The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How does Italian Baroque music differ from German Baroque music? Trevor Stephenson answers in Part 1 of a 2-part interview | September 30, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians – who I think are Madison’s premier early music-period instrument ensemble -– will open their new season this weekend with a concert of Baroque orchestral music and concertos.

MBM (below) will perform and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave.

The program includes: Corelli’s Concerto Grosso; Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto, with guest soloist UW bassoonist Marc Vallon
 on the baroque bassoon; J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major; and 
Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor (“Lamentation”), one of the Storm-and-Stress symphonies known for their depth of emotional feeling and expression.

Saturday performance is at 8 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture by MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson at 7:15 p.m.

On Sunday, the concert is at 3 p.m. with a 2:15 p.m. pre-concert lecture.

The Ear thinks Stephenson (below) is a terrific explainer. He is knowledgeable, witty and accessible. So I highly recommend attending the pre-concert lectures.

Tickets are cash or check only – no credit cards.

Advance tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors over 65. They are available at A Room of One’s Own; Orange Tree Imports; Willy Street Coop; Farley’s House of Pianos; and Ward-Brodt Music Mall.

Tickets at the door are $25 for general admission, $20 for students and seniors over 65.

For information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit:

Stephenson recently agreed to an e-mail interview for The Ear about the upcoming concerts. Today offers Part 1 of two parts. The second will run tomorrow:

How would you explain the differences between German and Italian baroque for non-specialists?

It seems to me that the Italians were generally striving for “tunes you can hang your hat on.” That is, in the quicker movements something toe-tapping and catchy; and in the slower movements, a type of vocality and directness of emotion (even when there is a fair amount of ornamentation) that will win your heart. The Italians went for tunes that you find yourself humming for weeks afterward.

The Italians also gravitated toward idiomatic instrumental and vocal writing—line and shape that bring out the natural beauty in the instrument (particularly the violin) and the human voice.

By contrast the German composers, while they were very influenced by the Italians, were somewhat more abstract in their construction. German vocal lines are sometimes a bit instrumental sounding, and they often wrote for instruments in a highly vocal fashion.

Many German writers about music were quite aware and enthusiastic about the German propensity to seek integrated styles—what we might call “fusion.” The Germans’ strongest suit was their mastery of counterpoint (fugues and canons) and their understanding and technical control of large-scale structures.

Handel (below) is a great example: though German born, his melodies are largely Italianate (modeled on Corelli –- below — and Vivaldi, and Italian opera composers like Alessandro Scarlatti) and are simply unforgettable.

He marries this with his German training in counterpoint and long-term structural planning—and the result is, to take a familiar example, “Messiah” where he is simply able to take the roof off when he sees fit. The chorus “For Unto Us a Child is Born” is, as it were, Vivaldi on steroids, Handel’s German religious groundedness integrated with Italian élan and heavenly melodic sweep–and the tears of joy come, every time!

Tomorrow: How good is Vivaldi really? How hard is it to play the Baroque bassoon? And why include a Haydn symphony in a Baroque program?

Posted in Classical music

1 Comment »

  1. […] Source: Classical music: How does Italian Baroque song talk about from German Baroque music? Trevor Stephens… […]

    Pingback by Classical music: How does Italian Baroque music differ from German Baroque music? Trevor Stephenson answers in Part 1 of a 2-part interview | 7 Top M Download — October 2, 2010 @ 9:20 am

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