PROGRAM “Bee is for Bach”
CONCERTO: It was during Johann Sebastian Bach’s six years as Court Kapellmeister in Köthen (1717–1723) that he produced a significant amount of secular music. Köthen’s Prince Leopold was a connoisseur of music and he asked for instrumental repertoire for solo performance as well as for his 13-member orchestra, and since he was a Calvinist, the Prince did not require very much music for church services.
The original score for the concerto BWV 1060 was lost after Bach’s death and the version we perform these days is a reconstruction from a transcription that Bach made for two harpsichords.
Differences between the extant harpsichord scores for this concerto indicate that the composer was writing for contrasting solo instruments. The solo parts strongly suggested his initial choice of violin and oboe.
BWV 1060 follows the standard Italian baroque concerto structure: three movements: fast-slow-fast. The first movement (Allegro) alternates between soloists (concertino) and orchestra (ripieno) clearly defining the separation of forces.
Similar to Vivaldi’s concerto design, the second movement (Adagio) resembles an operatic aria and the flashy last movement pops up with a crisp main theme which will also reappear within the central and closing sections of the movement (a ritornello).
BEEKEEPER: Since 2011 Arvo Pärt has been among the most performed living composers in the world. Pärt possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary classical music, the product of eclectic influences from the “official” Soviet aesthetic to Renaissance polyphony. Born near Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, Pärt began his formal musical education in 1954 at the Tallinn Music Secondary School entering the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957.
Immediately preceding World War II, Estonia was bloodlessly annexed by the Soviet Union, leaving the young Pärt with only limited access to the musical developments in the West. His early compositions, including his first two symphonies, employed serial techniques, but he soon tired of the rigid rules of twelve-tone composition. After studying French and Flemish choral music from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, Pärt began incorporating the style and spirit of early European polyphony into his own compositions, beginning in 1971with his Third Symphony.
If Bach had been a beekeeper, completed in 1976, is one of the works performed at a legendary concert by the early music ensemble Hortus Musicus on 27 October of the same year. This marked the beginning of Pärt’s new creative style. Intensive creative collaboration with the early music ensemble offered the composer an opportunity to use instruments played by the ensemble and experiment with their sounds.
The key to understanding the sound of this composition is provided by an ironic title Pärt initially gave it: Portrait of a Musicologist Against the Background of a Wasp Nest.
The basic form of the piece is Toccata (showpiece), Ricercare (fugal music) and Chorale (quote from Bach). In the Toccata Pärt embedded Bach’s name, (b–a–c–h: in German b=b flat and h=b natural) on several levels: melodic, sustained chords and tremolo. Then he surrounded Bach with string parts reminiscent of the buzzing of bees. The rhythmic pulse of the accompanying piano part consists of chords in B flat, A, C and B natural.
The work resolves in a coda featuring music from Bach's prelude in B minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1.The first half of Bach’s slowly paced prelude is played at half the speed, offering a relief from the previously tense music. Heavenly lightness begins to glow as the final chord is not played in the original minor, but in the bright major of the same tonality.
SUITE: An opportunity arose for Bach when in 1729 the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig found itself in need of a new director. This organization, which was one of the earliest ensembles to produce and perform public concerts in the modern sense, had been founded in 1701 by Bach’s friend (and godfather to his second son) Georg Philipp Telemann.
Led by Bach the Collegium Musicum performed a weekly two-hour concert at the largest and most prestigious coffee-house in Leipzig, owned and operated by Gottfried Zimmermann
Bach held the directorship of this Collegium through 1737, and again from 1739 through 1741.
For these concerts he had to compose or obtain, and rehearse and perform, a vast quantity of music. His 10-year tenure as director of the Collegium meant producing an estimated 500 concerts.
A major orchestral genre of the time was the overture with appended suite of dances (Telemann is reckoned to have composed many hundreds). There are four which survive from Bach’s hand. Three of them, the one in C major, and both of those in D major, were probably composed in the 1710’s and revived for the Collegium concerts. The overture in B minor for flute and strings is more likely to have been composed anew for the Collegium and the only surviving parts date from the late 1730’s. As in other examples of this genre, the opening movement is the largest in scale, alternating between a slower section of majestic character and a quicker, fugal section. It is then followed by a series of dance-movements: a Gavotte (even though it is labeled “Rondeau”), a Sarabande, a pair of Bourrées, a Polonaise with a variation, and a Menuet. To round it off a movement that superficially resembles a fast Gavotte, but which Bach calls “Badinerie.”
SYMPHONY: On August 4, 1782 in Vienna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart married Constanze Weber without the blessing of his father. Papa Leopold thought that the humble, uneducated girl was not worthy of his brilliantly talented son, and he made no secret of it. In an attempt to heal the family rift, the new Herr and Frau Mozart went to Salzburg the following summer for an extended stay. The visit changed little. Leopold spent the rest of his life telling his son what a poor choice of a wife he had made. Wolfgang tried to put a good face on the situation, but he was bitterly disappointed at the results of the Salzburg visit. He left the town of his birth on October 27, 1783, and never returned.
The Mozarts returned to Vienna by way of Linz, where they found a warm welcome. “When we arrived at the gates of Linz,” Mozart reported to his father on October 31st, “a servant was waiting there to conduct us to the palace of old Count Thun where we are now staying. I can’t tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, November 4th, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and since I haven’t a single symphony with me, I am up to my ears writing a new one which must be finished by then.”
The piece was completed on time, in the astonishing space of just five days. Such speed characterized the creation of many of Mozart’s works, and is an important indication of his compositional process: formulating a work completely in his head before committing it to paper.
The Symphony begins with an introduction in slow tempo with chromatic inflections before the tempo quickens for the arrival of the energetic main theme. In the Andante, Mozart supplied the necessary pathos to balance the exuberance of the surrounding movements. The third movement is a cheerful Minuet, whose trio is reminiscent of an Austrian Ländlerm and the finale is filled with dashing vitality and irresistible joy.