Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.4"
Music for the Dresden Virtuosi
Among the art treasures of Dresden is a collection of music ma-nuscripts that in part goes back to the repertoire of the Dresden Hofkapelle, which was founded more than 450 years ago and became world famous in the 18th century. One of its patrons, the Saxon Elector Friedrich August I, known as August the Strong (reigned 1694–1733), had been elected King of Poland in 1697. According to the feudal concept of representation, this rise in status was the cause of an even further increase in the display of splendour, from which the residence and its court chapel profited as well. August had grown up into a fertile cultural tradition. Journeys abroad had rendered him susceptible to the refined culture at the French court as well as to Italian art. He was as fickle in his aesthetic predilections as in his amorous adventures, open to change in music, drama and the opera. Whereas particularly in the performing arts the artists were dependent on the Prince’s favour, the court chapel, which employed German, Italian, French and soon also Bohemian and Polish musicians, enjoyed a long tradition and was allowed to develop in a continuous fashion. Just as he absorbed into his Green Vault the most precious gems, in his royal household he employed the most exceptional talents, turning Dresden for a while into a melting pot of European culture.
The musicians of the court chapel were allowed to specialize in a single instrument. Famous members at the time were the oboists Francois le Riche (in Dresden from 1699 to 1733) and Johann Christian Richter (1689–1744, in Dresden from 1709). Also active in Dresden were since 1709 the concertmaster and composer Jean-Baptiste Volumier (ca.1670–1728), a native of Spain, and since 1712 the violin virtuoso and concertmaster Johann Georg Pisendel (1687–1755). In 1710 the Czech Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745) also joined the court’s musicians, first as a double bassist and later as composer of the court’s sacred music; then there were the two flutists Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin (ca. 1690–1768, in Dresden from 1715 to 1749) and his pupil Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773, in Dresden from 1716 to 1741). Other members of the court chapel were the famous Silesian lutenist Silvius Leopold Wei? (1686–1750, in Dresden from 1718) and Telemann’s former music director in Eisenach Pantaleon Hebenstreit (1667–1750, in Dresden from 1714), a renowned virtuoso on the cymbal. Together with additional renowned musicians the orchestra reached a remarkable virtuosity, rising to become a model for many German court chapels. The music lexicon of the French enlightenment Dictionnaire de la musique even published the orchestra’s seating plan, which today is a rare document of historical perfor-mance practice.
Telemann had already left a positive impression on the older members of the court chapel, who regularly visited the trade fairs in Leipzig, the largest town in the electorate. They certainly must have taken notice of the 21-year-old law student by the time of the New Year’s Fair of 1703, when he gave a concert at the New Church with his Collegium musicum and conducted his first stage work, Ferdinand und Isabella, at the opera house. In his autobiography of 1718 Telemann recalled this occasion:
“The approval of the Dresden virtuosi, in whose play the deli-cacy of Italy and the vivacity of France come together; … this approval, I say, with which they honoured my performances, was not insignificant for my further advancement.”
Looking through the contents of “Schrank No.II”, the former repository of the Dresden court chapel’s repertoire, one disco-vers about 140 instrumental compositions by Telemann from the time between about 1710 and the 1750s; among these are several autographs by the composer, which points to close personal ties. The selection presented here again contains a number of musical discoveries that easily match the artistic standard of the Musique de table.
The Overture in B flat major (TWV 55:B11) for strings, basso continuo and obbligato woodwind trio consisting of two oboes and bassoon is a kind of character overture. Its final movement, L’esperance de Mississippi induced the editor Adolf Hoffmann to associate the entire work with a historical stock exchange crash and to give it the title La Bourse. Indeed during his years in Frankfurt/Main, an important financial centre for foreign exchange, Telemann was closely acquainted with Henrich Bartels, one of the “most distinguished Protestant bankers”, who was also a gifted and passionate musician. Through Bartels Telemann probably heard some details about the occurrences at the stock exchange that the title alludes to: In the course of the year 1720 the price of the Mississippi Company’s shares had crashed. Before this crash the Scottish financier John Law, who was in the service of the French regent, had raised a lot of money by issuing these shares. After the crash the shareholders’ hopes were destroyed while the finances of the French state were rehabilitated. The “character movements” of the suite, Le repos interrompu (Disrupted Re-pose), La guerre en la paix (War within Peace), Les vainqueurs vaincu (Defeated Winners) and La solitude associee (Shared Solitude) juxtapose two contradictory abstract terms which are then treated as a musical contrast. The apparent comic intent in these movements turns into open political sarcasm when becoming specific – in this case leading to a jolly gavotte. This volte-face is typical of Telemann’s subtle humour, writes Stephen Zohn, author of a new Telemann study.
