Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
Bach admired Vivaldi’s violin concertos, and shows it here, infusing his German counterpoint with Vivaldi’s Italian operatic drama. This enormously popular work opens with solidly textured fugal writing, but once the soloists enter, they dominate, trading themes in a glorious musical chase. An expansive aria follows, with the soloists, intertwined in an imitative counterpoint, conversing eloquently. The third movement bustles along with the solo violins following each other closely.
Igor Stravinsky (1882 - 1971)
Suite from Pulcinella
“Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.” - Stravinsky
In 1920 Sergei Diagihlev, who needed something new for his Ballets Russes, showed Stravinsky some scores attributed to Pergolesi. At the time, Stravinsky was turning away from both his Russian influences and his penchant for large orchestras. He adapted Pergolesi’s music, adding his own quirky harmonies and rhythmic energy. The result is this Neo-classical work whose light, playful manner suits its subject, the 18th-century comic character Pulcinella.
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759)
Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No 12 in B minor
Handel wrote his Opus 6 concertos in a burst of activity in late 1739, completing all 12 within a month. Where Bach used Vivaldi as a model, Handel followed Arcangelo Corelli, who was then highly popular in England. Like Corelli, Handel uses a trio of two violins and cello — the concertino — set against the ripieno — string orchestra and harpsichord continuo. The music begins in a stately fashion before breaking into a scurrying allegro. The middle movement presents a beautiful melody then gently varies it. The final allegro has a lively motion, with soloists and ripieno joining forces in a short fugue.
Lukas Foss (1922 – 2009)
In 1967 Foss reimagined three Baroque classics. He took the Larghetto from Handel’s Concerto Grosso and deconstructed it into a delicately gossamer creation. A Scarlatti sonata underpins the middle movement; the orchestra plays as though feeling its way in the dark. An offstage harpsichord must play “at all times totally obscured by the orchestra” It isn’t, thanks to the orchestra’s transparency. Next, Bach’s E-minor partita for violin is subjected to loosely-controlled improvisation, with Bach’s themes running wild. The work calls on many unusual sounds including recorder, celeste, harpsichord, electric guitar and electric piano and even breaking bottles. Look out for Bach’s name sounded in morse code on the xylophone’s highest pitch.