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Telemann in Minor


Text of the booklet "Telemann in Minor / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"

All tastes of life

Lully deserves his fame, Corelli’s rightly praised,
But only Telemann above them all is raised.

(J. Mattheson. Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte;
translation by M.Kirillova)


A perceptive stylist and a man with an inexhaustibly inventive mind, a musical erudite whose creative heritage in all the genres prevailing in his time is so great that its scope and variety of solutions strike the boldest imagination, a man epitomizing the glory of German art in the eyes of enlightened Europeans of the first part of the 18 th century, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767) is one of those composers whose artistic work has not been properly appreciated yet. Telemann’s creative uniqueness is said to become cognizable only when his music is compared with that of his two great contemporaries – J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel. But Telemann’s numerous compositions are so good, fresh and fascinating that nowadays we just wish to hear his wonderful music again and again and enjoy it without trying to make profound comparisons.

The works presented in this album show G.Ph.Telemann as a serious and deep composer; it’s both accidental and not that almost all of them are written in “minor tones”. As the autographs of the majority of Telemann’s instrumental compositions have been lost we can only make suppositions about their accurate dating. It’s doubtless however that every composition included in this album – despite all the genre and stylistic differences – are the works of a great master and a mature man with deep understanding of life.

The Orchestral Suite in A minor for two oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo opening the album (TWV 55:a3, “Ouverture” in the original) is written in the French style. Here Telemann who is inclined to use varied and often unexpected timbre combinations turns to classical composition of instruments resembling that of a French orchestra in the days of Louis XIV and J.B. Lully: the ensemble of the strings is combined with a standard trio of woodwind instruments (two oboes and bassoon).

The genre of orchestral “overture” with numerous movements was quite popular with German composers at the beginning of the 18 th century but Telemann wrote them in truly incredible numbers: more than a hundred of his orchestral suites are available. The lofty style, austere form and theatrically striking images typical for classical French music had been attracting the composer since the early years of his creative work in Leipzig; it is not accidental that the height of Telemann’s artistic career falls on his triumphal tour in Paris (1737) which lasted for many months, the only tour abroad that the composer made during his long life. Distinct, manifestly proclaimed preference of the music in French taste singles Telemann’ figure out of his German colleagues, preferring Italian style.

Telemann, like French musicians, often gives his “overtures” program titles (“Burlesque de Quixotte”, “Wasser”, “Les nations anciennes et modernes”, etc.); these suites are closely connected with certain genre variations of French musical theatre: musical comedies and tragedies as well as “operas-ballets” which had become popular since the end of the 17 th century. However, it is difficult to make up a program title which would generalize the content of the Suite in A minor: “characters” depicted in its movements are too diverse and the contrast between separate episodes is too striking. This is not an analogue of a single theatrical performance but a true encyclopaedia of musical characters typical for French stage – a serious composition with an original concept, creating a number of problems for performers (recording of the Suite in A minor TWV 55:a3 presented in this album is a World Premiere).

Listening to the Suite one is carried away by its well-considered and skillfully drawn up musical dramaturgy. The traditional introductory “French overture” is marked by unique charm which is characteristic only of Telemann: piquancy of rhythms, a whimsical and changeable melodic pattern, a well-adjusted dose of polyphonic methods, a subtle exchange of strings and wind-instruments. A group of three character dances coming right after the overture immediately displays before the listeners a wide panorama of scenes – from heavenly pleasures to chilling horrors of hell. “The Pleasures” (“Les Plaisirs”) fascinate listeners by the poetic sounding of the trio for wind-instruments with a group of strings gradually joining in their courteous dialogue; the violent rage of “Furies” is splashed out in the ominous ostinato, jerky rhythms and unexpected and “unprovoked” contrasts. However, a sudden clash of such sharp opposites could have been considered a sign of poor taste. Placed between these two imaginary poles is “Loure”a court dance which came into fashion in the 18 th century; it is traditionally graceful and majestic but at the same time rather extravagant; Telemann emphasizes vigorous melodic leaps characteristic of loure by fanciful rhythms (it is worthwhile to recall here for comparison another well-known sample of “wild” lourethat from the Peruvian entrée in “Les Indes galantes” by J.Ph. Rameau).

Traditional ball-room dances are presented in the Suite by the combination of a simple but vigorous rigadoon with a gracefully courteous minuet. Adding, as the tradition requires, to the main rigadoon two “alternative” ones, Telemann uses it as an excellent chance to demonstrate separate sounding of woodwinds and strings. However, all the people like dancing. In order to lead out on the imaginary stage rough “Sailors” (“Les Matelots”) Telemann finds new rhythms for them: unpretentious but energetic and fiery. The sailors are, naturally, English and are dancing a surprisingly graceful English jig. An attentive listener may associate its theme with the famous “Joke” (“Badinerie”) from J.-S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite in B minor (probably, Bach composed this renowned masterpiece being impressed by Telemann’s motifs?). Two final episodes of the Suite are popular music meant to delight the listener whoever he was. But if “Rondeau” in the French style fascinates listeners by its gentle melancholy, the final “Hornpipe” is a rich stylization of Slav folklore which Telemann got familiar with in his youth working as a Kapellmeister in Zorau (the Upper Silesia, now a Polish town of Žary). Without obliterating boundaries between “high” and “low” styles Telemann draws them into a witty game which results in the joyous triumph of harmony and interaction of all aspects of life.

