Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.3"
A Universal Genre
If I hear the first part of a good overture I experience a peculiar elevation of my mood; during the second part my spirits spread out, full of delight; and when the serious ending comes along, they collect themselves and retreat to their usual abode. I think this is a pleasant alternation which an orator could hardly improve upon. A close observer might be able to trace these emotions in the mien of an attentive listener. (Johann Mattheson, Der vollkommene Capell-Meister, Hamburg 1739, p. 208, § 36)
Johann Mattheson (1681–1764), the contemporary and fellow musician of Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), here puts into words what music connoisseurs particularly liked about a large group of instrumentalists playing together in the typical manner of a musical introduction to a French theatre performance: the beginning – nearly always marked by dotted rhythms – which draws in the audience with its broadly declamatory, harmonically rich presentation; the lively continuation based on the imitative texture of the various parts, which encourages a sophisticated manner of listening; and finally the return to the initial affect, often seasoned with a temporary harmonic deviation. This artful succession of concentration, distraction, and again concentration was an excellent way to prepare for what was to follow – a staged presentation or an instrumental suite.
With his comparison of music and speech Mattheson touches upon a concept that turns music structured in this way itself into meaningful speech, into a well-organized discourse of sound. No wonder therefore that overtures were very popular and found wide dissemination as an independent instrumental genre. But also what followed the demanding first movement, the train of highly diverse dance and character pieces, claims no less attention, and a gifted composer was able to interest the ear and mind of his listeners with these pieces just as much. Only around the middle of the 18th century this successful genre was replaced by instrumental music of a more Italian vein. Of all the diverse suite movements only the mi-nuet found its way into the symphony of Viennese classicism. Yet one might certainly claim that the first movement of the overture in its joining of the three above-described parts reveals first traces of the contrasting affects and key disposition of the sonata form. Later the composers of the classical period – among them Mozart – took up again the form of the overture to utilize it for their new kind of instrumental music.
Georg Philipp Telemann, the author of a large (not precisely known) number of overtures (most of which cannot be exactly dated), as a pupil and youngster witnessed the rise of the overture suite from a musical introduction to courtly opera performances and divertissements played during banquets to an independent concert piece performed in bourgeois recitals. And by 1702 at the latest, when he had become the founding director of a promising Collegium musicum, he was making his own contributions to this expanding genre. Joining in with the general enthusiasm for the overture he became one of the main influential forces in its deve-lopment. Today we still know about 130 overtures from his hand in a great variety of instrumentation and content. The secret of their diversity is not merely a matter of arithmetic – which would allow an infinite number of combinations of the individual movement types; rather, it is an expression of Telemann’s exceptional inventiveness. Indeed there are no two overtures that are similar to each other. Telemann is one of the first composers – if not the first – to have made this genre a vessel for the most diverse styles, a collection of heterogeneous elements of dance and character pieces, of description and imitation. In concert it allowed any interested citizen or nobleman to participate passively or actively, to enjoy these musical narratives or to test his own virtuosic ambitions. The next generation therefore saw Telemann as the most significant composer of overtures, who in their eyes eclipsed even the French in their own national genre.
In the early 1720s the demand for overtures had become so great that even Telemann could not satisfy every request, or, if his patrons’ wishes did not quite agree with his own taste, had to find subtle ways to modify them or turn them down. An example for this is found in the following excerpt from a letter Telemann wrote on February 5, 1720 from Frankfurt am Main to Duke Ernst Au-gust of Saxe-Weimar:
... I have to offer my obedient apologies that concerning the commissioned overtures à 3 I made a mistake and instead composed six sonatas and concertos. But perhaps these will have the good fortune to please Your Serene Grace as well. At least they are written in such a way so as to avoid unnecessary height and unpleasant exertions for hand and bow, and therefore can be executed without particular strain. The six overtures should soon be finished as well; yet before I can get to them, I have to compose six other overtures à 4 for His Serene Highness the prince of Eisenach, which I have been advised to write in order to gain his favour; this will take not much longer than eight days, which Your Serene Grace in view of the excellent intentions will be so kind and grant me ...
It is not certain whether after all these evasions about the three-part overtures (and the clear indication that they really ought to be written for four parts) the works were ever delivered. According to a letter written on November 26, 1721 – Telemann had been established as director musices in Hamburg only two months before – he was again, or still, behind with “certain movements”. This may be – after a longer interruption – the first letter to the duke since Telemann had moved from Frankfurt to Hamburg.
Your Serene Grace,
Most gracious Prince and Lord!
