Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach
OBOENWERKE, volume 2 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"
Why, judging by the survived
written music versions, different bodies of performers were
allowed for performing many works by composers of the Baroque
epoch? What are the rules according to which the baroque
instrumental ensembles were being formed? How to be about
modern transcriptions of the ancient compositions? There
is the only way to answer these questions, that is - to
comprehend the special features of the baroque music, its
key categories. The notion of trio widespread in
that epoch deserves special attention here.
The baroque trio is a much wider category than trio
in classical or romantic music since it indicates not the
number of performers but the number and correlation of the
musical tissue's fibres: two expressive melodic voices are
based on harmonic foundation of the figured bass (continuo
part usually performed by one, two or three musicians).
Such trio mode of musical thinking was as customary
and natural for baroque composers as melodies to the accompaniment
- for musicians of the next epoch. Thanks to the universal
principles of the trio boundaries between the genres
of the baroque instrumental music are transparent: one triple-voiced
basis may be realized by varied bodies of performers.
Trio-thinking has become a concentrated expression
of the spirit of baroque ensemble playing - artistically
easy "conversation" of several musicians where
each has equal possibilities to show his/her skills and
individuals. In such co-creation of a group of baroque instrumentalists
the composer himself is just the first among equals: he
assigns the themes for musical intercourse, lays down the
rules, but doesn't deprive the colleagues-musicians of creative
initiative. Modern musicians also join with the dialogue
of the author and the performers submitting for the listeners'
judgment their own interpretations of the chef-d'oeuvres
by the great masters of the past.
The works by J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750), included in this
album, - very diverse both in style and in mood - present
different aspects of the composer's instrumental music.
Different is also the degree of easiness which the performers
venture in their interpretations of Bach's works. In the
C-major Overture (BWV 1066) - also known by the alternative
title "The Orchestral Suite" #1 - they follow
the text precisely. In the G-minor Sonata (BWV 1030b) they
reconstruct the incompletely preserved author's version.
In the D-minor Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043) they suggest
their own transcription of the work. But despite any distinctions
we recognize the hand of the greatest baroque master in
every bar of his music.
The creative heritage of the composer provides food for
meditation. Nevertheless the unique Bachian reading of the
standard baroque principle of the trio helps to explain
a lot both to the listeners and to the performers.
The C-major Overture is nothing but a dance-suite in the
"French style", music for the theater though written
not for a particular ballet show but for a fancied play
which the composer is performing in his imagination (naming
his dancing suites "overtures" after the title
of the first, biggest and mostly full-scaled part, Bach
follows the tradition that had been formed earlier). It
seems to be the first of four Bach's works of the genre
which fact is proved not so much by the dating of the manuscript
(the earliest source of Bach's Overtures: 1723 - 1724) as
by the musical peculiarities of the composition. Demonstrating
delightful flexibility of the rhythm and diversity of melodic
motions Bach reproduces in his C-major Suite the main features
of classic French style which had been formed at the court
of Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil. Hence the preference given
to the traditional French ball-room dances, the prevalence
of the "alternative" (double) dances over single
ones and specific combinations of instruments.
However already in the first part of the Suite, in the Overture
(originally in the French court ballet it used to accompany
the entrance of the King into the ball-room), the traditional
genre elements are supplemented with Bach's own original
ideas. The Overture develops beyond a full-scale introduction
to the dances and becomes a complicated, large-scale and
self-sufficing concert piece full of vivid, picturesque
collation of sonorities. Thus strong in the French way,
having the distinct design of the upper tune (the unison
of the first violins and two oboes) orchestral tutti combines
in the slow parts of the Overture with the showy central
section written in tempo rapidamente similar to the corresponding
parts of Vivaldi's and Bach's own concertos: sonorous ritournelles
in fugatos alternate with graceful buoyant episodes assigned
for traditional French trio - two oboes and a bassoon.
