2020/VIRTUAL Salon Series

How to Watch in 4K After the Premiere

On the bottom frame of the video screen, click on the Settings icon:

Click on Quality.

Make sure “2160P 4K” is selected:

Hit the back button, click out of the Settings menu, and enjoy!

NOTE: If you have a slower internet connection, the 4K technology may cause the video to occasionally buffer or cause audio or video blips. If you experience this, try toggling back to 1080p HD.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EToKSq1PJjA

PAST EVENTS

PURCELL: Something Old, Something New

December 22, 2020 | 8:00PM PT

featuring

KATHERINE KYME, violin
NOAH STRICK, violin
MARIA CASWELL, viola
AARON WESTMAN, viola
WILLIAM SKEEN, viola da gamba
KATHERINE HEATER, harpsichord

Recorded at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco War Memorial on
November 6, 2020 in accordance with the Order of the Health Officer of the
City and County of San Francisco at time of capture

Audio recording production, engineering, editing and mastering: Michael Demeyer

Video recording production: Tal Skloot (Tritone Media)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH ON YOUTUBECLICK HERE TO WATCH ON FACEBOOK

CLICK HERE: Music Performed

HENRY PURCELL (1659–1695)

Fantasia XI in G major, Z. 742

PURCELL

Trio Sonata in A major, Z. 799

PURCELL

Trio Sonata in G minor, Z. 807

PURCELL

Suite of instrumental music from The Fairy Queen, Z. 629

3. Second Music: Aire
4. Rondeau
2. Hornpipe
20. If Love’s a sweet Passion
22. Dance for the Fairies
23. Dance for the green men
29. Third Act Tune: Hornpipe
57. Chaconne

CLICK HERE: The Players and Their Instruments

KATHERINE KYME, violin

Carlo Antonio Testore, Milan, Italy, 1720

NOAH STRICK, violin

Celia Bridges, Cologne, Germany, 1988

MARIA CASWELL, viola

Anonymous, Mittenwald, Germany, c. 1800

AARON WESTMAN, viola

Francis Beaulieu, Montreal, Canada, 2012; after Bros. Amati, Cremona, ca. 1620

WILLIAM SKEEN, viola da gamba

John Pringle, North Carolina, 2001; after W. Addison, London, England, 1697

KATHERINE HEATER, harpsichord

John Phillips, Berkeley, 2010; after Johann Heinrich Gräbner, Dresden, 1722
Generously lent by Peter & Cynthia Hibbard

CLICK HERE: Program Notes

by Scholar-in-Residence Bruce Lamott

Purcell! the Pride and Wonder of the Age,
The Glory of the Temple, and the Stage.
(Henry Hall: Orpheus Britannicus, 1698)

This tribute by a fellow organist from the Chapel Royal commemorates the recent death of Henry Purcell (1659-1695), the foremost English composer of his generation and one of the greatest English musicians of all time. It appeared among several tributes by prominent musicians in the preface to a posthumously published anthology of songs by Purcell, proclaimed by the title as the “British Orpheus.”  Only a year older than Mozart at the time of his death, Purcell wrote an extraordinary amount of music in his 36 years, but like Mozart, he leaves us, wondering what might have been.

This program frames the life of Purcell, from one of his earliest works, influenced by the sacred polyphony of the English Renaissance, to his last completed work for the public theatre, reflections of Hall’s reference to “the Temple and the Stage.” Coming from a family of court musicians, as a boy of eight Purcell became a chorister in the Chapel Royal. By eighteen he succeeded Mathew Locke as master of the violins at the court of Charles II, and at twenty he followed John Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey.

Fantasia XI

The fantasias Purcell wrote for strings in 1680 brought together these elements of his musical environment. Fantasia XI demonstrates his facility with counterpoint in the “antique style” (stile antico) of Renaissance sacred music, a style he would have encountered as a boy chorister, epitomized by the works of William Byrd. His application of this vocally conceived style to instruments followed in a long tradition of such compositions by organist/composers, most immediately in the music written for string ensemble by Matthew Locke. Our instrumentation combines the bass viol (viola da gamba) with violin and two violas, members of the increasingly popular Italian violin family that drove the fretted viols to extinction.  While these fantasias are a staple repertoire for modern viol consorts (ensembles of the viola da gamba in poppa/momma/and baby bear sizes of bass, tenor, and treble viol, respectively), by Purcell’s time all but the bass viol had faded from use.

