As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!
The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.
The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”
As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”
Musicians as Craftsmen
Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.
Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!
The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.
The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)
Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.
The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!
Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute
Music is an integral part of the celebration of important life moments in most cultures, and this is particularly true of rites of passage. This week we offer a selection of music written by baroque composers for the celebrations of royal weddings, a coronation, and for the funeral of a renowned French marshal.
Lully Ballet de Xerxes
Louis XIV was born in 1638, ascending to the throne just five years later upon the death of his father. His mother, Queen Anne, ruled as his regent, alongside Cardinal Mazarin as chief minister. Even before Louis reached the age of majority in 1651 (at age thirteen!), and long before he took control of the reins of government upon the death of Mazarin in 1661, Anne had determined that Louis would marry her niece. Maria Theresa was the daughter of Anne’s brother, Philip IV of Spain, and her marriage to Louis would not only bring an end to the war between the two countries, but would prove to be essential to future foreign policy. Negotiations of the marriage were lengthy and complex, but eventually successful. Maria Theresa was married by proxy to Louis in Fuenterrabia, before being escorted to the border in 1660, where she was met by Louis and his court. They were married at Saint-Jean-de-Luz on June 9. Several weeks later, on August 26, they made the traditional Joyous Entry into Paris. The wedding itself would have been an understated affair, the grander celebrations reserved for Paris. Mazarin declared that he would not hesitate to “jetter l’argent par les fenêtres” (throw money out the window) in order to impress all of Europe. He commissioned the building of a new theatre in the Tuileries, and asked the renowned Italian composer Cavalli to write a new opera (Ercole amante) for the festivities. In fact, neither the theatre nor the opera was ready in time. In its stead, Cavalli’s opera Xerxes was performed in a temporary theatre, altered in order to incorporate ballets set to music written by Louis’ court composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully. The ballets proved more popular with the French public than the Italian opera, and it is a short selection of these dances that we are performing this week. We have taken the liberty of including the Chaconne from Roland, written by Lully and performed at Versailles 25 years later, in 1685. In the opera, the chaconne represents the celebration by the people of the marriage of their princess, so seems a fitting addition.
Louis and Maria Theresa seem to have had an amicable marriage for the first year or so, and a son and heir (Louis, Grand Dauphin) was born in 1661. Five subsequent children died in infancy. Maria Theresa seems to have quietly tolerated Louis’ various mistresses. Apart from occasionally having to act briefly as regent during Louis’ absences on military campaigns, she had little to do with the politics of the court. When she died in 1683, Louis famously said, “This is the first time she’s given me any trouble.”
Purcell Symphony and Airs from Ode “From hardy climes”
Lady Anne was born in 1665, during the reign of her uncle Charles II. Her father James, Duke of York, was heir presumptive, as Charles had no legitimate children, but James’s Roman Catholicism was cause for concern. Charles ensured that Anne and her older sister, Mary, were raised as Anglicans. Mary married William of Orange in 1677: Charles had favoured a union with the Dauphin Louis to cement a French coalition, but Parliament opposed a Catholic union. In choosing a husband for Anne, Charles turned to Prince George of Denmark, younger brother of King Christian V. The Danes were Protestant allies of the French, and Louis XIV was keen on an Anglo-Danish alliance in order to contain the power of the Dutch. Anne’s father was likewise keen to diminish the influence of his son-in-law, William of Orange, who vehemently opposed the match.
Thankfully, the political match led to a strong and supportive marriage. Anne and George were wed at the Chapel Royal on July 28, 1683. George had arrived at Whitehall on July 19, “to make his address to the Lady Anne.” Whether Purcell’s “From hardy climes” was performed on the occasion of his arrival, or on the wedding day itself, is not known, but that it was commissioned of Purcell by the royal family is clear. It opens with the text “From hardy Climes and dangerous Toils of War, where you for Valour unexampled are […] hail, welcome Prince, to our benigner isle. […] Wake then, my Muse, wake Instruments and Voice / To celebrate the Joys of such a choice.” To offer a taste of Purcell’s ode, we will be performing the opening symphony, as well as the instrumental airs that precede the songs and choruses.
