Michala Petri and Lars Hannibal
Forgeries, Masterworks, Misattributions and the Devil You Know
Notes by Joshua Cheek
Today when you say the phrase "Baroque Music" there is a nearly universal consensus: you are referring to music composed in Europe between 1600 and 1750; leading figures include J. S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann in Germany; François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau in France; Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi in Italy and George Frideric Handel in England. Considering this now "universal" understanding, it is interesting to note that the epithet "Baroque" as applied to music first appeared in 1919, when the musicologist Curt Sachs coined the term in an article published in the "Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters". Even so, the designation “Baroque Music” did not gain currency in the English language until after the 1940s, and as recently as the 1960s, was still a subject of scholarly debate.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word baroque derived from the Portuguese word "barroco", Spanish "barroco", or French "baroque", all of which refer to a "rough or imperfect pearl." The term "Baroque" initially had a derogatory meaning, to emphasize a tendency towards excess. In particular, it described the “eccentric redundancy and noisy abundance of details” which sharply contrasted the clear and sober rationality of Renaissance art. While truly excessive – and one need only look at pictures of the princely estates with their massive colonnades and frescoed domes, or the Galerie des Glaces at Versailles to witness the furthermost extremes of exorbitance – the art and architecture of the baroque also possessed a dynamism and humanism never before present in European art. In the hands of a Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) or Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), paint would shimmer like silk and stone would blush in spiritual ecstasy. While it is true that the Baroque hosted the opulent excesses of Versailles, it was also the beginning of the Enlightenment and the age of philosophers Hobbes (1588-1679), Descartes (1596-1650), Pascal (1623-1662), Locke (1632-1704), Leibniz (1646-1716), and Voltaire (1694–1778). These dichotomous tendencies would eventually influence the musical thinking of the time. Just as with architecture and art, Baroque music embraced extravagant ornamentation: Bach would include detailed tables for the proper performance of musical ornaments in the notebooks he provided for his sons and Corelli composed fully written out "graces" for his Violin Sonatas Op. 5, as tasteful examples of how to embellish his melodies, while the rational aspects of music were celebrated in the mathematical precision of complex contrapuntal textures, and numerological symbolism.
The Baroque would usher in many innovations that would resonate through the centuries: the development of functional harmony, the birth of opera, the concerto and the multi-movement sonata, and the cult of the virtuoso. Finally, the Baroque was also an age of true internationalism - Handel, German-born and Italian trained would become one of England's greatest composers; the cosmopolitan Telemann, was an enthusiastic aficionado of Polish and Gypsy folk music; the Italians Corelli and Vivaldi, were famous throughout Europe and even Bach, who while no globetrotter kept thoroughly abreast of the latest international musical developments. All were beneficiaries of this unique pan-European exchange of ideas.
In an period rife with such extremes and prodigality it ought not come as a surprise that even the circumstances surrounding the origins of the music presented here is as "baroque" as the designation might imply: disputes regarding the authorship of both the Bach Sonata and the Vitali Chaconne have engaged musicologists throughout the 20th century; Tartini's Faustian fantasy and the deft forgery of the ambitious Chédeville all speak to an age as colorful and media savvy as our own. Only the works of Corelli, Telemann and Handel have come down to us without controversy.
It is only fitting that Michala and Hannibal have decided to return to their roots as one of the preeminent early music duos, and have selected a truly BAROQUE program - in every sense of the word - for this very special 20th anniversary album. More than a mere program of showstoppers, they have used their talents to hold up a mirror to our own time and redefine masterworks that will both delight their fans and invite all of us to listen to these astonishing works with new ears.