Sunday, 29 November 2015

1717 Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Couperin, Telemann and Albinoni

Let’s start with Bach whose organ playing by now was famous throughout Germany and proof of this comes from Johan Mattheson of Hamburg  (remember him - he had tried to kill Handel in 1704 ….before becoming his best mate – see my 1700-1709 posting for details). Matheson's own career had focused less on being a musician and singer and more on becoming a very important writer of music theory and practice. Mattheson referred to Bach in his memoir of 1717 as the ‘famous organist of Weimar’. This famous organist of Weimar visited the court at Dresden in the autumn of 1717 and found himself the subject of an argument as to who was the greater improviser, himself or the most famous virtuoso organist in France Louis Marchland. It was decided they would have a contest to solve the argument (a bit like the Handel v Scarlatti keyboard duel in the last decade). Marchland sneaked in to listen to Bach practicing for the big event in the chapel the night before. The result was the onset of a sudden and questionable illness and a trip back in the middle of the night to France on the fastest coach available for Marchland! Bach was left to play the concert on his own and established himself as arguably the greatest organist in Europe.

For the passed few years Bach had been composing mainly religious cantatas and had to produce one every month for the Duke of Weimar. Bach was getting bored of this and was looking for a way out. He actually got scouted by another court. After his audition they locked him in a hotel room with food, tobacco and alcohol and told him not to come out until he had composed a cantata for them! He did and they loved it, and offered him the job. The Duke however responded by doubling Bach’s money, which persuaded the young composer not to accept and to stay on at Weimar.

Bach had got friendly with the Duke’s nephew Ernst August who presided over the nearby court at Rote Schloß. Ernst August was also in his twenties (just 3 years younger than Bach) and the two shared their passion for music. Ernst August was half the age of Bach’s employer and this court was much more lively and less stuffy than the court at Weimar. It was no surprise that Bach spent a lot of his free time there and it was here that he was introduced to the music of Vivaldi. Ernst August’s younger brother Johan Ernst had been studying in Amsterdam between 1711-13 and picked up the music for Vivaldi’s opus 3 (which was all the rage at the time), brought it back to Rote Schloß and gave it to Bach to transcribe to organ. A bit like in the early 1960s and late 1970s when everybody wanted to pick up a guitar and start a band, due to both the simplicity and excitement of the music, in the 1710s Vivaldi’s music got many amateur composers across Europe trying to emulate his style, including young Johan Ernst. 

Whereas Johan Ernst could only manage a pail imitation of Vivaldi’s concertos, as for Johan Sebastain Bach, in his book ‘Bach and the patterns of invention’ Lawrence Dreyfuss writes ‘Instead of copying a set of crude superficial formulas Bach discovered within Vivaldi a kind of harmonic laboratory providing insights into the nature of tonality, a kind of simulacrum of thoroughbass that could produce insights into the secrets of a god given art.’ Now I am not going to pretend I fully understand what this means but I get the jist that Vivaldi’s music was going to have a very positive impact on the music of Johan Sebastian Bach. 

This musical migration was extremely significant for the history of music rather like the American rock and roll records brought into Liverpool by sailors from across the Atlantic in the 1950s. The Beatles brought invention and melody into rock and roll and Bach had a similar influence on the Italian concerto style of Vivaldi. 

Now it was unfortunate for Bach that, due to a family feud, he was forbidden by the duke to continue to visit the court of the duke's young nephew, Ernst August  (Johan Ernst had sadly passed away in 1715 aged 19). As a result Bach got fed up with his boss and refused to compose any more cantatas. It may also have been possibly because he heard that the duke wanted to employ Telemann which might have annoyed him, or that Bach did not get a promotion he was expecting. Whatever the reason Bach wanted to leave the court of Weimar and the opportunity came when Ernst August married the sister of another music loving member of the aristocracy, Prince Leopold of Cothen. Bach, was asked to compose the music for their wedding, which was loved by the prince and got him a place in the prince’s court. The formidable duke of Weimar refused to let Bach go however. Bach insisted and the duke’s reaction was to put him in prison! Locked up for the second time in a year and this time with nothing good to eat, drink or smoke, Bach used the time to compose 46 organ pieces.  Poor Johan Sebastian Bach was freed after a month and finally allowed to be dismissed from his post ‘without honour’ and move to his new position composing for Prince Leopold of Cothen. 

