Program Notes for 5 & 6 April, 2003

Albuquerque Baroque Players
Virtues of the Baroque: Concert IV

7:30 p. m. on Saturday, 5 April 2003 at Los Altos Christian Church, Albuquerque
3 p. m. on Sunday, 6 April 2003 at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

Music of Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Quartet in e minor, TWV 43: e 2, from Tafelmusik III (published 1733)
recorder, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo

Partita in Eb major, TWV 41: Es [Eb] 1, from Die kleine Kammermusik (published 1716)
Aria 1: Presto
Aria 2: Vivace
Aria 3: Tempo di ciaconna
Aria 4: Allegro
Aria 5: Allegro
Aria 6: Tempo di minuetto
oboe, violin, viola da gamba, harpsichord, and continuo

Trio Sonata in g minor, TWV 42: g 5, from Essercizi musici (published 1739/40)
oboe, violin, and continuo

Trio sonata in F major, TWV 42: F 3, from Essercizi musici (published 1739/40)
recorder, viola da gamba, and continuo

Fantasia in A major, TWV 40: 18, from Fantasie per il violino senza basso (published 1735)
Allegro; Presto; Allegro

Quartet in g minor, TWV 43: g 2 (not published; c. 1724?)
oboe, violin, viola da gamba, and continuo


Program Notes

The most prolific German composer of the first half of the 18th century and the leading German composer of that time, Georg Philipp Telemann was no mere mannerist, aping and furthering late Baroque styles. He was an innovator, adept in the new galant style; he concerned himself with public concert life, music publishing, music pedagogy, and music theory as well as with composing; and he energetically threw himself and his talents into every situation, not flagging even as he aged. Though a great number of his compositions have been lost, we find attributed to him about 1700 church cantatas, over 50 Passions, 50-odd operas, about 125 orchestral suites, the same number of concertos, a few hundred keyboard works, and several hundred pieces we’d label as chamber music. There are so many instrumental pieces, in fact, that the cataloguers of his works have simply grouped them by the number of musical lines and then by key; the TWV numbers on the program are the result. Much of this music is stunningly good, and all together it demonstrates Telemann’s command of theatrical and church and chamber styles, of French and Italian and mixed German styles—embracing what Telemann called Polish elements—and of learned and popular styles.

Telemann was born into an upper-class family, and some little music—singing lessons and two weeks of keyboard lessons!—was part of his education. Even this slight bit of training was denied him when it became clear that he had musical talent, for his mother feared he’d take up a career in music. She was right. When Telemann went off to school and subsequently to university, his talents were uncovered by fellow students and professors and put into frequent service. He taught himself to compose, and eventually to play recorder, flute, oboe, violin, zither, and other instruments. He sang, too, occasionally on the stage. He furnished music for churches and schools and opera houses. As if this weren’t sufficiently time- and energy-consuming, he graduated third in his law school class at Leipzig University.

In 1702, Telemann assumed his first professional position. Over the years, his jobs would carry him from Poland to Eisenach, where he met Bach, and from Frankfurt to Hamburg. He visited Paris but didn’t otherwise travel very far. He counted many renowned composers among his friends, including Handel, whom he’d met in his youth and with whom he remained in touch until Handel’s death, eight years before his own. In addition to all his musical activities, he found time to write German poetry, to advertise and engrave and publish his own music, and, after his retirement in the 1740s, to garden with exotic plants. He even had the vigor to raise a grandson after his own son died!

We can’t possibly do justice to the breadth and variety of such a composer’s output in an hour or so. Nor do we have the forces to perform any of Telemann’s sacred music, or vocal music of any type, or any of the larger orchestral works; and these pieces surely offer a side of Telemann’s style that’s different from that found in his chamber music. We’ll have to content ourselves, sadly but enthusiastically, with one piece for a solo instrument without continuo, one for one solo instrument with continuo, two for two solo instruments with continuo, and two for three solo instruments with continuo.

We have assured you that Telemann was a master of the Baroque virtues we chose to emphasize this year: fantasy, embellishment, and passion. So he was. He could handle elaborate structures, complex textures, and strong affections with confidence. Sometimes his music is fantastically unpredictable, full of ornamental lines and variations, and sometimes its affections are passionately extroverted. Telemann, though, a man alert to contemporary trends, claimed to prefer the more modern galant style, with its emphasis on tuneful melody with accompaniment, regular phrases, simple harmonies, and more “natural” human emotions. In a lot of his music, then, the melodies are more important than any elaboration of them. In some pieces, the focus is so definitely on the melody instruments that the continuo seems insignificant. The foundations of the Baroque were being uprooted, and by the 1730s, Baroque virtues were deemed by many to be, essentially, musical vices. The pendulum was swinging from the unpredictable to the predictable, from the ornate to the simple, from power to grace.

However, the Baroque hasn’t been banned from Telemann’s music. For fantasy, listen for mid-movement changes of theme, minor chords where you think you’ll hear major, conversational interruptions of musical ideas. For embellishment, note the interrelationships of lines and the way they comment on and combine with each other, and note Telemann’s clever variations of rhythm and phrasing. For passion, follow the expressive melodies and harmonies in slow movements, contrast them with the headlong gaiety of the folk-inspired movements, and discover how many moods the composer can draw from a single theme. Telemann may have draped his music in new garments, but the Baroque torso gives it body.

return to home page.