Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The First Mozart / JC Bach Concertos K107

Johann Christian (JC) “John” Bach 1735-1782 47 years
This article refers to Mozart's three keyboard /piano concertos K107 which are NOT NUMBERED among the usual order of his 27 concertos. These were sometimes called Divertimenti: diversions. This music was actually intended to be background music for events held by the well to do or nobility. As the eighteenth century rolled along toward the French revolution, this was “society” for everyone from the nobility down through the higher castes of the growing middle class towns-people. The peasants and poor might watch from a distance or be employed as porters or servants. Mozart and Bach would have been accorded a slightly better than servant status.

So Mozart wrote for one keyboard or more and accompaniment, exactly 30 concertos. One has to start somewhere, even if one is talented and more importantly, diligent. The reason we have things is because others who went before us managed to work hard enough at it to set it all down on paper for someone else to come upon and adopt for their own use. We are fortunate at all to have these as windows through which to view the best of times past.

These pieces began as elaborate keyboard sonatas. Well, they may have been quite different in their originals. Why don't we find out? The three we are interested in are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. J.C. Bach (son of J.S. Bach) who was known as the London Bach or John Bach wrote six sonatas for his Opus 5 which was published in 1765. Amazingly, if you wanted you could get a photocopy online of the original publication and study these works directly from that score. There are probably better available as well. Such as this one.

Johann Christian Bach 6 Sonatas Op 5 [1765], Sophie Yates Harpsichord

Sophie Yates does yeoman work here: these are great performances. She's playing one of the large two keyboard five octave French/Flemish harpsichords. They didn't have pianos in wide use in the early 1760's when these pieces were written or in the 1770's when Mozart turned three of them into his concertos. They had harpsichords. Listen to these at a comfortable volume, not too loud and realize that this was probably as loud as anyone can hear this music. Even so, in Mozart's creations after some of these works, you can almost hear in places the desire of a keyboard instrument with more sustain.. It makes some difference. You'll be able to tell right away the difference between nearly ancient and modern, because the pianos we use now would have seemed stupendous to Mozart. But we're not there yet. First we hear them all with harpsichord, and they're still way ahead of what we've just heard, especially the last sonata in a minor key which harkens back to the styles of John Bach's father's era..

First we have all three of them played by a complement of strings and harpsichord.

WA Mozart - Three Piano Concertos after J.C. Bach, K. 107 [complete]
Tom Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Now what happens when we substitute a piano for a harpsichord? You see, this was about the time when the transition was under way between the two instruments, and we would still have to wait until the 1850's before we'd finally have the modern grand piano with cast iron plate, etc. and by that time both Beethoven and Chopin had passed. All of Mozart, almost longingly looks forward to the greater possibilities for sustain of the modern piano. We are indeed blessed to have all of this music and to be able to hear it right now.

Finding performances of these with piano rather than harpsichord proved difficult. Here's one that demonstrates very well the sonic differences between the latest greatest harpsichords that we've just heard with the first real piano-fortes which were all wood framed and had far less volume as they were very much lighter strung and the actions were much smaller direct blow actions with smaller hammers, etc. Nevertheless, especially in the cadenza, you can see the future of pianism anticipating Beethoven demonstrated.

Mozart, Piano Concerto after J.C. Bach K107 #1 Allegro
David Owen Morris and Sonnerie from 2007

We're suggesting of course that what's required is a revisit of these concertos using modern instruments and modern performance techniques. We'd expect the effect to be stunningly sleek and in places ultra-modern. Surprising.  Oh, and it seems if you look for them, all three are available on line for nothing.  Someone should get busy. LOL.

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