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. BourrĂ©e
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

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