Bach and the Leipzig cantatas

This was the title of a presentation by Tim Rowe at the Society’s last meeting where he played a selection of the cantatas composed by JS Bach during his time in Leipzig.  He was Kantor at the Thomas church.

Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach had a difficult childhood being orphaned by the age of 10 and spent his early years living with one of his brothers.

Tim explained that despite his enormous output and his amazing genius, very little in fact is known about him as a person.  Almost no letters survive and there is no contemporary biography.  There is even some doubt about what he looked like.

Focusing on the Leipzig years, upon being appointed, Bach set about composing music for the full Lutheran liturgical year.  This was an enormous task.  Tim provided a circular calendar explaining the timetable for the various cantatas.  They were produced in an almost production line process, starting on a Monday, finished by Thursday, copied on Friday, rehearsed on Saturday and then performed on Sunday.

The performances were quite unlike the concert halls of today.  There was considerable noise and confusion as people and animals came and went.  Churches would employ a whipper to keep control of the dogs.  Services lasted hours.  People were segregated according to class.  It’s a wonder in all the confusion that he music was heard at all.

We use the word ‘cantata’ to describe these works yet it is not the word used by Bach himself.  Often pieces had ordinary generic words to describe them such as ‘church music’ or ‘church piece.’  216 of his compositions survive from this period as regrettably, many manuscripts were lost, indeed, it has been estimated that 40% are missing.  Part of the problem might have been paper since this was a valuable commodity at the time, still being produced by hand.

Bach’s modern reputation – his ‘unfathomable genius’ as Tim put it – owes a lot to Felix Mendelssohn who worked hard to revive him.  Had it not been for Mendelssohn, his music may have continued to languish in obscurity.  Mendelssohn was distantly linked to the Bach family through his maternal grandmother who was taught harpsichord by one of Bach’s sons and who collected his manuscripts.

Tim played a range of the cantatas all performed by the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner.  These were recorded in the year 2000, the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death.

This was a splendid evening listening to some wonderful works by this great composer.

Peter Curbishley


The next meeting is on 5 March

 

 

 

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Members’ evening

UPDATE: 23 November

If you have arrived here having read the report in the Salisbury Journal, welcome.  Our next meeting – the last this year – is on Monday 27th and you would be very welcome to come.  £3 for non-members.

The last meeting was a members’ evening where each will present and play a piece which they particularly like and want to share with others.  A wide variety of pieces were performed:

  • it was probably the first time in some years we had heard Wolf-Ferrari and in this case it was the last 2 movements from the Jewels of Madonna
  • Mozart followed with a rare outing of Varrei Spiegarvi o Dio, an aria interopolated into another, now lost opera.
  • we do not often hear the bassoon as a solo instrument but a piece by Weber – andante and Hungarian rondo showed the instrument off well.  It can sound strained in the higher registers but the soloist managed to avoid this
  • back to Mozart and a movement from a quintet K593 he composed around a year before he died
  • Alec Roth has almost certainly never been played before and is a composer with a slight Salisbury connection.  We heard an excerpt from string quintet #2
  • this was followed by some Schubert songs – always a favourite
  • Bach and two cantatas from his time in Leipzig – BWV 8 and 95
  • there was then a mystery piece and this defeated the audience.  It was part of Symphony #4 by the Polish composer Schmidt-Kowalski and several were impressed by this extract.
  • the penultimate piece was a Chopin ballade and to finish
  • .. Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from the Midsummer Nights Dream, but played on two pianos

A very diverse programme with no clear theme except that they were pieces loved by the members.

The solo violin

The solo violin in classical music

This was a presentation by Salisbury violinist Frida Backman on music for the solo violin.

FB mar 17

Perhaps the first thing to say is that there isn’t that much for the solo instrument.  Beyond Bach one might be stumped to think of many solo works and although Kodály was mentioned and later his fellow Hungarian Bartók, apart from a few virtuoso performers, there are not many works of note.  There is of course a huge repertoire of accompanied violin music and concertos.

The instrument was developed into what we see today in the sixteenth century in Cremona, Italy and one of the first masters was Amati.  The instrument consists of no less than 70 parts.

Frida started with some early works by Nicola Matteis who was a violinist in the early eighteenth century and who composed pieces more advanced than his contemporaries.  We then heard a piece by Tartini also of this era, and who was influential in teaching the instrument and wrote a treatise which may have influenced Mozart’s father.

