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The Godfather

Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: February 2019
Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, United Kingdom
Produced by Simon Fox-Gál
Engineered by Simon Fox-Gál
Release date: November 2019
Total duration: 64 minutes 8 seconds
 

If you like your Baroque concertos fast and furious—and who doesn’t?—this is the one for you. If the music and some of the composers’ names are unfamiliar, then you have a treat in store. Unmissable.

Reviews

‘A highly enjoyable mix of eighteenth-century concertos from around Europe reminding us how interrelated many of these composers' lives—and their music—actually were’ (BBC Record Review)

‘Some series there are which get things so consistently right that … it’s very difficult to say anything new about them … La Serenissima’s undoubted expertise in Vivaldi is now equalled by their Telemann … [there] are fine all-Telemann special collections, but I’d find it hard to prefer any one of them to La Serenissima on the new album’ (MusicWeb International)

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The musical world of eighteenth-century Europe was a small one. Despite the problems presented by contemporary standards of transport, it was quite normal for composers in one part of Europe to be entirely au fait with what was happening elsewhere. This is borne out by the closeness of three German composers: Telemann, godfather to C P E Bach; Pisendel; and J S Bach, who admired both his compatriots and composed some astoundingly difficult music for the violinist Pisendel.

This programme celebrates their music as well as the music of those who contributed to their musical heritage. Included alongside the German triumvirate are works by Vivaldi who physically helped with the composition of Pisendel’s A minor concerto movement, Fasch who was a great friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Brescianello, an Italian who helped in the dissemination of Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands and whose concertos were played in Dresden by Pisendel.

The Godfather
Telemann controversially declared in his 1718 autobiography that his concertos ‘mostly smell of France’; he complained that the form as a whole generally contained ‘many difficulties and awkward leaps … little harmony and even poorer melody’. There can be little doubt that these scathing remarks were directed principally at certain celebrated Italian composers; the irony is that Telemann’s concertos imitate the Italian style so well, fused as they are with German and French elements in the manner of his famous ‘mixed taste’. His 1740 autobiography indicates a change of heart asserting that of all the national styles, he had absorbed that of Italy the last; his eventual acceptance of the Italian style led to many such works being performed at his public concerts, and for concertos by Vivaldi, Albinoni and Tessarini being included as entr’acte entertainments between the acts of his comic opera Pimpinone in Hamburg, 1725.

Telemann probably started composing concertos during his period at Eisenach, where he was in the employ of Duke Johann-Wilhelm of Saxe-Eisenach. It is also during this period that he initially met Johann Sebastian Bach (whose brother Johann Bernhard Bach was both town organist and court harpsichordist); Telemann and Bach got along so well that Telemann was named godfather to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1714.

Telemann soon grew dissatisfied with life at the Eisenach court and in 1712, he took a pay-cut and moved to Frankfurt where he assumed the post of city director of music as well as that of Kapellmeister at the Barfüsserkirche. It was here that he re-instated the collegium musicum of the Frauenstein society, an association of patricians and bourgeoisie that presented weekly concerts. This provided a platform for Telemann to present numerous compositions such as the large concerto in D (TWV54:D3) which was composed in about 1716, around the same time that it also appeared as the sinfonia to his serenata Deutschland grünt und blüht im Friede (TWV12:1c).

Telemann came into contact with a wealth of Italian music through the dissemination of manuscripts and available publications. He knew many Italian musicians and composers who plied their trade north of the Alps, but perhaps the most influential figure in this respect was his lifelong friend, the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, for whom Telemann composed an ode when news reached him of his friend’s death.

Pisendel had studied the violin with Torelli whilst he was a chorister at the court of Ansbach. On leaving Ansbach, Pisendel journeyed to the University of Leipzig (where Telemann also studied) stopping off en route in Weimar where he met Bach. He then proceeded to the court of Dresden in 1712, in whose employ he remained for the rest of his life. It was whilst accompanying the electoral prince on one of his many tours that he met and befriended Vivaldi. Pisendel spent nine months studying with Vivaldi in Venice in 1716, before returning to continue his studies in 1717. In addition to violin lessons, Pisendel also studied composition with Vivaldi as proven by the concerto movement for violin in A minor; this manuscript shows several corrections in Vivaldi’s hand. Vivaldi may have set this piece as a compositional exercise for Pisendel as it borrows material from the second and sixth concertos of Vivaldi’s ground-breaking L’estro armonico (Opus 3). It also provides links with Bach’s concertos: there is a striking resemblance between the ritornello of Pisendel’s work and that of the first movement of Bach’s double violin concerto. Additionally, the concluding bariolage passage possesses parallels in terms of technique, key and harmonic structure with an episode towards the end of Bach’s violin concerto in A minor (BWV1041). Given the quality of Pisendel’s music, it is unfortunate that he produced so little; most of his surviving oeuvre features the solo violin; the concerto movement for 2 oboes, bassoon and strings is unique.

Due to the aforementioned correspondences between the works of Bach and Pisendel, it seems logical to assume that Bach saw the manuscript of his friend’s violin concerto movement before composing his own violin concertos. It has long been supposed that Bach composed his unaccompanied works for violin with Pisendel in mind; the gargantuan nature of these pieces certainly matches the Herculean technique possessed by Pisendel. Indeed, it is conceivable that Pisendel’s playing style contributed towards anything of virtuosity that Bach composed for the violin, such as the concerto movement in D (BWV1045); it is hard to imagine anyone other than Pisendel playing this work. Bach was frequently in contact with the court at Dresden and made a visit there in 1741, shortly in advance of the work’s proposed compositional date of 1743. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Bach may have penned this single-movement work for the Dresden court (where such works appear to have been popular) before recycling the material in an introductory sinfonia to a lost cantata (the alternative title of Sinfonia appears squeezed into the space between the original title and the first stave of the manuscript).

Another musician in Pisendel’s circle—and who also had Vivaldian connections—was Johann Friedrich Fasch, who spent most of his career at the court of Anhalt-Zerbst (where he became acquainted with Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, who later became known as Catherine the Great). Fasch had attended the famous Leipzig Thomasschule where Bach was to become kantor in 1723 (after both Telemann and Christoph Graupner had declined the post). Much of his career from 1708 until 1721 was spent either in Leipzig or travelling throughout Germany, but in 1721, he moved to Prague to become Componist to Count Wenzel von Morzin who granted Vivaldi the title of Maestro di Musica in Italia; it was the virtuoso bassoonist of Morzin’s famous orchestra, Antonin Reichenauer, for whom Vivaldi penned most of his bassoon concertos.

Given the reverence in which Vivaldi was held in Morzin’s establishment, it seems certain that Fasch would have encountered many of Vivaldi’s concertos there, possibly including Le Quattro Stagioni which was already in the repertoire of Morzin’s orchestra before its publication and dedication (to Morzin) in 1725. It is therefore unsurprising that much of Fasch’s solo violin music bears a distinctively Vivaldian touch. This would have been particularly welcomed by Bach (who is known to have possessed instrumental music by Fasch) and Pisendel, who received regular instalments of music from Fasch for the Dresden court; Pisendel sent manuscripts by return in way of recompense. The present concerto is one of two surviving concertos that share a similar scoring; whilst we can’t be certain that this work was one of those sent to Dresden, a fragment of its sibling currently resides amongst the archives of the Dresden court orchestra.

Sadly, only around thirty per cent of Fasch’s output has survived, as is shown by an inventory of court musical sources compiled in 1743; Fasch is the composer who appears most frequently, followed by Vivaldi, and then by Telemann—Fasch’s idol—in third place.

Whilst the influence of the Italian style on German composers has received much musicological discussion, little has so far been written on the impact that the German style had on the Italians. The Italians were not immune to German tastes, as chamber works by Telemann in the hand of Giovanni Battista Vivaldi (Antonio’s father) show; further evidence can be found in the music of the Munich-based Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco and Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, who worked alongside Dall’Abaco in Munich before taking a post at the Württemberg court in Stuttgart. Brescianello is almost the only Italian to have composed orchestral suites (a form in which Telemann and Fasch excelled); he also composed concertos such as that for violin and bassoon, predominantly Italian in their outlook, yet fused with a German harmonic twist.

Despite this more cosmopolitan approach favoured by some Italians, there was still a large demand for Vivaldi’s concertos, particularly amongst the European virtuosi. Along with Tartini, Vivaldi stood at the forefront of advances in violin technique with many of his violin concertos demanding technical wizardry from the soloist. Occasionally, Vivaldi would find himself adapting a concerto for a different soloist who required the work to be tailored to his or her particular strengths. Concertos that show such reworkings include the concerto in E minor (RV281) and the concerto in B flat (RV365). To these may be added the concerto movement in B flat (RV745) which probably served as a replacement to a concerto finale; the use of bariolage and upbow staccato are typical of his late concertos. Also belonging to this late period is the Concerto ripieno in A (RV158) which is one of around sixty such works that were composed for strings and continuo without soloist. This piece shows Vivaldi moving towards the classical style with its embryonic use of sonata form.

Adrian Chandler © 2019

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