Program 4

Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor, BWV 1060

Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Composed around 1720.

Any father with twenty children is bound to have a problem at sometime or other. Papa Johann Sebastian Bach must certainly have had his share of family crises during his lifetime (more than half of his immense brood did not survive him), but one bit of puerile misadventure had an important impact on his musical legacy. At Bach’s death, many of his manuscripts were divided between his two oldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. Carl took loving care of his inheritance, but Wilhelm did not. Though his father had given him excellent training and he held some responsible positions as a young man, Wilhelm was never able to fulfill his early promise. His presence of mind seems to have deserted him after his father’s death, and Wilhelm gave way in his later years to dissipation, pretty well making a mess of his life. The manuscripts from Johann Sebastian’s estate that came into his possession were lost or destroyed or perhaps sold for a flagon of Asbach-Uralt. At any rate, it is known that Wilhelm let the originals of at least three of his father’s solo violin concertos as well as many other works slip through his unsteady fingers. Despite Wilhelm’s profligacy, however, much of Bach’s violin music has been recovered through scholarly ingenuity. When Johann Sebastian took over the direction of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum concerts in 1729, he expanded the ensemble’s repertory by arranging several of his earlier wind and string concertos for one or more harpsichords. Since Bach apparently made few changes beyond some additional ornamentation and (usually) transposition to another key better suited to the keyboard, authorities on his manuscripts and working methods have been able to recreate the original scores from the later harpsichord transcriptions with considerable confidence, as is the case with this Concerto for Oboe and Violin.

Bach’s violin music was written as part of his duties at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen, where he was “Court Kapellmeister and Director of the Princely Chamber Musicians” from 1717 to 1723. Since he was responsible for the secular rather than the sacred music at Cöthen, those years saw the production of many of his purely instrumental works, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the orchestral suites, numerous suites and sonatas for solo instruments and harpsichord, the sonatas and suites for unaccompanied violin and cello, and much solo harpsichord music. Bach tried to present his noble employer with compositions that would be both of high quality (Prince Leopold was a good and appreciative musician) and in tune with the latest styles. For his concertos, Bach avidly studied the recent creations of the Italian masters, notably Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico, which had been published in 1712. He transcribed several Italian compositions as solos or concertos for keyboard for his own use, and utilized their formal and technical components as the models for his original works in the genre. In addition to his knowledge of the fashionable Italian music of the day, Bach also drew on his own experience as a practicing violinist to polish his style of writing for strings. His son Carl wrote, “He played the violin cleanly and penetratingly. He understood to perfection the possibilities of the stringed instruments.”

The C minor Concerto for Oboe and Violin is derived from the Concerto No. 1 for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1060. The structure of the opening movement follows the ritornello form customary for Baroque concertos: a returning orchestral refrain separated by episodes for the soloists. This is music of austere countenance but vigorous rhythmic energy that embodies the Baroque ideal of touching sentiment allied with visceral stimulation. The lovely second movement, supported by a delicate pizzicato accompaniment in the strings, resembles an operatic duetin its flowing lyricism and thematic interchanges between the soloists. The finale returns the bracing vitality of the first movement. These concertos, among the earliest works in the orchestral repertory, are outstanding examples of Bach’s luxurious instrumental style. In the words of Edward Downes, “[This music’s] rhythms dance, its melodic line soars, its harmonies branch and blossom with a richness and a sense of inevitable growth in which Bach has no equal.”

* * *

The E major Violin Concerto follows the traditional Italian model of three movements, arranged fast—slow—fast. In the opening movement, the violin is carefully integrated into the texture and melodic working-out of the material. The basic formal plan of the movement is ritornello — i.e., the frequent return in the orchestra of the opening music. (These returns are easily discerned in this Concerto by the three “hammerblow” chords that occur at the beginning of each.) The episodic sections between the recurrences of the ritornello, the places in which the soloist is dominant, are rather like windows separating these tutti (Italian for “together”) columns supporting the structure. The overall construction of the movement falls into three distinct divisions, not unlike the operatic da capo aria so popular in Bach’s day. The center section shifts from the bright sunlight of E major of the opening to the introspective key of C-sharp minor, and serves as an elaboration of the ideas from the initial section. This middle portion draws to a close with a few cadenza-like bars in slow tempo for the soloist. The closing section of the movement returns to the mood and material of the beginning.

The second movement, “perhaps the most poignantly beautiful Bach ever conceived,” wrote Boris Schwartz, derives its style from the world of opera, specifically the lament. The basses present a theme, full of pathos, at the outset that is repeated in various keys throughout the movement. Above this rises the touching melody of the soloist as counterpoint and commentary on the dolorous orchestral background. The finale, constructed in a strict rondo form, resumes the dancing spirit of the first movement. The opening tutti rondo theme, sixteen measures in length, returns without change four times. In between, the soloist also plays sections exactly sixteen measures in length (the last is 32 measures) that embellish the theme of the rondo. The final repeat of the rondo theme concludes this wonderful work that Bach’s first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel, characterized as “full of the unconquerable joy of life.”

