Chamber Music and Concertos for
Oboists and Bassoonists
Charles-David Lehrer, General Editor
No. 35. Alessandro Marcello: Oboe Concerto in C Minor
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Up above Berlin in the town of Schwerin, the old Mecklenburg Library includes among its holdings a most-interesting set of parts for a famous oboe concerto. The concerto in question is the only one to come down to us from the hand of Alessandro Marcello (1684-1750), a brother of the famous composer and writer, Benedetto Marcello. The unusual factor in the Schwerin set, is that the manuscript parts are presented in the key of C minor complete with Baroque partial signature, rather than in D minor, the key of the parts published in Amsterdam in 1716 by Jeanne Roger.
In fact, C minor is the key in which I first heard this work played back in the 1950's. That was on a recording by the brilliant oboist, Leon Goossens, and his outstanding performance caused me to start taking the oboe quite seriously. While in college, I became aware of J.S. Bach's intabulation of this same concerto for a single harpsichord, in the key of D minor (BWV 974). Noting the glorious ornamentation of the slow movement, I copied it out into the key of C minor so I could use it with the C-minor edition made by Richard Lauschmann.
It was during my UMass years that Himie Voxman's edition for Music Rara appeared. Himie utilized the Roger parts of 1716 and Bach's ornaments from BWV 974 to create an ideal publication. From that time onward, I always used the D minor version with my students.
From time to time, though, students would audition for me at UMass utilizing the Lauschmann version in C minor, and I came to realize in time how ubiquitous this edition had become. Of course, I was always trying to change the world for the better by introducing my students to Himie's D minor edition, but many students resisted. What was I to do?
By good fortune, Bruce Haynes had listed the source of the C-minor version in his wonderful bibliography of oboe repertory: Music for Oboe, 1650-1800. It was a fairly straightforward task to order a microfilm of it; but after I had it turned into hardcopy I was surprised to find no ornamentation of the oboe part in the slow movement. Now, after all these years, I realized that back in 1923 Richard Lauschmann had created his own ornamentation using Bach's BWV 974 as a model.
Until now, the Schwerin parts have rested on the shelves of my music collection collecting dust. I have continued to teach the Music Rara version in D minor. But by sheer happenstance I was speaking with one of the oboe students at CSUN where I teach courses in Musicology, and he told me that he would soon be playing a recital. When I asked about the repertory he had chosen, he proudly announced "The Marcello Oboe Concerto in C minor". I simply had to face the fact that the Lauschmann edition was alive and well after all these years.
So I took down my C-minor Schwerin parts and made a score in Finale. I added a modest realization of the continuo and extracted new parts so it might be used in conjunction with Lauschmann's edition.
I must say, that even after 45 years of playing and teaching Marcello's concerto, I never grow tired of it. Glorious thematic materials underpinned by luxuriant harmonies are encased in three of the most tightly knit ritornello-form movements ever conceived. Marcello has enhanced the soloist's part with several kinds of accompaniment: many times he abandons the usual continuo backup for the three high strings, and on some occasions just the viola is utilized.
There are still mysteries surrounding this work for others to uncover; who was Johann Matthias Vedde, the original owner of the Schwerin parts, and why did he forego the German 'der Besitzer' for the English equivalent 'possessor'. And why did he have the work copied for him in C minor? Was he going to be using organ in the continuo, in which case its high Chorton pitch would cause C minor to sound almost identical to the D minor of the Baroque oboe? I would suggest another solution: in the meantone temperament of the day, C minor expressed deeper feelings. In Marcello's concerto in which all three movements are placed in the same key, it would seem that C minor is a more appropriate key for the Adagio.
But, the mystery does not end there. In the Schwerin manuscript part
for the viola, there are two places near the end of the finale where
the viola is notated in bass clef. One is at the trade-off phrases between
the continuo and viola (mm. 199-204), and the other at the spot where the
viola simply doubles the bass line (mm. 216-224). In both cases I have
taken the liberty of transposing these phrases up an octave in order that
they might be played on the viola. But it is clear that the bass clef and
range indicated in the Schwerin manuscript indicates viola da gamba.
Considering the aforementioned information, and Marcello's use of
the viola da gamba part as either the sole accompaniment for the oboe or
the fact that he often places it at bottom of the string ensemble without
continuo support, one must now consider the Schwerin C-minor version of
this oboe concerto to represent Marcello's original intentions.
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