Sunday, 28 September 2014

1700-1709 Saved By The Button and Other Stories

Since 1600 and the end of all that Renaissance era chanting, we have been in the Baroque era. As the century turns we come into the High Baroque period for music which basically means Baroque is getting to its best bits. With Purcell now pushing up daisies and Biber going the same way in 1704, at the start of the 1700s Corelli was perhaps the most influential instrumental music composer of the day while Allesandro Scarlatti seems to be the most important opera composer. Corelli publishes his best music yet in 1700 with his opus 5 and in particular the sonata no.11 Gavotta:Allegro in E (from 7.10 to end)– a very good little 32 second piece, almost as good as my Torelli selections in the 1690s which I have preferred to Corelli. 

Corelli is now 47 years old and Torelli is 42. As mentioned in my last posting there is a new generation of composers who are among the greatest in history now coming into the picture. As well as that two significant steps in instrument making happen around this time. The first is that Stradivarius is perfecting violin making which now enters its golden age, becoming the most important instrument next to the piano which is invented in 1700 by Christifori. I suppose it's ok now for me to listen to piano versions of harpsichord pieces when choosing my favourite pieces. They stand a better chance of getting into my Greatest Hitstory, the pianoforte (Italian for softstrong) being a technological improvement on the harpsichord because the keys are sensitive to how strongly or softly they are hit, allowing the player to be far more expressive, having quiet (pianissimo) and loud (fortissimo) bits to their music. I do not see the piano as a different instrument to the harpsichord, but a better version of the same instrument.

I have to acknowledge though that it is probably not for another hundred years, until Beethoven arrives, that a composer composes for the modern sounding piano. Even for the next 100 years after Beethoven there are many advancements made in piano making before it gets to what it sounds like today. Some say that Beethoven anticipated this and composed for the future.

Back to the new lot of composers and I will begin in 1701 with a 21 year old Georg Phillipp Telemann (1681-1767) who had always wanted to be a musician having mastered the keyboard, violin, flute and zither by the age of 10 and written an opera by 12…..but despite all that his mother was not convinced and made him go to law school in Leipzig! Telemann had no intention of a legal career though and on his way stopped off in Halle to meet a younger musician he had heard about called George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), who would soon become one of the greatest of all composers. The two became friends for life and eventually the two most famous composers of their day.

Handel had been noticed by the aristocracy as young as 10 as a very talented young keyboard player and in 1702 by the age of 17 was organist at the cathedral in Halle, the city of his birth…..but that year like Telemann, his dad made him study law.  Handel did not want to be a church organist or a lawyer, preferring the theatre and at 18 in 1703 he ditched law and the church organ and moved to Hamburg, a major centre for opera and got a job as violinist and harpsichordist for the city’s orchestra,

When the 18 year old Handel had got his job in Hamburg the same year, another 18 year old who many now consider to be the greatest composer of all time and who since 1700 had been making up a lot of uneasy listening organ pieces, usually between 10 and 20 minutes long, got a job as church organist in Arnstadt. His name was Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Unlike Bach though, Handel gains eligibility for my Greatest Hitstory from the start because while at Hamburg (1703-1706) he starts composing and I can pick three good keyboard pieces from him in this period, HWV 440   HWV 491 and my favourite, the Capriccio in F Major HWV 481 which evens sounds good on the harpsichord. He also composed a very good allegro for his concerto in G minor for oboe, (his favourite instrument at the time) and orchestra HWV 287 (last 2 minutes of this clip) between 1704-1705. This is a good start for Handel.

This music might have been the only music I included for Handel had he not been saved by the button on his coat on 5th December 1704. Handel was playing the harpsichord that evening during the performance of an opera by a current young hotshot composer named Johann Matheson. Matheson who also sang the lead role during the performance of his own opera, was evidently a bit of a show off and wanting to display his many talents to the audience, got carried away and tried to push his way onto the harpsichord Handel was playing. A fuming Handel challenged Matheson to a dual after the show. Egged on by on lookers, combat began and Matheson’s sword hit Handel’s metal coat button, breaking the sword and saving Handel’s life.  A few weeks later on 30th December, the two patched things up and in January 1705 Handel's own first opera opened and he gave Matheson the lead tenor part!

