Serenades at Noon

Serenades at Noon

August 13 at 12:00 pm
Trinity Episcopal Church

Program Notes

The three airs on today’s program come from the pen of John Dowland (1563-1623), the great English lute virtuoso and composer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. Although Dowland wrote for his own instrument, he was (and still is) best known for his lute songs, of which he published three major collections during his lifetime. The songs on this program all come from The Third and Last Booke of Songs or Aires (1603). The book presents them in a version for four voices—soprano, alto, tenor, and bass—with lute accompaniment, but they can be performed in several different ways, including as solo songs for voice and lute. Dowland’s texts often reflected the popularity of what was then known as “melancholy,” whose advocates—the Elizabethan equivalent of today’s Goths—dressed in black and meditated on death, the subject of the first and last songs.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1756-1791) violin sonata K. 296—performed today on oboe—was written in 1778 during a visit to the court of Mannheim, Germany, as part of his many European tours. A product of Mozart’s early maturity, the work owes much to the mid-18th-century accompanied keyboard sonata. It is essentially a sonata for solo keyboard with the accompaniment of one or more instruments. Thus K. 296 has the typical three-movement form of a keyboard sonata in the period: a longer sonata-form first movement, a slower lyrical second movement, and a light breezy finale (here a rondeau that has a recurring refrain). As in many accompanied sonatas, the keyboard in K. 296 often plays the central melodic role, but Mozart has the oboe engage in dialogue with its partner and it even takes the main melody from time to time. As in much of Mozart’s music, the drama of the movements, portrayed by moves from tonal stability to instability and back again, is reinforced—like any good conversation—by an intensification and then relaxation of the back-and-forth exchange of themes between the two instruments.

© Don Fader, 2021