At last I am in the happy position to be able to present new compositions to Your Serene Grace, having delivered myself of the first pressing workload; in the future I will continue to try and send every month, when the Jena coach departs from here, a certain number of compositions in a variety of styles. I have to admit to having made a mistake, however: I have misplaced Your Serene Grace’s instructions for the composition of certain movements among my papers, which I have not found time yet to put in order; so I would kindly ask for another set of instructions which I will then comply with in every detail.
Should the compositions sent herewith have the luck to find Your Grace’s approval, the chamberlain von Latorff – who has already listened to them – will have prophesied just that. The only thing I would obediently ask is that Your Serene Grace will order these pieces to be returned to me in monthly installments, in addition to sending back a number of other overdue works. Finally I recommend myself to Your consistent grace, remaining for the rest of my life in deepest submission
Your Serene Grace’s,
My most graceful Prince’s and Lord’s
Most submissive and obedient
Georg Philipp Telemann.
Of course Telemann would also have been able to compose three-part overtures. These are a great exception among his surviving compositions in this genre, however; four-part overtures were considered the norm. And following his motto, “To be of service to many is always better than to write only for few,” he preferred to keep to the standard. Considering his apparently vo-luntary promise to the duke to send him some chamber music from time to time, this repertoire probably consisted of works that had been written already for other occasions and performed in different contexts. It is easy to imagine what Telemann expected from the Weimar court in return for his generosity – financial support of his sons when eventually they would enroll as students at Jena University. This hope was not to be fulfilled, however.
Yet how much did the ingratitude of a duke count when compared with the artistic autonomy Telemann had won early through being employed and living in a major bourgeois city? It is this auto-nomy that allowed him to be such a prolific composer that to this day we discover new treasures in his almost inexhaustible oeuvre.
The Pratum Integrum orchestra has set itself the task with Telemann’s overtures to revive the wealth of a single musical genre and to demonstrate it exemplarily. This third volume of the series again contains mostly unknown music. At a first glance this new selection may appear randomly chosen, yet in fact it presents exemplarily every facet of the composer’s mastery in this genre. Thus joy of discovery and virtuosic skill transported through cultivated hands and with reined-in breath, through explorative questioning and vivacious action have after three hundred years found their way to our ears.
The Overture in D major [TWV 55:D12] surprises with its folkloristic four-measure phrases, planfully embedded in the usual pompous manner of the introduction. The exotic strain continues with the enticing Polish Mazurka-like rhythms, which characterize the fast section of the movement with their two-measure periods. The first ensuing movement, Perpetuum mobile, turns to a musical idea in which the principle of incessant motion (realized by avoiding harmonic cadences) is wrapped in a busy rondo. The Sarabande is a standard dance movement that is said to have come from Spain and perhaps even America. The conspicuous drumming rhythm accompanying the clear and noble melody might associate the sound of castanets and thus introduce an element of Spanish folklore. The tense calmness of this dance dissolves into a brilliant Bourrée. With its interesting harmonies and its modern unison passages the ensuing Menuet and its double introduce a French note to the suite. The Tourbillon, a whirlwind related to the tempesta movements, adds the characteristics of restlessness and virtuosity. A wonderfully blunt stamping English Gigue concludes this sequence, which has led us once across Europe.
The origins of the Overture in D minor [TWV 55:d1] are about as obscure as those of the other pieces. With its merely four dance movements it is comparatively brief, which gives rise to the spe-culation that it might be an opera overture in disguise. The Passepied, which is related to the minuet and has been part of the French ballet since the middle of the 17th century, is considered the fastest of the dance movements in triple metre. Only its double in D major is able to provide a little temporary consolation, while the composer skillfully distributes light and shadow. The Entrée, which usually would accompany a stage appearance, associates the sphere of theatre and opera just like the Loure and the concluding Rondeau, which is actually based on a bourrée.
Unique because of its “high-tuned” key with four sharps, the Overture in E major [TWV 55:E1] is a brilliant piece of music which with a pendulous octave-leap motive rushes into a restless fugue. This pretentious beginning is followed by a series of nine movements which all convey the great enjoyment of dancing prevalent at the time. Unshakeable optimism permeates the Loure, a French dance first introduced by Lully in 1670, which Telemann made a central element of his arsenal of dance movements, using it nearly as often as minuet and gigue. A Marche – employed by Lully occasionally in triple metre while Telemann always prefers common or alla-breve metre – in a way drives the proud deportment of this suite to a climax, before the Air, in Telemann’s suites usually a melodious, cantabile movement, introduces a more contemplative mood. The lively Passepied is followed by a dance called Angloise, which with its triplets in triple metre is reminiscent of the ecossaise. Even Les Furies prefer showing off their virtuosity to spreading terror, which is what they usually do on stage. The Rigaudon, a lively cheerful French dance, which was also introduced at court in the time of Louis XIV, transports the joyous character of the overture to the splendid Menuet with its double. The overture ends with a real piece of hanakian folk music, the Hanasky, which is scored for strings with violins and violas almost improvising above the drone in the double-basses and violoncellos.
