Category: Activities

A missing link between baroque and classical

Daniel Sepec

The violin and keyboard sonatas of C.P.E. Bach are not very well known or recorded, which is a shame because when I first heard this music it was a revelation – I was astonished by their inventiveness. He was writing during a time of stylistic change, and these pieces are a door that opens to the world of early Haydn and Mozart, but they are also a missing link between the Baroque and Classical periods because Carl Philipp was writing in a Baroque style while combining new elements in the Classical language.

As a composer Carl Philipp was extremely productive and very diverse. Structurally his sonatas fit the Classical model, but within that structure he can be unusual, and you can suddenly lose your orientation.

 You don’t always know when to breathe, sometimes the pieces are longer than you expect, or there prise is not where you thought it would be, or is in a strange key. He had a unique way of writing, which is a bit rough and stubborn sometimes and at other times very modern, so his music sounds fresh to our ears. His approach is in the empfindsamer Stil (‘sensitive style’) – it is remarkably emotional, and these emotions often change quickly.

Unlike much Baroque music, which can be quite official-sounding, his music can be soft, describing an inner world. He was much more a keyboardist than a violinist – his father wrote music that was more violinistic – so playing this music is a challenge, although no more so than with Beethoven or Schubert where the music is often not especially well written for the violin.

For the modern player it is not simply a matter of playing the notes; you have to know how to play the many ornaments and understand the historical style. The ornaments tend to be easier to realise on the keyboard than on the violin, and it is important to play them naturally, with good expression and with equal interest in the keyboard part.

In some of his harpsichord sonatas Carl Philipp writes in the repetitions his own ornaments, and you can hear his authentic voice. We decided this was the most authentic way to approach the cadenzas – not to copy him, but to see how he would have done them and the tools he used. It is not really possible for two people to play a cadenza by improvising, so we had to make a road-map.

By playing this music a lot you enter into the spirit of it, and the ornaments and cadenzas become easier.We made the recording in Mülheim,in a church with a wooden roof and a wonderful acoustic. It was during the2014 World Cup, and when Germany won there was a lot of noise outside which made it difficult to find silent moments.

We had to resort to early mornings and late-night sessions, so the entire session took twelve days.The instrument I used for the recording is my own violin by Johann Friedrich Lorenz from 1792, and I used a late Baroque bow by Ralph Ashmead from the 1990s. The strings are by Damian Dlugolecki. Sometimes I use a gut D string wound with metal, but for this recording I used pure gut, which has a very special and characterful sound.I also used a wooden mute, which makes the violin much quieter.

Christine Schornsheim

The idea to record the complete sonatas for violin and keyboard only emerged during the project. We wanted to show the development from the first very simple sonatas to the extremely complicated Fantasia Wq80, and the huge variety of small nuances. C.P.E. Bach’s oeuvre gets progressively more expressive: the early sonatas, such as Wq71 or 72, are simple in structure and the movements shorter. They are not easy to play but Carl Philipp doesn’t overload them with ideas.

Then his sonatas get longer – he likes to repeat his ideas, so one sonata might last for 20 minutes. That is my only criticism of his music: at times he goes a little overboard. The Fantasia Wq80 was originally written for keyboard – the violin part was added later. It is a late piece, with the beautiful title ‘C.P.E. Bach’s sentiments’. It is the most inventive work in this collection and is very rich in effects. If the music truly represents his feelings, the Fantasia would be a key to how he thought and composed.

It is a torn piece, with outbursts of emotion and extreme contrasts ranging from grief and desperation to rage, anger, even madness – though it ends with a cheerful Allegro. The entire palette of emotions and expressions is contained in this piece. C.P.E. Bach’s music is uncomfortable in that you really have to tap into it and develop it.

Sometimes the notation is sparse, so you have to think of ways to fill it and decide on expressions to furnish every detail. For our recording we experimented and improvised a lot. You have to analyse what you find in his other works: for example, he had favourite ornamentations, such as a conjunct double appoggiatura or a combination of a trill and a turn, and he loved to extend ornaments, even in the smallest of spaces such as a semiquaver.

Modification can also mean changing the dynamics, even adding pauses – the important thing is to create surprises. For the early sonatas I used a harpsichord instead of a clavichord, which is too soft next to a violin.

And because a fortepiano from C.P.E. Bach’s period would have been impossible to find, I used a tangent piano for the later works, which will divide opinion because there is no evidence that C.P.E. Bach saw or played such an instrument. But I think if he had encountered it he would have written for it, because the tangent piano has such a variety of colours and suits his ideas and music perfectly.

On the beat

The latest analysis of concert statistics by the German Orchestra Association (DOV)  highlights a significant shift by the country’s orchestras, which are increasingly moving beyond traditional symphony concerts towards other kinds of performances.

Orchestras are taking music to the public

The figures for 2013–14 – the DOV collects data every two seasons – show in particular how important music education has become in the orchestras’ activities.    The number of concerts and events for children and young people increased by 10.8 per cent from 2011–12, reaching almost twice the number reported in 2003–4. By contrast, the amount of foreign touring dived 30  per cent from 2011–12 levels, taking the total of  symphony and choral concerts down to its lowest number in more than ten years.

The DOV statistics don’t include figures for open-air concerts, church concerts and classical crossover concerts organised by commercial providers. But the association’s director Gerald Mertens says the latest  survey indicated the increasing diversity of concert  formats and the innovative ways that orchestras are taking music to the public. ‘Back in the 1990s  we had the symphony concert, the chamber concert, the schools concert, maybe a children’s concert and  maybe a family concert.

That was the extent of any  orchestra’s offering,’ he recalls. ‘Today we have  a huge range of different concert formats, reaching  every age group.’ He cites ‘side-by-side’ concerts  (involving partnerships between professional orchestras and youth orchestras) and concerts of  video-game music as among the most successful  formats to have emerged in the past ten years. 

Mertens dates the rise in German orchestras’ social awareness, and the start of public awareness of music education by orchestras, to 2002 and  Simon Rattle’s arrival in Berlin.

Rattle brought in the London Symphony Orchestra’s music animateur, Richard McNicol, to create a comprehensive education programme for the  Philharmonic, an initiative that proved enormously  influential. ‘Orchestras across Germany looked at  what the Berlin Phil was doing,’ says Mertens, ‘and  considered what they could do in the same vein.’ The timing squares with the experience of  another venerated institution, the Leipzig  Gewandhaus Orchestra. Its director, Andreas Schulz, went to the city authorities in 2002 requesting more resources for music education.

After a year of discussions, funding for a dedicated music education department was secured, as Schulz recalls: ‘We immediately hired a specialist who developed  several new formats. Now we have three members of staff  dedicated to music education.’  In Leipzig, as in Berlin, new chief conductors brought with them fresh ideas about how the orchestra should engage with  its community.

Herbert Blomstedt had already introduced family concerts to the Gewandhaus season when he succeeded Kurt Masur in 1998, and when Riccardo Chailly took over in 2005  he added ‘Discovery Concerts’, which include on-stage discussions  with a composer before the performance of a new work.

The education of musicians themselves has also been a factor in the development of orchestras’ education and community  programmes. Mertens points to the growth in opportunities, at conservatoires such as those in Detmold and Hanover, for musicians  to study to become full-time music educators, or Musikvermittler, in orchestras and opera houses.

Schulz also recognises the increasing openness of younger members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra to going into schools and speaking about their work, their instruments and their music. ‘I still think that the Musikhochschule can do much more  to train musicians in how to talk about music,’ he says. ‘We’re now  discussing how we can help players who want to do this kind of  presenting, but who don’t feel they have the right training.’

Shift from traditional symphony concerts to more diverse programming

Commercially, education and community projects have proved increasingly attractive to sponsors, many of whom see more value in  long-term social initiatives than in momentary glitz. ‘Five years ago we  had many more requests from sponsors for special gala evenings, or for  us to invite star soloists,’ says Schulz. ‘But a lot has changed, and more  and more requests today are for projects involving schools and kids.

It’s much easier to find a sponsor to support an education project.’ The Munich Philharmonic’s education programme, ‘Spielfeld  Klassik’, has been sponsored since 2011 by one of the city’s biggest  business names, BMW. ‘You have to find the right partnership,’ says Spielfeld Klassik director Simone Siwek. ‘Some sponsors will want  to support a foreign tour, but a big player like BMW sees how  important our educational programme is for Munich, for the social  fabric of the city.’ The programme comprises around 150 events each  season, reaching more than 34,000 people in and around Munich,  from kindergarten pupils to university students and beyond.

But the programme also includes a project at the Kampala Music School in Uganda, a reminder that orchestras are extending their educational  activity beyond their immediate community, whether that be with  special projects such as this one in Uganda, or with educational work during tours and residencies, such as those undertaken by  the Gewandhaus Orchestra in London and New York.

For Mertens, the shift from traditional symphony concerts to more diverse programming does not represent any kind of cultural ‘dumbing  down’, but is about tailoring the same high-quality concert experience to different age groups. ‘What orchestras are doing now with their education programmes and new formats is simply responding to  developments in society,’ he says. ‘We will always have symphony  concerts, but every format will find its audience. With all these  formats, the guiding principle is that the art itself must be untouched.’