Voice of the Cello
January 19, 20, & 21, 2018
Michael Lawson, cello and violone
Richard Webb, cello
David Wells, bassoon
Cameron Lawson, guitar
Faythe Vollrath, harpsichord and organ
The violoncello, or cello as we know it today, is the bass member of the violin family. This family of instruments became popular in Italy and all of Europe through the 17th and 18th centuries, due to the instruments’ large, singing tone. We can understand the development of the cello by following the development of its name. This member of the violin family originally took on many sizes and was usually larger than the modern cello. It was called by many names, including violone, violoncino, and basso de viola. In the 1680s, as the needs of more virtuostic players and improvements in string technology came about, these bass instruments were able to be made smaller, thus violoncello, which refers to a small bass instrument. This nomenclature eventually became simply the cello.
The program this evening also features the violone, which the bass member of another family of instruments, the viol family. These instruments are often thought of as ancestors to the violin family, while they are actually more closely related to the guitar. The viol da gamba (viol held at the leg) was prevalent in France during the 16th and 17th centuries, and was eventually ousted by the bolder and louder violin family of instruments. The viol da gamba has a fretted finger board, 6 or 7 strings instead of four, and is bowed in an underhanded fashion. The violone is the lowest pitched member of this group. These instruments have a pure tone, which while being sweet and less compressed than that of a cello or violin, project less well in larger venues. The viols were favored by the French court for their sophistication, while the violin was considered useful for dance accompaniment especially in the French Ballet.
From its emergence in the early 1500s until the 17th century the cello was played primarily as a continuo instrument, providing and reinforcing the bass line in ensemble and vocal pieces. As the technology of string design developed, gut strings being wound with metal, the instrument gained focus of sound and became a viable solo voice.
The baroque era was a time of transition for the bassoon. The bassoon’s predecessor, known today as the dulcian, was (like most other Renaissance-era wind instruments) made in families of multiple sizes. By the early baroque era, the bass dulcian had established itself as a soloistic instrument and thus outlived its smaller brethren. The bass dulcian has a range similar to that of the bassoon, but it is made from a single piece of wood. This presents difficulties in both construction and transportation. The multi-jointed bassoon emerged some time in the mid-17th century, at least partially as a solution to these problems. It will probably never be possible to know exactly where or when the transition between dulcian and bassoon began, not least because the two were often called by the same name in any given language (e.g. “fagotto” in Italian, “basson” in French, etc.). Bassoons did not immediately supplant dulcians, either; J.S. Bach seems to have written for both dulcians and bassoons at different times, and dulcians were still in use in some Spanish churches as late as 1900.
The works on today’s program, however, were certainly intended to be performed on the multi-jointed bassoon. Bassoons of the early 1700s had four or five keys, compared to the 25+ on modern instruments. Most of the sharp and flat notes are obtained through the use of cross- or forked-fingerings, coupled with reeds that have much more flexibility of pitch than those of today. This flexibility in the reeds also allows for the production of wide ranges of tone color and articulation. The apparent simplicity of the instrument’s mechanism is belied by the vast array of complex solo literature written for it during the baroque era. Bassoon sonatas and concertos by Telemann, Corrette, Boismortier, Fasch, Graupner, Graun, Vivaldi (who alone wrote 39 bassoon concertos), and others were clearly written with virtuoso players in mind.
Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741) – Sonata No. 3 in A minor
Although Vivaldi is wildly popular today for his concertos, his first effort, Opus 1, was a book of trio sonatas dedicated to Annibale Gambara, a Veronese nobleman. These works, published in 1705, are most certainly a tribute to Corelli, whose five collections of sonatas, published from 1681 to 1700, defined the form. Vivaldi's works won the disapproval of conservatives such as English composer Charles Avison, who was to condemn Vivaldi’s works as “only a fit Amusement for Children; nor indeed for these, if ever they are intended to be led to a just Taste in Music.” Though less well-known than his hundreds of Concertos, his sonatas display an equal proficiency and charisma.
The sonatas for cello and basso continuo demonstrate Vivaldi's rich technical and musical contribution to baroque literature for the cello. Sonata 3 in A minor was probably written in the 1720s but not published until 1740. It follows the traditional sonata da chiesa, or church sonata, form, slow-fast-slow-fast. The first and third movements are full of Vivaldi’s introspective melancholy, broken by the vigorous dance-like energy of the second and fourth movements.
Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) – Sonata No. 2 in D minor
Francesco Geminiani was one of the most cosmopolitan musicians of his day. Born in Lucca, Geminiani studied with composition with Alessandro Scarlatti and violin with Corelli, spending time in Milan and Rome before moving to Naples as director of the opera orchestra. He left Italy in 1714, and spent much of his later career in England, with an extended sojourn in Paris. A widely respected composer, during his time in England he was considered the equal of Handel and Corelli. He was also one of the greatest violinists of his day, known for his wild performing style – his nickname was Il Furibondo, “the madman.” In his cello sonatas, written for a wealthy Parisian patron, his characteristically eccentric writing is harnessed to elements borrowed from the refined French style of viol playing. Geminiani evidently thought highly of these sonatas, as he later published a violin version and adapted several for solo harpsichord. Though many of his sonatas have French elements, the sonata on tonight’s program shows clear Italian style.
Theodore Schwartzkopff (1659-1732) - Trio sonata
Theodore Schwartzkopff was a German composer who worked as Vice Kapelmeister in the Duchy of Wurttemberg. This court was primarily of Lutheran influence, but the Dukes Schwartzkopff served admired French extravagance. Schwartzkopff was born in Ulm where his father was a town musician, organist and organ builder. He studied music with his father as well as with Sebastian Anton Scherer, the organist at the Ulm cathedral, from whom he learned to play several instruments and mastered the art of counterpoint. In 1678 Schwartzkopff was employed at the Hofkapella in Stuttgart in the Wurtemberg County.
Schwartzkopff's style reflects the mixture of French and Italian influences which can be attributed to the waning influence of France in other countries in the early eighteenth century, and to the increasing spread of Italian influence. This sonata combines the unlikely duo of Viol da Gamba (played on a cello) and the bassoon. These two distinctly French instruments trade leading roles throughout the movements, and end the piece with lively French dances.
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) - Sonata for Bassoon in C major
Johann Friedrich Fasch was a German conductor and composer who was educated at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. While in Leipzig, he was the founder of a Collegium Musicum, similiar to the Collegium of Bach and Telemann's Coffeehouse. He was invited to compete as the cantor at St. Thomas School against Bach, which he declined. Bach greatly respected his music, and held in his library a whole set of church cantatas by Fasch. His orchestral suites were performed in the Bach/Telemann Musicum Collegium.
Fasch's music was informed by extensive travels in his youth. His style represents an important link between the Baroque and Classical periods, as his writing moved away from the fugal style in favor of a more thematic technique of developing melodies.
This piece is Fasch's only known sonata for bassoon, but he also wrote multiple bassoon concerti and a great deal of chamber music that features the instrument in various instrumental combinations.
Johannes Schenck (1660 - c. 1710) - Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen Op. 2 (Sonata No. 1 for Viola da Gamba) in D minor
Johannes Schenck was a Dutch composer whose career took place mainly in Germany. He was the first published composer of Singspiel in Holland, but his fame as a musician came from his virtuosic viol playing and from his extensive compositions for the viola da gamba. His compositions were conceived for professional musicians, in contrast to the common editions of the time, which were more simply written, for amateurs. Tyd en Konst-Oeffeningen Op. 2 was his second published work, published by Estienne Roger in 1688. It comprises fifteen sonatas in the suite style, and incorporates French, German, and Italian styles. The sonatas are written in stile brise, or broken style, in which pieces of many lines are played by the same instrument to create the outline of a complex composition, in which the listener's ear fills in suggested lines. These sonatas in many ways are precursors to the unaccompanied cello suites by J.S. Bach.
Michel Corrette (1709-1795) – Concerto “Le Phénix”
Michel Corrette, the French composer and writer on music, held various posts as an organist in France and was well known as a teacher. He is widely known for his 17 instruction books on various instruments, which provide invaluable information on performance practice of the 18th century. His cello instruction book of 1741 established the cello technique of the time, and provided special instruction for gambists intending to learn to play the cello. Le Phenix is a favorite piece among various groups of bass instruments including cellos, violas, violas da gamba, and bassoons. It was common for composers in the eighteenth century to write pieces which could be played on various instruments, expanding their potential markets for publications. This concerto is written in the modern three movement structure finishes the program with a jubilant D major theme by the bassoon. We have chosen a hybrid ensemble for this piece, with the bassoon playing the solo part, supported by two cellos with guitar, violone and keyboard as the continuo section.
--Notes by Michael Lawson, Lisa Lawson, and David Wells.