Text of the booklet "Telemann in Major / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767), one of the most prolific composers in the history of music, was famous for the remarkable speed at which he wrote. He composed so quickly one gets the impression the notes appeared from under his pen quite naturally and spontaneously: the creative process was not onerous work for him.
The overwhelming majority of his compositions are written in the major key – in radiant, joyful colours; most of Telemann’s contemporaries also gave preference to this key. But just how carefree and spontaneous is, in fact, this joy?
Telemann’s works could be described as an encyclopedia of late Baroque instrumental music, a highpoint in its philosophical interpretation. His total command of all the genre models of the age, ability to come up each time with new treatments bear testimony to Telemann’s superb skill. When writing in a particular genre he would explore all its potential, at times trying out quite unexpected combinations. A wise, philosophical viewpoint unites Telemann’s many different works, including the music in major key presented in this album.
The first composition on the disc is the Orchestral Suite TWV 55:B4 – one of the upwards of a hundred works Telemann composed in this French by origin genre; following the German tradition the composer himself called them overtures. The suite is written for a large string ensemble to which a trio of wind instruments (two oboes and bassoon), doubling the parts of first violins and bass is added, in accordance with late baroque practice.
In contrast to several other Telemann overtures, the Suite TWV 55:B4 has no deliberate program. At first glance, its set of movements gives the impression of a bright mixture in which each man can find something to his taste. This makes all the more intriguing the subtle correlations of meaning between the separate pieces of the cycle.
The first group of numbers in the suite represents musical images of the three nations of continental Europe . Following the classical French Overture, written in modern vein – in broad, sweeping strokes, comes the Aria in Italian style, sensual, but graceful (the lyrical center of the group), and the colourful characteristic piece Les Cornes de Visbade. To the elegance of the foreign pieces, the Germans counterpoise their own loud open-air music – native hunting horns and peasant bagpipes whose sound carries along the banks of the Rhine .
Another example of open-air music in the suite are the dashing fanfares of a military march; this piece is complimented by the traditional ballroom dances and, in particular, by two poetical minuets. The second of these minuets is perhaps the most exquisite piece in the suite: constellations of delicate, dreamy motifs hover, as it were, in the air against a background of sweetly lingering bass tones.
But, of course, it is the more ‘exotic’ dances that make the suite so captivating. The noble and elegant loure borders on the edge of daydream and reality. Throughout the loure, the composer makes use of the echo effect, juxtaposing the sonorous episodes of energetic dance with their delicate reverberations. The vigorous, chaotic passages of ‘savage dance’ (Furie) are obviously intended to depict that stage of boisterous merry-making when all lose their heads and caper about in a vortex of unruly, muddled movement. There is nothing ‘infernal’ about the ending of the suite: this is rather the way good friends of long-standing, having become children again for a moment, relax in their free time.
It is of interest that in six out of Telemann’s seven orchestral suites, containing dances called Furie, there are also loures. Sometimes these dances follow one another in succession, at others, they may be interrelated. Thus, in the ‘medical’ Suite TWV 55:D22, the loure placed at the beginning is entitled Le Podagre (Gout), and the final Furie – Petite-maison (The Madhouse). But this pair of dances, perhaps, gets a more extravagant presentation in the Gulliver suite (for two violins without accompaniment). In the finale of the work, based on motifs of Gulliver’s travels in the Country of horses, the loure of the virtuous but eccentric Houyhnhnms sounds at the same time as the wild dance of the grimacing Yahoos.
It is their program conception or rather the subtle play of images and genre associations that define the individuality of Telemann’s orchestral suites, while the originality of each of his concertos depends to a large extent on choice of instruments and genre model. The most conservative of the four Telemann concertos presented in this album is the Concerto grosso TWV 52:G1 – a work for large string ensemble with three soloists: two violins and violoncello (in the tutti the soloists combine with the relevant parts of the ensemble). It is possible the composer wrote this concerto at the beginning of his career, when he was obviously guided by Arcangelo Corelli’s models of instrumental music which he adopted, imitating the manner of the eminent Roman maestro.
The four movements of the cycle flow directly one into the other; Telemann keeps to a similar model (slow – fast – slow – fast) in most of his concertos. The music of the slow movements is distinguished by a lingering cantilena typical of the ‘old’ Italians, while in the fast movements fugues are often encountered, also in accordance with late 17th century traditions. For all that, even in this concerto one may find quite a few brilliant details, characteristic of Telemann himself – for instance, the dance theme of the finale over the booming bass pedal right at the end of the work (as if, throwing off for a while the restrictive bonds of the formal and somewhat old-fashioned polyphony, the members of the ensemble demonstrate an ‘informal’ joy).
