Program Notes – Bach at New Year’s 2017-2018

Henry Purcell

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was born in the City of Westminster into a musical family associated with the Chapel Royal (part of the Royal Household). He attended the Westminster School, and studied with the Westminster Abbey organist, John Blow. Purcell began composing at an early age, writing odes and anthems (the English equivalents of the cantata and motet) for the Chapel Royal and works for the English Theatre. By 1688 he had written incidental music for seven plays, and the next year completed the chamber opera Dido and Aeneas that is considered a landmark in English dramatic music. Over the next six years Purcell produced scores for an additional 42 plays, major odes, anthems, and operas, including his masterpiece King Arthur or the British Worthy (1691), The Faerie Queene (1692), Abdelazar (1695), and others. In 1694, he wrote the elaborate Come Ye Sons of Art, an ode for the Queen’s birthday, and a Te Deum and Jubilate Deo for Saint Cecilia’s Day. As the first English Te Deum to use orchestral accompaniment, the work was performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral annually until 1712, and then alternately with Handel’s Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate for another 30 years. He died at age 36 and was buried at Westminster Abbey at the Crown’s expense. Purcell was the most important English composer until the 20th century, with some scholars ranking him the most important of all time. Although he composed some purely instrumental music, his primary contribution was to the vocal repertoire. Composer Benjamin Britten believed that Purcell understood the English language better than any other composer in history and could set it to music with results that place him in a category above all others. At the time of Purcell’s death, J.S. Bach was ten years old, just setting out on his life as a musician.

Chacony in g minor, Z 730

Written probably around 1680, the Chacony in g minor is an example of the French chaconne, a popular Baroque musical form that is best described as a continuous variation on a harmonic structure rather than a theme. Purcell lays out the harmonic pattern of the Chacony in eight bars, and at each repetition varies the foreground prominently, with dotted rhythms and downward figures that impart a somber dignity, both elegant and poignant. As a musical form, the chaconne is nearly identical to the passacaglia, with both possibly deriving from dances imported by Spain from the New World in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Indeed, Purcell’s curious and unique spelling of chaconne may be an echo of the chacona as danced in Mexico in the early 17th century.

Fantasia in G Major, Z 742

The fantasia, as its name implies, refers to a composition designed to sound like a fantasy—an improvisation or generally unstructured exploration rather than a specific musical form. In 16th and 17th century England, the fantasia (fancy) was often a lute or keyboard piece, and by Purcell’s time applied equally to larger instrumental works. The Fantasia Z 742 is typical of Purcell’s mature compositional style and exemplifies the elegance and inventiveness that distinguish this master of the early Baroque in England.

Keyboard Suite in D Major: Cebell (ZT 678) and Fanfare (ZT 698)

The Cebell ZT 678 and Fanfare ZT 698 are late works by Purcell, dating from the last few years of his life, and may have been assembled into a suite by a publisher after his death. A cebell (cibell) is the 17th century English name for the gavotte (a French dance in 4/4 time), derived from a song praising the goddess Cybele in the Lully opera Athys (1676). A fanfare is a short tune for trumpet, typically used for ceremonial purposes. Purcell used the Fanfare in his incidental music to The Indian Queen (1695), his last commission and one that he did not live to complete. Both the Cebell and Fanfare capture the lucidity and elegance of his mature style.

The Faerie Queene, Z 629, Prelude and Celebration

Purcell wrote his incidental music to The Faerie Queene in 1692 on a libretto adapted from Shakespeare’s popular comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595/96). The queen in the title refers to the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies, around whom the plot revolves. The work is typical of English Restoration theatre music, and includes set pieces framing the action rather than providing continuous sound as in 17th century Italian opera. Each act ends with a masque, a popular form of entertainment at the time performed by masked dancers. The work proved to be so popular that Purcell added more music for a revival in 1693. It is scored for large forces, with characters singing Soprano, Countertenor (male alto), Tenor, and Bass, and an orchestra of winds, strings, timpani, and harpsichord continuo. Purcell was particularly sophisticated in the way he wove together drama, text, and music, subtly underscoring the childlike quality and fantasy of the story by assigning music only to characters from the realm of magic, and using children for many roles in the first production and beyond. Berkshire Bach Music Director Emeritus Kenneth Cooper has arranged two numbers, the Prelude and Celebration (originally titled Symphony), for winds and strings.

