Humorous Baroque music highlights ‘April Follies’

By March 29, 2011

Yulia Van Doren will be a soloist when the American Bach Soloists perform Monday evening at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo

Yulia Van Doren will be a soloist when the American Bach Soloists perform Monday evening at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo


Who: American Bach Soloists singing works by J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Tickets: $20-$50 general; $18-$45 students and seniors, available at http://www.americanbach.org or (415) 621-7900

The American Bach Soloists will present a program of lighter secular works by J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann in a concert titled “April Follies” at 8 p.m. Monday at Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Bach is commonly thought of as a serious composer whose greatest works are deeply rooted in his religious convictions as a devout Lutheran. And indeed, Bach wrote the monumental Mass in B Minor, the St. Matthew Passion and more church cantatas than you could shake a stick at.

But Bach also had a sense of humor, and an awareness of life outside the church, and these emerged in his “Coffee Cantata” (Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht), which will be part of the Monday program. Bach composed this cantata at a time when coffee was catching on as a popular beverage. He wrote his music around a text that already had been set by several other composers.

The German words tell the story of a young lady with a consuming passion for coffee that causes her father both irritation and concern. The father’s strategy is to provide his impressionable daughter with a suitable husband — on the condition that she forsakes coffee. But in a closing scene (a version which appears only in Bach’s setting), the daughter only temporarily gives up coffee, after she makes sure the gentleman concerned will later permit her to indulge her weakness.

Monday’s program also will feature Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (Bach’s “Wedding Cantata”) with music in a modest, humorous and almost rustic style (quite different from his sacred works). The program also will feature the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, one of the most popular of Bach’s instrumental works among modern-day audiences.

Telemann was a contemporary of Bach, and something of a rival — the two composers were competitors for an appointment in Leipzig, and, in fact, Telemann was more famous than Bach in their day. (Nowadays, Bach is much more widely revered.)

Telemann wrote a mind-boggling amount of music. According to Jeffrey Thomas, conductor of the American Bach Soloists, Telemann wrote “more than 3,000 pieces, and he was also a tireless self-publisher, issuing more than 40 volumes of his music between 1725 and 1740.” This fecundity on the composer’s part has created a challenge for modern scholars. According to Thomas, “Until the 1980s, musicologists could not even make an accurate count of this composer’s work list, and to this day the tally is still being refined.”

In fact, previously unknown pieces by Telemann are still being found from time to time. Monday’s concert will feature a “new” recorder concerto by Telemann that was unearthed only recently by musician and composer Reinhard Goebel in Vienna.

Thomas posed the question, “Why is this ‘new’ recorder concerto so significant?” and then offered his answer: Thomas is impressed by the concerto’s “distinctively Italianate style. “Unlike Telemann’s other recorder concertos, this piece is filled with lyrical melodies, light textures and thrilling harmonic sequences,” he said.

The program also will feature Telemann’s “Ode on the Death of a Pet Canary,” in which the composer offers a sweet (and humorous) farewell to his departed little bird.

Soloists will be soprano Yulia Van Doren and baritone Joshua Copeland, both of whom have appeared with the American Bach Soloists in Davis in the past, along with Johanna Novom (violin) and Judith Linsenberg (recorder).

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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