The score of the Overture in F major (TWV 55:F12) is enhanced by the splendour of two horns whose sound is charac-terized by Johann Mattheson as “sweetly pompous”. The horn players in Dresden came from neighbouring Bohemia at the time, where by the end of the 17th century a famous school of hornists had established itself. Its graduates combined the exploration of new ways of expression with the conquest of new territories by eventually crowding out the privileged trumpeters in the domain of horn playing. The work displays superior compositional skills; in some details it is reminiscent of those overtures of 1736 (TWV 55: F1, Es1, D2) which include ad-libitum horns. For the following movements only few tempo indications and character specifications have been transmitted – either Telemann intended to leave these out so as to have the performers and listeners guess in order to sharpen their senses, or the copyist simply forgot to include the titles. Altogether this is enjoyable, sensual music which in some cases reveal the underlying standard dance types; occasional elegiac passages provide the work with welcome contrasts.
Tailoring his music to the artistic potential of the orchestra, Telemann provided Dresden with compositions that accommodated the Italian concerto style with its high level of virtuosity. Contemporaries welcomed these concert overtures as a compromise between the French and Italian style and thus as exemplary of a typically “German taste”. The manuscript copy of the Overture in E minor (TWV 55:e10) for solo flute, strings and basso continuo also allows an oboe as solo instrument. The choice of the flute turns the piece into a sister work of the overture in A minor for recorder (TWV 55:a2) as well as of the overture in B minor for flute by Johann Sebastian Bach (BWV 1067). This affinity is not restricted to the disposition and sound of these overtures, however. It is found even in a number of structural details, which makes it hard to decide which of the three sisters might have been the first-born. Taking a close look at the imitations between the upper voice and the bass in the final part of the E minor overture’s opening movement, one might gain the impression that the piece anticipates the canon at the fifth of the Sarabande in BWV 1067. The Rigaudon, which encloses a lively rondo, a glockenspiel imitation (Carillon) in triple metre, which due to its hemiolas does not have a steady rhythmic flow, a solo aria (Air), a spirited Gigue, which is divided between soloist and chorus, and a Minuet with an alternativement structure demonstrate the great variety of this inspired and highly entertaining art characterized by lightness and accuracy.
The three remaining overtures play out these principles in ever new variants but favour the violin as solo instrument. This puts the concertmaster Pisendel to the fore, who by 1719 had become the key figure among Telemann’s Dresden contacts.
“Our acquaintanceship began when several months after my departure from Leipzig he arrived in that town. He came straight from the hands of Torelli, but he still demonstrated a patriotic attitude towards his fellow countrymen, for in a letter to me he spoke warmly of a new opera that I had left behind and in which the violin spoke quite loudly. Passing through Leipzig frequently, I became convinced of his honest mind, of which I would have much to say, and of his general human kindness” (from a letter by Telemann, published in Wochentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend, No.37, Leipzig, 1767).
