CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Monday, November 18, 2013 | 7:30 PM

Arcangelo

Zankel Hall
One of the world's freshest period-music ensembles, Arcangelo brings together exceptional musicians who display a passion for faithful interpretation that goes far beyond historical understanding. The group brings its dazzling technical ability to a program of works by J. S. Bach and J. C. Bach, as well as Handel’s mythological tale of unrequited love Apollo e Dafne, one of his most ambitious cantatas that set the stage for the brilliant operatic career that followed in the next 30 years of his life.
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The Program

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, BWV 1041

About the Composer


Johann Sebastian Bach spent virtually his entire career as a church musician, tirelessly churning out a prodigious quantity of organ music, cantatas, and other sacred choral works for religious services. But his contemporaries knew him best as a virtuoso on the organ and harpsichord. By all accounts, his keyboard technique was extraordinary. "Bach is said to have played with so easy and small a motion of the fingers that it was hardly perceptible," wrote his first biographer, Johann Nikolaus Forkel. He also learned to play the violin as a child-probably from his father, a town piper in Eisenach-and kept it up for the rest of his life. His proficiency on string instruments came in handy when he became director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in 1729 and began presenting regular concerts of secular music, including the concerto on tonight's program.


About the Work


Like the six "Brandenburg" concertos, the A-Minor Concerto probably dates from Bach's short, happy stint as Kapellmeister to the prince of Anhalt-Köthen (1717–1723). The composer described his employer as "a gracious Prince who both loved and knew music." In Köthen, Bach directed a group of top-flight instrumentalists who inspired not only the "Brandenburgs," but also his four orchestral suites and his great unaccompanied works for violin and cello. Bach owned a fine violin by Jacob Stainer, the leading violin maker of the day, which he played "cleanly and penetratingly," according to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Unfortunately, apart from the Double Concerto in D Minor, only two of his many violin concertos have survived, this one and the Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042.


A Closer Listen


The A-Minor Concerto, like its companion in E major, is scored for an orchestra of strings alone. Yet Bach uses imaginative harmonies, registrations, and instrumental doublings to create a rich array of textures and tone colors. In the first movement, the soloist stands both inside and apart from the orchestra. Now one takes the lead, now the other, as they interweave their voices in concertante fashion. The Andante sets the violin's florid, rhapsodic cantilena against a recurring dactylic (long-short-short) figure in the bass, creating an unresolved conflict that becomes strangely moving as the movement progresses. The finale, in brisk 9/8 meter, is distinguished by its propulsive passagework, acrobatic leaps, and contrapuntal ingenuity.


—Harry Haskell

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

JOHANN CHRISTOPH BACH
"Mein Freund ist mein" from Cantata: Meine Freundin, du bist schön

About the Composer


A cousin of Johann Sebastian Bach's father, Johann Christoph Bach was one of eight members of the sprawling Bach tribe who shared the same name. He is generally regarded as the most distinguished musician in the family before Johann Sebastian came along. Born in Arnstadt, he spent his entire adult life in the small central German duchy of Eisenach, where he served as court harpsichordist and city organist. J. S. Bach, who was born in Eisenach in 1685, probably sang as a boy chorister in one of the churches where Johann Christoph played. He described his near-relation as "a profound composer."


About the Work


Johann Christoph's small catalogue of compositions consists chiefly of keyboard solos and intimate vocal cantatas and concertos. Among the latter is the "wedding dialogue" cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön (My beloved, you are fair), scored for four solo voices, chorus, strings, and continuo, with words taken mainly from the Song of Solomon. It opens with a duet in which a young man and woman coyly express their tender feelings. The second number, "Mein Freund ist mein," is a more emotionally intense aria for soprano alone. A commentary accompanying the work (possibly written by J. S. Bach's father) helpfully sets the scene: While strolling in a garden, the lovesick maid imagines her beloved embracing her as she repeats the mantra, "My friend is mine and I am his."


A Closer Listen


The aria, in the form of a chaconne, is built on a four-bar bass pattern in G minor that repeats no less than 66 times. Above it, the soprano and first violin take turns weaving melodies that mirror the ebb and flow of the lovers' passions. The contrasting characters of the two solo parts—the voice chastely subdued, the violin increasingly agitated and brilliant—paint a vivid psychological portrait of a woman in the grip of a feverish passion that she can hardly admit, even to herself.


