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Conductor’s Notes: Going For Baroque

Good afternoon and welcome to our first concert for the new year. Today we will play pieces by well known composers whose works are seldom heard in the concert hall of the modern symphony orchestra. And, frankly, we will be presenting them in a way never envisioned by the composers.

The period of roughly 1575 – 1750 is referred to in music as the Baroque Era. Music was highly ornate and embellished with improvisational ability greatly admired in performers much as in jazz music today. Ensembles were quite small by our standards. A group of 15 or 20 was quite large. Strings dominated with the addition of a few winds. Horns and trumpets had no valves, bassoons and oboes only a few keys, clarinets hadn’t been invented. Compositions were short and often based on dance forms. If you wanted a longer piece, you wrote several short movements and played them consecutively.

Today’s concert will present a variety of Baroque works rearranged to utilize the full resources of the modern symphony orchestra. We will start with music of the composer often considered the greatest of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Also a brilliant organist, Bach wrote his Toccata and Fugue in d minor for the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig. It is one of the most recognizable of all keyboard works. In the 1920s the famous conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, (1882 – 1977) orchestrated several Bach organ works. It is very fitting to begin our concert with this prodigious Toccata and Fugue.

Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1751) was well known and respected in his lifetime, but has become known to us for his Adagio for Strings, written around 1708. It has been used in many movies and television shows and arranged for a wide variety of ensembles. In 1991 I wanted to play a full orchestra version and, oddly, none was published. I mentioned it to Edward Doemland, a Milwaukee composer and arranger and longtime member of Festival City Symphony. A few weeks later, I had it. It is wonderful to be able to play Ed’s wonderful arrangement again for you.

Our next work will be played in the version done by its composer, Francesco Manfredini (1684 – 1762). Manfredini was a composer, violinist and church musician in Bologna and Ferrara who left a large number of both sacred and secular works. One of his most popular is the Concerto for Two Trumpets in D Major. We are extremely happy to feature as soloists today two members of Festival City, Gerry Keene and Joe Burzinski.

After intermission we return to Bach with a performance of a Prelude, Chorale and Fugue as arranged by J.J. Abert (1832 – 1915). The Prelude is taken from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, the chorale is by Mr. Abert, and the Fugue is Bach’s twelfth organ fugue.

On July 17, 1717, a London newspaper reported, “On Wednesday evening the King took Water at Whitehall in an open Barge…. And went up the River towards Chelsea. Many other barges with Persons of Quality attended….. A City Company’s Barge was employ’d for Music, wherein were 50 Instruments of all sorts who played…. The finest Symphonies, compos’d express for this Occasion by Mr. Handel.” George I loved festivals and specified for this fireworks trip that George Friderich Handel (1685 -1759) write for wind instruments only. The Music for the Royal Fireworks became one of the monuments of Baroque music. We will perform it in a version for full orchestra by noted English conductor Sir Charles Mackerras.

I hope you enjoy the sonority that a full symphony orchestra can bring to Baroque music. Original instrument versions are delightful and quite beautiful, but so is the sound of great music brought into our time.