Bach became friendly with the prince who was a talented musician himself and even broke court etiquette to play along side Johan Sebastian and his other court musicians. In fact the prince’s mother got fed up with the band practicing at home and made the prince and other musicians go and practice at Bach’s house! They would then go on tour playing at other courts in the region.

Prince Leopold’s court was a relaxed and happy place and although both the prince and Bach were very religious it must have been refreshing for Bach to be able to compose so much secular chamber music having been mostly composing church organ music and religious cantatas for church choirs up until now for the fearsome Duke of Weimar.

So this was our man's best year to date with 11 pieces that make it to my Greatest Hitstory.  Of particular note are Orchestral Suite #4 In D, BWV 1069 – Bourrée which to me sounds quite jazzy in a 1920s-30s sort of way. The Prelude in C Major, BWV 933 and Prelude in C Minor, BWV 934 are just so good and like a lot of his music give you the feeling that Bach was completely unlimited in his ability as a composer, conveying so much feeling whilst also taking the melody to unexpected places, and not just the first time you hear it, but over again – a strange trick and I cannot work out how he does it! 

Finally we have the sublime Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: II. Air. This is one of the most famous pieces of all time and quite simply it is impossible to make better music than this. These Bach pieces well and truly put him at the top of the pile for me and it becomes quite clear that he is a better composer than even Vivaldi whose music I absolutely love.

As for Vivaldi he was busy writing his 7th opus but I will come to this in 1721 when it was finally published. From Vivaldi I do pick the obligatory allegro Concerto In Mi Minore RV 275: III. Allegro. Vivaldi hints at his future masterpiece (it comes after opus 7) with a little bit of program music in his piece ‘the cuckoo’.  Remember Biber had also imitated the sound of a cuckoo on his violin back in the 1660s. I have also, for once, chosen a slow piece from Vivaldi, being the very appealing Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 7/ii, No. 5, RV 208a: II. Grave and there is another allegro but this time for full orchestra I Concerti Di Dresda, RV 569: I. Allegro.

Albinoni too chips in with another allegro Sinfonia a 4 in G Minor, Si 7: I. Allegro as does Telemann who contributes Overture in B-Flat Major, TWV 55:B8: I. Ouverture. These two sad little pieces are among my favourites of the whole decade.

Couperin is back with another sprinkling of harpsichord music with the second of his four books and again shows his gift for naming a good tune with among a couple of other pieces I have picked, such composition titles which translate as ‘the midge’ and ‘the scintillating one’. I never thought I would enjoy harpsichord music so much. Couperin is my favorite composer for the instrument so far and his less formal and playful style can be grouped in with the rococo style originating in Paris that had begun in architecture and found it’s way to the paintings of Watteau and came about probably because Louis XIV had died in 1715 having been on the throne for 72 years. As a result France withdrew from its imperial aspirations, court life and private morals became more relaxed and Couperin’s music fitted the mood perfectly.

Meanwhile in London, it is on an aquatic theme that we come back to Handel who composes one of the most famous of all his works, which we know as ‘the Water Music’ and without question is his best music to date. Of this collection the most well known is Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major: No. 12 Alla Hornpipe. Now this ‘suite’ Handel was asked to compose by the aging King George who wanted to remind London he still existed for his son was always throwing big parties and had become the talk of the town. King George wanted a bit of limelight back. The music was to be played on boats carried by the rising tide up the River Thames from Whitehall palace to Chelsea. The flotilla left at 8pm on 17th July and covered the whole river with boats and barges, including the royal barge and another of which contained the 50 musicians. This all certainly made quite a spectacle and the king loved the music so much when embarking on the return trip at 11pm he had it played twice more.

