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<< Continued from part 2

The second CD doesn't modify the case presented by the four complete examples but fills in gaps by indicating complementary, sometimes contradictory, instances. Thus examples 1 and 2 consist of a simple strophic lute air by an anonymous 17th century French composer, and a strophic canzonetta by Italian Cavalli, both pieces being prophetic of 'classical' aria. Examples 3 and 4 extend the concepts of French rondeau and Italian rondo as presented in the main examples, while samplers 4 to 6 demonstrate how much variety is contained within the reputedly rigid aria da capo, with a noble example from Rameau, a literally superb one from Handel, and a transcendent one from Bach's St John Passion. This last named indicates how forms are the servants, not the masters, of experience: for its first section, with drooping arpeggios in 'suffering' B minor, enacts Christ's agonized suspension on the Cross, while the 'middle' section, in glorious D major (B minor's relative), personnifies the Golden Lion who is Christ triumphant. After that, there can be no strict return da capo, only a vestigial reference to it, mostly from the obbligato viola da gamba.

Examples 8 to 12 present irregular binary forms in music by La Lande, Lully, D'Anglebert, Bach and Scarlatti, all fine music cannily selected. Examples 13 to 16 chart later modifications in aria, ground bass, variation and ritornallo forms, including some very famous examples such as the Lament of Purcell's Dido, and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. This seems a slightly shifty way of incorporating 'continuous and contrapuntal forms' includes, along with the G minor fugue from Book I of Bach's '48' (a particularly lucid instance of the classical baroque search for unity within diversity), some admirable but not overly familiar music by Frescobaldi and Buxtehude, and a prelude of Louis Couperin in 'free' notation, leaving the rhythmic figurations to be arrived at by the performer. I found it a bit tricky to find my way around the cross-references between the 'sound-bites' and the 'complete' examples, and suspect that people less familiar with the music could be puzzled and perhaps exasperated, despite the useful glossary of terms and a few sensible reflections on 'how to listen' to baroque music. On the whole, I doubt whether this gadfly approach could ever fully satisfy: far better, surely, to have added the second to the first act of Monteverdi's Orfeo and then to have explored each of the main examples in greater depth, thereby encouraging seeds of understanding spontaneously to sprout and burgeon.

 Copyright © Wilfrid Mellers, June 14th 1999

Raphaelle Legrand

Forms and Figures in Baroque Music

harmonia mundi HMB 595001.02

Book and 2CDs        Total time: 144'50

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