 horns in F Major, RV 538
Vivaldi spent most of his career working at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice. Often termed an “orphanage,” the Pietà was in fact a home for illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen and was well financed by its “anonymous” benefactors. In addition to room and board, the residents were given an excellent education in music, which while originally intended to augment moral and religious instruction took on a life of its own. The Pietà performances, held every Saturday, Sunday, and feast day, were wildly popular, and soon became a major tourist attraction. As one traveler wrote, “All year long the presence of foreigners in these pious places was great, there being not a single important person visiting Venice who left before honoring them with their presence.”
Constantly in need of new music for these occasions, the bulk of Vivaldi’s output—including nearly 500 concertos, 46 sinfonias, 73 sonatas, chamber music, and a small number of sacred compositions—was likely intended for the Pietà’s talented performers. The Pietà students were accomplished on many different instruments; as one eighteenth-century writer observed, “[They] play the violin, the recorder, the organ, the oboe, the cello, the bassoon; in fact, there is no instrument large enough to frighten them.” The horn, however, may have been considered unsuitable. Only two concertos—both for two horns—survive in Vivaldi’s repertoire, the contents of which were dictated largely by the needs of the school. (Indeed, horns are not mentioned in the institution’s records until after Vivaldi’s death.) Both of the double horn concertos (RV 538 and RV 539) are without valves. Vivaldi compensates for the instrument’s limited melodic range with energetic, rhythmic writing, and many triadic flourishes in the outer movements. The horns remain quiet during the middle movement, temporarily replaced by a soaring cello aria.
TELEMANN Tafelmusik, Suite No. 1 in E Minor, TWV 55:e1
Along with his fashionable musical aesthetic, Telemann’s self-publishing business contributed greatly to his fame. Although it was not uncommon for composers to publish their own works, Telemann’s business flourished at a time during which other well-known composers had difficulty getting their music into print. Tafelmusik, or Musique de table, was his most ambitious and well-sold collection, boasting a nearly unprecedented 180 advance sales. Why was this work so popular? Telemann appears to have engaged in nascent social networking, a sort of grassroots marketing effort centuries before these terms were coined. According to Telemann scholar Steven Zohn, Telemann’s correspondence shows that he actively recruited his friends and colleagues to promote his work. Around 1732, he reminded a friend in Riga, Johann Reinhold Hollander, “to put in a good word for my musical works wherever you go, especially for my Tafel-Music.”
Intended as background music for banquets, parties, and other events, Tafelmusik was written to appeal to a large number of people. As is typical of Telemann’s music, flexibility of scoring is a key feature, and many of the pieces in the collection can be played on a wide variety of instruments. At the same time, Telemann himself was proficient on many different instruments, and was keenly aware of the need to exploit expressive potential. As he once wrote, “Give each instrument what suits it best, thus is the player content and you well entertained.” In keeping with Telemann’s desire for versatility, each of the three volumes of Tafelmusik consists of an overture-suite, quartet, concerto, trio sonata, solo sonata, and a “conclusion” for full ensemble. In this program, we hear the overture-suite from the first book, consisting of a classic French overture followed by a series of well-contrasting Baroque dances.
VIVALDI Concerto for oboe in D Minor, RV 454
Renowned for the speed with which he wrote, Antonio Vivaldi once asserted that he could “compose a concerto in all its parts more quickly than it could be copied.” His Op. 8 collection of concerti shows that he also took great care with his work, however. Entitled Il Cimento dell’Armonica e dell’Inventione (The Contest Between Harmony and Invention), each concerto in the group (the first four of which comprise The Four Seasons) is organized around the principle of contrast, one of the central aesthetic tenets of the Baroque. The Concerto for oboe in D Minor, RV 454—originally composed as a concerto for violin—sets sparkling solo writing alongside the reliable repetition of the orchestral ritornelli (“little returns”).
BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050
Dedicated in 1721 to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, the Brandenburg concertos served as Bach’s musical “resume.” As he wrote in the presentation copy, “…I very humbly beg Your Royal Highness to have the goodness to continue Your good graces toward me, and to be convinced that I have nothing so much at heart as the wish to be employed in matters more worthy of You and Your service.” Whether Bach conceived of the pieces as a coherent collection is debatable, but the individual statements each make are undeniable. The Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 is particularly bold. In an unexpected move, Bach uses the harpsichord—an instrument usually relegated to the continuo group—as a solo instrument along with violin and flute, and from the start, competition for attention is fierce. As the first movement unfolds, the harpsichord’s bravura statements become more restless and intense, suddenly erupting in a strikingly virtuosic, unaccompanied episode that transgresses all boundaries of genre, harmony, and rhythm. The second movement features the soloists alone in lyrical counterpoint, while the harpsichord again dominates the third movement in torrents of dazzling figuration.