Friday, February 24, 2017

Baroque Showcase

No. 241 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at


Over the years, we’ve assembled many thematic montages, but few of them have been dedicated at sampling works of a musical period. We could point to our Skandalkonzert montage from last fall as being one of the few we’ve shared with music indicative of a specific composition period. As we build up some material for Project 366, don’t be surprised if we program some more of these.

Early music, the era when composers start codifying music rather than relying on aural tradition, encapsulates mainly two musical periods – the renaissance and the baroque.  According to Wikipedia, Baroque music applies to music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, being widely studied, performed, and listened to. Key composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, and many, many others.  Today’s montage avoids the composers we’ve often programmed in past montages (such as the three preceding ones) and provides a modest sampling of compositions by other baroque-era composers. Without necessarily going into the specific works and artists showcased today, I thought I’d give a quick bio of each of the composers featured this week.

Johann Pachelbel (1653 –1706) was a German composer, organist, and teacher who brought the south German organ tradition to its peak. He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the middle Baroque era. Pachelbel's Canon in D major, is paired in today’s montage as originally intended with a gigue in the same key. One of the most recognized and famous baroque compositions, it has in recent years become extremely popular for use in weddings, rivalling Wagner's Bridal Chorus. Despite its centuries-old heritage, because the Canon's chord progression has been used widely in pop music in the 20th and 21st centuries it has been called "almost the godfather of pop music".

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 –1767) is another German Baroque composer and multi-instrumentalist. Almost completely self-taught in music, Telemann entered the University of Leipzig to study law, but eventually settled on a career in music. He held important positions in Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach, and Frankfurt before settling in Hamburg in 1721, where he became musical director of the city's five main churches. Telemann was compared favorably both to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach, who made Telemann the godfather and namesake of his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and to George Frideric Handel, whom Telemann also knew personally. Telemann's music incorporates several national styles (French, Italian) and is even at times influenced by Polish popular music. He remained at the forefront of all new musical tendencies and his music is an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles.

Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 –1764) was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era, and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François Couperin. Little is known about Rameau's early years, and it was not until the 1720s that he won fame as a major theorist of music with his Treatise on Harmony (1722) and also in the following years as a composer of masterpieces for the harpsichord, which circulated throughout Europe. Nicolas Racot de Grandval (1676 - 1753) was also a French composer, harpsichordist and playwright. Although a respectable musician, at one time organist at St Eustache, his interests ran more to comedy, both in written comic dramas, such as the "Broken bed pot" and in musical comedy such as frivolous parodies on Clérambault's cantatas.

Giovanni Battista Draghi (1710 –1736), best known as Pergolesi was an Italian composer, violinist and organist. He studied music in Jesi before going to Naples in 1725, where he studied under Gaetano Greco and Francesco Feo among others. He spent most of his brief life working for aristocratic patrons like the Colonna principe di Stigliano, and duca Marzio IV Maddaloni Carafa. Pergolesi was one of the most important early composers of opera buffa. His Il prigionier superbo, contained the two-act buffa intermezzo, La serva padrona (The Servant Mistress), which became a very popular work in its own right. When it was performed in Paris in 1752, it prompted the so-called Querelle des Bouffons ("quarrel of the comic actors") between supporters of serious French opera by the likes of Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau and supporters of new Italian comic opera. Pergolesi was held up as a model of the Italian style during this quarrel, which divided Paris's musical community for two years.

Francesco Saverio Geminiani (1687 –1762) was an Italian violinist, composer, and music theorist. He received lessons in music from Alessandro Scarlatti, and studied the violin under Carlo Ambrogio Lonati and Arcangelo Corelli. After leading orchestras in Italy, he set off for London in the company of Francesco Barsanti, where he arrived with the reputation of a virtuoso violinist, and soon attracted attention and patrons, including William Capel, 3rd Earl of Essex, who remained a consistent patron. In 1715 Geminiani played his violin concerti for the court of George I, with Handel at the keyboard. Geminiani made a living by teaching and writing music; many of his students went on to have successful careers, such as Charles Avison, Matthew Dubourg, Michael Christian Festing, Bernhard Joachim Hagen and Cecilia Young.

I think you will love this music too!