The composer of a large amount of solo work was JS Bach and we heard several pieces by him including an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler in a 1904 recording of a partita with a piano accompaniment.  We also heard pieces by Biber, Prokofiev, Ysaÿe, and Ravel’s Tzigane composed in the early ’20s.

A brilliant virtuoso of the early nineteenth century was Paganini who’s phenomenal abilities were said to derive from the devil.  He was hugely successful and owned no less than 11 Stradivari violins.  Two of his caprices were played, numbers 23 and 24.

Frida explained that development of the bow was crucial to the instrument’s success.  As music moved out of the salon into the concert hall, more power and volume was needed and the modern bow enabled that to be achieved.  However, many players still use a baroque style bow to achieve greater authenticity and Frida played two CDs of the same piece to illustrate the difference in tone.

Frida ended her presentation with a live rendition of a piece by a modern composer Zura Dzagnidze called Intruder composed in 2005.  This she played against a backing track with herself.

A most interesting evening exploring the history of this most versatile of instruments.

Peter Curbishley


Picture: Frida Backman

Members’ evening

A range of interesting music from members

Members’ evening on November 14th produced a wide range of interesting, not to say eclectic, offerings from members.  Clearly, as a group, we listen to a wide range of sources and this was reflected in the music played.

Derek Bourgeois. Picture: YouTube

First off was a trombone concerto by Derek Bourgeois, born in 1941 and this piece was composed in 1988.  We heard the 3rd movement which showed the incredible versatility of the instrument played by Christian Lindberg.

Next – and a complete break in time and tone after the flamboyance of the trombone piece – we heard some selected pieces from the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach.  Quite what instrument these were written for as there is no instrument called the clavier but it is likely they were for clavichord, harpsichord or small organ.  They were composed for purposes of tuition and to teach feeling as well as technique.

A complete change again with the title theme to the Carpetbaggers by Elmer Bernstein.  Bernstein was a prolific composer for the film industry and his scores include 10 Commandments, The Magnificent 7 and the Great Escape.  This was an arrangement by Lalo Schifrin.

Renee Fleming. Picture: Broadwayworld.com

Next, Korngold, a prodigy and prolific composer and from his opera Die Stadt, we heard the lovely Gluck, Das mir Verlieb sung by Renée Fleming.

Source: en-wiki

Female composers are not that common and so it was a pleasure to be introduced to Marie Jaëll and her Cello Concerto from 1882.  She was a pupil of Camille Saint-Saëns and Liszt.  Marie Jaëll probably represents the most authoritative and accomplished expression of the nineteenth century woman musician.  In spite of her coming from the provinces and despite the heavy social restrictions imposed on artists of her gender, she nonetheless succeeded in being recognized as a virtuoso, a composer and as a teacher.  Support from her husband – the Austrian pianist Alfred Jaëll – greatly contributed to the positive reception of her initial works for the piano, but it was by herself, armed with her talent and her resolve in the latter part of her life, that she faced up to the Parisian hurly-burly in which she proved herself to be one of its distinctive figures. While her learning method is still taught in various different countries, little interest thus far has been shown in her music, which in the greater part is held in the Bibliothèque Nationale et Universitaire in Strasbourg. Formidable and ambitious symphonic works are revealed on this book-cd as well as a significant facet of her compositions for the piano [Source; Wikipedia].

We then heard an extract from Schubert’s Piano Trio No 2 in E flat.  Also by contrast – and harking back to the Venetian evening last month, part of Marcello’s music based on Psalm 11.

Rameau is not a composer we have heard much of at the Society so it was interesting to hear the lively Musette and Tambourin en rondeau pour Terpsicore.  Not much is known about his life and he was fairly obscure for many years.  There has been something of a revival in recent years and his pieces now appear in concerts.

Another American composer – albeit of Armenian and Scottish descent – is Alan Hovhaness who was another prolific composer who was very popular in the ’50s and ’60s but is less heard today.

Finally, a familiar composer to the Society – Gerald Finzi and his Romance for String Orchestra.  There is something in Finzi’s music that seems to capture a sense of a pre First World War world of lazy afternoons in the country.

Next meeting on 28 November on Mozart.

 

 

New season starts

The new season got off to a good start with a presentation entitled The Power of Mysticism in Music by Ian Lace.  Ian was one of the founder members of the Society (not called that then) so we were pleased to welcome him back.  He chose pieces where a sense of something beyond the composer was present in the music.   It was interesting that most of the pieces – with one exception in fact – were English composers.  Whether this means composers from these shores are more susceptible to these influences is probably unlikely although it was noticeable that several had experience either the first or second world wars.

