Bach’s Brandenburg 5, Plus Four

Saturday, October 21, Emmanuel Church, Boston
Sunday, October 22, Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester


Les Sauvages et La Furstemberg,                                 Michel Corrette  (1709-1795)
Concerto Comique no. 25  
  Les Sauvages (Allegro)
  Quand on sçait aimer et plaire (Andante)
  La Furstemberg (Allegro)

Concerto in E Minor for traverso,strings, and continuo   Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749)
     [without tempo indication]
    Alla Siciliana

Concerto in G Major for violin, strings, and continuo, TWV 51:G7    G. P. Telemann (1681-1767)


Concerto in A Minor for violoncello, strings, and continuo, RV 420    Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, BWV 1050         Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Christina Day Martinson, and Susanna Ogata, violins
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello; Jane Hershey, violone; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord


Program Notes

The term concerto, commonly applied to the genre of music for a solo instrument with ensemble accompaniment, in fact refers to one of the most important principles of Baroque music. The word is derived from the Latin concertare, to contend; that idea of argument or competition lies at the heart of the Baroque ethos. To be sure, the opposition of soloist with orchestra is a particularly salient instance of the concerto concept, but it is by no means the only one. Contrasts may be between loud and soft dynamics, between robust and tender affects, between singing melody and virtuoso passagework, or between simple, open textures and convoluted counterpoint. The five works gathered for this program offer myriad manifestations of the concerto principle as well as numerous approaches to form and structure.

Michel Corrette was an extraordinarily active and influential musician. His principal sphere of activity was as a composer for the Opéra-Comique in Paris. This theater primarily produced plays with musical interludes, but also presented other types of entertainment including opéra bouffe (comic opera) and short scenes known as vaudevilles. It was for this milieu that Corrette composed his Concertos Comiques, titled after their venue of performance rather than their content. These works, despite being called concertos, are not structured in the conventional Italian manner with extended solo and tutti contrasts. They are more in the manner of concertante works, with solo and tutti phrases rapidly exchanged within the movements. Perhaps the most ambitious of Corrette’s Concertos Comiques is Les Sauvages et La Furstemberg. Primarily a violin concerto, it shows Corrette’s knowledge of the most up-to-date virtuoso techniques on the instrument. Its first and last movements make use of a theme and variation structure. The concerto’s second movement features an elegant harpsichord solo. The piece’s first movement is based on the Air de Sauvages composed by either Campra or Rameau, and used by Rameau in his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes. The third movement, La Furstemberg, is based on a French folksong.

Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was a Kapellmeister, composer, and theorist who traveled extensively in Italy, France, and Germany before becoming established as Kapellmeister at the court of Saxe-Gotha. Stölzel’s primary output was in vocal genres, but he also produced a sizeable number of instrumental compositions, many of which have survived. His reputation as a composer and theorist was considerable in his time, and J. S. Bach is known to have made copies of and performed some of his works. His flute concerto’s outer movements are dark and brooding. While clearly Italianate in style with classic tutti/solo contrasts, its inventive drama is found in the asymmetry of its conversational exchanges. The Alla Siciliana middle movement is remarkably similar in structure to the Siciliana movement of the Telemann violin concerto. Poignent themes introduced by tutti instruments are expressively developed in sinewy solo lines.

The prolific and ever-inventive Georg Philipp Telemann penned many instrumental works that display the concerto principle in a great variety of treatments. The violin concerto selected for this program is an intimate work that creates contrasts between soloist and ensemble by textural and thematic means. Rather than the soloist emerging conventionally from an ensemble tutti texture, Telemann treats the soloist’s material with greater thematic independence. This quality, along with its four movement format, makes the the work more akin to the chamber sonata.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in A Minor was composed before 1708 and survives in a manuscript copied for the Count of Schönborn in Franconia. This work is another example of the wide variety of treatment of the concerto principle. While Vivaldi may be considered the most influential and widely imitated composer of concertos in his time, this work belies the accusations often made of formulaic compositional practices. Dispensing with an opening tutti, the work commences as a dialogue between lyrical solo cello writing and the angular and brilliant themes of the full ensemble. Brilliance and virtuosity are at the fore for both soloist and ensemble in the passionate final Allegro.

J. S. Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos show perhaps the greatest variety of treatment of the concerto principle within a single opus imaginable. As Kapellmeister to the court of Anhalt-Cothen, Bach traveled to Berlin in 1718-19 to negotiate the purchase of a new harpsichord for the court. While in Berlin, he had the opportunity to perform for the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. The margrave subsequently invited Bach to send him some compositions. The six Brandenburg Concertos submitted by Bach two years later must have far exceeded the margrave’s expectations. With their varied and novel scorings and their uncompromising virtuosity, they were probably beyond the resources of the court. It is therefore not surprising that Bach received no fee for these works nor any other commissions, much less an appointment.

Despite the easy familiarity it enjoys with modern audiences, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 was truly a radical work in its time and must have been quite astonishing to its first listeners. A conventional orchestral tutti employing unison violins at the outset, together with the visible presence of a flutist, prepares the audience to hear a flute concerto, but suddenly three concertante parts appear: flute, violin, and harpsichord. Up to this moment the harpsichord had served exclusively as an instrument of accompaniment in all ensemble music. As the movement progresses, the prominence of the harpsichord becomes ever more apparent, with its virtuosic role culminating in an extraordinary cadenza lasting nearly one third of the entire movement.

The final movement is noteworthy in its illustration of Bach’s interest in the conflation of musical forms customarily considered distinct from one another. This procedure became a hallmark of his later style. The movement is at once a concerto grosso (of Italian origin), a gigue (a French dance), and a fugue (a German specialty).

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf