Friday, July 3, 2020

Music from the Age of Enlightenment: Rebel's Journey into the Baroque

“As we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, I thought it would be fun to add some music from the Age of Enlightenment to the abundance of traditional repertoire ranging from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to Dvořák’s “American” String Quartet.  After all, the music of Italian and German baroque composers was an integral part of the 18th century seismic cultural shift toward ideals on which the United States was founded.  The award-winning early music ensemble Rebel performed these rarely heard baroque gems for us at the opening of our 2016-17 season, enjoy!” – Peter Sirotin, Artistic Director, Market Square Concerts.

Performers: REBEL Matthias Maute, recorder & traverso (flute)
Jörg-Michael Schwarz & Karen Marie Barmer, violins
Basso continuo: John Moran, violoncello, & Dongsok Shin, harpsichord

Francesco Mancini (1672-1737) Sonata No. 6 in D Minor (1725)
Recorder, 2 violins & basso continuo
Amoroso, Allegro, Largo, Allegro

Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-1756) Sonata in B-flat Major [intro, 10:45; music, 13:25)
for 2 violins & basso continuo
Adagio, Allegro, Grave, Chaconne

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) Quartet/concerto in A Minor (TWV 43: a3) (c.1730) [intro about the instruments, 23:33; music, 29:50]
Recorder, 2 violins & basso continuo
Adagio, Allegro, Adagio, Vivace

Concert recorded October 1st, 2016
Filmed by Newman Stare

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The 18th Century's “Age of Enlightenment” and the 17th Century's “Age of Reason” (generally considered the beginning of Modern Philosophy) followed the rise of the Renaissance's scientific thinking in art and architecture. These ways of examining the world and Man's role in it that gave rise to a great deal of the political thinking eventually leading to the French Revolution, finally erupting at the Bastile in 1789, but also to the American Revolution which essentially began in 1765 with the “Stamp Act,” proclaiming “No Taxation without Representation!”

Another political philosophy that coexisted with this time period is summed up by “The Divine Right of Kings” which one of my history teachers referred to as a “neo-medieval” approach to government in which a king's reign was essentially anointed by God: who, after all, would dare topple a monarch who had God's backing? Not that it helped Charles I of England (beheaded by Cromwell's government following the Civil War in 1649) or his son James II (deposed by “The Glorious Revolution” in 1688 though he at least survived with his head) or, most famously, Louis XVI in France in 1793. By comparison, with the American Revolution, George III lost only a handful of colonies.

Pitting the progressive thinking of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on Reason against the intransigence of the “Divine Rights” aristocracy is a classic Hegelian Dialectic (thesis + antithesis = synthesis) waiting to happen – Hegel, incidentally, was born in 1770, the same year as Beethoven. And Beethoven was born in Bonn, one of the hot-spots of Enlightenment thinking, whose forward-thinking ruler, the Elector of Cologne, was the Archduke Maximilian Franz whose brother was Austrian Emperor Joseph II of Mozart fame and whose sister was Marie Antoinette who... well, remember Louis XVI of France? She also was beheaded in the aftermath of the French Revolution.

“Wait, I thought this was supposed to be about some Baroque music?” you say...

Sorry, but with Peter's introduction about music from an age when ideas that helped bring about this country were developing, I couldn't resist a little non-musical background to the world in which this music was created.

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If you're familiar with the first composer on this part of the program, you might not be the first American music-lover to wonder if Mancini ever written something called La pantera rosa. A Neapolitan composer who was forever in the shadow of court composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Mancini (and that's pronounced “man-CHEE-nee”) benefited occasionally from Scarlatti's frequent absences from Naples (Alessandro, btw, is better remembered today as the father of the more widely known composer Domenico Scarlatti). Since Mancini's sonata on this program was written in 1725, we might think of him as a contemporary of Antonio Vivaldi who wrote a little something called The Four Seasons in 1725; and managed to outlive Bach who was already considered old-fashioned by the time he died in 1750 (for the record, Bach was keeping track of the household music in 1725 in the “Anna Magdalena Notebook”).

In retrospect, Mancini's music represents a transitional period beginning with the Baroque and eventually becoming more Classical as the simpler style began to take hold in the 1740s. Though Mancini's works include 29 operas, 12 oratorios, and some 200 secular cantatas, while he gets a full page in Grove's Dictionary, he warrants only six lines of text in his Wikipedia entry.

Here's some trivia you can use when we get back together again under “Useless Facts for Future Cocktail Parties.”

Francesco Mancini
This anecdote about Mancini involves his taking sides during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1707. Without going into detail about this complex war, let's say it involved the Spanish throne with no immediate heir, and embroiled a good bit of Europe between 1701 and 1714 to determine whether a Frenchman or an Austrian would claim not only the Spanish throne but also the vast wealth of its New World empire. I'll just point out that Naples was the capital of a kingdom in southern Italy ruled by the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg Family who dominated Spain, Austria, and the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. When the succession came into question, the Austrians marched on Naples to secure it against Spain (where the throne was claimed by a French prince of the Bourbon dynasty).

At any rate, Francesco Mancini, with Scarlatti off in Rome, took his musicians on the road to greet the approaching Austrian army, realizing where the victory would lie, and quickly wrote a Te Deum to celebrate their triumphant arrival. In return, the Austrian general appointed Mancini director of music or maestro di capella (in German, this would be more familiar as Kapellmeister), but his career was short-lived. The Austrian viceroy appointed to rule in Naples decided to replace Mancini the next year and recalled Scarlatti from Rome. So once again, Mancini resumed life under Scarlatti's shadow.

By 1724, Mancini was apparently networking for a position with the court of King George I of England, dedicating a set of twelve flute (recorder) sonatas to John Fleetwood, the British consul in Naples. If nothing else, at least his sonatas were published in London that year.

The sonata performed here by Rebel is not one of the "Fleetwood" set which were for flute and continuo only (no violins). Perhaps these more complicated sonatas of 1725 also had some association with Fleetwood, but by October, all this musical and political schmoozing became unnecessary: in October, 1725, Alessandro Scarlatti died and Mancini inherited the post, finally. He had waited over 20 years for the job, so why leave now? Ten years later, Mancini suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed; he died two years later at the age of 65.

By the way, Naples, one of the largest cities in Southern Europe, experienced an attack of The Bubonic Plague in 1656, killing almost half its population. Mancini was born in 1679, only 23 years later. After he died in 1758, it was another 31 years till the French Revolution broke out in Paris: in 1799, French revolutionaries invaded Naples, set up a Republic which was put down by the famous British admiral, Horatio Nelson, but the city was soon captured by the French Emperor Napoleon in 1806 who created a “client kingdom” of France's, placing his brother Joseph on the throne, at least for a while, soon replacing him with one of his more trusted Generals so he could make Joseph King of Spain instead. So much for a 13-year-long war over the Spanish Succession a century earlier.

Ah, History – it's complicated...

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Johann Gottlieb Goldberg
As Jörg-Michael Schwarz explains in his introduction to the second piece, you're probably familiar with the composer's name without really knowing a single note he composed. Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was 14 when he studied with Bach – some years later he would also study with Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach – and had quite a reputation as a keyboard performer. That would seem obvious if you consider he was able to play Bach's formidable “Goldberg Variations.” Whether the piece was specifically written for Goldberg to play or not, the nickname (not the actual title, btw) definitely stems from the assumption he frequently performed them to help his employer, Count Keyserlingk, through many a sleepless night (the assumption being it helped put him to sleep when, basically, the count said if he was going to be awake he might as well have something worth listening to).

Of Goldberg's own music, well – here's a sample.

As my evil-twin fellow blogger Sid Reckstraw would point out, the Baroque Era was a time when musicians were employed like carpenters, potters, gardeners, cooks, and tailors, more artisans than artists, who wore a servant's livery – even Haydn ate at the servants' table, not with the Prince and his guests. Another assumption is, therefore, many composers employed by those who were not among the wealthiest rulers and princelings of Europe's aristocratic courts, particularly in all those thousands of little German-speaking states gathered under the umbrella of the Holy Roman Empire, were the equivalent of those who made decent-looking, functionally acceptable furniture to sit on, dishes to eat from, clothes to parade around in: only a very select few of them ever rose to the level of genius like a Chippendale, a Wedgwood, or an Armani. (The same, btw, could be said of the Classical Era, and, if you replace aristocratic courts with universities as the primary employer of composers, the second half of the 20th Century.)

But while we might consider Bach and Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi, Couperin and Rameau among the top tier of Baroque composers, there are no doubt thousands of others filling out these positions in courts grand and not-so-grand in the 18th Century with varying degrees of talent. While I've heard many Baroque composers who are the equivalent of those Paint-by-Numbers do-it-yourself kits from years ago, listening to Herr Goldberg, here, makes me wonder how many other certainly good if not great composers we might be missing out on? Not that we honestly need a Diogenio Bigaglia Renaissance, but still – there are so many composers who've fallen under the shadows of that small handful of the Indisputable Elite.

