Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most prominent composers of the baroque era. Widely respected and well-known throughout Europe, he was a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach and corresponded with Handel. A self-taught musician, Telemann early on became adept at playing many instruments, including organ, violin, recorder, viola da gamba, double bass, flute, oboe and bass trombone.
Initially setting out to study law in Leipzig, his musical talents were quickly discovered. After holding a number of posts in Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach and Frankfurt, in 1721 Telemann became music director in Hamburg of five churches as well as its opera, and remained in Hamburg for the rest of life. Telemann traveled widely throughout Europe, and was familiar with many different styles and schools of musical composition. He was a prolific composer, writing thousands of compositions, many of which survive. His output included operas, cantatas, orchestral suites, concertos, and chamber music.
The concerto grosso we’re playing today was composed by Telemann in 1716 to celebrate the birth of Prince Leopold, heir to Emperor Charles VI in Frankfurt. As befitting the occasion, Telemann scored it for an impressive array of instruments, including three trumpets and two oboes, highlighting them effectively throughout this piece.
The concerto opens with a stately intrada in “French Overture” style, with dotted rhythms. The second movement is a fugal allegro, first introduced by the violins and oboes, and taken up by the other instruments in turn. The aria-like third movement features a lyrical oboe solo set against a background of soft strings and continuo. The dance-like last movement closes out the concerto in joyous fashion, befitting the occasion for which it was written.
Purcell is considered one of England’s greatest native-born composers, flourishing during the Restoration period which followed the accession of King Charles II. Prodigiously talented, he composed hundreds of works, including anthems, hymns, songs, operas, odes, theater music and instrumental works. Purcell composed his incidental music to the play “Abdelazer, or the Moor’s Revenge” in 1695, shortly before his untimely death at the age of 36. Music played an important part in Restoration theater. It marked a play’s opening and closing, scene and mood changes, and highlighted different aspects of the action. For this revenge tragedy, Purcell wrote nine separate instrumental sections — a declamatory overture and many different varieties of dance music. Of all of these, the second movement Rondeau is the most celebrated; it was used by Benjamin Britten as his theme for “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
This violin concerto is an early work by Bach, probably written in the 1720s while he was resident in Weimar. It is one of his most frequently-recorded and beloved works, and a masterful example of interplay between the violin soloist and string orchestra.
The first movement allegro starts off with a vigorous rising three-note motif, repeated in major and minor keys throughout, and contrasted with rising and falling 16th-note scales.
The second movement is a deeply felt and introspective adagio. Its main theme is an ostinato (repeating) figure in the ‘celli, basses and continuo, against which the solo violin weaves intricate figurations in an intimate musical exchange.
The last movement is a triple-meter rondo, in which the rousing string theme is interspersed with solo violin variations.
Vivaldi composed “Le Quattro Staggioni” (the Four Seasons) in 1725. The “Seasons” consist of four programmatic concerti for solo violin and orchestra, of which L’Autunno (Autumn) is the third.
Vivaldi wrote descriptive Sonnets for each of the concerti, with indications of how they should be performed.
L’Autunno opens with peasants celebrating the harvest with song and dance. They start drinking wine, become progressively more tipsy, and finally fall asleep. In the hushed second movement, the pleasant temperature causes everyone to abandon singing and dancing, and invites many to enjoy the sweetness of sleep. The last movement describes a hunt, complete with mounted hunters, hunting horns, guns, hounds, and their quarry.
Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg, and bear a dedication date of 1721.
The instrumentation of the sixth concerto is most unusual, consisting only of violas, violas da gamba, ‘cellos, basses and continuo. This “lower string” instrumentation give the work a harmonious and mellow sonority. We are performing this work in “concerto grosso” style, with viola and ‘cello soloists.
The work is in three movements. The opening Allegro features the main theme in close canon, with the 2 viola parts entering right on the heels of each other, and the other instruments following suit, The following Adagio is a trio sonata in fugal form; the 2 viola soloists alternatively present the theme in various keys. The solo ‘cello and bass pick up the fugal theme towards the end of the movement. The last movement is a joyous ritornello. The string orchestra is juxtaposed against florid passages by the two solo violas and solo ‘cello, with the main theme returning four times.
Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738) was a court composer active in France during the reigns of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his son, Louis XV. Very few of his compositions have survived, and even fewer are known to the public.
The major exception is this collection of fanfares known as his “Premiere Suite de Symphonies” which was first performed for Louis XV. The Suite has four movements, each with a different character, and each featuring contrasting forces – strings and woodwinds; trumpets; and timpani.
The Suite opens with a Rondeau, a grand fanfare (also known as the “Masterpiece Theater” theme), with 2 contrasting couplets. The second movement is a graceful minuet, played first by strings and woodwinds, with trumpets and timpani joining in; there are two string couplets in the middle of the movement, followed by a return to the opening minuet. Next is a sprightly march, in 18th-century military style. A short lilting final movement (“Guay”) closes out this work.
Mouret’s formalized style emphasizes rhythmic precision and simplicity of line, and typifies the French style in baroque music.
Bach in a more festive mode, now with a wedding cantata, BWV 197, written in 1737. This is the opening chorus in D major. It begins with a rousing introduction for the orchestra with three trumpets, oboes, strings and timpani. A choral fugue follows with altos in the lead. A more lyrical middle section starts in the relative minor key. The piece ends with a repeat of the jubilant first section.
Gott ist unsre Zuversicht,
Wir vertrauen seinen Händen.
Wie er unsre Wege führt,
Wie er unser Herz regiert,
Da ist Segen aller Enden.
God is our confidence,
we trust in His hands.
How He leads our ways,
how He directs our hearts,
that is the ultimate blessing.
A large number of Bach’s compositions are choral works, most of them centered on the liturgy and church services. They include over 200 sacred cantatas; secular cantatas; monumental works like the B Minor Mass, Christmas and Easter Oratorios, and St. Matthew Passion; and chorales, masses and motets. The motets fall into a special category of smaller-scale works which were often written for special occasions, such as weddings or funerals.
Bach composed this motet in 1736-7, when he was serving as the Cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. It was most likely written for a funeral. The original instrumentation calls for six brass instruments: 2 “litui” (horn-like instruments), a cornetto, and 3 trombones. The scoring for such portable instruments makes it likely that this introspective motet was used outdoors, either in a procession or a graveside service (Bach later re-orchestrated it for more conventional winds and strings for indoor church use).
The text of BWV 118 is taken from an early 17th-century hymn written by Martin Behm, which contains some 15 stanzas. Bach’s score indicates that multiple stanzas can be used, and for today’s performance we are using 2 of them (1 and 12). The music and text evoke the hope of redemption in death and entry into heaven.
O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht,
Mein Hort, mein Trost, mein Zuversicht,
Auf Erden bin ich nur ein Gast,
Und drückt mich sehr der Sünden Last.
Auf deinen Abschied, Herr, ich trau,
Darauf mein letzte Heimfahrt bau;
Tu mir die Himmelstür weit auf,
Wenn ich beschliess meins Lebens Lauf.
Oh Jesus Christ, my life’s light,
my refuge, my comfort, my confidence,
on earth I am only a guest
and by sin’s burden sore oppressed.
In your departure, Lord, I place my trust—
on it I rely for my last journey home.
Open wide heaven’s gate for me,
when I complete my life’s course.
This short well-known work is actually an instrumental interlude contained in the oratorio Solomon, which Handel composed in 1749. The sinfonia contains vigorous running passages in the violins with contrasting oboe solos.
Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most prominent composers of the baroque era. Widely respected and well-known throughout Europe, he was a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach and corresponded with Handel. A self-taught musician,...