Saturday, November 19, 2005


Haydn Symphonies

Out of the formidable list of 104 Haydn symphonies there are eighteen which constitute the best and most mature of his orchestral creations---six Paris Symphonies and the twelve English ones which he composed during his two sojourns in London; and it is upon these that his fame as creator of the first Master-Symphonies rests.

Those which sprang from his early period were written with more speed than reflection, no doubt, usually a half-dozen at a time; but they all contain some original and lovely touches, which reveal the rare genius of the youth; and are a foretaste of the choicer fruits of his maturer years. The quaint titles of many of his early Symphonies (the first forty, from 1759 to 1770) imply a disposition on Haydn's part to adopt some poetic and dramatic basis for the work. Thus we encounter: Le Midi, Le Matin, Le Soir (closing with a thunderstorm), Philosopher, Absentminded, Farewell (or "Candle" Symphony), Schoolmaster, fire, La Chasse, L'Ours, Children's Symphony, and many others. This descriptive tendency, however, is not to be taken seriously; it does not detract in the slightest degree from the seriousness with which Haydn prosecuted his art---notwithstanding the utterly unconquerable buoyancy and cheerfulness of his temperament. It may be accounted for largely as a transient concession to the widespread custom of the day (compare the titles of many of the harpsichord compositions of Couperin, Rameau, Kuhnau, etc.) And, in any event, it afforded Haydn an effective means of fathoming the powers of tone from this natural angle.

It must be admitted that the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach already presages many of the excellent traits that are so abundant and distinctive in that of Haydn, and this would account for Haydn's veneration of him.

What immense influence the imposing works of the "great" Bach might have exerted upon Haydn's whole manner, had he known them, it is hard to determine. But these works, excepting the Well-Tempered Clavichord, were for many reasons only locally familiar to North German music lovers, and even there they were soon neglected, and might have been forgotten, but for the resurrection of the St. Matthew Passion, by Mendelssohn in 1829, which led to the restoration of much of the greatest music that has ever been penned.



Haydn: The Psychological Scheme of the Symphony

Haydn is the grand architect of the psychological scheme of the Symphony. A Symphony opens, in its first (allegro) Movement, with that dignity and seriousness of bearing which immediately proclaim the lofty purpose, nothing short of the most perfect design, that of the sonata-allegro form, with its firmness of line, its provision for contrast and confirmation, and its wholly satisfactory total effect, could be tolerated. To emphasize this weighty quality still further, it became customary with Haydn, especially in his later Symphonies, to prefix an Introduction, in slow tempo (generally largo), serious in tone, but arresting, and sometimes mildly dramatic. All the succeeding masters of the Symphony adopted the idea of the Introduction, and either applied it or omitted it, as swayed by the specific conceptive quality and aim of the work in its totality.

In the second Movement the atmosphere changes from this sterner aspect to a more intimate, lyric, emotional, altogether sympathetic mood, in slow or stately tempo. Now, the subsequent abrupt transition from this gentler mood to the hilarity and bustle of the Finale might well prove to be too startling; and for this reason Haydn drew upon the Suite for one of its most congenial dances (usually the Minuet); its complacent, graceful, partly subdued and partly rhythmically animated character fitted into this transitional purpose admirably, without interfering with the lively spirit, the rollicking gaiety of the last Movement.

The Finale itself naturally adopts the only medium of contrast that is left to choose from---the spirited, light-hearted, brilliant mood, which matches each of the foregoing phases sufficiently well, and leaves the hearer at the end with a sensation of exhilaration and complete satisfaction that crowns the enjoyment of the whole work.

These are the established qualities which earned for Haydn the title of Founder of the modern Symphony.

The proof of his wisdom lies in the fact that this four-square disposition of the symphonic Movements, with its well-defined and sensibly bridged contrasting moods, was accepted by Haydn's successors and has held its own without essential modification to the present day. Any deviation from it seems to lower the standard, and has necessitated the use of other titles, such as Tone-Poem, Orchestral Suite, and the like.

In the above example, Haydn, it is true, places the Minuet after the Allegro as second Movement; but the Dance soon gravitated to its established place as third Movement. Further it was Beethoven who, by quickening the tempo of the Minuet and calling it a Scherzo in many of his works, established a slightly different and in some instances even more effective alternation and merging of moods.

