Of Life, Love and Madness

In their first album, Extempore presents a repertoire that spans the whole Baroque era, through works which illustrate the development and transformations of musical form from the end of the Renaissance through Mozart’s Salzburg period. Thus, we find three pieces composed by means of the basso ostinato technique -a cyclical phrase stated over and over by the lower instrument- which are representative of musical forms that appear during the transition from the late Renaissance to the Baroque period: Aria Quinta Sopra La Bergamasca, by Marco Uccellini, Ciaccona by Tarquinio Merula, and Chaconne en Sol mineur by Johann Pachelbel (original for organ in F minor T206, adapted by Ex Tempore for their instrumental ensemble).

In all of them, the formal development is based upon the identity principle characteristic of enumerative forms, unfolding new variations which -like a vine climbing on a firm fence- imbricate on the solid ground of the harmonic cycle proposed and sustained by the basso ostinato. These forms recall the fact that it is indeed during the named historical transition that harmony becomes the main generator of form, a factor which shall prevail until the dissolution of tonality, in the dawn of the 20th century. The aesthetic evolution that sheds light upon the transformations of style and social conventions and contents, may be observed in Merula’s Ciaccona, a piece which remains close to Renaissance thought and recalls the joyful dance originally reserved for young women, whereas Pachelbel’s Chaconne is already a work conceived for the ear only, which deploys, in its solemn and introspective character, the French influence and the aesthetic of late Baroque.

On the other hand, Tarquinio Merula’s Canzona à Tre “La Rossa” illustrates the gradual displacement of contents and resources that were originally vocal into the realm of instrumental music. This is an emblematic process of the Baroque era, where, as it happens with the instrumental fugue, which inherits and transforms the contents and techniques from the renaissance motet, the canzona ceases to be exclusively vocal to become a form highly appreciated for instrumental treatment. The creation of new instruments and the organological development are an inherent component of the same process, as it opens the path for the rising preeminence of the new family of violins, which -due to their technical versatility- gradually displaces the ancient of viols.

Likewise, the evolution of the concertato style and the practice of writing whole independent vocal and instrumental parts in the same work -a practice already used by Monteverdi and the first baroque composers from the Venetian school-, as well as the artistic rivalry and emulation prompted by the Protestant Reformation within the Catholic field, bolster the admission of the new instruments into the Church. In this manner, and always in Italy, appears the Sonata da Chiesa -or church sonata- as an independent musical form, which, unlike the Sonata da Camera, does not include in its structure movements written in dance forms. To this genre belong Marini’s Sonata à Tre Sopra “Fuggi Dolente Core”, Bassani’s Sonata Prima in La minore, and also the Sonata Seconda à due Stromenti da Arco by Rosenmüller.

Finally, the stylistic, technical and interpretative challenges of dealing with two colossi of musical thought as Bach and Mozart -each one a formal paradigm-, who incarnate now the historic transition from baroque to classicism, may be better understood under the light shed by Doktor Faustus of Thomas Mann, who -in the voice of Wendell Kretzschmar- says: “By its own spirit, the fugue belongs to a liturgical period from which Beethoven was already too far. He was, indeed, the Great Master of a secular era in which music emancipated herself from religious cult, and came to seek refuge in culture. Nevertheless, this emancipation was never total or final”. Thus, the mentioned transition is indeed the moment when music attains freedom from religion. And as well as Bach is the last representative of a music that -Mann continues- remains “in a sort of rigid and abstract beyond, where the numbers and times of the sonorous world reign, bringing all passions to the presence of God, keeper of the multiform cosmos”, Mozart incarnates the lightness, the new grace and joy that music reaches through its emancipation from worship, a process that shall not be finished until the arrival of Beethoven.

Therefore, illustrating in a marvelous way the historical collision of contradictory social and spiritual forces which incarnate the stride from Baroque to Classicism, we find thus, closing the program, an eloquent ambivalence represented by Bach’s Sonata in G Major BWV 1038, a work that -despite its secular title and the lack of liturgical references- embodies the structure of a church sonata, and finally, Mozart’s Kirchensonate K 274 -in G major as well- a piece which, regardless of its church sonata title and the fact of having been composed during Mozart’s service for the ecclesiastical court of Salzburg, is structured in a single movement and remains closer to the form and spirit of the composer’s chamber music and operatic overtures than to his last masterpiece, this one sincerely religious, and -by the way- the only one in his production to recall, in certain moments, Bach.

Alberto Leongómez Herrera

# Title Author Audio sample
1 Aria Quinta Sopra La Bergamasca Marco Uccellini (c.1603-1680)
2 Sonata a Tre Sopra _Fuggi Dolente Core Biagio Marini (c.1587-1663)
3 Ciaccona Tarquinio Merula (1594/95-1665)
4 Sonata Prima in La minore Giovanni Battista Bassani (c.1657-1716)
5 Canzon a Tre La Rossa Tarquinio Merula (1594/95-1665)
6 Sonata Seconda a 2 Stromenti da Arco Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684)
7 Ciacona (G moll, orig. F moll), T 206 Johann Pachelbel (1653–1706)
8 Sonate (G durl), BWV 1038 - 1. Largo Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
9 Sonate (G durl), BWV 1038 - 2. Vivace Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
10 Sonate (G durl), BWV 1038 - 3. Adagio Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
11 Sonate (G durl), BWV 1038 - 4. Presto Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
12 Kirchensonate (G durl), K 274 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)