—Harry Haskell

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
Concerto Grosso in D Minor, Op. 6, No. 10

About the Composer


Although George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach were almost exact contemporaries, the two giants of German Baroque music never crossed paths. Handel traveled widely from an early age and eventually transferred his base of operations to London, while Bach rarely ventured beyond his home turf in eastern Germany. Handel, as a hugely successful freelance musician, was essentially his own master. Bach's output, by contrast, was largely restricted by the terms of his employment as a church musician in Leipzig. Yet both men were renowned keyboard players who shared a cosmopolitan musical outlook, combining the German love of counterpoint with the French affinity for suave melodies and harmonies and the new Italian taste for brilliant display.


About the Work


On his travels in Italy as a young man, Handel acquired a taste for the concerto grosso, a new genre of music that pitted two groups of instrumentalists, the concertino (solo group) and ripieno (full ensemble), against each other in a kind of friendly competition. An inveterate recycler of his own and other composers' music, he incorporated in his first set of concerti grossi (Op. 3, published in London in 1734) several individual movements that he had written for different purposes and at various times over the preceding two decades. When he returned to the genre five years later, however, he took no such compositional shortcuts: All 12 of the Op. 6 concertos were created from scratch in a month-long burst of inspiration in the fall of 1739.


A Closer Listen


The first of the D-Minor Concerto's six movements is a so-called French overture: a broad and rather formal introduction in dotted rhythm. In the lively fugal Allegro that follows, the two solo violins lead the chase, producing many an imitative entry and echo effect along the way, rounded off with a slow, solemn coda that firmly establishes the home key. The Air, with its stately sarabande rhythm and terraced dynamics, provides a sturdy framework for the soloists' expressive ornamentation. In the two ensuing allegros, the playfully competitive element that is intrinsic to the concerto grosso genre comes to fore. Amity is restored in the final Allegro moderato, however, as the concertino and ripieno groups come together in cheery D major.


—Harry Haskell

 

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL
Apollo e Dafne

About the Composer


In the summer of 1710, fresh from the triumphant success of his first opera Agrippina in Venice, Handel accepted a plum appointment as Kapellmeister to the Hanoverian court in his native Germany. One of the perks of the job was freedom to travel, and indeed Handel lingered in Hanover barely long enough to arrange for a performance of Apollo e Dafne (Apollo and Daphne), a dramatic cantata that he had drafted in Italy sometime earlier. The intimacy of the Italian cantata genre nourished Handel's genius for melody, characterization, and scene painting, which he was just beginning to develop in the realm of opera.


About the Work


The source of Handel's Italian libretto is the story from classical mythology (told by Ovid and others) about Apollo's frustrated pursuit of the chaste nymph Daphne, who transforms herself into a laurel tree in order to escape the sun god's unwelcome advances. The cantata features just the two characters, portrayed by a soprano and baritone.


A Closer Listen


Like Handel's operas, Apollo e Dafne is built around a sequence of speech-like recitatives and solo da capo arias (with the first part repeated in ornamented form after a contrasting middle section). Although it is Daphne who is physically transformed in the course of the cantata, Apollo undergoes an equally dramatic emotional metamorphosis: The cocky swain who, in his jaunty opening aria, crows about delivering Greece from a savage dragon becomes, at the end, a chastened lover who vents his grief with nobility and restraint. Daphne declares her resolve to remain free and unfettered in a ravishing aria in lilting 12/8 time ("Felicissima quest'alma"), accompanied by oboe and pizzicato strings. (The obbligato part is sometimes played on a flute, the better to highlight the music's pastoral simplicity.) Handel demonstrates his flair for vivid characterization in the duet "Deh, lascia addolcire," in which Daphne firmly stands her ground despite Apollo's eloquent pleading.


—Harry Haskell

© 2013 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Funding for the Carnegie Hall Live broadcast series is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Additional support for this Carnegie Hall Live broadcast is provided by Macy*s.
This performance is part of Baroque Unlimited.

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