Suite No. 1 in F major from Water Music

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Composed in 1717.

Premiered on July 17, 1717 on the Thames near London.

Good stories die hard, the truth not withstanding. One begun in 1760, the year after Handel’s death, by the composer’s first biographer, Reverend Mainwaring, is no exception. Louis Biancolli recounted the tale: “According to the long-accepted story, Handel planned the Water Music in 1715 as a gesture of appeasement to King George I. Handel had been George’s Kapellmeister when he was still Elector of Hanover in 1712. Handel obtained permission from his ruler to visit England. The visit proved highly lucrative and Handel failed to return to the Hanoverian post. Finally Mahomet went to the mountain. Queen Anne died in 1714, and Handel’s former employer found himself proclaimed King George I of England. The King was supposedly incensed over Handel’s playing truant. Lord Burlington and Baron Kielmansegg, the Master of the King’s Horse, thought up a plan of reconciliation, which was carried out. During a ‘royal water party’ on the Thames, the King’s barge was followed by another bearing Handel and a group of musicians. The King was enchanted by the music and naturally asked its composer’s name. When told it was Handel, the two were promptly reconciled.”

Biancolli went on to note, however, that neither the dates nor the relationship between composer and King bears out this story. Concerning the royal disposition, King George apparently never sought to ostracize Handel after his elevation to the throne. Indeed, music was one of the few things George liked about English life, and he had no intention of throwing up barriers between himself and the country’s greatest composer. He appeared at a performance of Handel’s new Te Deum in St. James’s Palace within a week of his arrival in London. He attended the revival of Rinaldo a few months later, and did so incognito. He continued the annual stipend of £200 awarded to Handel by his predecessor, Queen Anne, and added another £200 to it. When the King visited Hanover in 1716, Handel went along to see after the music. These signs indicate that the rift between the two was never very serious, if it existed at all.

The dates of the various events also conflict with the old story. The “reconciliation,” it seems, was supposed to have taken place in 1715, but most of the Water Music was not composed until 1717. (A handful of movements may be of an earlier date, but their provenance is uncertain.) On July 19, 1717, two days after the event, the Daily Courant carried the following report: “On Wednesday Evening, the King took Water at Whitehall ... and went up the River towards Chelsea. Many other Barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a Number of Boats, that the whole River in a manner was cover’d; a City Company’s Barge was employ’d for the Musick, wherein were 50 Instruments of all sorts, who play’d all the Way from Lambeth ... the finest Symphonies, compos’d express for the Occasion, by Mr. Hendel [sic]; which his Majesty liked so well, that he caus’d it to be plaid over three times going and returning.” Another account noting the same July 1717 date came from Frederic Bonnet, a Prussian envoy at court. “Next to the King’s barge,” he wrote, “was that of the musicians, about fifty in number, who played all kinds of instruments, to wit trumpets, horns, hautboys [oboes], bassoons, German [transverse] flutes, French flutes [recorders, probably equivalent to the modern piccolo], violins and basses; but there were no singers. The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel, a native of Halle, and His Majesty’s principal Court Composer.” Though the Water Music was not directly responsible for Handel achieving a secure position with King George, there can be no doubt that the delight it engendered in the royal breast accounted in no small part for the favor he enjoyed.

Handel modeled his Water Music on the festive, outdoor compositions written by such French masters as Lalande and Mouret to accompany the al fresco suppers, parties and barge excursions at Versailles. (The theme for television’s original Masterpiece Theater derived from such a work by Mouret.) The Water Music, like those French works, is simple in texture, dance-like in rhythm and majestic in spirit, and relies on the bracing sonorities of the wind instruments that made outside performance viable. In Handel’s score, many of the individual movements recall the dance forms that are the basis of all Baroque suites. (The manuscript of the Water Music is lost, and there is no way to know exactly the order or even the precise instrumentation in which the various movements were intended to be played. The compilation of the music into suites was the job of later editors, and it is from these that present-day interpreters choose the specific movements to be performed. The actual music heard, therefore, may differ from one concert to another.) The dances include the minuet, a stately court dance in triple meter that became a regular fixture in the Classical symphony; the leaping, triple-meter gigue, derived from an English folk dance, and the model for many instrumental finales by French and Italian musicians when it migrated to the Continent in the 17th century; the bourrée, a spirited duple-meter dance of French origin; the English hornpipe, whose nautical associations are particularly appropriate for the Water Music; and the rigaudon, a Provençal dance especially popular in the French opera-ballet. The other quick movements, though untitled, are related to these types. The slow sections derive either from the limpid, flowing operatic aria of which Handel was undisputed master or from such dances as the saraband. A majestic ouverture in the French style rounds out the complete set.


Music for the Royal Fireworks

George Frideric Handel


Composed in 1749.

Premiered on April 27, 1749 in London.

