Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Musical Musings Volume 2 and 3

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From C.P.E Bach, one of the innovative composers that wrote some of the first symphonies that are meant to be played as works in their own right, to Dmitri Shostakovich, the 20th century’s most renowned symphony composer, this collection is a veritable history of the form.

As with Volume one, at the end of my comments and analysis of each work is a link to a performance of the work itself.  I hope my comments and any analysis I give of the work adds to the listening pleasure of the hearer.

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The Concerto as a form in music had beginnings in the Early Baroque period and originally designated works for voices and instruments that had independent parts from the voices. Earlier music had the instruments merely double the vocal lines.  The Late Baroque period saw the concerto transformed into the Concerto Grosso where a small group of instruments would play different music than the main body of the ensemble. This form gradually became the modern concerto for solo instrument and orchestra.

The concertos for various different solo instruments of the Late Baroque composer Vivaldi led to the development of the concerto for keyboard instrument, the harpsichord concerto by J.S. Bach and the organ concerto by Handel.  The concerto went through further refinement in the Classical period, with the 26 keyboard concertos of Mozart (with the later ones written for piano) being the outstanding example. Beethoven also did his part to expand and enrich the form. With the changes in music publishing and composers becoming independent artists instead of employees of royalty of the church, the arrival of the great pianist/composers of the early 19th century came about. And with the concertos of Paganini adding to the repertoire for the violin, the 19th century concerto became vehicles for audience-pleasing instrumental playing prowess.

The word ‘concerto’ itself may have been derived from Latin word that mean ‘to unite, to compete’, and that is a handy way to broadly categorize concertos. There are those concertos where the soloist becomes a part of the whole. These concertos can be thought more like symphonies for orchestra and soloist. Then there are those concertos where the soloist is definitely the star and the orchestra is more or less for backup. To my mind, the best concertos are a hybrid of the two categories. 

In this 3rd volume of Musical Musings I have included 51 concertos, with the majority being either for violin or keyboard.  But other instruments are also represented - viola, cello, organ, bassoon, oboe, clarinet, guitar, even the recorder. There are also pieces included that are concertos in everything but name. From J.S. Bach to Shostakovich, over two hundred years of music is represented. As before, at the end of each work discussed is a link to a performance.

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