1732 - 1809
Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major
Because Joseph Haydn was not a virtuoso performer, he showed little interest in composing solo concertos; he was not by nature a showman and few of his works are ostentatious. In fact much of his best music is harder to play than it sounds. The most popular of these do contain high-wire acrobatics.
Although Haydn’s extensive, diversified catalogue lists 17 concertos, most were lost or forgotten. Of those that remain, the E-flat trumpet concerto is the most popular. It was composed during the final years of his life, since Haydn could not resist the challenge to compose for an improved instrument.
In order to break through the baroque trumpet’s cramping limitation, friend Anton Weidiner, devised a new kind of trumpet that made it possible to fill in the notes of the scale. The trumpet’s keys thus permitted much greater freedom in melodic writing for the instrument. A system of 5 keys could now be operated by the player’s left hand. Keys opened and closed holes drilled along the length of the tubing.
The First Movement of this concerto begins with a brief tutti section (all instruments) that lays out the main themes. The solo trumpet enters but reveals none of the usual brilliant fanfare style of most 18th century concertos. Its music is soft and flowing in the middle register, exhibiting the innovative capability of Weidinger’s trumpet to play in an unusually low range for trumpet music. In the Second Movement Haydn explores the innovative capability of the redesigned trumpet to play lyrical, chromatically–arranged tones, again in a low range; the movement is based on a pair of lyrical themes, all memorable and well suited for the redesigned instrument. Some historians surmise that this type of expressive music by such future composers as Bruckner and Mahler began here with this concerto. The Third Movement begins with a whisper but becomes a dazzling rondo full of flight and joy. Appearing are many opportunities to play melodic lines that are coupled with trills and ornamental passages that testify to the soloist’s virtuosity.
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
1685 - 1750
From all corners of the world, there is agreement on the incomparable influence of Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositional contributions to music. Beethoven called Bach, “the immortal god of harmony,” while Rossini acknowledged, “Bach as a miracle of God,” to which Debussy added, “a benevolent god to whom musicians should offer a prayer before settling down to work.”
The reality of Bach’s life apart from music does not square with such heroic assessments of the master. Biographies list him as a solid German Lutheran burgher attending to musical assignments to provide funds for raising his 23 children by two wives. Biographies describe him as a most religious Lutheran — a big-hearted, robust man earning money for his teeming household who puffed his pipe while enjoying the tax-free beer allotted to all “church officials” in Leipzig, Germany. He tuned his own instruments and knew exactly how they operated, but knew little else about other art forms, since his reading tastes were confined mostly to the field of theology. A scribbling scrawl, ungrammatical German, and unclear diction contributed to his having a basically uneducated mind.
J. S. Bach was the offspring of 7 generations of provincial musicians. Orphaned by age 10, the young boy was sent to live with a punitive, strict, clavichord-playing brother. It was 24-year-old Johann Christoph who provided J. S. his first serious musical training through a study schedule that allowed for brief times to sleep and eat and secretly study copied music in the dark. By age 15 the young student was sent away for three years of study as a chorister and organist. As an 18-year-old organist, he became an indefatigable, largely self-taught workaholic — learning clavier, advanced organ, harpsichord, violin, and compositional form. He studied and copied the works of other composers including Buxtehude and Pachelbel. Hand-copying works of others became a life-long learning “tool” utilized by him and those who could not afford private instruction.
In 11 years as court organist and concertmaster at Weimar, Bach wrote the bulk of his instrumental music. When awarded a Kapellmeister position in Leipzig in 1723, he shifted his compositional energies to choral music. There, as before, J. S. was a non-stop workaholic; he played the organ, taught Latin and music, trained the choir, wrote music for church services, weddings and funerals, and directed all performances — all for about $2,500 annual earnings. Living conditions were mostly dark, constricted, cold, often unsanitary, and were probably responsible for the death of many of his young children.
In the final 27 years of his life, the composer turned out over 240 sacred works, including St. Matthew Passion, Easter and Christmas oratorios, motets, and a variety of mass settings. The dedicated master continued professional music life until failing eyesight encroached on his abilities to read and write music. Blind and paralyzed, Bach died at age 64 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Leipzig; the works of the genius lay largely unacknowledged to all but a handful of professional musicians. A bundle of Bach cantatas sold for $40, and other manuscripts were disposed of for 10 cents each by his unappreciative sons; solo sonatas were discovered as wrapping paper in a butcher shop. But in time Bach’s reputation grew, egged along by the prominent Felix Mendelssohn who led a premiere performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In 1850, honoring his 100th birthday, a complete edition of his works was undertaken by editors laboring to publish a 50-volume edition of his complete works. Once available to the world, the published collection became an inexhaustibly rich mine for the world of music lovers, players, critics, and composers.
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565
Although the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is very effective in its original version for organ, audiences usually know it through a variety of transcriptions for organ and orchestra. Conductor Leopold Stokowski’s monumental orchestral transcription introduced the work to its largest audience through its use on the soundtrack of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. The opening subject is of grand strength which grows and expands into music of theatrical grandeur. The following fugue invokes an atmosphere of serenity but is merely the calm before a dramatic storm which brings the composition to a thrilling climax.
Air from the Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
Each of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites consists of a lengthy Ouverture followed by a sequence of shorter dance-inspired movements. The “Air” from the Suite in D is the exceptional non-dance movement, and it is celebrated for its long-breathed lines over the gentle movement of the bass. It has since been heard in a number of adaptations, including the famous “Air on the G-string” for violin and piano.
Cantata No. 4, “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” BWV 4
This early work was intended for a performance on Easter 1707. Some historians consider this to be his first-known attempt at a musically pictorial narrative unaccompanied by acting out its German prose. Text and music were based on a Lutheran hymn attributed to Martin Luther. This cantata is a bold, innovative piece of musical drama, written before Bach’s annual cantatas at Weimar began in 1724. Cantata BWV 4 consists of a Sinfonia and 7 stanzas which follow a sequence of: chorus-duet-solo-chorus-solo-duet-chorus, with every stanza ending on the word Halleluja.
Sinfonia from Cantata No. 174, BWV 174
With so much music to produce, it is understandable that Bach recycled material from an older composition of his. Such is the case with the Sinfonia for which Bach used the opening movement of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. Bach was not content to simply “cut and paste” the earlier music into the cantata. While the original concerto was scored for 9 string instruments, Bach added parts for two horns, oboes and an English horn that introduce completely new contrapuntal elements to the familiar work.
“Jesus bleibet meine Freude” from Cantata No. 147, BWV 147
Cantata No. 147, in its final version, is in two parts, each ending with the familiar music that is known in English-speaking countries as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” The phrases of the hymn proceed in simple four-part harmony interspersed with a much faster, flowing melody played by the violins and oboes.
Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582
The passacaglia is an old dance, probably Spanish in origin and adapted for instrumental music. It is characterized by a single bass line of music, repeated throughout the piece while other voices furnish embellishments, enlargements, and variations on the theme, thus making the Passacaglia into music of high drama. The theme is enlarged in a variety of moody and atmospheric variations, passing from tension to exaltation. The Fugue section utilizes a part of the original passacaglia theme as its subject, and carries it to a breath-taking climax.
Notes researched & written by Joan Olsson