Program Notes for 20 June 2010

with guests

STEPHEN REDFIELD, Baroque violin, and CAROL REDMAN, Baroque flute

 

A MUSICAL FEAST WITH GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN

selections from his Tafelmusik, 1733

 

Quartet in G major, from Tafelmusik I
Largo—Allegro—Largo
Vivace—Moderato—Vivace
Grave—Vivace

flute, oboe, violin, basso continuo

Trio in E b major, from Tafelmusik I
Affetuoso
Vivace
Grave
Allegro

two violins, basso continuo

*****intermission*****

Trio in E minor, from Tafelmusik II
Affetuoso
Allegro
Dolce
Vivace

flute, oboe, basso continuo

 

Quartet in D minor, from Tafelmusik II
Andante
Vivace
Kargo
Allegro

flute, recorder, violin, basso continuo

PROGRAM NOTES

A composer of fertile imagination, versatile in all styles and genres known to him, inquisitive into old age about new musical developments, extraordinarily prolific—with over 3000 documented works, and many more lost—skilful at handling intricate counterpoint as well as folk-like melodies, at ease in the church, the opera house, and private homes: why is Georg Philipp Telemann not more performed? There’s more: he was of a pedagogical bent, and though he never completed any of the numerous treatises he proposed, his printed collections and his letters to other musicians offer valuable information about declamation, part-writing, continuo realization, and ornamentation. He was a model and involved citizen, concerned with civic and domestic music-making and other, non-musical aspects of social life. A shrewd businessman, he was determined to reap the rewards of his own artistic efforts and, to that end, fought for many years, in court, for the right to publish and profit from his own music. Among his publications is the first German-language music periodical, containing his own and others’ music for the education and enjoyment of all musicians, professional and amateur. He came into contact with other great musicians and was well liked and admired by them, including Handel, whom he met when both were young university students and with whom he long remained in correspondence, and J. S. Bach, for whose second son, C. P. E. Bach, he stood as godfather. In 1737, when he finally had the opportunity to leave Germany, he visited Paris, where he met Blavet, Forqueray, and other important French composers and performers. A good-natured man of wit and learning, Telemann remained mentally sharp until he died.

In short, Telemann was justifiably esteemed in the 18 th century and was considered one of the finest composers of his time. His music was known all over Europe and the British Isles, and when he advertised subscriptions to his publications, he received responses from the likes of Bach and Handel. In the 19 th century, though, critics denigrated his music for the simple reason that it wasn’t like Bach’s. Musicians gradually came to appreciate Telemann in the 20 th century, though they had easy access to only a few pieces. Now, a modern edition of Telemann’s works is in progress, and more music is readily available. Albuquerque Baroque Players has surely done its part in aiming to revive interest in this composer’s music: during our years together we have performed two of his church cantatas, two solos and two duos without bass, six solo sonatas with continuo, 13 trio sonatas, 12 quartets, and four larger works (suites and concertos)! We’ll expand this repertory today, but still touch only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Telemann wasn’t born into a particularly musical family or environment, and his musical training was spotty at best. Yet already as a pre-teen, he’d taught himself to play several instruments and was composing. His widowed mother tried very hard to point her son is the direction of a more respectable career, even confiscating his musical instruments and packing him off to Leipzig to study law, but the young Telemann’s teachers and fellow students recognized his innate talent and openly encouraged it. Telemann’s several early positions introduced him to French and Italian styles and to Polish folk music. Later, Telemann became interested in creating a “mixed” style, in which all these elements plus German ones would find place. In this, he was successful—witness the collection from which we’ve selected our program.

The three “productions,” as Telemann called them, of the Tafelmusik were published in 1733, during the composer’s most fruitful period. He was working in Hamburg by then, as Kantor of the Johanneum Latin School and music director of the five largest Lutheran churches in town. His contract required him to supply two cantatas each Sunday, a Passion each year for Holy Week, music for miscellaneous church and municipal ceremonies, and an annual oratorio and serenata.. In addition, he taught singing, music theory, and music history to the schoolboys, though he did manage to avoid teaching Latin. In his free time (!), he directed a student collegium, which gave public concerts, and he became the director at the opera house, for which he furnished stage works. Moreover, he found time and energy to write music and musical news for other courts and cities, to join civic societies, and to engrave and publish some of his own music. As evidence of a lifelong interest in German poetry, he also created poems and texts for vocal works. All this activity, especially that in the opera house, caused some consternation among town council members. They could not, however, quell Telemann’s apparently boundless energy, and they capitulated after the composer threatened to take a job in Leipzig.

The architecture is the same in each “production.” Each consists of six works, and the largest pieces, those for seven instruments, are situated at the beginning, the middle, and the end. The opening is a French overture with attendant dances, followed by a quartet, a concerto, a trio, a solo sonata, and finally a brief conclusion. Beyond this general layout, each production is varied in instrumentation and style, the result being a compendium of 18 th-century instrumental styles and genres—not exhaustive, but certainly representative. In theory, the word “Tafelmusik” indicates the collection’s function: that is, it was presumably to be used during town festivities. The “Tafel,” or table, refers to the requisite banquet. Telemann’s Tafelmusik, if it ever was in fact part of a formal meal, was surely played between courses. This music is hardly background music, or merely diverting. It’s full of beauty and life, and sometimes surprises.

Today, we offer you not a full meal, but a buffet of the trios and quartets from the first two productions. Because we’re not playing the overtures, you won’t hear the French pieces. Our two trios are quite galant—that is, in a newer, lighter style--with lots of parallel movement between the two solo instruments as well as motives tossed back and forth. Galanterie doesn’t preclude expressiveness, though, and some have described the trio for two violins as verging on Empfindsamerstil, or the sensitive style—another new trend in the mid 18 th century. The trios are in any case more intimate than the quartets. Many of Telemann’s contemporaries judged his quartets to be the most original of his works, and modern musicians have tended to agree with that assessment. Quartet movements are often multi-partite, as you can see from the tempo markings. Also, since the quartets are scored for three solo instruments, Telemann included some concertante sections, where one soloist emerges from the texture while the other instruments act as a foil. In all our selections, intensity may alternate quickly with playfulness, counterpoint with melodiousness.

Obviously we still have thousands of works by Telemann to learn and perform, so do look forward to hearing more of this remarkable composer’s music!

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