Program Notes for 11 & 12 November 2000

Friends Across the Channel

Trio sonata in F major............................................................................Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
for recorder, viola da gamba, and continuo
Vivace
Mesto
Allegro

Suite #8 in f minor...................................................................................George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
for harpsichord
Prelude: Adagio
Fugue: Allegro
Allemande
Courante
Gigue

Trio sonata in G major......................................................................................sometimes attributed to Handel
for oboe, violin, and continuo
Adagio
Allegro—Grave
Allegro

 

***intermission***

Sonata in D major....................................................................................................................................Handel
for violin and continuo
Affettuoso
Allegro
Larghetto
Allegro

Trio sonata in a minor.........................................................................................................................Telemann
for recorder, violin, and continuo
Affettuoso
Vivace
Grave
Menuet

Quartet in g minor...............................................................................................................................Telemann
for oboe, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo
Lento
Vivace
Adagio
Allegro

Putting a face and a personality on a long-dead artist is a risky business, yet we continue to find satisfaction in doing just that.  We avidly examine not only musical output, but also letters, newspaper articles, diaries, and other archival documents, and then we try to read between the lines.  Though results have included infamously cockeyed films, totally fictional accounts masquerading as history, and dubious or discredited "psychobiographies," we also have seen the recent proliferation of scholarly volumes that are truly perceptive appreciations of composers, the cultural environments in which they lived, and their music.

There are many ways to enter a composer's world, depending on what that composer has left for us.  Here's a slice of the lives of  Georg Philipp Telemann and George Frideric Handel (as he styled himself after emigrating to England). They didn't leave us many personal testaments, but we can discern a genial, affectionate relationship between them.  In the early years of the 18th century, Telemann, four years older than Handel, was a student at the University in Leipzig, and Handel was at the University in Halle.  They met, possibly because Telemann had heard a lot about a certain young music student in Halle and took the initiative to seek him out.  Both had lost their fathers, both were intending to study law, and both had been denied music by their families.  Fortunately, both had been blessed with sympathetic teachers and colleagues who recognized their musical gifts, and both were trying to combine a musical career with law studies.  We know that they traveled to see each other and wrote to each other, and with a little imagination we can see them talking over what they had in common, and what their aspirations and plans were for the future.

Extant letters show that they remained friends, disclosing details of their lives and interests to each other  into the 1750s.  They kept abreast of each other's music, Handel using themes he liked from Telemann's pieces even into his last creative years.  Both rejected to some extent the learned style in favor of a more commercially viable style, harbinger of the coming age.  Telemann performed some of Handel's operas in Hamburg, where he directed the opera company and composed for the major churches.  He knew about some of  Handel's adventures and misadventures.  Handel discovered that Telemann had become a knowledgeable horticulturist, and he sent exotic flowers to Telemann—twice, as it turned out, since the first shipment was disposed of when a false rumor was circulated that Telemann had died.  In their old age, the friends were concerned for each other's health.  One of Handel's last signatures is on a letter written in 1754 to his best friend, Telemann.

These good friends had between them a common inheritance of genres and forms, and an enviable grasp of the national styles of their time, but Telemann and Handel operated quite differently in the realm of chamber music.  Telemann made his own opportunities for composing chamber music, small-scale works with one player on each part (sometimes more on the basso continuo line).  Even in Leipzig, while ostensibly concentrating on his law studies, he organized a student collegium musicum, which offered public concerts of instrumental music.  He started other such performing groups wherever he went, even during his busiest years in Hamburg.  Intensely involved in the new, galant music, he aimed many of these pieces at amateur players.  In addition, though, he was acquainted with many professional musicians, and he composed more challenging music for them.  He published much of this music himself.  The two trios on this concert come from one such publication, the Essercizii musici of 1739 or 1740, in which he included 12 solo sonatas alternating with 12 trio sonatas for various combinations of violin, flute, recorder, oboe, viola da gamba, and harpsichord.  Telemann didn't publish the Quartet in g minor that's on our program, though he did have other quartets printed.  Many modern performers think that some of Telemann's best instrumental music lies in his quartets, where each instrument has a voice in the musical conversation.  Whether for a growing amateur clientele or for the finest virtuosos in Europe, Telemann's chamber works emerged prolifically and constantly, and it's obvious that he invested time and talent in them.

Handel, on the other hand, let years go by between compositions for chamber groups, and usually didn't bother to have his chamber music printed until a publisher requested it.  He didn't have a convenient outlet for chamber works, nor did he try to create one.  We know little or nothing of the occasions or people he might have composed for.  Hence we can't securely date many of these pieces, and some that have been attributed to him are probably or certainly not by him.  This last is the case with the Trio in G major on our program:  along with five other trio sonatas, it was believed to have been composed by Handel in the 1690s, and it was advertised as this type of curiosity in the 18th century, but subsequent studies of the paper on which it was written as well as of its musical style have rendered this attribution extremely shaky.  The most cogent argument against Handel's authorship is that he never borrowed from it, and, since he borrowed from virtually all his own music, this piece is very likely not by him.  We'll play it anyway;  it's a delightful little piece.  Handel acknowledged that, when he was young, he "composed like the devil for the oboe,"  so perhaps some day youthful works really by Handel will be rediscovered.   The harpsichord suite comes from Handel's Book 1 of keyboard pieces, issued in 1720, again at the request of the publisher.  The dance movements, inspired by French genres, are known to have existed a few years earlier, and Handel must have added the prelude and fugue for publication.  Handel composed the Sonata in D major for violin and continuo in about 1750 after a long hiatus from writing chamber music.  It was one of his last pieces.  True to form till the end, Handel used a great deal of borrowed material in it.

After the first decade of the 18th century, Telemann and Handel never saw each other again, and their correspondence was infrequent.  They led different lives.  Had they lived closer to one another, they might have taken greater advantage of their complementary natures.  Though  both became famous well beyond their local musical spheres, Telemann kept an energetic hand in a wide variety of musical organizations, while Handel aimed more single-mindedly at a career in theatre.  Telemann had a scattered array of good friends for whom he sometimes wrote music, while Handel, though jovial enough in company, often kept to himself.  The letters between them that remain are all the more touching for their expressions of admiration and care for each other across the miles and the years.  They do indeed help to put faces and personalities on these two significant composers.

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