“Fantasia” is an elusive term, revived in modern times by Walt Disney. Composers used this catch-all title for works of adventurous and extravagant explorations of harmony, expression, and caprice but also as the more subtle and sophisticated demonstrations of contrapuntal ingenuity found in Purcell’s fantasias. These are pieces written for the delectation of the performers themselves, intended  for “musick’s recreation,” as Purcell’s friend John Playford entitled his collection of viol music in 1682. Fantasia XI is crafted out of two simple five-note scales, one of which ascends, while the other descends immediately thereafter in the same rhythm (called an inversion). The complex texture of continuously interwoven parts that follows consists of these two ideas appearing in all of the parts.

Fantasia XI, dated 19 August 1680, neatly divides into three sections of contrasting textures. After all parts cadence together, the middle section (marked “Drag”)  is more chordal, or harmonically conceived, creating the effect of a brief slow movement. Instead of the continuous contrapuntal lines of the first section, it is marked by three repeated chords in opposition to the remaining fourth part. The final section, marked “Brisk,” opens with note values twice as fast as the preceding sections, creating a lively two-measure preamble to the return of the five-note descending scale of the first section. In conclusion, the bass reintroduces the rising scale of the opening measures.

Trio Sonata in A Major, Z. 799

Q: How many players does it take to play a trio sonata? A: Four. The answer to this trick question about this popular genre of chamber music in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries takes into account the presence of the basso continuo, the amalgam of two instruments: a cello or viola da gamba playing the melodic bass line and the harpsichord, playing its implied harmonies. This trio sonata comes from Sonnata’s of III Parts: Two Violins and Basse: To the Organ or Harpsecord, printed for the composer in 1683. Despite its title, the publication contains parts for four instruments: two violins, cello (called basso), and basso continuo, the only difference in the latter two being the presence of chord symbols (figured bass) above the bass line written for the keyboard in the continuo part.

The first movement is a fugue whose subject is announced, fanfare-like, with a sustained note preceding the dotted rhythms characteristic of the French overture. Tracing this single note throughout the texture leads to some unexpected harmonic excursions. The two violins and cello take equal part, and unlike many Bach fugues, the subject (fugue theme) is always present in one of the parts.

The second movement differentiates the two violins from the cello/harpsichord continuo, with the upper parts often playing in parallel motion against the independent bass line. Only at the beginning of the final phrase do the three parts briefly separate in fugal imitation before the violins lock back into step over a sustained bass. A startling shift of key, from A major to a very unrelated F-sharp major introduces a harmonically adventurous chordal section before A major returns in a lively fugue. It begins properly enough, but once again the violins gang into a duet in opposition to the bass.

Trio Sonata in G Minor, Z. 807

The answer to our trick question above is confirmed by the title page of the publication in which this work is found: Ten Sonata’s in Four Parts Compos’d by the Late Mr. Henry Purcell, “Printed by J. Heptinstall for Francess Purcell, Executrix of the Author” in 1697, two years after Purcell’s death. It contains the same four parts found in the earlier publication.

While most trio sonatas consist of a few movements in contrasting tempos and styles, Purcell’s Trio Sonata in G Minor (Z. 807) is a continuous variation form (called a ground bass, or basso ostinato) written over a repeating bass melody whose final note becomes the first note of the following variation in snake-bites-its-tail circularity.

Pieces written on a ground (a term easy to remember “because the bass just keeps grinding away”) were especially popular in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. It found new popularity in the late twentieth century, when variations on a ground by Purcell’s German contemporary Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) escorted legions of brides down the aisle throughout the world. Purcell would have recognized Pachelbel’s piece to be a “canon upon a ground.” Though Purcell’s two violin parts, unlike Pachelbel’s three, do not play in strict canon (i.e., exact imitation) the semblance between the pieces is striking.