So here they all are.....the best of 1717

(where I have not found the version I have purchased on iTunes I have included the album and artist of my preferred versions in brackets)

J.S. Bach 

Bach: Orchestral Suite #2 In B Minor, BWV 1067 - Badinerie (from Bach: Orchestral Suites [Disc 2] Marc Hantaï; Jordi Savall: Le Concert Des Nations)
Bach: Orchestral Suite #3 In D, BWV 1068 - Gavottes 1 & 2 (from Bach: Orchestral Suites [Disc 2] Marc Hantaï; Jordi Savall: Le Concert Des Nations)
Bach: Orchestral Suite #4 In D, BWV 1069 - Bourrée (from Bach: Orchestral Suites [Disc 2] Marc Hantaï; Jordi Savall: Le Concert Des Nations)
Five Little Preludes: I. Prelude in C Major, BWV939 (from J.S. Bach: From the W.F. Bach Notebook by Wolfgang Rübsam)
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: II. Air (from 50 Classical Masterworks by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra)
Prelude in C Major, BWV 933 (from Bach, Inventions and Preludes by Esther Garcia)
Prelude in C Minor, BWV 934 (from Bach, Inventions and Preludes by Esther Garcia)
Sonata in A Major, BWV 1032: III. Allegro
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041: I. Allegro (from Bach by Joshua Bell & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) 
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041: III. Allegro assai (from Bach by Joshua Bell & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) 
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042: I. Allegro (from Bach by Joshua Bell & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields) 


Best version is from Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks & Water Music by Nicholas McGegan & Scottish Chamber Orchestra but listen to these you tube clips

Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major: No. 3
Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major: No. 5
Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major: No. 7 Minuet
Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major: No. 11
Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major: No. 12 Alla Hornpipe
Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major: No. 13 Minuet
Water Music Suite No. 2 in D Major: No. 15 Bourrée


Concerto In Mi Minore RV 275: III. Allegro (from 4.50 of this clip)(Vivaldi: Concerti per violino by Deuter Florian & Harmonie Universelle)
Violin Concerto in A Major, RV 335, "The Cuckow": I. Allegro
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 7/ii, No. 5, RV 208a: II. Grave
I Concerti Di Dresda, RV 569: I. Allegro 


Overture in B-Flat Major, TWV 55:B8: I. Ouverture (from Telemann: Complete Ouvertures, Vol. 2 by Collegium Instrumentale Brugense & Patrick Peire)


Sinfonia a 4 in G Minor, Si 7: I. Allegro (from Albinoni: Concerto per violino & Sinfonie a 4 by L'Orfeo Ensemble)


Second livre de pièces de clavecin, Ordre 6 : VIII Le moucheron
Second livre de pièces de clavecin, Ordre 7 : III La basque
Second livre de pièces de clavecin, Ordre 11 : II L'etincelante ou La bontems
Second livre de pièces de clavecin, Ordre 11 : III Les graces naturéles, Suite de la bontems


After many decades of not much enter Jean-Antoine Watteau and a new Rococo style to give the art critics something to talk about after a few uneventful decades on the trot.  Watteau was perhaps the greatest artist since the days of Rembrandt and Rubens in the first half of the last century.

He painted his masterpiece the Embarkation of Cythera in 1717 and in this he captures the fleeting nature of being in love symbolized by the fact that none of the couples want to leave Cythera, the island of love. Watteau’s own life was sadly cut short by a life long illness and perhaps that is why his paintings of dream like scenes have an intense feeling of melancholy about them and all the figures look so sad though in a very endearing way.


Alexander Pope was the great satirist of the day and in 1717 published his epic poem ‘the rape of the lock’ in which he wrote about the theft of a lady’s lock of hair as if it was an epic story comparable to the abduction of Helen of Troy making a mockery of the vanity of the upper classes during this period.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

1716 Telemann, Vivaldi, Handel and Albinoni

I think I am being too mean on Telemann who was becoming perhaps the most famous composer in all of Europe. Telemann really grew in stature at this time and the number of Telemann choices for this year seems to substantiate this. Telemann even out did Vivaldi from whom I pick 9 pieces for this year alone. Based on his contributions for this decade I put him behind Bach and Vivaldi but prefer him to Handel.

Of the 10 Telemann pieces I can pick, all of them are for wind instruments. That is piccolo, flute, recorder, trumpet and even bassoon.  Like the oboe great developments were made with Bassoon making at this time and as with the oboe it became quite popular with composers like Telemann and also Vivaldi. It is nice to off set all the Vivaldi violin concertos with music such as these Telemann choices on which the wind instruments take the lead.

It is not easy to compose good music for the Bassoon but Telemann manages to do that with Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon In F Major, TWV 52:F1: II. Vivace and IV Allegro. Vivaldi too writes some very nice music for Bassoon. I also love the blend of what I think is a recorder and oboe on Vivaldi’s RV94 Allegro

Handel shows his gift for melody with his Concerto Grosso In F Major, Op. 3, No. 4, HWV 315: IV. Allegro and Albinoni adds to the collection of violin allegros I am accumulating with his Sinfonia a 4 in B-Flat Major, Si 6: I. Allegro.


Concerto for 3 Trumpets and Timpani In D Major, TWV 54:D4: II. Allegro (the version  I have is not this you tube link but on Telemann: Orchestral Music by Ludwig Güttler, Klaus Huckstadt, Werner Pelz, Peter Bollman, Michaelstein Telemann Chamber Orchestra & Eitelfriedrich Thom)

Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon In F Major, TWV 52:F1: II. Vivace (the version I have is not this you tube link but on Telemann: Complete Double Concertos With Recorder by Clas Pehrsson, Michael McCraw & Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble)

Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon In F Major, TWV 52:F1: IV. Allegro (the version I have is not this you tube link but on Telemann: Complete Double Concertos With Recorder by Clas Pehrsson, Michael McCraw & Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble)

Double Concerto for 2 Horns In D Major, TWV 52:D1: IV. Allegro
Telemann: Wind Concertos, Vol. 2 - Twv 51:F1, 51:G1, 52:C1, 52:D1, 53:D1 by Ulrich Hubner, Jorg Schultess, La Stagione Frankfurt & Michael Schneider

Flute Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D2: I. Moderato
Flute Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D2: II. Allegro
Flute Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D2: IV. Vivace
All from Telemann, G.P.: Wind Concertos, Vol. 4 - Twv 51:A2, 51:D2, 51:E1, 52:A2, 53:B1 by Karl Kaiser, Michael Schneider & La Stagione Frankfurt

Overture (Suite) In e Flat Major, TWV 55: Es5: Aria IV: Allegro From Telemann: 6 Orchestral Suites by Michael Schneider & La Stagione Frankfurt
Partita No. 2 für Blockflöte und Basso continuo in G Major, TWV 41:G2: II. Aria 1: Allegro from Hans-Martin Linde & Konrad Ragossnig: Musik für Flöte und Gitarre by Hans-Martin Linde & Konrad Ragossnig
Piccolo Concerto In D Major, TWV 51:D4: IV. Tempo Di Minuetto from Telemann, G.P.: Wind Concertos, Vol. 3 from Karl Kaiser & Camerata Köln


Concerto in D major, RV 92: III. Allegro 

Concerto in G minor, RV 103: I. Allegro (the versions  I have of these two are not these you tube links but on Vivaldi: Recorder Concertos by Borbala Dobozy & Laszlo Kecskemeti)

Concerto in D major, RV 94: I. Allegro
Concerto in G minor, RV 107: III. Allegro Both from Vivaldi, A.: Concertos - Rv 94, 100, 101, 104, 107 by Musica Pacifica

Flute Concerto in D Minor, RV 96: I. Allegro first 2.25 of the clip from Vivaldi: Flute Concertos, Vol. 1 by Béla Drahos & Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia

Sonata for 2 violins and continuo in B-Flat, RV 76: 2. Allemanda (Allegro)
Sonata for violin and continuo in B-Flat, R.33: 4. Gavotte (Presto)
Sonata for violin and continuo in F, RV 18: 1. Preludio (Largo)
Sonata for violin and continuo in F, RV 18: 2. Corrente (Presto)
All from Vivaldi Masterworks by Salvatore Accardo, Sylvie Gazeau, Rohan De Saram & Bruno Canino


Concerto Grosso In F Major, Op. 3, No. 4, HWV 315: IV. Allegro from Handel: Concerto Grosso, Op. 3 by Iona Brown & Academy of St. Martin in the Fields


Sinfonia a 4 in B-Flat Major, Si 6: I. Allegro first 2.36 on this clip From Albinoni: Concerto per violino & Sinfonie a 4 by L'Orfeo Ensemble

Sunday, 22 November 2015

1715 Albinoni, Bach, Handel, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Telemann

Sticking with Bach in 1715 we hear his first keyboard music not composed for organ and I am pleased to include it in my Greatest Hitstory. Named the ‘English Suite' my selections are of Italian influence if anything and you will probably recognize them. They are named the English suites either because they were thought to be composed for an English nobleman or because they were based on suites by a French composer called Charles Dieupart who was famous in England.

