Like chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, baroque music comes in three distinct flavors: French, German and Italian — so I thought. Although at times there's a Neapolitan mishmash of styles that would throw off even the most savvy of early music connoisseurs, each national school has something tangible that distinguishes one from the other.
The French sound is light, peppy and filled with dotted rhythms that lift a walk into a gaily frolic. German baroque is serious, harmonically complicated and loves words like fugue, counterpoint and canons. And the Italian style is zippy, virtuosic and believes that there's no such thing as too many harmonic sequences (that's a musical fragment that keeps repeating itself at different pitch levels, either rising or falling).
Apparently, there's a Scottish Baroque as well.
Although it's inconceivable to think that any culture would evolve without music, that there's a distinct well developed Scottish aesthetic for the period is something I never learned in music school. On second thought, it would be silly to think that there wouldn't be — we just don't hear about it.
"In 18th century Scotland, the same fiddler that laid down dance jigs in a barn would be seen at a local high society event performing Handel's concerti grosso."
Set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston Early Music's season finale concert presents the trio's "Scottish Play" program, which puts out tunes by 18th century composers most have never heard of like Thomas Erskine (the Sixth Earl of Kellie) and John Reid, and composers of Italian provenance, such as Francesco Veracini and Francesco Geminiani, who were influenced by the Scots.
"In 18th century Scotland, the same fiddler that laid down dance jigs in a barn would be seen at a high society event performing Handel's concerti grosso," Pine tells CultureMap. "The musicians would have one foot in the classical traditions of western Europe, the other in the folk customs of the day — ones that resorted to very advanced musical devices and challenging bowing techniques.
"Folk and classical music blended together."
The multi-faceted musician: Back to basics
In many ways, the multi-faceted instrumentalist is once again accepted as the norm today. Although not long ago, classical musicians that dabbled in other genres would keep their alter egos in the closet — as if embarrassed of an illicit affair.
Pine was even told at a young age to put a lid on her fascination with early music.
The Chicago-native burst into the scene at age 7 with the Chicago String Ensemble and made a televised debut with the Chicago Symphony at 10 years old, with a repeat engagement at 15. To her classical music disciples, the 38-year-old redhead is better known as the goddess of the Romantic violin concerti of Glazunov and Brahms, chamber music by Sarasate and Liszt and virtuoso showcases such as Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, which Pine performed at an all-Scottish concert as part of the 2001 Wildwood Festival in Little Rock — the inspiration for "Scottish Play."
Without audio or video samples, the best one can do is play what feels right to the heart and makes sense to the brain.
But today, the violin doyen isn't shy to rock out to heavy metal or jam on her extended range flying V electric fiddle with her six-piece doom/thrash metal band Earthen Grave. Dismal Times, the group's first extended play demo album, covers tunes by Pentagram and Witchfinder General, and has HellrideMusic.com saying that, "you can just see the heads banging in your mind," and Decibel Magazine describing a live performance as "tighter than a gnat's ass."
Trio Settecento — made up of John Mark Rozendaal on viola da gamba and baroque cello, and David Schrader on harpsichord, positiv organ or fortepiano — was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "refreshing, life-enhancing."
The ensemble joined hands after getting together to record the complete violin sonatas of George Frederick Handel in 1996.
Discovering the baroque of the Scots
Prior to embarking on researching music of Scottish pedigree, Trio Settecento had released albums that explore the German and Italian Age of Enlightenment. Future projects include music from France and the British Isles.
"The Scots were one of the first to write their music down, something that is different from what we typically think as folk practice," Pine explains. "Musicians were learning from a printed page. Literally transmitted in written form, we have a lot of surviving records from the 17th and 18th century."
It's not enough to read one or two treatises, she says. To get a full picture, Pine read more than 20. But without audio or video samples, the best one can do is play what feels right to the heart and makes sense to the brain, and seek out the help of experts.
"When performing the music of Brahms and Beethoven, though we do not improvise in the same way we do in jazz, we are always improving how we play the notes."
The fun, she learned, is deciding how to ornament, whether to use classical or Celtic-inspired embellishments — just like accessorizing an outfit with jewelry. Though sometimes there's no reason why they can't be mixed together or change from performance to performance. And that wasn't such a stretch from her approach to standard classical repertoire.
"When performing the music of Brahms and Beethoven, though we do not improvise in the same way we do in jazz, we are always improving how we play the notes," Pine says.
"That's the difference between art and non-art music: There isn't necessarily a constant metronomic back beat, and that allows more nuance for human emotion."
Houston Early Music season finale concert with Trio Settecento is on Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Christ the King Lutheran Church. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $30 for seniors and $10 for students, and can be purchased online or by calling 281-846-4222.