Ensemble Vermillian was founded to explore the potential for color and texture possible in transcribing the virtuosic repertoire of the seventeenth and eighteenth century for recorder, cello and continuo. Based in Davidson, North Carolina, and Berkeley, California the members of EV, sisters Frances Blaker (recorders) and Barbara Blaker Krumdieck (Baroque cello) joined by Katherine Heater (harpsichordist and organist) have traveled to meet, research, rehearse and perform together since 2000. The ensemble is expanded to include other musicians depending on the project at hand. Viola da gambist Elisabeth Reed joined Ensemble Vermillian for the two-CD Stolen Jewels project.
Having studied at conservatories in Denmark, the Netherlands, Ohio and Indiana, the performers blend their approach to the music to create a sound which inspired one audience member to write, â€œA beautiful performance. The chemistry between you is special.â€
EV explores less-familiar repertoire from the 17th and 18th centuries and makes it their own through transcription for their particular instruments. The very special group chemistry that these players create together makes for compelling performances, both for the audience and the performers. The combination of music research and vibrant performance are what make Ensemble Vermillian stand out from the crowd.
NOTES on Stolen Jewels
â€œA good composer does not imitate; he steals." --Igor Stravinsky
Dieterich Buxtehudeâ€™s first book of sonatas for violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord shines among the very brightest jewels of the 17th century chamber music repertoire. So what is a string player to do when this precious repertoire is appropriatedâ€”stolen, evenâ€”by a recorder player, without so much as a â€œBy your leave?â€
Of course, in the baroque period this â€œtheftâ€ wouldnâ€™t have been cause for so much as a raised eyebrow. The adaptation of existing music to suit the forces or situation of the moment, far from being considered theft, was actually viewed as quite clever. Choral works might reappear in an instrumental version, or in a version for one voice with instrumental accompaniment; orchestral works might be reissued as solo keyboard works, and vice versa; chamber music published for two flutes might be performed by two violinists. Indeed, any music which could be played on, or adapted for, a particular instrument was considered fair game, with no apologies necessary. Baroque composers often declined to even express an instrument preference on the title page of a collection of pieces, saying that they were appropriate for ogni sorti di stromenti (all types of instruments) or even listing some of the instruments which came to mind (e.g. â€œSonatas for the flute, violin, oboe, recorder, hurdy-gurdy, or any other type of instrumentâ€) so the reader would get the idea.
In keeping with the baroque ethic of reusing and recycling, this recording presents performances of 17th-century German music adapted for Ensemble Vermillian by recorder virtuoso Frances Blaker. â€œI love violin music but cannot play the violin,â€ she writes, â€œso I steal the music and rearrange it for my own instrument.â€ This attitude and creative process is very much at home in the world of baroque music.
Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707) was almost certainly a graduate of a Lateinschule or Latin school. Students at these schools, which flourished in Protestant central Europe in the seventeenth century, were given a thorough education in classical rhetoric and its application in the art of musical composition. They studied Latin, written and spoken, classical literature, and elements of rhetoric, as well as the singing and composition of both monophonic and polyphonic music. They were expected to be able to perform and compose music using rhetorical principles which would move the listeners spiritually and intellectually. From 1668 until his death in 1707, Buxtehude lived in the northern German city of LÃ¼beck, where he held the coveted post of organist at St. Maryâ€™s Church and also managed a local concert series. His virtuosity as a player was known throughout northern Germany; the young Johann Sebastian Bach visited LÃ¼beck to hear Buxtehude play, and is said to have viewed Buxtehude as a role model. Buxtehudeâ€™s works for his own instrument are stunningly brilliant and virtuosic, but also reveal a careful and disciplined craftsmanship, the legacy of his Lateinschule training.
