Jason Vieaux (USA), guitar - Saturday, June 8 at 8:00 p.m.

Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall
Saturday, June 8, 2019, at 8:00 p.m.


Domenico Scarlatti (16851757)
Sonata K 208

Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829)
Variations on a Theme by George Frideric Handel, "The Harmonius Blacksmith," Op. 107

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Sonata No. 1 in G minor for violin, BWV 1001
    Fuga (Allegro)


Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata K. 322

Frank Martín (1890–1974)
Quatre pièces brèves

Johann Sebastian Bach
Suite No.1 in G major for 'cello, BWV 1007
    Menuett I
    Menuett II

Jason Vieaux performs on a double top guitar by Gernot Wagner (Germany) strung with Augustine strings.

The use of electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, iPads, and lap top computers in Mixon Hall is prohibited at all times. Photography, video, or audio recording are also not permitted at any time.


aa  Music from 1600 to 1750—what we call the baroque era—casts a long shadow. It’s here that we first find works that are staples of today’s concert repertoire. Much of the musical grammar in a composer’s arsenal was first hammered out by baroque composers. To be fair, yeoman work was done in the renaissance era—Bach might not have achieved as much without the luminous example of Palestrina. But it was baroque composers who mastered the fundamentals of rhythm, tonality, and harmony. Their music endures because it works. What touched the soul in the early 1700s still moves us today.

From our perspective, it’s easy to single out Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) as the apex of the baroque era. But this wasn’t obvious at the time. Bach was best known to his contemporaries as an organist, both as a player and an evaluator. (He often was hired to give an expert opinion of any newly installed organ.) As a composer, his renown was mostly local. Bach wasn’t the world traveller that his contemporary Handel was. Further, only a handful of his works were published during his lifetime. Working in relative obscurity, however, Bach mastered his craft in a way few before or after could equal. “I was obliged to work hard,” he laconically noted, adding somewhat debatably, “whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.”

Most notable was Bach’s omnivorous embrace of all music available to him. Even as a child, he quickly learned everything put before him. His older brother Johann Christoph owned an anthology of more advanced music, but wouldn’t allow his younger brother to study it. Undeterred, Johann Sebastian spent months secretly copying the anthology at night while everyone was asleep. (Later caught in the act, his painstakingly purloined copies were confiscated.) As an adult, Bach amassed a huge library of music. Quality wasn’t always what he sought—music historians are often bemused at how much bad music Bach collected. Rather, he simply wanted to know what was going on around him. And then he set out to surpass it.

Because of this, many instruments can claim Bach as a cornerstone of their repertoire. For the solo violin, he wrote three sonatas and three partitas. The partitas are collections of dance movements—the sonatas are more abstract, each featuring a knotty and challenging fugue. Works for solo violin weren’t unknown in Bach’s day. Indeed, he was friendly with several violin virtuosos who composed solo music for their instrument. Bach, however, plumbed greater depths, both in technical difficulty and musical substance. Such is the influence the first sonata (BWV 1001) that Hungarian composer Bela Bartók used it as a model for his own 1944 Sonata for Solo Violin, even quoting the opening chord.

Bach’s Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso are more innovative. Although there were some tepid solo cello works before Bach, the cello then was still pigeon-holed as an accompaniment instrument, dutifully chugging away in the basement of any musical texture. Bach swept aside this stereotype for good. Of his six suites, the first is beloved by cellists and audiences alike, especially for its serenely lyrical prelude. Musicologist David Ledbetter praised this prelude as “an extraordinary and classic example of Bach’s ability to make his material grow from the inherent nature of an instrument, from the smallest motifs to the broadest structures.”

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) is often dismissed as a twee figure lingering in the shadow of Bach and Handel. But this disparagement pales in the face of his astonishingly inventive keyboard sonatas. Written for his patroness, Spanish Queen Maria Bárbara de Bragança, Scarlatti’s 555 sonatas are late works, most of them composed during the last five years of his life.

Although many composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries viewed baroque music as fusty old hat, the best of them fell under its spell. After hearing a performance of Handel’s Messiah in London, Haydn responded with his finest oratorio, Die Schöpfung. On overhearing a rehearsal of a Bach motet, Mozart demanded to see the music and exclaimed: “Now here is something one can learn from!” Beethoven’s Die Weihe des Hauses overture is an homage to Handel, and he also contemplated writing a fugue on the name of Bach.

Like his grander peers, guitarist Mauro Giuliani (1788-1829) also put his own spin on a popular baroque work. His Op. 107 Variations sur un Thème de G. F. Haendel was published in 1829. It’s possibly a result of his friendship with Beethoven, who was an ardent admirer of Handel. By the way, its popular subtitle “The Harmonious Blacksmith” was the doing of neither Handel nor Giuliani. Rather, it was slapped on a publication long after Handel’s death, in the hope that its catchy title would spur more sales.

Moving to the early 20th century offers us an intriguing homage to the baroque era. Frank Martin (1890-1974) was a Swiss composer who, like many, became enchanted with the playing of Andrés Segovia. So he set out to write something for him. The resulting Quatre pièces brèves pour guitare, written in 1933, is a curiously modern update of an earlier musical style—think of it as a baroque suite on acid. Had Martin known of Segovia’s conservative musical taste, he might have thought twice about composing it. He sent a copy to Segovia, who ignored it. Martin concluded that his piece was either unplayable or Segovia didn’t like it. But Martin must have valued it, because he made an arrangement for piano and performed it himself. Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet heard this and convinced Martin to rework it for orchestra, and he premiered the arrangement in 1934.

Martin’s original work wasn’t firmly established in the guitar repertoire until the English virtuoso Julian Bream took it up, premiering it on his seminal 1967 recording “20th Century Guitar.” Tantalizingly Bream tried to coax another guitar work from Martin:

"Eventually, I plucked up enough courage to commission a piece, and [Martin] was most eager to do it. But he was already eighty or thereabouts, which is leaving it a bit late in the day. Not long after, he came to a recital I was giving in Lucerne. It was a morning concert, and afterwards we took a stroll down by the lake to discuss the new piece, he in French and myself in English. Yet we understood each other perfectly. That was the last time I saw him. He died a few months later."


- Tom Poore