In the summer of 1705 the 20 year old Bach too had a close scrape. He was fixated with playing the church organ but was also expected to conduct the student church choir and orchestra. This he resented because it did not provide remuneration for him and also because they were rubbish, by his own high standards, and he told them so. (It also prevented him composing pieces I liked enough to get into my Greatest Hitstory!). He knew he was unpopular as they regularly verbally assaulted him. Some of them were older and larger than he and so for his own defence he began carrying a dagger in his coat. One evening returning home from work, crossing the market square he got yelled at by a disgruntled bassoon player, a large chap named Geyersbach, sitting with the other students. Geyersbach, shouted – ‘you insulted my bassoon and anyone who insults my bassoon insults me!’ and then attacked him with a stick. Bach pulled out the knife, Geyersbach smashed it to the ground with the stick and the fight continued until other students pulled them apart.  It turned out Bach had called him a ‘nannygoat bassoonist’. Bach wanted Geyersbach disciplined but no punishment was given to either and the council just asked Bach to try to get on better with his students.

Bach was fed up in Arnstadt and later that year his obsession with the organ led him to walking 250 miles (he walked a lot as he never had much money and long distance walking was not so uncommon in those days) to watch the ageing Buxtehude, the most venerable organ composer of the day, play in Lubeck. Buxtehude was wanting to retire as organist at the church in Lubeck and Bach considered taking up the post. However it turned out that a condition of accepting the appointment would be that you had to marry Buxtedhude’s not so pretty nor charismatic daughter and Bach was not that fed up! Handel and Matheseon had also made the journey to Lubeck together (without managing to kill each other) and considered the same job, both turning it down for this same reason!

Meanwhile, down in Venice the career of yet another great composer was beginning. This was a student of Correlli’s named Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741). For most of his career Vivaldi was teacher at an orphanage for girls and they were all taught music. It became a tourist attraction to see these young ladies led by Vivaldi play and sing at St Marks in Venice. Vivaldi’s first set of violin concertos is published in 1705. It is very hard to pick a favourite from my selections but perhaps start with op1 3 RV61 II Allemanda Allegro.

It is really interesting to compare these Italian composers. The Corelli pieces are very straight forward and after a few beats the tunes happily resolve. Vivaldi's seem to spiral off a little more wildly. This for me reflects the freer spirit in Venice, a place that always resented the papal authority of Corelli's Rome. This is why a hundred years before Gabrielli brought instruments into St Marks in Venice and got the whole course of music history away from purely choral music, something you could not have done in Rome.  Vivaldi's all female musicians also would not have been seen in Rome.

With all this great music (and opera) coming out of Italy, Handel decided in 1706 to tour Italy himself.  Before we join him in Italy let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The German and Italians are not going to get the monopoly on music in this decade because in 1706 there comes a very French sounding harpsichord piece and one of the very first known compositions, the suite Amajor-minor 2nd Allemande from the not yet famous but very French Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), another one whose parents tried to make him do law instead of music. Rameau replaced Lully as the leading French opera composer.

Back to Handel down in Italy now and you can certainly hear the Italian influence on Handel’s music where he took lessons in composing for violin from Corelli, the best results are in the trio in F major HWV392 1706-1707, a sonata in G Major HWV358 1707-1710 and an overture HWV46a in 1707 but these are neither as good as his earlier keyboard pieces nor as good as those Italian composers he was trying to emulate.

I have mentioned Corelli, Torelli and the young Vivaldi, but there was another Italian who, come 1707 was on his fifth set of violin concertos and here there are four I highly recommend and one absolute gem, the allegro moderato op 5 no.1  (first 2 minutes of this clip) in B flat and it’s the best thing by anyone this decade, Italian, German or French. The name of the man to take credit for this was Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751). The other three pieces being the op5. no.4 in G Allegro I (first 1 min 55 seconds) op5. no.3 in D Allegro (first 1 min 51 seconds) op5. no.11 in G minor (first 2 min17seconds) In terms of style I'd say Albinoni is closest to Torelli who is closer to Corelli than Vivaldi, but they are all fairly similar. So far of these, Albinoni and Torelli have got the best tunes.

Back in Germany the long hike to learn from Buxtehude must have been worthwhile because in 1707 J.S. Bach at last makes his musical entrance to my greatest hitstory in humble fashion with the first music I enjoy from him, a tuneful organ piece called the ‘little fugue’ BWV578 (and I can’t resist a jazz voices cover version of this by the swingle singers).

Albinoni’s allegro moderato may have been my favourite this decade but in 1708 Bach catapults himself to true greatness with one of the most famous pieces of music from not only this decade, but of all time, this being the toccata and fugue in D minor BWV565. Of course it is another organ piece but if anyone wants an introduction to JS Bach the best place to start is to listen to Leopold Stokowski’s orchestrated version for the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, absolutely fantastic.

