Scandinavia’s leading period instrument ensemble, Concerto Copenhagen (also known as “CoCo”), performs concertos by J.S. Bach, Handel and a major 18th- century Swedish composer, Johan Helmich Roman.
Artistic director Lars Ulrik Mortensen is the soloist in Bach’s harpsichord concerto, a recycling of one of his concertos for violin— “a veritable textbook in the art of transcription,” that showcases the keyboard’s range of textural possibilities.
Roman, an interesting figure—described as “the Father of Swedish music” and “the Swedish virtuoso”—was a composer, violinist, and oboist who probably premiered the oboe concerto in this program. The soloist here is Frank de Bruine, and the instrument is the oboe d’amore (“oboe of love”), an instrument very similar to the oboe you hear in an orchestra today, but lower in range and a perhaps bit less nasal and more tranquil in tone quality. Joining Bill McGlaughlin is Norman Middleton, an oboist and producer from the Library’s concert staff.
Concerto Copenhagen: Scandinavia’s leading period instrument ensemble, was established in 1991 by Danish and Swedish musicians. Led by harpsichordist and artistic director Lars Ulrik Mortensen, the ensemble is known for combining lesser known works by Scandinavian composers and standard works from the Baroque and Classical eras, adding a Nordic flavor to the traditional concert repertoire.
Lars Ulrik Mortensen: A highly regarded harpsichordist, he has been Concerto Copenhagen’s conductor and artistic director since 1999, directing several productions at the Royal Danish Opera, including Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. As soloist and chamber musician, he has performed in Europe, North and South America, and Japan.
Frank de Bruine: He is principal oboist with Concerto Copenhagen, the Academy of Ancient Music, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and has played with many period orchestras such as the Hanover Band, Les Arts Florissants, La Chapelle Royale, and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. As a soloist he has toured in Europe, the United States, South America, and Japan.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for harpsichord in D Major, BWV 1054
Lars Ulrick Mortensen, harpsichord
Johan Helmich Roman: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D Major, BeRI 53
Frank de Bruine, oboe d’amore
Georg Frideric Handel: Concerto Grosso, op. 3, no. 4, HWV 315
During the Baroque period, the concerto form evolved into three basic types. The concerto grosso, the earliest of the three, comprised two elements in opposition: the concertino—a small group of soloists, usually two violins and continuo; and the ripieno—the larger group, generally a string orchestra and continuo. The two elements gradually became independent forms—the ripieno concerto and the solo concerto.
In England, the popularity of Corelli’s Twelve Concerti Grossi, op. 6, created a huge demand for published editions of concerti grossi. What better way to take advantage of this lucrative market than to publish a set of concerti grossi by England’s most famous composer? In 1734 John Walsh, Handel’s publisher, who had already issued the composer’s twelve solo sonatas as op. 1 and six trio sonatas as op. 2, selected—on his own—six works by Handel and published them as Concerti Grossi, op. 3.
Assembled without Handel’s supervision (he was busy with his first English oratorios), the collection was riddled with mistakes and inconsistencies. In fact, the works of op. 3 are not concerti grossi at all; they represent various genres, such as overtures to Handel’s Italian operas. More egregiously, no. 4 of this original edition was not even by Handel, and for the second edition, he replaced it with the second act overture of his opera Amadigi, composed in 1715, expanded from two to five movements.
In 1739 Handel needed a new set of orchestral works for his upcoming theater season, and he took this as an opportunity to write twelve concerti grossi that would equal Corelli’s op. 6. They were published as “Twelve Grand Concertos in 7 Parts, op. 6.” The allusion to Corelli is obvious in the opus number, but the English title suggests that the work is uniquely Handelian. Following Corelli’s instrumentation, Handel scored them for strings alone but later added oboes and possibly bassoons as well in performance.
Typical of Handel’s self-borrowing (a not uncommon practice at the time), three of the concertos—nos. 5, 9, and 11—were adapted from previous works. In the first and last movements of op. 6, no. 5, he incorporated portions of a work he had just completed, the Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, a setting of Dryden’s text in praise of music. The other sources are the Organ Concerto in F Major (2nd Set no. 1) and the overture to Imeneo for op. 6, no. 9; and the Organ Concerto in A Major (2nd Set no. 2) for op. 6, no. 11. Although Handel continued to write concertos for opera and oratorio performances, op 6 was his last published set of orchestral music.
During his tenure as kapellmeister to Prince Leopold in Cöthen (1717-1723) Bach wrote six concerti grossi—his Brandenburg Concertos—although he did not name them as such; he called them “Six Concertos for Several Instruments.” Instead of the Correllian model, he used Vivaldi’s concerto form to explore different combinations of solo instruments including the harpsichord, traditionally relegated to the continuo. In the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, Bach featured the harpsichord in the concertino and wrote for it a virtuosic extended passage by itself—“solo senza stromenti” (solo without instruments). But not until some years later would he intentionally compose solo concertos for the harpsichord.
Bach’s exploration of the solo concerto from dates back to his Weimar years (1708-1717) when he transcribed Vivaldi’s violin concertos, L’estro harmonico, op. 3, for unaccompanied keyboard (organ or harpsichord). The same work later served as the model for his Concerto for Four Harsichords, which, like, his concertos for solo harpsichord, were written for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, which he directed from 1729 to 1737, and again from 1739 to 1741. During the interim period, he compiled seven solo harpsichord concertos in a single autograph manuscript, conceivably after Bach himself or one of his sons had performed them at the famed Zimmermann coffeehouse. All seven are transcriptions of violin concertos from his Cöthen period. The Concerto for harpsichord in D Major, BWV 1954, was derived from the Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042.
