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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Tastes of Europe – Trios & Quartets

Ensemble Meridiana
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Recording details: March 2010
National Centre for Early Music, York, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: April 2011
Total duration: 60 minutes 6 seconds

On this beautiful recording, Ensemble Meridiana explores a variety of Georg Philipp Telemann's chamber music. The pieces chosen highlight the mastery of Telemann's 'mixed taste' writing style and are a perfect display of Baroque influences from France, Germany, Italy and Poland. The ensemble's playing is energetic, vibrant and displays a soft touch which is ideal for interweaving the various mixed tastes within these compositions.

Also featured on this album is a recording only recently discovered not to have been composed by Telemann, but by Pierre Prowo!

A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.


'Ensemble Meridiana performs both [concertos] with sensibility and well-balanced ensemble in the ritornello sections. Reinhard Goebel and members of Cologne Musica Antiqua put up hot competition in a recording issued in 2005, but … my preference lies with the more expressively relaxed playing of Ensemble Meridiana … the disc is sympathetically recorded and well worth investigation' (International Record Review)» More

'Bach wasn't the only 18th-century German composer to soak up the foreign musical manners that are attested to by the French or Italian adjectives in the titles of some of his works. This new CD focuses on Telemann as a master of French and Italian styles as well as a consummate practitioner of 18th-century fusion. The players of Ensemble Meridiana are appropriately international (Swiss, British, Swedish and Norwegian) and they play with real spirit and zest' (The Irish Times)

'[Ensemble Meridiana] have been taking the early music world by storm … having recently won their third international award, they have also just released their debut album, Tastes of Europe. If you're not sure Telemann chamber music is for you, think again—the group's interpretation of these trios and quartets is astoundingly good and well worth a listen' (Early Music Today)
The National Styles
If we compare present-day interconnected Europe with the communication and travel opportunities available 300 years ago, then the earlier cultural exchanges among different nations were amazing. Precisely because of these challenging conditions, events across the border were all the more interesting. Scholars, artists and nobles took trips abroad and brought back news and the latest novelties to their own courts. Musicians and composers were full of curiosity about the ‘exotic’ styles abroad; the different national styles of composition were studied with great interest as well as discussed and criticised in wide-ranging debates.

The two main styles of the first half of the 18th century were the Italian and French styles pioneered by Corelli and Lully. Certain characteristics have been associated with these two different styles. German composer Johann Mattheson described the Italian style as sharp, colourful and expressive, and the established professional flute player and composer Johann Joachim Quantz described it as somewhat bizarre, cheeky, stilted, heavy in the execution, overdone, very formal and more startling than enjoyable.

The French style on the other hand is described by Mattheson as natural, flowing and tender. Telemann referred to it as easy cheerfulness, spirited, singing and harmony. And lastly, Quantz described French music as lively, expressive, pleasing, approachable, clear, nice and clean in recital, yet neither profound nor daring; but it is very restrained, slavishly following convention and always similar to itself.

In contrast, the German music defined itself as the new so-called ‘mixed taste’. Quantz described it as follows in his Versuch einer Anleitug die Flöte traversiere zu spielen:

‘If you were to choose — with good judgment — the best taste in music from different nations, so it creates a mixed taste, which one (…) could very well call a German taste; not only because the Germans happened upon it first, but also because it has been taking root at various locations in Germany for many years, and still flourishes, while it does not displease either in Italy or in France, or in [any] other countries.’

Johann Adolf Scheibe wrote in his Der Critische Musikus that German music is only different from foreign music ‘through hard work, regular execution of the movements and because of the intricacies of its harmonies’.

Georg Philipp Telemann and the Mixed Taste
‘It is admirable that Telemann uses almost every genre of music as well as music from all nations emphatically, yet with a light touch and without confusing or spoiling his taste, which always remains beautiful, exquisite and consistent.’ (Scheibe)

Georg Philipp Telemann played a significant role in the development of the mixed taste. Even though he never left the German region – apart from a trip to France – the national styles were well known to him through the exchanges at the German courts. From Hildesheim, he travelled to the courts of Hannover and Braunschweig, where he became acquainted with the latest styles of composition. He wrote in his autobiography in 1740 about ‘the two adjacent court orchestras, of Hannover and Braunschweig, where I attended special religious festivals and all church services among other visits, which gave me the opportunity to acquaint myself with both the French and theatrical style of composition; however, at both I got the chance to get to know the Italian [form] better and learned to make a distinction.’ During his early years he used the works of Steffani, Rosenmüller, Corelli and Caldara as his Italian models.

During his years of study in Leipzig (1701-1705), Johann Kuhnau’s works were a guide for him on fugues and the use of counterpoint. With his Collegium Musicum, he travelled to different courts and met members of the modern Dresden court orchestra, ‘where the refinement of the Italian and the spiritedness of the French comes together’ (Telemann).

Inspired by the splendid court in Sorau and equipped with the latest fashions, he intensively studied the music of Lully and Campra as Kappellmeister from 1705. In Sorau, as well as on trips to Krakow and Pless, he got to know Polish music. Above all, he was mainly concerned with folk music, which he learned from musicians in the common inns.

During his subsequent jobs as Konzertmeister and Hofkappellmeister in Eisenach (1708-1712), he again worked with the French style. The orchestra there was fashioned after a French example and in his opinion, surpassed even the Paris Opera Orchestra. He continued studying the works of Italian composers such as Corelli, Albinoni and Vivaldi and their concert forms, despite the French influences.

