TELEMANN: THE MASTER OF THE RECORDER
‘I was driven by an ardent desire to acquaint myself with other instruments besides the keyboard, the violin and the recorder. Now I also learnt how to play the oboe, the transverse flute, the chalumeau, the viola da gamba, and even the double bass and trombone.’
So Telemann writes in his autobiography published in Hamburg in 17 40, a precious musicological document that helps us understand the extraordinary stature of this composer, among the most prolific in musical history and among the most popular in his own time. He was a clever entrepreneur on his own behalf (acting as publisher of many of his compositions), as attentive to money matters as to the musical fashions of the moment. His music shifts between the ltalian style and the French, constantly in search of that ‘German’ style which never, in fact, came to fruition.
lt was the French style in particular that greatly attracted Telemann, as is evident, for example, in his six hundred or more ouvertures (orchestral suites) that have come down to us. Moreover, it was on French soil that the flute, one of the composer’s favourite instruments, was created and developed. To open the programme, then, we have a tribute to that tradition with one among the many ‘preludes’ composed by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (track 1), one of the leading members of the family of instrument-makers/musicians/composers of that name active in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Richly ornamented, with the solo instrument becoming the mouthpiece of precious aesthetic ideals, this prelude is the ideal introduction to the key of A minor which is also that of the piece that follows, perhaps Telemann’s most popular composition today: the Suite in A minor for recorder and strings TWV 55:a2, the originai title of which is ‘Ouverture. a flute conc.’. lt is, at any rate, one of the works most representative of Telemann and one of those most frequently performed by recorder players. The seven movements begin (tr.2) with the Ouverture in the archetypal French dotted style, cast in ABA form. The dance movements that follow are, first of all, an obvious tribute to the tradition of Rameau and Couperin, who wrote pieces with evocative titles like ‘Les Plaisirs’ (tr.3), and an ‘Air à l’ltalien’ (tr.4) which pays homage to the ltalian operatic tradition. In the latter movement, the recorder becomes the vacal soloist in a typical tripartite aria, ABA: a highly cantabile initial section is followed by the B section, a dotted, staccato Allegro, before an ornamented reprise (A). Then come two minuets, another dance, entitled ‘Rejouissance’ (tr.6), and two Passepieds (tr. 7), the first in A minor, the second in A major. The suite ends with a Polonaise (tr.8) which, contrary to what the name might suggest, does not have the typical ‘Polish’ flavour of other compositions of Telemann where the reference to the folklore of that country is much more marked and picturesque. This suite far recorder is indicative of how much Telemann’s compositional style had been refined aver the years. Once again it is his autobiography that sheds light on this question. Particularly striking is the passage in which Telemann declares:
‘Up until this point in my life I had felt like one of those chefs who have a row of pots on the fire, but only allow people to taste a few of them. But now I intended to serve a complete meal.’
The Concerto in e major TWV 51 :C1 is in four movements. The initial Allegretto (tr.9), features a solo entry far the recorder that exploits the highest register of the instrument in the ‘bright’ key of e major. This is followed by an Allegro (tr.10), where the syncopated opening on the strings immediately characterises the rhythmic gait of the piece, quite challenging from a technical point of view far the recorder, which is required to play extended passagework with harmonic progressions; by the Andante (tr.11 ), in A minor, a true gem of melodie invention; and finally by the Tempo di Minuet (tr.12), which provides an unusual ending far a concerto in the ltalian style. Here once again is an evident homage to the French style of which the composer was so fond.
Much less well known is the Sonata in F major for two chalumeaux TWV 43:F2, which has come down to us in a number of manuscripts copied between 1724 and 1734 by Christoph Graupner, a friend of Telemann who was his colleague during his years in Leipzig and Frankfurt. Graupner’s manuscripts actually contain the wording ‘Concerto’. lt is likely that this was the original designation intended by Telemann, a hypothesis supported by the second movement, Allegro (tr.14), written in a typical ‘ritornello’ structure, in which the violins in unison function as an orchestral ‘tutti’, with the two chalumeaux as soloists. This particular work has been the focus of several recent musicological studies that have shed light on the practice of the ‘Sonata aut Concertenart’, a sort of ‘hybrid’ of the sonata and the concerto in which the typical structure of the sonata was cleverly blended with that of the concerto through precise stylistic crossreferences. The genre was widely practised at the time, not only by J. S. Bach but also by other composers.
A very interesting feature here is the use of the chalumeau, the forerunner of the clarinet, which demonstrates the supreme versatility and idiomatic character of Telemann’s instrumental writing. In fact, he seems to have had a soft spot for the chalumeau, which appears in a number of works between 1718 and 1760, including several church cantatas. The instrument enjoyed widespread popularity in Germany, and Dittersdorf, Hasse, Gluck, Molter and the aforementioned Graupner all wrote for it. The last piece on the programme is the Concerto di camera in G minor TWV 43:g3. Like the Concerto in C major, this too displays a ‘hybrid’ structure, where references to the ltalian and the French styles appear to be equally strong and significant. lndeed, this ‘hybridisation’ is Present in th e very title of the work: ‘Concerto di camera per flauto a bec’.