The Trio Sonata, in its various manifestations, came to be the most popular instrumental form at the close of the seventeenth century and in the first half of the following century, only superseded, in course of time, by the classical string quartet. It represented an ideal economy of means, in that it needed minimally only three or, more usually, four performers, while capable of expansion into a full concerto grosso by the addition of ripieno players to reinforce the louder sections. As it developed the Baroque trio sonata came to encompass two generally distinguishable categories of work, the Sonata da chiesa or Church Sonata, with its alternation of slow and fast movements, the latter generally fugal in character, and the Sonata da camera, a suite of dance movements.
Most commonly the trio sonata demanded the services of four players. Two melody instruments, normally violins, although publishers allowed some latitude in the matter, however unrealistically, were supplemented by a bass melody instrument and a chordal instrument in the form of a harpsichord, organ or lute. It was, however, always possible to play trio sonatas without chordal filling from the keyboard or its equivalent. Published music sometimes described the second violin part as optional, although such an omission would normally be impossible. Generally trio sonatas would be issued with only three part-books, the third to be shared by keyboard-player and player of the viola da gamba, cello or violone. In texture they might differ between sonatas in which each melody instrument held a contrapuntal line and sonatas in which the lowest instrument simply provided a harmonic basis for melodic interchange between the violins, or a close shadowing of the first by the second.
Georg Philipp Telemann, godfather of Johann Sebastian Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who succeeded him as director of music in Hamburg in 1767, enjoyed greater fame than Bach in his own life-time. It was he who, as a student, established the Leipzig University Collegium musicum that Bach later directed in that city, and it was he who was a preferred candidate for the position of Thomascantor that Bach eventually took in 1723. Telemann, descended from a family with strong clerical connections in Lutheran Germany, was prolific and versatile as a composer, providing quantities of music, both sacred and secular, for professional and amateur use alike. In common with most of his contemporaries he wrote trio sonatas in modest profusion, a hundred or so in all, many of them allowing some latitude in choice of instrumentation. The two sonatas included in the present collection are typical of the genre and of the facility of Telemann's style, which in general lacks the harmonic and chromatic complexity of J.S. Bach, tending gradually towards the new style that his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was to perfect.
The red-haired priest Antonio Vivaldi was born and bred in Venice, where he spent much of his life in the service of the Ospedale della Piet�, a charitable foundation with strong musical traditions for the education of orphan, illegitimate or indigent girls. He won an early reputation as a violinist and pursued a successful career as a performer, composer and teacher, having abandoned relatively early in life his purely religious duties on the grounds of ill health. For the Piet� he wrote a vast quantity of concertos and was equally prolific in the opera-house, a venture in which he seems to have lost a great deal of money during the course of his life. In common with other composers he wrote trio sonatas, following, as those of his generation had to, the example of the great Corelli, whose 48 trio sonatas, written presumably towards the end of the previous century, were a model of the genre. Vivaldi is represented in the present collection by three works, a trio sonata from the collection published in Amsterdam in 1716 as part of his Opus 5, a trio sonata from the first set of twelve such sonatas, published first in Venice in 1705, and a set of variations from the same set on the famous Spanish dance La follia, a melody used by Corelli in the twelfth of his sonatas for violin and basso continuo and by many other composers.
By comparison with Telemann and Vivaldi Johann Friedrich Fasch may seem a minor figure. Born in Buttelst�dt, near Weimar, in 1688, he distinguished himself at the University of Leipzig and was an unsuccessful candidate for the position of Thomaskantor in the city in 1722, a post offered to Telemann and, on his refusal, given to J.S. Bach. From 1722 until his death in 1758 he served as Court Kapellmeister in Zerbst, but enjoyed, nevertheless, a considerable contemporary reputation, admired by Bach but neglected by subsequent generations. His instrumental works, none of them published in his life-time, include nearly a hundred overtures, some 68 concertos, 19 string symphonies and 18 trio sonatas, of which the sonata here included is a fair example.
The famous Italian violinist Giuseppe Tartini leads forward to a new style of composition and performance. Intended by his parents for the priesthood, he abandoned his studies in favour of music and established himself in Padua, his stay there briefly interrupted as the result of his marriage, which won the official disapproval of the Bishop of Padua. In 1721 he was appointed violinist at the basilica of St. Anthony in the city where he spent much of the rest of his life, renowned as a performer and teacher at his so-called School of Nations. His many compositions include some forty trio sonatas and show increasingly the grace and lightness of the galant style that gradually superseded the complexities of the late Baroque.
ReviewsTwo delicious baroque concerts come from Naxos, the budget specialists winning top-class performances and recordings from Czechoslovak artists. The Danubius Ensemble offers a 70 minute programme of subtle and vivid trio sonatas by Telemann, Vivaldi, Fasch and Tartini. - Essex Chronicle, May 1991