From Frankfurt, Telemann travelled to the Dresden court in 1719, the stronghold of the mixed taste. During his years in Hamburg and until his death, he refined this further and further. Georg Philipp Telemann integrated the best of the German, French, Italian and Polish styles in his compositions. Some movements and works reveal the influence of one nation more than the others. Thus, some compositions are very inspired by the French goût, others are dressed ‘in an Italian suit’ (Telemann), and some movements sound like Polish folk music.

Telemann captured the sentiment of the times with his music. His works were popular with professional musicians as well as with amateurs. He knew how to market himself, and successfully sold printed scores throughout Europe. Telemann had subscribers in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, England, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland and the Baltic States. These advocates included support from fellow composers and musicians such as J.S. Bach, Pisendel, Quantz, Handel and Blavet; all of whom were supplied with copies of Telemann’s compositions.

Telemann’s Chamber Music
Judging by the large number of printed scores and manuscripts, Telemann’s chamber music was undoubtedly the biggest success amongst his instrumental works. His trio and quartet sonatas were praised by Mattheson, Scheibe, Quantz, Marpurg and Agricola as representative examples of their kind. The combination of instruments within these works is remarkably varied. Telemann played a number of instruments including the recorder, violin, keyboards, flute, oboe, chalumeau, viola da gamba, double bass and bass trombone. As a result, the individual voices in his trio and quartet sonatas were often written to suit the respective instrument perfectly.

Telemann referred to his trios as his ‘greatest strength’. He wrote in his autobiography in 1740:

‘And how would it be possible to remember all I invented for string and wind instruments? I focused on writing trios and arranged it such that the second part appeared to be the first, and the bass voice carried a natural melody, close-knit with harmonies where each note has to be just so and cannot be any different. They wanted to flatter me that I had shown this to be my best craft.’

The wide variety of works gathered on this album represents a selection of Telemann’s best chamber music.

The earliest and most obviously French work is the Trio in E minor (Twv 42:e11). It is one of ‘Telemann’s trios set in the French taste’, which Quantz recommended for study in 1752 in his Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen. Excerpts from this trio are used as score examples in Quantz’s Solfeggi titled ‘Trio alla Frances. Di Telemann’. Quantz was not the only one who admired Telemann’s French style of composition. Mattheson wrote in his Der volkommene Capellmeister that: ‘Herr Capellmeister Telemann deserves such praise because his trios, though some Italian [influence] is mixed in, flow very naturally and in a very French manner. One encounters things by him [Telemann] of which even Lully himself would not be ashamed of, which is even more remarkable since the latter never concealed his country’s style.’ Scheibe even wrote that Telemann, ‘As an imitator of the French has at last surpassed those foreigners in their own national music’.

The two upper voices (dessus) are written in the French violin clef according to French tradition. The trio is in the form of the Italian sonata da chiesa, however the individual movements have French tempo directions. The first movement Tendrement is full of French agréments: tierces coulées, ports de voix and tremblements. The fast movements are in French dance forms: binary rigaudon and passepied form, with a petite reprise in the last movement. They ‘smell of France’ (Telemann).

Both Trio 3 in G minor and Trio 7 in F major belong to the Essercizii musici, a collection of solo and trio pieces. Even though these were published in print around 1740, manuscripts were already in circulation during the 1720s. Even more so than in the French trio, here the stylistic elements melt together in the individual movements. At this point the mixed taste reaches its early climax. In the third movement of the Trio 3 in G minor (Twv 42:g5), the instruments become singers of an (Italian) aria, whose middle Largo section is embedded in the Andante reprised at the end. The dance of the last movement is a minuet in rondo form. Trio 7 in F major (Twv 42:F3) is the only trio in this collection consisting of three rather than four movements. The two fast movements already show gallant characteristics. These are however, interrupted by the introverted Mesto in the stile antico.

Telemann’s quartets occupy a very special place in his chamber music. As one of the first to do so among German composers, he developed this genre and impressed musicians and theorists alike. The two quartets recorded here for the recorder, oboe, violin and basso continuo are preserved in manuscripts and originated around 1730. These are the first examples of the trendsetting Sonate auf Concertenart: a hybrid between the sonata and the Italian concerto. The fourth movement of the Concerto in A minor (Twv 43:a3) is one of the best examples of Sonate auf Concertenart – the ritornello form in the style of Vivaldi blends with that of a rondo in concerto form – virtuoso solos and orchestral tutti occur in turn. The fugue of the second movement of this concerto is the only one in Telemann’s quartets that is composed for four voices. It consists entirely of fugue material and its three motifs weave a dense texture. This contrapuntal intensity acts as a counterweight to the fourth movement in concerto form and reflects Telemann’s command of the German art of the fugue.

The lively Trio in D minor (Twv 42:d10) with its fourth movement in the Polish style would have been a wonderful example of Telemann’s interweaving of Polish folk music in its ‘true barbaric beauty’ (Telemann) had it not recently been discovered that this trio was not composed by him after all! The work has been correctly credited to the organist Pierre Prowo (1697-1757), working in Hamburg-Altona (K. Hofmann, Tibia 1/2010). Prowo, who lived in Telemann’s immediate sphere of influence and was especially interested in his chamber music, created an original, spirited work. This work will now find a new identity between an enduring Twv number, its Telemann flair and its mixed taste style.

Dominique Tinguely © 2011

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