QUANTZ: Flute Sonatas (David Schulenberg/ Jean-Francois Beaudin/ Mary Oleskiewicz/ Stephanie Vial) (Naxos: 8.555064)
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Johann Joachim Quantz (1697-1773)
Johann Joachim Quantz was the most important flute virtuoso of the eighteenth century. Best known today for his Essay on Playing the Flute (Berlin, 1752), he wrote some two hundred sonatas for flute and continuo, about forty trio sonatas for two instruments and continuo, six quartets for flute, violin, viola and continuo, and some three hundred concertos for flute and strings. Many of these works were composed for King Frederick II of Prussia, Frederick the Great, himself an accomplished flautist and composer whom Quantz taught and later served as royal court musician from 1741 until his death. In addition, the eight surviving flutes by Quantz were probably all made for King Frederick.
Before coming to Berlin Quantz had served the Saxon court in Dresden, where he played from 1718 first as a member of the Polish Chapel - the Elector of Saxony was also King of Poland - and from 1728 in the elite Hofkapelle. There he formed his distinctive style of playing and made the fundamental alteration in flute design for which he is most famous, the addition of a second key, which made it easier than on existing one-key flutes to play in a broad variety of tonalities. To this he later added a tuning slide in the head, further improving the tuning and the sound of the instrument. The striking qualities of Quantzs flutes, the ideal tone of which he described as "full, thick, round, and masculine", reflected the vocal timbres of the virtuoso Italian opera singers favoured in early eighteenth-century Dresden. This, together with the low French chamber pitch preferred by Quantz, enlivens his music with unusual warmth and vibrancy. The present release is the first recording of six of Quantzs Dresden solo and trio sonatas, performed on precise copies of the flutes he built and in the manner which he set forth in his Essay. The improvised keyboard continuo accompaniment employs fortepiano as well as harpsichord, since both instruments were known and used at Dresden and Berlin.
The English writer Charles Burney left a famous account of one of King Fredericks private flute concerts, during which only music by Quantz and the King was performed, and only Quantz enjoyed the privilege of congratulating (or criticizing) the Kings playing. Burneys account, written at the very end of Quantzs career, encouraged a view of Quantz as a minor composer, restricted to a conservative pre-Classical or galant idiom, but, as these Dresden sonatas show, Quantzs music encompasses great variety, incorporating baroque fugues and dances, expressive chromaticism, and even imitations of operatic recitative, together with the graceful melodic writing and virtuoso passage-work that caught Burneys attention. The latter traits, inspired by the concertos of Vivaldi and the opera arias of Johann Adolph Hasse, the leading composer of opera at Dresden, and Quantzs friend, were sufficiently exciting during the 1720s and 1730s to inspire not only Quantz but J.S. Bach, whose later flute works show signs of having been composed with Quantzs music and instruments in mind.
Although it is impossible to attach precise dates to these works, none of which was published during Quantzs lifetime, the earliest may be the Sonata in G minor, QV 1:116. It is one of twenty sonatas preserved in a manuscript now in Berlin. Dating perhaps from around 1720, these pieces show the youthful composer testing his abilities by writing in all styles, genres, and keys. The sonata opens with an aria-like movement followed by a strict double fugue. The next movement, an obvious imitation of Italian recitative although not so marked, introduces a French-style minuet in the form of a rondeau. The Sonata in C, QV 1:9, must be a somewhat later work; its Handelian opening movement leads to an Allegro seemingly inspired by an aria in Hasses opera Cleofide, first staged in Dresden in 1731.
The two trio sonatas must also be relatively early (Quantz wrote no such works after leaving Dresden). The work in E flat reflects the interest at Dresden in use of the flute in tonalities not traditionally associated with the instrument. For technical reasons, the flute produces a lovely veiled or muted sound in this key, contrasting strongly with the brightness of the other trio, in D major. The latter work is notable for its opening theme, an exact inversion of a melody used several times by Handel, who visited Dresden in 1719 (Quantz later visited Handel in London in 1727). The quick movements of the Trio in D major incorporate solo passages for each of the two flutes, recalling the favourite Dresden orchestral form of the period, the concerto. This work is of special interest because excerpts from it appear in a manuscript set of exercises, known as the Solfeggi, which Quantz later seems to have prepared for his Berlin students. Annotations in the Solfeggi give suggestions for ornamentation and articulation which are included in this recording.
The Sonata in D major, QV 1:42 also resembles a concerto, not only in its generally virtuoso character but in its sequence of three movements, fast-slow-fast. Together with five other such solo sonatas by Quantz, it might have been part of a set composed for Frederick shortly before Quantzs departure for Berlin. Lacking the initial slow movement favoured in Quantzs earlier sonatas, these works superficially take a form that would become the norm for most later eighteenth-century sonatas. They differ, however, in the through-composed design of the first movement, rendering them more typical of the contemporary concerto or symphony. The sonata is particularly striking for its highly expressive second movement, which opens on a dissonance, outside its home key, a device today associated with the Berlin court harpsichordist Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who perhaps picked up this and other expressive devices from his older colleague Quantz.
In Quantzs Berlin sonatas it is the second slow movement that is usually missing, resulting in a slow-fast-fast (or slow-fast-moderate) design. Thus the Sonata in G minor, QV:128, probably a relatively early Dresden work, may originally have had a second slow movement that Quantz deleted for performance at Berlin. He nevertheless must have kept this work in his own repertory and in that of his students, for he quoted a particularly difficult passage from the second movement in his Essay.
Although little-known today, with such works Quantz established himself as the greatest eighteenth-century composer for the flute. Especially when played on instruments of his own design and according to his own performance instructions, they reveal the brilliance and expressivity that captivated audiences at royal courts throughout Europe and inspired contemporaries such as Bach and Telemann to treat the newly redesigned flute as an instrument well suited to the most varied and profound music.
Mary Oleskiewicz is an international performer on the baroque flute, a highly regarded teacher of historical and modern woodwind instruments, and one of the leading scholars of her generation on the music of J.S. Bach and his contemporaries. She was first prize winner in 2001 in the triennial Baroque Flute Artist competition of the National Flute Association and a finalist in the 1998 Early Music America/Dorian recording competition, and her performance at the 1997 Boston Early Music Festival was critically acclaimed. Recent performance credits include the Great Performers Series at Lincoln Center, the 1999 Boston Early Music Festival, and the Library of Congress. Her edition of chamber works by J. J. Quantz was publi