Telemann’s creative nature can be first of all characterized by his susceptibility to everything beautiful and refined as well as by breadth of musical tastes. Suites in the French style are adjoining in his instrumental music with the genres of Italian origin: sonatas and concertos.

Telemann’s “Sonatas” are, in fact, mostly trios and quartets for various sets of instruments meant for amateur performing at home. Numerous publications of these fairly simple and modest but exquisitely written out ensembles did most for the composer’s European fame.

Two Sonatas presented in this album (in F minor, TWV 44:32 and B-flat major, TWV 44:34) are string sextets and they are much more complex and serious than most of the composer’s chamber works. In both sonatas Telemann sticks to his favorite cycle scheme consisting of four movements: slow – fast – slow – fast.

Widely using advanced polyphonic methods and carefully writing out prolonged melodious lines, Telemann pays tribute to the old “learned” manner of composition, modernizing it up to his taste.

Many movements of sonatas begin with “proper” and “thorough” imitations in all voices (Allegro from Sonata in F minor is, for example, a double fugue with a joint exposition). But gradually the composer simplifies the texture concentrating listeners’ attention on the most characteristic and effective details of the theme. In the fast polyphonic episodes contours of the melody are purposefully sharpened what finally leads to the triumph of brilliant instrumental figurations. In the slow movements cantilena is smoothly developing into heartfelt recitatives of violins (a peculiar case is the short third movement of the Sonata TWV 44:34 which begins as an easy passionate opera monologue in G minor led to its highest point by two upper parts, now and again taking the melodic line away from each other).

Telemann’s sextets hold an intermediate position between the composer’s chamber music and his numerous instrumental concertos. Telemann’s concertos in their turn have much in common with chamber compositions. First of all it is a dedication to a four-movement form of the cycle; Telemann seldom uses Vivaldi’s scheme consisting of three movements (unlike J.S. Bach and other German composers). Possessing the skills of playing many musical instruments but not having mastered any of them perfectly, Telemann held an unflattering opinion of brilliant but difficult for performing passages in Italian violinists’ concertos. In his autobiography written in 1718 he contrasts superficial virtuosity of Italians with the French sense of melody and harmony giving an accurately formulated main principle of his instrumental writing: “Let every instrument do what it can: then the performer will be glad and you will be satisfied”; it is obvious that such approach better suits amateur chamber playing but not a large concert performance.

Due to unique combination of concerto’ techniques and varieties with a chamber nature of Telemann’s instrumentation the masterpieces like very popular Concerto for flute and violin in E minor (TWV 52:e3) appear. The music of this miniature concerto needs no compliments: it vanquishes listeners at once. We will note only Telemann’s ingenuity in guarding the performer from all the tricks of Italian music writing. In expressive episodes with soloing instruments of the first movement and the finale all the formal traits of genuine virtuosity are in place (a lot of sudden “leaps” and quick passages); however, these difficulties are not so frightening as they may seem – the composer took care of their smooth performing on the respective instrument.

An unusual five-movement form of the Concerto also testifies to the intention of the author to show the “nature” of soloing instruments in all its charm. In the lucid Adagio in G major soloists are competing in the ability to play gentle cantilena against the “lute” accompaniment of strings pizzicato. In the short Presto the flute falls silent to let the violinist show his mastery. In contrast, in the graceful fourth movement (Adagio again) the violinist is silent and the flutist joins the part of first violins to perform a delicate sentimental melody based on the languid chromatic harmonies of the accompaniment.

The Concerto for two flutes and violin in E minor concluding this album (TWV 53:e1) astonishes by its impressiveness and tragic sounding. The outermost movements of the composition are written in the French manner. Piano chamber episodes in the opening Larghetto are absolutely unique. Gentle passages of the soloists sound against incessant dotted rhythms – as though a shadow of death falls upon the icon lamp in which the flame of human life is still flickering… The finale of the composition is written in the form of French “rondeau” and like many other finales of the Telemann’s concertos is remembered because of its expressive cheerful dance rhythms (rigadoon and bourrée).

The middle movements, in contrast, follow the Italian tradition. The real dramatic peak of the cycle is Largo. Based on the slow sounding of the chromatic bass, reminding rhythms of the Baroque dances, this music seems to have some allusions on a funeral procession. But the impression of the firm foot on the earth’s surface appears only in tutti episodes. When the violins and violas fall silent only delicate melodies played by the soloists floating over the restrained and rarified accompaniment remain. Their gentle parts sound like the last message of life sent from another world… Indeed, only genuinely great and noble souls are capable of loving life so much.

Roman Nassonov, translation by Margarita Kirillova


Text of the booklet "Telemann in Minor / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


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