Georg Philipp Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was born in Magdeburg, in Saxony- Anhalt. He received his first music lessons from a local organist when he was ten, and despite the objections of his family, avidly embraced both performance and composition as a course of study. After enrolling at the University of Leipzig to pursue law, he soon turned away to become a professional musician, writing for the theatres and operas houses in the city. Over the course of his career he held prestigious posts in Eisenach (the birthplace of J.S. Bach), Frankfurt, and Hamburg, progressively increasing his income and artistic standing through publications of his work and experimentation with different musical forms. Within a year of his appointment in Hamburg, his employers increased his compensation to discourage him from assuming the newly-vacant post of Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, originally promised to him years earlier. After another candidate also declined the position, it was filled, famously, by Telemann’s friend, J.S. Bach.

Telemann kept the Hamburg post until his death in 1767. He was one of the most prolific composers of all time, and a savvy businessman, dedicated to expanding audiences beyond the aristocracy, cultivating the public through producing works for amateur performance, and establishing the first popular periodical devoted to music, Der Getreue Musik-Meister (The Constant Music-Master). He retained full control over the publication of his own works, and saw sustained profits from the operation. Due to his diverse business and musical activities, he was significantly better known than J.S. Bach outside Germany and generally enjoyed an international reputation as a master of all musical styles. His music is innovative and consistently sophisticated from a contrapuntal and harmonic standpoint, yet it remains accessible to most listeners. Telemann was a close personal friend of J.S. Bach, godfather and namesake of Bach’s son C.P.E., and a close advisor to the family. He outlived his old friend by 17 years, and stands with Händel, whom he also knew, as the embodiment of an international celebrity of the late Baroque. In the following generation, Telemann’s work fell out of favor, but was revived in the 20th century and has since achieved sustained popularity.

Concerto in D Major for Four Violins, TWV 40:202

The Concerto in D Major, TWV 40:202 is the second of four concertos Telemann wrote for four violins, likely after 1740. The set is unusual in being written without basso continuo, which distinguishes it from early 17th century Italian models by Torelli, Valentini, Locatelli, Vivaldi, and others, and from the typical Baroque concerto grosso that used different instruments in the solo group to provide a more varied musical range against the orchestral texture and keyboard continuo. In his concerto, Telemann stands squarely in the Baroque era by using imitative counterpoint for the thematic material, but simultaneously looks forward to the next generation of music in which harmony and musical structure were specifically composed rather than realized by a thorough-bass. Telemann wrote several other works without continuo, including various sonatas and fantasias for solo flute and solo violin.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born in Eisenach to a family of musicians. He was well-educated in his art, first by his father and then by his elder brother, Johann Christhof, a student of Pachelbel. Part of his education was the practice of copying the scores of other composers, which taught him about the music of the German States, Italy, France, and the rest of Europe, and made him musically one of the best-informed composers of his age. Over his life, Bach served as organist at Arnstadt (1703-1707) and Mühlhausen (1707-1708), court organist and Concertmaster in Weimar (1708-1717), Music Director in Köthen (1717-1723) and Cantor of St. Thomas’s School and Music Director in Leipzig (1723-1750). During his lifetime he was recognized as an organ virtuoso and master of musical counterpoint, but was not especially well-known outside of Germany. His music fell out of favor after his death but was studied and promoted in the 19th century by Felix Mendelsohn and others, leading to a permanent revival.

With the exception of opera, which was not called for by his employers, Bach composed in all forms and styles of Baroque music—secular, sacred, solo, ensemble, vocal, instrumental—achieving comprehensive perfection. He contributed substantially to the great musical tradition of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, which celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2017, and created some of the best-loved and most-performed devotional music in any religious canon. After Bach, music developed in another direction, culminating in the Classical Era of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Scholars traditionally use the date of Bach’s death to mark the end of the Baroque era, and consider him one of the greatest composers of all time.

Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080, Contrapunctus IX

The term fugue describes a musical texture, not a form, that is created from typically four independent voices carrying a subject in imitative fashion. Perfected by Bach, it is a sophisticated compositional technique with strict rules that fell out of fashion after his death. Later composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and others, learned to write correct fugues as part of their musical education, but the strict application of the technique is comparatively rare in the music of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of Fugue) is an unfinished collection of 14 fugues and 4 canons in d minor, arranged in increasing order of difficulty and written in the last decade of Bach’s life. The work was intended to be a comprehensive study exploring the potential of imitative counterpoint to create complex and diverse music built on a single theme, but was left unfinished at Bach’s death. The collection is organized in seven categories: simple fugues (Nos. 1-4), counter fugues (Nos. 5-7), double and triple fugues (Nos. 8-11), mirror fugues (Nos. 12-13), canons (Nos. 14-17), and an unfinished fugue based on the letters of Bach’s name (No. 18). Contrapunctus IX, a 4 alla Duodecima, is a so-called double fugue of four voices with two subjects set in invertible counterpoint at the interval of a twelfth. Invertible counterpoint can be either vertical or horizontal, but generally refers to setting a subject that can be used as the upper, middle, and lower voice in a fugal texture. The most common intervals for invertible counterpoint are the octave, tenth and twelfth. Invertible counterpoint is among the most sophisticated of compositional techniques.

Orchestral Suite No.1 in C Major, BWV 1066

The Orchestral Suite No.1, BWV 1066 is the first of four orchestral works that Bach wrote sometime before 1730. Unlike the Brandenburg Concertos, which were composed as a set in 1721, the Orchestral Suites were not conceived as a group, appearing in unrelated sources. The Suite No.1 preserves the outline of the traditional Baroque suite form of paired dances in the same key presented in contrasting tempi. It is scored for strings, winds, and continuo, and opens with an expansive overture, following the French style established by Lully (d. 1687). Bach keeps the suite in proportion by balancing the imposing size of the first movement by doubling several later movements, including the Gavotte, the Menuet, the Bourée, and the Passepied. His choice of using a Forlane may have had some significance for the occasion for which the suite was written, or even for the specific players at the first performance, since it is uncommon in Bach’s music. The Forlane (Furlana) is an Italian folk dance from the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia that was originally a couples wedding dance in a fast tempo and duple 6/8 time.

William Boyce

William Boyce (1711-1779) was born in London into a non-musical family. His father was a cabinet maker, who nonetheless secured his son admission as a choirboy to St. Paul’s Cathedral when he was eight years old. Once his voice broke, Boyce began to study music formally with Maurice Greene, organist of the Chapel Royal and Professor of Music at Cambridge University, who is best known for his compilation Cathedral Music, the collected music used even today in the services of the Anglican Church. Like his teacher, Boyce earned a degree in music from Cambridge and held several positions as organist in and around London before becoming Master of the King’s Music in 1755 and organist to the Chapel Royal in 1758. By then, however, his progressive deafness had begun to interfere with his teaching and performance career to such an extent that he retired from his posts to concentrate on completing Cathedral Music, which Greene had left unfinished at his death. In recognition of the importance of Boyce to the Anglican vocal traditions he preserved, one of the houses of the Cathedral choir school is named after him.

