These flute sonatas were written between about 1720 and 1741 at a time when the recorder was being superseded by the transverse flute. After about 1725 compositions specifically for or including recorder became increasingly rare, and these works are a celebration by Bach of the technical and expressive qualities and tonal colours newly available to him.
Born in England of Ukranian/Irish descent, Lisa Beznosiuk is an internationally renowned performer on early flutes, and is married to cellist Richard Tunnicliffe, also featured on this recording. These are elegant and stylish performances, the use of authentic flutes adding a rich and mellow beauty to the quality of the sound.
One of the most distinctive changes in the woodwind instrument family during the mid to late Baroque period was the gradual disappearance of the recorder and the emergence of the transverse flute. Quantz in Germany and Hotteterre in France had a powerful influence in the development of the flute, while other composers, too, such as Bach, Telemann, Blavet and Leclair, explored its technical and expressive potential with challenging and richly inventive repertoire. In the opera orchestras of the time, good mirrors for reflecting instrumental developments, recorders gradually yielded ground to the flute, though they were still held in reserve for the provision of special effects. Bach, in his Weimar cantatas, called exclusively upon recorders, introducing the transverse flute to them only in his second year at Leipzig. Thereafter, recorders occur infrequently, and mainly for lending colour to imagery, often pastoral, contained in the text. After about 1725 compositions specifically for or including recorder became increasingly rare, Handel’s half dozen or so sonatas for recorder and continuo, together with Bach’s F major harpsichord concerto (BWV1057), itself a reworking of Brandenburg Concerto No 4, being among the last significant works for the instrument.
The Sonata in E minor for flute and continuo, BWV1034, is probably a product of Bach’s early Leipzig years. Bach’s autograph of the piece is lost but the earliest surviving material dates from circa 1726. Perhaps the first-composed of his flute sonatas, it alludes to the older formal scheme of the Italian sonata ‘da chiesa’. The opening ‘Adagio ma non tanto’ contains an expansive, pleasingly shaped melody in a single unrepeated section. The following ‘Allegro’ derives interest and energy from a progression of arpeggios of a kind favoured by Venetian violinist-composers. The emphasis in this movement is on virtuosity, though never for its own sake. The melody of the lyrical ‘Andante’ is anchored to an almost uninterrupted quaver accompaniment in the bass betraying, once more, strong Italian leanings. The highly motivated concluding ‘Allegro’ is binary and introduced by a single crotchet in the bass. Like the second movement, this one requires technical virtuosity.
Bach’s Sonata in A major for flute and obbligato harpsichord, BWV1032, survives in a Leipzig autograph dating from 1736. It is, however, incomplete since some forty-six concluding bars of the first movement were cut off from the manuscript—which also contains the Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and strings (BWV1062)—and subsequently lost. Several editors have reconstructed the missing bars, including Alfred Dürr whose solution is contained in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (VI, 3). For this performance, Lisa Beznosiuk has provided her own solution to the missing section. Her approach has been shaped by performance criteria rather than by purely musicological discipline, and has not been influenced by other ‘completions’ which she has neither studied nor ever played. Like the B minor Sonata, the piece is stylistically advanced and technically challenging. The opening ‘Vivace’ is introduced by an eight-bar harpsichord solo whose thematic idea becomes closely interrelated with the flute material later on. The second movement, marked ‘Largo e dolce’, is an evenly sustained piece of three-part writing, if perhaps a shade dry, in which the voices expressively imitate and dovetail into one another. The lively concluding ‘Allegro’ provides the focal point of the sonata. Introduced by the harpsichord, the theme is taken up by the flute and developed with radiant energy. The three parts maintain a level of equal importance, whose intense activity eventually leads the flute to a top E, the descent from which brings the movement to an exhilarating close.
Bach’s autograph of the Solo pour la Flûte traversière, BWV1013, has been lost, but the work is preserved in a single manuscript dating from circa 1722/3, the time of his move from Cöthen to Leipzig. The music would therefore seem to belong to this period. The ‘Partita’, though not the earliest music for unaccompanied flute—Hotteterre in Paris had already explored the territory—may have been the first of its kind in Germany. Telemann’s twelve ‘Fantaisies’ did not appear until ten years later, and C P E Bach’s unaccompanied Sonata, of course, appeared even later. Bach’s dance suite of four movements is remarkable for its gently expressive inflections and graceful gestures. While the opening ‘Allemande’ has much of the free, improvisatory character of a prelude, the ‘Corrente’ is rhythmically more closely allied to the dance. The ‘Sarabande’ is expressively wide-ranging, an outstanding example, perhaps, of Bach’s ability to create what Alfred Einstein called ‘tender, melodic writing’ with the barest instrumental resources. The ‘Bourrée Angloise’ is the most dance-like of all the movements, bringing the ‘Partita’ to a light-spirited conclusion.
The Trio Sonata in G major, BWV1039, is one of only two such trios with flute for which Bach’s authorship is secure—the other is that belonging to the Musical Offering (BWV1079). The present work, for two flutes and continuo, provided Bach with the material for his Sonata for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord in G major (BWV1027). The surviving autograph of the latter indicates a date of circa 1740 but, though the Trio Sonata with flutes may belong to the same period, it too possibly derives from an earlier version, perhaps for two violins. As the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff has justly remarked, neither version should be considered merely as an arrangement but understood rather as different means of expressing the same idea. The first movement is a lyrical ‘Adagio’ whose aria-like melody is at once appealing. The ‘Allegro ma non presto’ is a fugal piece, comparably engaging for its principal theme which is treated in various ways, and with virtuosity. The brief ‘Adagio e piano’ is wistfully expressive, providing an effective contrast with the energetic ‘Presto’ whose three-voice fugal exposition is intricate and exhilarating.
