Classical Music: Duo casts welcome light on galant music of 18th century

What: Luchkow-Jarvis Duo: Mozart’s Circle.
When/where: Saturday, Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m., Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral; pre-concert talk 6:45.
Tickets: $25, students $5. Online at ticketrocket.co; in person at Ivy’s Bookshop, Munro’s Books and the cathedral office

What: Noël Coward: A Talent to Amuse, with the University of Victoria Voice Ensemble.
When/where: Saturday, Jan. 19, 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 20, 2:30 p.m.; Craigdarroch Castle.
Tickets: $15, students $12. In advance only: 250-592-5323, thecastle.ca

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In its quest to avoid overplayed staples of the repertoire, the Luchkow-Jarvis Duo has cast welcome light, in recent years, on a musical idiom that was crucially important to European music in the 18th century, even if it is under-valued today. I refer to galant music, which emerged in the decades before 1750 in opposition to the contrapuntal complexities of Baroque style and eventually fed into the Classical style of the late 18th century.

The Duo, comprising violinist Paul Luchkow and keyboard player Michael Jarvis, both of them historical-performance specialists, will explore the galant idiom again on Saturday, in another of their regular concerts in Christ Church Cathedral’s intimate Chapel of the New Jerusalem. Jarvis will play the fortepiano on this occasion.

The program, spanning the mid-1750s through late 1770s, comprises keyboard pieces by two sons of J.S. Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, and three violin sonatas, by J.C. Bach, Johann Schobert and Mozart (his K. 304, in E minor). The Bachs and Schobert were all important and influential galant composers much admired by Mozart.

J.C. Bach spent the last 20 years of his life based in London, and was a major figure in Italian opera and in various kinds of instrumental music. Schobert became the most successful harpsichord virtuoso in Paris in the 1760s, and published plentiful keyboard and chamber music. (He died in 1767, in his early 30s, after eating poisonous mushrooms.) Mozart came to know both of them personally as a child prodigy, on his first tour of Europe.

I said “violin sonatas,” though the works by J.C. and Schobert are in fact specimens of the “accompanied keyboard sonata,” a genre in which the keyboard was considered the leading part, the violin subordinate (in many cases, literally expendable). This type of convivial chamber music, quintessentially galant, arose in France in the 1730s, then spread throughout Europe, becoming one of the most popular genres of the mid-18th century, with a vast and heterogeneous repertory.

Mozart’s first published works, indeed, were a pair of accompanied keyboard sonatas modelled on Schobert’s and published in Paris in 1764, when he was eight. (They were published as his Op. 1; we know them a K. 6 and 7.)

When his K. 304 was published in Paris in 1778 it still bore a conventional title: Six Sonatas for Harpsichord or Fortepiano with Accompaniment of a Violin. But now the violin was no longer expendable, or even subordinate; it was an essential and equal partner of the keyboard.

Still, the music’s galant roots are evident, and that would remain true of a great deal of Mozart’s music, to the end of his life. Saturday’s program should prove to be both entertaining and instructive, reminding us of Mozart’s profound debts to the music of his contemporaries.

Also this weekend, the University of Victoria Voice Ensemble, a group of singing students who attend a course given in the School of Music by tenor Benjamin Butterfield and pianist Kinza Tyrrell, will appear at Craigdarroch Castle in program devoted to the songs of Noël Coward (1899-1973).

An inescapable presence in mid-20th-century English culture, Coward was a renowned polymath — composer, lyricist, librettist, playwright, director, actor, singer — whose wit, flamboyance and singular personality were as famous as his work.

This weekend’s program comprises 16 songs, including some of Coward’s most famous: Someday I’ll Find You, I’ll See You Again, London Pride, Mad About the Boy, If Love Were All, The Party’s Over Now.

They will be performed variously as solos, duets and quartets, in arrangements made by the Canadian composer John Greer for a Coward evening mounted in Toronto in 1985. Tyrrell will preside at the piano; the staging is by Butterfield.

Coward, incidentally, was reportedly an acquaintance of Elinor Dunsmuir, the granddaughter of Robert Dunsmuir, the tycoon who built Craigdarroch Castle. Elinor was herself a composer of theatrical music (among other things), and for much of her life she moved in glittering circles in Europe.

Note that space is strictly limited for this weekend’s concerts, and tickets can be purchased only in advance, not at the door.

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