Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Concerto for Violin and Cello in B-flat Major, R. 547
(b. Venice, 1678; d. Vienna, 1741)
Composition and premiere dates unknown.
Instrumentation: strings and continuo.
Duration: approximately 9 minutes
Vivaldi's fecundity is amazing. He composed forty operas, two oratorios, two dozen cantatas, 75 sonatas, many miscellaneous instrumental and vocal pieces, and a clutch of music for the church. Not to deny the considerable beauties of these works, it is, however, for his concertos that he is chiefly remembered. There are close to 500 of these compositions, almost half being for solo violin, with other large collections for bassoon, cello, oboe, flute, recorder and mandolin. There is also a sizable body of works for multiple soloists, and some with no featured performers at all, these latter drawing such soloists as are required from the orchestra itself.
Vivaldi was occupied with the composition of concertos for over forty years. He inherited many of the formal and stylistic traits of this music from the many Italian composer-violinists who were spurred by the achievements in string instrument making scored by such Cremonese craftsmen as Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati. Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) laid the foundation for the concerto form late in the 17th century with works that pitted a small band of soloists against the larger body of the orchestra in the concerto grosso. His principles of construction were transferred from a group of soloists to a single featured performer by Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709). It was Vivaldi, however, who gathered together many disparate ideas to create the form and style of the mature Baroque concerto that was to have such a profound influence on Bach, Handel and even Mozart. (The concerto, it must be remembered, reached its formal perfection at least a half century before the symphony, and is the earliest form of music still part of the regular orchestral repertory.) Vivaldi's contributions to the genre may be summarized as follows: he established the three-movement, fast-slow-fast organization of the concerto that has served almost three centuries of composers; he introduced brilliance and virtuosity into the solo part (he was known in his day as much for his impassioned violin playing as for his compositions); he brought a certain quality of heightened, dramatic expression into instrumental music; he created themes with distinct profiles that were easy to remember; he codified the ritornello form; he injected a quality of almost operatic pathos into many of his slow movements; and he promoted the use of wind instruments.
The form of the Baroque concerto is simple in principle but capable of seemingly infinite variation, as the diversity of Vivaldi's own works demonstrates. The word "concerto" comes from the Latin concertare, which originally meant "to contend, dispute," but in its Italian derivative also took on the sense "to agree, get together." Both implications of the word apply to the musical form. The soloist (or group of soloists) is held in opposition to the larger body of the orchestra (hence, the concert placement of the soloist at the front of the stage), but the two forces have to collaborate in themes, tonalities and rhythm if anything but chaos is to result — cooperation and contention simultaneously. The so-called ritornello form of the first and last movements of Vivaldi's concertos exploits these two sounding elements by alternating them. First, the orchestra (called the tutti — Italian for "together") introduces a collection of thematic fragments that establishes the key and mood. Then the soloist is trotted out as the orchestra is reduced to an accompanimental role. After the soloist has a turn, the full orchestra again appears with some of the fragments from the opening tutti. Further exchanges between soloist and orchestra fill out the movement, the solo portions being comparable to the stained-glass windows in a church wall buttressed by the returning tuttis. The form derives its name from the returning nature of these tutti sections, ritornello meaning simply "return." It is logical, easy to follow and amenable to an enormous variety of music.
The Concerto for Violin and Cello in B-flat major (No. 547 in Peter Ryom's catalog of Vivaldi's instrumental compositions) is one of many works Vivaldi wrote for multiple soloists, which here are equally matched, trading phrases and playing together in close harmony. The fast opening and closing movements follow the traditional ritornello structure of alternations between returning sections for the full ensemble and intervening episodes for the soloists, while the central Andante in an intimate trio for just violin, cello and continuo.
Pièces en Concert for Cello and String Orchestra
(b. Paris, 1668; d. Paris, 1733)
Arranged by Paul Bazelaire
(b. Sedan, France, 1886; d. Paris, 1958)
Composed around 1720.
Duration: approximately 12 minutes.
