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Suite in A minor


Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) played the recorder himself and wrote more music for the instrument than probably any other composer in history: duets, solo sonatas, trio sonatas, quartets, concertos, suites and cantatas, as well as obbligato parts in a vast repertoire of vocal works that we have hardly explored. In 1936, towards the beginning of the twentieth-century Telemann renaissance, Eulenburg published an edition of a ‘Suite in A minor for flute and string orchestra’ which rapidly became the composer’s most widely performed composition. Modern flautists took it up with alacrity, but recorder players soon took note: Telemann called for fluto, a Baroque word for recorder rather than flute, and the key and the compass of the solo part fit the treble recorder perfectly. By the 1960s, the suite had become the most widely performed work by any composer for recorder and orchestra. If the Vivaldi concertos have now edged ahead of it in recorded performances, it is because of the modern recorder professionals’ love of display. Nevertheless, Telemann’s suite is not without its own technical challenges, and it was clearly intended for a professional—presumably one at the Hesse court in Darmstadt, in whose library the manuscript is found today.

Telemann actually called the work an Ouverture, the designation for a French-style overture followed by a suite of dances. But if we are expecting a standard pattern of dances such as allemande, sarabande, courante and gigue, we are in for a surprise. Rather, Telemann treats us to a mixture of movements such as we could not find in the works of any other late Baroque composer. He was the leading proponent of a mixed style of composition that blended French, Italian, and German elements. And what set him further apart from his contemporaries was his use of elements of ‘Polish and Moravian [folk] music in their true barbaric beauty’ (autobiography, 1740), which he had heard during his stint as Kapellmeister in Sorau in 1705-08. Telemann was also the pioneer of a mixed type of work which the critic Johann Adolf Scheibe called Concertouverture (concerto-suite)—a suite with parts for one or more concertante instruments (in our case, of course, the recorder) in addition to the customary strings.

The overture to the A minor suite commences in that French manner invented by Jean-Baptiste Lully, all courtly dotted notes and ornaments played by the recorder and strings together, then a fast section in four-part counterpoint. The texture is simplified to usher in the Italianate recorder, whose three concerto-like solo sections become longer and more impassioned. Les Plaisirs (the pleasures) is a capricious French dance movement with a hint of Polish folk music about it. After a first part for strings, the recorder has the trio accompanied by basso continuo alone. Then follows an ‘air in the Italian style’, like the slow movement of some magnificent concerto, with a twisting, turning melody line and many chromatic surprises. But the biggest surprise is the sudden transformation of the movement into an Allegro, with passage work reminiscent of Telemann’s recorder sonatas over a simple accompaniment. The first section then returns da capo.

The ensuing Menuet for the strings has an angular melody and an alternation of emphasis between first and second beats. The recorder dominates the trio, which has the character of a double, or ornamental variation, although the harmonic scheme is altered, and the style again owes as much to Poland as to France or Italy. The next movement, Réjouissance, rejoices with lively snippets passed between strings and soloist as well as contrasting passage work for the recorder, at first stepwise leading to a climax on g”’ (the note that Vivaldi avoided), then arpeggios. A pair of sprightly Passepieds follows the pattern of the Menuets heard earlier: a first dance played by the strings alone, then a trio for the recorder, this time accompanied by the basso continuo and, for the only time in the work, switching to the parallel major key (A major). The last movement is a Polonaise, a Polish dance far removed from the civilized examples of Chopin over a century later. The folk style comes to the fore in the snapping rhythms of the strings and the recorder’s repeated notes and winding, slurred groups of semiquavers, like some inspired tavern fiddler warming to his task.

from notes by David Lasocki © 2004


Telemann: Recorder Concertos
CDH55091Archive Service


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