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Baroque X Jazz: reimagining the trio sonata

1038 and 1039

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Baroque X Jazz: reimagining the trio sonata -  1038 and 1039

Building on the pioneering research and authentic performance practice characterising the first wave of the Historical Performance movement, Liturina’s work with jazz musician and composer Jonny Mansfield aims to expand and diversify by forging a new path for historical performance with genre crossover at its core. Ensemble member and violinist Gabi Jones shares her insights with Continuo Connect.

"1038 explores a space between specificity and ambiguity", says Huddersfield-born jazz musician and composer Jonny Mansfield of his first commission for chamber ensemble Liturina, composed in September 2022. Written as a response to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major for flute, violin, and continuo BWV 1038, the work draws on the trio sonata for inspiration while remaining true to Mansfield’s explosively cerebral yet soulful compositional style. For Liturina, 1038 embodies a sparkling meeting point between Baroque music and jazz, a musical experience that highlights the connections between these two genres, inherent in the structures, improvisational traditions and harmonic vernacular. Collaboratively, the aim was to create a work that teases out these elements in fresh and surprising ways through the musical languages, sounds and structures used; in short, a reimagining of the trio sonata.

Jonny Mansfield (credit Dave Stapleton)
Jonny Mansfield (credit Dave Stapleton)

So what does this mean in practice?

1038 comprises a vibrant blending of original and innovative features. Mansfield has retained Bach’s original scoring, including the scordatura violin set up (the top two strings are both tuned down a tone, producing the chord G-D-G-D across the four open strings) which is used to radiant effect throughout the work. Unlike Bach’s trio sonata, the cello and harpsichord parts are liberated from the basso continuo accompanying role, and Mansfield makes particularly compelling use of the harpsichord, leaning in to its more percussive potential with virtuosic drum kit-inspired rhythmical patterns that nod to the Swedish bassist and composer, Petter Eldh. Mansfield trained as classical percussionist at Chethams before embarking on a jazz-focused career performing primarily on vibraphone.

Swirling vocal melodies that tantalisingly hint at Bach’s original themes through their melodic contours form the basis of periods of free collective improvisation, as well as improvised textures over which the theme soars like the shadowy spectre of Bach. No two performances of any piece of music are ever identical, particularly with the added possibility of improvised ornaments found in the type of dynamic chamber music Liturina performs, "But this takes it to a whole new level" according to Liturina co-founder Gabi Jones. She continues:

"What’s really exciting is that 1038 might have different affects or characters, spotlight different players or focus in on different features every single time we play it. It’s a level of spontaneity we don’t usually have access to, which is both challenging and hugely liberating".

Following the success of 1038, which premiered in May 2023 at Heath Street Baptist Church, Liturina has commissioned a second work by Jonny Mansfield: 1039, inspired by Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major for two flutes and basso continuo, BWV 1039. Unlike 1038, which exists as a single 8-minute response to the sonata as a whole, 1039 will be a more extended composition mirroring the four movement structure set out in Bach’s version. Glittering counterpoint, imitative fugal writing, sensuous melodies and wistful dissonances feature in Bach’s work, which feels hugely expansive for such an intimate chamber piece.

While it is thrilling to operate within such a specialised branch of music-making as historical performance, Liturina feel passionately that this should not limit options for collaboration. Building on the pioneering research and authentic performance practice characterising the first wave of the HP movement, Liturina’s work with Mansfield aims to expand and diversify by forging a new path for historical performance with genre crossover at its core. The group hopes to create a body of new works that explores the lively intersection between historical performance and other genres, but also celebrates musicians from diverse musical and cultural backgrounds. "There’s such a rich musical landscape within the UK", says Jones "and we want to use our work to build a creative network of artists and audiences that will grow and evolve with us."

Liturina’s concert on 21st January 2024 placed Bach's BWV 1039 alongside Jonny Mansfield’s new commission and also featured side-by-side performances of his 1038 and Bach's BWV 1038 along with a Liturina arrangement of Bach’s Trio Sonata for organ, BWV 525.

1039 was supported by Continuo Foundation and RCM Accelerate.

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