Rebelles Baroque – Program notes

Delightful Rebels

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was considered in his time as the foremost among German composers. Admired by colleagues and amateurs alike, his works were crucial in the consolidation and evolution of music in Germany during the entire first half of the eighteenth century.

After the death of his clergyman father in 1685, young Georg Philipp’s mother destined him initially to follow the same professional path, but the boy’s interests quickly turned to music. By the age of ten, he was already playing keyboard instruments, the violin, recorder and zither, as well as beginning to study composition. When at the age of 12 he embarked upon the composition of an opera, his mother and preceptors forbade him the pursuit of his musical ambitions and confiscated his instruments. In secret, though, he continued to perfect his musical skills despite the more conventional course of study his mother imposed upon him. And thanks to some fortunate encounters, he was encouraged to persevere in music, taking up the flute and the oboe, among other instruments. A brilliant student in academic subjects, he was admitted to Leipzig University in 1701, choosing law to please his mother. But music was to take the upper hand once again, and for good.

Determinedly, he set out to organize public concerts in numerous collegia musica, delve into music education and theory, and especially compose a prodigious body of work: sacred and secular cantatas, oratorios, and some 50 operas, not to mention his revival of the German lied through several publications. Drawing from many musical traditions, one of his main concerns was to develop a new and vigorous German national style that blended the French and Italian manners with the long-established Germanic attention to counterpoint.

Almost all of Telemann’s instrumental music dates from before 1740 and covers several genres, including some 125 orchestral suites and many sonatas with and without accompaniment. There are also approximately 125 concertos for one to four soloists or for ensemble, only three of which had been published during his lifetime. Very active as a music publisher, Telemann naturally favoured the most lucrative market—that offered by his own chamber music. This explains why the bulk of his extant music for larger ensembles exists only in manuscript copies, and since almost none of these are autographs, their exact chronology is almost impossible to determine.

The three concertos by Telemann in this recording were probably composed before 1721 in Eisenach or Frankfurt, for the public concerts presented in the latter city by the collegium musicum of the Frauenstein society which he directed. If several of the concertos of this period “smell of France,” whiffs of which are noticeable in the Flute Concerto in D major, there is a distinct Italian aroma (mostly owing to Torelli’s influence) in the String Concerto in E major, surviving manuscript copies of which bear an attribution to “Melante,” the Italianate anagram of Telemann’s name. As for the Viola Concerto in G major, distinctly Italian in its idiom, it is probably the first solo concerto for this instrument and shows Telemann’s keen interest in unprecedented timbres. Note that to the usual three-movement form of the Italian concerto, Telemann prefers the four-movement structure inherited from the sonata da chiesa.

Like his elder colleague Telemann whom he admired, Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773)—although quite a bit less eclectic—was nurtured in the principal European musical idioms, thanks to his education and his many travels throughout Germany, but also to Poland, Bohemia, France, Italy, and England. And yet he was first destined to become a blacksmith like his father, until the latter’s death in 1707 left the young Quantz free to embark upon a life in music. Again like Telemann, he studied many instruments, including the violin, oboe, trumpet, and cornets. He finally settled on the transverse flute, studying briefly with Buffardin in Dresden and profiting from his acquaintance with Blavet in Paris. It is, however, his (and Telemann’s) friend, the konzertmeister of the Dresden court orchestra J.G. Pisendel, whom Quantz credits with having best instructed him in the manner of playing and composing according to the principle of the goûts réunis, the “mixed tastes” of the French and Italian styles. Having thereafter become the flute teacher and composer to King Frederick the Great of Prussia, as of 1741 composing exclusively for the monarch, Quantz left some 184 sonatas and 281 concertos for his favourite instrument. He is also well remembered for his important essay on the transverse flute, which also gives much precious information on some aspects of historical performance practice.

The two concertos by Quantz in this program can be found in manuscript copies housed in Dresden. The Flute Concerto in D major bears the number 144 in the catalogued works that belonged to Frederick the Great, preserved in Berlin. The Concerto for Two Flutes in G minor bears no royal catalogue number, but exists equally in an alternate form including oboe and bassoon parts added by Pisendel. The version with string and continuo accompaniment alone is the one presented here. Both these works are wonderfully suited to exhibiting Quantz’s ideal of “a bright, incisive, broad, round, masculine but pleasant tone.”

© Jacques-André Houle