As a composer, Boyce is largely overshadowed by Purcell, Jeremiah Clarke, William Byrd, and other composers of the English Baroque. He was born a generation or two later than the early masters, and wrote a set of eight symphonies, numerous anthems, odes, masques, and incidental music for the theatre, as well as chamber music, including at least twelve trio sonatas. Unfortunately, much of his music is lost, but what does survive justifies the prominent positions Boyce held during his lifetime. His song Heart of Oak, with words by the actor David Garrick, was the official march adopted by the British Royal Navy, as well as those of Canada and Australia. After his death, Boyce’s Church music was edited and published in two large volumes, in 1780 and 1790. Boyce is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Symphony No.1 in B-flat Major, Op. 2

The Symphony No.1 in B-flat Major is a charming work that exemplifies Boyce’s elegant if somewhat conservative musical style. Published in 1760 as part of a set of eight symphonies, the music was assembled from movements of earlier compositions, and combines the typical French overture with an Italian sinfonia style that emphasized pleasant melodies, easy harmonies, and simple rhythms. The Symphony has three movements, alternately fast and slow, and is more closely related to the Baroque orchestral suite and concerto grosso than the new form of symphony developing in Europe at the time. Ten years later, in 1770, Boyce published a second set of symphonic works, the Twelve Overtures, which were received as decidedly old fashioned in a period that was abandoning the basso continuo and experimenting with other musical elements. As an alternative to the work of more familiar composers in the period, however, Boyce presents a refreshing and engaging variety.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was born in Salzburg, Austria, the youngest of seven children, five of whom died in infancy. His life is well chronicled and familiar to general audiences: early recognition of his exceptional musical talent, long family job-hunting tours to European courts beginning when he was six, rift with Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg that helped launch his independent career, early professional success in Vienna, marriage to singer Konstanza Weber, periods of intense compositional activity, popular and financial decline in the late 1780s, illness and death in Vienna in 1791 at the age of 35. What is not known definitively is when and how Mozart was introduced to the music of J.S. Bach, though his respect and admiration for Bach is clear. He had met Bach’s son, J.C. Bach, in London during a family tour in the 1760s, but probably did not encounter the father’s music seriously until 1782 in Vienna at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten. A Dutch-born diplomat, librarian, government official, and amateur musician, van Swieten collected manuscripts by G.F. Handel and J.S. Bach and organized salons for prominent musicians in the city. In April 1782, Mozart wrote to his father that he went

every Sunday at twelve o’clock to the Baron van Swieten, where nothing is played but Handel and Bach. I am collecting at the moment the fugues of Bach—not only of Sebastian, but also of Emanuel and Friedemann. 

The Baron apparently let Mozart borrow all the works of Handel and Bach in his collection after Mozart had played them through for him, and the opportunity was immediately productive. At his wife’s request for a written— not just improvised—fugue in the style of Bach and Handel, Mozart wrote the Fantasia and Fugue in C Major, K 394. When he sent it to his sister, he commented on how fugues in general ought to be performed, advice that is as noteworthy today as it was in Mozart’s time:

I have conscientiously written Andante maestoso on [the piece], so that at least it will not be played fast—for if a fugue is not played slowly, one cannot hear the entrance of the subject distinctly and clearly, and consequently it is of no effect. 

Later, he asked his father to send him some fugues by J.E. Eberlin (d. 1762) that he had played as a child, but upon seeing them again wrote that

now I see (for I had forgotten them) that they are unfortunately far too trivial to deserve a place beside Handel and Bach. With due respect for [Eberlin’s] four-part composition I may say that his clavier fugues are nothing but long-drawn-out voluntaries.

Friedrich Rochlitz, a contemporary though somewhat suspect witness, remembered Mozart’s reaction in 1789 to a private performance of a Bach motet at the Thomas-Schule, describing Mozart as crying out “Now there is something one can learn from!” He recalls that on the spot Mozart called for the music and sat down with the parts around him, studying intently until he had finished, then going through all the other Bach manuscripts housed at the School. Rochlitz points to the great fugue in the Kyrie of Mozart’s Requiem as evidence of how Mozart synthesized Bach’s contrapuntal teachings.

Our Bach at New Year’s program includes two early Mozart works that were written before he encountered Bach’s music, and one that is the direct result of exposure to it.