Anne of course went on to become Queen Anne, with George as her Consort — though not until the reigns of her father James, sister Mary, and brother-in-law William came to an end in 1702. Purcell had written several birthday and welcome odes for Charles, James, and Mary, but this is the only ode he had the opportunity to write for Anne. His last royal ode, however, was written for the sixth birthday of her son, Prince William, Duke of Gloucester, in 1695. Seventeen pregnancies in as many years had led to only five liveborn children for Anne and George, and of those William was the only one to survive infancy, but he was sickly and tragically died at age eleven. Upon George’s death in 1708 Anne was left to grieve — and reign — alone, the last of the Stuart monarchs.
Blow Anthem “God spake sometime in visions”
Anne’s father, the Catholic Duke of York, assumed the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II, in 1685, as James II of England and Ireland, and James VII of Scotland. The coronation was a truly splendid affair. James commanded that all be done “that Art, Ornament, and Expense could do to the making of the Spectacle Dazzling and Stupendious.” We are fortunate that a remarkably detailed and elaborately illustrated document of the ceremony was written by Francis Sanford. It includes details of the music performed, with no fewer than nine anthems by Henry Purcell, John Blow, William Child, Henry Lawes, and William Turner. There were significant alterations to the order of service: a Catholic king and his queen were being crowned by the Church of England, and James requested that the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, eliminate the communion service altogether, and abridge the rest. One of the resulting innovations was a musical one: the addition of an anthem to be sung during the homage at the end of the king’s portion of the coronation. The anthem in question was to be a setting of part of Psalm 89, “God spake sometime in visions,” and was newly composed by John Blow. Written for eight-part choir with string orchestra, it was performed again at the coronation of George II in 1727.
James II’s reign was to be a short one. When he produced a Catholic heir, parliamentarians and nobles called on his Protestant son-in-law William of Orange to invade, resulting in the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688. James fled England, and his eldest daughter Mary and William III claimed the throne. James spent the rest of his life in exile at the court in France.
Pachelbel Canon & Gigue
In planning this program, we couldn’t help but think of the music we had included at our own weddings, and of the many weddings at which we had played as young musicians. The Pachelbel Canon is one of the most requested classical pieces at weddings, and so we briefly leave the European courts for a taste of music played at modern Canadian celebrations. Pachelbel himself was known to have played at a Bach family wedding (he was a friend of J.S. Bach’s father) — who knows, perhaps they played the Canon!
The Canon was composed during Pachelbel’s student years in Vienna. His teacher, Johann Schmelzer, and fellow student, Heinrich Biber, were violinists and key figures in the development of the south German school of violin playing. Inspired by their work, the keyboard player Pachelbel wrote two collections of chamber music for violins, including the now infamous Canon. Despite its apparent simplicity and natural beauty, it is in fact a masterful example of a strict contrapuntal canon, all presented over a ground bass. Each violinist plays exactly the same part, the second violinist starting one bar after the first, and the third starting one bar after the second. The continuo players repeat the same eight notes throughout. In its original scoring for three solo violins and continuo the Canon is also a delightful display of virtuosity. It was originally paired with a lively Gigue, which is easy to imagine as a joyful recessional.
Charpentier Messe des morts, H.10
From 1688–1698, Marc-Antoine Charpentier was Maître de musique at the principal Jesuit Church of Saint-Louis in Paris. The church was built by the Jesuit architects Étienne Martellange and François Derand on the orders of Louis XIII in the first half of the seventeenth century. It is a magnificent church, modelled after the Gesù in Rome but incorporating French elements, and was considered the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation. It was renowned for the splendour of its liturgy and of its music.
The Duke of Luxembourg, François-Henri de Montmorency [pictured left], was a French general, named Marshal of France in 1675. He was a successful if at times brutal general, victorious at key battles with William of Orange in the War of the Grand Alliance, charged with command of the French army in the Spanish Netherlands. The king was not always enthuastic about his behaviour — he had questionable morals at best — but made good use of his military prowess. Luxembourg died at Versailles in January 1695, attended at his death by a Jesuit priest. His funeral service was held in Paris at Saint-Louis three months later, on April 21, and the church was elaborately decorated. A detailed description was printed in the Mercure galant: the entire church was draped in black, but in such a way as to not hide ornaments and gilding Luxembourg’s coat of arms was mounted, as were large escutcheons interwoven with batons of the Marshal of France. A magnificent catafalque, more than 20 feet high, was erected in the middle of the church, with panels depicting his greatest victories, and topped with four large marble statues, representing Fame, Power, Glory, and Victory. Four lions were placed at the foot of steps rising to these statues, and on the steps 120 candlesticks, and four girandoles, each with two dozen candles.
