ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock first met Chatter co-founder David Felberg when he asked her for a Baroque violin lesson.
On Sunday, March 1, Blumenstock will bring her historical performance techniques to three Bach sonatas with harpsichordist Matthew Dirst at the Las Puertas Event Center for Chatter Sunday.
Baroque period musicians not only used different instruments, they brought different phrasing to the music.
“The violins were slightly smaller with kind of higher bellies,” Blumenstock said from her home in Berkeley, California, where she leads the San Francisco Bay Area’s Philharmonia Baroque and American Bach Soloists. She also is a faculty member at the Juilliard School.
“The tension on the strings was less,” she continued. “They were using gut strings with a different tonal character. Flutes were made of wood and oboes had one key.”
Blumenstock plays a 1660 Cremona violin. Half of the instrument is the original, but it boasts a modern neck.
“I grew up listening to Baroque music,” Blumenstock explained. “My mom was a church musician. It was just background music. I didn’t get the bug until I was 20 or 21.”
A violin player at 7, Blumenstock had switched to the viola by the time she was in high school because the orchestra needed a player. It also helped that she would sit next to her crush at the time, a cellist.
Then she heard the first European recording of Bach cantatas on period instruments.
“The quality of the sound was unusual and I realized (it was) the period instruments. The flute’s not as piercing. The oboes are without vibrato. The lack of vibrato sounded good to my ears.”
Shaping the notes individually or in groups forms the nucleus of the Baroque style.
“The effect made the music come alive and blossom,” Blumenstock said. “They’re modeling the music on speech. It’s called rhetorical music. It’s as if you’re delivering a speech. You use the tone of your voice to beguile or convince or impress.”
She returned to the violin.
The three Bach sonatas differ from the tradition of the time in that the composer wrote out all the notes. In the past, harpischordists were expected to only play chords or improvise in the left or bass hand.
“The hallmark is the interaction between the violin and the harpsichord right hand,” Blumenstock said. “It’s sort of an elaborate form of dueting.”
Dirst is the founder and music director of the early music ensemble Ars Lyrica Houston and is a music professor at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston.
_WebHeadline”>EXCERPT: Baroque period musicians not only used different instruments, they brought different phrasing to the music.