Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Reappropriating J.E. Galliard's Music 2, A Simple Clue

John Ernest Galliard's Six Sonatas for Bassoon (1733), a collection which he is mainly remembered for today, are deceptively presented. At face value, the modern bassoonist would see them as simplistic pieces with a number of quirky movements. Because of this, the sonatas have been relegated to the 'beginner' repertoire lists of numerous conservatories and you would almost never find one included in a serious recital program.

No doubt London and the surrounding area had a large population of bassoonists at the time of the publication (the standard business practice at the time was for composers to front the cost of the printing, while receiving all, or most, of the profits. If Galliard didn't believe he could make his costs back then he would not have risked funding a print-run.), many of which must have been amateurs. However, those who had the leisure time and income to support musical activities were likely also frequenting the opera and play-houses.

Though the movements are uncomplicated in their tonal structure and their melodic content, a breadth of dances and other forms are presented. Furthermore, compositional hints in some of the pieces invite us to conceive their performance in a specific way.

Take the first movement of the second sonata, for example. It's a very approachable Andante movement with a mix of beautiful long lines over a moving bass and diminished rising and falling passages. While the movement's second half can be incredibly moving, the opening passage for the bassoon reads rather drab (you can read the score off of the video below). Here, the continuo-only introduction is key. The piece opens with a bass line which cadences in the tonic key to introduce the soloist. After a brief melodic statement by the bassoon, the bass line from the introduction is repeated verbatim below the added solo part. It's a technique which is almost exclusively used in vocal music from this period (for example, see minutes 1:15 to 1:50 of Perdifissimo Cor! Iniquo fato! by Antonio Vivaldi). In fact, I haven't encountered another piece for an instrumental soloist with an introduction like this one.

With such an introduction, Galliard is clearly pointing to the vocal nature of the work. If all of his operatic/theatrical works survived, I wouldn't be surprised if we would find an aria for a bass that looked just like this andante, albeit with diminutions which were more suited to a singer than a bassoonist. "Why wasn't this movement titled Aria, then?" you might ask. Well, Galliard's customers very likely had the experience to recognize that this was very much a vocal work - had they even heard it sung in the theater?

With this vocal style in mind, a number of questions begin to appear which will have a profound effect on the performance. What might the subject matter be of the aria? If it were in a play or opera, at what point in the drama would it occur?

One practical issue: why is the entrance of the soloist marked 'A tempo'? A number of scenarios are possible but if we are to take the score at face value it is most likely that the indication denotes that the introduction is played in a very free manner. However, it is possible that the placement of indication is incorrect and that it should be marked at the restatement of the continuo line in the fourth bar of the fourth line. I am encouraged by the latter argument. Since the first seven bars of the solo line are practically free from accompaniment, it would be odd that the performer is asked to strictly adhere to a pulse in such a moment (imagine asking a soprano to sing metronomically in a dramatic passage of an opera, what a reaction you'd get!).

Essentially, by understanding the context of this movement (and its composer), we open up a number of rhetorical possibilities - possibilities which are difficult to take advantage of by someone who is just beginning to learn their instrument. I encourage you to take a look at this movement again and ask yourself why it shouldn't be brought to the public in your next recital. 

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