The music written for the occasion was Charpentier’s Messe des morts, and it was performed “by a great number of the best musicians in Paris.” One can only imagine the effect of hearing this beautiful mass in such a remarkable setting.
Handel Il parnasso in festa
Il Parnasso in festa, per il sponsali di Teti e Peleo (Parnassus in celebration of the nuptials of Thetis and Peleus) was a festa teatrale, a musical entertainment written by Handel as part of the celebrations of the marriage of Anne, Princess Royal, and Prince William of Orange in 1734. Handel enjoyed the patronage of the royal family throughout his career in England, and had a particularly close relationship with the Princess Royal, who supported his opera seasons, and was a capable musician herself. Handel taught lessons to her and her sisters, and she was clearly his favourite pupil.
Anne was the second child and oldest daughter of George II. In 1725, when she was sixteen, a proposal of marriage from Louis XV was rejected when the French insisted that Anne would have to convert to Catholicism. She had to wait another eight years before the next proposal, this time from a suitable Protestant Royal, William IV, Prince of Orange-Nassau. They were married on March 14, 1734 in the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace. Handel composed the anthem for the wedding, at Anne’s request, and set to a text of her choosing. The night before the ceremony, the royal family and their courtiers attended the premiere of Il Parnasso in festa at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. A full three-act work, it was performed in costume in front of a single backdrop, probably with little or no staging. An additional five performances were given for an enthusiastic public.
The set of the serenata represents Mount Parnassus, where Apollo and the muses have gathered to celebrate the wedding of Prince Peleus, a mortal, to Thetis, a sea nymph. Orpheus is among the guests, inspiring an array of arias celebrating love and music. We close our concerts this week with the Overture to Il Parnasso as well as the final chorus, “May this celebration ignite the heart.”
Anne and William’s marriage was by all accounts a relatively happy one, despite her rather imperious temperament. William’s popularity with the Dutch public did not extend to Anne, who served as regent for her young son William V, but she worked tirelessly, successfully consolidating reforms introduced by her husband. She invited Handel to The Hague in 1750, an invitation he was happy to accept.
PROGRAM LISTING Directed by Elisa Citterio & Ivars Taurins
November 29–December 3, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
JEAN-BAPTISTE LULLY 1632–1687
Ballet from Xerxes
For the wedding of Louis Xiv & Maria Theresa, 1660 Ouverture – Les François et Espagnols – Les Scaramouches – Les Trinelains – Les Mattasins – Gigue – Gavottes – Chaconne (from Roland)
HENRY PURCELL 1659–1695
Symphony and Airs from Ode “From hardy climes”
For the wedding of Princess Anne and Prince George of Denmark, 1683
JOHN BLOW 1649–1708
Anthem “God spake sometime in visions”
For the coronation of James II, 1685
JOHANN PACHELBEL 1653–1706
Canon & Gigue for 3 violins & continuo
MARC-ANTOINE CHARPENTIER 1643–1704 Messe des morts, H. 10
Requiem mass for the funeral of the Duke of Luxembourg, 1695
GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685–1759
Overture & Chorus “S’accenda pur” from Il parnasso in festa
For the wedding of Anne, Princess Royal, and Prince William of Orange, 1743
You might have noticed a new crop of imagery for this season’s concerts, designed by our friends at Sovereign State.
A great deal of research goes into the production of these, and often times the inspiration comes from baroque imagery. Choir director Ivars Taurins is an expert in this realm, and provided us with a cornucopia of options. We’re happy to share a few them here for our Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation concert – some that made the final cut, and others that didn’t but were still fascinating to see!
Here is the a painting of The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox by William Hogarth. It was fashionable in Georgian England for men to wear wedding suits in pale greys and creams. Of note are the cupids with a horn of plenty.
A popular style of wedding ring in the 17th and 18th centuries was a gimmel ring — a ring with two hoops that fit together. They were used as betrothal rings: the engaged couple would wear one hoop each, and rejoin them to use as a wedding ring.
The use of two clasped hands in the design was a popular, going back the ancient Roman Fede ring: “fede” comes from the Italian phrase “mani in Fede,” meaning hands clasped in faith or trust.
The 17th and early 18th centuries were rife with “Vanitas” paintings — still-life paintings that depict the vain, futile nature of earthly pursuits and goods. They use symbolic objects such as skulls and rotting fruit to represent mortality, and the brevity of life and suddenness of death. Books symbolize human knowledge, and music and musical instruments (often with broken strings) suggest the pleasures of the senses. Flowers, butterflies, candles, and clocks or hourglasses allude to the ephemeral, transient nature of life.
