Written by Ronald Comber
Ouverture- Suite in A minor TWV 55: a6
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Although he was one of the greatest of all Baroque composers, Georg Philipp Telemann has not been as much appreciated in recent times as have his two contemporaries, Bach and Händel, yet in their lifetimes he was the friend and artistic equal of both. He was, in fact, the godfather of Bach’s son, CPE Bach, who was later to succeed him in his duties at Hamburg, and was as well a regular correspondent of Händel’s throughout his long career. Widely published, Telemann’s music was performed for years after his death and it was only after a sustained attack by the musicologist Spitta, who was championing Bach, which Telemann and his many works fell into obscurity for a century.
An immensely prolific composer, Telemann wrote some 1043 church cantatas as well as 46 Passions as the Kantor in Hamburg Cathedral. Municipally, if that is the term, Telemann composed at least 600 French Ouverture-Suites for public occasions, almost single-handedly popularising the form in the German-speaking world. Sadly, no real chronology for these works has ever been established. Today’s splendid work in a minor is from a collection made during Telemann’s lifetime by the court at Darmstadt and probably dates from the period 1720-1725.
Concerto in D Major for 2 Violins and Bassoon TWV 53: d4
Georg Philipp Telemann
Telemann rather disliked the idea that the concerto was merely a device to celebrate virtuosity for its own sake, but he would certainly write one if someone asked. He did enjoy creating works like this Concerto in D Major for 2 Violins and Bassoon in which he could explore the relationships amongst the three soloists through several movements. Telemann never felt that he had to make a choice between a three or four movement work, but simply chose as the spirit moved him.
The Concerto in D Major for 2 Violins and Bassoon is an exceptionally fine work. Written probably in the latter part of his Frankfurt years (1716-1720) it was copied out and saved at Darmstadt in 1721. The calm yet declamatory first movement leads in turn to a strongly contrapuntal extended second movement (rare for Telemann, as he preferred clarity in his concertante works), a subtle Adagio and a wonderfully symmetrical final Allegro.
Concert Suite from Cantatas BWV 42 and BWV 249a
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
One aspect of musical life in the 1600s through to about 1750 is that all of the best composers were expected to come up with something new at a moment’s notice. There were two ways that a composer could cope. The most obvious way to produce a new work was to quickly re-orchestrate someone else’s work, which was fine if it wasn’t too obvious. The other way was for the composer to haul out his old works and then re-orchestrate a movement from one piece and another movement from something else until he had a work of the desired length. This, without being in any way pejorative, was called a Parody and was perfectly fine, again if it wasn’t too obvious.
One can create something very successfully using the latter approach without changing a note, and in this case the spirit of Bach would hardly object. Here two movements from Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, a cantata written for the first Sunday after Easter, 1725 are combined with the Sinfonia from Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen, a secular cantata from the same year.
Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra
Johann Gottlieb Graun (1703-1771)
Coming from the next generation of Baroque composers, Johann Gottlieb Graun became famous both as a virtuoso violinist and as a composer. He was the brother of Carl Heinrich Graun, a singer – composer who is perhaps better known today. Johann Gottlieb received his training from J. G. Pisendel, the concertmaster at Dresden, and then travelled to Italy to study under the virtuoso, Giuseppe Tartini. By 1732 he had joined the court of Frederick the Great, and in 1740 became the concertmaster of the Berlin Opera.
Graun only wrote some fifty works, but they are all written to the same high standard. Today’s Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra is an astonishingly daring work, forward thinking to the point that one hears hints of Mozart in both its formal construction and in its emotional force. The writing for the solo violin in all three movements is surprisingly advanced for the time, demonstrating Graun’s virtuosity in all aspects of his art, but that virtuosity is never empty – the most spectacular passages seem to bounce out of the music in a spirit of sheer exuberance.
Concerto in E minor for 2 Flutes TWV 52:e2
Georg Philipp Telemann
Telemann was one of the first composers to write specifically for the transverse flute, a comparatively new instrument at the time. Before that, when the choice had to be made between using recorders or transverse flutes, most composers and artists left it up to circumstance. What did they have two of? Telemann wrote a set of six double concertos in 1718, while he was still working in Frankfurt. He very likely produced these works in preparation for a trip to Dresden, where the brilliant flautist Gabriel-Pierre Buffardin was the star of the hour. We know that Buffardin played them regularly for years afterward, joined by his pupil and eventual successor, Johann Joachim Quantz.
The Concerto in E minor for 2 Flutes is in Telemann’s favoured four movements and is a uniformly excellent work. There is however one strange part that sets it apart; the last movement has a part for a calchedon, which may have been some sort of bass lute whose vogue was so brief as to leave almost no trace. The bassoon will cover the part.
Adagio and Fugue in D minor
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784)
Somewhat of a tragic figure, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the second child and eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, showed enormous talent and prodigious skill as a composer and as an organist. Trained to the best of his father’s abilities, the young Wilhelm set out to emulate his father, but as the years passed by he began to feel that the abuse that he was getting from his princely and ecclesiastical employers – abuse that his father had put up with his entire career – was in the end intolerable. His later years were marked by unemployment and in the end extreme poverty
The Adagio and Fugue in D minor appears to date from the first half of the 1740s, when Bach was employed (and underpaid) as the organist at the Sophien Kirche in Dresden. Works like this were often used during the course of the Mass in all of the churches attached to the Dresden Hoffkirche, so Bach could have written it for his own church or for the mother church of the diocese.
The Adagio is beautifully solemn and leads to a brisk fugue, derived from the opening theme to create a work of solid integrity.