Saturday Concert Showcases 'Drama' Of Baroque Music

Apr 24, 2017

Johann Sebastian Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2" will be on the program this Saturday.
Credit Elias Gottlob Haussmann / Wikipedia Commons

“There just aren’t enough opportunities for people living in San Antonio to hear baroque music,” says Amy Pikler, a violist with the San Antonio Symphony, who also plays recorder. “Most classical concerts don’t even include one piece of baroque music. You don’t hear Bach and Telemann as often as you hear Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms, and I think that people should know that [baroque music] is just as good in a different way. I really want people to hear it and I think that they deserve to hear it.”

This Saturday night at 8:00, Pikler is arranging a concert to do just that, at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church.

Throughout the Baroque Era (1600-1750), national styles from France, Italy and Germany converged as instrumental music gained greater prominence. Although Saturday’s program features pieces written closer to the transition from the baroque to classical style, each piece showcases qualities that are intrinsic of the era. “I think what makes baroque music special is the drama in it...when you hear a Shostakovich symphony, I suppose the drama is with a timpani being struck at an unexpected time. But Baroque music’s drama is in the articulations, the tempo changes, by instruments dropping out, silences. It’s just a very different type of drama,” explains Pikler. She’s right. Sharp contrasts that occur between sections of a baroque piece stem from the baroque idea that an individual is controlled by a single emotion at any given time. The musical effect is bold, exciting, and cathartic.

Saturday's concert not only focuses on music composed solely by Germans, including Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773), and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), but it also takes one on a sonic journey from small chamber works to large ensemble pieces, consequently showing off the incredible variety in baroque music. Telemann’s Trio Sonata in D Minor for traverso, baroque violin, and harpsichord starts off the concert, followed by Quantz’s Trio Sonata in G Major.

Johann Joachim Quantz began his career as a multi-instrumentalist before focusing on the flute in Dresden (known then as one of the hottest musical centers in Germany), and went on a Grand Tour of Italy, France, and England starting in 1724. It was on tour when Quantz met some of the most significant players and composers of the day, and, within a year of returning to Dresden, was promoted to the Court Chapel and became flute teacher to Frederick II, Crown Prince of Prussia. Quantz moved to Berlin in 1740 where he composed, performed, made flutes, and taught until his death in 1773. The Trio Sonata in G Major dates from his Dresden period.

Telemann’s Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon in F Major, TWV 52: F1 follows the trio sonatas and features Amy Pikler on recorder, Patty Fagan-Miller on bassoon, and a petite string orchestra made up of San Antonio Symphony musicians. Pikler explains that the duo concerto is unique in that “you don’t find a lot of music that pairs a treble instrument with a bass instrument. It’s so interesting to hear how contrasting they are, yet how well they blend in the moments that they do.” The instrumentation, combined with the innate character of each movement (there are four), showcases the grandeur, richness, and delicacy of the baroque. “The drama comes with rests, ornamentation, tempo changes...the mood of a section can shock the audience if they’re not ready for it. It’ll have them gasping for breath, like OH WOW! That happened! There’s just so many things that go into it. But at the very end you feel satisfied. Like, we worked hard for this and it deserves to be played.” says Pikler.

Telemann began his career in Leipzig when he founded the Collegium Musicum, after which he moved to Eisenach to compose for the royal court. He soon became bored with the position and moved to Frankfurt to be the city music director, but left there for a better post in Hamburg. Telemann served Hamburg (the later birthplace of Brahms, Mendelssohn, and the Beatles’s sound before they hit it big) as the music director for it’s five main churches and civic events until the end of his career.

I like to relate Telemann’s output to the business rule about how wealthy people value a price tag: always subtract a zero (e.g., what $500 means to the majority of buyers values at $50 to the rich). If you take the output of any major composer and add some zeros, you arrive at the wealth of Telemann's repertoire. As one of the most prolific composers in the history of western classical music, the man could scratch out a piece of music in the same amount of time that we take to draft an e-mail. That being said, he opted to follow in the footsteps of the contrapuntal school of organists that came before him, adopting old forms without much change and innovation.

Johann Sebastian Bach, however, was a leading innovator and is considered one of the most influential composers of western classical music (his death is a big enough deal to mark the end of the Baroque Era). He got his first gig at the age of 18 as a church organist in Arnstadt, left there to work in Mülhausen, moved on to Weimar (where his style underwent profound developments), and composed the Brandenburg Concertos in Köthen. He spent the remainder of his career in Leipzig, where he composed, conducted, and served as cantor of the school at Thomaskirche.

What makes this performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.2 in F Major, BWV 1047 so incredibly special is the instrumentation. Pikler says she programmed the concerto in part to educate people that the recorder is in fact a real instrument. “The piece is most often not played with the original instrument of the recorder. A lot of times it’s played with the flute. This piece pairs the recorder and the trumpet well, although of all the parts the trumpet is definitely the hardest and most virtuosic...I’m so honored that I could program a piece of this capacity in San Antonio. I definitely think it deserves to be heard again, and I think people should hear it with the instruments that it was intended for.”

With exceptional musicians skilled enough to do justice to these Baroque masterpieces, the event is truly not to be missed. The orchestra will be made up of musicians from the San Antonio Symphony with soloists Amy Pikler, Daniel Taubenheim (newest associate principal trumpet of the S.A.S.), and violinist Philip Johnson. They will be joined by former symphony member Deana Johnson on the oboe and bassoonist Patti-Fagan Miller, adjunct faculty at UTSA.

The concert is free admission with optional donation. All proceeds go to Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, located at 1201 South Zarzamora St., 78207. Learn more about the event here:

https://whatszappening.com/event/864/an-evening-of-early-music