NOTES ON THE MUSICIANS AND THE MUSIC
Ensemble Gaudior is dedicated to performing masterpieces of chamber music from the Baroque and Classical eras, using instruments from those periods or careful modern copies. By presenting this repertoire to modern concert audiences, we hope to contribute to the process of moving our world toward greater harmony. (The name Gaudior is borrowed from the musical unicorn in Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Swiftly Tilting Planet, who time-travels through the universe, joyfully harmonizing with the music of the stars and planets.) Founded in 2000 and based in the Washington, D.C., area, the group is built around a core instrumentation of violin and basso continuo, but frequently collaborates with guest artists in order to allow a greater variety of repertoire. Additional information is available at www.ensemblegaudior.com.
Alexandra MacCracken, the founder and director of Ensemble Gaudior, has performed as a baroque violinist with the Washington Bach Consort, Opera Lafayette, and Modern Musick, as well as with other period-instrument ensembles in Richmond, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York. Before moving to the Washington area she taught at the University of Virginia, where she also played in the Piedmont Chamber Players, a faculty ensemble. Other highlights of her extensive experience as a chamber musician include membership in the Squareknot Quartet, whose repertoire ranged from the classics to innovative arrangements in popular, folk, and jazz styles; and more recently in the baroque groups La Stravaganza and Harmonia Nova. The holder of both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Ms. MacCracken currently freelances on modern as well as baroque violin and in addition occasionally finds time to play Renaissance consort music on the treble viol. Her chief end in presenting the concerts at which these recordings were made can be summed up in J. S. Bach’s motto “Soli Deo Gloria”: to celebrate, glorify, and enjoy God forever, who included music among all the gifts of creation.
Buxtehude: Tina Chancey, viola da gamba, and Webb Wiggins, harpsichord
Purcell & Handel: Elizabeth Field, baroque violin, Stephanie Vial, baroque cello, and Webb Wiggins, harpsichord
Corelli: Caroline Kang, baroque cello, and William Simms, theorbo
Marais: Daniel Rippe, viola da gamba, and Adam Pearl, harpsichord
Biber: Lori Barnet, baroque cello, and Joseph Gascho, harpsichord
On this disc we have gathered together some of Ensemble Gaudior’s best concert performances, as both a sampler and a souvenir of the group’s activities in recent years. The repertoire presented here—baroque chamber music for strings, played on period instruments—is intentionally diverse not only in national origin but also in its instrumentation, while the roster of collaborating artists likewise offers a rewarding element of variety.
Dieterich Buxtehude spent most of his career as organist of St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck, and is mainly remembered today for his organ music, together with a number of sacred vocal works. However, chamber music for strings takes pride of place among the few works published during his lifetime, with two sets of trio sonatas appearing in the mid-1690s. In a characteristically German variant on the usual scoring for such pieces, all of them feature a tenor-range instrument, the viola da gamba, on the second melodic line, as partner to the violin on the first. Formally, these works are highly varied, with anywhere from three to fourteen movements; the Sonata in A minor has seven sections in alternating slow and fast tempos, some of which flow into each other almost without pause.
Henry Purcell was a choirboy in the English Chapel Royal during the period just after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, later becoming one of the organists at that institution and also at Westminster Abbey. Most of his numerous compositions are vocal, either sacred or secular, and some of these have remained in the active repertoire ever since his own time. In his two published collections of trio sonatas he was attempting, by his own description, to provide “a just imitation of the most fam’d Italian Masters”; most consist of several short, linked sections, at least one of which is an imitative movement called “canzona”.
George Frideric Handel, though born in Germany and strongly influenced by several years in Italy at the start of his career, spent the rest of his life in England and is rightfully claimed as one of that country’s pre-eminent musical figures. Like Purcell before him, the majority of his compositional output was for voices, above all in the larger forms of opera and oratorio, with instrumental music quantitatively in the minority. His trio sonatas mainly follow the standard format of his time, having four movements in alternating slow and fast tempos. The present work in G minor, never published during the composer’s lifetime (though modern editors have wrongly designated it as “Op. 2, No. 8”), is especially notable for the songful melodies of its two slow movements.
After studying in Bologna during the early 1670s Arcangelo Corelli moved to Rome, where he enjoyed the patronage of various noblemen and church officials while earning widespread and lasting fame both as a teacher and through the publication of his music. His Op. 5 violin sonatas first appeared in 1700 and continued to be reprinted throughout the eighteenth century, thereby becoming classics of the instrument’s repertoire, a status they retained even long after the composer’s death. One of these subsequent editions boasted that it contained “the embellishments to the Adagios composed by Corelli, as he himself plays them,” which we have used in our performance despite the likelihood that this claim was largely hype on the part of an unscrupulous publisher.
An obituary praised Marin Marais for having “brought the viol to the highest degree of perfection [as] the first [person] to make known all the potential and all of the beauty of the instrument through the large number of pieces he composed for it, and the admirable manner in which he performed them.” Nowadays one most often hears selections from his five books of solos for viol and continuo, but we offer instead a performance of his only violin sonata, published in 1723 in a volume that also contains the well-known Sonnerie de Ste. Geneviève. The title, “Sonata in Marais’ manner,” refers to the composer’s personal solution to the challenge of adapting the newly-popular Italian style to the musical language of his native country, resulting in a stylistically hybrid work. Although all six movements have French titles, three display significantly Italianate features while the rest plainly derive from the French dance suite.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, the Bohemian-born virtuoso violinist, entered the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1670, where by 1684 he had risen to the position of music director and had published four collections of instrumental music, including a set of six solo sonatas for his own instrument. The third of these is built around two sets of variations, the first on a 16-bar bipartite aria repeated twice, the second on a four-note ground bass that appears 31 times and supports a wide range of violinistic figuration, from simple to extremely brilliant. These sections are separated by an interlude that sounds almost improvisatory in nature; the work opens with a series of short episodes in alternately slow and fast tempos and ends with an almost obsessive alternation of two chords over which the violin plays rapid scales until suddenly the work comes to an unexpected end.