Yesterday afternoon, Juilliard students performed the first of their one-hour Baroque chamber music recitals at Holy Trinity Church on Central Park West. This concert featured works by several composers of the early eighteenth century who emphasized the traditions of French music of that period. These included the Overture and Chaconne from Alcyone (1706) by Marin Marais, the Overture and Chaconne from Deuxieme recreation de musique, Op. 8 (1737) by Jean-Marie Leclair, Sonade, La Piemontoise from Les Nations (1726) by François Couperin, La Magnafique by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault and selections from the Paris Quartet No. 6 in E minor from Nouveaux Quatours (1738) by Georg Philipp Telemann.
Recitals such as this offer an excellent opportunity for those with an interest in music to hear works by composers who, however famous they may have been in their own time, are little heard today. There is a great deal more to the Baroque tradition than the compositions of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, great though these may be. Although written in the same century that Mozart and Haydn were active, most Baroque pieces are now largely forgotten and rarely performed. This is unfortunate, not only because they are highly enjoyable in themselves, but also because they provide a key to better understand the works of the great composers who immediately followed and who built on their predecessors' efforts.
The works in yesterday's recital were performed on original instruments. Although the violin, viola and cello remain basically unchanged, there are other instruments, such as the oboe, that have undergone great changes since the Baroque period and still others, such as the viola da gamba and the theorbo that have fallen out of use altogether. I was particularly fascinated to hear the sound of the theorbo which was developed in the late sixteenth century and is basically a large bass lute with an extended neck. I was also surprised to discover that the viola da gamba is not one instrument but an entire family of stringed instruments that differ substantially from the violin family however much they may resemble the modern cello. It was only when I saw violas da gamba of radically different size used in two separate pieces at yesterday's recital that I was alerted to this fact.