Best of Baroque: Handel & Bach
FRI NOV 11, 11 am • SAT NOV 12, 8 pm • SAT NOV 13, 2 pm
TON KOOPMAN conductor, harpsichordist
Suite No. 1 in F Major from Water Music, HWV 348
• Adagio e staccato
• Hornpipe and Andante
• Bourrée and Hornpipe
Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351
• La Paix: Largo alla Siciliana
• La Réjouissance: Allegro
• Menuets I and II
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
• Allegro non troppo. Allegro
Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Suite No. 1 in F Major from Water Music, HWV 348
Born: February 23, 1685, Halle, Germany | Died: April 14, 1759, London
Work composed: 1717
Premiere: July 17, 1717, on the River Thames near London—Handel conducting
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, keyboard, strings
CSO subscription performances: CSO premiere; however, some movements frequently performed starting in 1923 (Hamilton Harty arrangement)
Duration: approx. 32 min.
Good stories die hard, the truth notwithstanding. One begun in 1760, the year after Handel’s death, by the composer’s first biographer, Reverend John 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 was that of the musicians, about 50 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 original theme for television’s Masterpiece Theater derived from just 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. Of this wonderful suite, Martin Bookspan wrote, “Let it merely be said that for sheer entertainment and joy, the music that Handel composed for the King’s pleasure on that summer’s evening has few rivals in the whole literature.”
—Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351
Work composed: 1749
Premiere: April 27, 1749, London—Handel conducting
Instrumentation: 3 oboes, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, timpani, keyboard, strings
CSO subscription performances: Six previous subscription weekends
Premiere: March 1928 (Emery Auditorium), Fritz Reiner conducting
Most Recent: November 1996, Jesús López-Cobos conducting
Duration: approx. 19 min.
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 decades. 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 Saint-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 another,” 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 on 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 27 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.
Handel’s Fireworks Music enjoyed a more thorough success than the event for which it was created. It was acclaimed immediately (though the cannons were given far more reportorial notice than the new music at the celebration), and Handel was obliged to include it on a benefit concert in May for his favorite charity, the Foundling Hospital, which also received the proceeds from his annual presentations of Messiah. For this performance, he reduced the number of extra wind players (though not the number of parts) and added strings and continuo. The piece was published in this version in June by Walsh, and has remained one of Handel’s most popular instrumental works.
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.
—Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
Born: March 21, 1685, Eisenach, Germany | Died: July 28, 1750, Leipzig, Germany
Work composed: c. 1720
Instrumentation: keyboard, strings
CSO subscription performances: Ten previous subscription weekends
Premiere: January 1913, Ernst Kunwald conducting, Eugène Ysaÿe, violinist
Most recent: February 1986, Michael Gielen conducting
Duration: approx. 10 min.
Brandenburg, in Bach’s day, was a political and military powerhouse. It had been part of the Holy Roman Empire since the mid-12th century, and its ruler—the Markgraf, or Margrave—was charged with defending and extending the northern imperial border (“mark,” or “marche” in Old English and Old French), in return for which he was allowed to be an Elector of the Emperor. The house of Hohenzollern acquired the margraviate of Brandenburg in 1415, and the family embraced the Reformation a century later with such authority that they came to be regarded as the leaders of German Protestantism; Potsdam, near Berlin, was chosen as the site of the electoral court in the 17th century.
Johann Sebastian Bach met Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, in 1719, during his tenure as music director at the court of Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Bach worked at Cöthen from 1717 to 1723, and early in 1719, he was sent by Leopold to Berlin to finalize arrangements for the purchase of a new harpsichord, a large, two-manual model made by Michael Mietke, instrument-builder to the royal court. While in Berlin, Bach played for Christian Ludwig, who was so taken with his music that he asked him to send some of his compositions for his library. Bach lost an infant son a few months later, however, and in 1720, his wife died and he rejected an offer to become organist at the Jacobkirche in Hamburg, so it was more than two years before he fulfilled Brandenburg’s request. By 1721, Leopold had become engaged to marry a woman who looked askance at his huge expenditures for musical entertainment. Bach seems to have realized that when she moved in, he would probably be moved out, so he began casting about for a more secure position. He remembered the interest the Margrave Brandenburg had shown in his music, so he picked six of the finest concertos he had written at Cöthen and sent them to Christian Ludwig in March 1721 with a flowery dedication in French—but to no avail. No job materialized at Potsdam, and in 1723, Bach moved to Leipzig’s Thomaskirche, where he remained for the rest of his life.