Bach is a busy bee in 1708 composing pretty much only for organ. However, although a recognisable organ piece ‘Gottes Sohn Ist Kommen’ BWV724 and a dreamy prelude and fugue BWV536 come close I am not keen enough on his organ works (save for the previously mentioned BWV578 and BWV565). Unsurprisingly one of the very few pieces he did not compose for organ this year is by far my favourite and it is the suite in E minor for Lute BWV 996 and here I am referring to The preludeallemande, gigue and particularly the bouree.

Meanwhile in Rome this year we find the young Handel now 23 and no stranger to a dual, taking part in another one, but this time swapping swords for keyboards. This incredible keyboard duel was with another 23 year old called Domenico Scarlatti who like Handel was  becoming well known as a keyboard player in Rome (and from whose dad Allesandro, Handel had been picking up opera writing tips). The event was set up by a wealthy patron. The result: on the harpsichord a draw…..on organ Handel was agreed by all as the winner. As before Handel became a lifelong friend of his rival, the two having great mutual respect for each other.

I realise I started writing about Telemann and then got side tracked on Handel and sidetracked again on Bach, then on to Vivaldi, Rameau, Albinoni and back to Bach and Handel again….so let’s get back to Telemann. By this year of 1708, Telemann was already a friend of Handel and between 1706 and 1708 met Bach and became a very good friend of his too. In 1708 I find the first music I really like from Telemann being a couple of good oboe concertos and concerto for 2 horns including the lovely melancholic but springy  concerto for 2 horns in F Major TWV 52:F4 I Largo - Allegro. The one I like best from Telemann is the Quintet in D Major TWV 44:1 Sinfonia (first 3.14 minutes) (I am not sure when this was composed but am guessing this decade).  There seems to be a widespread opinion that Telemann is very much inferior to Bach and Handel, and though at this early stage I would agree with that view, I am going to reserve judgement for now.

This blog entry has accidentally become palindromic, almostBefore Telemann whose music at first I didn’t talk about I mentioned Torelli whose music I also didn’t mention for this decade. Well that’s because the only good thing I found for Torelli was his opus 8 which comes at the end in 1709 and my favourite would probably just be the Allegro in F major no.11.I (first 3.19 minutes) Allegro III in G no.5 (start from 4.08 on this clip) Allegro III in A minor no.2 Start from 4.50 Vivace III in G minor no.6 (start from 4.30) These are not quite up there with my Torelli selections for the 1690s but they are still excellent. Unfortunately this will be the last we hear from Torelli as he died in 1709. Also this year we can hear Vivaldi’s second collection opus 2 – which like so many second albums from rock bands I like, is not as good as the first but has still got one or two good tunes. Finally another fugue from Bach BWV911Toccata in C minor sounds nice on the piano and that rounds off an eventful decade in the Greatest Hitstory of music.

And now to everything else….

General history

In 1701 the Kingdom of Prussia was proclaimed to exist and this would eventually basically become Germany. In 1700 the Great Northern war began when Sweden fought against Denmark, Poland, Saxony, Russia and Lithuania and would last until 1720. In 1701 the War of Spanish Succession began with the French against England, Holland, Austria, Prussia and most of Germany who were worried that if France took control of Spain (Louis XIV was the closest heir to the Spanish throne) they would become too powerful. They did not want them taking control of modern day Belgium which at the time was owned by the Spanish and this is where most of the fighting took place.


The baroque style was beginning to reach its peak in buildings like the Melk Monastery in Austria up on top of the rocks with both interior and exterior quite majestic.


The barren period for major works of art that has been running since the 1670s continues


And the barren period for major works of literature that has been running since the 1670s continues…..sorry folks!


In 1704 Newton published his other major work ‘Opticks’, in which he showed that pure light such as light from the sun was not made colourful by mixing with darker objects as previously believed but was itself made up of different colours. He showed this by shining light into a prism and seeing it refracted into all the different colours of the rainbow.


Britain may not have contributed much to music after Purcell died but does well with two technological achievements this decade. In 1701 an English Farmer Jethro Tull invented the seed drill. This would take the place of randomly scattering seeds. Instead, using the drill, seeds could be spread evenly, ploughing three rows at a time of appropriate depth, which improved crop yields by eight times. This laid the foundation for modern agriculture.

In 1709 Abraham Darby invented coke based iron smelting which had the effect in Britain of making a lot of iron available cheaply helping the country toward the industrial revolution.


To recap on my 1690s posting Locke had said that we experience everything though the senses and all we can directly apprehend are our own thoughts. For example when we see a vase, we experience the idea of a vase in our mind and this might be quite different to what the vase actually is.

