About this Recording

Baroque Violin Favourites

Baroque Violin Favourites


George Frideric Handel was born in Germany, spent a few years 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 his earlier days as a composer of Italian opera to later years as the creator of English oratorio. His posthumous influence, after his death in London in 1759, was incalculable. Much of Handel's instrumental music was written during the earlier part of his life, subsequently published, with or without the composer's consent, particularly during the 17305. Of the violin sonatas the best known remains the Sonata in D major, included in the Handel Gesellschaft complete 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, tellingly extended by one note, a figure that later recurs. The following Allegro, is fugal in character, with the opening violin theme answered by the keyboard in the middle and then in the lower register, later to return after intervening episodes. The B minor Larghetto is an effective aria, leading the way to an energetic final Allegro.


Born in Bologna in 1663, Tomaso Vitali was the son of Giovanni Battista Vitali, a string-player, singer and composer. A violinist, and presumably a pupil of his father, he moved with his father to Modena in 1674 and remained there, serving subsequently as leader of the court orchestra until 1742. The famous Chaconne in G minor attributed to him and popularly known as Vitali's Chaconne was brought to wide attention through Ferdinand David, the violinist for whom Mendelssohn wrote his Violin Concerto in E minor. David published the work, with his own very considerable elaborations and these have largely formed the basis of later editions. An early manuscript in Dresden attributes the piece to 'Vitalino' and this 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 some famous Dresden virtuoso, such as Vivaldi's pupil Pisendel, on the pattern provided by Vitali's initial work. Based on a baroque variation form, the Chaconne uses a repeated chordal pattern over a descending bass-line, allowing the violin a chance of increasingly elaborate display, as the work proceeds.


Much of Johann Sebastian Bach's instrumental music was written during the happy period he spent as court Kapellmeister in Cothen. The Suite in D major, third of four such works, has been dated to 1729 or 1730, at a time when Bach was in Leipzig, employed by the city council with responsibility for the music of the principal city churches. He also took on the direction of the university Collegium Musicum, for which it may be supposed the Suite was written. The so-called Air on the G string was originally no such thing, but simply a movement in the Suite scored for strings alone. Its transformation came about through a pupil of Ferdinand David, the violinist August Wilhelmj.


Bach's three Sonatas and three Partitas for unaccompanied violin were the work of his time at Cothen and have long presented an essential challenge to any violinist. The last of the group, the Partita in E major, starts with a brilliant Prelude and includes the effective Gavotte en Rondeau, both movements often included by Yehudi Menuhin as encore items in concert performance.


Arcangelo Corelli belongs to the generation before Bach and Handel, both of whom were influenced by him. A violinist and composer, his later career centred on Rome, where he briefly met Handel, finding the latter's style to have elements of French rather than Italian taste. Corelli's twelve Concerti Grossi had a long-lasting influence on the development of that form, providing a pattern for later generations, as did his many Trio Sonatas. His twelve violin sonatas include works following the four-movement church sonata pattern and chamber sonatas with dance movements. The collection ends with a set of variations on a popular dance melody of the time, La Folia or Les Folies d'Espagne. After the opening statement of the theme the violin variations become increasingly demanding, with changes of pace, rhythm and figuration.


Born in Venice in 1678, the violinist and composer Antonio 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 in 1709 as Opus 2, and dedicated to Frederick IV of Denmark, who was then opportunely visiting Venice. The second of these, the Sonata in A major, RV 31, like the rest of the set, owes much to the example of Corelli. It opens with a Preludio a Capriccio, which offers some chance for virtuosity. This leads to a dance movement, a Corrente, followed by an Adagio and a final Giga.


Giuseppe Tartini was among the leading violinist composers of his time, responsible for discoveries in acoustic theory and for the foundation of a school of violin-playing in Padua that attracted pupils from many countries. He is said to have attributed his Devil's Trill sonata to a dream in which he found the Devil in his service, offering him a violin on which he played music that Tartini, on waking, endeavoured to recapture. The sonata starts with a Larghetto in the rhythm and mood of a Siciliana. This leads to an energetic Allegro. A short slow section leads to the more complex concluding Allegro, with its multiple stopping and trills accompanying a melody on another string, a technically demanding conclusion, with brief respite in intervening slower interludes and room for a virtuoso cadenza.


Keith Anderson




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