The sonata-allegro design was occasionally adopted for the slow Movement, especially in larger and more pretentious works; and it was not unusual to apply it also to the Finale---although for a Movement of so light a nature, the more perspicuous and recognizable design of the Rondo appears to be more consistent and effective.

Friday, November 18, 2005


JS Bach: Brandenburg Concertos

Chamber Music NorthWest (Portland, Oregon) continued its 35th Anniversary Summer Festival on Thursday, June 30, 2005 with a "Celebration Bach" The Complete Brandenburg Concertos. This program was a powerhouse of energetic celebration. I have three recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos, and nothing could prepare for the sheer excitement of hearing them live performed by very able musicians.

Brandenburg, in Bach's day, was a political and military powerhouse. It had been part of the Holy Roman Empire since the mid-12th century, and its ruler---Markgraf, or Margrave---was charged with defending and extending the northern imperial border ("mark," or "marche" in Old English and Old French), in return for which he was allowed to be an Elector of the Emperor. The house of Hohenzollern acquired the margraviate of Brandenburg in 1415, and the family embraced the Reformation a century later with such authority that they came to be regarded as the leaders of German Protestantism; Potsdam was chosen as the site of the electoral court in the 17th century. Extensive territorial acquisitions under Frederick William, the "Great Elector," allowed his son Frederick III to secure the title and the rule of Brandenburg's northern neighbor, Prussia in 1701. Frederick, a cultured man and a generous patron, founded academies of science and arts in Berlin, and built the magnificent palace Charlottenburg for his wife, Sophie Charlotte,which became one of the most important musical centers in early-18th-century Germany. When Frederick William I succeeded his father in 1713, however, he turned the court's focus from music to militarism, and dismissed most of the excellent musicians that his father had assembled; several of them found employment at the court of Anhält-Cöthen north of Leipzig, where a young prince was just starting to indulge his taste and talents for music. Frederick William did, however allow his uncleChristianin Ludwig, younger brother of the late King Frederick and possessor of the now-lesser title of Margrave of Brandenburg, to remain at the palace and retain his own musical establishment.

Johann Sebastian Bach, now in his thirties, met Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, in 1719, during his tenure as music director at the court of Leopold of Anhält-Cöthen from 1717 to 1723, and he and Leopold seem to have gotten along splendidly. The Prince enjoyed travel, fine art and, above all, music, and he respected and encouraged Bach in his own work, even occasionally participating in the court concerts as violinist, gambist, or harpsichordist. Provided by Leopold with an excellent set of instruments and a group of fine players (and the second-highest salary of any of his court employees), Bach enjoyed a fruitful period at Cöthen---many of his greatest works for keyboard, chamber ensembles and orchestra date those thos years.

Early in 1719, Leopold sent Bach to Berlin to finalize arrangements for the purchase of a new harpsichord, a large, two manual model made by Michael Mierke, instrument builder to the royal court. While in Berlin, Bach played for Christian Ludwig, who was so taken with his music that he asked him to send some of his compositions for his library. Bach lost an infant son a few months later, however, and in 1720, his wife died and he rejected an offer to become organist at the Jacobkirche in Hamburg, so it was more than two years before he fulfilled Brandenburg's request. By 1721, however, Leopold had become engaged to marry a woman who looked askance at his huge expenditures for musical entertainment. Bach seems to have realized that when she moved in, he would probably be moved out, so he began casting about for a more secure position. He remembered the interest the MargBrandenburgnburg had shown in his music, and thought it a good time to approach him again, so he picked six of the finest concertos he had written at Cöthen, copied them out meticulously, had them bound in a sumptuous volume (at no little cost), and sent them to Christian Ludwig in March 1721 with a flowery dedication in French---but to no avail. No job materialized at Brandenburg, and in 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig's Thomaskirche, where he remained for the rest of his life. It is possible that the Margrave never heard any of these magnificent works that immortalized his name, since records indicate that his modest Kapelle might not have been able to negotiate their difficulties and instrumental requirements. The Concertos apparently lay untouched in his library until he died thirteen years after Bach had presented them to him, when the were inventoried at a value of four groschen each---only a few cents. Fortunately they were preserved by the noted theorist and pedagogue Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a pupil of Bach, and came eventually into the collection of the Royal Library in Berlin. They were brought to light during the 19th-century Bach revival, published in 1850, and have since come to be recognized as the supreme examples of Baroque instrumental music.

