Thursday, March 4, 2010

Program Notes: Recital, Winter 2010

Sonata in c, "Signor" (Johann Jacob) Bach
Concertino, J.W. Kalliwoda
Fantasy on Themes from Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, Giovanni Daelli
Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, & Keyboard, Madeleine Dring

“Signor” Johann Jacob Bach (1682-1722) was one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s brothers. He was an oboist for the King of Sweden, and also played the flute. While it is not known for certain that he composed this piece, which is only signed Signor Bach, it seems likely that J.J. Bach both wrote and performed this work; contemporary sources provide versions for flute and oboe.

The Sonata is simple and short, with four movements, each in simple binary form. Because it is so short, there is minimal space for development, but Bach tends to introduce each theme and then provide some gentle variation. His alternation between slow and fast movements, though there are not specific motivic links between the movements, also helps expand the form of the piece. The writing is characterized by echo effects and repeated motives, but his melodies, despite their naivety, are beautiful and evocative.

Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda (Jan Křtitel Václav Kalivoda) (1801-1866), born in Prague, was a composer, conductor, and violinist. After a touring career as a virtuoso violinist, he worked nearly his whole life in Donaueschingen, a town in southern Germany very near the present day Swiss border and eastern Austria. He was a prolific composer of symphonies, operas, masses, and, obviously, chamber works. David Hurwitz describes Kalliwoda’s music as “thrilling, and it strikingly anticipates or echoes so much of 19th century music--from Berlioz to Dvorák to Wagner, and even Sibelius,” and I can’t help agreeing. Written in the 1844, this Concertino seems to anticipate the music of Viennese operettas and waltzes some twenty or thirty years before their flourishing. Although the manuscript is lost, a contemporary set of parts exists, and the piece was evidently written for a friend, the oboist H. Reuthen.

Though it is not based on any specific operatic material, the highly theatrical sound of the Concertino cannot be denied. This is typical of Kalliwoda’s salon music, though his symphonies tend to be more dramatic and serious. Though the movements of the Concertino are all attacca, they are very clearly delineated. The first movement is a march made up nearly entirely of dotted rhythms which plod along until a passage of flurrying motion at the end; it exudes the slapstick humor of a comedic opera. The second, slow movement features beautiful and highly dramatic soaring melodic lines. In ABA form, the first theme is peaceful and calm, while the contrasting second theme is stormily but genuinely emotional. The third movement evokes nothing so much as the whirling ballrooms of Johann Strauss II and the many characters to be found within them. The movement ends in almost frenzied excitement while still maintaining the piece’s light, comic energy.

Giovanni Daelli (1800?-1860) played solo oboe at La Scala Theater in Milan, and also taught at the conservatory there. He lived in an age where copious amounts of virtuoso music, much of it in the form of opera fantasias, were being written for nearly every instrument except the oboe. (This was perhaps due to the fact that mechanical advancements had occurred much earlier for other woodwind instruments than for the oboe.) Like Pasculli some 50 years later, Daelli was perhaps frustrated with the lack of virtuoso music for the oboe, and so composed this Fantasia on Rigoletto.

The piece is undated, but was first published by Ricordi before 1855, when it was listed in a German catalogue of oboe music. Giovanni Ricordi and his son, founders of the publishing house, were close friends with Verdi, and Daelli likely knew him through his position at La Scala, so it is probable that Verdi gave permission for the publication of this piece. The fantasia consists of melodies, most notably Caro nome and Tutte le feste al tempio, and variations. Both of these melodies are played by the oboe in the opera, and are sung by Gilda, the unlucky daughter of Rigoletto. The piece ends in a dramatic rising chromatic scale and emphatic chords highly reminiscent of the opera’s final notes, but changed from a horror and sorrow filled minor to a triumphant major representative of the oboist’s efforts, if not the subject matter.

Madeleine Dring (1923-1977), was an English composer who studied with Gordon Jacob and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Most of her compositions are fairly small scale chamber works, but she also composed incidental music for the stage. According to her website, “she was also psychically gifted, which gave her a wider than usual perspective.” Dring’s husband was an oboist, which accounts for her numerous pieces for the oboe and their highly idiomatic writing.

The Trio will be played tonight with piano, but is written for either piano or harpsichord. Elements such as rolled chords and high, music box-like passages seem explicitly designed for the harpsichord, but others, such as the slow, legato second movement seem much more natural on the piano. This odd dichotomy is evident in much of the trio, which combines markings like “alla baroque” with harmonic language ranging from chant-like parallel motion to jazzily dissonant chords. The Trio is also characterized by short, overlapping phrases, and a very close partnership between all the instruments, but especially the oboe and bassoon. The abrupt endings of the first and third movement are typical of Dring’s writing, as is the light-hearted and playful sound.

For citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing racheloboes [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

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