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Tekla Cunningham, violin
Though Bach was a profound composer he also had a serious sense of play with music, occasionally using the initials of his own name as a fugue subject. This sense of play inspires this program of solo violin music from the first part of the 18th century, with each initial of Bach’s name represented by a sonata, fantasia or partita: Bach’s B minor partita (H in German), Telemann (fantasias in B minor and Eb/C minor) and Pisendel (the sonata in A minor) for solo violin. Pisendel’s sonata dates from around 1716, Bach’s manuscript dates from 1720 in Cöthen, and Telemann’s fantasias were published in Hamburg in 1735. This is a glimpse into three German composers writing in very different styles for solo violin.
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Fantasia I in Bb per il violino senza Basso, TWV 40:15 – Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Sonata for solo violin in A minor – Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755)
Giga – Variationen
Fantasia VII in Eb per il violino senza Basso, TWV 40:20 – G.P. Telemann
Partita in B minor, BWV 1002 – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Allemanda – Double
Courante – Double
Sarabande – Double
Tempo di Borea – Double
The three German composers featured in this program were of the same generation and enjoyed great successes in their musical careers. During his lifetime, Telemann enjoyed a degree of renown that eluded Bach during his lifetime, and Pisendel, first and foremost a virtuoso violinist, was the revered concertmaster and leader of the Dresden Court Orchestra. Bach’s fame as an organist, church musician and composer of both sacred and secular masterworks has, in our time, eclipsed that of Telemann. It is rather touching to note that these competitors shared deep bonds of friendship and collegiality that endured throughout their lifetimes. Telemann and Pisendel played together in a Leipzig Collegium Musicum, and Pisendel met Bach while passing through Weimar. Telemann and Bach were also bound together through family ties – Telemann was godfather namesake to Bach’s son Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach.
A remarkably prolific composer, Telemann trained first as a lawyer, but was unable to resist music as a profession. Both Bach and Pisendel were born into musical families and were raised among church musicians, composers and instrumentalists. Johann Georg Pisendel is the least familiar of this trio. He was the concertmaster of the Court Orchestra in Dresden, which was widely hailed as the best orchestra in all of Europe. Pisendel was admired both for his virtuosity on the violin and for developing the highly disciplined ensemble in Dresden. Many composers of the time, including Albinoni, Telemann and Vivaldi, dedicated pieces for violin to Pisendel.
In constructing this program, I wanted to link works by Telemann, Pisendel and Bach together by using solo pieces to spell Bach’s name in musical notes – B, a, c, h. Bach used the notes of his name as a fuge subject at the end of the Art of the Fuge possibly as a kind of stamp of authorship or even as a kind of musical epitaph. This is a more light-hearted take at drawing some comparisons between three composers of the same generation, with different strategies in composing for solo violin.
Telemann’s Fantasias for solo violin are a set of twelve fairly compact compositions. Each takes a mere page in the cramped manuscript copy, and encompasses a range of styles. The first, in Bb, begins with a broad Largo with a slowly descending bass line. It is written in a typical church sonata pattern of slow – fast – slow – fast. The fast movement doubles as both the second and final movement.
Pisendel’s solo sonata in A minor is in three movements. It begins with an expansive and highly dramatic slow movement. The second movement contrasts snapping rhythmic figures with long melodic lines. The final giga begins with a fairly simple subject, with increasingly elaborate double stopping. A set of florid variations finishes this sonata.
The Eb fantasia by Telemann follows a standard slow-fast-slow-fast pattern with a lovely and wandering opening movement, an energetic allegro, a darkly brooding C minor largo, and concludes with a buoyant Presto full of leaping and jumping figuration.
Bach’s B minor (H-moll) partita is the second of the Sei solo – the six unaccompanied sonatas and partitas written for solo violin. The manuscript copy that survives is dated from 1720, and it is likely that Bach wrote these pieces earlier during his tenure in Weimar, where he had at his disposal an excellent if small group of instrumentalists, a congenial music-loving prince and fewer church duties than during his other posts. Each of the sonatas has a similar structure – a slow first movement followed by a fuge, aria-like slow third movements, and incredibly virtuosic final movements. In contrast, each of the partitas has a unique structure. In the first partita, each dance movement is followed by a double – a variation on the same harmonic progression. A very grand Allemande begins the suite, followed by a Corrente and its breathless double. The third movement is a Sarabande with a contemplative double. The partita ends with the thrilling and exuberant Tempo di Borea.
Tekla Cunningham, violin
Praised as “a consummate musician whose flowing solos and musical gestures are a joy to watch”, and whose performances have been described as “ravishingly beautiful”, “stellar”, “inspired and inspiring”, violinist Tekla Cunningham enjoys a multi-faceted career as a chamber musician, concertmaster, soloist and educator devoted to music of the baroque, classical and romantic eras. She is concertmaster and orchestra director of Pacific MusicWorks, and is an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington. She founded and directs the Whidbey Island Music Festival, now entering its fourteenth season, producing and presenting vibrant period-instrument performances of music from the 17th through 19th centuries, and plays regularly as concertmaster and principal player with the American Bach Soloists in California.
Tekla’s first solo album of Stylus Phantasticus repertoire from Italy and Austria will be released next year – music by Farina, Fonatana, Uccellini to Biber, Schmelzer and Albertini, with an extravagant continuo team of Stephen Stubbs, Maxine Eilander, Williams Skeen, Henry Lebedinsky.
Tekla received her undergraduate degree in History and German Literature at Johns Hopkins University while attending Peabody Conservatory. She studied at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna Austria with Josef Sivo and Ortwin Ottmaier, and earned a Master’s Degree in violin performance at the San Francisco Conservatory with Ian Swenson.