The hypnotic appeal of the repeated bass contrasts with the interplay of the upper parts. While the rhythm and tempo of the ground remain constant, the upper voices create a kaleidoscopic variety of moods and energy, sighing with expressive chromaticism, chasing cat-and-mouse through flurries of passagework, elongating notes in the illusion of a slower tempo, and displacing accents with offbeat syncopation. A plaintive variation leads to an unexpected change of meter, i.e. divisions of the beat into three (triplets) instead of two, characteristic of the leaping French court dance, the gigue.  Unlike Pachelbel, however, Purcell’s accumulating energy does not rush headlong to the end but dissolves into rising and falling chromatic lines and pungent dissonances.

The Fairy Queen

Purcell lived during the reign of three British monarchs: Charles II, James II, and William and Mary. When Parliament invited Charles to return to the throne after nine years of exile in France in 1660 following the Civil War which climaxed with his father’s execution, he restored not only the monarchy but also brought with him the extravagance, hedonism, and musical taste of the French court. Church music gave way to secular chamber music–such as the preceding trio sonata–under the Catholic James II , and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 resulted in his abdication and brought William and Mary to the throne, Purcell no longer held a position as a court musician. They did have the good sense, however, to keep him on the payroll and commission him for occasional works. It was after 1690 that he turned his attention to music for the stage.

Purcell’s last complete work for the theatre was a semi-opera (John Eliot Gardiner calls it a “Restoration variety show”) The Fairy Queen, first performed at the Queen’s Theatre in London on May 2, 1692. The adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was interspersed with musical “masques” of instrumental music, songs and dances only indirectly related to the themes of the drama. Curtis Price describes it as “not a corruption of Shakespeare’s play but rather an extended meditation on the spell it casts.”

Our sampler plate of instrumental music drawn from the masques, some of Purcell’s finest theatrical music, reflects the English appetite for le goût Français through the dances and musical forms of the French court where Charles II and James lived during their respective exiles. The fanciful titles and charming music spark our imagination of a lavish production that included Fairies, Green Men, and gratuitous exoticism.

The Rondeau was a popular musical form in which contrasting musical episodes alternate with a refrain in the form A-B-A-C-A. Purcell’s best-known rondeau, written for the play Abdelazer, is the theme used in Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell. Contrasted with this quintessentially French form are two British hornpipes, a dance so characteristic of the UK that it was sometimes called angloise on the Continent. The first hornpipe in this group is a rather tame rhythmic alternation of anapests (short-short-long) and dactyls (long-short-short), while the Third Act hornpipe features boldly accents shifting from two groups of three (6/8) to three groups of two (3/4), a type of syncopation known as hemiola.

While Fairies are standard-issue in Shakespeare’s play, Green Men are not. Following the lilting Dance for the Fairies is this stage direction: Four Savages Enter, fright the Fairies away, and Dance an Entry. The skittering scales depicting the nervous energy of the “savages” melt into mawkish chromaticism at the midpoint, perhaps regrets that the fairies have fled. The second half is a send-up of the dotted rhythms characteristic of the French overture, suggesting a comic image of rustics aping French courtly manners.

The final scene is a decidedly un-Shakespearean “Prospect of a Chinese Garden,” feeding the audience’s taste for chinoiserie with ethnically insensitive roles for a Chinese Man and Woman (named Daphne) that fortunately need not concern us here. There is nothing Chinese about their very French Chaconne that concludes the whole production. Like the Trio Sonata in G Minor earlier in this program, it is a variation form based on a ground, with episodes in major and minor, a variation without basso continuo, and an accumulating energy that leads to the theatrical conclusion.

