TELEMANN: Musique de Table (Tafelmusik), Vol. 1 (Chris Craker/ Orchestra of the Golden Age) (Naxos: 8.553724)
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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Musique de table (Tafelmusik) Part I
Georg Philipp Telemann was among the most distinguished composers of his time, a rival to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach in reputation, and the certain preference of the Leipzig authorities for the position of Cantor at the St Thomas Choir School, where Bach was eventually appointed in 1723. Telemann had, in 1721, taken the position of Cantor of the Johanneum in Hamburg, with musical responsibility for the five principal city churches of the city. His negotiations with Leipzig a year later proved the means to secure better conditions in Hamburg, where he remained until his death in 1767. He was succeeded there by his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian.
Born in Magdeburg in 1681, Telemann belonged to a family that had long been connected with the Lutheran Church. His father was a clergyman and his mother the daughter of a clergyman, while his elder brother also took orders, a path that he too might have followed, had it not been for his exceptional musical ability. As a child he showed some precocity, but it was while he was a student at Leipzig University, which he entered in 1701, that a career in music became inevitable. He founded the University Collegium Musicum that Bach was later to direct and in 1703 became musical director of the Leipzig Opera, composing some twenty operas himself. At the same time he involved his fellow-students in a great deal of public performance, to the annoyance of the Thomascantor, Bach's immediate predecessor Kuhnau, who saw his prerogative now endangered.
After Leipzig Telemann went on to become Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz, a nobleman with a taste for French music, and in 1708 moved to Eisenach, following this with a position as director of music to the city of Frankfurt am Main in 1712. There were other offers of employment elsewhere, but it was to Hamburg that he finally moved in 1721, to remain there for the rest of his life.
As a composer Telemann was prolific, providing an enormous body of work, both sacred and secular. This included 1043 church cantatas and 46 settings of the Passions, one for each of the years he was in Hamburg. He continued to involve himself in public performances of opera in Hamburg, arousing some opposition from the city council, his employers. Once he had strengthened his position he took additional responsibility as director of the Hamburg Opera, while active in publishing and selling much of the music that he wrote. Four years Bach's senior, he outlived him by seventeen years, so that by the time of his death Haydn was 35 and Mozart was eleven. His musical style developed with the times, from the characteristically late Baroque to the new stile galant exemplified by his godson.
Telemann's Musique de table was published in 1733, a collection of music divided into three productions, each one containing an Overture with a suite for seven instruments, a quartet, a concerto for seven instruments, a trio, a solo and a conclusion for seven instruments, advertised as offering a variety of instrumentation. On the title-page where this is announced Telemann declares himself to be Ma?«tre de Chapelle to Their Highnesses the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach and the Margrave of Bayreuth and Director of Music in Harnburg. Telemann had been appointed to the position of Kapellmeister von Haus aus (visiting Kapellmeister) to the Duke of Saxe-Eisenach in 1717, with the dut y of providing music for the church, Tafel Music and the necessary music for solemn occasions. The appointment confirmed his earlier activity and residence at Eisenach from 1708 until 1712, when he took up his appointment in Frankfurt. In Leipzig, Eisenach and Frankfurt, as subsequently in Hamburg, he was closely involved with the provision and performance of instrumental music. In Hamburg he held regular weekly meetings of the Collegium Musicum, at first in his house and then in the Drillhaus, reviving an institution comparable to that he had founded in Leipzig and worked with in Frankfurt, but which before his arrivai had fallen into abeyance.
Telemann's wide reputation by 1733 is witnessed by the list of 206 subscribers to the Musique de table. 52 of these came from abroad and included among them musicians of great distinction, such as the French flautist and composer Blavet and, from London, Mr. Hendel Docteur en Musique, while German subscribers ranged from members of the nobility to leading figures in the world of music.
The work is in the French style. As Telemann explained in a letter to the composer Graun, since there was nothing new to be found in melody, so novelty must be sought in the harmony, an unduly modest assessment of his achievement.
The opening suite starts with a French Ouverture, scored for two flutes and strings. A slow introduction, marked Lentement and repeated, is followed by a fugal section, leading to a passage in thirds for the flutes, followed later by a passage for two solo violins and then by moments of prominence for a solo cello. The music of the slow introduction duly retums, followed by a repetition of the rapid fugato, concluded by the retum of the slow introduction. The second movement, Rejouissance, a cheerful French element in Galanterien of the period, frarnes a central section for solo flutes and violins with continua between a repeated outer section that reflects Telemann's elsewhere expressed musical idea of French esprit. This is followed by a Rondeau in which the opening section returns between passages for the solo instruments, the second of which again finds room for the display of a solo cello. The Loure, here in 6/4, has been described as a slow gigue. Once again the opening section is used to frame a central section for solo instruments. There is a rapid Passepied, with a central section for solo instruments in the key of E major. The dance keeps the characteristic break in rhythm towards the close of the framing outer section. The Air that follows has the dimensions in itself of a concerto movement, with three sections for the solo instruments, punctuated by the opening ritornello, the retuming phrases that give the movement its structure. The suite ends with the now customary Gigue, where full scope is found for French notes inegales, the unwritren code by which adjacent notes written as equal might be played in an uneven, dotted rhythm.
The Quartet in G major is scored for flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo. It starts with a slow movement in the dotted compound rhythm of a Siciliana. This leads to a fugato and a retum of the slow introduction. Flute and violin offer a contrapuntal duet at the start of the Vivace, joined by the oboe. This is interrupted by a slower passage, marked Moderato and in E minor. The Vivace retums to restore the original key and mood, a display of the light-hearted contrapuntal technique that endeared Telemann to contemporary musical amateurs. A brief transitional passage forms a bridge to the final Vivace, in the rhythm of a gigue, bringing the quartet to an ebullient end.
The third section of the first part of the Musique de table is a Concerto for solo flute and violin, with passages for solo cello. After the opening passage for the whole ensemble, the flute enters, echoed by the violin. Before long a place is found for a solo cello, which now joins with the other solo in