For the second part of this exercise, I have chosen five Baroque forms to listen to.
Reputedly originating from Latin America, the Chaconne first appeared in Europe in Spain and Italy in the form of a triple metre dance, written as a series of harmony notations for guitar. The performers (both vocalists and instrumentalists) would compose melody variations on top of these harmonies, and eventually the music began to be fully notated. Interestingly when the Chaconne arrived in France, it was slower and more stately; the kind of transformation I have been reading about in the context of modern performance practice. Well known composers who wrote Chaconnes include Monteverdi, Lully, Rameau, Bach, Purcell, Handel and Couperin.
Bach: Partita no. 2 in D minor, movement 5
Written between 1717 and 1720, each movement of this partita for solo violin is a dance form. The last one, the Ciaccona, has since been transcribed for many instruments. It is thought they were likely written for Bach’s patron, the accomplished musician Prince Leopold.
Gidon Kremer | Academy of St Martin in the Fields | Universal Music B.V. 1996
Bach opens the movement with a strong statement of the harmonic progression in D minor, using double stops. The first variation introduces a dotted quaver melody as the middle line. Subsequent variations use different rhythms and convey very different moods, from quite dramatic (extremely virtuosic, fast passages) to gentle. There are also some which use chromatic elements. In the second half Bach transforms the harmonic material by changing to D major, but returns to D minor for the end and closes with a restatement of the opening.
2. Concerto Grosso
The concerto grosso involves a small group of instrumentalists (the concertino) playing against a larger group (the ripieno). This idea of contrast was a key feature of Baroque music. The composer Arcangelo Corelli, born in 1653, was one of the first to write music under this name; Bach and Handel continued the tradition. The form went out of fashion during the Classical period but has been revived in the twentieth century by many composers including Stravinsky, Glass, Bloch and Villa-Lobos.
Handel: Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 5
Handel composed his ‘Twelve Grand Concertos’ in 1739 to be performed during the intervals of his newly composed oratorios. The oratorios marked a significant change in the composer’s style (following a period of physical and mental ill health), and so to help attract audiences he wrote these concertos which were advertised in the local newspapers before each performance.
Academy of Ancient Music | Andrew Manze | harmonia mundi usa 1998
The concertino for these concertos consists of two parts – violin I and violin II, while the ripieno is scored for strings and basso continuo. The opening of no. 5 is very grand with a distinctive repeated run of three demisemiquavers, and trills on the main beats of the bar. Often the concertino and ripieno parts for violin I are actually the same, which I didn’t expect, but Handel also indicates solo lines in places. The second Allegro part is predominantly imitative counterpoint, with an attractive repetition moving down the instruments. The Presto is also imitative, and works like a kind of conversation between the concertino and ripieno. The Largo is a complete contrast – measured and sedate, with long sustained lines (played in this performance with no vibrato, as it would have been in Handel’s time). In the next Allegro, the melody notes mostly move on crotchet beats, but are played as repeated semiquavers which give the piece a lot of energy. The final movement is written for the violins to play in unison – a stately Menuet with simple rhythms and harmonies, which I’m afraid I didn’t find a particularly inspired way to finish the concerto!
This early Baroque form began life as arrangements of songs, such as French Chansons. By the late 16th century, composers were transforming them into true instrumental works for ensembles or keyboard instruments, and eventually it effectively merged into the sonata. The canzona was characterised by usually simple structures, counterpoint, and the use of sections to convey different moods and emotions.
Frescobaldi: Il Primo Libro delle Canzoni
Girolamo Frescobaldi published this set of canzoni in Rome in 1628, shortly before he moved to Florence to the court of Grand Duke Ferdinando II de’ Medici. The composer was also an accomplished organist and skilled at counterpoint, which is evident in the toccatas and partitas he wrote for the instrument.
Il Primo Libro Delle Canzoni Vol. II | Il Viaggio Musicale | Bongiovanni 2014
There is plenty of imitative counterpoint in this selection of the composer’s canzoni, played by an ensemble of early wind and string instruments, and harpsichord continuo. Although the performance was probably stylistically accurate, I found the thin sound of the violin quite jarring. Many typical Baroque features are present in the music, including ornamentation and use of the tierce de Picardie. Some sections sound like dances, while other more contemplative sections are rhythmically quite free and improvisatory in nature. Many of the pieces have the dual major/minor feel of the Renaissance – in general I felt that they sound like they belong to this era much more than the Baroque.
Oratorios are sacred works intended to be performed in concert, usually involving an orchestra and chorus as well as soloists. They date back to the beginning of the 17th century, with the staging of several sacred operas in Roman Catholic Italy. Sometimes they were sung in Italian (oratorio volgare) and sometimes in Latin. Subsequently oratorios became purely musical / narrative – without any acting. Oratorios spread to Germany in the late 17th century, and Handel wrote his first in 1707.
I have to come back to Handel for this, as he is so well known for his oratorios. I have chosen to listen to his final one, Jeptha, composed in 1751. This is based on the story of the same name in the Book of Judges, in which Jeptha leads the Israelites into battle and vows that if he is successful he will sacrifice the first person he meets – who turns out to be his daughter. Interestingly the oratorio deviates from the bible story, providing a much happier ending than the bible suggests! Its first performance was at the Royal Opera House in February 1752, and was without any scenery or costumes as the law in Britain at the time prohibited the acting of biblical stories.
English Baroque Soloists | John Eliot Gardiner | 1989 Universal International Music B.V.
This oratorio is in three Acts, and I listened to selected parts of each one. The solo storytelling parts sound very much like the Italian opera style of recitative, with sparse basso continuo (harpsichord) accompaniment. The songs are also operatic in nature, with a strong connection to the words – ‘Twill be a painful separation, Jephta…’ features a solo flute and guitar, summoning up an image of loneliness. The choruses, such as “How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees!” at the end of Act 2, tend to use imitative counterpoint. They gradually build up in intensity in a quite beautiful way, and sound particularly dramatic. I can imagine that when performed live they could be spine tingling.
Originally meaning a sung piece (as opposed to the instrumental sonata), the first cantatas appeared in the 1620s. Over time they became structured into recitative and aria style sections; some were written with full orchestral accompaniment, and others with just basso continuo. From the twentieth century the term began to have a wide meaning, encompassing many choral works of different styles.
Telemann: “Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus”
Bach & Telemann: Sacred Cantatas | Philippe Jaroussky | Parlophone Records Limited 2016
The accompaniment to the first cantata consists of essentially dry, short chords in the strings and basso continuo, which is surprisingly unusual and effective. I like the way that the organ blends in with the strings, creating a different tone colour, especially when it is contrasted with the strings playing alone. Overall the cantatas have a very pure sound which appeals to me. My previous exposure to Telemann was with some very banal and boring chamber music, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I quite enjoyed listening to these works, although I am not a particular fan of the countertenor voice.