Bach and Mozart: A Lasting Legacy
Opening Night – October 5th, 2016
ASPECT Foundation for Music and Arts’s novel mission aims to develop a form of integrative performance that includes a pedagogical component intertwined with performances to bring greater understanding to the audience in terms of historical background and significance of the works performed.
ASPECT’s North American premiere was held in the ballroom of Casa Italiana, a landmark McKim, Mead, and White structure in classic Renaissance style. The intimate setting added to the charm of the opening night concert that featured a link between Bach and Mozart in the name of Baron Gottfried van Swieten. Historian Paul Berry explained that the ambassador to Frederick the Great in Berlin, van Swieten, was responsible for introducing Mozart to the work of J.S. Bach. At the time, Bach’s fugal art was largely out of favor and this “conduit” gave Mozart access to the great Baroque masters’ contrapuntal music, in particular, the studies embodied in the Well Tempered Clavier.
Mozart composed 6 Preludes and Fugues for string trio after J.S. Bach. A piercing performance of Mozart’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor acted as a musical introduction to the evening. This led into a conversation regarding Bach’s Fifteen Sinfonias for string trio, BWV 787-801 that illuminated the incredible variety of voices and emotions reaching its apex with an epic F minor composition and ending in dark woods of E major. This difficult performance of all the Sinfonias ranging back and forth from major to minor was gamely executed by violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Dov Scheindlin, viola and Sergey Antonov on cello.
After intermission and another illustrated talk by Mr. Berry touched upon “Mozart’s own coming to terms with music of Bach” and the composer’s ability to create complex dialogues of great emotional resonance. Ignat Solzhenitsyn joined the string trio on piano for Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E flat major, K493. The strong question and answer or “a subject looking for a fugue” of the first movement is all Bach but as the piece progresses to the Allegretto the influence of Haydn emerges in the dense layering of motives. And as Stephen Johnson remarks in the liner notes, “the exquisite Larghetto beautifully balances elements of rapt aria and meditative ensemble.”
Historical development in classical music is a measure of influence. Predominant styles radiate through the ages of compositional conventions. J. S. Bach’s inclination towards contrapuntal form was truly against the grain of popular music at the time. Mozart’s interpretation of Bach’s most seminal studies gives historical significance to an aspect of music that stands the test of time.