Among the modifications of the overture that probably go back to Telemann, the ouverture en concert or concert ouverture, which singles out one specific instrument from the ensemble and places it at the centre of the entire work, assumes an exceptional position. While even the old Lully overture knew the contrast of a concertato trio of oboes and bassoon, this now is nothing less than the application of the Italian solo concerto movement – consisting of thematically unified tutti ritornellos and free solo sections – to the lively middle part of the overture’s head movement. Today the best known examples of this type are the overtures with solo wind instruments. And even though no less than nine of Telemann’s overtures employ a solo violin, these works have been mostly ignored until now. It is quite likely that the first solo instrument used for such an experiment was the violin of the concertmaster – a position that Telemann initially occupied in Eisenach (from 1708) when he was about to explore the Italian concerto. We do not know when the Overture in G major [TWV 55:G6] for solo violin, strings, and basso continuo transmitted in Darmstadt was written. It contains a fully developed concerto movement with four ritornellos, of which the first introduces the usual fugato, followed by three solo episodes of which the last one introduces surprisingly new and contrasting material. The following movements accentuate the solo violin in three different ways. In the Entrée it appears like a delicate echo in its immediate alternation with the tutti. In the alternative section of the Bourrée it claims the virtuoso part of the double (Bourrée 2), just as in the Loure and the concluding Menuet. In this solo suite the Loure in a way fills the position of the Adagio in the Italian concerto, the double (Loure 2) allowing space for a violin cantilena. As if to underline this deviation from the norm the Loure is marked grave. In the two couplets of the following gavotte-like Rondeau – which contrary to a pro-per gavotte combines two sequences of five measures each in its refrain – the soloist is given an opportunity to display his skills.
We do not know whether the disparate movements of the Overture in B flat major [TWV 55:B3] once were linked by a unifying programme. But even so it is remarkable how effectively the composer tones his musical portraits. After the splendid Overture, La Discrétion opens the series of dance and character movements. And while there is much musical confabulation in this movement, following the hint of its title not much is said in the end. Now come a beautifully sounding Menuet and a graceful Courante, followed by the horrors of La Grimace, a mischievous grimace. This is countered by La Doute – doubt clad in hesitating tonal sequences. Le Sommeil, sleep, with the performance indication très lentement, is anything but a nightmare – one should rather imagine someone snoring in his sleep. That Mercure, the messenger of the gods, might have something to do with it would not be in any way significant as his quickened pace is an excellent musical contrast to idyllic sleep.
As its key already suggests, the Overture in B minor [TWV 55:h3] is of a primarily serious character. A certain coyness cha-racterizes the satirically pointed first suite movement, La Prude, the coy one, though it can already be seen in the Overture. The noble Gavotte allows first glimpses of hope, as does the Gigue. In the double of the lively Rigaudon the concertmaster may step forward with a solo, even though it is strictly limited. The Menuet avoids the relative major wherever possible, and only the double with its characteristically swaying alternating half and quarter notes dares a harmonic brightening to G major, D major, and A major. The Rondeau is dominated by falling scales and their occasional reversal, and the work concludes with an almost desperately jumpy Canarie.
By the time he lived in Sorau (from 1705) Telemann had stu-died the individual dance movements in the classical patterns of the best French masters as they are demonstrated by the six overtures presented here; but probably he had known them long before, perhaps from the opera stage. He therefore was perfectly familiar with the corresponding levels of music and choreography, of motion and calm, of pace and accent, metric emphasis, tempo and cha-racter. When in 1728 he published his first collection of minuets, he wrote down his – as always somewhat satirical – thoughts about them in verse.
As generally a good ear claims much change,
Peter Huth, translated by Stephanie Wollny
Here, too, the changing sound will wake the spirits,
And if you like a concert chimed by hosts,
Then tell me why the minuet should hide.
Besides, this little thing is not quite that.
For be aware that there is much to gauge:
Melody and harmony, invention and measure,
And all the others are no hollow nuts.
This is so oft forgot by those who write,
Yet these are proper minuets not quite.
They think, if numbered measures are aligned
One might dare ask the bride to dance along.
So judge, my dear, when this is played to you,
If I’ve fulfilled the purpose that’s intended;
And if I failed somewhere, at least good aim was taken
By your respectful devotee
Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.3"