During the darkest days of World War I, when centuries of French culture were in peril, Maurice Ravel drew inspiration for a musical work to reaffirm the continuity of his nation's artistic tradition from its most glorious era — the time of Louis XIV, Le Roi soleil, "The Sun-King." Louis collected the country's best artists and craftsmen for his palace at Versailles, and the most luminous adornment of the royal musical establishment after the death of Jean Baptiste Lully in 1687 was François Couperin, whose music Ravel looked to as the epitome of French civilization in his Le Tombeau de Couperin.
François Couperin, nicknamed even during his lifetime "le grand" ("The Great") both as a mark of respect and to distinguish him from his eponymous uncle, was the most important member of a family of musicians prominent around Paris from the late-16th century to the mid-19th century: Couperins, including François' father, Charles, occupied the organ loft of St. Gervais in Paris for 173 years. Charles died when François was just eleven, but the boy had already displayed such talent that the church council voted to hold the post at St. Gervais for him until he was eighteen, deputizing Michel-Richard Delalande as organist during the interim. Couperin gradually took over Delalande's responsibilities, and he was formally appointed organist of St. Gervais in 1683; he held the post until he died in 1733. His reputation was sufficient that he was named one of four organists to the court of Versailles in 1693, having also established himself as a composer with such instrumental works as trio sonatas in the style of Corelli and organ Masses.
Couperin's appointment at court enabled him to acquire several aristocratic pupils and to build his personal fortune to such a degree that he was able to buy himself a patent of nobility and move from his modest quarters overlooking the cemetery at St. Gervais to an imposing dwelling in the Rue St. François in 1697. By the turn of the century, he was appearing regularly as harpsichordist and composer at the court's musical events, though he was not officially given the title Ordinaire de la Musique de la Chambre du Roi pour le Clavecin until 1717. Just one year earlier, his pedagogical treatise L'art de toucher le clavecin appeared; it was one of the era's most important manuals concerning the ornamentation and performance of French keyboard music. At the same time, Couperin published the first of four large volumes of Pièces de clavecin, which contain over 200 separate items, including dances, rondeaux and numbers with fanciful or descriptive titles inspired by friends, feelings or fashions; Le Soeur Monique, for example, refers to his daughter, who entered a nunnery. Couperin also composed several books of chamber music (Concerts Royaux; Les Goûts Réünis; Les Nations; Le Parnasse, ou L'apothéose de Corelli; Apothéose de Lully), a considerable amount of Latin sacred vocal music, and a few vernacular songs. Much of his music was apparently lost in the years after his death through family neglect, however, and not a single manuscript of his is known to exist. According to the late-19th-century Italian critic and composer Ferruccio Bonavia, Couperin was "the courtly composer par excellence." His works were famed for being unfailingly elegant and melodious, rich but not excessively chromatic in harmony, clear in design, expressive without being maudlin, and current with the best musical fashions of the day.
From at least 1714, Couperin supplied ensemble music for the chamber concerts at Versailles, "where Louis XIV made me come almost every Sunday of the year," the busy but proud composer recorded. The most popular works at those regal matinees combined the Italian penchant for lyricism and formal clarity with the French traits of full instrumental sonority, harmonic felicity and elaborate decorative filigree. Couperin compiled four suites from those pieces and published them in 1722 as the Concerts Royaux; a sequel of ten additional Nouveaux Concerts appeared two years later under the title Les Goûts Réünis ("The Tastes United"), referring to their reconciliation of French and Italian musical idioms. "The Italian style and the French style have for long divided the Republic of Music in France," he explained in the latter volume's preface. "For my part, I have always valued those works which have merit, without regard for their composer or country of origin; and the first Italian sonatas which appeared in Paris more than thirty years ago, and which encouraged me to start composing some myself, to my mind wronged neither the works of M. de Lully, nor those of my ancestors.... And so, by a right which my neutrality gives me, I remain under the happy influence which has guided me until now." Though Couperin seems to have preferred the performance of these suites by an ensemble of violin, oboe, gamba, bassoon and harpsichord (in his preface he named the specific musicians who usually played them at Versailles, including himself as harpsichordist), the score was published in a two-stave version whose notes he said could be distributed among any appropriate combination of instruments. In 1924, the French cellist, composer and pedagogue Paul Bazelaire (1886-1958) arranged five movements from Les Goûts Réünis for solo cello and strings as the Pièces en Concert. (Bazelaire also orchestrated Bach's six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.) The work comprises a somber Prélude, a graceful but rather sad Siciliène, a dashing piece of ersatz hunting music titled La Tromba ("The Trumpet"), a delicately drawn Plainte, and a vigorous "Devil's Tune" (Air de Diable).
Divertimento for Cello and String Orchestra in D Major
(b. Rohrau, Lower Austria, 1732; d. Vienna, 1809)
Arranged by Gregor Piatigorsky
(b. Yekaterinoslav, Ukraine, 1903; d. Los Angeles, 1976)
Composed in the 1770s; transcribed in 1944.
Premiere date unknown.
Duration: approximately 12 minutes.
Musical instruments, like biological species, have come and gone over the years. One of the more curious experiments in the evolution of music technology was the "baryton" (aka: bariton, barydon, paradon, paridon, pariton, viola di bardone, viola di bordone), a hybrid of the viola da gamba (a forerunner of the cello) and the guitar — the instrument was supported between the knees so that its six or seven gut strings could be bowed by the right hand while the fingers of the left hand stopped the strings and the left thumb plucked the dozen or so metal strings that ran up the back of the fingerboard, allowing a simple lute-like accompaniment to the bowed melody; the strings at the rear also vibrated sympathetically with the bowed notes to produce a sort of sonic halo. The baryton was thought to have originated in England in the early 17th century — one was reported to have been in use at the court of King James I — but enjoyed its only efflorescence during the 18th century in Austria and southern Germany.
The earliest known music for the instrument (IX. Partien auf die Viola Paradon by Johann George Krause) appeared in Germany before 1704 ("this instrument is still considered unusual and is entirely unknown to many," Krause explained in a preface) and it attracted little further interest until Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, Haydn's musically voracious employer, acquired one on a visit to Innsbruck in August 1765. Nicolaus decided to learn the instrument himself, and, given the paucity of its repertory, he instructed Haydn to write some music for it. Haydn dug up another baryton and taught himself to play it (though Nicolaus resented his quick progress on the instrument: "It is no credit to you to play better than I do — it is your duty") and he responded by writing three concertos (lost), a divertimento for two barytons and two horns (lost), a divertimento for baryton, two violins and harpsichord (H. XIV:2), two quintets for baryton, viola, cello and two horns (one is extant: H. X:8), sixteen duets with cello (lost), six duets for two barytons (lost except for H. XII:4), twelve short duets for baryton and cello (H. XII:19) and 126 trios for baryton, viola and cello (four are lost) during the next decade.
Given the rarity and difficulty of the baryton, Haydn's music for it is little known today except in a handful of adventurous recordings and some occasional arrangements, and in 1944, the celebrated Russian-American cellist sought to make a sample of it better known by re-working (he listed himself as the "transcriber") three of its movements into the Divertimento in D major for Cello and Piano (or strings). Piatigorsky was born in Ukraine in 1903, studied at the Moscow Conservatory, was appointed principal cellist of the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra and a member of the Lenin Quartet, the city's foremost chamber ensemble, when he was sixteen, and named principal cellist of the Berlin Philharmonic five years later. In 1928, he left the Philharmonic to devote himself to a solo career. He made his American debut the following year in New York, and was regarded as one of the outstanding virtuosos of his generation until his death in Los Angeles in 1976, performing as recitalist and chamber music partner with Heifetz, Horowitz, Milstein and Schnabel, premiering concertos by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Hindemith and Walton, serving as director of chamber music at Tanglewood, and teaching at the University of Southern California.
Piatigorsky was also a skilled arranger and an accomplished composer for his own instrument, with several recital pieces and a Variations on a Theme of Paganini to his credit. For his "Haydn Divertimento," he chose the songful Adagio and the showy Allegro di molto from the Baryton Trio in D major, Hoboken XI:113, and the graceful Menuet from Hoboken XI: 95, and re-worked them extensively, retaining extended passages while elaborating some phrases and cutting others, and even re-composing some short episodes.
Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in C major, K. 373
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(b. Salzburg, 1756; d. Vienna, 1791)
Composed in 1781.
Premiered on April 8, 1781 in Vienna, with Antonio Brunetti as soloist.
Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns and strings.
Duration: approximately 4 minutes.
The Rondo in C major (K. 373), Mozart's last concerted work for violin, was written in April 1781. The composer, still in the employ of the Archbishop Colloredo, was visiting Vienna when he learned that his employer would be making an official stop in the imperial city. As part of the ceremonies surrounding the event, a concert was arranged at the Viennese home of the Archbishop's father for April 8th, and Mozart was asked by Antonio Brunetti, principal violinist of the Salzburg archiepiscopal orchestra, to provide a new violin piece for the program. Mozart responded with this charming Rondo. Less than a month after the Rondo was written, Mozart bolted from the musical establishment of the Archbishop to begin his Viennese adventure.
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D. 485
(b. Vienna, 1797; d. Vienna, 1828)
Composed in September-October 1816.
Instrumentation: flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons and horns, and strings.
Duration: approximately 28 minutes.
Schubert kept a perfunctory diary for a few months during 1816. Among the scraps of home-spun philosophy ("Man resembles a ball, to be played with by chance and passion." "Happy he who finds a true man-friend. Happier still he who finds a true friend in his wife.") is an entry for June 17th: "Today I composed for money for the first time. Namely, a cantata for the name-day of Professor Watteroth. The fee is 100 florins." Schubert, age nineteen, had metamorphosed into a professional composer. At least he thought that there was sufficient reason at the time to leave his irksome teaching post at his father's school in order to live the life of an artist. Thus began the bohemian existence of his last dozen years — living by the gladly proffered aid of friends, daily climbing up to Grinzing to haunt the cafés, avoiding society for dislike of buying and wearing good clothes. And music, always music. He composed incessantly. Out of bed shortly after dawn (sometimes he slept with his glasses on so as not to waste any time getting started in the morning), pouring out music until early afternoon, then off to who-knows-where for a bit too much Heuriger wine and a few pipes of cheap tobacco. Compositions filled his head all the while, sometimes scratched out on napkins or envelopes if they could not wait until the next morning. Evenings were spent making music. His devoted band of friends were delighted to sing and play what he wrote. Franz von Hartmann recorded of one of these Schubertiads, "There was a huge gathering [including] Gahy, who played four-hand piano music gloriously with Schubert, and Vogl, who sang almost thirty splendid songs.... When the music was over there was grand feeding and dancing. At 12:30 [we went] home. To bed at 1 o'clock."
Supplementing the songs and piano works for these Schubertiads was a growing collection of orchestral pieces composed for other amateur musical soirées. A family string quartet, comprising his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violins, his father on cello and Franz on viola, attracted other players and soon evolved into a small orchestra. They rehearsed at first in the Schubert household, but as the membership grew new quarters had to be found for their activities, and they moved in 1816 to the apartments of Leopold von Sonnleithner. It was for one of those informal evenings that Schubert composed the sparkling B-flat Symphony.
The Symphony opens with a delicate curtain of woodwind harmonies. The violins present the main theme, a gracious melody built on the notes of common chords. A shadow passes quickly over the music (technically, a brief excursion into the minor key — an expressive device Schubert learned from Mozart) before the main theme is repeated and extended (more shadows) as transition to the second theme. The compact development begins with a decorated version of the opening woodwind harmonies; a discussion of the decorating figure ensues. The exposition's materials are recapitulated before a brief, lively coda brings this buoyant movement to a close. The lovely Andante not only breathes the sweet Mozartian air, but may even derive its melodic inspiration from that composer's Violin Sonata in F, K. 377. The movement is built on two extended themes: the first is given immediately by the strings; the second is also played by the strings, with obbligato phrases from the oboe and bassoon. Eschewing a development, the second half of the movement is simply a restatement of the two themes. Though the third movement is marked "Menuetto," in tempo and temperament it is truly a scherzo; the bucolic trio features the bassoon. The closing movement recalls the vibrant finales of Haydn in its clear melodic structure, rhythmic vivacity and witty use of dynamics.
©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda