TELEMANN – Six Concertos

Telemann’s flute and harpsichord concertos

Six Concerts et Six Suites pour le Clavessin et Flûte traversière, ou pour le Clavessin, Traversière et Violoncello, ou pour le Violon, Traversière et Violoncello ou Fondement, ou pour le Clavessin, Violon, Traversière et Violoncello faits par Telemann :

The precise date and location of the first edition of this collection remains shrouded in mystery. Despite a consensus that the second edition was published in 1734 in Hamburg, the first edition was probably published sometime between 1715 and 1720, also in Hamburg.

Although during this time Telemann had not as yet been appointed to the post of Kantor at theJohanneum Lateinschule in Hamburg, he had nevertheless already begun to establish many links with this city in which several of his works had already been performed. It is for this reason that it is thought that this collection may have first been published there. One thing that we do know, however, is that Telemman was given the post of musical director of the city’s five churches on September 17, 1721, and that he was further to take up the post of Kantor at the Johanneum Lateinschule the following October 16.

The version of the collection, published in 1734 in Hamburg, is made up of four volumes (one for each instrument) and carries the French title of : VI Concerts et VI Suites ˆ Clavessin concertant, Flûte traversière et Violoncello, etc ; par Telemann. Afin que faute d’un Joueur du Clavessin assés habile, cette Musique soit néanmoins praticable, l’on transformera le Clavessin en un Violon, qui sera séparément imprimé et l’on ajoutera des chiffres au Violoncello. This version, which is generally considered to be the second edition, uses the same printing plates as the undated first edition, except for pages 1 and 17, which were rendered unusable by wear, as well as for the title page where the different combinations of instruments are replaced by a simple “etc.” Published later on in a German version in Hamburg in 1735, the collection maintains the same title as the French version of 1734, and includes several corrections and revisions made to the text by Telemann, who appears to have supervised the printing of the anthology.

In light of the two known versions of the Six Concerts et Six Suites, it appears that Telemann’s initial intention was to compose these works for harpsichord and transverse flute. It is in keeping with the spirit of the period, however, that he provided, as part of the undated first version, a series of alternative instrumental combinations that could be used to perform the pieces. It was not unusual for the composer to write different instrumental combinations for the same work. Telemann had already done so for his Kleine Kammermusik (1716), for example. The fact that he suggests four different versions in the present case, however, is evidence of a desire to render these works accessible to the greatest number of performers possible. Above all it should be remarked that the various types of instrumentation provided by Telemann nevertheless maintain the primary characteristic of the original ensemble: that is, a concept of two upper voices and one bass voice, with the addition of the cello serving simply to reinforce the latter.

A formal and stylistic analysis of the collection reveals to a certain degree Telemann’s “eclectic” personality as far as form and style are concerned, since he does not hesitate to combine French and Italian elements, particularly in the case of the Suites found in the collection. As well, Telemann’s use of the term “Concerts” in this edition deserves an explanation in order to avoid confusion. This title serves mainly to bring to our attention the concertant character of these works, in which we find a blend of elements from the trio sonata and the sonata da chiesa, a genre of which Telemann was particularly fond. The Concerts are especially related to the latter genre in terms of their characteristic succession of four movements in contrasting tempos (slow-fast-slow-fast) as well as in terms of their Italian names (Largo, Vivace etc.).

As far as a stylistic analysis is concerned, in the first movements of the four Concerts the two upper voices tend towards contrapuntal imitation, rather than towards melodic harmonization in which one voice takes precedence over the other. In the second movements, there are numerous passages in fugal style as well as successions of short melodic and rhythmic motives. The third movements abandon the imitative textures found so frequently in the first movements in favour of passages in parallel thirds and sixths. The fourth movements are clearly inspired by the concluding movements typical of older trio sonatas and also borrow certain elements from dance movements (ornamented repetitions of the principal theme, for example).

It would thus be incorrect to view these Concerts as Italian-style concertos for flute and orchestra retranscribed for flute and harpsichord, just as it would be wrong to view them as solo concertos. In reality, there is not really a great deal of contrast between those instruments that might be thought of as soloistic and those that might be considered apt to play the ritornello. One exception is the third movement (Largo) of the first concerto, where a number of soloistic passages cannot help but suggest a “vivaldi-esque” solo concerto form. Nonetheless, the fact remains that here we are dealing with concertos written for two concertant and obligato instruments, more precisely for harpsichord and transverse flute.

©2001 Translation by Sean Ferguson for Traçantes, the music research, text-writing, and translation service of the Société québécoise de recherche en musique (SQRM).