The two Overtures for solo violin, strings and basso continuo in A major (TWV 55:A7) and G minor (TWV 55:g7) are remarkable discoveries. A large-scale opening movement centring on a concerto movement for solo violin with fugato ritornellos is followed by a series of dance and character movements in a variety of types. As in the E minor overture, the preferred models are binary movements interspersed with solo passages, da capo forms with a concertato middle section, and rondos with inserted solo couplets. The Overture in A major has become accessible only recently, as because of water damage the autograph score had to be restored. The textual losses are marginal when considering that here a highly interesting composition has been retrieved from oblivion. The work is unique in Telemann’s oeuv-re in that the opening movement is followed by altogether six movements labelled “Invention”. Strung together loosely, these “inspirations” employ the established concertato forms, but each movement is set in a different if related key, yielding an unusual, only seemingly random order. The principal key A major appears in the overture and invention No.6. Invention No.1 in D major is a bourree in character and a rondo in form. No.2 is a modulating rondo in the relative key of F-sharp minor, and in fact a mi-nuet in disguise. No.3, in the austere key of B minor, presents a short drama in three scenes: Against a dark unison theme (Grave) a shyly sensitive yet bright violin solo is heard, an irre-concilable confrontation. Next comes, like a bitter Falstaffian commentary (all fools!), a scornful, bourree-like garrulous theme (Vite). No.4 (“avec douceur” – softly), in 6/8-time and E major, seasons the gigue rhythms with swirling figures. No.5 presents itself as a stomping gavotte in A minor, its middle part demanding the soloist to use the bariolage technique on the A and E strings with sophisticated sound effects. From here it is only a small step to the last invention rounding off the work in A major. The manuscript score bears the date 1741, implying that Telemann composed this overture at the age of sixty, having acquired a certain wisdom.
Probably written considerably earlier, the Overture in G minor (TWV 55:g7) is more Italianate in style, yet here, too, the satirically inclined composer is moving off the beaten path. In the concerto movement of the overture the violin solo is accompanied by its own running comment: several times the orchestra harshly interrupts the violin interfering with the flow of the movement. From his correspondence with Pisendel Telemann knew that there were occasional clashes between the different nationalities represented in the Dresden court chapel: was he providing here the therapeutic music to alleviate ill humour within the chapel? This is only speculation, of course. The following movements with their beautiful solos – particularly the inserted “doubles” (Cajolerie, Loure, Gavotte and Minuet) – are quite demanding. The great variety of movement types probably becomes most apparent when taking a look at the subtly worked Rondeau, which in the returning main section allows the solo violin conside-rable creative liberty, and at the restrained Loure, whose G major double conveys a very different, more consoling mood.
Probably the most interesting work in this recording is the second Overture in G minor (TWV 55:g8), transmitted in Dresden in a manuscript copied in Hamburg between 1725 and 1738. This piece is unusual in two ways. First, it is written not for one but for two solo violins, which are contrasted with the tutti strings. In the overtures of the Musique de table, which occasionally are alluded to here, the two solo violins are always juxtaposed with two wind instruments. Here their musical material is characterized by more typical string writing and faster tempos. The fugal theme appears again in a different shape in the overture in B minor (TWV 55:h4). This is also the case with the opening motif of the Passacaglia, possibly the most beautiful movement of this type written by Telemann. In the repeated variations, aspects of form and orchestration correspond with each other convincingly. The other unique feature is the three-voice texture of the ripieno, as the tutti does not include the viola. In other words, the overture is conceived only for solo and tutti violins with basso continuo. That despite the prevailing three-voice texture this is not a trio, is shown by the internal structure of the concertato movements, which draw their effect from the juxtaposition of solo and tutti. Throughout the piece convinces with the consistency of its musical ideas and the enchanting beauty of its sound, using restricted means to great effect.
Pisendel, who composed only few works himself and who may have performed this piece with one of his pupils, must have been very glad to receive this unexpected musical tribute from Telemann, for his strenuous daily service in church, chamber and concert generated an enormous demand for new repertoire. This need was increased even further following the early death of court capellmeister Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729). By putting Telemann’s compositions on the performance plan, Pisendel for several decades turned Dresden into a centre for the reception of Telemann’s music, which also had a lasting influence on the Dresden court chapel’s aesthetics of sound and musical taste. How very much Telemann felt indebted to the esteemed concertmaster, is expressed in a set of verses he wrote as an obituary upon Pisendel’s death. Already the first stanza gives this artistic long-distance relationship a sentimental taste:
Friend! I may not kiss you any more,
For Death has wrenched you from me.
What a treasure have I lost!
What excellence has died with you!
If only to remember you,
My muse’s trembling reed
Could condole with a moving song
For a tearful lamenting chorus.
In the end there remains an interesting question why Telemann never became court Kapellmeister in Dresden. But that is a different topic and will have to be reserved for future overture volumes.
Peter Huth, translated by Stephanie Wollny
Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.3"