ALL ARTS Vault Selects


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.

AIRED: September 01, 2020 | 0:29:33

Welcome to the All Arts Vault. I'm Maddie Orton.

The Vault is the place to go

for special access to all things arts.

So we're going into the archives

to uncover some of our greatest gems

and share these programs with you

as they would've been seen decades ago

when they first aired.

Join us for a deep dive into a rich programming history

of over 50 years of archival content.

It's all here in the Vault.








[ 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

these words,

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

was simplicity,

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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