To go into a bit more detail Locke had said that an object had primary qualities, like solidity and shape, which we could be sure enough existed outside the mind. The idea of the vase though was all that we could be sure we had in our mind. Then there were secondary qualities of an object, like colour, taste and smell, which were mind-dependent and did not necessarily exist outside the mind. That is these secondary qualities were qualities that were perceived through our senses rather than being inherent in the object itself.

In 1709 a young George Berkeley, born in 1685, the same year as Bach, Handel and Scarlatti, published the first of his important philosophical writings, his ‘essay towards a new theory of vision’. Berkeley did not agree that there were ‘primary qualities’ and thought that absolutely everything was mind-dependent and if something fails to be in someone’s mind then it fails to exist.  He said ‘to be is to be perceived’.

It follows then that if you opened a door and looked into an empty concert hall, when you closed the door the concert hall would not exist. Berkeley’s answer to this was that the empty concert hall would still exist because God, being everywhere, is perceiving it.

And now to my selections for this decade which can be found on Spotify (or iTunes).

Helen Marlais – Gavotte in G Major (HWV 491)
Aaron Robinson – Capriccio in F Major, HWV 481
Ragna Schirmer - George Frideric Handel – Suite in B-Flat Major, HWV 440: I. Allemande
Jiri Krejci – Concerto No. 3 in G Minor for Oboe and Orchestra, HWV 287: IV. Allegro


From the album Antonio Vivaldi: Suonate Da Camera a Tre:-

Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata In G Minor, Op. 1, No. 1, RV 73: II. Allemanda
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in E Minor, Op. 1, No. 2, RV 67: III. Giga (Allegro)
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in C Major, Op. 1, No. 3, RV 61: II. Allemanda (Allegro)
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in E Major, Op. 1, No. 4, RV 66: III. Allemanda (Allegro)
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in F Major, Op. 1, No. 5, RV 69: II. Allemanda (Presto)
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 10, RV 78: III. Gavotta (Presto)
Antonio Vivaldi – Trio Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 1, No. 10, RV 78: II. Allemanda (Allegro)

Cordaria – Sonata no. 4 in F major: Allemanda Allegro


Jean-Philippe Rameau – Premier Livre de pieces de clavecin / Suite in A minor-major (1706): 3. 2nd Allemande Christophe Rousset


From the album by I musici, Pina Carmirelli complete concertos op 5 and 7:-

Tomaso Albinoni – 12 Concerti a cinque, Op. 5 - Concerto No. 4 in G Major for Violin: I. Allegro
Tomaso Albinoni – 12 Concerti a cinque, Op. 5 - Concerto No. 3 in D Major for Violin: I. Allegro
Tomaso Albinoni – 12 Concerti a 5, Op.5 - Concerto a 5, Op. 5 No. 11: 1. Allegro
Tomaso Albinoni – 12 Concerti a 5, Op.5 - Concerto a5, Op.5 No.1: 1. Allegro moderato in B flat
Donatella Colombo, Clare Ibbott & Marco Rossi – Sonata da chiesa a violino solo e violoncello o basso continuo, Sonata III in Fa maggiore, So 28: II.Allegro


Goran Sollscher Johann Sebastian Bach – Suite In E Minor, BWV 996 - transp. in G minor: 5. Bourrée
Goran Sollscher Johann Sebastian Bach – Suite In E Minor, BWV 996: 2. Allemande
Goran Sollscher Johann Sebastian Bach – Suite In E Minor, BWV 996: 1. Praeludium
Goran Sollscher Johann Sebastian Bach – Suite In E Minor, BWV 996: 6. Gigue
Simon Preston – Fugue in G Minor, BWV 578, "The Little"
Klemens Schnorr – Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for Organ, BWV 565
Andrea Bacchetti Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911: III. Fuga -


Collegium instrumentale Brugense Georg Philipp Telemann – Overture in F Minor, TWV 55:1: Gigue
Concerto Melante – Quintet in D Major, TWV 44:1: I Sinfonia
Northern Chamber Orchestra Georg Philipp Telemann – Overture (Suite) in G Minor, TWV 55:g2, "La changeante": IV. Avec douceur


From the album Torelli: Concertos, Simon Standage:-

Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Grosso in F Major, Op. 8, No. 11: I. [Allegro]
Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Grosso in G Major, Op. 8, No. 5: III. Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op. 8, No. 2: III. Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Op. 8, No. 6: III. Vivace

