Passacaglia in G Minor for violin Heinrich Biber (1644-1704)
Fantasia in C Minor for harpsichord, BWV 906 J.S. Bach (1685-1750)
Sonata in C Minor for harpsichord, K 58 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Toccatas no. 11 and 6 for cello Francesco Paolo Supriani (1678-1753)
Sonata in A Minor for traverso solo, H. 562 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Romanza e Preghiere from Otello Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
arranged for solo viola by Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841)
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso; Sarah Darling, violin
Marcia Cassidy, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello
Michael Bahmann, harpsichord
This program explores unaccompanied works by six composers spanning from the early Baroque through the Romantic. Each of these solo works both allows and requires the performer to make use of rhetorical freedom of tempo to convey the meaning and purpose of each work. The selected works are presented in approximate chronological order.
The concert begins with Heinrich Biber’s soul-searching Passacaglia on a four note descending bass line. The Bohemian-Austrian musician is considered one of the most important and innovative composers for the violin. His virtuoso writing included use of the highest registers and copious double- and triple-stopping. His extensive use of scordatura (alternative and varied tunings of the strings) was a distinctive feature of his writing. His Passacaglia is the final sonata in his set of Mystery Sonatas, believed to have been written around 1676. All of the Mystery Sonatas for violin and continuo except for the first make use of a scordatura tuning, and each is a meditation on one of 15 important moments in the life of Christ. His unaccompanied Passacaglia is an intriguing additional piece, found at the end of the set, which uses the normal tuning of the instrument.
The featured works for harpsichord bring together the unusual pairing of J.S. Bach’s Fantasia in C Minor, BWV 906, with Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in C Minor, K 58. Bach’s Fantasia in C Minor was composed between 1728 and 1730. It is a brilliant piece, with frequent hand crossings, composed in a bipartite (two section) format more in the style of a sonata. It is thought that in this work Bach was experimenting with the emerging galant style and Empfindamer Stil (translated as the “sensitive style”) that his sons were composing in. Bach originally followed this fantasia with a fugue, but the fugue is incomplete in the surviving manuscript sources. Michael Bahmann has chosen to substitute that incomplete fugue with the Sonata in C Minor by Scarlatti. This work, with its chromatic theme and fugal format, is a fitting complement to the Bach Fantasia.
Very little is known about the Italian Baroque cello virtuoso and composer Francesco Paolo Supriani. He was part of a Neapolitan school of string players, many of whom traveled across Europe making names for themselves as virtuosi. Supriani apparently remained in Naples and is known to have been a pedagogue based on the existence of his manuscript cello treatise, one of the earliest surviving instruction books for cello. This treatise contains twelve toccatas for cello that serve as progressive exercises for the advancing cellist. Supriani composed another set of eleven toccatas which show his technical brilliance and vivid musical imagination. The 11th toccata of that set features phrases that alternate register, tracking treble and bass lines much in the manner of J.S. Bach. Toccata 6 features shifting meters, alternating between the duple 2/4 meter and the compound triple meter of 6/8 in an initially disorienting, but ultimately exciting tour de force.
Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach’s Sonata for Flute in A Minor is the first known true sonata for the unaccompanied transverse flute. C.P. E. was the second son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was an accomplished keyboard player and a very innovative composer. He was one of the pioneers of the Empfindsamer Stil that evolved during the late Baroque and focuses on dramatic contrasts and quick emotional changes. He was employed as a court musician for the flute-playing monarch Frederick the Great and wrote copiously and well for the flute, despite his composing not being to the taste of the king. It is believed this sonata was written in 1747, the same year C. P. E.’s father made an appearance at Frederick’s court to inspect the installation of the new organ and present himself as the acclaimed musician he was. The Sonata in A Minor is an outstanding example of Empfindsamer Stil, making use of dramatic leaps of register and rapid shifts in phrase lengths, character, and dynamics.
The program concludes with arrangements of arias from Rossini’s opera Otello for solo viola by Alessandro Rolla. He was accomplished on both the violin and viola and is perhaps best known today as a teacher of Paganini. He became conductor of the orchestra of La Scala opera house in 1792, where he remained until 1833, directing operas by Mozart, Mayr, Paer, Rossini, Bellini, among others. The widely-praised string sound of the orchestra of La Scala in the period of Bellini and Donizetti is credited to Rolla’s oversight. The aria arrangements included on this program are found in a handwritten manuscript set of seven. The practice of arranging larger scale works for small forces for use in domestic music-making was a common practice at the time—these selections may have been for a house concert, for teaching, or for the composer’s personal pleasure. The arias chosen for this performance are Romanza (The Willow Song) and Preghiere (Desdemona’s Prayer).
—Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan