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Program notes: Inspired by Bach

The following are program notes for our upcoming concerts in Florida. Hope you enjoy learning a little about the selections we have prepared!

May 12, 2019 @ 5pm- Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Augustine

May 16, 2019 @ 6:30pm - Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Ocala

Sonate for violin and continuo in G major, BWV 1021 - J.S. Bach

When taking up J.S. Bach's various sonatas for accompanied violin, it is important not to confuse those written for violin and harpsichord with those written for violin and continuo. The distinction might at first seem small, but it is in fact quite significant. Beyond the simple question of whether or not one is to include a cello, gamba, or some other bass instrument in addition to the harpsichord -- as would be appropriate in the case of continuo -- Bach's six Sonatas for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1014 - 1019 contain, fully realized keyboard parts, rather than just a figured bass line. And so, while the style may today sound to most people quite identical, those six pieces are quite forward-looking in design, while the two authentic sonatas for violin and continuo, composed in the years before 1720, are quite backward-looking, at least in terms of superficial layout. Such a piece is the Sonata for violin and continuo in G major, BWV 1021, composed sometime during the late Weimar or early Cöthen days (ca.1715 - 1720). BWV 1021 has the usual four movements of a sonata da chiesa type of piece, "Adagio," "Vivace," "Largo," "Presto," the latter three quite brief by comparison with the corresponding movements in the somewhat later violin/harpsichord sonatas. The opening Adagio is a truly splendid binary-form piece in which the violin weaves in and around a lightly strolling bass line at will; a fine continuo hand is required, even more so than is the norm, to fill out the harmonies without obtruding on either of the two already present characters. The following wisp of a Vivace seems almost an addendum to the spacious opening movement, but its elegant triple meter and graceful violin multiple-stops move it forward into a space, albeit a small one, all its own. In the E minor Largo, the violin again muses free-form over an all-defining bass; the movement ends, as is usual, in a half-cadence from which the final Presto springs.

(Credit - Blair Johnston, University of Indiana)

Suite Inspirato - Hirono Borter

It is remarkable to consider that, despite being almost 300 years old, each solo work penned by Johann Sebastian Bach endures as an important and indispensable piece in the repertory. Like the six suites for unaccompanied cello, the sonatas and partitas for solo violin are lifelong companions for every string player - a source of constant joy, inspiration, as well as (occasional) frustration. Rather than becoming less relevant with time, they miraculously mature and blossom with each generation. Every composer in the Western Classical tradition since the romantic era has been influenced by Bach, directly or indirectly, and the Suite Inspirato is my attempt to pay homage to his creativity and genius.

My suite is a four movement work, with each movement using as its basis an excerpt from either a sonata for solo violin or a suite written for solo cello. Muse I is a meditation on the prelude from the Suite in E-flat Major for solo cello. The cellist’s part, with its thickly arpeggiated landscape, is unmodified from Bach’s original work while the violin melody provides a lyrical counterpart. However, rather than acting against the disjunt cello line, I envisioned a muse coyly coaxing and inspiring the cellist to not get lost in the perpetual nature of the work.

The second movement, After rain, reverses roles for the performers as the violinist performs the first movement Adagio of the Sonata in C major for unaccompanied violin. Inspired by the transformations which occur in early spring, the violin plays the steady change of season, with its slow harmonic language and pulsing rhythmic values acting as the buds on a tree that develop early and patiently wait for the cool showers before bursting to life. In contrast to the first movement, here the cellist playing a slightly antagonistic role, starting with a pizzicato bassline which are droplets, more reminiscent of jazz than baroque. While the harmonic rhythm of the violin sonata shifts slowly, the cello playfully adds chromatic and non-chord pitches, the immediate and brief nature of each pizzicato is reminiscent of early spring flowers, with each having its brief moment to shine after a gentle rain.

Nostalgic respite is the only movement where I “tampered” with the original version of a work: the Largo from the same C major Sonata. Rather than adding material, I wanted to explore a division of the solo violin part for two instruments. Here, Bach’s music is thickly written; the solo violin sonatas contain many extensive passages of three and four note chords, which are impossible to sustain on a single instrument where we can typically play only two strings at one time. By dividing the chords, the melodies, and contributing more harmonies, I sought to infuse the piece with an organ-like quality, where the voices can move without the angular gestures and articulations which accompany playing chords on a single instrument.

The final movement, Muse II returns to the ideas of the first movement. The concept for this musical union originated from a moment in our lives where Philip and I were concurrently preparing different solo works of Bach: Philip the Suite in C major and I the E major violin Partita. In practicing them at the same time, I was struck by a similarity in musical character, almost as if they shared the same personality traits of brilliance, and optimism. I imagined what it would be like if these two pieces, close friends that are able to finish each other’s sentences, were to have a chance meeting on the street. The cellist performs the Prelude of the C major Suite, while the violin interjects musical and rhythmic ideas (now transposed to C major) from the violin Partita, the result is a brief and playful union of two musical spirits.

- Hirono Borter, 2019

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