CLICK HERE: Glossary

chaconne A popular variation form in the Baroque period, based on a repeated harmonic progression of various, but regular lengths, usually in triple meter. Originally a dance imported from the New World into Spain and Italy, it was particularly common in French keyboard and chamber music, as well as the finales in French Baroque operas.

chromaticism The introduction of half-steps not found in the seven-note (diatonic) major or minor scale, which in Baroque music is used to intensify affects of sadness or other strong emotions.

counterpoint, contrapuntal (adj.) Music written in simultaneously sounding “horizontal” melodic lines (called voices) as opposed to a single melodic line supported by the “vertical” harmonies of chords.

ground (ground bass, basso ostinato).  A pattern of notes or melodic phrase in the bass line whose repetitions are used as the basis of variations.

parallel motion. Music written in which two or more parts play in sync at the same interval, often harmonizing in thirds or sixths (i.e., three or six notes apart on the scale). In contrapuntal music, this in effect negates the independence of “voices” (separate melodic lines), as parallel lines are perceived as a single unit.

viol, viola da gamba. A family of fretted, bowed six- or seven-stringed instruments played on or between the legs (da gamba) as opposed to the arms (da braccio). Popular in the 16th century, their various sizes (treble, tenor, bass) allowed them to double or replace vocal lines as well as play music that was eventually composed specifically for viols. Viols were contemporaries, not ancestors, of the violin family (violin, viola, cello) which gradually overtook them in popularity during the Baroque period.

Z. numbers. The thematic catalog (1963) of the works of Purcell by the American musicologist, Franklin B. Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s numbering, like that of Wolfgang Schmieder’s catalog (BWV) of the works of J.S. Bach, is organized by performing medium and form and not the biographical chronology found in the Mozart catalog of Ludwig Köchel.

MESSIAH: Home Edition

Shaken, not stirred…

December 18, 2020 | 8:00PM PT

A short presentation of Messiah highlights performed by

STEFANIE TRUE, soprano
REGINALD MOBLEY, countertenor
ANDREW TORTISE, tenor
JOSHUA BLOOM, baritone
ALEXANDRA NEPOMNYASHCHAYA, fortepiano
RICHARD EGARR, fortepiano & harpsichord
with
DAVID BELKOVSKI, harpsichord
ANTHONY ROMANIUK, organ

Video editing: Tal Skloot (Tritone Media)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

CLICK HERE: Music Performed

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL (1685–1759)
Highlights from Messiah, HWV 56

Sinfonia
Richard Egarr, harpsichord

“How beautiful are the feet”
Reginald Mobley, countertenor
David Belkovski, harpsichord

“But Thou didst not leave his soul”
Andrew Tortise, tenor and piano

“Why do the nations so furiously rage”
Joshua Bloom, bass

“If God be for us”
Stefanie True, soprano
Anthony Romaniuk, organ

“Hallelujah” (arr. Carl Czerny)
Alexandra Nepomnyashchaya & Richard Egarr, fortepiano four hands

Also featuring excerpts from Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra’s recording of:

HANDEL Messiah
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
with U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus
[harmonia mundi, 1992]
Available on Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon

CLICK HERE: About the Artists

Reginald Mobley

countertenor

Richard Egarr

fortepiano & harpsichord

Andrew Tortise

tenor

BACH: The Unanswered Question

November 24, 2020 | 8:00PM PT

featuring

ELIZABETH BLUMENSTOCK, violin
CARLA MOORE, violin
KATHERINE KYME, viola
WILLIAM SKEEN, violoncello
KRISTIN ZOERNIG, double bass
KATHERINE HEATER, harpsichord

Recorded at Herbst Theatre, San Francisco War Memorial on
October 30, 2020 in accordance with the Order of the Health Officer of the
City and County of San Francisco at time of capture

Audio recording production, engineering, editing and mastering: Michael Demeyer

Video recording production: Tal Skloot (Tritone Media)

CLICK HERE TO WATCH

How to Watch in 4K

On the bottom frame of the video screen, click on the Settings icon:

Click on Quality.

Make sure “2160P 4K” is selected:

Hit the back button, click out of the Settings menu, and enjoy!

NOTE: If you have a slower internet connection, the 4K technology may cause the video to occasionally buffer or cause audio or video blips. If you experience this, try toggling back to 1080p HD.

