C. P. E. Bach's Flute Quartet in A Minor
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 16, 2016
Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA
Immanuel Davis, flute
Gesa Kordes, violin
Anna Steinhoff, cello
Andrew Willis, fortepiano
About the Music
When J. S. Bach died in 1750, he was neither the most famous nor the most successful member of the clan. Those honors fell to his son, Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). When Emanuel was just 24, he was chosen by crown Prince Frederick to join his retinue, which put the young composer alongside some of the most respected men in European culture. Frederick himself was a talented flute player who also composed numerous sonatas for that instrument. Emanuel Bach and colleagues, including the important theorist and composer J. J. Quantz, thus had a strong motivation to feature the flute in their works. However, Bach’s three flute quartets date from 1788—two years after Frederick’s death and just months before Bach himself departed this world. Were they written as an hommage to the Prussian leader, with whom Bach had been on good terms during his employment at court (1738-1768)?
The Flute Quartet in A Minor is scored for flute, viola, cello, and piano. But since the cello doubles the bassline throughout, the texture is really a trio sonata. The opening Andantino is expansive and lasts as long as the other two movements combined. The first theme group plays on a contrast between dotted rhythm figures and smooth triplets. A couple minutes later, Bach appears to return to the beginning for a literal repeat, but an unexpected shift to a new theme in F major suggests instead that we have entered the development section. This kind of formal misdirection is par for the course with Emanuel Bach, and we would do well to hold some of our “classical” expectations about form in abeyance. More than once he will set up a return to the home key only to slide off into new tonal realms. Bach does eventually return to the first theme in the home key, but by then we have been buffeted by so many misdirections that the effect is almost anti-climactic. His is a meandering sense of total architecture, not the teleological drive of high classicism.
The tonal chicanery continues immediately in the Largo, where meddling B-flat pitches intrude on the main key (C major) before even a single phrase has been heard. Still, the melodic writing soon takes center stage; it is graceful, colorful, and the picture of simplicity. A play of rising and falling scales allows the viola to emerge briefly from the texture at key moments.
Bach’s finale introduces the one thing we have not yet encountered: virtuosity—at least the kind of virtuosity that captivates listeners with athletic cascades of 16th notes. These are deftly meted out to all players except the cellist. Bach himself was a brilliant pianist, but the appearance of such difficult material in the flute might have pushed the limits of Frederick’s technique, had he lived to perform this work. The movement is a conventional rounded-binary form based on a gigue topic in 6/8 meter. Combining tonal clarity, dazzling textures, and touches of counterpoint, this finale most closely resembles the familiar style of Haydn and Mozart.
(c) Jason Stell, 2016
Immanuel Davis is one of the most versatile flutists of his generation. Equally at home on modern and baroque flutes, Immanuel has performed as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States and abroad. In 2005 he received a Fulbright Fellowship to study baroque flute at the Koninklijk Conservatorium in The Hague. Since then he has performed as soloist and chamber player with such early music ensembles as Early Music New York, ARTEK, Lyra Baroque and the Bach Society of Minnesota and Mercury Orchestra of Houston. He has also had the pleasure of performing on NPR’s Performance Today and in recitals with baroque luminaries Barthold Kuijken and Wilbert Hazelzet.
Gesa Kordes performs with numerous chamber ensembles and Baroque orchestras including Ensemble PeriHIPsous, Baroque and Beyond, Muses’ Delight, Baroque at Canterbury, Opera Lafayette, Ensemble Tra i Tempi, and the Rheinisches Barockorchester Bonn. She has toured as soloist and chamber musician in the U.S., Central America, Europe, and Israel, and has recorded for NPR, harmonia mundi, FONO, Dorian, and Naxos. After teaching at Indiana University and UNC-Greensboro, she joined the faculty of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in August 2009 as Instructor of Early Music and director of the newly-founded Baroque Ensemble.
Based out of Chicago, Anna Steinhoff specializes in baroque cello and viola da gamba. She is a member of Second City Musick and Haymarket Opera Company, and was principal cellist of Chicago’s Baroque Band. Anna is also a founding member of Wayward Sisters, which won first prize in the 2011 Early Music America competition. Wayward Sisters released their debut album on Naxos in 2014 and their second recording, A Restless Heart, in 2017. In addition to classical music, Anna has performed or recorded with such bands as Saturday Looks Good To Me, Mysteries of Life, Frisbie, and children’s artist Justin Roberts. Anna completed degrees in cello performance from the Oberlin Conservatory and Northwestern University.
For several decades Andrew Willis has explored the historical development of keyboard instruments and their performance practice while maintaining a commitment to the study, performance, and teaching of the widest possible range of repertoire. His discography ranges from Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata to Martin Amlin’s Sonata No. 7 (1999), and includes collaborations with Julianne Baird, soprano, Brent Wissick, cello, and many others. Willis holds degrees from Curtis, Temple, and Cornell and is a Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he teaches keyboard instruments from harpsichord to modern piano.
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