Another ‘first’ is that Albinoni becomes the first Italian to compose an oboe concerto as opposed to a sonata  which Vivaldi had already done. The basic difference between a sonata and concerto for this period at least is that a sonata will usually only be one instrument with between one and three backing instruments while a concerto has got one instrument with more of an orchestral backing, usually involving lots of violins at the very least. So much for being amateur, these two oboe concertos from Albinoni are excellent!  I can also add from Albinoni his Sinfonia a 4 in A Major, Si 5: I. Allegro - Adagio to the long list of Allegros.

I managed to find another good bit of instrumental music from a Handel opera, being the sinfonia from act 3 of his Amadigi Di Gaula. There is also some nice organ music from Handel. Like Bach, Handel did compose a lot of organ music but most of this comes in the 1730s so we’ll see when I get to that decade if anymore find its way to my Greatest Hitstory.

This year Vivaldi departed from writing violin concertos to write a fine piece of choral music, being his Gloria in D Major, RV 589: I. "Gloria in excelsis Deo" He had by now also started writing operas but we won’t go into that.

This is also the year when the other new composer, a leading composer of the day who I can finally introduce properly to this blog, temporarily departed from his fondness for music of the operatic variety to compose a couple of good violin concertos. His name was Allesandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) and I very much like his Concerto grosso, sinfonia No. 2 in D Major: V. Presto which sounds in parts like it could have been composed in the 1960s.   It was a year when composers contribute music they are not known for as Telemann defies his boring tag with his exciting sonata for violins TWV 40:200.


Saturday, 21 November 2015

1714 Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel, Bach and Albinoni

Vivaldi is back this year with his opus 4 entitled La Stravaganza translated as ‘Extravagance’ – another brilliant set of violin concertos. I have chosen 6 of these but if you listen to one then listen to the superb Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B Flat Major, Op.4, No.1, RV383: III. Allegro. Also brilliant is Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, Op.4, No.4, RV357: III. Allegro

For all the Vivaldi I find in this decade though it is Corelli who plays the trump card with his Concerto grosso No. 4 in D Major, Op. 6: I. Adagio – Allegro. This exhilarating piece of music is my favourite of all the music so far going right back to the dawn of time. I am going to go further and say that no human being has bettered this before or since. Equalled may be but not bettered.  Now that will teach Handel not to make a mockery of the great Corelli! I would highly recommend it to anyone. Opus 6 is considered Corelli’s best work and I have chosen 7 pieces from which also include two of the Christmas concertos which are Corelli’s most well known works today. Corelli had been working on these concertos for several years before his death in 1713. His opus 6 was a great way for one of the most influential composers in history to sign off.

As for Handel, he thankfully takes time out from opera writing to come up with a few lazy sounding tuneful oboe sonatas. 

There are also in this year a couple of violin sonatas – one from Albinoni which is decent and one from Bach, not unlike his famous organ toccata from 1708 which provides plenty of fuel to the idea that Bach the composer is pure genius. However in 1714 Bach was not yet really known as a composer but more as an organist. It was 1714 when Bach was asked to improvise on the organ for Prince Friedrich of Sweden. The prince showed his great appreciation for Bach’s playing simply by taking off a ring from his finger and giving it to the great maestro. An observer wrote of Bach that ‘his feet flew over the pedal-board as if they had wings and the ponderous and ominous tones pierced the ears of the hearer like a flash of lightning or clap of thunder; and if the skill of his feet alone earned him such a gift what would the prince have given him if he had used his hands as well’!

So here's the best from this year........


