Category Archives: Baroque era

Luther and Bach

Martin Luther’s influence on J.S. Bach was profound; Bach’s library contained two expensive collected editions of Luther’s writings, which exerted demonstrable impact on his works—not least on the third Clavierübung.

Scholars have long puzzled over the dramatic changes that Bach introduced at the work’s engraving stage. These changes largely involved the addition rather than the removal of material, and the only explanation for wishing to enlarge the collection—a decision that caused enormous problems with the scheduled production and publication dates—must be the way in which Bach viewed his success in having fulfilled the overall objective: providing musical items reflecting Luther’s catechism.

It is easy for such a scheme to follow the letter of the law through settings of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Sacraments, but not so easy for it to capture the spirit. Luther’s doctrine stands apart by virtue of its clear insistence that the law must embody a human experience “from the heart”.  All such experience, whether painful or pleasurable, requires this essential attribute. Through their clear spiritual resonances, the new movements provided a fitting frame for a collection of music inspired by Luther’s teachings.

This according to “J.S. Bach’s prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV 552, 1/2): An inspiration of the heart?” by Roger Wibberley (Music theory online IV/5 [September 1998]).

Today is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five theses, now considered the start of the Reformation. Below, Hans-André Stamm performs the celebrated prelude and fugue.

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Zuzana Růžičková, survivor

zuzana-ruzickova

Zuzana Růžičková endured three concentration camps and was persecuted by communists in the following years. Nevertheless, she went on to become one of the world’s leading harpsichordists.

Born in Czechoslovakia to a prosperous Jewish family, Růžičková had a happy childhood but was sickly, suffering from tuberculosis. One day, as a reward for getting better from her illness, she asked her parents for a piano and piano lessons. Though doctors had ordered her to rest, she eventually got her way, and her teacher was so impressed that she encouraged her to go to France to study with the world’s top harpsichordist.

But in 1939 the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia; Růžičková was unable to continue her studies in France, and three years later she and her family were deported to the Terezin labor camp. “My childhood ended there,” she says.

Music helped her to survive. She remembers writing down a small section of Bach’s English Suite No 5 on a scrap of paper when she left Terezin in a cattle truck bound for Auschwitz. “I wanted to have a piece of Bach with me as a sort of talisman because I didn’t know what was awaiting us.”

Růžičková was due to be gassed on 6 June 1944, but she was saved by the D-Day landings, which took place early that day. She then endured forced labor in Germany before being sent to the Bergen-Belsen death camp in 1945, where she contracted bubonic plague.

When she finally returned home to Czechoslovakia her hands were badly damaged from working in the fields and hauling bricks. She was advised to abandon any ambition for a musical career. But, she says, “I couldn’t live without music,” and she practiced the piano for twelve hours a day to make up for lost time.

Despite continued persecution by the communist government, Růžičková went on to forge a distinguished career as a harpsichordist. Her international breakthrough came in 1956 when she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, and she was allowed to perform in competitions and concerts around the world because she was a lucrative source of foreign currency for the state. Between 1965 and 1975 she became the first person to record Bach’s complete keyboard works.

She remains grateful to the composer, who, she says, “played a big role in my recovering from my terrible experiences…Bach is very soothing. You always feel in his music that God is present somehow.”

This according to “The miraculous life of Zuzana Ruzickova” by Rebecca Jones (BBC news 19 December 2016).

Today is Růžičková’ 90th birthday! Below, performing Bach’s English suite no. 5, her early talisman.

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Performing premodernity online

performing-premodernity

Performing premodernity online, an open-access journal launched in January 2015, publishes papers given at Performing Premodernity conferences as well as reports from workshops and other events.

Performing Premodernity is a research project based at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University. It is one of eight premodernity projects funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences). Concentrating on both academic and artistic research, the project aims to contribute to the revitalizing of historically informed performance today.

The journal’s first volume includes papers from a conference that was held in København in February 2014 on Francesco Cavalli’s opera Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne. Below, Soledad Cardoso performs an aria from the work.

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Women in early modern Florence

Cristina di Lorena

Aristocratic women exerted unprecedented political and social influence in Florence throughout the late 16th and early 17th century; during this period convents flourished and female members of the powerful Medici family governed the city for the first and only time in its history.

These women also helped shape the city’s aristocratic life, commissioning works of music, art, and theater that were inscribed with their own concerns and aspirations. Through commissions, patrons sought to promote a vision of the world and their place in it. The unique social norms, laws, educational background, and life experiences of female patrons meant the expression of a worldview that differed significantly from that of their male counterparts.

This according to Echoes of women’s voices: Music, art, and female patronage in early modern Florence by Kelley Harness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

Above, Cristina di Lorena, Grand Duchess of Tuscany, a patron of Marco da Gagliano; below, Gagliano’s Bel pastor.

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Benedetto Marcello: Cassandra

marcello cassandra

In 2016 A-R Editions published Benedetto Marcello: Cassandra, a new critical edition edited by Talya Berger.

Benedetto Marcello composed Cassandra in 1727 to a poem by Antonio Conti written at Marcello’s request. The work is a large-scale dramatic cantata for solo alto voice with unfigured basso continuo for the harpsichord; it was not published in Marcello’s lifetime.

