Token Creek Chamber Music

Program III

An Evening of Bach & Haydn

Wednesday, September 1, 7:30 P.M.

Tickets: Regular $32 · Students $12


Sonata in G for viola da gamba and keyboard, BWVV 1027 Bach Partita No. 1 in B minor, BWV 1002 Bach Two Fugues from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 Bach Piano Trio in A major, Hob XV:9 Haydn

Program Notes

Both sets of six solo string pieces by Bach, the one for violin, the other for cello, contain a single piece that players have found especially resistant.   The last time Emmanuel Music Boston presented the two complete series, the question immediately arose: which cellist can we convince to do the E flat major  and which violinist the B minor.   

The answer for the reluctance is interesting. It originates in  the keys: B minor and E flat major. Only the Third  of their home triad is available as an open string, so handy for pedal points and facilitation of passages. This has consequences both in the sonority achieved  and the technical challenges faced.

The B minor violin partita has another singular property. Each of the four movements is followed by a movement described as its “Double.” It is just that, a kind of cousin with a startling resemblance, related not in tempo but in chord pattern, like playing a variation on a jazz tune, following its chord pattern, with lass attention to its melody, radically changing its character and pulse. This gambit  is very unusual. Strict variation structures are rare in Bach, especially variations based on such large chunks of subject matter.  The pleasure is mostly a secret for  the player who has spent enough time with both the dance movement and its double to appreciate both its kinship and its distance from is origins.

For many years in the 1950s, opening night at Tanglewood consisted of Charles Munch leading the strings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in his arrangement of Bach’s Art of the Fugue. It was a strange and wonderful event, Munch delighting more in the beautiful and varied harmonies than in the lines, hearing the music as two hours of lost Fauré. It was an unusual opportunity to at least hear the music, which was then often discussed as a study, something more to be contemplated than actually presented to the public. Most encounters then were inserts into a string quartet program, and the concept of the sequence as a keyboard masterpiece was waiting for our time. 

That time is here, and pianists are beginning to add some of these most rewarding and adventurous pieces—Fugues, surprisingly enough—to their repertoire.    Since every movement uses a form of the same theme, the meaning of fugue—flight, taking wing, exploring everything but the “theme’’—places a premium on adventure and conversation. The limiting  of the “primary idea” gives rise to so many arresting details, all adding up to pieces that have little common ground but their most common element, their tune.  

Unlike the grand solo keyboard pieces of the nineteenth century, these pieces  don’t absolutely demand an audience, they can be played for an audience of one: the player. This is one reason they are beginning to be recommended player to player as ultimate companionship, especially appropriate during the recent shutdown.   Though they are harder to play than most of Bach’s great 48, they are findable by the fingers  and  offer unexpected  rewards to the mind and heart.

It is somehow good that the final fugue is not completed, as phenomenal as its working out promises to be, it is right that the project is somehow still continuing.

Ending the program with one of Haydn’s most concise and social trios for piano, violin and cello may seem an odd pendant to a program with some heavy traffic.  The Trio in A Major, Hob. XV:9—is gently and subversively one of Haydn’s most progressive in his series, moving—as it does in many crucial moments—toward distributing material equally within the ensemble, a progress which eventually brings the genre equal to the most important in European chamber music.  Especially in the ingenious cadenza that ends the first movement, we find  the composer leveraging the kind of  operatic exchanges of feeling among the participants that become, in a few decades, essential to the vitality of the Piano Trio.

But still present in this brilliant short piece are the qualities which set the Haydn Piano Trio apart from the later pieces in the genre: the sense of an improvising pianist among string playing friends, conversing in inspired, loose shorthand.    

— Notes by John Harbison
Artistic Co-Director, Token Creek Chamber Music Festival