The pieces played were:

  • Adagio from Elgar’s Symphony No 1
  • Bax, Symphony No 3
  • Finzi Intimations of Mortality
  • Bach: Chaconne
  • The Romanza from Vaughan William’s Symphony No 5
  • Elgar again the time the Kingdom Pentecost and finishing with
  • Delius Songs of Farewell

Well not quite finishing there because he finished with Louis Armstrong singing What a Wonderful World.

An excellent evening and an all too rare opportunity to hear the music of Bax.


The next meeting is on 3 October and is on early stereo recordings.  It will be preceded by a brief agm.

Last meeting

The last meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society took place last night Monday 23rd May 2016 at 7.30pm, in our usual venue.  Jon Hampton presented ‘The art of the arranger’ including works by Boccherini arranged by Berio, Bach by Elgar, and Schubert by Britten.  An excellent and interesting evening and there will be a full report soon.
 
There was a selection of records (as in vinyl) which have been kindly donated to the Society and these are available with members asked to make a small contribution as they see fit.  They are listed below:
Composer Piece Orchestra
Schubert/ Beethoven Symphony #8 and #5 Berlin PO, Maazel
Orff Carmina Burana Andre Previn, LSO
Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet J Pritchard, LPO
Festival of Carols Bath Abbey
Festival of Lessons and carols Kings College
Mendelsaohn Scottish & Italian Sym Solti, LSO
Mozart Piano Concertos #20 #23 Brendel, Academy St M in the Fields
Bath Abbey organ Various
Handel Water Music Boyd Neel and Orchestra
Mozart Symphonies #29 #39 Colin Davies, S of London
Beethoven Sonatas, Moonlight, Pathetique, #17 Albert Ferber
Mozart Symphonies # 39 #40 Böhm, Vienna PO
Bruch & Beethoven Violin Conc #1; Romances for V and orchestra Oistrach, RPO
Various, Smyth, MacCunn Music of the four countries Gibson, Scottish Nat Orch
Messager The two pigeons Jacquillat, Orchestra de Paris
Boyce, W The 8 symphonies Faerber, Württbergberg Ch O
Bach Brandenburg #4 #5 #6 Davison, Virtuoso of England
  Brandenburg #1 #2 #3 do –
Holst The Planets Sargent, BBCSO
Chopin Piano Concerto # 1 Pressler, Vienna State Opera
Vivaldi 4 seasons etc Various
Tchaikovsky Piano Conc #1 Makaloff, Hague PH Orch
Handel Messiah Sargent, RPO
Box sets Gateway to the Classics and Opera
G & S Overtures, Mikado, Gondoliers etc Godfrey, New SO of London
G & S Best of … Walker, RPO

 

Most look to be in good condition and the discs I’ve looked at seem clean and unscratched.  If you are interested in any of these please ring 01722 782382 and we can try and arrange delivery.

Live evening

David Davies and friends performed live for the Society on Monday and their programme was as follows:

Ciaccona from Sonata da Camera Op 2 No 12
Arcangelo Corelli (1653 – 1713)
Allegro moderamente from Sonata Accademiche Op 2 No 9
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690 – 1768)
Sonata Op 5 No 4 Gottfried Finger (1660 – 1730)
Adagio – Allegro – Adagio – Allegro
Contrapuntus 9 from Art of Fugue Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
Sonata Prima Johann Philipp Krieger (1649 – 1725)
Grave – Poco Presto – Adagio – Presto – Affetuoso – Presto
Andante from Sonata 1 Op 2 Georg Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759)
Duetto for violin and viola Christian Cannabich (1731 – 98)
Two Passepieds from Premiere Recreation de Musique Op 6
Jean-Marie Leclair L’Aine (1697 – 1764)
Sonata 2 William Boyce (1710 – 79)
Andante vivace – Adagio – Allegro – Allegro ma non troppo
For your diary: Salisbury Baroque, with vocal soloists, will be giving a concert in
Wilton Parish Church on Sunday 6 March at 6pm. This will include Bach – Cantata
102, Dall’Abaco – Concerto for 2 flutes and Telemann – Die Tageszeiten. Full details
There is an emailing list for information about early music in the area. If you would like to join it, please email davidracheld@gmail.com