Two Hundred Years of Woodwinds #1
This 1959 series features members of The Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet, made up of flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon. The musicians play a piece, then break it down in order to show how their instruments evoke certain images through music. They also explain the history of the instruments and how they were grouped - eventually culminating in the modern day quintet.
Welcome to the All Arts Vault. I'm Maddie Orton.
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[ Choir singing ]
It may seem strange to begin a program
entitled "200 Years of Woodwinds"
with a bassoonist listening
to a madrigal by Gesualdo,
but not so strange if you realize
that all music began with singing
and that any instrument is but a substitute
for the greatest of all instruments --
the human voice.
Besides, Gesualdo happens to be a favorite of mine.
He wrote the greatest madrigals,
and he's the only composer
who literally got away with murder.
History tells us that he murdered his wife --
not without provocation, I'm sure --
and he escaped punishment.
But we're not concerned with murder mysteries
on this program.
We're rather concerned with the developments of woodwinds.
Ever since primitive man first heard the sounds of the wind
as it rushed through the trees in the forest
or the reeds in a marsh land
or the sands of a desert,
he's tried to recreate these sounds,
much as modern man
tries to make artificial lightning or satellites.
And whether the materials that the primitive man used
were reeds or bones or pipes
or seashells or animal horns,
it was always activated with the human breath.
That is the same principle we use today
on our wind instruments, and that's why wind instruments
are so closely related
to the human voice.
In the Middle Ages,
music consisted mainly of singing --
singing in a linear fashion.
That is, one voice would enter, was followed by another voice,
a third voice, and so on and so on,
much as we sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
around the campfire.
Now, this linear fashion of music
was typical of the Middle Ages
because you must remember
that the man who lived at that time
presumed the world to be flat --
that if he sailed past the horizon,
he would drop off into space.
Then again, they didn't have those vertical cities
and buildings which we have today in the 20th century.
So his entire concept was horizontal.
Now, this type of music
was brought to its greatest culmination
by that master Johann Sebastian Bach.
As you can see,
Bach was a genial man,
and he worried a great deal
about the future of his 20 children.
One of his favorite sons was called Philip Emmanuel Bach,
who landed a top-flight job
at the court of Frederick the Great,
King of Prussia, who was quite a musician
and flutist in his own right.
The king hinted on many occasions
that he would like to meet the famous father,
but Bach was too busy with his duties at Leipzig --
as choir master, organist, and composer --
to get away.
But when his son's letters became urgent, Bach,
like a true father,
set out for Potsdam.
And in 1747, three years before his death,
he made the trip.
He arrived in the midst of a concert
in which Frederick the Great
was playing a flute concerto of his own composing.
He stopped at once and announced to the court,
"Gentlemen, the old Bach is here,"
and immediately decided to challenge
the famous cantor of Leipzig
with this theme on his flute.
Without a moment's hesitation,
Bach sat down at the piano
and improvised a piece for three parts on this tune.
Frederick the Great was amazed
and decided to test him even further --
asked him to play a piece for six parts.
Bach did this but with a theme of his own choosing.
Later, when he returned home,
he wrote a 13-movement work
based on the royal theme
and sent it to the king
as a gift or sort of a musical offering.
On the cover,
he had inscribed in Latin
which mean "At the king's command,
the song and the remainder
resolved with canonic art."
Bach gave us an acrostic in the Latin here.
If you take the first letter from each word,
you have R-I-C-E-R-C-A-R.
The word "ricercar,"
meaning "to search,"
was a common musical term
which Bach uses only in this work.
It was a type of instrumental fuge
where one part follows the other
and is considered a musical game,
the idea being to search for the theme.
The composer didn't indicate in the score
what instrument should play the parts in the ricercar.
and this was typical of chamber music then.
However, since he wrote this
with the flutist Frederick the Great in mind,
we will play the first ricercar from Bach's musical offering
with the flute playing the top voice.
The English horn --
played by John Minsker of the Philadelphia Orchestra --
will play the middle voice,
and the bassoon will play the bass line.
These instruments are the modern descendants
of the pipes and reeds of antiquity.
Well, that was fun for me to listen rather than play.
On some occasions, the upper voice of this piece
is given to the oboe rather than the flute.
That was the first movement of the musical offering of Bach,
a composition which, in its entirety, is perhaps
one of the most remarkable pieces of music ever written.
Bach took this short theme
and he wrote
using practically every device
known to musicians.
About an hour of music.
He stretched the theme,
he shortened it, he turned it inside out,
upside down, backwards, and forwards.
He executes mathematical gymnastics
that are utterly fantastic.
In short, he's already done 200 years ago
the very thing that many of us think of
as a product of the 20th century.
This type of music,
many voiced or polyphonic,
reached its peak with Bach.
But strangely enough,
Bach was not typical of his time.
The revolution in music
that began around 1600 --
I should say in musical composition --
was directed somewhat against this type of music.
You see, this music was very complex,
and as its complexities increased,
the ability of the public
to understand and enjoy it decreased.
These horizontal lines that Sol was speaking earlier,
when you had three or four, six or eight,
most people could follow them and enjoy them,
figure out what was going on.
But when they began to increase to 12, 14, 16, 24,
and even up as many as 32,
it became so involved
that only somebody with very special training
could not only follow it
but even enjoy it.
Therefore, the theme of this musical revolution
and out of this theme of simplicity
came the Trio Sonata,
or a sonata for three instruments.
Now, these three lines
were divided in two parts.
You had two upper voices and a lower part
which was called the bass line.
And in writing this music on the bass line,
which was generally played by the harpsichord,
there were little numbers or figures
marked alongside the notes
which indicated to the player
whatother notes he should play in the chord.
It was sort of a musical shorthand very similar
to the sort of thing that's used on the ukulele,
to show people how to play the ukulele.
Now, because of these numbers
or figures alongside of the music,
this was called a figured bass
or a thorough bass or a continual,
and this part was generally played
as I said before by the harpsichord
but also by another instrument,
say a bassoon or a cello
or some bass instrument,
and he would play his part, the bassoonist,
along with the harpsichord
but usually looking over the shoulders of the harpsichord,
very much as we sometimes read
someone else's newspaper
in the bus or in the subway.
Sol: The composer that we think
Bach admired the most was his contemporary,
the Italian Antonio Vivaldi.
Bach took many of his works from the Vivaldi and rearranged them.
We have a perfect Trio Sonata.
In this sonata by Vivaldi --
which indicates it's to be played
by flute, oboe, and bassoon --
this time, I don't have to look over anyone's shoulder.
We're very happy to have this
from the National Library in Turin.
And we will now play the Trio Sonata by Vivaldi,
the first movement marked allegro.
Isn't it amazing.
This fellow Vivaldi wrote over 400 works if this sort,
and all for the girls at the orphanage
where he was the musical director.
That was quite an idea they have in Italy
in those days.
You know, our English word "conservatory"
comes from these musical orphanages.
It was an attempt to conserve or protect the young,
and they had an orphanage for boys in Naples
and they had one in Venice for girls
where the quality with the director for some 30-odd years.
Well, this slow movement
reflects a little bit of the serenity
of perhaps a girls convent,
and then we're gonna go directly into
the third movement, which is a little gayer thing,
which might be still this boy's orphanage
with the children playing in a very lively little allegro.
This concept of the trio
was very prominent
up until Haydn and Mozart's time.
Its influence goes on even to the present day.
In all minuets and scherzos,
the trio section refers to this very form
that we've just played.
In our next program,
we will discuss a parallel development
in the use of woodwinds,
and this parallel development
will be the functional or outdoor period,
which was actually going on at the same time
as this period of chamber music that we've just played.
And in later series,
we will see how this led to the formation
of the woodwind quintet
and its emergence as an art form.
We will travel to Vienna
in the period of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven
for chamber music
that included string instruments,
chamber music with piano.
We will play the works of the Mannheim school
which was the great cultural center of Europe
and had the virtuoso orchestra
which was so great an influence
on the writing of instrumental music in that period.
We go on to Paris, where the quintet emerged as an art form
and was given such wonderful encouragement
by the outstanding composers of that day.
And then on to America,
where we explore the music
that has been written for woodwinds
through the 19th century,
the end of the 19th century,
and up to the present day.
Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you
to "200 Years of Woodwinds."
This is National Educational Television.
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Two Hundred Years of Woodwinds #10January 01, 2021
Two Hundred Years of Woodwinds #9December 31, 2020
Two Hundred Years of Woodwinds #8December 25, 2020