In Celebration of Spring

Friday, April 26, 2013, Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester
Saturday, April 27, 2013, Emmanuel Church, Boston

From Airs for the Seasons ............ James Oswald (c. 1711-1769)
    The Daffodil     (Moderato –Allegro)   
    The Heart’s-ease (Siciliana – Allegretto amoroso)
    The Narcissus (Pastorale andante – Giga)                                                                                  

The Spring ............ John Christopher Pepusch (1667-1752)

L’Aprile    Gregor Joseph Werner (1693-1766)
    Allegro La Primavera [Spring]    
    Il Pastore fischiante [The whistling shepherd]
    Menuett  Il giorno di 13 hore/La notte di 11 hore [The day of 13 hours/the night of 11 hours]
    [Allegro] Il tempo variable [The variable April weather]
    Prestissimo Il grido di Ranochio [The cries of the frogs]

Aria from Fuori del sua capanna ............ Giovanni Bononcini (1678-1741)


Le Printems ............ Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)

Le Printems (arr. of Vivaldi’s “Spring” concerto, op. 8, no. 1 ............ Nicolas Chédeville (1705-1782)

Kristen Watson, soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Sarah Darling and Megumi Stohs Lewis, violins
Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes

This program includes Baroque vocal and instrumental works that celebrate Spring through vivid poetic and musical imagery. Most of these works are taken from compilations that musically chronicle the months or seasons of the entire year, most notably Gregor Joseph Werner’s Musical-Instrumental Calendar, Boismortier’s op. 5 cantatas, and Chédeville’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons from his op. 8 collection.

Music inspired by the imagery of flowers comprises Scottish composer James Oswald’s Airs for the Seasons. After making his name in Scotland as a dancing-master, performer, composer, and publisher of his own works, Oswald moved to London in 1741. There he composed several collections of Scottish music, including his Airs for the Seasons, published in 1755-1756. This collection consists of four suites, one for each season, the movements of which are named after flowers appropriate to that season. Originally composed for one treble instrument and continuo, Oswald later added an optional second treble part to the collection, providing contrapuntal interest.

Of German origin, John Christopher Pepusch spent most of his career in London where he performed in and directed productions at many of that city’s theaters. A versatile composer, Pepusch wrote copious operas, church music, instrumental music, and chamber cantatas, the latter of which retained their popularity well into the 18th century. His cantata The Spring is taken from a collection of six English cantatas published in 1710. In his preface to the collection, he characterized the works as “an Experiment of introducing a sort of Composition which had never been naturaliz’d in our Language,” referring to the Italian cantata form with English text. The tunefulness of the arias of The Spring is indeed very Italianate, as is the interweaving of the violin obbligato with the voice part, capturing the gracefulness in poet John Hughes’ text.

Gregor Joseph Werner was an organist and composer who served as Kapellmeister of the Esterházy court when the young Joseph Haydn was hired in 1761. Though he became relegated to the role of a church music composer after Haydn’s arrival, Werner also composed symphonies and trio sonatas in which representational effects are used. His Neuer und sehr curios Musicalischer Instrumental-Calendar, published in 1748, consists of twelve suites, each representing a month of the year. The suite L’Aprile [April] opens with a movement depicting the freshness of Spring with lively, imitative figuration. This lightheartedness continues in the second movement with a depiction of a whistling shepherd, featuring colorful bariolage violin passages over rustic continuo drones. Other movements include musical depictions of the variable April weather (with frequent changes in musical meter) and the sound of a chorus of frogs.

The imitation of bird songs is a frequently-encountered element in music of the Baroque, and is used to stunning effect in the opening aria from the Italian Baroqe composer Giovanni Bononcini’s cantata Fuori del sua capanna. This cantata is notable for its use of the transverse flute (an instrument rare in Italy in the early eighteenth century) in the evocation of a nightingale which beguiles the protagonist in the aria’s text.

Known chiefly as a prolific composer of instrumental works, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier composed and published two sets of cantatas, of which Le Quatre Saisons, op. 5, was the first. The text of the opening cantata of this opus, Le Printems, draws its inspiration from mythology, with a panoply of gods, satyrs, nyads, dryads, and others assembling for a celebration of the return of Spring. Musical effects abound, including echoing birds in the first aria, and fleeting figuration depicting the flight of the arrows of love in the second aria. The work closes on a bittersweet note, with the protagonist equating the beauty of the season with that of an absent beloved, beauty that is paid homage by the graces, birds, and the Goddess of Spring herself.

Possibly the most famous work to imitate bird songs is the first movement of Vivaldi’s Spring concerto from his Four Seasons (op. 8, no. 1). The French Baroque oboist and hurdy-gurdy virtuoso Nicolas Chédeville freely arranged the Four Seasons concertos along with a few others from the same opus in 1739 under the title Le Printems ou Les saisons amusantes. Chédeville composed many works that included the hurdy-gurdy or musette, an instrument fashionable at the time for the pastoral aesthetic it embodied. In the original partbooks, the accompanying treble parts to the musette are designated “violino secondo” and “flauto ou violino terzo,” implying that a violin could substitute for the musette, an option we have employed in our performances. His arrangement, with its transparency and its frequent departures from the original work’s harmonic and textural content, brings the pastoral quality of the work to the fore. In the concerto’s plaintive middle movement, Chédeville has called for traditional fixed French ornaments in the solo line, so we are including them in lieu of elaborate Italianate embellishments.                    

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf