The classic 1972 movie “The Godfather” provides the inspiration for a program featuring music by J.S.Bach (the godfather of Western Classical Music and whose music is featured in the movie), Telemann (godfather to Bach’s son, C.P.E. Bach), Pachelbel (godfather to one of Bach’s sisters), Sebastian Nagel (godfather to the great J.S. Bach), and C.P.E Bach, whose keyboard concerto will be performed by celebrated Chicago-based artist and Baroque Band harpsichordist David Schrader.
Equally at home in front of a harpsichord, organ, piano, or fortepiano, David Schrader is “truly an extraordinary musician…(who) brings not only the unfailing right technical approach to each of these different instruments, but always an imaginative, fascinating musicality to all of then.” (Norman Pelligrini, WFMT).
Currently, David is on the faculty of Roosevelt University and has served as the organist of the Church of the Ascension for over twenty years. David also leads an active musical life by performing with Music of the Baroque, the Newberry Consort, Bach Week in Evanston, and is a frequent guest on WFMT.
Our program tonight comprises music by composers who had baptismal relationships with each other—when a (usually) child is baptised, he or she is “sponsored” by his or her godparents. The church thus provided surrogate parents, at least in their learning of their faith, for children who might lose their parents before they could be fully catechized. The relationship of godparent to godchild has wielded varying degrees of influence over the centuries, but in the time of Bach and his sons, Telemann, and Pachelbel, the constant threat of an untimely death made this sort of commitment frequently necessary.
That Georg Philip Telemann would stand as godfather to the young Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach was a pledge of friendship and a signal honor. Telemann was one of the most successful musicians of the first half of the eighteenth century—he wrote easily for a variety of combinations of instruments and/or voices: from his pen, we have well over a thousand cantatas, forty-seven passions, and other compositions to numerous to number. He wrote in a style that was fashionable and elegant, but rarely superficial—Telemann’s manner of composition is much simpler than that of his colleague, Johann Sebastian Bach, who, in spite of a fine reputation, was called to task by some for being too complex. Bach and Telemann lived in a time of musical transition—Bach understood the changing fashion in music and was well-versed in what was au courant in his time, but he chose to use such musical style according to the process of his musical thought rather from a desire to please a broad audience.
As did so many other Germans in the eighteenth century, Telemann looked both to France and to Italy for inspiration that would enhance his own superb command of his native German style. Note that Telemann calls the suite that is heard this evening an “Ouverture”—such suites were so named and comprised dances in addition to the ouverture. The word comes from the French word for “to open,” and was therefore initially associated with the tradition of lyric tragedy—literally, an opening number. An ouverture (or overture, in English), consists of a stately, elegant section of music, followed by a faster section, usually fugal in nature. The suite is most definitely a musical form of French origin, and the custom of appending a series of dances to an overture was a standard procedure in the late baroque era.
Telemann’s godchild, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, was a singular composer, indeed. Both Beethoven and Haydn admired his work deeply—some of Haydn’s music sounds very similar to that of CPE Bach. Bach’s expressive and mercurial compositions, one suspects, showed Haydn how to create the simultaneous feelings in his listeners of wit and sincerity for which he is often known (The magnificent bass aria in the second part of Haydn’s The Creation is both pious and humorous—the marvel of the Creator and His work are extolled, and the hearer is treated to a single note from a contrabasson that is meant to resemble an animal fart!
Carl Philip Emmanuel learned his lessons well from his father but did not choose to emulate his style. First of all, he had not had the rigorous training in the northern German art of pedal-playing at the organ as his older brother, Wilhelm Friedemann, had. Also, his first position, one that he was to hold for many years, was that of harpsichordist to King Frederick the Great of Prussia whose tastes in music were far modern than those that CPE would compose—the king favored a type of music that is known as being from the “gallant style,” a melodious and symmetrical type of music that did not always challenge the emotions as much as the “sensitive style” (Empfindsamerstil) of CPE Bach. The emotional content of CPE’s music is darker and more focussed than that of the gallant style—some of CPE’s most interesting musical gestures, especially those that were abrupt, unexpected, and somewhat nervous in effect. This was certainly not lost on Ludwig van Beethoven, whose second symphony’s finale employs a figure that is identical to that of a symphony by CPE Bach!
Bach was a keyboardist—among his best know works is the treatise on the art of keyboard playing. While the treatise is nominally about keyboard music and its expression, it affords the reader, be the reader ancient or modern, a broad view of the way that music was thought of in the region of Germany called Saxony and its environs. In addition to this treatise, CPE composed a large number of keyboard fantasias, sonatas, and concertos. He participates in the arrival of the new, classical style in the structure of the movements of his concertos—a long section with no keyboard solos (a ritornello) begins the first movement. The soloist enters and engages in dialogue with the other instruments. The sequence of keys, while not completely consistent with the later classical style of Mozart and Beethoven, shows the classical style in a vibrant and dramatic way. Lyricism and bravura mix intensely throughout all three movements, there are moments for the soloist’s own improvisation, and the key scheme of the later classical concerto is both heralded and accomplished. As was said above with regard to Haydn, CPE Bach’s wit and sincerity are present in abundance in the concerto heard tonight.
The journey of our notes for this program begins much earlier than the lives of our eighteenth-century composers, and to that end, the Canon and Gigue in D are included among the works heard tonight. Johann Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg and also died there. Considered to be one of the finest of the German composers of the high baroque, he occupied a variety of positions in Erfurt, Stuttgart, and Gotha before assuming the post of organist at St. Sebald’s Church in Nuremberg, where remained until his death. Pachelbel was a teacher of Johann Sebastian Bach’s brother, Johann Christoph, and the godfather to Bach’s sister, Johanna Juditha, at the request of Johann Ambrosius Bach, Sebastian’s father.
Among the legacies of Pachelbel’s teaching was the idea of the paired prelude and fugue—composers in the north of Germany tended to write one-movement, sectional pieces that are called preludia, but Pachelbel kept his free material sequestered from the stricter procedures that are associated with the writing of fugues. This would, of course, bear marvelous fruit in Sebastian’s The Well-Tempered Clavier of 1722 and 1742.
The canon in D has suffered from an identity crisis in the last century. It is often played, with an “aftermarket” viola part, at half of its appropriate tempo, to approximate an elegy. It is also frequently requested in a bewildering panoply of arrangements for various instrumental combinations. Nevertheless, the canon is a splendidly clever and lovely piece that consists of a double canon between the top three voices (all violins) that is set over a repeating harmonic pattern heard in the basso continuo. The piece has a sense of architecture and a clear flowering of string virtuosity toward the middle of the piece that gives way to greater simplicity before coming to its end. The ensuing gigue furnishes the hearer with a counterpart that, while contrapuntal, is not so obviously so as the canon.