Collier, Claesz, Vermeulen, and Boel are just a few painters who excelled in this art form. The painting below is by the French painter Simon Renard de Saint-André (1613–1677).
And here are some spine-tingling photos taken by Ivars Taurins at an exhibition at Versailles on Louis XIV’s funeral.
Note the wonderful silver skeletons with scythes and hour-glasses holding the giant crown!
Below is a portrait of James II, who was crowned King of England and Ireland (and James VII of Scotland) in 1685. John Blow composed the anthem “God spake sometime in visions” for this very coronation.
And it wouldn’t be a coronation without a crown (or two). Here are a few, one of which made the final concert imagery. Below is an engraving of the Crown of State of James II. Underneath that image is an engraving of the Coronation Crown of St. Edward.
And so – the final product (note the baroque frame around the imagery)! This final image combines the three themes: the crown (coronation), the cut-out image (of a wedding), and the red shadow in the shape of a tombstone (funeral).
By Brandon Chui, viola, guest 2017/18 Thursday, November 23, 2017
Food – for me, it is that upon which the entire day is built; the day’s support pillars that are so important that a day’s simple routine (nevermind a complex routine!) just isn’t possible if this architecture has not been properly installed. I always worry about meals, often days in advance, especially when rehearsals and concerts are involved, and being on tour highlights how neurotic I am when it comes to feeding time. We’ve been on the road for four days so far, and while I’ve had a couple too many meals at a world-dominating fast-food chain which shall remain nameless (let’s just say that an Old Farmer with the same name has a song named after him), I’ve also had my fair share of smoked meat sandwiches and shawarma in Montreal to keep the days from turning into a raging dumpster fire.
If food provides my day’s architecture, it’s music that fills it with meaning. I’ve been looking forward to playing Tafelmusik’s innovative memorized program J.S. Bach: The Circle of Creation since being booked for it back in January. Everyone’s learning curve is different, so I speak purely from a personal perspective — memorizing of this nature (viola parts, ie. the inner voices that are harder to memorize) takes months to prepare. There is the initial “installation,” and the constant updates and re-fortification to make sure there are no leaks. I started chiselling away in June while I was in Asia, and have been rechecking things right up until before the two concerts that we’ve played so far.
As prepared and confident as I was at our first concert in Montreal, I won’t lie, folks — I was terrified. Yes, rehearsals were incredibly fun, and it goes without saying the music is extraordinary in every way, but to have in the back of your mind, “Months of preparation and it comes down to now,” does not instill calm. There is something valuable that I learned from playing another Tafelmusik memorized program, TheGalileo Project: little blips will occur here and there. These moments count for nothing; we are human and it happens. What does count is how you recover. It reminds me of something that conductor Jaap van Zweden said when I worked with him: “Nobody plays perfectly, but if you make a correction the fastest, you are the best.”
I’m writing this while en route to Charlottetown PEI after playing in Sackville NS last night, the second of six concerts on this Maritimes + Montreal tour. The two concerts so far have been those, “This is why I do this,” moments. While playing goodness-knows-how-many Imperial March(es) from The Empire Strikes Back has brought the house down every single time, it in no way compares to seeing, feeling, and hearing the uplifting spirit of Bach overwhelming the audience to elation and tears – I will take that any day over Darth. It’s simple, really: I ride for Bach, everyday. I can’t wait to get back at it at tonight’s concert at the Homburg Theatre in Charlottetown. But first thing’s first: pass over that lobster roll!
The orchestra has now performed in Charlottetown, PEI, at Homburg Theatre, Confederation Centre of the Arts and Antigonish, NS, at Immaculata Auditorium, St Francis Xavier University, with thanks to the Antigonish Performing Arts Series. The tour continues tonight in Wolfville, NS, at Festival Theatre with the Acadia Performing Arts Series. The tour concludes on November 26 in Halifax, NS, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. More info at tafelmusik.org/Tours
Why does an oratorio written in 18th-century England by a German composer still resonate so strongly to so many in this day and age? “Behold – I tell you a mystery…”
Why has “Hallelujah” struck a chord with people of all walks of life, whether it is Handel’s or Leonard Cohen’s? From an Inuit community in Alaska and a congregation in Kuwait singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, to the hundreds of cover versions and arrangements of Cohen’s song.
