Sakura Salon 6/8/14 – CPE Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714 – 1788)

As a German composer whose early works exemplified the grandeur of Baroque style and whose subsequent works evolved into pure Classicism, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s music offers a charming and historical look into the musical transition between two great eras of music history. Standing in the shadow of his famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach, C.P.E. Bach is sometimes overlooked by historians for his ground-breaking keyboard Sonatas and his significant contribution to Protestant Church music in the second half of the Eighteenth Century.

Most of his music is not as well known as that of his father, but in the second half of the Eighteenth Century, C.P.E. Bach was known as the “Great Bach.” He was the second eldest and the most famous of J.S. Bach’s sons. An advocate of subjectivity and individual self-expression in music, C.P.E. Bach was quickly hailed as the foremost exponent of the Sturm und Drang movement of the late Eighteenth Century. Growing out of Baroque music, the “Storm and Stress” period can be seen as a time of transition between the works of J.S. Bach, Handel, and Telemann, and those of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

C.P.E. Bach believed in the new aesthetic ideals of his time which demanded that music “touch the heart” and “awaken the passions.” His works were daring for their time, and some were even considered bizarre by his contemporaries. In his music, there are often bold harmonic progressions, interjected sections in contrasting tempo, seamless transitions between movements, abrupt changes of mood, and frequent rambling passages that seem to be searching for a goal. While he was not a prodigiously prolific composer when compared to Haydn or Mozart, he produced music, often experimental, of undeniably high quality and with considerable charm and elegance.

While C.P.E. Bach’s progressive and uniquely individual style was most pronounced in his keyboard Sonatas and certain Symphonies, his Concertos for various instruments also contain many features that seize the attention of the listener with their great originality. After leaving the employ of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and settling in Hamburg, Bach was no longer restricted by the conservative tastes of the royal court, and he was able to indulge in a more daring, experimental kind of music. J.F. Reichardt, one of the most important music critics of the Eighteenth Century, praised the “original and audacious progression of ideas and the great variety and novelty in the forms and modulations” of Bach’s Symphonies.

Clearly, C.P.E. Bach was a leader among the group of composers who were creating music in a completely new style, and the influence of his works on those of Haydn and Mozart is considerable. His most conservative works were wholly Baroque in their conception (written in Leipzig and the early years in Berlin), while others contained many elements of what we now call Classical style while they simultaneously maintained Baroque elements as well. But in his most adventurous works (written for the private music circles in Berlin and later in Hamburg), he achieved a purely Classical idiom, thus branding him as a true innovator in music history and one of the founding fathers of the Classical Era through his contributions to the development of Sonata-Allegro form.

 

Playlist for tonight

  1. Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): I. Allegro di molto (6:14)
  2. Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): II. Largo (1:46)
  3. Symphony No. 1 in D Wq 183 (H663): III. Presto (2:47)
  1.  Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): I. Allegro (6:34)
  2.  Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): II. Largo con sordini, mesto (7:45)
  3. Cello Concerto in A major Wq.172 / H.439 (Cadenzas: Anner Bylsma): III. Allegro assai (5:06)

 

  1. Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): I. Allegro di molto (5:17)
  2. Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): II. Larghetto (2:14)
  3. Symphony No. 3 in F Wq183 (H665): III. Presto (3:10)
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Sakura Salon 5/4/14 – Heavy Organ, Virgil Fox plays Bach

As many of you know, I often like performances with period instruments,without the Romantic period ‘bloat’ so often found in some interpretations.   Therefore it may seem odd that we will be listening to Bach played by Virgil Fox, chastised by the ‘establishment’ of the time for playing Bach with romantic feeling and organ registrations. The easy answer is that I like it, just like I like listening to Handel’s Messiah with period interpretations.

I also believe that introducing people to classical music on their terms is a good thing. The fact is, Fox didn’t change the music; he simply interpreted with a popular flair. (Of course, he also added psychedelic light shows and played it in rock venues!)   It also helps that his talent was truly prodigious.

