Bach's Birthday Concert
Susan Adams, harpsichord
Clive Titmuss, lute
Saturday, March 8, 7:30 pm
Bottega, 4485 Sallows Road, Kelowna
Tickets $22 Students and Seniors, $25 Adults,
available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/551535
and Annegret's Chocolates in the Towne Centre Mall
Bach probably celebrated his birthday as many people do, with friends and special music. That's what Early Music Studio has planned for its March 8 Bach's Birthday Concert at Bottega. There will be plenty of music, and even a Bach's Birthday cake.
Lutenist Clive Titmuss and harpsichordist Susan Adams explore new insights into the sparkling solo music that Bach wrote in this concert celebrating his 329th birthday. How did his signature style come about, and for which gifted players did he write his unique and personal early works? With the lucid baroque style for which they have become famous, the musicians present a performance that explores the psychology that lies under Bach's enduring genius.
One of the world's great creators, Bach was a simple and good-humoured man, who enjoyed family life and trading ideas with colleagues. As his fame grew, he came into contact with other famous virtuoso player who asked him for new compositions. He obliged by re-working his favourite music from his early years, when his responsibilities were lighter and he had more time to write for no reason other than the pleasure it brought him. It was his willingness to create music for its own sake that ensured Bach's place among the world's most revered artists.
One of enduring myths about Bach that came along long after his death was that he was an old school composer, out of touch with new currents in music because he was not interested in the 18th Century's hottest trend—the bright lights of opera. More recently attitudes to his music and new insight has shown that he was indeed on the leading edge of music, that he had instruments designed and built to his demanding specifications, and that the wrote specially crafted pieces for them.
Sometime in the 1730's, Bach had a visit from the most highly paid musician at the Saxon court. Sylvius Leopold Weiss was a lute player whose music may have influenced Bach's own writing. During his visit, it is possible that Bach demonstrated a new instrument which he had commissioned, a harpsichord with gut strings which was "supposed to fool the ear of a professional lutenist". It is easy to imagine Weiss' surprise when Bach sat at the instrument and masterfully played passages of his music written to imitate the lute style, but with the speed and bravura of his most difficult keyboard music.
Clive Titmuss plays a group of pieces Bach wrote as a very young man, which he later arranged for just such a meeting. "Even though I don't feel that the music was written for the lute, I do think it's a very convincing imitation of its style. Was Weiss’ ear was fooled? He must have been astonished. It is a brilliant composition, and Bach was right to re-cast it in a new form twenty years after he originally wrote it", he says.
The same work illustrates how his compositions evolved, as Susan Adams plays one of the dramatic English Suites, written in Bach's mature years, and in his most virtuosic manner. "This piece disproves the old idea that Bach was not interested in theatrical style in his music. The opening movement is one of the most gripping thrill-rides I've ever played in a concert!"
The composer’s reputation in his final years as a conservative in musical matters resulted from a well-documented visit to the palace of Frederick II. The King requested that he improvise on some recently acquired pianos. Bach seemed to think they were dull and unresponsive in comparison to the brilliance and colour of the harpsichord. A more recent view of this meeting takes into account the observation that the piano was still in its earliest form, but that the harpsichord had benefitted from nearly four centuries of sophisticated development. It better suited the clarity required by the architecture of Bach’s music.
Bottega is the perfect quiet and elegant place to enjoy the art of the great Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries, Weiss, Bohm and Muffat---and to enjoy some cake and coffee to celebrate his birthday.
Tickets are also available at Annegret’s Fine European Chocolates in the Towne Centre Mall on Bernard in Kelowna. For more information about the music or for directions call 250 769 2884 or visit the Studio website and Facebook page: www.earlymusicstudio.com and www.facebook/earlymusicstudio
Sonata V: Allegro (from Six Organ Trios with Pedal, BWV 529) arranged for lute and harpsichord
Suite in C minor by Georg Böhm: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue
[Partita in E major], (BWV 1006a): Prélude, Loure, Gavotte en Rondeau, Menuets I and II, Bourée, Gigue
Suite III in G minor (BWV 808): Prélude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Les agréments de la même Sarabande, Gavotte alternativement, Gavotte II ou la Musette, Gigue
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach holds a special place in the repertoires of the lute and the harpsichord. Bach himself played all of the contemporary keyboard instruments of the early 18th Century--the harpsichord, the organ, the clavichord and a number of other experimental instruments---including a lute-harpsichord. A unique document, Bach's Nachlass, an inventory of his possessions post mortem, lists a large two manual harpsichord, a lute-harpsichord and a lute, along with various stringed instruments, and such items as his tea-pot and a store of winter firewood. While the harpsichord and strings were probably his professional tools, he used the other instruments for domestic music-making
A tide of new information about Bach's life and a study of his scores has had a notable effect on currents in performance practice. A growing number of interpreters are playing his music on instruments of the period, whose technique and traditions has been revived, based on careful reading of the treatises published in the latter part of the 1600's and the beginning of the 1700's.
We are much more conscious of Bach's environs and their importance to his growth as a musician during his adolescence and early adulthood. He had a large library at his disposal in his position as Kapellmeister in Cöthen (1717-23). Contact with scores by Frescobaldi, Vivaldi, Corelli and other Italian composers, as well as published keyboard music by Couperin and Clérambault, deeply affected his development as a composer. Before that came the strong influence of fellow musicians in the North German keyboard tradition, such as Zachow, Ritter, Buxtehude, and especially the French-influenced keyboard music of Böhm, heard in tonight’s C minor suite.
