Now and Then: An ear-opening exploration of historical instruments and their modern counterparts

October 24, 2014, 7:30 pm, First Parish of Sudbury, UU
October  26, 2014, 3 pm, Old South Church, Boston


Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038          Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
    Largo • Vivace • Adagio • Presto   

Sarabande from Partita in A Minor for solo flute, BWV 1013          J. S. Bach

Passacaglia for solo violin          Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber  (1644-1704)

Chaconne a deux tems “La Favorite” for harpsichord          François Couperin (1668-1733)

Chaccone ou Passacaglia (from Les Nations)    Couperin


Quartet in D Major for Flute and Strings, K. 285          Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  (1756-1791)
    Allegro • Adagio• Rondeau (Allegretto)

Piano Quartet in A Minor, op. 1, no. 1          Josef Suk (1874-1935)
    Allegro appassionato  

Syrinx           Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Canzona da camera, op. 1086 (2014)          Carson Cooman ( b. 1982)


Suzanne Stumpf, traverso, classical flute, and  modern flute; Sarah Darling, violins
Marcia Cassidy, violas; Daniel Ryan, cellos; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord and piano

About the Music

The genesis of J. S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038 is its bass line, originally composed by Bach for his sonata for violin and continuo, BWV 1021. Bach’s second son Carl Philipp Emanuel is thought to have composed new treble parts for this bass line under his father’s tutelage, resulting in the present work. The violin part of this trio sonata was originally intended to be played with an alternate tuning of the highest two strings of the instrument (known as scordatura), but is often performed with standard tuning since Bach uses very few chords that would take advantage of the alternate tuning.

Bach’s Partita in A Minor for solo flute, one of his earliest surviving chamber works for traverso, was written around 1718 during his time of service to the prince of Anhalt-Cöthen and during the period in which he composed the violin sonatas and partitas. The flute writing for this piece is quite advanced, and it might have been composed for the virtuoso French flutist Buffardin, then employed at the Dresden court.

The Bohemian-Austrian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber is considered one of the most important and innovative composers for the violin. His virtuoso writing that included use of the upper registers, extensive double- and triple-stopping, and extensive use of scordatura, set a high standard for later composers to emulate. His Passacaglia is the final sonata of his set of 16 “Mystery Sonatas”  written around 1676. While the majority of the other sonatas use scordatura, the passacaglia is written for standard tuning and is one of the earliest known unaccompanied violin works.

François Couperin’s Chaconne a deux tems “La Favorite” is taken from the third suite of his first book of harpsichord pieces, published in 1713. Deux tems refers to the fact that the work is in duple time, a very unusual meter for the normally triple-meter chaconne. The work is in rondo form.

In 1726, Couperin published a set of four sonates en quatuor under the title of Les Nations as the culmination of his experiments in combining the French and Italian styles. Each suite of this collection begins with an Italian-style sonata, followed by a loosely arranged series of dance movements. The Chaconne ou passacaille is from the first suite, La Françoise, and consists of a series of variations on a repeating harmonic sequence.

Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D Major was the first of two quartets completed for a commission by the Dutch physician and amateur flutist Ferdinand Dejean in 1777. As in his other chamber works for one wind instrument and strings, Mozart tends to preserve the homogeneity of the strings while treating the flute somewhat more soloistically. This is especially the case in the plaintive Adagio movement where the aria-like flute solo is accompanied by pizzicato strings. The outer movements exhibit a lively, conversational interplay between flute and strings quite in keeping with the intimate quartet genre.

Josef Suk was a Czech composer and violinist who studied at the Prague Conservatory as a student of Antonin Dvorák. His early works reflect Dvorák’s style, while his later works became more harmonically adventurous, sometimes bordering on atonal. His Piano Quintet op. 1 was composed in 1891. Its first movement embodies a dark, brooding character throughout.

Claude Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute was written in 1913 as incidental music for the play Psyché by Gabriel Mouray. It is thought to be a musical depiction of the god Pan’s amorous pursuit of the nymph Syrinx. The composition is one of the earliest known unaccompanied works written specifically for the Boehm system “modern” flute.

About Canzona da camera, the composer has written that it “was commissioned by Musicians of the Old Post Road, a period instrument ensemble. In the manner of several of my works in recent years, the piece approaches writing for historical instruments from the “past forward”—in other words, rather than seeking out novel contemporary timbres and effects, the music starts with gestures, textures, and harmonies of the early repertoire and extends forward organically from there: most especially in the area of contemporary forms of mixed modality.

Two slow, free outer sections surround the inner contrapuntal canzona, in which there is free interplay of duples and triples in the manner of the Spanish baroque.”

— © Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf