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Monteverdi’s work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition — the heritage of Renaissance polyphony and the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque. Monteverdi wrote one of the earliest operas, L’Orfeo, an innovative work that is still regularly performed. He was recognized as an innovative composer and enjoyed considerable fame in his lifetime.
Very little of Purcell‘s functional music for four-part viol consort survives. Only the incomplete Suite in G major, Z. 770, and the Chacony in G minor, Z. 730, are known. It seems most of Purcell‘s music he wrote as court composer for the Twenty-Four Violins after 1677 involved the voice. It is not known for what exact occasion Purcell composed the Chacony.
“Chacony” is a variant of the English “chacone” and is the same as the French chaconne and Italian ciaccona. It was a relatively new type of composition in England; the earliest known English example is the three-part Chacone by Robert Smith, published in 1677.
Purcell‘s Chacony is restrained and stately, much more suited to dancing than a similar piece by John Blow from the same time, which has intricate contrapuntal sections and shifting accents. Purcell builds his melodies from groups of dotted notes (an aspect of the French chaconne) and the piece is nearly devoid of contrapuntal artifice, making it easy to perceive the rhythms and turns of the melody and ground bass. Apparently, it was intended to be performed without continuo.
Throughout the Chacony we find Purcell stretching the boundaries of traditional dance music while creating an overall structure that is appropriate for dancing. The eight-measure ground is suitable in length for dancing and begins with the typical passacaglia device of descending through a fourth. What is unusual is that in the second measure there is an F sharp and in the fifth, a B natural, both chromatic alterations in the key of G minor. These moments are harmonized with great freedom and imagination each time they occur. Fleeting modulations appear in variations Nos. 6 and 14, in which the ground migrates to the viola and second violin, respectively, while the four-voice texture continues. In variations Nos. 8 and 11, however, the bass drops out and the ground moves upward respectively into the first violin and viola, creating a welcome change in texture. In the Chacony, Purcell employs each of his variation techniques twice, making pairs of variations that create a satisfying, large-scale structure. What is “asymmetrical” about this symmetry, however, is that the corresponding variations are not consecutive, but spread across the piece.
Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 Johann Sebastian Bach
Bach’s set of seven Toccatas for keyboard date from 1707-11, just prior to and during the first years of his post in Weimar. During these formative years he experimented with a wide variety of compositional models. Overall, these early toccatas lack the profound expression and technical mastery of Bach’s later music and are thus some of the least performed of his works. All too often, they come off as improvisatory and mere virtuosic pieces for keyboard. Nevertheless, they show the steady growth of one of music’s greatest geniuses.
The Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 is one of Bach’s least known works for keyboard. Most likely composed in either 1707 or 1708, it nevertheless portrays Bach’s developing composition style. The brief opening section of the toccata bears an inconspicuous resemblance to Bach’s later organ works, particularly with the octave leap that occurs repeatedly in the left hand. Furthermore, retrograding chords of the sixth with off-beats in the right hand might remind some listeners of a similar passage in the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A fugato section follows with a lively rhythmic figure predominating. This section does not venture far from the E minor tonality, though its strictness of counterpoint causes it to stand out among the other early toccatas.
The following adagio is highly improvisatory. Arpeggios and scalar passage abound with plentiful embellishments. An extended fugue for three voices forms the final movement. The subject of the fugue, four bars in length, is actually identical to that of an anonymous fugue in a previously dated Italian manuscript. Furthermore, the two fugues share a striking number of similarities. While the composer of this earlier fugue is unknown to us, Bach was quite likely familiar with it at the time he composed his own. Today, Bach’s “version” would without a doubt be condemned as plagiarism. However, during the Baroque, the “recomposition” of another composer’s work was not uncommon and, in fact, considered a form of flattery. Bach’s fugue, however, enhances on the original version, by expanding its harmonic scope and conforming more to idiomatic keyboard writing. Joseph DuBose
Part of Elena Kuschnerova’s all-Bach recital that was released on ORFEO in 2001. Rosette in Penguin Guide 2003/04
The four orchestral suites (called ouvertures by their author), BWV 1066–1069 are four suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. The name ouverture refers only in part to the opening movement in the style of the French overture, in which a majestic opening section in relatively slow dotted-note rhythm in duple meter is followed by a fast fugal section, then rounded off with a short recapitulation of the opening music. More broadly, the term was used in Baroque Germany for a suite of dance-pieces in French Baroque style preceded by such an ouverture. This genre was extremely popular in Germany during Bach’s day, and he showed far less interest in it than was usual: Robin Stowell writes that “Telemann‘s 135 surviving examples [represent] only a fraction of those he is known to have written”; Christoph Graupner left 85; and Johann Friedrich Fasch left almost 100. Bach did write several other ouverture (suites) for solo instruments, notably the Cello Suite no. 5, BWV 1011, which also exists in the autograph Lute Suite in G minor, BWV 995, the Keyboard Partita no. 4 in D, BWV 828, and the Overture in the French style, BWV 831 for keyboard. The two keyboard works are among the few Bach published, and he prepared the lute suite for a “Monsieur Schouster,” presumably for a fee, so all three may attest to the form’s popularity.
A slightly more modern take on BWV 1067 –
Domenico Scarlatti began his compositional career following in the footsteps of his father Alessandro Scarlatti by writing operas, chamber cantatas, and other vocal music, but he is most remembered for his 555 keyboard sonatas, written between approximately 1719 and 1757.
It is believed that Domenico received most of his musical training from family members, but his father was the dominant figure in his life. It was Alessandro who arranged Domenico’s first appointment, as organist and composer for Naples’ Cappella Reale, and wanted him to continue with vocal music despite the enormous talent he had shown for keyboard music. Domenico was sent to Venice in 1705, where he met Handel, and in 1708 to Rome to become maestro di cappella to the exiled queen of Poland, Maria Casimira, and later, head of the Cappella Giulia. In these positions, he composed his operas and serenatas, and some sacred vocal works. It was also in Rome where he developed a friendship with the Portuguese ambassador, the Marquis de Fontes, which eventually led to Scarlatti’s being appointed master of the royal chapel by João V of Portugal in 1719. Scarlatti was also teacher to the royal family, particularly princess Maria Barbara. Scarlatti had already written approximately 50 keyboard pieces before coming to Lisbon, but wrote many more for his students, which also included Carlos de Seixas. When Maria Barbara married Spanish prince Ferdinando, Scarlatti followed her to Spain. His first publication, 30 sonatas called “Essercizi,” was issued in 1738 and sold throughout Europe. Although as King and Queen, Ferdinando and Maria Barbara introduced opera into Spain’s cultural life, Scarlatti did not write any for them. However, he did assist in their private musical soirées, again writing cantatas and working with singers such as Farinelli. Scarlatti also continued to teach, and, in the last six years of his life, concentrated on organizing his sonatas in manuscripts.
Bach’s Cantata BWV 35, Geist und Seele wird verwirret (Soul and spirit become confused), is one of three alto solo works in Trinity Time of the third annual church cycle of 1726-27 that has an old established and much used text of Georg Christian Lehms. It employs obbligato organ in “conversational galant” manner and has two arias in dance style siciliano and menuet. Its origin and genesis derives from much earlier borrowed instrumental concertos and sonatas in Köthen and Weimar. Questions remain. Just how many of the movements are based on preexisting works? Why does Cantata 35 have two instrumental sinfonias introducing the two parts, performed before and after the sermon (a rare Bach form in Trinity Time)? Was the unfigured organ part for his adolescent first son Emmanuel or for himself? Was Bach motivated to compose so many solo cantatas in the third cycle because he lacked competent resources or was he returning to the Italian style, without biblical dictum and sometimes closing four-part chorales
That time of year folks, enjoy. :)
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