Sunday, 30 September 2012

1690s Purcell and Pachelbel - the greatest hits truly begin

The 1690s is predominantly taken up by Henry Purcell and all of his music came in the first half of the decade because he was dead by the second. It seems he has slotted right into the place that Lully vacated after that composer had wacked his foot and accidently killed himself and Purcell's music is clearly greatly influenced  by Lully. As with Lully he composed lots of choral music and sing songs for operas and theatre. As with Lully I have completely ignored this to listen to the good bits which are the glorious instrumental interludes, usually involving trumpets. There are many excellent Purcell pieces but the stand outs for me are the trumpet voluntary from the Indian Queen z.630 the second Allegro from the trumpet sonata in D (it starts at 3.20 on this clip), the rondo from Abdelezar these three: CBC Vancouver Orchestra – The Married Beau, Z. 603, "The Curious Impertinent": HornpipeOrchester Le Phenix – Distress'd Innocence, Z. 577: VII. AireJohn Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Dioclesian Second Music

It's funny though because my favourite two are not actually by Purcell but in fact by a much lesser known English contemporary of Purcell called Jeremiah Clarke (1674-1707). They are  the Trumpet Voluntary for the Prince of Denmark  and the Trumpet Tune in D from the Island Princess (on which Purcell's younger brother Daniel worked and which is extremely similar to Purcell's trumpet voluntary from the Indian Queen - hence the confusion). That was like thinking 'I'm a believer' is your favourite Beatles song and finding out it's by the Monkees. Oh well, I can take a set back like that because  I still think Purcell was the best composer around at the time. These two extremely catchy Jeremiah Clarke trumpet tunes often end up on classical best of compilations incorrectly attributed to Purcell, so it's not just me that has been fooled.

The young Purcell was like a famous pop star of the time and top melody writer. He had been still a teenager when he was appointed court composer for the king's 24 violins in 1677. In some of his portraits there is a vague sort of resemblance to Paul McCartney....

......well I think so anyway.

Purcell's death in 1695 was even more tragic than Lully's when at the age of only about 36, in his creative prime, he came home from an after show party to find his wife had shut him out as she'd got fed up with him coming in late and he caught a chill from the cold and died. Either that or he just randomly caught tuberculosis or pneumonia somehow, it is not really known.

Of the other composers from the 1680s, in the 1690s I could not find much that was that good from Biber and Corelli was less prolific. His 4th Opus comes in 1694 and of the 12 sonatas my favourite is the allegro from sonata II which starts after 2 minutes on this clip  I sort of thought it was going to be all violins in the 1690s but actually Purcell's (and Jeremia Clarke's)  brass blows that all away. As well as that there was another Italian violin composer who was like Corelli but with a T for trumpets and his name was Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709). Corelli was the main man in Rome and Torelli was his equivalent composing in Bologna.  Absent in the 1680s posting because I could not find anything good from him in that decade, the 1690s saw Torelli  composing numerous trumpet concertos and some of them are much for violins. I have listened to all of these and the best are the Concerto Estienne Roger: Allegro and Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 8: Allegro

As if this is not enough to make the point that the best music in the 1690s was being played on brass instruments we have Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) who composed the magnificent prelude to his Te Deum some time during this decade

Well now we've had Purcell's, I mean Jeremiah Clarke's trumpet voluntary but we are well and truly coming into 'classical greatest hits compilations' territory with one of the best known pieces of music ever composed. This was the Canon in D major by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), now sabotaged quite regularly by buskers everywhere. Well, to give the buskers their due, may be it is not sabotage but I just wish they would not all play this same piece all the time, it gets so annoying especially when the piece itself is just a few bars repeated (supposedly) 28 times.....mind you I expect it also gets the pennies dropping! It also happens to be in about 50 different pop and rock songs. Having said all of that I still think it's amazing. 

It is not certain when it was actually composed but I reckon 1690s is most likely for a couple of reasons. Firstly some believe it was composed for the wedding of J.C. Bach, the oldest brother of the great J.S. Bach in 1694. Secondly it's as if Corelli and Biber were groping towards it's immortal chord sequence but not quite finding it in the 1680s. Have a listen to Il Ruggiero – Sonata Duodecima by Corelli and Ars Antiqua Austria – Violin Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140: IV. Variatio by Biber which are favourites of mine from the 1680s to hear what I mean. Either that or they had heard it and were ripping it off like everyone else does! Apart from this Pachelbel mostly composed organ music which was probably not as good as his contemporary, Buxtehude, of whom I gave a mention in an earlier posting. He did compose some other music for stringed instruments which I might have included if it had come in say the 1660s when I could barely find any music I liked, but really now I am getting spoilt for choice of good tunes as we approach the 1700s and Pachelbel's other works have not made the cut for me. Pachelbel is what you might call a one hit wonder - but what a hit it is, even if it took until the latter part of the 20th century for people to realise.

