Baroque Violin Favourites
George Frideric Handel was born in Germany, spent a fewyears in Italy, and returned north, eventually to take up residence in London,where he came to hold a dominant position in English musical life, from hisearlier days as a composer of Italian opera to later years as the creator of Englishoratorio. His posthumous influence, after his death in London in 1759, wasincalculable. Much of Handel's instrumental music was written during theearlier part of his life, subsequently published, with or without thecomposer's consent, particularly during the 17305. Of the violin sonatas thebest known remains the Sonata in D major, included in the Handel Gesellschaftcomplete edition as Op.l, No.13. The first movement, marked Affettuoso
starts with a figure based on the ascending notes of the chord of D major, tellinglyextended by one note, a figure that later recurs. The following Allegro, isfugal in character, with the opening violin theme answered by the keyboard inthe middle and then in the lower register, later to return after interveningepisodes. The B minor Larghetto is an effective aria, leading the way toan energetic final Allegro.
Born in Bologna in 1663, Tomaso Vitali was the son ofGiovanni Battista Vitali, a string-player, singer and composer. A violinist,and presumably a pupil of his father, he moved with his father to Modena in1674 and remained there, serving subsequently as leader of the court orchestrauntil 1742. The famous Chaconne in G minor attributed to him and popularlyknown as Vitali's Chaconne was brought to wide attention throughFerdinand David, the violinist for whom Mendelssohn wrote his ViolinConcerto in E minor. David published the work, with his own veryconsiderable elaborations and these have largely formed the basis of latereditions. An early manuscript in Dresden attributes the piece to 'Vitalino' andthis has been taken, rightly or wrongly, as a reference to the younger Vitali,while some have suggested that the violin part may have been worked out by somefamous Dresden virtuoso, such as Vivaldi's pupil Pisendel, on the patternprovided by Vitali's initial work. Based on a baroque variation form, the Chaconne
uses a repeated chordal pattern over a descending bass-line, allowing theviolin a chance of increasingly elaborate display, as the work proceeds.
Much of Johann Sebastian Bach's instrumental music waswritten during the happy period he spent as court Kapellmeister in Cothen. The Suitein D major, third of four such works, has been dated to 1729 or 1730, at atime when Bach was in Leipzig, employed by the city council with responsibilityfor the music of the principal city churches. He also took on the direction ofthe university Collegium Musicum, for which it may be supposed the Suite
was written. The so-called Air on the G string was originally no suchthing, but simply a movement in the Suite scored for strings alone. Itstransformation came about through a pupil of Ferdinand David, the violinistAugust Wilhelmj.
Bach's three Sonatas and three Partitas forunaccompanied violin were the work of his time at Cothen and have longpresented an essential challenge to any violinist. The last of the group, the Partitain E major, starts with a brilliant Prelude and includes theeffective Gavotte en Rondeau, both movements often included by Yehudi Menuhinas encore items in concert performance.
Arcangelo Corelli belongs to the generation before Bachand Handel, both of whom were influenced by him. A violinist and composer, his latercareer centred on Rome, where he briefly met Handel, finding the latter's styleto have elements of French rather than Italian taste. Corelli's twelve ConcertiGrossi had a long-lasting influence on the development of that form, providinga pattern for later generations, as did his many Trio Sonatas. Histwelve violin sonatas include works following the four-movement church sonatapattern and chamber sonatas with dance movements. The collection ends with aset of variations on a popular dance melody of the time, La Folia or Les Foliesd'Espagne. After the opening statement of the theme the violin variationsbecome increasingly demanding, with changes of pace, rhythm and figuration.
Born in Venice in 1678, the violinist and composerAntonio Vivaldi had particular importance in the development of the solo concerto,of which he left a very large number of examples, many of them for the violin.
His sonatas for violin and basso continuo include a set published in1709 as Opus 2, and dedicated to Frederick IV of Denmark, who was then opportunelyvisiting Venice. The second of these, the Sonata in A major, RV 31, likethe rest of the set, owes much to the example of Corelli. It opens with a Preludioa Capriccio, which offers some chance for virtuosity. This leads to a dancemovement, a Corrente, followed by an Adagio and a final Giga.
Giuseppe Tartini was among the leading violinist composersof his time, responsible for discoveries in acoustic theory and for thefoundation of a school of violin-playing in Padua that attracted pupils frommany countries. He is said to have attributed his Devil's Trill sonatato a dream in which he found the Devil in his service, offering him a violin onwhich he played music that Tartini, on waking, endeavoured to recapture. Thesonata starts with a Larghetto in the rhythm and mood of a Siciliana.
This leads to an energetic Allegro. A short slow section leads to themore complex concluding Allegro, with its multiple stopping and trillsaccompanying a melody on another string, a technically demanding conclusion,with brief respite in intervening slower interludes and room for a virtuosocadenza.