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G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.1


Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.1 / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"

Georg Philipp Telemann wrote more than one hundred orchestral suites covering nearly the entire period he was active as a composer, from 1705 to 1765. Like his contemporaries, Telemann used the French word ‘ouverture’ for these works. At that period the language used to name a musical composition often indicated the style in which it was written. If the Italian word ‘concerto’ featured on the title page, the soloist could probably expect virtuoso passages; if the designation was French, as with the orchestral suites, tempos associated with the ‘courante’ and ‘passe-pied’ or the technique of ‘notes inegales’ were appropriate.
The overture originated in mid-17th century France. The first use of the genre was as an introduction to acts of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s court ballets (e.g. Alcidiane et Polexandre, 1658). Early French overtures were comprised of just two parts: a slow section, usually written in chord texture, and a fast fugue. Later they generally had a slow third part. The acts of a ballet, in their turn, represented suites from the overture and a series of dances.
This French manner of composition was used by many German disciples of Lully and his orchestral style in the late 17th century. Most prominent among them are Johann Sigismund Kusser and Georg Muffat, who studied with Lully, and Johann Fischer, who acted as his copyist for five years. In 1682 Kusser published a collection entitled ‘Musical compositions after the French method, comprising six theatre overtures accompanied by numerous dances’. These were akin to six one-act ballets, although of an exclusively musical nature and not intended for realisation on the stage. Similar suites were performed in Germany as Tafelmusik.
In the 18th century French overtures also developed into small suites in some of Handel’s operas (Rodrigo, Alcina), and even in the biblical oratorio Samson the opening overture is followed by a minuet. By this time French composers had begun to write short ballets for virtuoso dancers which from a musical point of view replicated the orchestral suite, naturally programmatic. A leading composer in this genre was Jean-Fery Rebel, who wrote the suites Caprice, Boutade, Les caracteres de la danse, La Terpsicore, La fantaisie, Les plaisirs champetres and Les elemens, which Rebel himself preferred to call his ‘choreographed symphonies’.
Telemann first turned his attention to the overture-suite in 1705, when he became Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann von Promnitz at Sorau (Telemann maintained that during this period he wrote 200 suites in the space of two years). After a sojourn in France the count became interested in French music and the young Kapellmeister had works by Lully and Campra at his disposal – presumably they reminded Telemann’s patron of his days in Paris. For the composer his familiarisation with French music could have been nothing but a pleasure, since he had acquired a taste for it a few years previously during his stay in Hanover. At Sorau he pursued this further, and much later Telemann wrote to Mattheson, with whom he corresponded in French, as he did with Handel: ‘Admittedly, I am a great admirer of French music’. As the years passed Telemann came to appreciate its sorrowful tenderness and melancholy all the more. In 1737, towards the end of his life, the composer finally made a long-awaited trip to Paris, where his best works were performed to great acclaim.
Telemann was distinguished by an inexhaustible curiosity that compelled him to experiment with every possible combination of different styles, genres, voices or instruments. His inconceivably prolific output was a consequence of this curiosity. It was as if the composer tried to compile a catalogue of national styles, even embracing the ‘barbarian beauty’ of the Eastern European music that enchanted him during his travels as a young man. Telemann composed Orpheus (1726) for the Hamburg Opera, where it was accepted to use both German and Italian in one and the same production. The work features German, Italian and French in close succession, and accordingly a series of different musical styles.
In the orchestral suites the French manner is evident in the choice of dances, the use of programmatic pieces, cultivation of dotted rhythm and the predilection for the rondeau form. This French style was favoured and the composer often returned to the orchestral suite. No doubt he was also attracted to the multi-variance peculiar to this genre. The orchestral overture is not a classical suite consisting of allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue interspersed with several short dances, but always a new combination of programmatic and non-programmatic dance pieces in any possible quantity. Composing over one hundred such overtures meant setting out anew more than a hundred times without once retracing a path already taken.
Telemann paid equal attention to both major and minor keys – in the rather Manichean baroque cosmogony, light and shade are almost evenly matched. Today there is an assumption that minor-key baroque compositions are more serious and meaningful than the major-key works. This may be disputed, but nonetheless all three suites in this recording are in the minor key.
The Essential Music Company plans to record all the Telemann orchestral suites that have been preserved. This project should take several years. The order of the suites is arbitrary, since musicologists are unable to establish the date when many of them appeared, and consequently the chronological order. Likewise the year in which the works performed in this album were written is unknown, and we can only state with certainty that the E minor suite dates from no later than 1716, the B minor from no later than 1720. The title of the movements and their arrangement demands some explanation. However, erudition on a par with Telemann’s own musical knowledge would be required to compile an exhaustive commentary, and few were equal to the task, even in the 18th century.
The Ouverture of the D minor suite (TWV 55:d2) opens with a dissonant chord. The music seems to begin from a middle point, as if someone had burst into a conversation unasked, interrupting and refuting the original interlocutors. This is the way the third movement of an overture often began, not the first, which by tradition opened with a vigorous affirmation of the tonic. This strange and intriguing start contains the idea behind the composition as a whole.
Telemann used the Rondo form in his suites more often than his countrymen. Occasionally it is called rondeau leger, or ‘light’ rondo. By genre the movement represents a ‘tender’ gavotte that is sorrowful yet elegant. As a rule this kind of dance comes at the end of a cycle, never after the overture, a place usually reserved for a more serious piece. Telemann repeatedly introduced ‘light’ dances at the beginning of a suite, but in a work where everything is head-over-heels from the very first beat, this may have conceptual significance.
The Irlandoise is an enigma. Nothing surprising about the fact that Telemann’s interests reached to the furthest corners of the Old World, but how did the composer become familiar with Irish music? The first Complete Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Folk Tunes in musical history was published in Dublin in 1724, although English composers had naturally used Irish songs as a theme for variations since time immemorial. The Irlandoise is actually a jig, a popular Irish dance form with a characteristically bold and distinct melodic pattern and simple musical texture, without obvious polyphonic devices. In this movement Telemann again resorts to the form of a ‘light’ rondo.
Rejouissance is a term familiar to many music lovers from Bach’s fourth orchestral suite. Bach wrote his rejouissance in the rhythm of a dashing polonaise, but Telemann presents a series of tambourins in the spirit of Francois Couperin’s light-hearted and playful Les cherubins and Les jeunes seigneurs.
The Sarabande is the only dance from the classical suite and situated as usual at the golden section point. This varied dance is both serious and tender in Telemann’s composition, and its simplicity calls to mind Handel’s dances rather than French sarabandes.
Les scaramouches are the buffoons or bullies in the Italian commedia dell’arte. ‘Scaramuccia’ became known as ‘scaramouche’ after the actor most famed for this role, Tiberio Fiorillo, moved to Paris. He could appear on the stage alone or accompanied by other servants, or even with wife and children. In Telemann’s movement the grotesque nature of the ‘bully’ is conveyed by syncopated rhythm.
The Menuet in the form of a rondo would be a worthy ending to the suite, but in this suite it is followed by an Entree, which should of course come at the beginning rather than the end. The Entree usually consists of two parts, like the French overture that developed from it. In this case the Entree is a one-part movement. But what can we expect if the overture began without a tonic chord?
Telemann’s short Suite in E minor (TWV 55:e3) is reminiscent of a French boutade, meaning an ‘abbreviated ballet, a paradox of imagination that describes in several Entrees a pleasant, known and frivolous subject using minimal resources’ (Michel de Pure, Idee des spectacles anciens et nouveaux). Essential features of the baroque boutade are brevity, unpredictability and grotesque elements to the point of absurdity.
The slow part of the Ouverture is thoroughly traditional, but the fast section is written in the ritornello form consolidated in Vivaldi’s concertos: the ritornello repeated in various keys is played by all the musicians, but the episodes with which it contrasts are only performed by soloists. The theme with octave leaps is also typically Italian. After the allegro in concerto style it is hard to make the transition to a slow third section in which the French style returns, but Telemann finds a simple and effective solution…
Les cyclopes, the beloved heroes of French mythological ballets, accompany Vulcan (Hephaestus). Their appearance onstage represented the work of a smithy and percussion instruments were often included in these episodes to imitate hammering on an anvil. When comic opera appeared in France with the participation of real rather than mythological scenes of manufacture showing carpenters, stonemasons and cobblers, the actions of these characters was still accompanied by ‘cyclopean’ music familiar to the public from old-fashioned baroque operas and ballets.
The unique charm of the Menuet is provided by the rhythmical figure with syncopations that was often encountered in the 17th century but fell into disuse after Telemann.
Next comes the Galimatias en rondeau, analogous to the charivari from French comedy. A refrain in the bourree genre alternates with episodes to which it is completely incompatible. Particularly inappropriate is the second episode imitating the prelude to an Italian aria, but naturally there is no aria to follow. Perhaps this clumsy and insipid medley of styles is a parody on the work of one of Telemann’s colleagues?
Concluding the suite is a Hornpipe, originally a folk dance popular throughout the British Isles. The harmony of this piece, which is close to a gigue, is both varied and original.
Among the seven movements of the orchestral Suite in B minor (TWV 55:h1) there are no programmatic dances or buffoonery, and the entire composition assumes a serious tone. The fast part of the Ouverture is a fugue in ritornello form. In the reprise of the slow section Telemann introduces precipitate passages (tirate), which were an attribute of dark fantasy in French music of that period.
By the time Telemann wrote this suite the Courante was already an outdated dance performed occasionally as part of a theatrical presentation, but never at balls. The main characteri-
stic of the French version of this genre is the polyrhythm, a steady alternation of 6/4 and 3/2 bars. Bach virtually ignored this aspect of the courante, but Telemann, on the contrary, cultivated the delights of changing metre.
The Air en rondeau is another movement that takes the form of a rondeau leger. In episodes wind instruments play solo parts. These would probably have played a solo in the trio of the Menuet that follows, but in this suite the position usually set aside for the trio is unexpectedly taken by a Chaconne, one of the most virtuosic and grandiose French theatrical dances. In accordance with French tradition, the Chaconne is a variation not on a theme, but on a rhythmic formula in ritornello form. This movement of some 300 bars presents all the facets of sensibility as understood by Telemann’s contemporaries – noble and serious rather than sentimental.
In the Gavotte trio the oboes and violins play solo, while in the final Menuet, to music somewhat reminiscent of the previous Menuet interrupted by the incursion of the Chaconne, the bassoons take this role (their solo in the present recording is performed by cellos). In the new Menuet all necessary parts are finally present, and with this the suite reaches a successful conclusion.

Anna Bulycheva, translation by Patricia Donegan


Text of the booklet "G.Ph. Telemann. Complete Orchestral Suites, vol.1 / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


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