Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, Héloïse Gaillard and Ensemble Amarillis

Handel’s Oboe Sonata in F Major, HWV 363a unfolds as a vibrant musical dialogue between the solo voice and the accompanying basso continuo. Its five movements alternate in tempo between slow and fast, suggesting the Italian church sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli. The opening movement (Adagio) is both majestic and lamenting. Its expansive, singing melody might remind you of an aria from one of Handel’s operas or oratorios. The second movement (Allegro) erupts with …

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J.S. Bach: Three Adventures in B Minor

On Wednesday, we explored J.S Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2, a festive and celebratory collection of Baroque dances that is nonetheless shrouded in veiled, mysterious B minor. (It’s the only one of Bach’s four Orchestral Suites to be  set in a minor key). The nineteenth century Austrian pianist, composer, and educator Ernst Pauer believed that each musical key embodies a distinct atmosphere. He called B minor “that very melancholy key” which “tells …

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Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, The Netherlands Bach Society

Coffee and culture mixed in Leipzig in the late 1730s. Café Zimmermann provided a venue for the first performances of many of J.S. Bach’s secular cantatas and instrumental works. Between 1729 and 1739, Bach was the director of Collegium Musicum, a society founded by Georg Philipp Telemann which presented concerts at the coffeehouse. The cafe’s owner, Gottfried Zimmermann, offered the concerts to the public free of charge, making up his expenses in …

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Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, The Netherlands Bach Society

In 1711, a collection of violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi was published in Amsterdam under the title, L’estro armonico (“The Harmonic Inspiration”). It was a prime example of the Baroque concerto grosso form, in which a solo instrument, or small group of instruments, engage in continuous dialogue with a larger ensemble. The British musicologist Michael Talbot has called L’estro armonico “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the …

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Three Purcell Snapshots: Tafelmusik

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) only lived to age 36, but he has long been regarded as one of England’s greatest composers. From age 20 until the end of his life, he served as the organist of Westminster Abbey, a position which afforded celebrity status at the time. He was also appointed chief harpsichordist for the court of King James II. His music, which includes the famous 1689 opera, Dido and Aeneas, continues to influence a wide …

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Bach’s Chaconne: Midori at Köthen Castle

“Monumental” is a word that has been used to describe J.S. Bach’s Chaconne. This is the fifth and final movement of the Partita No. 2 in D minor (BWV 1004) for solo violin, written sometime between 1717 and 1720. Emotionally, there is a sense of transcendence when we arrive at this mighty set of 64 variations on a repeating bass line. It’s approximately as long as the four dance movements which precede …

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“Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s “Xerxes”

George Frederick Handel seems to have had an affinity for expansive, majestic melodies. Consider the stately opening movement of the Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371, or the regal splendor we encounter in so many movements of the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.  Perhaps there is no better example than Ombra mai fu (“Never was a shade”), the opening aria from Handel’s 1738 opera, Xerxes, or Serse as it was known in Italian. The aria’s setting is a lush garden …

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