Baroque Oboe Concertos
“After the German Flute, the oboe surely comes closest to the human voice when handled nicely and in songful fashion, which requires a noble disposition and, most particularly, a total command of the art of singing.” (Johann Mattheson, Das neu-eroff-nete Orchestre, Hamburg 1713)
The prototype of the modern oboe was developed out of the ancient shawm and the descant bombard in mid-seventeenth-century France and rapidly found its way into the military bands and instrumental ensembles of European courts. The new instrument was easier to play than its forerunner and also produced a softer sound (admittedly the French term “hautbois” means nothing other than “loud wood”), so that it could be used effectively with stringed instruments in non-military music.
Composers were quick to accommodate the oboe in their works and the instrument was the first member of the woodwind family to find a place in the new instrumental concerto genre which became popular at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Italian and German composers like Tomaso Albinoni and Georg Philipp Telemann were the first to compose such works.
The first item on this recording is Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, one of the best loved of all Baroque concertos. It was long known only in Johann Sebastian Bach’s arrangement for solo harpsichord (BWV981) and ascribed successively to Antonio Vivaldi and Alessandro’s younger brother Benedetto Marcello. The discovery of a printed collection of twelve Concerti a cinque by several composers, which was published in 1717/18 by Jean Roger of Amsterdam finally proved Alessandro’s authorship and also helped in approximately dating the work. The Venetian Alessandro Mar-cello is something of the odd man out on this recording, not having been a professional musician. He epitomized the eighteenth-century Italian nobile dilettante – a serious amateur who pursued music as a pastime while fulfilling the political and administrative obligations incumbent upon him as a member of a Venetian patrician family. Marcello also painted and occupied himself with philosophy and mathematics. As a rule he presented his compositions in private concerts at his home. After being admitted to the Arcadian Academy, he published his works under the pseudonym of Eterio Stinfalico.
While stylistically closer to Vivaldi’s concertos than any other concerto presented here, Marcello’s work is nonetheless characterized by definite individuality -which is perhaps why Bach showed an interest in it. The unique mood of the slow movement is most striking. Over the rhythmic quaver pulse of string chords rises a uniquely beautiful oboe cantilena that perfectly exemplifies what Mattheson said about the instrument in the passage quoted at the beginning of this text.
“Because a change enlivens the spirit, however, I turned to concertos. Yet I must confess they never really came from the heart, despite the fact that I wrote quite a lot of them.”
Georg Philipp Telemann’s numerous concertos in no way reveal the lack of sympathy for the concerto form which he expressed in his autobiography of 1718. Indeed, Telemann’s concertos are remarkable for their interesting combinations of instruments, thematic inventiveness and idiomatic instrumental writing. The last consideration was in fact part of the composer’s musical credo, as we read at another point in his autobiography: “Give every instrument that which suits it. That way, the player rises to the challenge and you can take pleasure in your work”. One prerequisite for doing that effectively was having a technical command of various instruments/and among those Telemann was able to perform on were the harpsichord, organ, violin, cello, flute, chalumeau and even the oboe. For the most part, Telemann’s concertos are modelled on the earlier Roman and Venetian works by composers like Corelli and Albinoni rather than on Vivaldi’s examples. This is particularly clear in the Andante movement of the Concerto in E minor (of c. 1721), which has a bass line reminiscent of the trio sonata. The wonderful oboe cantilena that unfolds over it is ideally suited to the instrument. Another striking feature of this concerto is the way the four movements are the-matically related, lending the work unusual unity. The popular Concerto in F minor (before 1 730), on the other hand, is something of an exception in Tele-mann’s concerto oeuvre, being in only three movements and clearly modelled on the Italian ritornello form. Moreover, the Siciliana of the slow movement lends the work the distinctly “non-French smell” some of Telemann’s contemporaries discerned in his concertos.
The oboe was avowedly George Frideric Handel’s favourite instrument and he wrote a great many idiomatic parts for it in his instrumental and vocal works. Handel’s three surviving oboe concertos predate his journey to Italy in 1706. The Concerto in G minor is probably the earliest. The first edition published in Leipzig in 1863/64 maintained that Handel wrote it in Hamburg in 1703, but the manuscript on which that edition was based has regrettably been lost. Like Telemann, Handel seems to have taken no interest in the more modern Vivaldi type of solo concerto and based his works on the earlier concerto models of composers like Albinoni, Valentini and Corelli; solo and tutti roles are less strictly defined. Again like Telemann, the young Handel was capable of writing remarkably idiomatic parts for the oboe. The highly ornamented part assigned it in the first movement and the garlands in the fast movements are altogether suited to the instrument’s character. The last movement incidentally is a prime example of Handel’s frequent borrowing from his own works. The thematic material of this movement was later reused no less than six times (inter alia, in the second movement of his Organ Concerto op. 4 no. 3).
The composition of concertos was not among Johann Sebastian Bach’s official duties until he became Kapellmeister in Cothen in 1717. The early series of arrangements of Vivaldi’s concertos therefore indicate Bach’s personal interest in the form. The same may be said of numerous instrumental movements in the cantatas he wrote in Weimar prior to 1717; that is particularly true of the introductory movements to the Cantatas BWV21 and BVW12 of 1714, which are so reminiscent of instrumental concerto writing that they might almost be the surviving central movements of lost concertos. The sinfonia to the Cantata BWV156 of 1729 is indeed better known in a richly decorated later version – the middle movement of the Harpsichord Concerto in F minor BWV1056. The sinfonia version does not yet have the accompanying strings play pizzicato. Scholars are at odds as to whether the original version of the music was to be found in a concerto for the oboe or for the violin. The appealing cantabile quality of these introductory movements makes it particularly regrettable that no concertos for solo oboe by Bach have survived.
Bernhard Blattmann (translation: j & M Berridge)
About this recording.
After I had, as a child, played the oboe for a few months, my father presented me with a long-playing record of oboe concertos and symphonies by J. S. Bach. I listened to this record so often that one could sow cress in the grooves….we need a new copy urgently.
Many thanks father!
In the ranks of baroque composers someone should be included, who is not chronologically quite at home there Astor Piazzolla, whose “Oblivion” overwhelms me with a feeling of timelessness, just as is the case with Bach’s compositions.
Hopefully dear music-lovers, that happens to you as well….
Enjoy listening to it! Marcel Ponseele
Concerto For Oboe, Strings & Continuo In D Minor, SF. 935 A. Marcello
1 Andante e Spiccato
4 Cantata No. 156, “Ich Steh Mit Einem Fuss Im Grabe,” BWV 156: Sinfonia (BC A38) J.S. Bach
Concerto For Oboe, Strings & Continuo In F Minor, TWV 51:f2 G.P. Telemann
Cantata No. 21, “Ich Hatte Viel Bekümmernis,” BWV 21 (BC A99): Sinfonia J.S. Bach
Oboe Concerto In G Minor (No.3), HWV 287 (possibly Spurious) G.F. Händel
10 Sarabande (Largo)
12 Cantata No. 12 “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen“13, BWV 12 (BC A68): Sinfonia J.S. Bach
Concerto For Oboe, Strings & Continuo In E Minor, TWV 51:e1 G.P. Telemann
15 Allegro Molto
28 Tango: Oblivion A. Piazolla