Cassandra describes the events of the last years of Trojan War as told by the prophetess Cassandra. Unique in its formal design, the cantata blends arioso sections with recitatives and arias. The expressive vocal line conveys grief, rage, terror, and happiness, and demands vocal agility and technical command from the singer. The work was among the most popular of Marcello’s cantatas during the eighteenth century, and it continued to be performed regularly up to 40 years after it was composed.

Below, a performance by Giovanna Dissera Bragadin and Nicola Lamon.

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Froberger and the clavichord

Froberger

Although Johann Jacob Froberger was employed as an organist and recognized as an exceptional harpsichordist, he was also a clavichordist. Musically trained in Germany and Italy, where the clavichord flourished, he undoubtedly played the instrument.

The most convincing proof of this hypothesis is his music, nearly all of which can be performed effectively on the clavichord, whose dynamic range makes possible the nuances of lute playing and singing.

Stylistically, Froberger’s suites for keyboard resemble lute music; at the time, lutenists and keyboardists regularly traded repertoire, and clavichordists playing the music of Froberger should follow the vocal models of his polyphonic works.

This according to “Froberger and the clavichord” by Howard Schott, an article included in De clavicordio. III (Magnano: Musica antica, 1997, pp. 27–34).

Today is the 400th anniversary of Froberger’s baptism! (His birthdate is not known.) Below, Richard Smith plays his Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real M.stà di FerdinandoIV, Rè de Romani on the clavichord.

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Carlos III and Boccherini

carlos iii - boccherini

King Carlos III’s patronage had a major impact in 18th-century Spanish musical life; it also helped to engender what is now one of Luigi Boccherini’s best-loved works.

Boccherini composed the minuetto from his string quintet in E, op. 11, in 1771, while he was employed at Carlos III’s court. In this post he was paid a handsome stipend of 30,000 reales as a cellist and composer.

This according to Luigi Boccherini en la Ilustración Española by Ricardo García Cárcel, a dissertation accepted by the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 1999.

Today is Carlos III’s 300th birthday! Below, the work in question.

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John Eccles: Incidental music

eccles incidental music

A-R Editions launched the series John Eccles: Incidental music in 2015 with Plays A–F (the volumes are sorted by the plays’ titles).

Eccles’s active theatrical career spanned a period of about 16 years, though he continued to compose occasionally for the theater after his semi-retirement in 1707. During his career he wrote incidental music for more than 70 plays, writing songs that fit perfectly within their dramatic contexts and that offered carefully tailored vehicles for his singers’ talents while remaining highly accessible in tone.

These plays were fundamentally collaborative ventures, and multiple composers often supplied the music; thus, this edition includes all the known songs and instrumental items for each play. Plot summaries of the plays are given along with relevant dialogue cues, and the songs are given in the order in which they appear in the drama (when known).

Below, an instrumental work that Eccles composed for a 1661 revival of John Fletcher’s The mad lover.

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A Christmas Eve reconciliation

Gebhartshagen_Nicolaikirche_Merian

A musical event 330 years ago today sought to forge a bridge between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches in Germany.

In the second half of the 17th century it became customary to perform music on Christmas Eve at the Palazzo Apostolico Vaticano. The repertoire was embued with Arcadian sensibility, as the choice of the Nativity theme makes clear, and had an explicit didactic aim: to edify listeners through references to Holy Scripture and the basic principles of Christianity, both ethical and religious. Quite often, too, a desire was evident to celebrate the greatness of the Pope himself.

One of these Christmas Eve compositions, Li pastori alla cuna del Redentore, set to music by Giuseppe Pacieri, had an unusual fate: In 1685, two years after its performance in Rome, it was heard again in the ducal chapel in Wolfenbüttel (above) under a new title, Musica alla vigilia del Sto. Natale, and the praises of Pope Innocent XI at the end of Pietro Giubilei’s text ended up being sung at a Lutheran court.

An exceptional witness to and commentator on the event was the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, whose interest in musical events and unwavering commitment to the cause of religious reconciliation between the different Christian churches in Germany are well known. The 1685 performance was probably not accidental—it was likely a sign of the desire for politcal renewal on the part of Prince Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel. The performance therefore represents an extraordinary event in the history of music at German Protestant courts.

This according to “La cuna del Redentore a Wolfenbüttel (1685) e i tentativi di conciliazione religiosa in Germania” by Andrea Luppi (Rivista italiana di musicologia XXIV/5 [1999] pp. 47–66).

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Scarlatti’s creative process

scarlatti

Four analyses of Domenico Scarlatti’s keyboard sonata K.296 demonstrate the possibilities and problems with analyzing this unusual and fascinating technique of composition—devising sequences of keyboard events while at the instrument, a forerunner of present-day procedures.

This approach diminishes the value of all conventional approaches to Scarlatti’s keyboard works, both of his time and ours, putting them in a new light.

This according to “F.244: 4 Annäherungen an eine Sonate” by Peter Böttinger, an essay included in Musik-Konzepte 48-49: Morton Feldman (Musik-Konzepte 47 [1986] pp. 57–121).

Today is Scarlatti’s 330th birthday! Below, the sonata in question.

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