We began the New Year in front of a roaring log fire, which was welcome as the outside temperature was a chilly 8 degrees. We warmed up to an oboe concerto in D Minor by J S Bach (BWV 1059) with David Boyd as the soloist and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Until fairly recently the oboe concertos of Bach were unknown although he had written several challenging oboe parts in other works. However, modern scholars have concluded that some of his harpsichord concertos were originally written for the oboe but were later transposed for the harpsichord and the original was lost. They have helpfully recreated the original oboe part and we listened to one of them. Bach is perhaps best known for his church music but he also took over as director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig originally founded by Telemann in 1702. This was a group of students and professional musicians who met weekly to play secular vocal and instrumental music. Bach wrote or arranged several pieces for this group. The autographed manuscript of a series of seven harpsichord concertos contains at the end a fragment of another concerto which had been abandoned. The modern view is that this fragment is in fact a transcription of an earlier cantata, which had an obligato part for organ the character of which suggests that it was originally written for the oboe.
We then listened to the Concerto Grosso opus 6 No 8 by the Italian Baroque composer and violinist Arcangelo Corelli known as the Christmas Concerto. Corelli was born in 1653 in Romagna, Italy to a relatively well to do land owning family. Little is known with certainty of his early life although there are many anecdotes of journeys to Paris and Germany. There is no documentary evidence that they actually took place. However, it seems that his musical education began with the famous violin school at Bologna and he became a virtuoso violinist. He moved to live in Rome where he acquired the patronage of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni. He greatly developed chamber music and was studied by and influenced later better known composers such as Handel and Bach. The Concerto Grosso we listened to was used in the film “Master and Commander, the far side of the World” based on the Aubrey Maturin seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brien.
After that we returned to Bach with Stephen Cleobury and the choir of Kings College Cambridge. We heard the Air from suite No 3 in D, better known as Air on a G String, we also heard the four part motet ‘Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden’ drawing on the joyous text of Psalm 117. This latter piece was written when Bach was Kantor of the Thomasschule at Leipzig and was intended for celebrating family events of local dignitaries. Stephen Cleobury, who died in November 2019, was Director of Music at Kings from 1982 until his retirement in September of last year due to ill health. He studied as an organ scholar at St John’s College Cambridge and went on to work at Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey before taking up his post at Kings College. There he was perhaps best known for developing the Festival of twelve lessons and Carols broadcast every Christmas from Kings College.
We ended by listening to Brahm’s Piano Concerto No 1, written when he was only 26 years old, played by Artur Rubenstein with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner. The work was originally conceived in 1854 as an orchestral symphony but after consulting with his close friend Julius Otto Grimm and the violinist Josef Joachim in 1855 he wrote the second and third movements for piano. He eventually decided to make the work as a conventional three movement concerto for piano, his favoured instrument. Perhaps that is why we have to wait several minutes for the piano to enter into the first movement.
As this year will be the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven we decided that at the next meeting we will each choose a work of that composer to play. So as to avoid duplication, members should let me know what they intend to play beforehand, first come first served!