The New York Times said of him, 20 years after his death:

“Fox could play the pipe organ like nobody’s business, but that is not all that made him unforgettable to so many people across the country. He made classical organ music appeal even to audiences that normally wouldn’t be expected to sit still for it.”

From 1971 until 1980, Fox performed his famous “Heavy Organ” concerts in auditoriums, popular music concert halls, and other nontraditional organ music venues, touring around the United States with an electronic Rodgers Touring Organ and, later, a custom-designed Allen Organ  The first concert was at the Mecca of rock music, New York’s Fillmore East, where, in 1970, he gave an all-Bach program combined with a light show on the Rodgers Touring Organ. He expanded upon a practice he had begun years earlier of speaking to the audience from the stage, discussing the music and bringing a new dimension to his concerts. For nine years, “Heavy Organ” toured across the country to various cities, colleges, and festivals. Virgil Fox is credited with bringing the music of Bach to young people with an innovative and exciting style, although he often drew adverse criticism from some of his colleagues in the organ world and from those music critics who found his approach too flamboyant.

Always Fox stressed pushing the limits of the instruments available to him, rather than requiring that they, or his playing, be authentic to the era of the music. His style (particularly his taste for fast tempos, flashy registrations, and a willingness to indulge in sentimentality) was in contrast to that of his contemporaries, such as E. Power Biggs.

Fox was also famous for his musical memory, and could instantly recall over 250 concert works, playing at double speed or faster in rehearsals (which usually went late into the night). He did not read from written scores at his organ concerts, even when playing alongside an orchestra.

Many organists, however, have strongly criticized Fox for his unconventional interpretations of classical organ music. On his album Heavy Organ: Bach Live at Winterland, Fox defended his approach to Bach and organ music in general, in the introduction to the ubiquitous Tocatta and Fugue in d minor BWV 565, by Johann Sebastian Bach:

”There is current in our land (and several European countries) at this moment a kind of nitpicking worship of historic impotence. They say that Bach must not be interpreted and that he must have no emotion, that his notes speak for themselves. You want to know what that is? Pure unadulterated rot! Bach has the red blood. He has the communion with the people. He has all of this amazing spirit. And imagine that you could put all the music on one side of the agenda with his great interpretation and great feeling and put the greatest man of all right up on top of a dusty shelf underneath some glass case in a museum and say that he must not be interpreted! They’re full of you-know-what and they’re so untalented that they have to hide behind this thing because they couldn’t get in the house of music any other way!”

Tonight’s program:

  1. Virgil Fox – Spoken Introduction By Virgil Fox
  2. Virgil Fox – We All Believe in One God, BWV680
  3. Virgil Fox – Introduction to Rejoice Beloved Christians, BWV734
  4. Virgil Fox – Rejoice Beloved Christians, BWV734
  5. Virgil Fox – Introduction to Finale from St. Matthew Passion
  6. Virgil Fox – Finale from St. Matthew Passion
  7. Virgil Fox – Introduction to Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 ”Wedge”
  8. Virgil Fox – Prelude in E Minor, BWV 548 ”Wedge”
  9. Virgil Fox – Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548 ”Wedge”
  10. Virgil Fox – Toccata in D Minor, BWV 565
  11. Virgil Fox – Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
  12. Virgil Fox – Introduction to Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582
  13. Virgil Fox – Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582
  14. Virgil Fox – Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582
  15. Virgil Fox – Introduction to Fugue in G Minor, BWV577 ”Gigue”
  16. Virgil Fox – Fugue in G Minor, BWV577 ”Gigue”
  17. Virgil Fox – Come, Sweet Death

This last does not come from the live performance, but is a Fox signature piece, performed on the organ her arranged it for, the Wanamaker organ in Philadelphia; the largest operational pipe organ in the world.