CLICK HERE: Music Performed

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685–1750)

14 Goldberg Canons, BWV 1087 (arr. Egarr)

Canon simplex
Canon all’ roverscio
Canon in motu recto e contrario
Canon in motu contrario e recto
Canon duplex à 4
Canon simplex à 3
Canon à 2 Alio modo per syncopationes et per ligatures
Canon simplex à 3
Canon simplex à 3. il soggetto in Alto
Canon in unisono post semifusam à 3
Canon duplex über Fundamental Noten à 5
Canon duplex übers Fundament à 5
Canon à 4 per Augmentationem et Diminutionem
Canon triplex à 6

BACH

“Fuga a tre soggetti”  Unfinished Contrapunctus XIV from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080

WILHELM FRIEDEMANN BACH (1710–1784)

Orchestral Suite in G minor, BWV 1070

Larghetto — Un poco allegro
Torneo
Aria (Adagio)
Menuetto alternativo — Trio
Capriccio

CLICK HERE: The Players and Their Instruments

ELIZABETH BLUMENSTOCK, violin

Andrea Guarneri, Cremona, 1660; on loan from Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Period Instrument Trust

CARLA MOORE, violin

Johann Georg Thir, Vienna, Austria, 1754

KATHERINE KYME, viola

Carlo Antonio Testore, Milan, Italy, 1720

WILLIAM SKEEN, violoncello

Anonymous, Northern Italy, ca. 1680

KRISTIN ZOERNIG, double bass

Joseph Wrent, Rotterdam, Holland, 1648

KATHERINE HEATER, harpsichord

John Phillips, Berkeley, 2010; after Johann Heinrich Gräbner, Dresden, 1722
Generously lent by Peter & Cynthia Hibbard

CLICK HERE: Program Notes

by Scholar-in-Residence Bruce Lamott

 

The composer John Biggs tells an old joke that defines “fugue” as a composition in which voices enter one after another, all the while the audience leaves one after another. This reflects the historical love/hate relationship that listeners have had with a compositional procedure that has nonetheless fascinated musicians since the Middle Ages. The penchant for writing melodies performed simultaneously, called counterpoint*, is a practice particularly found in the notated music of Western Europe. Music written with this contrapuntal or polyphonic procedure ranges from its strictest form, canon, in which all parts derive from the same melody, to fugue, a systematic treatment of a single melody known as the subject, often incorporating passages of free polyphony. Passages that allude to—but don’t completely follow through with—this kind of imitative treatment are called fugal*.

The Latin word canon* (rule) already discloses the fact that this is music composed according to fixed rubrics. The disciplined study of counterpoint, from the Latin punctum contra punctum, or note-against-note (in reality, melody-against-melody) is reflected in the German description of this as the “bound,” “strict,” or “learned” style. The rub here is that the manipulation of two or more simultaneous melodic lines must adhere to the proper resolution of dissonance into consonance—that is, until the 20th century, when all bets were off regarding acceptable discord.

This program demonstrates of J.S. Bach’s undisputed mastery of counterpoint contrasted with a suite of chamber music written in a style that reacts to such complexity. The canon simplex which opens the Goldberg Canons is about as simple as it gets: an eighth note bass line is played simultaneously with itself played backwards (called retrograde*). On the other hand, the Contrapunctus XIV from Bach’s Art of Fugue, which Glenn Gould called “the finest piece of music ever written,” is about as complex as it comes. The so-called Fifth Orchestral Suite, more likely composed by Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, reflects the changing taste of the next generation in the genteel simplicity of the galant style, which prefers the “vertical” progression of harmonies (aka chords) to the linear interaction of intersecting contrapuntal lines.

J.S. BACH 14 Goldberg Canons, BWV 1087 (arr. Egarr)

In 1975, the Harvard musicologist and Bach biographer Christoph Wolff, announced the discovery of Bach’s peronal copy (Handexemplar) of the first edition of his Goldberg Variations. Written inside the back cover, in Bach’s hand, are fourteen “diverse canons on the first eight bass notes of the [Goldberg] Aria” on which the thirty variations are based. Wolff suggests that when Bach writes “etcetera” after the 14th canon he is suggesting that further possibilities were inexhaustible, but that he stopped at fourteen as a “self-limitation to a musical optimum.” Fourteen was also an alphabetical cipher that Bach used elsewhere as a numerical signature (B+A+C+H = 2+1+3+8 = 14), according to the German scale in which B is B-flat and H is B-natural.

