Program Notes for 24 & 25 April 2010

Fantasy and Fugue, Concert IV: Focus on Telemann


Konzert in A major
Tempo giusto

recorder, violin, harpsichord, continuo

Fantasia in E minor, excerpts


Sonata in E minor, from Essercizii musici

oboe, continuo

Sonata in D major, from Der getreue Music-Meister, excerpts

viola da gamba

Canonic sonata in D minor
Vivace ma moderato
Piacevole non largo

oboe, violin




Fantasia D major
Alla francese


Trio sonata in D major, from Essercizii musici

violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Quartet in G minor............................................................................................................ Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

oboe, violin, viola da gamba, continuo

Longtime friends of the Albuquerque Baroque Players may have observed that this is our second all-Telemann concert. Back in 2003 we capped our “Virtues of the Baroque” series with a concert of music by this most versatile and prolific composer of the 18 th century—in part because no other composer has provided us with so much music that so ideally suits our combination of instruments, but also because Telemann was one of the grandmasters of the Baroque “virtues” of fantasy, embellishment, and passion. Now, as we wrap up our “Fantasy and Fugue” series, we focus again on Telemann, bringing you two of his solo fantasias, a fantasia-like solo sonata, and several ensemble pieces that demonstrate his gift for synthesizing spontaneity (“fantasy”) and control (“fugue”). We’ll even include a full-blown fugue that’s contained within a solo fantasia.

Georg Philipp Telemann’s formal musical training apparently began and ended with a few singing and keyboard lessons, although he also managed to pick up the violin, flute, and zither by the age of 10. He got his start in composition, also as a schoolboy, by studying the works of the Kantor (music director) at the cathedral school in his hometown of Magdeburg. When he set out, at age 12, to compose an opera, his mother confiscated his instruments and sent him away to school, hoping this would put him back on the right track to a proper profession. Happily, he would continue to find ample outlets for his musical talents at school and, later, at Leipzig University, where he graduated third in his law-school class!

Telemann’s first professional position was as director of the Leipzig Opera; later, he would hold various church, court, and civic positions in Sorau, Eisenach, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. It was in Sorau, on the Polish-German border, that he acquired the love of Polish folk music that adds a touch of exoticism to many of his works. This cosmopolitan musician kept abreast of a broad range of styles by studying the work of his predecessors and contemporaries throughout his life—even though, apart from a visit to Paris in 1737, he hardly ever left Germany.

During the 1730s, Telemann published four sets of fantasias, each for a particular solo instrument: transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba, and keyboard. The viola da gamba fantasias, sadly, are lost to us, but gambists can take comfort in the solo sonata that is excerpted on this weekend’s program. Since the phrase “Fantasy and Fugue” usually denotes a pair of related (at least by key) but contrasting pieces performed as a unit, we will perform each of the solo fantasias – and the solo sonata – on our program as a prelude to a larger duo or trio sonata in the same, or a similar, key.

The term “fantasia,” along with its various cognates including the English word “fantasy,” has a long and varied history. Today it can denote a piece of an improvisatory character, a Romantic character piece, an instrumental potpourri of opera tunes, or a piece that doesn’t fit any conventional form. Sixteenth-century fantasias—e.g., for keyboard, lute, or viol consort—tend to feature imitative counterpoint. Given this plethora of meanings, it’s worth noting that the Greek word fantasia can be glossed as “thought” or “faculty of imagination”—as good a summing-up as any of the variety of forms and styles in Telemann’s fantasias.

A 1735 catalog of Telemann’s published works tells us that “six [of the 12 violin fantasias] include fugues and six [include] Galanterien,” suggesting that this collection gives equal time to the high-Baroque discipline epitomized by the fugue on the one hand, and to the new, lighter galant style on the other. Our selection falls into the former category: it’s a miniature four-movement sonata in the Corellian mold (slow-fast-slow-fast). Our violinist will perform the first two movements. Both of these movements employ double- and triple-stopping in the service of imitative counterpoint, and the Presto is a rigorously worked out fugue.

As if writing counterpoint for a solo instrument with four strings weren’t sufficiently challenging, Telemann’s flute fantasias also include numerous fugal movements. The opening movements of these pieces represent a broad range of styles, and each concludes with a dance movement. Our selection opens with a French overture: a stately opening section (entrance music for the king) followed by a quicker fugal section where the counterpoint is implied within the single line. The second and final movement of this fantasia is a lively rondo in the Polish style.

As mentioned above, none of Telemann’s twelve viola da gamba fantasias survive. His one extant unaccompanied work for that instrument comprises the 15 th and 16 th “lessons” of Telemann’s periodical Der getreue Music-Meister (“The faithful music master”). As this sonata is much longer than the flute and violin fantasias, our gambist will perform only the first two movements. The opening Andante beautifully balances the seemingly opposite qualities of spontaneity and control: while the movement is tightly organized around a recurring rhythmic motive, it retains its improvisatory character throughout. The second movement is in a ritornello form, with improvisatory episodes, and ends with a coda that features some orchestral-sounding (even raucous!) chords.

While the fugue represented the apex of contrapuntal discipline during the Baroque era, it’s also no small feat to write a strict canon that obeys part-writing constraints and also succeeds as a piece of music. Each movement of Telemann’s six canonic sonatas (published in France as Canons mélodieux) is a strict canon at the unison—in other words, a round, but constructed from more extensive and complex material than, say, “Row, row, row your boat.” Incidentally, the word “canon” initially meant “a rule.” A “score” for a canon might consist of a single line of music with instructions, often cryptic, for its realization. We still follow this practice in notating rounds, by marking the point at which subsequent voices are to enter. Telemann notated his canonic sonatas in much the same way, adding an additional sign at the point where the second voice is to end.

Counterpoint also pervades Telemann’s Essercizii musici, a collection of 12 sonatas for solo instrument (harpsichord, flute, recorder, oboe, violin, viola da gamba) with continuo and 12 trio sonatas for those instruments in various combinations. This collection was probably published in the mid-to-late 1720s, when Telemann was beginning to move away from the high-Baroque into the galant style. We will perform two selections from the Essercizii on this weekend’s program. While the first of these, the E-minor oboe sonata, doesn’t include a true fugue, there are many points of imitation, and the head motive of the second movement does have the character of a fugue subject. Oboe and continuo share thematic material as equal partners throughout much of the piece, particularly in the virtuosic final movement. Our other Essercizii selection, the D-major trio for violin, viola da gamba, and continuo, is more on the galant side, where the texture is dominated by the melody instruments, with the continuo providing the harmonic foundation.

Bookending our “fantasy-and-fugue” pairs are two quartets, Telemann’s medium of choice for some of his finest chamber music. We open with a concerto in A major, one of a set published as Six concerts et six suites. Telemann’s original title page indicates that these pieces could be performed on flute with obbligato harpsichord, with or without cello; or on flute, violin, and cello; or, finally, in the more prototypical trio-sonata configuration of flute, violin, and continuo. We’ve settled on a hybridized scoring, with our harpsichordist realizing the bass line whenever her right hand would otherwise be doubling the violin, and playing the obbligato part where appropriate. A highlight of this engaging and very galant quartet is its adagio movement, which imitates a vocal recitative and arioso.

The G-minor quartet that concludes our program has been variously titled “Sonata” and “Concerto” in manuscript sources. It’s perhaps best characterized as a Sonate auf Concertenart (“sonata in the style of a concerto”) and has been described as a concerto for oboe. This description nicely fits the second movement, where violin and gamba provide bustling quasi-orchestral ritornellos—i.e., recurring material that alternates with solo episodes—in contrast to the oboe’s more lyrical utterances. In the slow movements, the musical material is shared more or less equally among oboe, violin, and gamba, while the final Allegro more nearly approximates a trio-sonata texture. Now the treble instruments are equal partners, while the gamba plays an elaborated version of the continuo line—so lavishly elaborated, in fact, that it threatens to steal the show from the soloists!

Have we mentioned that Telemann is one of ABP’s favorite composers? We’ll be back on June 20 with another concert devoted to his music—this time a selection of trios and quartets from Tafelmusik, with guest artists Stephen Redfield on Baroque violin and Carol Redman on Baroque flute. This free public concert, held at Central United Methodist Church, will be funded in part by a grant from the City of Albuquerque Urban Enhancement Trust Fund.


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