 

We are also featuring some of the typical forms you will find in Bach, or any Baroque composer’s, keyboard music:

  • The passacaglia is a musical form that originated in early seventeenth-century Spain and is still used today by composers. It is usually of a serious character and is often, but not always, based on a bass-ostinato and written in triple meter.
  •  Toccata (from Italian toccare, “to touch”) is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked-string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer’s fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments.
  •  A fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and recurs frequently in the course of the composition.

o   Like the sonata form, a fugue usually has three sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation containing the return of the subject in the fugue’s tonic key, though not all fugues have a recapitulation. In the Middle Ages the term was widely used to denote any works in canonic style; by the Renaissance, it had come to denote specifically imitative works. Since the 17th century,the term fugue has described what is commonly regarded as the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint.

o   Most fugues open with a short main theme, the subject, which then sounds successively in each voice (after the first voice is finished stating the subject, a second voice repeats the subject at a different pitch, and other voices repeat in the same way); when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete. This is often followed by a connecting passage, or episode, developed from previously heard material; further “entries” of the subject then are heard in related keys. Episodes (if applicable) and entries are usually alternated until the “final entry” of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, or tonic, which is often followed by closing material, the coda.  In this sense, a fugue is a style of composition, rather than a fixed structure.

Sakura Salon – Bach Brandenburg Concertos 12/1/13

With the exception of the First, each Brandenburg follows the convention of a concerto grosso, in which two or more solo instruments are contrasted with a full ensemble, and where a slow movement in the relative minor is bracketed by two fast movements, mostly structured as a ritornello (Italian for “return”) in which the opening tutti (played by the full ensemble) reappears as a formal marker between episodes of display by the concertino (solo instruments) and again as a conclusion, thus producing a psychologically satisfying structure.

Vivaldi and others who established the concerto grosso model used nuances of texture, tone coloration and novel figurations to contrast the ensemble’s ritornello and the solo episodes. Bach, though, tends to fluently blend and integrate them. Indeed, in his treatise on orchestration, Adam Carse notes that Bach conceived his parts generically rather than in terms of specific instruments, and distributed them impartially and largely
interchangeably, such that all sink into a common contrapuntal net without consideration of balance in the modern sense of orchestration.

So generally, each concerto has a group of soloists, a ripieno (the bulk of instrumental parts of a musical ensemble who do not play as soloists) and a continuo. The continuo usually plays the bass line, while a keyboard ‘fills in’ the harmonies, often omprovised.
Tonight, we will listen to three of the concertos.

#5 in D major for flute, violin, cembalo + ripieno (violin, viola, cello and violone)

The fifth Brandenburg is thought to have been the last written, intended as a vehicle to show off the new Cöthen harpsichord. Bach presumably played the solo part himself; Philipp Spitta considered the part to have demanded finger dexterity that no one else possessed at the time. The Fifth is the most historically important of the Brandenburgs, as it is the earliest known instance in which the harpsichord is elevated out of the role of continuo accompaniment to solo status.

While the other Brandenburgs held little interest for the following generations, theFifth is the only one to have circulated after Bach’s death (in copies by others) as it spoke to their interest in the emerging solo keyboard concerto.

The unusually lengthy first movement literally breaks the mold of the old ritornello form, as the opening melody returns only in fragments and cedes to a long serene central section far more developed and of greater emotional contrast than a normal episode. Throughout, the harpsichord not only holds its own but keeps escaping its role as accompanist to override and grab the spotlight from the solo flute and violin. But most remarkable of all is the cadenza. As if to emphasize its import, the other instruments don’t boldly lead up to the lengthy solo display as they would in later concertos, but rather slow down and drop off, as if respectfully bowing, turning away and receding before the royal presence of the majestic harpsichord. An earlier version of the cadenza (known only in posthumous copies by others) was 18 measures long and seems more suited to the scope of the surrounding movement. The final version is 65 measures (about 3 minutes, to which could be added the prior 16 bars in which the solo thoroughly dominates the texture) and runs an astounding gamut of frantically forceful and concentrated figurations in rapid 16th-, triplet 16th- and 32nd-notes, ending in a hugely suspenseful chromatic sequence that leads to the final orchestral statement of the principal melody which has gone unheard since the opening.