Of all of these, and not withstanding the Jeremiah Clarke set back, Henry Purcell was without question the greatest of the time and almost all his great work came from a five year period at the start of this decade. Imagine how much more he could have composed if he had lived longer. I believe he will be sorely missed for music until we get to the work of a truly golden generation of composers which include Vivaldi who was just 17, and Handel and  J.S. Bach, who were 10 year olds when Purcell died. 

General History

The war of the League of Augsberg ended in defeat for France and victory for most of the rest of Europe in 1697. No other major events really.


Versailles provided the inspiration for many baroque country houses for aristocrats that continued to spring up around Europe. Here are a couple of good ones that were being built during this decade in England.

England1 144.jpg
 Chatsworth House, Derbyshire                                                Castle Howard, Yorkshire

Art, Literature and Technology

Ok I'll keep this short - there is not really much happening in art, literature or technology at this time.


Locke wrote 'Some Thoughts Concerning Education' in 1693.  In some ways this was like a sequel to 'Essay on human In Understanding'. In that he had said how the mind was like a blank slate and our only reality was what we experienced through the senses. In this new  bit of writing he explains how the mind should be educated, namely with an emphasis on understanding virtue and retaining health, rather than fact gathering.  He thought the best way was to install in children an enthusiasm for acquiring knowledge for themselves rather than actually teaching them the facts. This idea of thinking and reasoning for your self rather than just doing what you're told, blindly following tradition, makes Locke for many the first 'modern' thinker and a revolutionary. This mindset is closely linked with his friend Newton and his approach to the world of science.

So here are my selections for the greatest hitstory:


Christopher Hogwood – Purcell: Abdelazer - Rondeau
Orchester Le Phenix – Abdelazar Suite, Z. 570: VI. Second Act Tune: Aire
Orchester Le Phenix – Distress'd Innocence, Z. 577: VII. Aire
CBC Vancouver Orchestra – The Married Beau, Z. 603, "The Curious Impertinent": Hornpipe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 3 Dance for the Green Men
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 3 Hornpipe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Purcell : The Fairy Queen : Act 4 Symphony
John Eilot Gardiner – Purcell : The Indian Queen Z630 : Act 2 Allegro
John Eilot Gardiner – Purcell : The Indian Queen Z630 : Act 3 Air
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : The Tempest Z631/10 : Act 4 The sailor's dance
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Overture to The Masque
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Dioclesian Second Music
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Timon of Athens Z632 : Act 4 Fourth Act Tune
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Trumpet Sonata in D major Z850 : I Allegro
John Eliot Gardiner – Purcell : Trumpet Sonata in D major Z850 : III Allegro
Olivier Baumont – Purcell : Harpsichord Suite No.1 in G major Z660 : I Prelude
Aradia Ensemble – The Indian Queen, Z. 630 : Trumpet Overture To 'The Indian Queen', Z. 630
The Scholars Baroque Ensemble – The Indian Queen, Z. 630 : Act III - Dance


Island Princess Trumpet Tune
Prince of Denmark Trumpet Voluntary 


Il Ruggiero – Sonata II
Il Ruggiero – Sonata III
Il Ruggiero – Sonata IV
Il Ruggiero – Sonata IX
Il Ruggiero – Sonata X
Il Ruggiero – Sonata X
Il Ruggiero – Sonata XII


Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto Estienne Roger: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia Avanti L' Opera G. 14: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 4: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia Con Trombe G. 20: Allegro
Giuseppe Torelli – Sinfonia G. 8: Allegro


London Festival Orchestra – Te Deum


London Philharmonic Orchestra – Canon in D Major

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

1680s Captain Correlli's violin string

Zooming on into the 1680s and with his triumphant and majestic instrumental interludes we find Lully still going strong until he accidently wacks his toe with the baton he was using to keep the orchestra in time during a performance of Te Deum. Unfortunately this caused him an injury which might have healed if he'd had it looked at by a doctor. As it happened the wound became gangrenous, he refused to have his toe amputated and this meant the end of Lully on 22nd March 1687, a real shame for music. In this decade Lully even managed to compose some vocal music that I like, that is the chorus 'Cherchons la paix dans cet asile' from his opera Phaeton which I am sure I have heard somewhere, on a television advert probably.

My other favourite composer of the day was also still going strong and he did manage to survive the decade.  Biber was like nobody else and his music seems to know no boundaries. My particular favourites from him this decade are Garry Clarke – Mensa sonora, seu Musica instrumentalis: Sonata No. 2 in F major: I. Intrada and Ars Antiqua Austria – Violin Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140: IV. Variatio. This latter piece and some other of Biber's music has something about it, like the chanting hundreds of years earlier, that just seems timeless and I feel a bit cheesy and at risk of sounding a bit like a judge on the X Factor for using this word but also, 'soulful', especially when you compare him to Lully who was great but of his time. The way it ends is extraordinary for the 1680s, but then Biber was an extraordinary composer. As much as I love the music from the other composers I have chosen in this decade, next to this all those other pieces seem a bit trivial, but then they're lots of fun too.

