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Sans Souci-Notes before a concert

Garden exterior at Sans Souci

A journal of our visit to Sans Souci and notes on a program of the Four Nations Ensemble in New York City on March 7th, 2002 #

The philosopher's salon at Sans Souci

This King was a francophile (his collection of Watteau is a revelation and he felt the German language “crude and almost barbaric”), an industrious flautist-composer, and a rococo obsessed art patron. At his death, his nephews and nieces simply closed the doors on his encrusted rooms and decorated their palace apartments in solid wood triangle, parallelograms and quadrangle forms. Moving from a Frederick wing of a palace to a Fredrick Wilhelm II wing is shocking in disagreement. There is no modulation from one generation to another, only a well marked boundary #

Voltare's bedroom at Sans Souci.

Rococo music is reputed as being fussy, pretty, superficial, decorative, and inconsequential. But listen to what Frederick writes in a letter to his sister about some music he has written for her. “In the adagio I was thinking of the long months since our parting and therefore found the tone of painful lamentation. In the allegro I indulged my hope for seeing you again.” These are the words of a young romantic and not the fashion obsessed aristocrat. They also represent a series of musical values that belie the reputation of music at Sans Souci. In fact, it is at Sans Souci where the Empfindsamer, or sensitive stile enjoyed its greatest flowering. #

The music room at Sans Souci where JS Bach performed for the court of Frederick the Great

Frederick’s love of thought and art is remarkable among monarchs. However, Frederick had limitations and though he was surrounded by Bachs, he never quite understood the towering quality of either J. S. or his son, C. P. E. Bach. Though no one’s music from Berlin speaks more vibrantly than Carl Phillip’s, it seems that he was kept in the shadows throughout his career in Berlin. Johann Sebastian’s visit, though a curiosity for the King, was not fully recognized as the event of the century at Sans Souci. The arrival of the dedicated score for The Musical Offering went unnoticed. In a perverse manner, we will skip over C. P. E. Bach to look at a lesser-known keyboard player in Frederick’s service, Christoph Schaffroth (1709-1763). (2014 is the tercentenary of Carl Phillips’ birth and we plan to celebrate.) #

Rococo traceries in Frederick's music room

Of all the works on our program, Johann Gottlieb Graun’s Trio in G for flute, violin and continuo meets our expectations for the delight and vitality we have come to expect from rococo music. Johann Graun (1703-1771), student of Tartini, teacher of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and admired by Johann Sebastian Bach has left unexplored chamber music delights and this work will make you want to know more. How fine that he gives the cellist rococo riffs that respond to the flute and violin. Here there is lyricism and sparkle that reminds us of the silver and gold that shimmers by candlelight or sunlight in every room at Sans Souci. And yet, all the embellished charm is supported by excellent counterpoint. No wonder Johann Sebastian sent his favorite son for lessons with this modern master. #

The 1711 Strad Cello once Duport's used to perform with Beethoven-always in famous hands!


Two of Frederick the Great's flutes made by Quantz

And so, with his monumental B minor sonata for flute and harpsichord as well as this more domestic work in E major for flute and continuo, Bach has gone Empfindsamkeit and written what he feels is a modern chamber piece. The E major sonata was probably written for one of Frederick’s court flautists. But beyond anything else that was heard in this royal music room and in the words of John Dryden, it is music charms the sense and captivates the mind. #


  1. Angus Whyte says:

    Dear Andy, I’ve just read your most enchanting program notes for your Wednesday concert, and it pains me deeply that I am unable to hear it in person. Wishing you a huge audience and equally huge success, I dare to hope that the program will be recorded.
    All best, Angus

  2. Steven Mays says:

    Thanks so much, Andy, for this terrific introduction to the music we’ll hear tonight, and for all the photo research that went into the notes, too.
    Your web notes are a real value-added accompaniment to beautiful concerts; would that all performers we so attentive to their audiences!

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