Concert Notes: Bach’s World

MCO’s Bach’s world can be heard on Saturday 30 April 2:30pm at Alexander Theatre, 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre and online via Australian Digital Concert Hall on 5 May 7pm.


Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745)
Hypocondrie à 7 Concertanti in A major ZWV187 (arr string orchestra Kym Dillon)
Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745), a Czech composer educated in Prague and Vienna, spent most of his life in Dresden. Much of Zelenka’s life and work has been investigated by the Melbourne-based musicologist Dr Janice Stockigt. Her remarkable work places the man and his compositions within his time and circle of contemporaries (including Bach, Telemann, Pisendel, Mattheson, and Mizler). Zelenka’s output was not large but included many setting of masses and sacred texts, as well as other vocal and instrumental music.
In Reinhart Goebel’s edition of Hypocondrie à 7 he writes that it is “one of the most enigmatic pieces of the early eighteenth century. An attempt to decode the title of the autograph through contemporary literature reveals a spectrum of terms: depression, migraine, melancholy, and mania were all encompassed by the term ‘hypchondria’ during the baroque era. Presumably the single movement…should be understood first as a self-portrait of the composer.”
David Nelson in his 2018 Zelenka: A survey provides a different account of the work as the composer’s “portrayal of a state which, in the words of the 18th century Dictionnaire de l’Académie Française, made one strange and morose and complain of excessive suffering despite an appearance of good health. If we are to accept this interpretation, the first part can express uncertainty in the continual shifts from major to minor, the second a bout of nervous energy that comes to a false ending and then the final part, marked lentement, unmitigated gloom.”
Hipocondrie à 7 ZWV187 was composed in 1723 for two oboes, bassoon, two violins, viola, and continuo. In today’s performance the work is arranged for strings.

George Frideric Handel (1685–1759)
Handel Concerto Grosso in C minor Op 6 No 8, HWV326

I. Allemande
II. Grave
III. Andante – Allegro
IV. Adagio
V. Siciliana
VI. Allegro


George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was born in Halle, Germany, and after time in Italy settled in London in 1712 where he remained until his death. While he is famous for his operas, oratorios, anthems and concertos, he was a great music entrepreneur who tested, tantalised and educated his audiences.
The 12 Concerti Grossi were written in the short period of September and October 1739 and published as Op 6 in 1740. With the intensity of the compositional period (and the volume of output) they were presumably composed as an integral set. In many ways, Handel followed the model of Arcangelo Corelli’s set (of 1714) with the same opus number, number of concertos and scoring.
Anthony Hicks describes the Op 6 set as “an apotheosis of the Baroque concerto, to be set alongside the Brandenburg Concertos of Bach, as well as an epitome of Handel’s art, drawing on many sources and influences and uniting them in a style uniquely his own”. These exquisite concertos provide great contrast to the earlier set of concerti grossi Op 3 (1734), the Water Music (1717) and the later, more expansive, Music for the Royal Fireworks (1748). The concerti were premiered during performances of oratorios over the winter of 1739 to 1740.
The C minor concerto is a collection of contrasting dances with an elegant sense of motion throughout each of the movements. The opening Allemande is marked by the imitation between the violin and the bass line, as well as the dialogue between the violins. The Grave has a series of unexpected modulations that adds to its dramatic yet sombre character. The Andante allegro is built on a four-note motif that is passed around the soloists and the ensemble in building the musical texture. The brief but expressively melancholic Adagio leads into the pastoral Siciliana with its alternations between the soloists and orchestra. The final Allegro for the full orchestra is in the character of a polonaise.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
Suite for violin and orchestra in A major TWV 55:A8)

I. Ouverture)
II. Passepied burlesque)
III. Air (un peu gayement))
IV. Rondeaux)
V. Menuett I/II)
VI. Fanfare)
VII. Air (Adagio))
VIII. Gigue


During the Baroque, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) was considered equal with the finest contemporary composers. Although little of his music is well-recognised today, his work is being reappraised and rediscovered in tandem with the interest in historical performance. In general character, Telemann’s music is more worldly than Bach and more adventurous than Handel.

Telemann wrote at least 138(!) orchestral “ouvertures” or suites-en-concert. Like the work being performed in this concert, most of these works are a hybrid between a suite of dances and a concerto, having a substantial solo part for one or more instruments.

While the soloist is more orchestrally integrated and less openly showy than in a concerto, the music benefits from the dynamism and drive of the individual voice. The contrast with the other works in this concert places this music: Handel’s concerto grosso is a suite of dance movements with contrasting groups of instrumentalists; and Bach’s Violin Concerto has no dance elements, and the violin soloist placed frequently outside the orchestra.

The overture in A major TWV 55:A8 is an especially charming example of Telemann’s genre. The suites of other Baroque composers (perhaps Bach or Corelli) tend to imply a courtly atmosphere, and perhaps even an abstraction of dance forms as pure music. Telemann’s suites, on the other hand, frequently evoke a lively village event, with a vibrant and unabashed enjoyment of actual dancing.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714¬–1788)
Sinfonia in A Major Wq182/4

I. Allegro ma non troppo
II. Largo ed innocentemente

III. Allegro assai


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714¬–1788), the second surviving son of JS Bach and his first wife Maria Barbara, was an important and influential composer of the second half of the eighteenth century, composing more than 1000 works including songs, oratorios, keyboard dance movements and sonatas, concertos and symphonies.
The catalogue of CPE Bach’s works lists eighteen symphonies composed over a period of thirty-five years. Nine of these symphonies (Wq 173–181) date from his time in Berlin between 1738 and 1768. In 1773 Bach composed a set of six string symphonies (Wq 182) written for his patron Gottfried van Swieten in Hamburg. The set was not published in the composer’s lifetime.
The Symphony in A major Wq 182 No 4 is in three movements. The sheer drive and virtuosity of the opening Allegro ma non troppo is contrasted to the restrained elegant sensitivity of the Largo ed innocentemente. The concluding Allegro assai has a sense of playful restlessness throughout.

Margaret Sutherland (1897–1984)
Concerto for String Orchestra

I. Allegro con brio
II. Tempo di menuetto
III. Sempre vivace ma pomposo


Margaret Sutherland (1897–1984) was an important composer, performer and teacher who made significant contributions to the musical and cultural development of Australia over the twentieth century. She initially studied piano and composition in Melbourne before heading to London and Vienna to study composition, orchestration and conducting from 1923 to 1925. In London she studied composition with with Arnold Bax. On her return to Australia she lived and worked mainly in Melbourne.

David Symons’ (1997) The music of Margaret Sutherland is a major source of information and insight into the composer. In his 2001 entry in Grove Music Online he states: “her music at times betrays Romantic warmth and often displays considerable strength of utterance and rhythmic vitality, although restraint, conciseness of expression and a strong taste for contrapuntal development must be considered basic qualities.” James Murdoch in his obituary of Sutherland described her as “more than the Mother of Australian music – she was the Matriarch.”

The Concerto for Strings was composed in 1953 and follows an earlier Concertino for String Orchestra (1949). Rob Barnett in a review of Sutherland talked of the Concerto for Strings as a “gracious and concise expression rippling with the dynamism of the Bliss Music for Strings. Sutherland is to the point, fresh in invention and athletic in her handling of the strings.” The Concerto is in three beautifully contrasting movements.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor BWV1041
I. [no tempo indication]
II. Andante
III. Allegro assai


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was an enormously prolific and influential composer whose works reflect the major professional appointments he held over his lifetime.

Three of Bach’s violin concertos survive in their original form – the Concerto in A minor, the Concerto in E major and the Double Concerto in D minor. They were all composed between 1717 and 1723 while Bach was Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen at Cöthen.

The three movements of the concerto provide great contrast. The first movement opens with a characteristic figure which is repeated throughout the movement. The well-wrought melody of the slow movement is built over a repeated pattern and the gigue provides moments of great display by the soloist.

Notes: David Forrest (Telemann: Richard Jackson)