So that's Biber but there was another virtuoso violinist based in Rome who was more influential, this was Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Corelli's music was very much in keeping with the classical architecture around him, nice and neat and tidy, well formed, perfectly balanced and aesthetically pleasing. Parts of Biber sound outrageous by comparison.  Corelli's musical output is also very neatly organised consisting only of 6 'opus' collections which each had 12 sonatas each containing a few short movements. In this decade we have Opus 1 (1681), 2 (1685) and 3 (1689) and out of these three the first is the best and the second the worst. Opus 6 which was not published until just after he died is supposed to be the best of all 6 but we'll see about that when I get to the 1710s. There's not much to separate these sonatas but try the first allegro from sonata 7 of opus 1. Il Ruggiero – Sonata Settima

Corelli is significant because he was the first of all the composers not to bother with choral or vocal music at all, that is, the first whose work consisted entirely of music for instruments and the composer who set music on a course that would finally see instrumental chamber and orchestral music challenge the status of vocal music.  I refer to him as captain in my heading partly in tribute to a great novel by Louis De Bernieres but also because in a way Corelli was the  captain of the violinists, the one they all looked up to and learnt from, the first in a string of Italian composers of violin music, most of whom would follow Corelli's style and some of whom were his pupils (excuse the pun but by the string I mean Corelli, Torelli, Albinoni, Vivaldi, Locatelli, Somis, Manfredini, Geminiani,  Veracini, Tartini, and a little later Nardini, Lolli and Pugnani and finally to Paganini, the Jimi Hendrixi of the violin). 

With Biber and Corelli the violin was well and truly on the up and had established itself as the most important non-keyboard instrument. Antonio Stradivari began making instruments around this time and bought the design of the violin to perfection between 1700-1720.

In my last post I mentioned an English composer whose name I am pleased now to reveal as Henry Purcell (1659-1695). Purcell's really good music does not really come until 1689 and I have picked the opening overture from his opera Didas & Aeneas which is a slow starter but then gets going after about a minute. Three other pieces are harpischord pieces which could be 1690s but I am guessing 1680s - it's a real joy to find such catchy little 40/50 second gems for the harpsichord as Rigadoon, Scotch Tune and Irish Tune and the March in C major but Purcell's best was yet to come.

So my selections for this decade are: -


Christophe Rousset – II, 5: Entrée, Gavotte
Marc Minkowski – Lully : Phaëton : Prologue "Cherchons la paix dans cet asile" [Chorus]
Musica Antiqua Köln – Lully: Te Deum Motet à deux choeurs
Lully, Jean-Baptiste [Composer] – Lully: Acis & Galatée - Premier Air - Deuxième Air
Dominik Kiefer – Phaeton : Rondeau


Ars Antiqua Austria – Violin Sonata No. 3 in F major, C. 140: IV. Variatio
Ars Antiqua Austria – Violin Sonata No. 8 in A major, C. 145: IV. Allegro - Allegro
Garry Clarke – Mensa sonora, seu Musica instrumentalis: Sonata No. 2 in F major: I. Intrada
Garry Clarke – Mensa sonora, seu Musica instrumentalis: Partita No. 3 in A minor: III. Aria
Garry Clarke – Mensa sonora, seu Musica instrumentalis: Sonata No. 4 in B flat major: IV. Balletto
Garry Clarke – Mensa sonora, seu Musica instrumentalis: Sonata No. 5 in E major: V. Gavotte: Alla breve
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Biber: Sonata a 2 violini, trombone, violone in D minor - 2. (Poco allegro)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Biber: Sonata a 2 violini, trombone, violone in D minor - 9. (Allegro)


Il Ruggiero – Sonata Prima
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Seconda
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Quinta
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Settima
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Duodecima
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Sesta
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Ottava
Il Ruggiero – Sonata Duodecima


William Christie – Purcell : Dido & Aeneas : Overture
Olivier Baumont – Purcell : Hornpipe in E minor ZT685
John Gibbons – March in C major, Z. 648
A New Scotch Tune in C major, Z. 655
John Gibbons – A New Irish Tune in G major, Z. 646
John Gibbons – Rigadoon in C major, Z. 653

General History

Turkey and Austria were at war with each other and Poland joined in on Austria's side. Louis XIV started to get too big for his boots, banning all religions except catholic and kicking the protestant Huguenots out of France  which was not a good move for his country. He also claimed the Palatinate, a German state as French. This was also not a good move for France because it led to Sweden, Spain, Holland, the Holy Roman Empire and German states, Saxony and Bavaria forming the League of Augsburg against Louis XIV. England later joined  the League after James II was forced out and replaced by William and Mary in 1688. The war of the League of Augsburg, with them all against France, began in 1689.