The bassoon's part is interpreted with boldness characteristic
of Bach: not being satisfied with the usual role of a modest
harmonic ground the bassoon's part develops into a self-sufficient
brilliant melodic line as important as the melodies of the
The choice and arrangement of the dancing parts of the Suite
are remarkable for refined taste and sense of musical dramaturgy.
The stately-restrained and at the same time fluent, liquid
courante, embodying the solemnity and grace of a court ball,
is followed by the exquisite gavotte - a simpler dance traditionally
connected with the images of pastoral, serene relaxation,
heavenly bliss. The next, central couple of dances is put
together with remarkable wit. Forlana - a Venice dance of
Slavic origin - had gotten in the fashion fairly late, after
a Frenchman A. Kampra used it in his "opera-ballet"
"Gallant Europes" (1697) to reproduce the atmosphere
of the Venice carnival. To the music of the "folk"
forlana stylized scenes of ardent, passionate courtship
were being played. And just after it Bach introduces prim
courtly menuet abound with reverences. After the "piquant",
balancing on the brink of decorum forlana amorous flirtation
of the menuet enclosed within the stern frame of the court
etiquette arises. The ball ends with one more pair of dances.
The sweeping melodic gestures of bourree contrast with the
smooth and more elegant steps of the final passepied - the
dance which often accompanied the wedding scenes.
Adherence to all the conventionalities of the genre nevertheless
does not prevent the author from realization of his own
ideas. Thus the abundance of the "alternative"
dances in the Suite is not just a tribute to the past. Like
one brilliant dancing couple sometimes solos at a ball arousing
admiration of all others, familiar to us by the Overture
elegant trio of the wood-wind group stands out against
the united sounding of the instrumental ensemble. Wisely
and systematically in the German way using the means of
traditional dancing music Bach in artistic form presents
a kind of philosophy of a court festivity.
The first entry of the trio in the second gavotte
lends exquisiteness and charm to this ball-dance: fluent,
running melodies of the soloing oboes are heard at the background
of graceful but stylishly-martial trumpets among the strings.
On the contrary in the second menuet the soloing trio
"retires from the stage to have a rest" and leaves
the strings "to bow in the dance". But in the
second bourree - the only minor-key dance of all the Suite
- trio of the wind-instruments sounds in absolute
loneliness: having renounced the splendour of the fashionable
celebration it takes us away into the world of poetical
dreams and serene melancholy. And at last returning of the
trio into the ball-room in the second passepied positively
changes the mood of the festivity which is nearing the end:
the graceful dance rounding of oboes' melodies is applied
in exquisite counterpoint upon the theme of the first passepied
traced by the strings. Avoiding the classic "final"
Bach comes in the end of the Overture to a marvelous harmony
of dream and reality, solemnity and gentle lyricism, strict
etiquette and free fantasy.
Sonata BWV 1030b is an example characteristic of J. S. Bach's
works, where a composition for two instruments is rightfully
marked in the manuscript as a trio. While in most
baroque sonatas the role of the clavecin-player was confined
to improvising the accompaniment (on the basis of the figured
bass), Bach writes out the clavier's part in full - as two
impressive melodic voices competing with the soloist on
Special problem of the Sonata BWV 1030b is the choice of
the melodic instrument. The only version of the composition
which has come down to us in full is the flute one in B-minor
key (BWV 1030, 1736 - 1737). In an earlier, dated more likely
by the Kothen period, G-minor version of the Sonata (BWV
1030a; titled trio) the part of the melodic instrument
is lost. Obviously the late, flute version appeared as a
result of transposing the initial variant into the key more
suitable for the flute. In its turn the G-minor key and
some performing peculiarities of the melodic instrument's
part make it possible to suggest that initially the Sonata
was intended for the oboe.