The reflective second movement (marked “affettuoso”) displays a more subtle formal daring by suggesting the solo and tutti divisions of the outer movements through changes in intensity as the harpsichord overflows the bounds of accompaniment with rapid figures that thicken the texture and imply shifts in dynamics beyond those marked in the score. The canonic basis of the second movement emerges more fully in the fugal finale, in which the harpsichord not only is a full participant an gigue begun by the violin and flute, but soon dominates the entire ensemble with dense 16th-note passages and trilled held notes.

#4 in G major for violin, 2 “flauti d’echo” + ripieno (first and second violins, viola, cello, violine and cembalo)

The Fourth presents a mystery of instrumentation for performance. No one knows what Bach meant when he specified “flauti d’echo” as two of the three solo instruments. Some believe that the term merely refers to echo effects in the second movement where the flutes imitate violin figures and indeed most performances use standard flutes. Others think that recorders, with their softer timbre, melds well with the solo violin.

The prominence of the violin in the outer movements, and the extreme difficulty of its part (more so than in Bach’s three actual violin concertos), including delirious extended sequences of extremely rapid notes, has led some to consider the Fourth a violin concerto, although in the central andante it mostly plays with the ripieno violins to support the flutes.

The lovely andante atypically employs the full ensemble, providing a richer foundation than the continuo that customarily accompanies the soloists in middle movements. But it’s the finale that has attracted the most attention. The finale simply brims with invention and high spirits and is utterly thrilling to hear. Indeed, it creates so much rousing momentum that Bach slams on the breaks with sudden rests three times before the final surge in an effort to interrupt the flow and prepare for the finish.

#2 in F major for “tromba,” flute, oboe, violin + ripieno (first and second violins, viola and violone) + continuo (cello, cembalo)

The most famous of the Brandenburgs, the Second is considered the closest to the standard concerto grosso model, although more in the sense of its sound than its structure. Hans-Joachim Schulz felt that it arose from Bach’s love of experimentation and the challenge of writing for a solo contingent of four similarly pitched instruments differentiated by their dissimilar means of tone production.

The instrumentation, though, does present a fundamental problem. Despite intensive research, scholars remain unsure what Bach meant when he designated one of the solo instruments a “tromba.” While often taken to mean a trumpet in F played a major fourth above its score notation, others point out that Bach never wrote any other part for such an instrument, that F is the natural key for horns rather than trumpets, and that an authentic copy of the score and parts by Penzel specifies use of either a trumpet or a hunting horn. Nor can any hint be gleaned from the personnel available to Bach, as musicians routinely played several brass, wind or string instruments. Indeed, while a trumpet overwhelms the other soloists (especially the soft recorder), a horn (played a major fifth below the score) is better balanced.

While most recordings use a modern trumpet, others take a variety of approaches. Menuhin uses a softer piccolo trumpet, Harnoncourt a more mellow natural trumpet, Enesco and Casals a soprano saxophone, and Dart a hunting horn. All achieve a more natural balance among the solo instruments, especially the gentle breathy recorder. Harnoncourt considers this a prime illustration of the difference between the sounds Bach heard (and wrote for) and those of today, which can distort his intentions.

Yet, however it sounds, the tromba aptly resides on the top staff, as it enjoys a commanding position in the score. Its interjections provide shape and emphasis to the first movement, in which the soloists jostle for control by progressively appropriating the tutti theme. While the trumpet rests during the andante, a lovely contemplation in which the other soloists constantly evolve a short, simple theme over a walking bass, it launches the third movement with a fugue theme that it grudgingly shares with the others while reducing the orchestra to a purely subsidiary (and often silent) supporting role.