Tonight's program shows how some of these composers became models for Bach’s extended keyboard and violin music, and how he consciously emulated the style of lute, an instrument played by a number of virtuosi in Leipzig where he lived and worked after 1723. Three pieces in this program are prelude-style works, (BWV 1006a, 529 and 808)—of these BWV 1006a is the earliest, written around 1719-20, the same years as the Weiss E flat lute pieces. The prelude of the Suite in G minor (BWV 808) and the Organ Sonata are both from the middle 1730’s. The style of these works, with their insistent rhythm, dynamic motifs and bravura technique, are the result of Bach’s study of Italian string music. The suites that follow these miniature solo concertos, with their galant dance movements, are pure French Roccoco harpsichord style. Bach’s own manuscript title for the collection of music we call The English Suites was Suittes avec Préludes. He goes much farther than his models in the diversity of harmony and the sophisticated transformation of his materials.
A book by Jakob Adlung is one of the principle sources about
technical aspects of the keyboard instruments of Bach’s day in
A Musical Visitor Comes to Town
One day a distinguished musician came to visit the Bach
Bach was something of a practical joker. He enjoyed the broad peasant humour of the German people, he loved puns, and he often wrote funny things into his music. The contrapuntal quodlibet at the end of the Goldberg Variations is a good example: "Sauerkraut and Turnips Have Driven Me Away" combined with "You've Been Gone So Long". You can almost hear him snickering over the score. He decided to play a little joke on Weiss. Meeting him at the door, he said:
"Well to tell the truth I've been trying to play the lute a little lately. I used to fool around on it when I was a Bub, but the instrument always confounded me--all those strings! I got a much better instrument from my dear friend Hofmann in the Lautekrankengasse, and I've completely been taken with it, working night and day on one of my old pieces to play for you, to see if you have any suggestions. But I'm still a bit shy to play for you, an old man trying to do something new, you know, it's a bit silly. So if you don't mind I'm going to go into my Schreibzimmer--just sit here and listen.”
With that he repaired to his composition room and went behind a sun-bleached and stained old curtain that he had dividing the rooms, to keep his family out while composing. The family rule was that when Papa was behind the curtain, he was not to be disturbed. After a bit of tuning and few odd notes and chords, the most fantastic uninterrupted veil of note-perfect lute-playing erupted. Sylvio instantly recognized the signature study piece of every student violinist in the Saxon kingdom--the Prelude of the E major violin Partita. It was astonishing--clean and clear, perfectly in tune and unerring. That piece quickly concluded, Bach began playing something entirely new.
"Here's something I've just been working on" he said, peering out from behind the curtain, and from his room came the now-familiar strains of the beautiful opening bars of a Prelude in E flat.
Weiss expected him to stop, but the flow never ceased. The prelude let to a complex fugue, then to a rousing allegro with an impossibly difficult and treacherous bass line. As the last notes died away, Weiss, listening with growing agitation, was plainly aghast. After all, he had spent a lifetime playing the lute, struggling with its idiosyncrasies, the tuning, strings, the pegs, the frets, the sheer uncertainty and unpredictability, a spider's web of deceit, a device calculated to drive musicians mad—and here, the great genius of keyboard music, old Bach himself---had managed to master the instrument after only a few months of effort. How was it possible? Weiss was dumbfounded. Finally, the portly master drew aside the curtain.
"How do you like my new toy?" said Bach and motioned to a magnificent veneered three-manual lute-harpsichord built by the fashionable prodigy Zacharias Hildebrand.
Weiss, true to his name, turned the colour of a sheet, and let out a sigh: He had been duped utterly.
"Du lieber Gott", he exclaimed, "you nearly gave me a heart attack”.
they had a little belt of schnapps (well, maybe a couple of them) and started
chatting amiably about the ongoing rivalry between the football teams of the
Dresden Frauen-Kirche and
Weiss took a beer-stained copy of Bach's new piece home to see whether he might be able to make something of it. Just to confound his student Count Lobkowitz, who was rich, but as dense as a harpsichord’s pinblock, Weiss scrawled Praeludio per il Liuto da Signore Bach at the top of the page. “This will keep him awake for a year”, he chuckled to himself, exhaling a cloud of pfeffermint vapour. “D-flat in the bass…hah!”
He wandered down the path into the town, tipsily singing a ditty from his student days--
“Ich bin ein diplomierte Lautenisten,
Ich trage immer dreizehn Lautenkästen…”
("I am a graduate lutenist; I always drag thirteen lute-cases around with me...")
Later, Johann's son, little Willi, who'd snuck a few sips of schnapps himself from the leftovers,
wrote to a friend: "Something very special in the way of music was heard on that occasion!" And indeed, he was right.
The Society is always looking for sponsorship or for new audience members and especially, students of music—let us know if you can put us in contact with a lover of early music.
Thanks to the Central Okanagan Foundation, our major sponsor; to Kyle Poirier for graphic direction, Josh Desnoyers for publicity, Ernie Webber for stage management, New Horizon Productions for technical assistance, Annegret’s Chocolates for ticket sales, and our Board of Directors for their support.