From our concert on 4 May 2012, Seattle, Washington.
01 May 2012
Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729)
Sonata in D
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
Sonata in C, BR A 2a / Fk 1B
Johann-Joachim Quantz (1697-1773)
Sonata in e, Op. 1, No. V
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Sonata in a, H. 555
Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Suite in a, from Pièces de violes, IIIe Livre (1711)
Michel Blavet (1700-1768)
Sonata Prima, Op. 3
At the courts of Louis XIV, Frederick II (The Great), and Frederick Augustus I (The Strong), the cities of Paris, Berlin, and Dresden were regarded as among the finest musical establishments in Europe during the years 1660-1760. Musical establishments have operating expenses, and these expenses are met through an organization’s economy; the greater or more flourishing the economy, the better the musical establishment. The economy is affected by an organization (or any government geographical entity) and the relationships it maintains with its neighbors. Our concert presents music from three different musical centers in eighteenth-century Europe, and each composer reflects in one way or another, the underlying personality of their respective establishment. The musical personalities of each establishment changed over time, in part because of geopolitical events, in the form increased conflict with other empires. With the leaders of these establishments occupied with maintaining peace or acquiring more territory, they spent less time overlooking the artistic aspects of their respective domains. Musicians were and are, in a sense, diplomatic ambassadors. At the professional level they have a common currency that will get them accepted in many parts of the world. In some cases, if their currency is highly valued, it can get you out of jail, or at least gainfully employed in another country. Professional musicians also have a built in networking tool. In even a cursory reading of composer biographies in modern sources, it is easy to make connections in the manner of six degrees of separation (often fewer than six). For example, we can connect François Couperin to Johann-Joachim Quantz, even though they never met, through Johann Sebastian Bach and his two oldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, both of whom knew Quantz and between the two of them worked in both Berlin and Dresden, and Quantz spent some time in Paris where he likely heard Couperin’s music. Between Frederick the Great’s penchant for French culture and Frederick the Strong’s Italian-based musical establishment, when the two Frederick’s met in Berlin in 1728, the Dresden contingent included Heinichen, Hasse, and Quantz, among others. Heinichen also worked briefly in Cothen at the same time as J. S. Bach. And pretty much every musician in the eighteenth century knew of Michel Blavet. Thus most of the musicians connected through their musical currency, regardless of the respective political climates in which they worked.
Johann David Heinichen was for some time overlooked as a composer. He is usually seen as a music theorist and author of a treatise on figured bass (1711, revised and expanded in 1728 as Der General-Bass in der Composition). One significant aspect of this treatise is that Heinichen makes the first known attempt to codify all of the figures used by composers in different countries to indicate the same chord structures. The importance of this work in music history and historical performance practices has likely helped hide his compositions from modern performers and audiences. Trained in Leipzig by J. S. Bach’s predecessor, Kuhnau, he spent seven formative years in Italy, primarily Venice, and in 1717 found himself working for August the Strong in both Dresen and Poland. Heinichen’s secular music is in a cosmopolitan, galant style, and he composed in many genres, vocal and instrumental. As a pedagogue, Heinichen adds to the “Battle of the Baroque Bands” theme through his method of teaching figured bass: he advocates keyboard students study thoroughbass prior to advance technical studies and that thoroughbass be used as a means to learn composition. This is exactly the opposite of François Couperin, who insisted that the performer must have command of solo repertoire and technique before embarking on a study of thoroughbass.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach had the enviable position of J. S. Bach as his primary music teacher. As a musician the younger Bach clearly absorbed his father’s teachings. Like his father he was highly regarded as an improviser. A formidable gauntlet, in retrospect, is the body of works written by the elder Bach as “teaching” pieces for his son. This music includes the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, parts of the French Suites, the two-part Inventions (modern music students continue to be subjected to these pieces), the three-part Sinfonias, the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and the six Trio Sonatas for organ. Outside of music the younger Bach had difficulty with life in general, found himself in less-than-ideal working situations, and made some bad financial decisions. I hasten to add the he did not hold a monopoly on these particular aspects of life. His musical output clearly shows not only his outstanding teacher but that the student was diligent, learned his lessons well, and was able to put forth his own personality in his compositions.
Johann-Joachim Quantz’s Sonata in e from Opus 1 is typical of the solo sonata in the late baroque period. The new format was that of a slow movement followed by two fast movements of contrasting character. Quantz is remembered today as the author of a treatise or essay on playing the flute. This essay is much more than a book on how to play the flute. Flute-specific material comprises only three of the book's eighteen chapters. The treatise is a significant primary source for our study of historical performance practices in the first part of the eighteenth century. Quantz gives specific instructions for how, and with what character, to play fast and slow movements, and what types of ornaments to employ. He also includes detailed guidelines for just how fast or slow to play these respective movements. The character of each movement should be emotionally different from the others. In addition, Quantz points out that the tempos at the court of Frederick the Great were generally faster than those with the same indications in the rest of Europe, but that the tempos in Dresden (where Quantz worked when he wrote the sonatas from his Opus 1) were faster still.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Sonata in a, H. 555, was written in Berlin before he moved to Hamburg. CPE Bach’s chamber music is often overshadowed by his keyboard and orchestral music, but it is by no means inferior. The solo sonatas in particular demonstrate the transformation of late -eighteenth-century music from the Baroque polarity between melody instrument and continuo to the early classical/ gallant style. Terms such as “empfindsamer stil” and “sturm und drang” are often used to describe the music of CPE Bach. The former term is characterized by the need for the music to produce a wide variety of emotions available. The latter term has been conscripted by musicians from eighteenth-century German literature and essentially refers to a passion and energy, or an energy and rebellion in the music. “Storm and stress” are only a small part of the musical meaning. The sonata is written in the typical layout of the mid-century: a slow movement followed by two faster movements of contrasting character. The final movement is a set of two variations.
Marin Marais worked his entire career in Paris, and most of that time was in the service of the king. He was appointed an Ordinaire de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi in 1685, and maintained the position throughout the reign of Louis XIV and through 1725 under the Regency and Louis XV. His contemporaries recognized him as an outstanding performer and composer and his compositions for viols and the opera were known outside of France. The Suite from Pièces de violes, IIIe Livre is typically French in style and in the movements. This piece shows but one side of Marais’s flexibility as composer. He was clearly aware of compositional styles from other countries, as seen in his “Suitte d’un gout Etranger” (“Suite for Foreign Tastes”), from his IVe Livre (1717), which contains pieces in a very clear Italian style to one so-called “frontier tune” entitled “L’Ameriquaine.”
Michel Blavet was regarded as the most brilliant flute virtuoso in France, and arguably in all of Europe, in the first half of the eighteenth century. Self-taught on many instruments, he eventually settled on the flute, which he played left-handed, and the bassoon. His concert debut was at the newly formed Concert Spirituel in 1726, with what was then an avant-garde compositional form, the concerto. There are many reports of the effect Blavet’s playing had on his audience (all good), and that his “exciting, exact, and brilliant” style of playing made the flute even more popular in France. Before Blavet the instrument had previously been played in a less-than-exciting manner. Also of note was his extremely accurate intonation even in difficult keys. It is ironic that his published pieces are in the easiest keys and were intended for amateurs. It must be noted, however, that some of these amateurs must have been pretty good players, particularly when fast passage work appears and in remote keys such as G-sharp major and c-sharp minor. A famous and well-traveled virtuoso, Blavet was acquainted with many well-known composers throughout Europe, including Telemann, with whom he played the latter’s famous Paris Quartets, and the legendary Mr. Quantz, whom he met when Quantz visited Paris in 1726.