Bach’s decision to rework his earlier violin concertos rather than write new ones was not simply a matter of exigency. More than mere arrangements, the harpsichord concertos are a veritable textbook in the art of transcription. They are carefully thought-out works designed to showcase the keyboard’s range of textural possibilities, putting in on an equal footing with other concerted instruments. To this end, significant modifications were made; for instance, in the first movement of the Concerto in D Major, he wrote a new bass line, removing the string bass from many of the solo sections and rewriting the upper string parts to be consistent with the new solo part.
Johan Helmich Roman
Among composers born a generation after Bach and Handel, Johan Helmich Roman, the “Father of Swedish Music”—also known as the “Swedish Handel”—was the leading musical figure of eighteenth century Sweden. At age sixteen, he was given a permanent position in the court orchestra of Charles XII. In 1716 he went to England “to perfect himself in the art of music”1 and studied with the German-born composer, Johann Christian Pepusch, co-founder of the Academy of Vocal Music (renamed the Academy of Ancient Music), better known for his arrangement of the music for The Beggar’s Opera. In London Roman met Handel, Francesco Geminiani, and several other prominent Italian and English composers. As a performer Roman came to be known as “the Swedish virtuoso” of both violin and oboe, his two favorite instruments. He may also have served as second violinist in the orchestra of the Duke of Newcastle for part of the time.
Roman was recalled in 1721 to Stockholm by Charles XII’s successor, Fredrik I, whose consort, Ulrica Eleonora, became his most important supporter. He was immediately appointed vice-kapellmeister, and after being elevated to the post of Master of the Royal Music in 1727, he embarked on upgrading the standards of the court orchestra and imported a considerable number of foreign orchestral works. That same year his twelve flute sonatas appeared in print, the only works published in his lifetime. In addition, he wrote several unpublished cantatas, the first vocal works set to Swedish texts.
In 1728 the twelve-year-old Russian sovereign, Tsar Peter II, was crowned in St. Petersburg. To mark the occasion the Russian Ambassador to Sweden, Count Feodor Golovin, arranged festivities in Stockholm. For this event, Roman wrote forty-five pieces collectively known as the Golovin Music. The number of movements indicates the extent of the festivities, but no record of how they were played-indoors, outdoors, simultaneously in various rooms—has survived.
The Golovin Music is a loose collection, uneven in quality and with no internal unifying structure. Ingmar Bengtsson, the leading authority on Roman, calls it a “musical bank.”2 The extant autograph is incomplete, written in only two or three staves, conceivably for violin, viola, and a bass, but otherwise bears no indication of instrumentation. Considering the significance of the occasion, it is unlikely that Count Golovin would have accepted music just for strings. Individual parts for other instruments must have been written or else the performers were conversant in a tradition of improvisation that dictated when, where, and how to play their respective parts.
Fortunately, Roman later wrote what is perhaps his most familiar work, the Drottningholm Music, composed for the wedding of Crown Prince Adolf Frederik and Louisa Ulrika of Prussia at the Drottningholm Palace. Consisting of twenty-four short pieces, the work—scored for woodwinds, French horns, and trumpets plus strings—serves as a point of departure for a modern reconstruction of the Golovin Music. This evening’s suite is from the edition by Ingmar Bengtsson and Lars Frydén published in 1992.
Roman wrote two concerti grossi and seven authenticated solo concertos—four for violin, one for flute, one for oboe, and one for oboe or oboe d’amore.3 Modeled after the Vivaldian concerto, they reflect the important stylistic changes developing in Europe between 1725 and 1750. These concertos were mostly written in conjunction with the launching in 1731 of a series of public concerts at Riddarhuset (House of Nobility)—one of Roman’s enduring legacies.
The Concerto in D Major, BeRI 53,4 the only concerto of Roman with an extant autograph, is unusual in that it was written for both oboe and oboe d’amore. The autograph consists of a solo part and a complete score. In the score, the solo instrument is clearly an oboe, but the solo part, evidently written subsequently, bears the explicit marking “oboe d’amore” and is written a minor third higher. However, Roman carefully avoided any discrepancy between the oboe d’amore and the orchestra. The concerto was probably first played by Roman himself at the Riddarhuset; the first known modern performance took place during the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death in 1958.
Music Divison, Library of Congress
1. Biography of Roman by Ingmar Bengtsson, www.geocities.com/johanhelmichroman/romans.html (Return to text)
2. Liner notes by Bengtsson for a recording of the Golovin Music by the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble (Return to text)
3. Popular during the Baroque period and a favorite instrument of Bach, the oboe d’amore has a more tranquil and serene tone and darker lower notes than the oboe. It is considered the mezzo-soprano or alto of the double-reed family, slightly larger than the oboe but smaller than the English Horn. Like the latter, the oboe d’amore has a pear-shaped bell. (Return to text)
4 BeRI numbering refers to Ingmar Bengtsson’s thematic catalogue of Roman’s instrumental works, 1995. (Return to text)
Last Updated: 04/05/2010