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Graupner: Cantate, Sonate, Ouverture: Instrumental and Vocal Music, Vol.2

Album information

Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)

A contemporary of J.S. Bach, Christoph Graupner (Kirchberg, Saxony, January 1683-Darmstadt, Hesse, May 1760) was a composer highly thought of in his day, much like Handel or Telemann, with whom he maintained a lifetime friendship. After studying with Kuhnau, J.S. Bach ‘s predecessor as Cantor of St. Thomas’s in Leipzig, Graupner left the city in 1705 to assume the function of harpsichordist at the Hamburg Opera Orchestra, under Reinhard Keiser.

At that time, Graupner composed several operas that received great public acclaim. In 1709, Graupner was offered by the Landgrave a post at the court in Hesse-Darmstadt, where he became conductor and composer (Hofkapellmeister) in 1711. Struck with total blindness in 1754, he stopped composing altogether. He remained at the Darmstadt court until his death on May 10, 1760. Graupner also gained notoriety for the meticulous calligraphy of his autographs and scores, the writing of which he completed with great care. A prolific and tireless composer, Graupner composed 41 partitas and a few other miscellaneous works for harpsichord, some ten operas (several of which are lost), 1,418 sacred and 24 secular cantatas, 44 concertos for one to four instruments, 86 orchestral overture–suites, and 37 sonatas (trio, a quattro, and a sei).

Die Krankheit, so mich drückt Cantata for the 4th Sunday after the Holy Trinity (August 1709)

Following the cantata Ach Gott und Herr recorded in volume 1 of this series, here is a second cantata for solo soprano, one of the first composed by Graupner after arriving in Darmstadt in 1709. The author of the text, probably a poet from Hamburg, is unknown; his style is pompous and the words are of scant interest.

Musically, the work shows the strong influence on Graupner of his formative years in Leipzig and the music of the Hamburg opera, with which he had just recently been acquainted. Leipzig and Hamburg were Germany’s two most important cultural centres at the beginning of the 18th century, and both were to witness the birth of musical schools of thought. Graupner was to integrate the qualities of both these schools in his own musical development. The opening “Sonata”—one of the rare instances when Graupner uses a solo instrumental movement in a cantata—is reminiscent of the instrumental movements in his opera Dido. This type of cantata overture was unexceptional in Leipzig. The figured chorale follows a traditional compositional method: the soprano sings the chorale melody accompanied by an agile counter-melody played by the orchestra. The recitatives incorporate several elements of the arioso. The text of the second aria is a parody of the first. This first aria is simply delightful with its violin solo whose thematic elements differ from the vocal part.

Sonata for obbligato harpsichord and violin in G Major, GWV 708 (ca. 1741)

In the chamber music domain, we pursue our exploration of the four sonatas for obbligato harpsichord and violin begun in the first volume. The work recorded here is most original. It is in this type of composition, at first glance commonplace, that reveals Graupner at his most alert and curious. The harpsichord part contains several instances, as was also the case in the sonata recorded in volume 1, where the continuo is entirely written out by the composer in a manner that stands out despite its accompaniment role.

The central adagio, with its mysterious atmosphere conferred by the repeated notes around the end and its profoundness which is established from the outset by a dark theme, rivals with any expressive movement of the time in addition to being harmonically quite astounding. It is impossible when listening to it not to think of the adagio from the Sonata in G minor for obbligato harpsichord and viola da gamba by J.S. Bach.

Overture for viola d’amore, strings, harpsichord, and bassoon in D minor, GWV 426

The title Overture, which originally referred to the introductory movement of a stage work and which Graupner uses to name his orchestral suites, should be understood here as the abbreviated form of Overture with all the airs and dance movements. The terms Partita, Suite, Entrata, and even Pièces were also used in Germany at the time to designate this form. At the beginning of the 18th century, the French Ouverture—characterized by a slow and solemn opening section with a stately dotted rhythm, followed by a quick fugato section and a return of the initial slow part—is freed from its scenic role to become an instrumental form in and of itself, with a suite of dance movements following the overture as such.

From the outset of the 18th century, French trends influenced all European art forms. The ubiquitous French dance masters not only taught dancing but also social graces, which brought about an open-mindedness towards French culture and the French musical style. The Darmstadt court—whose ruler the Landgrave Ernst-Ludwig published a collection of 12 suites in 1718—is a case in point. In fact, Darmstadt is the most important city with Dresden to have handed down 18th-century German orchestral suites, mainly those by Telemann, Fasch, and Graupner, the three German composers who wrote the most overtures. In his autobiography, Fasch states that Telemann’s overtures were extremely popular in Leipzig at the beginning of the 18th century, when Graupner and himself were studying there and Telemann was leading the Collegium Musicum, which he had founded. Graupner was actively involved in the Collegium during his university years. Fasch, who succeeded Telemann as leader of the ensemble, boasts that he had imitated his style in his own works, which met with as much success, he asserts, as those by Telemann.

When considering these musical activities as a backdrop, the great number of overtures Graupner wrote for the Darmstadt court (86 of them) comes as no surprise. Graupner’s death put an end to the vogue of this orchestral genre in Germany. In his overtures, Graupner uses a four-part orchestral texture, unlike the French who use a five-part texture. Moreover, there is no trace of the characteristic Italian virtuosity in the violin part. Besides, Graupner hardly ever chooses the violin for solos, usually preferring the viola d’amore (which takes front stage in 14 of his suites).

In the overture recorded here, the accompaniment of the “Air” (third movement) by the strings playing pizzicato is perfectly well suited to the melancholic timbre of the viola d’amore. Note also the harmonic inventiveness of the first minuet and the grandeur of the chaconne.

The Viola d’Amore

The viola d’amore has seven actively vibrating strings and seven sympathetic strings made of metal or metal-wound gut. Slightly larger than a viola, this soft-spoken chamber instrument was especially popular in Germany, Austria, the former Czechoslovakia, and Italy.

The viola d’amore was the favourite instrument of the Landgrave Ernst-Ludwig von Hesse-Darmstadt, who himself played it. This is the main reason Graupner is one of the most important composers for the viola d’amore, with 9 concertos, 14 overtures, one sinfonia, 6 trio sonatas, and 14 cantatas. Sprich, mein Herz Aria for soprano, excerpt from the cantata Lass dir wohlgefallen die Rede meines Mundes (1753) In contrast to the preceding cantata, this one—one of the composer’s last, written when he was 70 years old—is simple and unadorned, and shows in its aria Sprich, mein Herz a serene Graupner, who so artfully crafts musical expression onto poetical religious words.

© Geneviève Soly, June 7, 2003
Translation: Jacques-André Houle

The Overture, the aria Sprich, mein Herz, and the Sonata are performed with the permission of the Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek.

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