When Frederick the Great of Prussia set off in 1740 to conquer the Austrian province of Silesia to expand his own political and economic base and diminish the power of the Habsburg ruler, Maria Theresia, he began the eight years of conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession. Britain was drawn into the fracas by its king, George II, a German, who wanted to make sure that he retained his succession in the house of Hanover. So determined was George to protect his privilege that he even took a contingent into battle, the last British monarch to actively lead troops in conflict. After the war had shifted enough national boundaries to satisfy the participants, the business was brought to an end by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. Though George was pleased personally with the outcome, Britain gained little from the settlement, except for enough economic strength from standing down its troops to institute a 3% bank interest rate that remained in effect for the next century and a half. George thought, however, that a grand celebration was in order, and he allowed that it should be the most magnificent thing of its kind ever seen in England.

As soon as the Aix-la-Chapelle treaty was signed on October 7, 1748, George II appointed the Duke of Montague, Master General of Ordnance, to oversee the celebratory festivities. The famed French architect (of St. Sulpice, Paris) and stage designer (of the Paris Opéra) Jean Nicolas Servan, who had translated his name into the more theatrically fashionable Servandoni, was engaged to provide an ostentatious setting for the highlight of the celebration, a brilliant display of fireworks. So immense was the set — the “machine” — Servan devised that work on it had to begin in early November, fully six months before the date of the festivities. Louise Beck described the finished edifice as “a Doric temple of huge proportions; a center structure, one hundred feet high, with wings to the right and to the left, which measured more than four hundred feet. A gigantic figure of Peace attended by Neptune and Mars, and a likeness of equal size of good King George delivering peace to Britannia, adorned the pavilion. A monster sun topped the whole, and there was a special gallery for musicians large enough to accommodate a hundred men.”

Special music for the occasion was commissioned from the Composer to the Royal Chapel, a shrewd, thickly accented Saxon immigrant who was also England’s most popular musician — George Frideric Handel. Handel was put out by the King’s insistence that only “martial instruments” be used — “no fiddles,” declared George — since the ensemble and intonation of military bandsmen of the day was something to give any sensitive musician pause. As the April 27, 1749 date for the jubilee drew near, there was still some question whether Handel would provide the music (“... if he won’t let us have his overture [suite] we must get an other,” wrote the Duke of Montague to a fellow organizer on April 9th), but the composer was won over by his strong feelings about patriotism and profit, and the plans were allowed to proceed.

A public rehearsal of the Fireworks Music was announced for the spacious, park-like Vauxhall Gardens in south London for April 21st. A great band of wind instruments by the dozens to play the new piece was advertised, and interest in the event ran so high that 12,000 tickets were sold in advance. The descent of this throng on the main Thames crossing “occasioned such a stoppage on London Bridge that no carriage could pass for three hours,” reported the Gentlemen’s Magazine. Footmen obstructing the passage were so numerous that scuffles broke out and some gentlemen were injured in the fray. Still, the dress rehearsal went as planned and further whetted the town’s appetite for the grand spectacle on April 27th.

The principal celebration, centered around Servan’s elaborate “Temple of Peace,” was planned for Green Park, in St. James’s. “For a week before, the town has been like a country fair,” wrote Horace Walpole to his friend Horace Mann. “The streets are filled from morning to night, scaffolds building wherever you could see or not see, and coaches arriving from every corner of the kingdom. The immense crowds, the guards, the machine itself, which was very beautiful, were worth seeing.” Handel’s music was readied, the 101 cannons that would contribute to the deafening roar of the event were wheeled into place, the King had final fittings for his new ceremonial clothes. The morning of April 27th dawned dusty and windy, and afternoon thunder threatened weather problems, which were realized when a chill drizzle began to fall at dusk. King George, touring the machine, promenaded and inspected and commented and rewarded workmen despite the rain, and bade the show begin. Handel’s suite served as prelude, the heavy guns roared an armipotent salute, and the fireworks started. Walpole continued his account: “The rockets, and whatever was thrown up into the air, succeeded mighty well; but the wheels and all that was to compose the principal part were pitiful and ill-conducted, with no change of colored fire and shapes; the illumination was mean, and lighted so slowly that scarce anybody had patience to wait the finishing, and then, what contributed to the awkwardness of the whole, was the right pavilion catching fire and being burnt down in the middle of the show. Very little mischief was done, and but two persons were killed.” Servan was so unhinged by the disaster that he drew his sword on the Duke of Montague and had to be arrested. After appropriate apologies, he was released from jail the following day, but the whole affair was apparently more than the Duke’s health could tolerate, since he died the following summer. A sad ending for a glorious undertaking.

The Royal Fireworks Music combines the pomp of the French courtly style with the rhythmic drive and instrumental inventiveness of the Italian concerto grosso. It consists of six movements: a majestic Overture (with alternating slow and fast sections) followed by a series of brief dances, including a perky Bourrée, a swaying Largo alla Siciliana (titled “La Paix” — “Peace”), a martial strain called La Réjouissance (“Rejoicing”) and a pair of concluding Menuets.

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda)

August Symphony Series performance location

Door Community Auditorium - Fish Creek 

The Peninsula Music Festival - 10347 Highway 42

Unit B Green Gables Shops 

P.O. Box 340, Ephraim, Wisconsin  54211


Phone: (920) 854-4060