The reconstructed oboe version essentially expands and makes
more precise our idea of the composition which until recently
was known in the latest version only. The flute is not the
oboe: tender voice of this lively instrument gives a tendency
rather to light and pleasant melancholy than to more deep
feelings. Serious, strong, passionate music of the Sonata
BWV 1030 stands separate from the rest of Bach's flute repertoire
both by duration and by inner scale. It might be more proper
for the oboe. This is right for the lengthful first part
with its intonation -- moving and at the same time full
of noble dignity; and for the caressing, lighted up, lyric
siciliana with its richly decorated melody; and for the
vivid, original final consisting of two contrasting sections:
the restrained but forceful three-voiced fuga moves here
on to the vigorous and dynamic jig.
The choice of the soloing timbre in Bach's music influences
not only the acoustic colouring of a composition, but its
meaning itself. We should give full credit to the boldness
of modern performers who have suggested their own transcription
of such a popular and significant Bach's opus as the D-minor
Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043). The story of the Double
Concerto's creation illustrates perfectly well the connection
between this popular in the Baroque epoch genre with the
"trio-thinking". The earliest source of
the composition (1730-1731) contains the parts of two soloing
violins and continuo - three basic elements of musical tissue;
only by 1750-s the parts of "ripienists" - the
members of the ensemble who supplement and support the sounding
of the soloing group - joined this original trio.
The idea to trust the part of the second soloist to an oboe
is paradoxical, it produces unexpected effect which becomes
especially noticeable when this transcription is compared
with the original Bach's version for two violins.
The pursuit of synthesis of traditional polyphonic writing
with virtuosity of Italian concert style is one of the distinctive
features of Bach's instrumental music. In the D-minor Concerto
these principles achieve an exceptionally organic merging.
The soloists' parts are related to each other in this unique
composition. Constantly interchanging their themes the two
violins again and again cross their melodic lines; sometimes
they are tangled into a tight knot, sometimes one of the
soloists recedes to the background braiding his runs into
tender and delicate lacy design around the main melody.
For all this, the polyphonic methods remain nearly unnoticed:
the listeners are completely engrossed by the lively, dynamic
The relationship of soloists' parts is supported by the
timbre similarity of the ensemble consisting of strings
only; its ponderable melodious sounding in the ritournelles
of the extreme parts has become a kind of "visiting-card"
of the Concerto. The feeling of closeness and homogeneity
of the texture achieves its culmination in the final which
last bars make an impression of a perfect unison. Only in
the middle slow part the music tissue "breathes":
the ripienists "take a rest" during the numerous
The oboe's timbre as if "touches up" one of the
main melodic lines of the Concerto and thus attracts additional
attention to it. The perception foreshortening changes:
the multilayered character of the musical tissue becomes
more distinct, virtuosity of the composer in drawing polyphonic
design - more visible, the soloists' parts are differentiated
more clearly. And eventually it must be noted that performing
such a complicated violin solo is a unique phenomenon for
the oboe; taking to heart the efforts required of the soloist-virtuoso
we more acutely perceive Bach's music precisely as a concerto
- that is as a composition which requires the highest intensity
of all musicians' skills and feelings.
Comprehension of the baroque trio's nature takes
us beyond the limits of Bach's instrumental music. The question
arises of the more profound sense of trio-principle
for the great composer who was seeking the ultimate idea
as well in his music creation. That's why it will be not
out of place also to remind that in Bach's sacred musical
compositions (cantatas, organ chorals, B-minor Mass) the
trio-texture often appears as a symbolic incarnation
of the Holy Trinity (the Union of the Father, the Son and
the Holy Ghost in the Divine Being); and various "duets
of harmony" point out the second of the Holy Trinity's
hypostases - God's Son who is a part of God Father's Divine
One should not think that each time using the standard for
the Baroque epoch principle of trio the great composer
intended to create musical image of the Holy Trinity. But
as no one else Bach knew the remarkable ability of music
to expose the very gist of complex theological doctrines
in comprehensible clear form, to testify to the perfect
beauty and the great truth of the Christian faith. Bach's
compositions may be simple and sophisticated, sacred and
secular, serious and light. But the composer never stopped
to thoroughly believe that God's image is alive in any kind
Roman Nassonov, translation by Irina Doronina
Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach
OBOENWERKE, volume 2 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"