The Brandenburg Concertos differ from those of later eras in both instrumental disposition and form. These are concerti grossi ("great concertos"), works in which a small group of soloists (concertino) rather than a single instrument is pitted against the ensemble (ripieno). Most of the fast movements of the Brandenburgs use a formal procedure known as "ritornello," which is based on the contrasonorityorirty between concertino and ripieno. First the orchestra presents a collection of thematic kernels from which much of the movement grows. Then the soloists take over for an episode, sometimes borrowing from the opening orchestral introduction, sometimes providing something new. The ensemble then returns (ritornello is Italian for "return"), and is followed by another solo episode, and that by another orchestral ritornello, and so forth. The remaining fast movements are based on dance types, while the slow movements are usually lyrical and through-compassort asort of elaborate worldless aria.

The performers of the Brandenburgs were a stellar cast:
Ranson Wilson, flute
Tara Helen O'Connor, flute
Allan Vogel, oboe
Frack Avril, oboe
Karen Wagner, oboe
David Shifrin, piccolo clarinet
Julie Feves, bassoon
William Purvis, horn
John Cox, horn
Ani Kavafian, violin
Ida Kavafian, violin and viola
Kerry McDermott, violin
Paul Neubauer, viola
Cynthia Phelps, viola
Fred Sherry, cello
Ronald Thomas, cello
Hamilton Cheifetz, cello
Edgar Meyer, double-bass
John Gibbons, harpsichord


J S Bach: Brandenburg Concertos, background

Bach represents the culmination of the musical development which began in the 1600's; Bach's music is the greatest monument of the entire Baroque period. The contrapuntal texture which is the outstanding characteristic of his style was derived from a long line of Flemish and North German predecessors; his musical forms are those which the 17th century had developed. Probably no composer had his musical roots so deeply embedded in the past and owed so much to those who came before him. Rather than being the founder of a new music, Bach represents the peak toward which generations of composers had been striving.
Perhaps the most important orchestral work of Bach's service at Cothen (1717-1723) was a collection of six concertos. The set was written as the result of a wish expressed by Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg, that Bach provide some music for his private orchestra. The works were completed early in 1721 and were sent to the margrave with an elaborate dedication in French under the title, "Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments. . . ." They are at once Bach's earliest large orchestral works and his finest accomplishments in this field. In style, content, and expressive intent they are as diverse as their instrumentation. No two are alike, and they contain virtually a summary of concerto developments up to Bach's time.
Considered in the light of the modern orchestral ideal, the first two "Brandenburg Concertos" offer the greatest variety of tone color and instrumental contrast. However, instead of supplying individual color to the thematic material or to the implied harmony of the continuo, there is a wholesale duplication of polyphonic lines. This typical Baroque technique of instrumentation merely reinforces the contrapuntal strands, as various stops might be added to organ registration for the same purpose.
In Bach's orchestral music, again in typical Baroque style, dynamic contrasts were planned sectionally ("terraced") rather than the later Romantic concept of expressive dynamics between instrument and instrument or from measure to measure. Where there are major timbral contrasts it is between large structural elements. One instrumental scheme usually carries through an entire section or movement. This is in contrast, of course, with the more modern practice of constantly shifting the instrumental tone-colors. That is, Bach's orchestrational style is compositional and contrapuntal rather than coloristic.
The remaining concertos of the set differ greatly from each other, especially in instrumentation. The outstanding characteristic of the Brandenburg concertos, however, is their great variety of textures, form, and moods. It is difficult to exaggerate the technical perfection of these works; yet their ability to provide listening pleasure is equally great. The sheer exuberance of many of the movements, and the restrained dignity of others, combined with their richness in instrumental color and texture, make this set of works unique in the literature. Among Bach's first attempts at writing for instruments alone, they represent an amazing accomplishment. In no later orchestral works did he transcend the expressive levels he attained here, and seldom did he equal them.