Vivaldi: "La Stravaganza" Concertos for Violin & Orchestra, Vol. 1

Andrew Watkinson & City of London Sinfonia (better than the versions on the you tube link)

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, Op.4, No.4, RV357: III. Allegro
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B Flat Major, Op.4, No.1, RV383: I. Allegro
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in B Flat Major, Op.4, No.1, RV383: III. Allegro
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor, Op.4, No.2, RV279: I. Allegro first 4 min
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in E Minor, Op.4, No.2, RV279: III. Allegro from 7.38
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in G Major, Op.4, No.3, RV301: I. Allegro


From Corelli: Concerti grossi, Op. 6, Nos. 7-12 by Anna Holbling, Capella Istropolitana, Daniela Ruso, Jaroslav Krček, Ludovit Kanta & Quido Holbling

Concerto grosso in C Major, Op. 6, No. 10: V. Allegro from 1.21 to 3.47
Concerto grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9: II. Allemanda. Allegro 1.15 to 3.27
Concerto grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9: IV. Gavotta. Allegro 5.14 to 6.07
Concerto grosso in F Major, Op. 6, No. 9: VI. Minuetto. Vivace 6.40 to end
Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8, "Christmas Concerto": IV. Vivace 7.22 to 8.24 keep listening on same clip for
Concerto grosso in G Minor, Op. 6, No. 8, "Christmas Concerto": V. Allegro (from 8.24 to 10.24
Concerto grosso No. 4 in D Major, Op. 6: I. Adagio - Allegro (first 3.22 min of this clip)


Sonate en Fa Majeur Pour Hautbois Et Basse (continue, HWV 363 - Allegro)
Sonate en Fa Majeur Pour Hautbois Et Basse (continue, HWV 363 - Bourrée)
Sonate en Fa Majeur Pour Hautbois Et Basse (continue, HWV 363 - Menuetto)


Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Continuo, BWV 1023: I. Allegro by James Ehnes


Albinoni: Concerto per violino & Sinfonie a 4  Sinfonia a 4 in D Major, Si 4: II. Allegro by L'Orfeo Ensemble


Leibniz is back with his other key work entitled ‘Monodology’. In this he argued against the commonly held view at the time that objects were inanimate and that an external force would be needed to animate them. Instead he believed that the energy came from within the object itself because they contained what he called a ‘monad’. A monad was an entity, the energy in every object and the intensity of the monad depended on the nature of the object. The monad in inorganic matter was at the bottom of the scale, while in living beings the monad was the soul and God at the very top of the scale was a monad so intense it needed no physical form. We now know that in one sense at least Leibniz was right because all matter is reducible to energy (so I am told!).


In the world of science Dante Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) invented the Mercury thermometer while on the political front…..

General History

The war of Spanish succession that had been rumbling on throughout the whole of the last decade mainly overseas and in Spain and parts of northern Italy finally came to an end. This good news contributes to the youthful optimism that characterizes the music and art of this decade.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

1713 J.S. Bach, Handel & F. Couperin

Another year with no Vivaldi! Time for me to mention J.S. Bach then, who during this time was composing pretty much only for organ and was becoming known as one of the greatest organists in Germany. According to one person who watched him play, his feet moved as easily and quickly along the pedals as many players could move their hands across the keyboard. 

As with the violin, the church organs were reaching the peak of their development so that was good but generally I am not a great fan of Bach’s organ music at this time which seems to lack melody (except for the great Tocatta and fugue in D minor BWV 565 from 1708) . Bach then moved from writing mainly organ works to mainly cantatas for the next few years. Again I am not so keen on cantatas (as you have probably grasped by now, with the occasional exception, I am not so keen on any singing within the wider classical music genre). Bach, then has been absent from my Greatest Hitstory since 1709. He did however, in 1713, write as part of one of the cantatas a trio oboe violin and cello BWV1040 which is also treated as a standalone instrumental piece. It has been described as ‘wholly delightful’ and I would completely agree with that. 

Also absent since 1709 has been the music of Handel (although not the practical jokes!). This is because Handel was concentrating on opera. However his opera ‘Silla’ from 1713 has got a couple of good overtures I can pick. 