In these fourteen canons, Bach begins with the eight-note bass line played against itself in reverse (or retrograde). This is the only canon in which the voices begin together. As the figuration becomes more complex, it, too, is manipulated forwards, backwards, and upside-down against itself.

As in other pedagogical works, the canons increase in complexity and intricacy: canon simplex based on one subject (nos. 1-4, 6, 8); duplex with two different subjects, each with its own imitation (nos. 5, 12); and triplex (no. 13) with three different subjects, resulting in six parts. Bach also uses a number of compositional devices, including retrograde* (no. 2), inversion* (no. 3), chromaticism (no. 6), syncopation and suspensions (no. 10), and a tangled canon in unison per semifusam (no. 9) in which the second voice chases after the first voice after just one sixteenth note. The final tour de force is a canon “per augmentationem et diminutionem” in which the four parts play the same subject in different note values: as written, two, four, and eight times slower than the first–i.e., in sixteenth, eighth, quarter, and half notes. [For an excellent audio-visual demonstration of the Goldberg Canons, click here].

J.S. BACH “Fuga a tre soggetti” — Unfinished Contrapunctus XIV
from Art of Fugue, BWV 1070

At the end of his career and nearing the end of his life, Johann Sebastian Bach embarked on three projects that seemed primarily aimed at posterity—a rarity for a church musician tasked with onerous Sunday-to-Sunday obligations. What is now known as the Mass in B Minor was a monumental compilation and reworking of some of his greatest choral works, perhaps a sort of resumé for the hereafter. His Goldberg Variations were the ultimate intersection of his greatest talents of keyboard virtuosity and contrapuntal ingenuity. The Art of Fugue [Kunst der Fuge], published posthumously in 1751, was an exhaustive demonstration of the possibilities of contrapuntal procedures at a time they were increasingly regarded as antiquated. It was written in open score (i.e., on separate lines for each contrapuntal “voice”) with no indication of instrumentation and has been recorded on harpsichord, organ, piano, string quartet, viol consort, brass, orchestra, guitars, and a number of electronic instruments.

Like other poignant anecdotes about musicians debunked by musicologists, the oft-repeated story of this final fugue (Contrapunctus XIV) probably arose in the family grief surrounding Bach’s death on July 28, 1750, at the age of 65. In the autograph manuscript, his son Carl Philipp Emanuel wrote, “In this fugue, at the point the name BACH is introduced in the countersubject*, the composer died.” This comment was published in the first edition along with an organ chorale-prelude Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before your throne herewith I come), said to be dictated by the composer on his deathbed. However, Bach’s handwriting at this point does not reflect the infirmity of a blind and dying man and was more likely to have been written a few years earlier.

Contrapunctus XIV begins simply enough, with a rising fifth (do-sol) descending stepwise to mi, rising stepwise in long notes to sol again before dropping a fifth back to the original do, producing the melodic contour of an M. Its second subject is its inversion, with a falling fifth, etc.—the contour of a W. The third subject, written in note values four times as fast as the opening note and introduced by the second violin, sounds like a change of tempo or an ornamental “riff” on the previous two subjects. When the original subject returns in the cello, its original values sound elongated (resembling augmentation) in comparison to the parts swirling around it. The viola introduces the B-A-C-H subject, which is taken up by all parts before Bach turns it into countersubject to be played against original subject introduced by the cello.

The “unfinished” Contrapunctus XIV may not be unfinished at all, but many prominent musicians and musicologists have undertaken to complete it. They may simply be taking up the gauntlet that Bach throws down. Ever the pedagogue, having led the reader through thirteen increasingly complex and ingenious contrapuntal manipulations, Bach signs off with his B-A-C-H signature and leaves the work midstream, as if to say, “OK, now you’ve seen how this is done; here’s your final exam.” Indeed, as you hear the viola trail off, notice how your ear continues the momentum of the other parts.