And why doesHandel’s Messiah touch people of different backgrounds, faiths, and cultures? The universality of this work, beyond its remarkable, moving, and uplifting music, lies, I think, in its message of “Peace on earth, good will towards men,” and its themes of enlightenment and understanding, hope and faith, humanity and good will, sacrifice and charity – these are important values that we esteem and strive for, even in our secular world. And the triumph of these over suffering, injustice, selfishness, or man’s inhumanity to man – these are to be found in Handel’s masterpiece. I believe that Messiah, like other great musical compositions, opens in us a spirituality, whether one belongs to a faith or not. It also offers solace – an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives. And as such it has become an annual ritual for many.
Messiah joins the ranks of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, or school and church nativity plays, or a holiday dinner with family and friends – all are rituals that are part of the private and public recognition of this special time of year – a time for giving and of thanksgiving. And a little ritual and mystery in our lives isn’t such a bad thing.
But something else – and perhaps therein lies the mystery – something about this work and its music and its message has touched more than the English-speaking world with its power and essence, allowing it to remain meaningful and vital to this day. And to that I say Hallelujah!
Join Ivars Taurins and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir for Handel Messiahfrom December 13–16, 2017 at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre.
Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout returns to direct Tafelmusik this November in Mozart’s Piano. Leading up to the concerts, Marketing Manager Tim Crouch caught up with Kristian over the phone while he was at his home in London, England. Here is the full conversation.
Welcome back to Tafelmusik! What have you been busy with since we last saw you in 2013?
Well, I guess it’s safe to say that one of the biggest things that’s happened since then is the completion of the solo Mozart cycle for Harmonia Mundi. Ten CDs of solo keyboard music. When I started the cycle in 2009 I didn’t have a sense that when it came to an end it would feel so bittersweet. But when volume 9 and 10 came out it felt a little bit like the cast of Will & Grace saying, “This is the final episode.” It was a really big thing to have done, to spend so much time with Mozart’s solo keyboard music — to really investigate it as thoroughly as that.
Some of the recent highlights for me have been closer collaboration with many of the groups I have admired from afar. One of them was the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique with John Elliot Gardiner: we had a big tour of piano concertos in November of last year. That was life-changing thing for me.
I have been increasingly directing more and more from the keyboard. Tafelmusik was really one of the first projects that I directed from the keyboard in repertoire like that. You know, being on the stage with a group as wonderful as Tafelmusik and exploring a program like that, playing piano concertos and symphonies and directing from the keyboard and playing continuo, is a whole different ball game. I was so touched by the positivity, and the energy and the classiness of the playing, and how natural that whole relationship felt. It was just terrific.
I think that experience really gave me the courage that I needed to set off down that path. There have since been projects with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, English Concert, Juilliard 415, and others. One of the highlights was directing my first St. Matthew Passion, with Dunedin Consort, in an essentially one-on-a-part performance which I directed from the harpsichord and organ. It was truly one of those moments that just changes your sort of DNA overnight.
Bach has played an ever-growing role in the last few years, including performing and recording all of the Bach violin sonatas with Isabelle Faust. Rediscovering my early training as a harpsichordist at the Eastman School and the chance to spend so much time working on Bach’s keyboard music has filled me with great joy.
Tell us a bit about the program you’ve selected for this week?
This program was designed along similar lines as the first one in 2013. I think it’s always been my belief that it’s wonderful to hear a full program of Mozart, but it’s also fantastic to hear music that influenced him. Hearing Mozart in context with music of the Bach sons provides us with fascinating insights into his working methods and where he finds inspiration in the music that he hears. With Carl Philipp and Johann Christian I’d like to think that there’s a certain sense that the fusion of styles that those two composers represent finds its natural outcome in the music of Mozart. We know that when Mozart was in London he met Johann Christian Bach, and something about JC really deeply impressed Mozart. For me, it’s this inexpressible, incredibly highly refined Italianate sense of melody that Johann Christian seems to conjure, almost singlehandedly, historically speaking. I think Mozart is very touched by the wonderful artlessness of the melodic writing of Johann Christian. As to Carl Philipp, one of the things that impressed Mozart was his incredible sense of making music sound as if it is almost improvised on the spot, sometimes going to places of real extremity in terms of the gesture. I find that when you hear CPE on a program of Mozart, it sounds much more kind of lyrical and beautiful, and Mozart conversely sounds much more revolutionary and at times eccentric. I love the fact that you hear composers so differently when you hear music of composers who influenced them around the same time. And I love the contrast in textures that you get between solo works for keyboard, symphonies, piano concertos, and then strings symphonies as well. The wonderful differences in colour and taste when you hear the JC Bach Symphony, curiously for him in the key of G minor, which is so much more Sturm und Drang than we might associate normally with JC Bach. Then the kind of laser clarity and brilliance of Carl Philipp’s incredibly difficult string writing, and how that bleeds into the mature string and wind sound that Mozart conjures for the piano concerto in the 1780s. It’s a marvelous look at the laboratory element of orchestration in this period I think.