1713 brings us the first of two new composers for this decade of my Greatest Hitstory. Known as ‘Couperin the Great’ to distinguish him from other, evidently inferior composers named Couperin, of which there were a few. Like Vivaldi, Francois Couperin (1668-1733) was influenced by Corelli and loved by Bach, Handel and Telemann. Seen as the father of French Harpsichord music, he was already 45 years old by the time in 1713 he published his first book of harpsichord music of which I have chosen ‘La Manon’  (not sure what this translates as) and the completely crazy ‘Le réveil-matin’ which translates as ‘the alarm clock’ and you just have to listen to it to know why. 

Composing in Paris it’s nice to have an alternative to the Italians and Germans and Couperin conveniently fills the gap left by his still not yet known French harpsichord composing colleague Rameau who had snuck in a piece I chose from 1706 but is absent from this decade.

J.S. Bach

Trio In F Major, BWV 1040 Roland Straumer, Virtuosi Saxoniae, Ludwig Güttler & Manfred Krause


Silla: Overture, Andante - Adagio The London Handel Orchestra, Denys Darlow, James Bowman, Simon Baker, Joanne Lunn, Rachel Nicholls, Natasha Marsh, Elizabeth Cragg & Christopher Dixon
Silla: Overture, Minuet The London Handel Orchestra, Denys Darlow, James Bowman, Simon Baker, Joanne Lunn, Rachel Nicholls, Natasha Marsh, Elizabeth Cragg & Christopher Dixon

F. Couperin

Ordres Pour Clavecin, 1er Ordre: XV. La Manon - Vivement 

Premier livre de pièces de clavecin, Ordre 4 : IV Le réveil-matin

1712 Telemann

Come 1712 we find no Vivaldi but some more oboe, this time from Telemann from whom I can also pick a flute concerto and a recorder and flute concerto. I was reserving judgement on Telemann. He seems to be a composer who could be accused of going for quantity over quality being named in the Guinness Book of Records as the most prolific composer in history, whilst also being responsible for quite a lot of dull, uninteresting music. That said, although Telemann’s music is often quite simple he could still pen a nice tune.


Thomas Newcomen invented steam powered engine in England which was used to pump water out of mines and one of the key inventions that led to the industrial revolution about 50 years later


Telemann, G.P.: Overtures - Concertos - Chamber Music TWV52 e1 II double concerto for Recorder and Flute in E minor

Telemann, G.P.: Wind Concertos, Vol. 1 - Twv 51:E1:II Alla breve

Telemann, G.P.: Wind Concertos, Vol. 4 - Twv 51:e1:II Allegro Molto

Thursday, 12 November 2015

1711 Vivaldi & Albinoni

Up until now the music of Vivaldi had only been published in Venice. In 1711 he shot to international fame with opus 3 entitled ‘L'Estro Armonico’ meaning ‘Harmonic Inspiration’, his 3rd major collection and a vast improvement on my earlier Vivaldi selections. Published in Amsterdam and then in London and Paris these chirpy tunes were widely circulated across Western Europe and a massive influence on Vivaldi’s northern European contemporaries Handel, Bach and Telemann. This music was a sensation across Europe and a visit to Venice to hear it performed by the young lady orphans Vivaldi taught became a must for the well to do classes.

Along with Corelli’s opus 4, Vivaldi’s opus 3 was apparently the most popular set of instrumental music throughout the whole 18th Century. The best of the best of the opus 3 are the two allegros in A Minor from concerto no.6 of which you will probably be familiar. If you like the allegros from opus 3 (and how could you not?) then there is much more to come because almost all of my Vivaldi selections are allegro (which means quick) movements and all will have to measure up to this. 

As well as his opus 3 we have in 1711, insofar as my Greatest Hitstory is concerned, Vivaldi’s first departure from violin concertos and probably one of his very earliest compositions for oboe, the RV779 Sonata in C major. This is one of my favorite pieces by anyone of the whole decade. Ben Fatto Vivaldi!

The oboe is relatively new at this time and as with the violin, new improvements had been made to the instrument, making it more popular with composers. Telemann and Handel had already composed pieces for oboe (see my last posting) and were probably among the very first to do so but the instrument soon became more popular in Italy.