The Divertimento in D Major, K136 dating from 1772 was written in Salzburg when Mozart was 16 and just returned from two extended stays in Italy. The piece has three movements—fast, slow, fast—and is written, not surprisingly, in the light style of the Italian sinfonia of the time. The work demonstrates just how far music had moved since Bach’s passing in 1750 at age 65. Had he survived the complications from eye surgery that led to his death, Bach would have been in his 80s when Mozart emerged on the scene, and may indeed have heard of him as a child prodigy. Mozart’s music, however, would have represented a newer style even than that of Bach’s sons, whom Bach had helped develop into modern musicians, while continuing his own pursuit of an older Baroque style.

The Violin Concerto K219 from 1775 is the last of a series of five concertos Mozart wrote for his own use in an eight-month period when he was 19. He had taught himself to play the violin when he was four years old, and was considered proficient by the time he and his family began their European tours in 1762. He toured both as a keyboard and a violin prodigy, and continued to perform as a violin virtuoso at least through the mid-1770s. Today, the concerto K 219 is one of the staples of the modern violin repertoire and bears the nickname The Turkish, for the third movement, the well-known Rondo alla Turca. The name reflects the continued popularity of all things Turkish in the 1770s, when the Ottoman Empire was to Europe still a potent—and ominous—political force.

Five Fugues arranged for String Quartet after J.S. Bach, K405 are transcriptions of the fugues from Book II of Das wohltempierte Klavier (The Well-Temperd Clavier), Nos. 2, 7, 9, 8, and 5 (BWV 871, 876, 878, 877, and 874 respectively). Created in 1782, the transcriptions are noteworthy as the early fruit of a serious study of Bach’s music and illuminate Mozart’s adoption of the rules governing the strict contrapuntal style that formed so little of his own early musical education. While interesting for that reason alone, they generally show less of the lively ingenuity that typically informs Mozart’s music and sound more like student works, which in a way they are. The lasting impact of Bach’s music is in the way Mozart’s musical vocabulary became more nuanced, complex, and sophisticated after studying Bach, and how he used counterpoint extensively in passages of emotional intensity. Our program presents three of the five fugues: No. 2 in E-flat Major (BWV 876), transcribed for wind quartet, No. 3 in E Major (BWV 878), played as written for string quartet, and No. 5 in D Major (BWV 874), played by the full ensemble.

Béla Viktor János Bartók

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was a Hungarian composer born in Nagyszentmiklós in the Kingdom of Hungary (now Sânnicolau Mare, Romania). He showed musical talent early, studying piano with his mother from age five, and giving his first public recital—in which he performed his own composition, The Course of the Danube, among other works—when he was 11. He later attended the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest, where he met lifelong friend Zoltán Kodály. The two shared an interest in Eastern European folk music, and together undertook several research trips into the countryside to collect and record songs and melodies of the Magyars and other people. Bartók’s compositional style until these trips was influenced by Brahms, Liszt, and even Debussy. Afterward, he and Kodály both began to incorporate folk elements and direct quotations into their works, blending the folk idioms with classical and modern takes on tonality and rhythm. Bartók emigrated to the Unites States in 1940, just after the outbreak of World War II, and settled in New York City. Supported by a grant from Columbia University, he continued his research with studies of Serbian and Croatian folk songs, consolidating his reputation as a pioneer and leader in the emerging field of ethnomusicology. Bartók died of complications from leukemia in 1945 in New York City and was buried in Hartsdale, NY. In 1988, at the request of the Hungarian government, his body was disinterred and returned to Budapest, where he received a state funeral. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and ranks with Franz Liszt as the greatest Hungarian composer of all time.

44 Duos for Two Violins, Sz 98, dating from 1931, was commissioned by a German violin teacher and designed to be used pedagogically rather than in performance. The Duos are short pieces, many with strong folk elements, some with the introspective lyricism in Bartók’s unique folk-inspired and post-tonal style, and arranged in four books of increasing difficulty. Pieces in the fourth book include canons and imitative counterpoint reminiscent of older examples. In keeping with the season, we offer three New Year’s Songs from Book II (No. 21) and Book III (Nos. 29, and 30) as a contrast to the formal and structured sound of the Baroque and early Classical works on our program, symbolizing our year of change.

—T.A. McDade