The Sonata in B minor, BWV1030, together with the orchestral suite in the same key (BWV1067), is representative of Bach’s greatest contribution to the literature of the transverse flute. In an earlier form (c1729–1736) the work was written in G minor; but only the harpsichord part has survived, casting doubt over Bach’s choice of partnering instrument. Though sometimes played by an oboe in this version, there is no conclusive evidence to support its claim. The version in B minor for flute and obbligato harpsichord is preserved in an autograph dating from Bach’s middle Leipzig years (c1736). It is the most extended and most ambitious of all his flute sonatas, and striking for the freedom afforded the keyboard part in the thematically varied opening ‘Andante’. The contrapuntal texture is sustained throughout by Bach’s wonderfully imaginative technique while he further holds our interest through an intellectually disciplined organization of ideas. The ‘Largo e dolce’, in D major, is in the rhythm of a siciliano whose melody is almost entirely the preserve of the flute. From an expressive standpoint, the movement foreshadows the north German sensitive style cultivated by Bach’s elder sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. The concluding movement is in two distinct sections, a fugue marked ‘Presto’ and a Gigue. This scheme, unusual in Bach’s music, provides not only additional variety but also confirms the virtuosity and profusion of ideas characteristic of the entire sonata.
Bach wrote the Sonata in E major for flute and continuo, BWV1035, during the last decade of his life. A nineteenth-century copy—no autograph has survived—suggests that the piece was written in 1741, when Bach made the first of two visits to Berlin, at the request of Frederick II’s chamberlain, Michael Gabriel Fredersdorf, who like his employer, was a keen amateur flautist. The work begins with an ‘Adagio ma non tanto’ whose expressive language calls to mind the sensitive inflections of the north German Empfindsamer Stil. The lively ‘Allegro’ which follows is binary and straightforwardly argued. The ‘Siciliano’ in C sharp minor is a subtler piece whose initial melody is echoed by the bass line but with some arresting harmonic progressions. The concluding ‘Allegro assai’ is introduced by a playful theme on the flute. This is broken off, briefly, while the bass, in a flurry of semiquavers, finishes the phrase on its own. Then the flute resumes the melody, maintaining its predominance to the close.
Like the Sonatas in E flat (BWV1031) and C major (BWV1033) the Sonata in G minor, BWV1020, is unlikely to be a product solely, if at all, of Bach’s pen. The equal partnership of flute and obbligato harpsichord and the galant gestures, especially of the fast movements, call to mind not only the E flat major Sonata (BWV1031), which may well have served as the model, but also the flute sonatas of Quantz and of other Berlin composers. Stylistically, it is the least ‘Bach-like’ of the three ‘doubtful’ sonatas and the present consensus of opinion inclines towards C P E Bach as its composer. One of the three surviving manuscripts is in his hand, while the other two simply carry the name ‘Bach’ at their head. Further doubt arises over the intended instrumentation for the G minor Sonata. The sources call for violin and harpsichord, yet the absence of any double-stopping has led musicians to believe it to have been a work for flute. Equally, though, an oboe qualifies for consideration on grounds of key, compass and apparent similarities between this piece and C P E Bach’s authentic Oboe Sonata in G minor (H566/Wq135).
The Sonata in C major for flute and continuo, BWV1033, is preserved in a manuscript in the hand of C P E Bach, dating from the early 1730s, and in which he attributes the piece to his father. Its origins are obscure and disparate, perhaps since its first two movements, at least, are arguably more convincing as pieces for an unaccompanied melody instrument. Yet, in spite of sequential and cadential crudities, the music is not without either merit or charm and is, by and large, satisfying to play. There is a shapely nobility to the opening ‘Andante’, and a far from displeasing virtuosity, however simply conceived, in the ensuing ‘Allegro’. The music of greatest substance, though, is to be found in the ‘Adagio’ which, like the concluding Minuets, ‘alternativement’, is not devoid of Bachian character. Bach’s hand can surely be sensed, too, in the fully written-out parts of the first Minuet which bears relationship to a movement of a concerto by Bach’s Merseburg contemporary, Christoph Förster; but, be that as it may, the sonata is uneven in quality and inconsistent in technique. It has been suggested that the harpsichord accompaniment was added later, perhaps by one of Bach’s pupils.
The extent, if any, to which the Sonata in E flat major for flute and obbligato harpsichord, BWV1031, can be attributed to Bach remains in dispute. Probably dating from the early to mid-1730s this immediately appealing music may well be a joint venture of Bach himself and one or other of his two elder sons, perhaps Carl Philipp Emanuel. What is indisputable, however, is the high quality of its craftsmanship and its expressive charm. The opening ‘Allegro moderato’ is introduced by a delightful eight-bar melody played by the harpsichord, after which the flute enters with the main theme. The ‘Siciliano’ is rewardingly written for the flute, its musical substance recalling the first movement of Bach’s C minor violin sonata (BWV1017). In the spirited binary ‘Allegro’, with its repeated sections, there is effective interplay between the two upper parts, bringing this pleasing sonata to a lively conclusion.
Nicholas Anderson © 2002