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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

PRIMER | Tafelmusik Is Bringing Back The Oldies, Along With A Shiny New Commission

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on January 10, 2020

Members of Tafelmusik talk about bringing back the wind band, or Harmonie, in music by Mozart, Beethoven and Rossini, and a world premiere by Toronto composer Cecilia Livingston.

Dominic Teresi (Photo : Sian Richards Photography); Cecilia Livingston (Photo : Self Limited Photography); Pippa Macmillan (Photo courtesy of the artist)
Dominic Teresi (Photo : Sian Richards Photography); Cecilia Livingston (Photo : Self Limited Photography); Pippa Macmillan (Photo courtesy of the artist)

It’s hard to imagine a world where things were experienced without modern technology. Word of mouth, and printed posters were the way that things got around. The very first radio broadcast ever wasn’t until 1906, and people had to be present in real time to consume culture. Before broadcasting (and its evolution to digital streaming), if you were dying to hear that new music, you would have to get to a live performance, or you were simply likely to be out of luck, unless…

Unless there was a transcription and arrangements by your local musicians.

New Year, New Harmonie

And that’s what the ever-curious members of Tafelmusik are up to in Gone with the Winds, bringing back some oldies, along with a shiny new commission. “We are excited to welcome you this New Year with a concert featuring the wind instruments of the late 18th century in the special sonority of the wind octet, or Harmonie ensemble,” says Tafelmusik Oboist John Abbeger.

What is Harmonie exactly? Tafelmusik’s Bassoonist Dominic Teresi explains:

Harmonie, at the time, was a particularly popular chamber ensemble in the 18th-century, especially at court, responsible for providing dinner music (aka “Tafelmusik”) and other courtly entertainments.” As public concert culture grew in the 19th-century, these private Harmonie performances evolved into a newer, public-facing format. It still exists today — but in slightly different roles.

“In France a wind band is still called a Harmonie and Spain has always had a very strong band tradition. Wind bands in America continue in our schools and the military, and of course other forms of bands are quite popular,” Teresi adds.

Engraving by Jean Le Pautre depicting the coronation of Louis XIV, detail (public domain image)
Engraving by Jean Le Pautre depicting the coronation of Louis XIV, detail (public domain image)

Herr Mozart

Taking the Harmonie format, Tafelmusik wanted to center the focus on Mozart.

“Mozart was drawn to the powerful sound of this wind ensemble, and he left us a small handful of masterpieces written for this combination of instruments. In addition, the enormous popularity of his music, and specifically his operas, inspired many wonderful arrangements for Harmonie by Viennese wind players,” says Abbeger.

In Mozart’s Vienna, these wind ensembles filled the city day and night, playing requests and arrangements; by then, the full Harmonie was an octet, consisting of oboes, clarinets, horns, bassoons, and often a double bass (a curiosity!) — and the star clarinetist, Anton Stadler, who played in Emperor Joseph’s Harmonie — was the muse for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and Clarinet Concerto.

Plus One

What’s a double bass doing with bunch of wind instruments?

Pippa Macmillan, a new bass player for Tafelmusik, relishes in being the odd one of the group. “It’s quite a freeing feeling to be the only string player […] Instead of matching bow strokes with my colleagues, I’ll be following their breathing.”

Macmillan explains that in the role of the double bass is to add an extra layer to the Harmonie. Doubling the second bassoon part, but one octave lower, Macmillan actually has no specific part to play from. It “gives me the freedom to create my own part that I feel adds the most to the ensemble’s sound.”

Seeing that Mozart did write a designated bass part for Serenade no. 10, Gran Partita (K361), but not for Serenade no. 12 (K 361/370A), Macmillan and Tafelmusik decided that it would be suitable to add one here too.

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (Photo : Cylla von Tiedemann)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (Photo : Cylla von Tiedemann)

Old meets New

Centered on Mozart, Gone with the Winds features that other operatic genius, Rossini (in Sedlak’s arrangement), and Beethoven’s Sextet; and to contrast the old, Tafelmusik commissioned a new work by Toronto-based composer Cecilia Livingston.

Expanding on the current theme Old meets New for Tafelmusik’s 19-20 season, Livingston seemed a good fit. “Elisa approached me, and asked if I’d be interested in writing something for this particular program – which includes arrangements of opera excerpts, for winds,” Livingston recalled.

Livingston’s recent projects include a residency at Glyndebourne Opera, and the commission call from Tafelmusik was a welcomed change of pace. “… to write a piece that didn’t set text, where musical ideas alone could drive what unfolds… I ended up singing all the parts in this piece too, just the way I do when I write for the voice.”

Cheekily titled Gone with the Winds, writing for Tafelmusik and its historical performers was both familiar and unfamiliar for Livingston. The classical instruments, especially for winds and brass, have gone through significant development in construction and performance practice in the last few centuries, and the fusing of current ideas into historical instrumental performance is an experience to be cherished.

And further expanding the idea of Old meets New, the audience just might see the glimpse of the old from this new work, as she fuses bits from Mozart and Beethoven, with whiff of the famous “Tara’s Theme”, from Max Steiner’s score for Gone with the Wind.

Tafelmusik presents: Gone with the Winds. 16-19 January 2020, at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity- St. Paul’s Centre. Details Here.

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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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