The prototype for the solo Violin Concerto TWV 51:G4 were the new virtuoso violin concertos of the early 18th century, the first classical collection of which was Antonio Vivaldi’s famous opus L’estro armonico (1711). Paying tribute to this novelty, Telemann wrote a three-movement concerto in the order fast – slow – fast. The first movement (Vivace) is written in da capo form, which was in widespread use with the Italians at this time. As is often the case with Vivaldi, the main theme of the Vivace is a long chain of simple, energetic motifs. Many of the virtuoso passages of this movement bear that same newfangled ‘acrobatic’ character which Telemann criticizes in his writings on music.
However, in Telemann’s hands, the solo violin concerto develops from the form of spontaneous self-expression of the soloist into a profound composition. The first and particularly the second movement (the touching aria of the soloist, framed by a short, but deeply sad ‘foreword’ and ‘afterword’ by the string ensemble) are written in stringent and laconic style: not one superfluous intonation! Only the final Allegro is built in a procession of varied episodes, permeated though by a common rhythm. It is possible that this is a subtle dramatized parody on the art of the Italian virtuosi.
After a bright initial tutti, the leading role in the Allegro passes for a long time to the soloist. With artistic conceit, he develops a series of independent episodes – encountering, however, the incomprehension of his colleagues, whose short phrases sound at times fairly irritated. Eventually, in answer to yet another solo, powerful and triumphant fanfares ring out in unison by the whole ensemble – a sign that it is time for the soloist to join in the general merriment. The soloist, who is clearly upset, submits (but only after he is confronted with a repeat ultimatum) and, reaching its apogee, the element of lively movement overtakes all the musicians in turn.
The string Concertos TWV 52:G1 and TWV 51:G4 are set off in this album by two works with soloing winds. While Italian musicians were not really fond of the flute, which obviously took second place in force, brilliance and purity of intonation to strings, the Germans had high regard for its delicate, poetic voice. And, of course, a composer as inventive as Telemann had no great difficulty in presenting to advantage the light and melodious timbre of the flute against the background of the traditional brilliant sound of a string ensemble.
This simple musical idea is very effectively realized in the Concerto TWV 51:E1 – one of the definitive Telemann works that are so cherished by lovers of genuine musical elegance. In the first movement of the concerto, the graceful song of the flute is constantly ‘interlaid’ with a refrain – a subtle stylization of a tune played on a plucked instrument like the lute. However, this refrain does not enter into dialogue with the flute: the tune sounds either during a pause, or against the background of long notes. It seems that the heroes of this playful scene try to keep their distance, while observing each other with attentive and eager curiosity.
Nor do they get much closer in the following two movements. The brilliant polyphonic refrains of the strings in the Alla breve (with total silence from the flute) alternate with limpid episodes, in which the soloist can demonstrate both his technical skills and the light, flowing sound of his instrument (one cannot but delight in it in the touching minor Largo, in which the flute is heard without the deep bass over agitated alto and violin chords). Only in the finale do the participants become more closely acquainted and find a common language. The numerous episodes in which the flute engages in interchanges with the instruments of the string ensemble, lead to a final playing of the refrain, in which the soloist’s melody merges at long last with that of the first violins – and once more against the background of the sonorous bass pedal (here Telemann makes use of the same device as he did at the end of Concerto TWV 52:G1).
Finally, in Concerto TWV 53:G1 bold juxtapositions of sound are embellished by contrasts of character and even style: buffoonery is set off by the elevated and the profound. The brightness and simplicity of the musical language, the emphatic clarity of the musical texture, the regular metric structure – all these are obviously traits of the new ‘classical’ style. The treatment of the genre, however, has a ‘baroque’ extravagance to it. In the manuscript the opus is called Concerto grosso; this is not Telemann’s direction, it comes from someone in his circle (possibly the copyist) – but it seems appropriate and it could well have been inserted with Telemann’s agreement. The wind trio in this concerto is quite original: two flutes and bassoon; what is more, their themes are unlike those played by the strings (particularly in the uneven parts of the cycle). In the Andante the noble woodwind trio moves with dignified and proud step, while the strings entering after it jump and skip, in the character of the merry heroes of a comic opera. A lyrical interlude (Largo) between the two quick movements is written almost exclusively for the wind trio, which makes one think of the influence of the French tradition and ‘mixture of styles’. The dialogue between the two solo flutes is in striking contrast to the atmosphere of deliberate, ingenuous gaiety which predominates in the music of the concerto: from the main theme of the Allegro (joyful, rousing dance) to the elaborate tune and dashing passages of the finale.
You will easily accept this mood; but Telemann would not like his compositions to appeal only to the emotions – he hoped that music lovers would discover and appreciate the subtle and inventive ideas which are present in all his compositions, regardless of genre or key. Thus, Sonata TWV 44:33, one of his greatest works in minor key, makes a natural ending to the album.
Roman Nassonov, translated by Amanda Calvert
Text of the booklet "Telemann in Major / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"