Indulge in the greatest works by the 18th Century masters brilliantly performed by Symphony of the Vines. Works by J. S. Bach, Marcello, Vivaldi, Handel, Corelli, and Geminiani.
The music of these baroque masters are made up of multiple threads weaving together a beautiful tapestry of sound. It is likely that many of these works were intended to be performed with one player on a part, which is the approach we are taking with this concert. This highlights the clarity of the polyphonic writing and the colors of the individual instruments. The composers on this program represent the greatest masters of the era, including J. S. Bach, Marcello, Vivaldi, Handel, Corelli, and Geminiani.
The concert features several “Concerto Grosso” works that feature two solo violins and cello. We rotate our exceptional violinists around so that each of them have the opportunity to play both solo parts and “ripieno,” or orchestra, parts.
Symphony of the Vines
Dr. Greg Magie, Music Director
Violin: Emily Lanzone, Valerie Berg-Johansen, Maurice Sklar, Grace Seng
Viola: Andrew Grishaw
Cello: Hilary Clark
Bass: David George
Harpsichord: Paul Woodring
January 12, 2020
Mission San Miguel
Sponsored by Allan Smith & Marti Lindholm, Michael Selby & Carol Nelson-Selby, and business sponsorship provided by Rancho Azul y Oro.
FRANCESCO GEMINIANI (1687-1762)
Featuring Grace Seng, violin, and Hilary Clark, cello
Francesco Geminiani was one of the great violinists of the eighteenth century. He learned to play the violin as a boy, then went on to Rome, where he studied with Arcangelo Corelli and Allesandro Scarlatti. Geminiani moved to England in 1714 when he was 27 and quickly established himself in London: within two years of his arrival he performed before King George I, accompanied by Handel at the keyboard. Geminiani was also an art collector, and that proved an expensive hobby–he occasionally landed in financial difficulties as a result.
Geminiani discovered that the music of his teacher Corelli was wildly popular in London, and in the 1720s he arranged a number of Corelli’s works for string orchestra. The most famous of these is Corelli’s Violin Sonata in D Minor, Opus 5, No. 12, which featured a set of variations on an old tune known as La Folia (or La Follia). The La Folia tune, already several hundred years old when Corelli used it for his variations, appears to have originated in fifteenth-century Portugal, where it was originally a fast dance in triple time, performed so strenuously that the dancers seemed to have gone mad–the title folia meant “mad” or “empty-headed” (it survives in our usage as “folly”). Over time, this dance slowed down and became the famous theme we know today, and its solemn chordal progression and stately melody have made it attractive as the basis for variations.
BENEDETTO MARCELLO (1686-1739)
featuring Hilary Clark, cello
Please enjoy this excerpt from Cello Sonata in F Major, Opus 1, No. 1. Benedetto Marcello came from a distinguished family. His brother Alessandro was a composer, painter, and mathematician. Benedetto made his career as a civil servant and composed largely as a hobby: he trained as a lawyer, was a member of the Council of Forty in Venice, was governor of the city of Pola, and finally served as Papal Chamberlain in Brescia. He began his musical studies on the violin but gave that up to study voice, and most of his compositions are vocal–masses, cantatas (both sacred and secular), motets, madrigals.
It is a measure of Benedetto’s growing reputation that when he composed a set of six sonatas for cello and keyboard in the early 1730s, they were published almost simultaneously in Amsterdam, London, and Paris. The first of these, in F major, has become the best known of the set and has been arranged for a number of other instruments. The brief sonata is in the slow-fast-slow-fast sequence of movements of the baroque sonata di chiesa. The noble opening Largo is followed by a spirited Allegro; both these movements are in binary form (two halves, both repeated). The third movements is a brief Largo that serves as a transition to the concluding Allegro, once again in binary form.
Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, No. 8 “Christmas Concerto”
ARCANGELO CORELLI (1653-1713)
Featuring Valerie Berg-Johansen & Grace Seng, violins
Arcangelo Corelli is remembered today principally for his twelve concerti grossi, Opus 6, published in 1712, shortly before his death. The eighth of these twelve concertos,bears the inscription fatto per la notte di Natale (“Written for Christmas night”), and it has been known ever since as the Christmas Concerto. Christmas concertos were a part of seasonal observances in Italy, and other composers–including Manfredini, Torelli, and Locatelli–wrote them as well. Usually included in the Christmas concerto was a Pastorale, a movement in a slow 12/8 and often harmonized in thirds, depicting the shepherds in the fields; Corelli marks the Pastorale of his Christmas Concerto “ad libitum,” suggesting that it might be detached and performed separately.
Several of the five movements of Corelli’s Christmas Concerto fall into different sections at different tempos. The concluding Pastorale, which bears some resemblance to the Pastorale in Handel’s Messiah (still three decades in the future), is the longest movement of the concerto. It might easily, as Corelli suggested, stand by itself, a quiet invocation of the spirit of Christmas with its depiction of the shepherds waiting in the fields on the eve of the Nativity.
ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Featuring Emily Lanzone & Valerie Berg-Johansen, violins
The Concerto in A Minor is from Vivaldi’s L’Estro armonico (“Harmonious Inspiration”), published in 1711. That was a collection of concerti grossi, but the Concerto in A Minor is known more simply as a concerto for two violins, and in fact it is one of the most distinguished of all two-violin concertos. Isaac Stern and David Oistrakh recorded it in 1955, when the baroque boom was still in its early years, and it has become a favorite of both professional and amateur musicians. This music shows all the virtues of Vivaldi’s best concertos: virtuoso writing for the soloists, sharp contrast between the soloists and the larger orchestra, and an endless supply of rhythmic energy–this music seems to be constantly driving forward.
The first instants of the opening Allegro establish the character of this concerto–this will be music of sweep and brilliance. The writing for the solo violins is varied: throughout the movement they exchange roles, taking turns leading and accompanying (the second violin part, in fact, is often set above the first violin). Vivaldi moves to D minor for the Larghetto e spiritoso, and here the opening unison will serve as the ostinato bassline for the entire movement–it repeats solemnly as the two solo violins weave long melodic lines high above. The concluding Allegro returns to the virtuoso manner of the opening movement. The music is brilliant throughout, almost throwing off sparks as it goes, though there is one surprise: along the way, Vivaldi gives the second violin a theme all its own. The first violin never gets to play this melody, which soars with an aching expressiveness and then vanishes, never to return as the music powers its way to a fierce conclusion.
GEORGE FREDERIC HANDEL (1685-1759)
Featuring Valerie Berg-Johansen & Emily Lanzone, violins
Handel’s set of twelve concerti grossi, Opus 6, has long been regarded as the summit of his purely orchestral writing. All were written at white heat–Handel began composing the first on September 29, 1739, and completed the final one on October 30. The Concerto Grosso in A Major was the last of the set to be completed, and its creation was speeded by the fact that it is an arrangement of one of Handel’s own works, a Concerto in A Major for Organ and Strings composed the previous March and performed as a musical interlude between the acts of Handel’s oratorio Alexander’s Feast. Working quickly to complete the set of concerti grossi, Handel re-composed the earlier concerto, rewriting the organ part for the two violins and cello and composing a new second movement. It is a superb re-composition–the writing for solo violins is beautifully idiomatic–and no one would guess that this music had been conceived as anything but a piece for string orchestra.
The sturdy opening Andante larghetto e staccato is full of energetic flourishes that derive their energy from the dotted rhythms and staccato writing for strings; by sharp contrast, the solo entrances are lyric and flowing. The brief fugal Allegro, composed specifically for its inclusion here, features a long fugue subject, brilliant in its energy and sharp edges. The Largo e staccato is a transition movement, full of trills, that leads directly into the Andante. This movement, continuously flowing and singing, features wonderful soaring solos for the two violinists. The noble concluding Allegro is built–in true concerto grosso style–on graceful interchanges between the soloists and the main body of strings.
Program notes by Eric Bromberger