The Trio Sonata in 18th-Century Germany
Johann Gottlieb GOLDBERG (1727-1756)
Trio sonata for two violins and bc in C [10:46]
Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758)
Trio sonata for two violins and bc in c minor (FWV N,c2) [9:48]
Johann Christoph Friedrich BACH (1732-1795)
Trio sonata for two violins and bc in F (HW VII,3 / BR JCFB B 12) [9:30]
Johann Gottlieb GRAUN (1702-1771)
Trio for violin, viola and bc in B flat* [13:22]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Sonata for violin, viola da gamba and bc in G (TWV 42,G10)**[8:49]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Trio sonata for two violins and bc in B flat (Wq 158 / H 584) [13:12]
London Baroque (Ingrid Seifert (violin), Richard Gwilt (violin, viola*),
Charles Medlam (cello, viola da gamba**), Steven Devine (harpsichord))
rec. September 2011, St Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire, UK.
BIS BIS-CD-1995 [67:00]
This disc is the last instalment of a series of
eight documenting the emergence and the disappearance of the trio sonata,
one of the main genres of instrumental music in the baroque era. It
was dominated by counterpoint, and therefore its demise around the mid-18th
century was the logical consequence of the shift from counterpoint to
melody as the foundation of music.
This disc focuses on German music of the 18th century. The earliest
piece is the Sonata in G by Georg Philipp Telemann. It is assumed
that it was written in 1708. Its scoring for violin, viola da gamba
and bc reflects the German tradition of composing music for this combination.
In the 17th century large numbers of sonatas for violin and viola da
gamba were written, more than anywhere else. In Italy, for instance,
trio sonatas were almost always composed for two treble instruments
- mostly violins - and basso continuo.
The programme opens with one of the best-known trio sonatas of the German
baroque, theSonata in C by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. It is a
classical specimen of the German contrapuntal tradition which found
its zenith in the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach. It is not surprising
that this sonata was once considered a composition by Bach himself and
included in the catalogue of his works. Goldberg was one of Bach's students
and a quite brilliant one at that, who was especially skilled in playing
Johann Friedrich Fasch was one of the most respected composers of his
time. No wonder he was taken into account as a possible successor to
Johann Kuhnau as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He worked for most
of his life in Zerbst, but had many contacts throughout Germany. A considerable
number of his works have been preserved in the archive of the court
chapel in Dresden, which bears witness to his status. The Trio sonata
in c minor is still dominated by counterpoint and the two violins
are treated more or less equally. The third movement, a largo, is especially
The Trio sonata in F by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach shows
the change in the texture and character of the trio sonata. The classical
trio sonata had four movements, largely following the model of Corelli's
sonate da chiesa, but towards the middle of the 18th century
composers started to write sonatas in three movements, adopting the
form of the modern Italian solo concerto. This sonata also is in three
movements and ends with a minuet, another modern element. The minuet
was to become one of the most popular forms of chamber music - especially
in repertoire for amateurs - in the second half of the 18th century.
In this sonata we often hear the two violins play in parallel motion
which is also a feature of 'modern' music in the 18th century.
Johann Gottlieb Graun was for many years a member of the court chapel
of Frederick the Great. He entered his service when Frederick was still
Crown Prince of Prussia and set up his own chapel. He then became a
key figure in the chapel when it moved to Berlin after Frederick became
King of Prussia. He wrote a large number of instrumental works, although
it is not always clear in each case whether he or his brother Carl Heinrich
is the author. The scoring of the Trio in B flat is remarkable.
The viola didn't play an important role in the chamber music of the
baroque. If it was used it was mostly in the ensemble music of the 17th
century in Germany. Around the middle of the 18th century some composers
wrote sonatas with alternative parts for the viola or the viola da gamba.
As the latter instrument was increasingly moved into the sidelines,
the viola was a good alternative. It is interesting that in this particular
sonata the viola starts the proceedings in every movement. The first
ends with a short cadenza for the two instruments. This sonata is again
in three movements, and here we find the order which would become the
standard in the third quarter of the century: slow - fast - fast.
The programme ends with the Trio sonata in B flat by Carl Philipp
Emanuel Bach. It is from a collection printed in 1763. One gets the
impression at first that this is an example of the classical trio sonata
as both instruments are treated on an equal footing. However, the frequent
passages in parallel motion show its modern character as does the fact
that in the middle movement (largo) the violins play with mutes, a frequent
practice at the time. In this movement we also find various passages
in which the violins play pizzicato.
Looking back at this series one could say that the trio sonata in its
original form survived longer in Germany than in, for instance, Italy.
That has everything to do with the preference for counterpoint which
was stronger in Germany than elsewhere. One of the features of German
music of the mid-18th century is the coexistence of traditional and
modern music, sometimes in the oeuvre of one composer, such as Telemann
or Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. This disc documents the shifts in the way
the genre of the trio sonata was treated. Other discs in this series
included a number of compositions which had not been recorded before.
I don't know whether every piece on this disc is already available on
disc. I suspect that the pieces by Fasch and Graun could be new to the
catalogue. Even so, with the exception of Goldberg's sonata these compositions
are not that well-known and that makes this disc a worthwhile addition
to the discography.
That is even more the case in consideration of the performances. London
Baroque is one of the older ensembles in the world of historical performance
practice. It is still going strong, and it is remarkable how it has
kept its high standard over so many years. That also applies to the
Bis trio sonatas series: eight discs, intelligently put together and
forming a lively documentation of an important part of music history.
The playing is again of the highest quality. It is just a shame that
this disc is the last in this project. What's next?
Johan van Veen