The other main composer in Venice at this time was the self proclaimed ‘dedicated Venetian amateur’ also known as Tomasso Albinoni.  Being from a wealthy background he did not need to rely on his music to make a living but this did not stop him from composing some very good music as we have already seen, or rather heard. First up from him for this decade are a couple of melodic violin sonatas (and yes I have gone for the ‘allegro’ movements again)

Vivaldi was not the only composer to find fame in this year. Handel moved to London in 1711 and had huge success with his opera ‘Rinaldo’ which was his break through work so to speak. A pity for me it is opera and not instrumental music! 

It must have been around this time that Corelli’s chamber orchestra came to London to play. Handel had been enjoying his new found position as leading London composer and possibly felt threatened by Corelli’s year long stay in the city. There had been a bit of history between Corelli and Handel. It may have been when the young Handel visited Rome in 1706 that Corelli and Handel first met. Corelli was having trouble playing one of Handel’s pieces and Handel snatched the violin off Corelli, who though not a virtuoso, was arguably the greatest violinist in Europe, to show him how the piece should have been played. Corelli would not rise to the insult and merely replied ‘my dear saxon, this is music in the French style, of which I have no knowledge’. 

Let me remind you that Corelli was extremely popular and highly acclaimed (remember he was the teacher of Vivaldi and all those other composers I mentioned in my 1680s posting) but his music was very orderly and slightly set in its way. It was a known fact that Corelli refused to compose or play on the violin any note higher than the D with his 4th finger stretching up to 3rd position.  

Well on Corelli’s trip to London, the younger Handel, envious of the London public’s admiration for Corelli played a mean trick, cheekily writing a sonata with a note at the end being just one note higher than the note Corelli had publicly declared would be the highest note he would ever play. Corelli, while performing was unaware and when he got to the offending note, immediately stopped playing, glared at a sniggering Handel and walked off stage, never speaking to Handel again! 

So here are the best tunes of the year.....




After studying Michelangelo’s designs for St Peters in Rome, Sir Christopher Wren did an excellent job, in completing St Paul’s in London which had the first triple dome in the world. Handel may have made his bread and butter from writing operas but his main hobby was playing the keyboard and he loved the organ at St Paul’s often playing for a delighted congregation after church services. They even had lock ins at the cathedral after hours to hear Handel play. In fact the whole area around St Paul’s was a hotspot for both amateur and professional musicians and the Queen Anne’s Tavern located in St Paul’s churchyard had a harpsichord where Handel also used to go along with the choristers from the cathedral and knock out a few tunes for his adoring and no doubt starstruck public.

1710 Vivaldi

We begin as we mean to go on with an allegro from a Vivaldi violin concerto. Vivaldi is still at an early stage in his career and this is the last piece from the period before his music becomes exceptionally brilliant.

Antonio Vivaldi Vivaldi:Concerti per violino  Concerto per violinoIn Fa Maggiore RV Anh.130: I. Allegro DeuterFlorian & Harmonie Universelle (the second track 16)


As if to set the scene for this new decade of positivity Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz  (1646-1716) published his essays on ‘the goodness of God, the freedom of man and the origin of evil’ setting out a new philosophy in which he put forward the idea that we actually live in the best possible of all possible worlds. This was because the world has free will. The cause of all evil and imperfections in the world was the existence of free will but to have a world without free will would be inferior. God therefore had created the best possible world. This optimistic view of the world was not without its critics.

....and on to the next year!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

1710-19 Vivaldi is a sensation, Handel a joker, Bach a prisoner and Corelli saves his best for last

Welcome to the 1710s, the greatest decade so far in this Greatest Hitstory of Music! This is mainly thanks to the music of Vivaldi (32 choices!), now in his early 30s and Bach (17 choices), Telemann (16), Handel (15) all in their 20s coming into the decade with a supporting cast of slightly older composers in their 40s and 50s being Albinoni (9), Corelli (7) and a couple of others who I’ll come to. 

As well as the excellent new music Jean-Antoinne Watteau is the first really important artist to emerge in decades, Daniel Defoe makes a great contribution to literature while in the realm of philosophical thought Leibniz even invents the theory of philosophical optimism! All this was born out of a new positive social mood round Europe perhaps caused in part by King Louis XIV's 72 year reign and the War of Spanish Succession that went on throughout most of the last decade finally coming to an end.

Change is in the air. Let’s take it year by year......