Angèle Dubeau, O.C., C.Q., O.M., DFA has pursued a career as a classical musician for over 40 years and has played in as many countries, always with the same passion, zest and generosity. Beyond her [...]
They spoke about it
Georg Philipp Telemann is without a doubt one of the two or three most prolific composers in history. At the end of his long life — he died in his 87th year — he left more works than those of Bach and Handel put together. Throughout his life, he kept up an unrelenting pace of activity. In all the cities where he worked — Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach and Frankfort — he composed, founded musical associations, conducted and taught without a break.
Established in Hamburg from 1721 until his death in 1767, he was director of music for the city’s five main churches and musical director of the Opera, among other activities. He organized many public concerts, wrote music for all major feasts, civic ceremonies, anniversaries and commemorations, published dozens of volumes of cantatas and sonatas for all instruments (some of which he engraved for printing himself), and managed the subscription sales throughout Europe of some of his major collections, notably his three sets of Musique de table. He also found time to write didactic works and to correspond with a number of prominent people in France and Germany.
Telemann was a man of his time. His æsthetics were typical of the 18th century: learned polyphonic constructions — judged to be against reason, as astonishing as that may seem to us now — should be abandoned, and the melody should express and sing with a hint of harmonic audacity, as well as describe or evoke nature. The goal of all this was to touch, to please, sometimes to surprise, and to awake in the listener various passions by means of a sensory experience.
Telemann considered music to have a diplomatic and social function. It must not be complicated, but rather easy, in the good sense of the word, and accessible to all. It must unite nations, even more, human beings, and spread harmony among all. All Telemann’s work as an editor, writer and organizer had but one goal: to help people enjoy making and listening to music. A great admirer of French music, a melodist as inspired as the Italians, and fascinated by Moravian and Polish music, he sought to unite national tastes. He wrote in all styles, contributing paradoxically to the awakening of German musical taste (Quantz noted that German taste was necessarily a mixed bag), and was a harbinger of the classical period. Avant-garde without being an innovator, as curious and enthusiastic in his 80s as he was in his youth, Telemann was always on the lookout for new trends.
We certainly marvel at the richness of his melodic and rhythmic invention, at the ease with which he handles the most complex counterpoint, at his sometimes unusual combination of instruments, at his qualities of sophisticated elegance, balance and seductive ability, not excluding a spirit often filled with humor. Although Telemann himself placed more importance on his sacred works, it is perhaps in his chamber music that the caracteristics of his style are most apparent. In the midst of countless sonatas, trios and quartets, which require the support of a continuo, he also composed duo-sonatas without accompaniment as did the French masters Montéclair and Boismortier.
Dedicated to flautists Georg Behrmann and Daniel Tonnies, the Six Sonatas Without Bass for Two Transverse Flutes or Two Violins were first published Hamburg in 1727. (They were later published again in London by John Walsh along with the Canonic Sonatas). Written in the form of the sonata da chiesa, (or church sonata), the pieces feature the dialogue of the two players who imitate each other, exchange musical ideas and take turns in taking the lead. The slow movements often exhibit a tenderness and an elegance in the melodic line, heralding the sensitive style characteristic of the following generation, while the second movement of each sonata is a fugue, written in a very gallant style. With the exception of Bach, who was considered old-fashioned, and those who wrote for the church, the musicians of the era were beginning to leave behind the rigors of counterpoint.
Writing fugues and canons was deemed to be a sterile demonstration of ability, or an intellectual exercise “without a hold on the heart,” as Telemann himself termed it. There was little left of counterpoint except that which could easily please the ear, such as the imitation of motifs by one instrument after another, without ever sacrificing the flow of the melody. It was in this spirit that Telemann published his Eighteen Melodic Canons or Six Sonatas for Duo Transverse Flutes or Violins or Bass Viols while sojourning in Paris in 1738. These 18 canons are grouped into six short Canonic Sonatas of three movements each. Like the Renaissance bicinia, these are direct unison canons, to use the correct technical term, that is, the melody is played in strict imitation on both instruments several measures apart. As can be expected, Telemann clearly shows proof of his craft in the choice and direction of the melodies that are used in this game of canons.
According to Romain Rolland, Telemann brought “a breath of fresh air” to German instrumental music of his era. Extremely popular, his peers proclaimed him the “master without equal” and placed him “above praise.” He was praised for his cultivation, his good humour, and his kindness. These qualities, which touch us through his music even after two hundred years, make him one of the greatest minds of the 18th century, and one of the most representative artists of an era that we imagine to be the epitome of a gentle way of life.
© François Filiatrault
Translation: Patricia Abbott
” Telemann’s philosophy of life and his view of art in general expressed the attitudes of the enlightened and progressive middle class of his period. The whole sum and substance of his music, his personal style, and the character of the various forms to which he turned, are based upon — while illustrating — his relationship with the world about him. He is often reproached for apparently following the line of least resistance, implying that he went too far in complying with the fashionable demands of his time. […] Such a judgment, however, can now be overturned. Today we value particularly the artist who expresses the mainstream of thought in his era instead of losing himself either in worldshy historicity or in esoteric artifacts.
[…] The awakening ideals in this new era found their clearest expression in melody, or more exactly, in a new kind of melody. Yet Telemann, true to the French attitude, looked upon harmony as the proper vehicle for heightened expression. He seldom wrote pure polyphony, not for want of ability, but simply because he regarded it in a new light. ” —Richard Petzoldt, Georg Philipp Telemann, 1974
In the music of] those of the older generation, who make use of counterpoint to their heart’s content, but who are devoid of inventiveness, and who write in fifteen or twenty parts, (…) even Diogenes himself with his lantern could not find a drop of melody.
—Georg Philipp Telemann, 1718