Johann Sebastian Bach had been hired by music-loving aristocrats in Anhalt and Cöthen before landing a job with the major church in the major city of Leipzig. It appears his student Goldberg spent his most of his brief career with Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk whose claim to fame seems to be his insomnia. He was the ambassador from the Russian Imperial Court to the Elector of Saxony's court in Dresden (not far from Leipzig) and his son, back home in the Baltic state of Courland, was the wealthiest aristocrat in Königsberg, frequently playing host to the likes of Immanuel Kant and whoever else would figure in the local intellectual and artistic elite.

Alas, composer/harpsichordist Goldberg didn't have much of a career: he died of tuberculosis at the age of 29.

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Not every European crown fell to the spirit of Revolution at the end of the 18th Century. Several were “enlightened,” each in their own ways, whether or not they were supported by their own nobility. Joseph II was certainly one of the more liberal monarchs of the day (his younger brother, stodgily conservative, undid almost everything Joseph achieved in his reforms, leaving his heirs to increase the presence of a secret police to secure their power).

Another was Frederick II of Prussia, known to history as Frederick the Great largely because of his military prowess which clearly placed Prussia in the forefront of European powers. In his youth, he was more interested in music and philosophy, much to his father's dismay: he played the flute and wrote a great deal of music himself (few outside his own court might describe him as Frederick the Great Composer). He wanted to be a “philosopher king” and corresponded regularly with the likes of Voltaire, one of the leading thinkers of this Age of Enlightenment.

Among the various musicians he employed, one was the second son of Johann Sebastian Bach who chafed at always being ranked below the clearly second-rate (if not third-rate) Johann Joachim Quantz whose old-fashioned style the king preferred. While the king wrote 121 Flute Sonatas of his own, Quantz wrote “hundreds” for the king to perform, along with some 289 Flute Concertos. Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, however, was too progressive for Frederick's taste and was viewed more as a very good keyboard player.

Eventually, C.P.E. managed to leave the king's service (or to end his servitude in Berlin) when his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann died, leaving his post open as the city of Hamburg's “resident composer,” essentially the Kapellmeister for the City rather than for an aristocratic court. And so C.P.E. Bach finally found his own artistic freedom.

Telemann (c.1750)
Telemann, after a few earlier positions, settled into Hamburg's churches and city functions in 1721, where, despite a few rocky moments at the beginning, he remained until his death in 1767. He is probably one of the most prolific composer who ever lived, with some 3,000 works to his credit though probably half of them have been lost and most of them have probably not been performed since the 18th Century. Still, there are over 1,000 sacred cantatas and 600 orchestral suites along with reams of chamber works like this Quartet on Rebel's program, part sonata and part concerto in its demands on the players (keep in mind, in those days, we're not talking large orchestras with a soloist or two, but, like Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, could be played by a small group of players).

This very proliferation of works, however, has tainted the general attitude about Telemann's music: “quantity over quality,” the biggest complaint. And a lot of his music might be churned out for specific occasions and fall into “fill-in-the-blank” or “cookie-cutter” patterns (the same crack was aimed at Vivaldi by wags who only heard endless sequences without realizing the incredible amount of variety in realizing these patterns). Still, there are enough works by Telemann that rise to the level of greatness, however often he may have been forced to resort to the assembly line in order to produce the vast amount of music the city expected of him.

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The original post for this concert features more generic background information and also features others videos performed by the ensemble. Especially interesting, I think, is the video of music by another obscure French Baroque composer you may never have heard of before, Jean-Féry Rebél from whom the ensemble Rebel takes its name (so yes, the accent is on the second syllable, in case you were wondering: I mean, there are only two syllables, so it's a 50/50 chance, right?).

While philosophy has frequently stymied more than just me – “it's easy to argue about philosophy,” one friend told me years ago, “because you can always find some quote somewhere that will be the exact opposite of whatever the other person is saying” – if you're looking for a quick background on “The Age of Enlightenment,” perhaps this Wikipedia entry will suffice. If you find this too shamefully inadequate, then, you probably don't need an “Introduction to The Enlightenment.”

Speaking of philosophical influences on the development of the American Revolution, I'll mention Thomas Piane, one of the key writers from the period, whose post-Revolutionary The Age of Reason was a best-seller when it was published in three installments between 1794 and 1807. It takes a “diestic approach” to a rationalist's view of religion which is certainly more than I want to get into here. As for the Revolutionary era itself, Paine's pamphlet “Common Sense” of 1776 was one of the most persuasive publications of the day.

And so, in these troubling times – and an age that certainly could use a little enlightenment – have a Happy and Safe 4th of July. And with any luck, we'll all be back together again to enjoy live music in a real space, where we can see old friends and listen to great music together.

Take care of yourselves – and be safe!

– Dick Strawser

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