Now that the finishing touches were being put on the palace at Versailles most aristocrats around Europe wanted their own mini Versailles and also to replicate Bernini and Boromini's impressive Italian baroque designs and a whole lot of extravagant castle and monastery building was going on, though often they would run out of money before the buildings were completed.


We are in a creative slump in terms of painting. By now the greatest artists of the century had either died, that's Rubens, Poussin, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Vermeer, or were about to this decade, meaning Ruisdael and finally Claude Lorraine. Claude did at least manage to keep the standard of his paintings up into his late seventies with this one entitled landscape of Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, painted in 1682, the year of his death.


The world of literature was consistent with the art world in that there really was not a great deal of enormous significance happening in this decade (apart from Locke & Newton who, if you read on you will see, within a couple of years of each other, were responsible for two of the most important publications in the history of mankind) .

Science & Technology

Newton published his Principia (or mathematical principals of natural philosophy) in 1687. This is the monumentally important book in which he explains the laws of gravity and the workings of the solar system. From this Newton could predict things like the movement of the moon, the planets, comets, the movement of the tides, an absolutely astounding achievement that for the first time, gave people the feeling that the universe had somehow been tamed.

Within Principia was the invention of 'Calculus' (the study of change in maths). An intellectual rival of Newton, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716),  had in fact invented Calculus independently and published this in 1684. It is unfortunate for Leibniz to have worked all that out and then to find that Newton could prove he had already done it back in 1666 but just not published his work, a bit like when you think you've got an amazing idea for a new type of website but then find out it's already been done! You've got to have some sympathy for Leibniz, who despite discrediting himself by trying to back date and amend his work to claim the glory, was apparently a charming and well liked fellow. His desk was very untidy and he confessed he would often have to re do work he had already done because it would be quicker for him to do that than to look through his unorganised pile of papers. Of some consolation for him is that it is his notation for Calculus that mathematicians now use rather than Newton's.

Leibniz was a real bright button though and was the first to describe an early type of mechanical calculator  called a pinwheel calculator and his 'leibniz wheel' was a component used in the first mass produced calculator which came out much later in 1851 and this component was used all the way until 1973 when electronic calculators came in.

Leibniz also began philosophising in this decade, following the rationalist philosophy of Descartes and Spinoza but he did not publish anything until 1710, probably because his papers were in a mess, so I'll tell you about his ideas when I get to 1710.


Newton's friend John Locke (1632-1704) published his Essay on Human Understanding in 1689. Like Newton's 'Principia' this is another monumental work and like Henry Purcell, Locke is basically known  for what he came out with during the few years following from and including 1689.

Before Locke people generally thought that the limit to what could be known was set by what there actually was in the universe, so theoretically we could go on finding out things until there was nothing left to find out. So for example Descartes started with 'I think therefore I am' and said we can build up our understanding of the universe from one certainty leading to another.  Locke on the other hand said that when we are born, rather than thinking first, our mind  is like a blank page waiting to be written on by our experience in the world and we can only really know and understand things based on what we experience through our senses and build our knowledge from there, so there may be a whole lot in reality that we'll never be able to know about if we don't experience it through our senses. This idea that knowledge comes from how we interpret our sensory experience, rather than pure and simple reasoning is known as empiricism and is a reaction against the rationalist school of thinking that included Descartes, Spinoza and Newton's intellectual rival Leibniz.

Also important to Locke's philosophy is that as we infer something from our sensory experience, we'll then generalise from that experience and this occasionally can lead to us being mistaken.

Locke's ideas were revolutionary in two ways. One because they suggested that no one is superior by birth whether they're a king or a peasant and two, because they suggested that  if we could be mistaken then we should not impose our own view, but instead be tolerant of other people's, and willing to change our mind if necessary. Locke believes that this sort of thinking combined with the absence of civil order being of such great detriment to human beings led mankind to listen to one another to create organised rule. So for Locke governments and rulers are empowered by the people and that is where they had always got their sovereignty from, not from God as rulers like Louis XIV liked to believe.  Locke's essay marks the start of liberal democracy and was a big influence on the people who started the French and American revolutions about 100 years later.