His chamber music works share this combination of brilliant spontaneity and careful construction. Buxtehudeâ€™s Op. 1, published near the end of his life in 1694, is a collection of seven trio sonatas. Although the most common instrumentation for baroque trio sonatas is two trebles with basso continuo, these pieces call for a treble instrument and a bass instrument as the solo parts, a combination which allows Buxtehude to achieve a slightly different flavor of interaction between the two solo parts. The fact that the viola da gamba plays in both the violin range and the bass register allows it to have an interesting relationship with both the violin and the basso continuo parts.
The form of these pieces is typical of 17th-century German and Italian sonatas in that they are composed of sections of contrasting tempo, meter, and character, but are not divided into discrete movements; the musical material is laid out, elaborated upon, and â€œdiscussedâ€ according to the principles of rhetoric, and the entire sonata is perceived by the listener as a unified whole. The solo instruments play together homophonically, banter with each other by tossing motivic fragments back and forth, and take turns playing passages alone. Sonata II demonstrates Buxtehudeâ€™s fascination with repeated notes on the same pitch, and ends with a jaunty set of variations on an Arioso. The bulk of Sonata IV is a series of astonishingly imaginative and delightful variations on a ground bass whose carefree character contrasts strongly with the serious and powerful Sonata III.
Buxtehudeâ€™s contemporary Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) was one of the greatest violinists of his day. His SonatÅ“ Violino Solo of 1681 are a high point of seventeenth-century violin music. Sonata VI, in the exquisitely dark key of c minor, begins with a lovely and chromatic contrapuntal section which quickly gives way to an enormous Passacagli, one of Biberâ€™s favorite forms as it provides an opportunity to indulge in many different characters of music over the repeating harmony. This Passacagli is no exception: the solo part alternately plays dark, rhythmic passages (played in double-stops in the original version for violin) and brilliant variations in fast notes. After the Passacagli, a brief section over a ground bass precedes a jaunty Gavotta, followed by a pulsating section marked â€œtremoloâ€ which imitates the tremulant feature of an organ, another brilliant improvisatory passage, and finally a concluding Adagio.
La Monica was a tune popular throughout Europe during the baroque era, and many composers used it as a basis for instrumental variations. There are even incarnations of the tune as French noÃ«ls and German hymns. Philipp Friedrich BÃ¶ddecker (1607-1683) was an organist and bassoonist; his 1651 collection Sacra Partitura shows the influence of the Italian style, and contains sacred vocal music as well as several instrumental works, including the Sonata sopra la Monica for bassoon and continuo. The bassoon, or in this performance the cello, plays virtuosic embellishments over the original bass line of the song. In this version, the recorder joins in with the original tune.
Johann RosenmÃ¼ller (1619-1684), a giant of seventeenth-century German music, was another Lateinschule graduate. RosenmÃ¼ller left Germany in the late 1650s and moved to Venice, Italy, where he worked as a trombonist at San Marco and as a composer. His 1682 publication Sonate a 2. 3. 4. e 5. Stromenti di arco & altri clearly shows the influence of the Italian style, yet still retains a German character. The Sonata Terza Ã 2, like the BÃ¶ddecker Monica, was originally scored for violin, bassoon, and continuo. The two solo voices are equal partners in this work, trading counterpoint and taking turns playing solo passages.
Johann Krieger (1652-1735) was the slightly-less-famous younger brother of Johann Philipp Krieger (the older Krieger had studied composition with Johann RosenmÃ¼ller in Venice). Fame notwithstanding, the younger Krieger was praised a generation later by Handel as â€œone of the best writers of his time for the Organ.â€ The Ricercar on this recording comes from Kriegerâ€™s collection of keyboard music entitled Anmuthige Clavier-Ãœbung (1698), a volume which Handel took along when he went to England.
Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) was both a distant cousin and the father-in-law of Johann Sebastian Bach, who married Johann Michaelâ€™s daughter Maria Barbara in 1707. Johann Michael had an excellent reputation as a composer even in such an illustrious extended family; he composed sacred vocal music and keyboard chorale preludes. The chorale prelude In dulci jubilo is a model of succinct and well-considered counterpoint, with the chorale tune in the upper voice set off by a contrapuntal middle voice over a pedal point in the bass.