You have a very full touring schedule. What do you do to stay healthy and happy while on the road?
When you get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for a flight, you have to tell yourself that that’s what you’re getting paid for, in a sense. Then you get on stage and play with wonderful colleagues in great halls, and that’s really the part that’s free.
You know, more and more you just look a little bit to the creature comforts. The thing that I look forward to most is finding a really lovely bar in a new city and going there with colleagues after a concert and having a really nice gin martini and just experiencing the new city. One of the things I love more than anything is getting up after breakfast and just walking for hours in any new city that I’m in, or any city for that matter. The feeling of not being a tourist while you’re supposed to be a tourist is so great, because you’re walking the street and experiencing city life. I’m not one these people who forces myself into a really strict museum or tourist itinerary, as that kind of stresses me out.
Having high-speed internet connections when you’re on the road is wonderful. Recently, I have been on a mad obsession with Bach cantatas, studying scores online in hotel rooms, and getting a grip on the text and the historical context. And then there are other times when there’s nothing better than settling down with Netflix and a martini.
Who is your favourite composer to perform?
I think maybe a year ago I would have said Mozart. But recently, I would say the feeling of enrichment that one gets when one plays Bach, and I don’t mean so much playing solo keyboard music. I have never had felt quite as intensely connected with something as I felt when directing the St.Matthew Passion.
I think it’s safe to say Bach’s large-scale vocal and orchestral music — that feeling of high and incredible, almost exhausting concentration that you need to play Bach — is probably the feeling is that I’m chasing most at the moment. It’s very different with Mozart. It’s much more natural and effortless somehow, even as a player. I think increasingly I’d say that Bach is the person that fulfills that role, especially in a collaborative situation, where I’m playing continuo in sort of larger organism.
What do you like to do on a day off?
I’d say that I’m super house-proud. Honestly, I love cleaning. I love getting home and just setting things straight, getting the house tip-top. The first thing I do is I go and buy fresh flowers. Probably because life is so chaotic and you’re at a different airport all the time, I love the feeling of structure and order. I then take my physiotherapist’s advice as much as I can, to relax, and to sleep!
What was your first music gig?
Probably the first time I thought that I was actually really 100% a professional musician was a solo recital that I gave in Utrecht in 2001 after winning the Bruges competition. It was a prize concert, so it wasn’t an official engagement in a sense, but I was paid a fee — the largest single amount I had been paid for anything —and I remember in that moment thinking, “OK, this is really what is happening now.” It was a kind of kooky concert in a coffee shop, a solo Mozart recital, and my brother came … it is a really strong memory.
What are the last three recordings you listened to?
I just opened Spotify to check what I’ve been listening to:
Michael Nyman’s No Time in Eternity, performed by Céladon. It’s a fifteen-minute piece for viols and countertenor with Byrd and Tallis. It’s exquisite, a total find for me as I was just browsing around: it was on a playlist from the Ambronay Festival. I was just so struck by the beauty of this piece.
An amazing relatively recent disc of Du Mont motets (O Mysterium) from Ensemble Correspondances, a French group directed by Sébastien Daucé. What they’re doing for late seventeenth-century French music, particularly Charpentier, is just unbelievable.
Bach Cantatas for soprano with Carolyn Sampson and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, which was released in May 2017.
What is your “guilty pleasure” music to listen to?
Definitely ABBA — I’m not shy about it!
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I think it’s very clear for me that that is John Eliot Gardiner. I think it’s a question of what reaches you at a certain time in your upbringing. For me growing up in Australia, many of his recordings came into my life and changed the whole way I thought about how this music would sound. Crucially, I was really struck by that when reading so many of his texts and interviews. He takes both the music and the details of the historicism of it seriously, but then at the end of the day, it is combined with really strong and sensible instincts and really top-quality playing. And I thought to myself at that moment, okay this is it. This is the field. I want to be playing old instruments because this sound just reaches me in a really visceral, strong, dramatic way. Having had the opportunity to work with him a couple of times, I am so deeply impressed by the ability for someone on that level to continually be asking themselves questions, and continually be forcing themselves to be on the highest level, despite the fact that it would be very easy to rest on decades of top-quality, path-breaking projects.
Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
I would like to start my own group. As much as I love Mozart, the Bach sons, and Haydn, I’m dying to really get into German sacred repertoire and address a new idea for the large-scale Bach choral and orchestral works, especially the Passions. Of course, this has been done one-on-a part before, but I want it to again be reclaimed by the keyboard director at the heart of the proceedings. I think that is truly so absolutely characteristic of what the journey of directing these pieces means. I am dying to record both of the Passions with a group of eight to twelve singers and a very small orchestra. Although we’ve got countless recordings of these pieces, they do somehow bear renewed investigation every time. There is something about any audience that hears these pieces, when the performers are really engaged on that level … they think they could hear the whole thing, all three hours, again. I am so struck by that, deeply, with Bach. So, just more and more of that!
Join Kristian and Tafelmusik for Mozart’s Pianofrom November 9–12, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.
Of Johann Sebastian Bach’s many children, four enjoyed substantial careers as musicians: Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, born in Weimar to Maria Barbara; and Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian, born some twenty years later in Leipzig to Anna Magdalena. The youngest son, Johann Christian, is often called “the London Bach.” He was by far the most travelled member of the Bach family. After his father’s death in 1750, the fifteen-year-old went to Berlin to live and study with his brother Emanuel. A fascination with Italian opera led him to Italy four years later. He held posts in various centres in Italy (even converting to Catholicism) before settling in London in 1762. There he enjoyed considerable success as an opera composer, but left a greater mark by organizing an enormously successful concert series with his compatriot Carl Friedrich Abel. Much of the music at these concerts, which included cantatas, symphonies, sonatas, and concertos, was written by Bach and Abel themselves. Johann Christian is regarded today as one of the chief masters of the galant style, writing music that is elegant and vivacious, but the rather dark and dramatic Symphony in G Minor, op. 6, no. 6 reveals a more passionate aspect of his work.
J.C. Bach is often cited as the single most important external influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart synthesized the wide range of music he encountered as a child, but the one influence that stands out is that of J.C. Bach. Mozart spent fifteen months in London as a boy, in 1764–65, and Bach took the seven-year-old prodigy under his wing. Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl recalls in her memoirs:
Herr Johann Christian Bach, the Queen’s teacher, sat [Wolfgang] between his legs: the former played a few bars, and the other continued, and in this way they played a whole sonata, and someone not seeing it would have thought that only one man was playing it.
In 1778 Bach visited Vienna, and Mozart wrote to his father:
You may easily imagine his joy and mine when we met again. […] I love him from my heart (as you know), and esteem him; and as for him, there is no doubt that he praises me warmly, not only to my face, but to others also, and not in the exaggerated manner in which some speak, but in earnest.
C.P.E. Bach Symphony for strings in C Major Wq 182/3
Mozart also greatly admired the works of the older Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, but from a distance: there is no evidence that the two ever met. Copies of keyboard solos by C.P.E. were included in the notebooks assembled by Leopold Mozart for his children. Wolfgang encountered his music again in Vienna at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who had served as Austrian envoy in Berlin. Van Swieten held weekly gatherings at his home in Vienna, to which he invited musicians to perform the works of the Lutheran Bachs, as well as the oratorios of Handel. Mozart was a regular guest at these assemblies. Here he would have encountered C.P.E.’s Six symphonies for string orchestra, Wq 182, commissioned by Van Swieten during a visit to Hamburg in 1773. Before the symphonies were handed over to van Swieten they were played through at the house of Professor Büsch in Hamburg. The violinist J.F. Reichardt led the ensemble on this occasion and wrote: “the original, bold concepts, the wide variety of forms and modulations, as well as their novel treatment, were received with enthusiasm.” He also noted that they were very difficult to play, but that the Baron had expressly requested that Bach put technical considerations aside when composing the works.
