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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

The Virtuoso Godfather

Charivari Agréable
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: May 2005
St Andrew's Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Hunter
Engineered by Adrian Hunter
Release date: July 2006
Total duration: 73 minutes 30 seconds

Virtuosic chamber music by Telemann, the superstar composer of his time, and his godsons, Kress and CPE Bach, for the beguilingly sensuous combination of baroque flute, two viols and keyboard. This recording features a selection of Sonatas, Concerti and Trio works, prepared and performed by Charivari Agréable using period instrumentation.


'As ever, Charivari Agréable demonstrate their determined ingenuity in finding and adapting music based around their core line-up of viol and continuo … [they] offer tasteful and well behaved performances' (Gramophone)

'Charivari Agréable convey the fragile, never more than skin-deep charm of his Flute Trios with lightly applied articulation and an appropriate espirit de salon. These virtues, along with a marked elegance of phrasing, are features which define the performing style of this ensemble' (BBC Music Magazine)» More

'Beautifully recorded and consummately played, this stunning collection of chamber music by Kress, Telemann and CPE Bach, is one of my discs of 2006' (Classic FM Magazine)

The Godfather
The watershed year of 1712 saw Georg Philipp Telemann turn his back on ‘such an exceptional Court as the one in Eisenach’ for a worse paid city job at the Church of the Barefoot Friars (Barfüßerkirche) in Frankfurt am Main. He wrote that he had experienced a musical and religious epiphany, and was resolved no longer to suffer the moods and munificence of others. Yet it had all started so promisingly in 1708 when he was appointed Konzertmeister and, the following year, promoted to Capellmeister of the newly-formed musical establishment which had been assembled by the improbably-named violin and dulcimer virtuoso Pantaleon Hebenstreit, with whom Telemann had often performed double violin concertos. As in all organisations with limited resources, needs must; and so, the ever-pragmatic Telemann was forced to recruit singers who could double on the violin, in order to make cantata performances possible. Nonetheless the glamour of courtly life soon began to fade, when the shine of a courtly appointment was dulled by the debilitating combination of overwork, artistic constriction, and courtiers’ lack of interest in music.

What tipped the balance was a personal tragedy. His marriage in 1709 to Amalie Eberlin, lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Promnitz and daughter of the musician Daniel Eberlin, ended 15 months later in 1711, when she died giving birth to a daughter. Telemann could not bear the desolation and tragic memories; and, needing a change of scene, he was done serving other masters. Not even a significantly more lucrative offer from the Dresden court could tempt him. In his autobiography, published in Johann Mattheson’s Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte in 1740, Telemann concluded that ‘he who seeks lifelong security must settle in a republic’, by which he meant the prosperous ‘Imperial Free City’ (Freie Reichstadt) of Frankfurt. The city-republic was looking for someone to provide and direct the music for the Barfüßerkirche and Katharinenkirche, write music for various civic occasions, give private musical instruction to six to eight schoolboys of his choosing, and supervise singing instruction in the Latin school. ‘Owing to a nature which cannot bear idleness’, he admitted, he took on whatever extra work he was offered, including special commissions of church and chamber cantatas for the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach, his previous employer, and for political functions and ‘sundry solemnities’ (verschiedene Solennitaeten). He placed himself at the heart of Frankfurt’s regular concert life by reviving in 1713 the Collegium Musicum of the Frauenstein society, an association of patricians and the bourgeoisie which aimed to present weekly concerts.

Telemann’s rising star was noticed by others, especially Johann Sebastian Bach, then a mere chamber musician (Cammer-Musicus) and organist at the neighbouring court of Saxe-Weimar. Bach had met Telemann in Eisenach, where his brother Johann Bernhard Bach was town organist and court harpsichordist. Johann Sebastian had long admired his brother’s colleague, having as early as 1709 copied out and performed Telemann’s double violin concerto (among other works) jointly with Johann Georg Pisendel, a student of Antonio Vivaldi and later concertmaster of Dresden’s renowned court orchestra. JS Bach, too, ploughed on in the face of adversity, be it the whims of princelings or domestic disasters. For instance, intrigues and a smouldering power struggle between the co-rulers of Weimar—the zealously pious Duke Wilhelm Ernst and his musically-gifted nephew Duke Ernst August—made life difficult for all at court. In addition, Bach suffered the irritating inconvenience of having no organ to play on. Its overhaul and extension began with the dismantling of the bellows in 1712, along with the renovation and expansion of the chapel; the instrument was not fully operational until mid-1714. Worse was to come: Bach’s twins died shortly after birth in 1713.

But there were silver linings, such an increase in salary granted by the admiring Duke Ernst August in 1711, or a prestigious commission of a (31st) birthday cantata from the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels in 1713, or indeed an invitation to audition for the position of organist and music director at Our Lady’s Church (Collegio Beatae Mariae Virginis) in Halle at the end of the same year. By the beginning of 1714, the clouds had passed: the organ was (sort of) working, he was promoted to Konzertmeister—a position levered by dangling the offer from Halle—on 2 March, and within a week he was father to a second son. Carolus Philippus Imanuel Bach took his middle name from the soon-to-be-remarried Telemann, who stood as one of his three godparents when he was baptised on 10 March.

Bach’s cultivation of Telemann later proved rewarding. Telemann—passing through Cöthen around 1720, on his way, it is believed, to and from the city of Leipzig where, incidentally he had begun his musical career as director of the Collegium Musicum while still a law student—may have let Bach in on his negotiations with the Leipzig town council, which ultimately led to Bach’s move there. Perhaps Telemann felt bad at being offered the position of Capellmeister of Saxe-Weimar in 1716, for Bach had been counting on it but never got a look in. Telemann, on the other hand, was in 1716 riding crest after crest of popular acclaim. He was head-hunted by the Duke of Gotha, who offered him a package deal comprising the capellmeistership at Gotha, as well as the capellmeistership -at-large (‘von Haus aus’) which not only included Eisenach but took in the court of Wilhelm Ernst at Weimar and all the other courts in the Ernestine line: in short, Telemann was handed the musical sovereignty of several Saxon and Thuringian courts. These negotiations lasted over a year, and Telemann exploited them to the hilt. The happy outcome was an increase in salary, which he used to employ supplementary church musicians: Telemann indeed was fed up with having to direct, play and sing, all at the same time.

Other noteworthy successes in that year included Telemann’s decision to put on two public performances in the Barfüßerkirche of his setting of the Passion poem by the Hamburg town councillor Barthold Heinrich Brockes. Turning the church into a concert hall was controversial, if not sacrilegious; each listener had to buy a printed copy of the text, a programme, so to speak, without which the guards at the church door would refuse admittance. Brockes’s Passion was famous throughout Germany, enjoying the attention of Keiser, Mattheson, as well as Handel, so much so that the Landgrave of Hesse- Darmstadt himself came to the concert and his court orchestra provided musicians for the Passion and, a month later in May, attended the open-air performances of two cantatas and a serenata written to celebrate the birth of Archduke Leopold.

Located some 17 miles south of Frankfurt, Darmstadt was not merely a haven for Huguenot refugees, but also a hotbed of operatic ventures and musical activities instigated by the Capellmeister Christoph Graupner, who enjoyed the support of the Landgrave Ernst Ludwig, himself a dab hand at writing music. The Landgrave had earlier, between 1698 and 1701, sent a chancellery official, Ernst Christian Hesse, to study with the virtuosos Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray in Paris. By the time Telemann’s Brockes Passion was performed, Hesse had just resigned as Capelldirektor, after an unsurprising dispute amongst the female singers of Darmstadt following his marriage to one of them. Even so, we may safely assume that one of the performers at Telemann’s large-scale productions for civic occasions in Frankfurt was Johann Jakob Kress, who joined the Darmstadt court orchestra in 1712 as a talented violinist, although it again took the threat of resignation before he was made Konzertmeister in 1723. His act of desperation came about after his salary had fallen in arrears and his finances had become untenable at the very time his second son was born, in 1719. Telemann, who this time gave the baby both his names, may have been something of a trophy godfather, as there is no record of his subsequent involvement with the Kress family. There is no evidence that he took under his wing his namesake, Georg Philipp Kress, when the nine -year old’s father died tragically young in 1728. Quite apart from his elder brother Ludwig Albrecht, who only left home in 1731 to begin a musical apprenticeship (at the court of Löwenstein-Wertheim in Kleinheubach am Main), Georg Philipp had three younger siblings. His widowed mother barely coped; she died soon after, leaving the orphans in the care of their maternal grandmother.

Quite how we do not know, but Georg Philipp Kress received a musical education that allowed him to become an acclaimed virtuoso violinist, with a career that took him from the Mecklenburg court at Schwerin to Plön, Lübeck, Rostock, and ultimately to the University of Göttingen as Konzertmeister. Little else documents his life, much less his relationship with his godfather. Telemann, on the other hand, pursued Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s musical career avidly, as evinced by their frequent correspondences. Their friendship flourished despite the fact that Telemann had pipped Johann Sebastian Bach to the post not only at Eisenach, but at Leipzig and Hamburg as well. Telemann simply could not help being everybody’s first choice; as a celebrity sensation he rated alongside Georg Frideric Handel and Johann Adolf Hasse. Possibly with some tips on strategy from Telemann, Johann Sebastian landed himself the Cantorship and musical directorship at Leipzig in 1723, finally freeing himself from the shackles of a court appointment in Cöthen. He returned the favour by performing several of Telemann’s cantatas. The sources, however, are mostly silent about their contact—or for that matter, friendship—from this point onwards, in stark contrast to Telemann’s botanical exchanges with Handel.

With the death of Johann Sebastian Bach in 1750, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who had served as first harpsichordist at the Prussian court in Potsdam since 1740/41, was poised to succeed his father. His application nonetheless failed. He then tried his luck for an organist’s position at Zittau in 1753, again to no avail. Two years later he tried once more at Leipzig, failing yet again. On each occasion he had been supported by Telemann. Sensing CPE’s unhappiness—occasioned, no doubt, by much petitioning for a raise in salary (alternating with attempts to hand in his notice), and mindful of a decade and a half of service without due recognition of his status as composer and virtuoso— Frederick the Great finally granted him in 1756 an increase from 200 to 500 Reichstalers. This hard-fought victory can at best be described as Pyrrhic: Prussia suffered a massive depreciation in currency, as a result of the Seven Years War, and combined with the absence of the king from Berlin and a subsequent Russian invasion of the city, life at court juddered to a halt, not that Bach had been much involved in it. He was probably nursing a sulk, after crossing literary swords in 1755 with his second harpsichordist Christoph Nichelmann, a pupil of both his father at St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig and of Telemann. Bach took his case to the king, and won: he got his raise, and Nichelmann was allowed to leave royal service. Life in Potsdam became even more stifling in the austere aftermath of war. Bach sought refuge in the private musical circles of Berlin and the patronage of the king’s youngest sister Princess Anna Amelia. In 1767 Telemann died, having lived 86 years mostly in rude health, highly revered and heaped with honours, though rich in incident and drama: his wife—whose provincial manners and Hessian accent probably did not endear her to the smart Hamburg set—sought solace in retail therapy and gambling, running up debts greater than Telemann’s combined annual income. His friends rallied and passed the hat around, and Maria Catharina was despatched to a convent in Frankfurt. CPE Bach immediately applied for his position as Cantor of the Johaneum and musical director of the five principal churches of Hamburg, all of which very much resembling his father’s duties in Leipzig. For once he was successful. Telemann had earlier had a hand in engineering this succession by laying the path for his godson through securing useful contacts among influential circles in Hamburg. Reluctantly released by Frederick only ‘after repeated, most respectful requests’, Bach was installed in 1768, for which occasion Telemann’s grandson, Georg Michael, composed two cantatas. The ‘Berliner Bach’ became the ‘great Bach’, while the ‘großer Bach’, his father, became the ‘old Bach’.

The Virtuoso
In his letter of application to the Frankfurt city council, Telemann drafted an impressive CV which boasted a facility on a fascinating array of instruments, ranging from the standard, such as the violin (his principal instrument), cello, keyboard, and recorder, to the exotic, namely the chalumeau and calchedon. Like most men, hecould also sing baritone. This versatility is reflected in the diversity of instrumentation and broad range of styles in his immense output. In tribute to Telemann’s flute writing, Johann Joachim Quantz incorporated in his flute exercises for the king, the Solfeggi pour la Flûte Traversière avec l’enseignement, excerpts of the most challenging passages (with detailed comments) from Telemann’s XII Fantaisies à Travers sans Basse TWV 40:2- 13, Sechs Sonaten für zwei Querflöten oder Violinen TWV 40:101-6 (1727), as well as the Sechs Sonaten im Kanon TWV 40:118-23 (1738).

Despite being so highly rated by Frederick the Great’s flute guru Quantz, the name Telemann is not one which is immediately associated with the flute. Perhaps his flutemusic has been eclipsed by the sheer size of his oeuvre, or even diluted by his ability to write idiomatically for other instruments. His viola da gamba works demonstrate a profound understanding of German viol technique exemplified in the music of Johannes Schenck, with its characteristically difficult multiple stoppings, athletic string crossings, open-string pedals, passage-work, and counterpoint. All these techniques appear in the unaccompanied gamba sonata, which was possibly written for Hesse. It spans Lessons XV and XVI of Der getreue Music-Meister, a musical periodical issued and partly engraved by Telemann in 1728 and 1729.

Indeed publishing was another sphere of activity in which he was prodigious, displaying shrewd business acumen, and at the same time setting an important precedent for viewing music as the intellectual property of its creator. He was also canny enough to ensure that the music he issued to his subscribers remained playable and melodious. In so doing, his music found favour amongst dilettantes, in the homes of the burgeoning middle class, and professionals alike. His place in the pantheon of musical gods was proclaimed by Johann Mattheson in 1740:

A Lully fame has won,
Corelli may be praised.
But Telemann alone
Above all praise is raised.

In his autobiography of 1740 Telemann suggested that his colleagues had ‘flattered him’ by maintaining that ‘his greatest powers’ lay in his trio sonatas, in which he could make one melodic part work as hard as the other, both closely followed by ‘the bass proceeding in natural melody’. It was, however, his quartet writing that elevated him above his contemporaries. His mastery of this genre was acknowledged by Quantz, who, in his monumental flute (and performance) treatise of 1752, declared Telemann’s quartets ‘excellent and beautiful models for composition’. Dabbed with a strong ‘whiff of France’, and ‘dressed in an Italian cut’ (to quote Telemann’s phraseology), with matching Polish boots (to extend the metaphor), his cosmopolitan musical style embodied the ‘mixed taste’ or ‘vermischtes Geschmack’ of the German high baroque. In general he eschewed overt musical acrobatics redolent of the Vivaldian concerto, preferring to experiment with colours, sonorities and textures. These qualities clearly define the three manuscript quartets we have chosen, not that they are by any means wanting in virtuosity. Typically, Telemann adopted a flexible attitude to instrumentation, a feature of the performance practice of the baroque period. The G-major quartet TWV 43:G12 contains alternative parts for two violins, set an octave above the gamba parts. Taking a leaf from his book, we have adopted a similar practice with his C-major quartet TWV 43:C2 for flute, gamba, bassoon and harpsichord. Here the bassoon part is taken by another gamba; the scoring of such bass parts is often inconsequential. Many of Telemann’s quartets mention the bassoon in the title page, but have the bass part marked violoncello (e.g. TWV 43: G11) or viola da gamba (as an alternative to the cello, e.g. TWV 43: D1).

Telemann’s trios and quartets served as models for the younger generation, including his godsons. Kress’s virtuosity on the violin may have been widely celebrated, but his compositions were labelled (and libelled as) ‘awkward, wooden, and unmelodious’, criticisms which are clearly unfounded in the case of his flute trios: one in G major for flute, viola d’amore—here performed on a viola da gamba—and basso continuo; the other, though conceivably by his elder brother Ludwig Albrecht, for flute, viola da gamba and continuo, this time in G minor.

CPE Bach, too, often envisaged differing tonal colours for the same music. A case in point is a trio sonata in B-flat major, which exists in five versions. Apparently unwilling to let a good piece go by unnoticed, Bach made this trio a master class in imaginative adaptation. The configurations include two violins and continuo; violin or flute with obbligato harpsichord (substituting one of the melodic parts for the right hand of the keyboard being a common device); viola, bass recorder and continuo; bassoon, bass recorder and harpsichord (transposed to F major); and, two harpsichords. In the light of such unfettered and extravagant transformations, our recasting of the unattractively low violin part into a more feasible viol part in the Arioso H. 535 seems downright conservative. By the time the work was written in 1781, the viol had become an anachronism, played only by antiquarian specialists like Carl Friedrich Abel, and long past the brief resurgence of interest in Berlin indicated by the correspondence between the Crown Prince of Prussia (Frederick’s son Wilhelm Friedrich) and Jean-Baptiste Forqueray in 1767. Still, the vocal quality of the viol serves to accentuate the lyrical shape of the keyboard part, emphasized by the characterful ‘sostenuto’ marking.

The undated Fantasia H. 639 on the chorale ‘Jesu meines Lebens Leben’ is an enigma. Of the four parts, only the chorale voice has an instrumental designation, namely the oboe, here easily and musically interchangeable with a flute, in recognition of (and sympathy with) CPE’s many years of performing flute-orientated music. After all, writing and performing flute music was a career imperative for those working for the despotic Frederick the Great. The other parts are allocated to a keyboard instrument—a chamber organ, on account of the sacred theme—and a pardessus viol. (Like his father, CPE wrote three sonatas for the gamba, but it has recently been argued, on the basis of internal musical evidence, that two of them were possibly intended for the pardessus viol.) More problematic is the authorship. One source of the chorale fantasia is in an unknown hand responsible for many authentic CPE Bach manuscripts, although the attribution to “Em. Bach” seems to be in a different hand. The other source was anonymously copied in the nineteenth century, and only attributed in a modern hand in pencil. The archaic style reminiscent of Johann Sebastian’s is intriguing without being unduly intractable: CPE’s stylistic expression was wilfully (but imaginatively) idiosyncratic and unorthodox, vacillating between unassuming and schizophrenic, and ranging from strict counterpoint to the galant and empfindsam styles. The notion that he tried to pass the piece off as his father’s—like many sons of famous composers (such as Forqueray)—certainly does not enter into the equation. One of CPE’s earliest compositions was a trio sonata written around the time he matriculated at the University of Leipzig in 1731. Although the work is now lost, we know from the posthumous register of his works (the Nachlaßverzeichnis of 1790) that he had added the rubric ‘composed in collaboration with Johann Sebastian Bach’, not without, perhaps, a tinge of filial pride.

Kah-Ming Ng © 2006

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