Baroque Concerti On Electric Guitar

Matt Rehfeldt

This is baroque concerti with highly ornamented solo electric guitar and a continuo section of electric bass, classical guitar and cello with violin and viola in the middle, all instruments performed by Matt Rehfeldt.

Matt Rehfeldt

Baroque Concerti on Electric Guitar

Bach, Handel, Vivaldi

Featuring Matt Rehfeldt: electric and classical guitars, violin, viola, cello and electric bass

The period between around 1600-1750 famously known as "Baroque" is one of the most important eras in all of music history largely because of it's three most important composers, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel. It is also the period that the polyphonic-contrapuntal style reached its climax. One of the things that also makes this music so fascinating is that each section of instruments is assigned a different, yet equally important part. The bass part, called "continuo," was equal in importance to the melody, and could have included a harpsichord, organ or lute along with a cello or viola da gamba. For this recording, I used classical guitar and cello, along with electric bass. Another important development of this period was the concerto, a work for solo instrument and orchestra, and concerto grosso or grand concerto, a work for a small group of solo instruments (the pricipale or concertino) against the full orchestra (the repieni or tutti). In this case, I used electric guitar for all parts scored for solo.

Legend has it that the day Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was born, there was a tremendous earthquake in Venice. His mother vowed that if they should survive, her son would grow up to become a priest. He was ordained in 1703 which, along with his fiery red hair, lead to his eternal nickname "The Red Priest." However, after one year he quit the practice in order to pursue a career in music like his father, a professional violinist. In September of 1703, he began teaching violin at Ospedale della Pieta, an orphanage in which the boys were taught a trade, and had to leave by age 15, and the girls received a musical education. The most talented of these girls stayed and became members of the Ospedale's famous orchestra and choir. Vivaldi was required to teach the orphans music theory and how to play instruments. He was also required to compose a concerto or an oratorio for every feast. It is here that he most likely composed his Concerto in D major for lute and orchestra which is most commonly done on classical guitar today and, for this recording, electric guitar. One of his contributions to the concerto form, also evident in this concerto, is the development of the slow movement into an equally important movement. Vivaldi later went on to have great success with opera, but even still sent the Ospedale two concerti per month, for which he received two ducats (about $90 U.S. in 2013). He once boasted that he "could compose all the parts of a concerto faster than a copyist could write them out." This is very likely true, for he left us with over 500 concerti, including the notorious programatic Four Seasons concerto for violin and strings.

Unique in all of music history, is the story of the great musical Bach family of Germany that evolved over 200 years producing about 70 professional musicians and composers. It began with the patriarch, Vitus Bach, who played the lute, and climaxed with his great, great grandson, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), then continued with four of his sons. Like Vivaldi, Bach's father was a professional violinist, and is likely to have taught him violin, harpsichord and music theory. He lost his father at age ten and mother at age nine and went to live with his oldest brother Johann Christoph, who held the organ post at St. Michael's Church in Ohrdruf. From age 18-22, Bach  honed his skills as an organist at a post in Arnstadt, later becoming one of the most respected organists of his lifetime. His son, Carl Phillip Emanuel, once reported that the great French organist, Girolamo Frescobaldi fled a competition with Bach. During his period at Weimar, he played violin, viola and harpsichord in the court orchestra on top of his organ duties. He often directed the orchestra from the viola or harpsichord, his two favorite instruments. His next position was at Kothen where he was employed by Prince Leopold who, himself a musician, treated Bach very well. Here, he wrote most of his solo, chamber and instrumental works, such as the great Brandenburg Concerti and Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. It is also here that he may have first composed Oboe Concerto in D minor. He later transcribed it to harpsichord, and also used it in one of his cantatas. For this recording, I have adapted it to the electric guitar. Bach's final period was in Leipzig, where he focused more on church music. A devout Lutheran, he was dedicated to "regulate sacred music to God's honor." On many of his works, the initials S.D.G. are found, which stand for Soli Deo Gloria meaning For the Glory of God Alone.

Born the same year as Bach and only 70 miles away in Halle, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) never met his great contemporary, although Bach did once walk 20 miles to make the attempt. Unlike Vivaldi and Bach, there were no musicians in Handel's family. In fact, his father wanted him to become a doctor, like himself, and did not approve of the music profession. So young George had to practice in secret. Then, on a visit to the Duke of Saxe-Weisenfels, the boy snuck away from his father and into the chapel and gave an organ performance that greatly impressed the Duke. His father apprehensively recognized his talent and put him in the capable hands of F.W. Zachow (composer, organist and directer of music at the main church of Halle). He studied organ, harpsichord, violin and oboe. By the age of 18, he'd completed studies at the University of Halle and was appointed Cathedral Organist. He soon gave up this post to pursue opera in Hamburg (the center for German Opera of the time) and composed his first opera, Almira, at the age of 19.  In 1706 he moved to Italy and befriended Corelli and Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, who's influences were profound. At the age of 25, he was hired as Music Directer at the Electoral Court of Hanover, He eventually enraged the king for spending too much time in London. To patch things up, he composed the famous Water Music Suite and surprised the king with a performance during a boat party down the river Thames. The King had them repeat it three times. When, in 1734, Handel made an agreement with John Walsh to start publishing his instrumental works, he quickly assembled a collection of  Six Concerti Grossi, Opus 3, from previous operas, anthems and sacred works. In 1739, he composed the Twelve Concerti Grossi, Opus 6. For this recording, I chose four movements from different concerti that seemed to fit together. For the last part of his life, Handel settled down in London for a long, successful career in mostly opera. A German by blood, he learned all the styles of different nations and became a citizen of the world, drawing not only from it's refined music, but also from popular and folk music and the "wondrous beauty of nature." He is now most famous for his great oratorio, Messiah, which is performed all across the world at Christmas and Easter.

Bach, Handel, Vivaldi and other baroque composers borrowed freely from each other to educate themselves and expand their repertoire. Johann Mattheson, a contemporary of Bach and Vivaldi and friend of Handel, describes this common borrowing: "Borrowing is not forbidden, but borrowed music must be paid back with interest. That means the copied music must be developed to create a more beautiful and better tone than the music it has been borrowed from."  Vivaldi acquired music from others for concerts at the Ospedale. His concerti seem to have greatly inspired Bach, who copied, transcribed and transformed many of them, as well as the works of other contemporaries. With the help of his wife, Anna Magdalena, Bach copied the complete score of one of Handel's oratorios for use in Leipzig. Handel occasionally borrowed from others but usually reworked and improved sections, themes or even whole movements from his own compositions, just as he did for his concerti grossi. Bach's original Oboe Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059 is missing and we only have a fragment of his reworked version for harpsichord. If he hadn't borrowed from it for a solo organ cantata, BWV 35, musicologists would not have been able to reconstruct this concerto--reworked here for the electric guitar. I used, as the second movement, the Sinfonia for Solo Oboe out of the Cantata BWV156, now famously known as "Arioso."   

This project stemmed from an idea I had in high school of exploring how Baroque music might sound if it also included some of today's instruments, especially electric guitar. Now, after twenty years of studying, practicing, and recording all six of Bach's cello suites, I decided to have a go at it. I used a modern American-made Fender Stratocaster electric guitar and a Fender Jazz electric bass. The classical guitar and viola were built by my knowledgeable friend and neighbor in Bellingham, Dake Traphagen, and I used a 200 year-old German violin and a nearly 300 year-old Italian cello, both with modern set ups. Although I love the period recordings on authentic instruments, this is a modern mix of old and current instruments at modern pitch. My late, very fine cello teacher, Barton Frank, used to say "they improved instruments for a reason."

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