Mozart Symphony no. 29 in A Major
Mozart’s earliest symphonic writing shows the clear influence of Johann Christian Bach, and of his sojourns in Italy. In 1773, at the age of seventeen, he travelled to Vienna and must have heard some symphonies while he was there, for he returned to Salzburg and penned two decidedly Viennese works: the so-called “Little G-Minor” Symphony, K.183, and the Symphony in A Major, K.201 that we are performing this week. The symphonies clearly show the influence of Haydn, both in form and style. The A-Major Symphony was written with a relatively small orchestra in mind, with a wind section consisting of only oboes and horns. Evidently Mozart himself was pleased with the work, and he revived it several times after settling in Vienna without substantial revision.
Mozart Rondo in A Minor for solo piano, K.511
The Rondo in A Minor was composed in March of 1787, in a relatively quiet period in terms of output. The previous year, Mozart had enjoyed tremendous success with Marriage of Figaro, first in Vienna, and then in Prague. It had also been a busy year in terms of instrumental compositions, with several concertos, chamber pieces, piano works, and the “Prague” Symphony. By October of 1787 he was back in Prague with a new opera, Don Giovanni, but in the interim penned only a handful of instrumental works, the Rondo among them. It stands out amongst Mozart’s solo piano music as exceptionally intimate, with an air of melancholy and mystery. It was not written on commission, nor is there any dedication, and its elusive nature has led to conjecture that he wrote it for himself. It has been suggested that it may have been written in response to the death of a close friend: the aristocrat Count August Hatzfeld was a gifted violinist who had participated in many performances of Mozart string quartets. Mozart wrote to his father of the “sad death of my dearest and best friend, the Count von Hatzfeld. He was just 31, like me; I do not feel sorry for him, but pity both myself and all who knew him as well as I did.” Scholars have noted that the influence of C.P.E. Bach’s piano music can be felt in the Rondo, and pianists have remarked that it looks forward to Schumann and Chopin in its deeply personal expression.
Mozart Concerto for piano no. 12 in A Major, K.414
The A-Major Piano Concerto is one of three concertos performed at Mozart’s Lenten concerts of 1783. Composed a year after Mozart’s move to Vienna, it is also the first of the great series of fifteen piano concertos he composed in the capital in the 1780s. On December 28, 1782, he wrote to his father:
I must write in the greatest haste, as it is already half past five and I have asked some people to come here at six to play a little music. I have so much to do these days that often I do not know whether I am on my head or my heels. The whole morning, until two o’clock, is spent giving lessons. Then we eat. After this meal I must give my poor stomach a short hour for digestion. The evening is therefore the only time I have for composing and of that I can never be sure, as I am often asked to perform at concerts. There are still two concertos wanting to make up the series of subscription concerts. These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are also passages here and there from which connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less discriminating cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why.
Despite the busy schedule, Mozart had completed the remaining two concertos (K.413 and 415) a few weeks later. In January he placed a notice in the Wiener Zeitung advertising carefully copied manuscript copies of all three concertos, to be sold by subscription only from his apartment on the Hohe Brücke. His father suggested that the price of four ducats was too high, but Mozart responded, “I believe that I should earn at least one ducat for each concerto, and I can’t imagine that anyone could get it copied for one ducat!” His father may have been right, for sales were low, but the concerts were successful, and Mozart’s reputation as both composer and pianist greatly enhanced. Two years later the three concertos were engraved and published by the Viennese publishing firm Artaria as Opus 4.
Noteworthy in the A-Major Concerto is the middle movement, based on a theme from the Overture to La calamita de cuori by Johann Christian Bach. Bach had died a few months before the concerto was written, and the beautiful Andante is a touching musical epitaph to Mozart’s mentor.
PROGRAM LISTING Kristian Bezuidenhout, guest director & fortepiano soloist
November 9—12, 2017, Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH (1735–1782)
Symphony in G Minor, op. 6, no. 6 (London/Amsterdam, 1770) Allegro Andante più tosto adagio Allegro molto
CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH (1714–1788)
Symphony for strings in C Major, Wq 182/3 (Hamburg/Vienna, 1773) Allegro assai Adagio Allegretto
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756–1791)
Symphony no. 29 in A Major, K.201 (Salzburg, 1774) Allegro moderato Andante Menuetto & Trio Allegro con spirito
W.A. MOZART Rondo in A Minor for solo piano, K.511 (Vienna, 1787)
W.A. MOZART Concerto for piano no. 12 in A Major, K.414 (Vienna, 1782) Allegro Andante Rondo: Allegretto
There will be a 20-minute intermission.
Kristian Bezuidenhout’s appearance is generously sponsored by Margaret & John Catto.
Join us for Mozart’s Pianofrom November 9–12, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.