Handel Orchestration

Gardner Read writes:

George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) was inclined to design his instrumentation for audience effect. His method with the strings, however, was even less enterprising than Bach's customary four-part treatment. Handel's violas had no separate and independent part, but followed the bass voices at the upper octave or else filled in harmony notes---an unfortunate waste of color potential. His bass parts, like those of the other Baroque composers, served for cellos, double basses, bassoons, and the continuo (organ or cembalo).

Woodwinds, on the other hand, made a major contribution to the generally massive sound of Handel's orchestra. They frequently included as many as ten double-reed instruments against a string body rarely exceeding twenty-five. Any imbalance of tone, however, was probably not a problem, for eighteenth-century oboes and bassoons did not possess the power and intensity of their modern counterparts.

In his oratorio Saul(1739), Handel became the first composer to make the bassoon a solo instrument. Previously used only as a doubling agent, the bassoon was accustomed to follow the basso continuo and seldom had its own part written in Baroque scores. This time-saving practice on the part of composers led some later editors and publishers to assume that no bassoons were required in many works of the period. This misunderstanding applied even to certain of the Haydn and Mozart symphonies of a later era. Modern editions, of course, rightly supply these missing parts in the the printed scores.

Handel's obvious fondness for horns and trumpets also gave great solidity and brilliance to his orchestration. He is now generally credited with being the first to use four horns in the orchestra (in the opera Giulio Cesare (1724). Later, Mozart also called for four horns in his Idomeneo of 1780, but these instances are both the exception rather than the rule in the instrumentation of the Baroque and Classical periods.

Another "first" that can be credited to Handel is a solo role for the timpani, notably in the two oratorios Ode for St. Cecilia's Day (1739) and Semele (1743). Like the bassoons, the kettledrums had heretofore only supported and doubled existing parts, nearly always in conjunction with the trumpets. In several passages in the two oratorios, however, they are used quite independently.

Uniformly apt and always powerful, Handel's orchestration employed two broad methods of procedure. In his early period he duplicated all the component parts---oboes with violins, bassoons with cellos and double-basses---as Bach did. Even his brasses would simply reinforce or imitate the string-wind voices, as in the Water Music of 1715-17.

Closer to the modern orchestral manner is the practice of Handel's later years, when he deliberately contrasted the three tone-colors of strings, double reeds, and combined brasses and timpani. By overlapping these groups, alternating them, and also combining them in the fashion of earlier duplicating procedures, Handel exemplifies what the later Romantic composers took for granted---an orchestral technique rooted in the principle of contrast by choirs.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2005


JS Bach Orchestration

Adam Carse writes:

Famous in Germany as an executant, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was hardly recognised as a prominent composer during his lifetime. His orchestral works were written for performance under his own guidance in the various towns where he was employed, for variable and often insufficient resources, reaching at best a limited circle which was more local than national extent. His orchestration follows in direct succession the beginning made by Gabrieli in Italy, introduced into Germany by Schutz, further developed by succeeding German organist-composers, and finally handed on to Bach and his generation by the Church composers immediately preceding him, the generation of which perhaps the best remembered is Buxtehude. Confined within the radius of a few German churches and provincial courts, Bach's orchestration neither contributed nor acquired any of the freedom and progress which marked the contemporary work of German composers in the theatre or concert-room.

Bach's resources at Leipzig are known to have been an orchestra of from eighteen to twenty, of which wind instruments would account for nine or ten players, leaving only two to three instruments to each part. The wind players were obviously double-handed in the sense that the oboe players, for example, would have to play on alto and tenor instruments of the same type when required, and it is not at all improbable that the players on brass instruments were similarly obliged to change from one instrument to another. Whereas a four-part string orchestra is employed in almost every work, the specific wind parts vary in a manner which suggests that Bach wrote for whatever wind instruments happened to be at his disposal and that the combination and supply varied considerably from time to time. His "memorials" complaining of the lack of necessary instrumental players bear out the impression that he was obliged to cut his coat according to his cloth, and that his orchestral "cloth" was frequently insufficient in quantity if not in quality.

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