The Third Brandenburg represents a special type of the Baroque concerto grosso—the orchestral concerto. Rather than a specific group of solo instruments being set off against the ensemble, the orchestra is, in effect, a collection of soloists. Each of the nine instruments comprising the ensemble (three each of violins, violas and cellos) may act as soloist, but more frequently a single group is featured while the others serve as accompaniment. The Third Brandenburg also differs from others in the set in that it has only two movements, the usual slow, middle movement being reduced to just two chords occupying a single measure. Bach probably intended that some of the performers improvise in this place (he may well have done so himself on the violin or, as Mr. Koopman will do at these concerts, on the harpsichord), but he left no specific instructions.
Lacking, as it does, a slow movement, the Third Brandenburg becomes a virtual dynamo of rhythmic energy. The opening measures not only introduce the movement, but also serve as a storehouse of motives from which the ensuing music is spun. The work’s “conversational” quality is much in evidence as the concerto unfolds, with special care taken to contrast the subtle timbres of the three instrumental groups. The movement bounds along with great good humor and high spirits to its conclusion. After a brief respite of a lone adagio measure, the whirling motion resumes with a vigorous gigue, the fast, triple-meter dance often used as the closing movement of Baroque instrumental pieces. Like all such 18th-century dances, this movement is divided into two large sections, each of which may be repeated.
—Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Work composed: c. pre-1725
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, bassoon, 3 trumpets, timpani, keyboard, strings
CSO subscription performances: 12 previous subscription weekends
Premiere: January 1898, Frank Van der Stucken conducting
Most recent: October 2006, Robert Porco conducting
Duration: approx. 20 min.
The term “suite,” which first appeared in 1557, originally referred to a set of dances known as branles. By the late 17th century, the term had come to mean a group of varied dances, all in the same key, preceded by a prelude. Such pieces were at one time used to accompany social dancing at court balls, but the dances found in a typical suite soon went out of fashion. Late baroque suites therefore consist of stylized dance movements meant for listening entertainment, not dancing. Musicologists have tried to find a unifying principle common to all baroque suites, but the search has been fruitless. There is no universally shared characteristic. Even once a fairly standard sequence of dances (allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue) emerged, there were still many exceptions: added dances, movements omitted, extra movements that were not dances, changed order, etc. When the baroque suite became a concert form, composers’ imaginations were no longer restricted by social convention. As baroque ideals gave way to classical-period aesthetics, the suite was gradually replaced by the sonata and the symphony. The minuet remained as the one link between the suite and the symphony.
The culmination of the baroque suite tradition lies in the music of J.S. Bach, who composed at least 45 such works. His solo violin and solo cello suites and his keyboard suites—English Suites, French Suites, and Partitas—are magnificently sophisticated examples of concert dances. Often the textural complexity is so great that it is difficult for a performer to project the underlying rhythmic patterns of the dance. Bach also composed several suites for orchestra, of which only four have survived. Each of these orchestral suites is divided into two parts. The first is a long overture and the second is a set of dance movements and other short pieces. The orchestral suites tend to be less complex than the solo and keyboard pieces, which implies that they were probably intended as entertainment music. Their often brilliant orchestration would seem to support this notion.
KEYNOTE. When Bach entered the service of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, he was for the first time in his life expected to devote the major portion of his compositional efforts to secular music. Thus much of his chamber, keyboard and orchestral music dates from this period (1717–23). Prince Leopold, an accomplished violinist, viola da gambist and harpsichordist, often held concerts for which Bach supplied the music. Several of the orchestral suites that have been lost were written for such occasions. After a few years the Prince married a woman who did not care for music, and his concert activities were diminished. Bach therefore took a new position at Leipzig, where he was expected to compose both sacred and secular music. The remaining orchestral suites date from the Leipzig period, when he was directing a series of weekly concerts with the Collegium Musicum. Bach worked with this ensemble in 1730–37 and 1739–44.
Because of its large orchestra, it is believed that Suite No. 4 may have been composed in Leipzig. Since Suite 3 is similar to Suite 4, some scholars feel that it too was composed in Leipzig rather than Cöthen. The use of three trumpets in the orchestra would seem to support this theory, since the ensemble at Cöthen had but two trumpeters.
Suite No. 3 begins with a typical French overture, an elaborate movement with a slow introduction featuring dotted rhythms, followed by a fugal allegro and a return of the introduction. The second movement, an air, is well known, since it was rewritten for violin and piano in 1871 by one A. Wilhelm, who called it “Air on the G String.” In this bastardized form the movement has been played quite often as an encore piece on violin recitals. The dances start with the third movement, a gavotte. The brilliance of the trumpets makes this stately movement quite regal. The bourrée is a fast and lively dance in 6/8 time, as is the final gigue.
—Jonathan D. Kramer