Se Piace: Bach Sonatas at the Maybeck

Important Update:

Welcome, friends and neighbors - we look forward so much to seeing you this weekend at the Maybeck Studio!

I'm sorry to report that Se Piace's viola da gamba player, Elisabeth Reed, will be unable to perform on Sunday. However Anthony Martin and Katherine Heater still have a tremendous program for us:

Bach: Trio for Harpsichord & Violin in C minor, BWV 1017
    Largo • Allegro • Adagio • Allegro

Bach: Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in Eb major for Lute or Harpsichord, BWV 998


Biber: Passacaglia for Violin Solo

Bach: Trio for Harpsichord & Violin in E major, BWV 1016
    Adagio • Allegro • Adagio, ma non tanto • Allegro

See you on Sunday!
-Jack & Ann
Maybeck Studio for the Performing Arts

Se Piace: Bach Sonatas at the Maybeck
Sunday, January 19, 2014, 3:00pm
This performance is fully reserved. Thank you for your interest!

Oft played, oft recorded, oft copied and edited and printed, the 3 Sonatas for Gamba and 6 for Violin by Bach are going to get yet another look starting next month in Berkeley. Katherine Heater, Elisabeth Reed, and Anthony Martin, performing together as Se Piace, are presenting the cycle in a series of three concerts to take place in small venues ideally suited for hearing this intimate and intricate chamber music. The first concert, featuring the Sonatas in B minor and A major for violin on either side of the D major for gamba, will take place at Studio Haba na Haba in Berkeley on Sunday, the 10th of November at 3pm. Details for all three concerts will be found below.

A quarter century after Forkel obtained his “very tattered” copy from Bach’s son, he wrote in his biography of Sebastian that the violin sonatas “composed at Cöthen are among Bach's masterpieces in this form and display fugal and canonic writing which is both natural and full of character. The violin part needs a master to play it, for Bach knew the capabilities of the instrument and spared it as little as the keyboard.”

Of the surviving copies (there is no autograph) the anonymous manuscript in the Royal Danish Library shows most beautifully why Carl Phillip called them Keyboard Trios. As we all know “trio” is a description of the number of voices in a texture, not a prescription for the number of players required to realize those voices. Among the possibilities that Bach made use of are one instrument (for instance, the organ trios), two instruments (the various sonatas for obbligato keyboard and melody instrument), three instruments (“trio” sonatas with just keyboard continuo), or even four instruments—trios with the bass line doubled, or with the extemporized improvisations described by Forkel:
In musical parties where quartets or fuller pieces of instrumental music were performed and he was not otherwise employed, he took pleasure in playing the viola. With this instrument, he was, as it were, in the middle of the harmony, whence he could best hear and enjoy it, on both sides. When an opportunity offered, in such parties, he sometimes also accompanied a trio or other pieces on harpsichord. If he was in a cheerful mood and knew that the composer of the piece, if he happened to be present, would not take it amiss, he used, as we have said above, to make extempore, either out the figured bass a new trio, or of three singles parts, a quartet.

If we grant that a manuscript like the Copenhagen copy pictured above, or the copy in Berlin by Johann Christoff Altnikol (Bach’s son-in-law), may have been used for performance, and we assume that it sat on the music desk of the harpsichord, all sorts of possibilities suggest themselves to those with keen vision and imagination. Since public performances of such sonatas in Bach’s lifetime would most often happen at a party as described by Forkel, or perhaps during a collegial gathering at Zimmerman’s Café, many constraints that we take for granted nowadays would not apply. A violinist could read the top line, or even the second line. A gambist sitting next to the keyboard player could play the bass line, or if ambitious play one of the top lines as well. The Gamba Sonatas similarly are trios (the G major exists also as a sonata for two flutes and continuo) and so the second line could easily be played by a violinist who is “not otherwise employed.”

The surviving manuscript copies and other performance materials suggest still other alternatives, particularly in the last Violin Sonata. This sonata went through numerous transformations as Bach revised it again and again. 9 movements in all are known to have inhabited it at one time or another. Since they are by Bach, they are all worth hearing, and so at the final concert in the series next May they will be integrated into a meta-work in G major also incorporating the G major Gamba Sonata—and intermission!

Violin Sonatas 1 & 2, Gamba Sonata in D major
Studio Haba na Haba, 1936 Thousand Oaks Bl. between Arlington & San Fernando, in Albany
Admission $15, refreshments provided
limited seating, for directions & details email
or leave phone requests at (510) 527--2210
Sunday 1/19/14, 3pm
Se Piace Bach Sonata Cycle II:
Violin Sonatas 3 & 4, Gamba Sonata in G minor
Maybeck Studio for the Performing Arts, 1537 Euclid Ave. in Berkeley
Admission $15, limited seating, for directions and details go to

Saturday 5/31/14, 8pm
Se Piace Bach Sonata Cycle III:
Violin Sonatas 5 & 6, Gamba Sonata in G major
Trinity Chamber Concerts, 2320 Dana St. at Durant in Berkeley
$15 General/$10 Senior/ Disabled/ Student, details at