W.F. BACH Orchestral Suite in G minor, BWV 1070

The four authenticated suites which Sebastian Bach titled Overtures and have come to be known as “orchestral suites” comprise his frustratingly scant contribution of multi-movement works for larger instrumental ensemble. Other than its title, this Ouverture in G minor bears little resemblance to the Big Four despite its BWV (Bach Werke Verzeichnis) number in the catalog of Bach’s works, as it reflects more the musical taste of the galant style of the generation of Bach’s sons. It may be the work of his eldest, Wilhelm Friedemann, considered closest to his father in musical style and prone to some of the quirkiness found in this suite.

Fifth Suite or not, in this program it provides a refreshing contrast with the more cerebral works that precede it and draws into sharp focus the distinction between the contrapuntal writing of the Baroque period and the elegant simplicity of the Galant. The Larghetto opens with sighing melodic figures characteristic of the “sensitive” (Emfindsam) style repeated in an echoing alternation of forte and piano, not the regal pomp of the French overture in the Four. A decidedly un-contrapuntal freeze-frame passage follows, in which the cello spins out rolling arpeggios while the upper voices sustain a simple chord progression. These chord progressions are heard even in the faster fugal section–a nod to the second portion of the typical French overture—enlivened with syncopations and vigorous repeated notes.

The arcane title of the second movement, Torneo (“tourney”) may refer to a seventeenth century genre of music played before tournaments and horse ballets. Its quirky flurries of descending scales conjure images of a tumbling match in which the contestants halt midway in a brief moment of quizzical chromaticism. The Aria movement, unlike similarly titled movements in the Third Suite and the Goldberg Variations, does not spin out a melodious vocalise but rather reflects the mercurial emotions of the sensitive style, with momentary changes of mood tinged with chromaticism. The playful Menuetto is enlivened by syncopated hemiolas*, wide leaps, and coquettish sighs, while the bucolic Trio evokes the drone of the pastoral bagpipe.

The final Capriccio resembles a fugue at first sight but becomes a send-up of strict contrapuntal procedure. The subject, usually tasked with defining the key, instead begins on a note outside of the key and a countersubject* interrupts only three notes later. The voices enter in turn, but the whole fugal texture melts down when the cello stalls on a prolonged descending scale, forcing the upper three parts into an interchange of two-note chord progressions. Further ideas seem to lose sight of the fugal intentions of the beginning until a surprise recapitulation. The severity of the rules of fugal procedure, that champion of thematic unity and textural consistency, has been subverted in a “caprice” of unexpected outcomes.

CLICK HERE: Glossary

Contrapunctus. Latin term for a piece written in counterpoint, or fugal style.

Counterpoint, contrapuntal (adj.). Music written in simultaneously sounding “horizontal” melodic lines (called voices) as opposed to a single melodic line supported by the “vertical” harmonies of chords.

Canon (round), canonic (adj.). A type of fugue derived strictly from a single melody.

Fugue, subject, countersubject. A composition in which a theme (called the subject) is imitated contrapuntally by other parts (voices). A subordinate theme which regularly appears with the subject is called the countersubject.

Fugal, fugato. Musical passages in counterpoint that introduce parts (voices) in the manner of a fugue.

Hemiola. Momentary displacement of regular accent (i.e., syncopation) in triple meter which combines two 3-beat measures into one 6-beat measure:
1 2 3 | 1 2 3 becomes 1 2 3 4 5 6.

PRACTICAL COUNTERPOINT

  • Most everybody knows the canon, aka round: ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT.
    It’s called a perpetual canon because there’s no place to stop until the camp counselor gives you the signal to quit. You can use it as an example to try out some of Bach’s contrapuntal techniques.
  • Divide into two groups and you’re singing what Bach calls a canon duplex.
  • You can also make a canon triplex or quadruplex by dividing into more groups. Four’s the limit, however, because there are only three places (after BOAT, STREAM, and MERRILY) where groups can join in.
  • To make a canon in inversion, what goes up must go down by the same interval:
  • To make a canon al’roverscio, or canon in retrograde—as Bach does, you must sing the pitches and rhythms in reverse. It’s OK to sing the same words, but the pitches and rhythms must correspond to:
    STREAM THE DOWN TLY-GEN BOAT YOUR ROW, ROW, ROW

(At this point, aspirin is suggested.)

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