Montreal-born Natalie Michaud is well-known in America as recorder player and teacher. Several grants from the Canada Council enabled her to study at the Royal Music Conservatory in The Hague, after [...]
They spoke about it
Music at the Court of Landgrave
Ernst-Ludwig (1667-1739), Prince of Hesse-Darmstadt
The reigning prince, who hired Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) after having heard the composer’s operas in Hamburg between 1706 and 1709, was a knowledgeable music lover. A composer himself, his affinities with French culture were well known. The prince spared no expense in transforming his residence into one of the liveliest cultural centres of the period. His court musicians were renowned as being among the best in Germany, especially after Graupner’s arrival in 1709. In 1781, an anonymous columnist in the Darmstadt Almanach provided the following insight into the composer’s personality: “To the great delight of his prince, a knowledgeable music lover and enthusiast, the religious and theatrical music of the court rapidly evolved, not only due to Graupner’s compositions, but also to his hiring of several virtuosi, so, at the time, his compositions were considered to be among the best in Germany. In 1718, the renowned Telemann recommanded one of his Serenades and underlined the incomparable performance and appreciation made of it by the orchestra at Darmstadt.”
Graupner’s Religious Music
Graupner began composing cantatas for the court chateau’s church upon his arrival in Darmstadt. These cantatas were divided, as was the custom, into annual cycles. He shared responsibility for this task with the former Kapellmeister, Wolfgang Carl Briegel, alternating with him until Briegel’s death in 1712, and then with Gottfried Grünewald, Graupner’s friend and former colleague from Leipzig and Hamburg. Grünewald, who possessed a remarkable bass voice, would be assistant Kapellmeister at the court of Darmstadt from 1713 until his death in 1739.
After Grünewald’s death, Graupner assumed sole responsibility for the production of religious music for the court. The anonymous columnist quoted above informs us that Graupner “held religious music in such high, venerable, and saintly esteem that he made a fundamental distinction between his religious style and that of his opera and chamber music.
He approached religious composition with devotion and precision, happily but silently, and with a sweet happiness of heart; he was not a servile imitator of the composers of his time, but rather a genius with a distinct quality to his work uniquely his own.”
The total number of cantatas by Graupner, preserved primarily in handwritten copies in Darmstadt, is 1418. Although only 17 cantatas are published nowadays by DDT, they have been inventoried by the musicologist Friedrich Noack. Graupner’s output included 47 cantatas for bass—intended for the assistant Kapellmeister, Gottfried Grünewald, for whom Kuhnau in Leipzig and Keiser in Hamburg also wrote cantatas and opera roles—and 47 cantatas for soprano. The latter were intended for Johanna Elisabeth Döbricht (1692-1786), wife of the gamba player Ernst Christian Hesse (1676-1762), reputed to be the best soprano in Germany. She was hired by the Court of Darmstadt in 1711 to sing in both the opera and the chapel. Darmstadt was one of the only places in Germany, with Hamburg, where women were allowed to sing in church.
Cantata Ach Gott und Herr (1711)
The cantata Ach Gott und Herr is impressive. The opening chorale is one of the only examples of this type of composition by Graupner in which the chorale melody is given to an obbligato instrument (originally an oboe, replaced by a recorder on this recording). The counterpoint assigned to the first violin is insistent but serene, mirroring the text exploring the theme of the heaviness of sin. In the second part of the piece, the chorale melody passes to the soprano voice and the obbligato instrument takes over the counterpoint given to the violin at the beginning of the piece.
In the accompanied recitative that follows, interspersed with secco passages, the soprano repeats the haunting “O Gott, o Gott, was hab ich doch getan” three times, lending a dramatic character to this piece. The stylus fantasticus used here is known to us through other examples in Bach’s works. The passaggio on the word Schmerzen (sorrows) at the end of the piece exemplifies one of the characteristics of Graupner’s vocal style (we will hear it again in Dido’s Recitative “Armeseelige” later on this disc). In the following aria, “Seufzt und Weint,” the oboe melody (played here on the recorder) is poignant, while the two violins and the viola punctuate the entire piece with a continuous eighth-note rhythm.
The bass line, traditionally given to the cello, is played here on a viola. This higher bass part is called bassetto or small bass, and must be played without the continuo realization. A second low register bass line—for which the continuo has been realized this time (performed here by cello, double bass, bassoon, organ and harpsichord)—intervenes periodically with a dotted sixteenth note and thirty-second note rhythm, producing an arresting dramatic effect. This aria da capo is framed by two recitatives. The final aria, “Stelle dich zufrieden,” preceded by a short secco recitative, is reminiscent of the work of Keiser and Handel.
The Chamber Concertos
Fifty concertos have been preserved at Darmstadt in the codex Mus. ms. 411, including 44 in Graupner’s own handwriting. Of those, eighteen are for solo instrument, nineteen for two instruments, six for three and one for four instruments. Eighteen are available in modern editions. These concertos, unknown outside the performances given at the court of Darmstadt, adhere to the formal model of the Vivaldian tradition. The bodies of the grosso and the concertino differ both in function (alternation of ritornellos and episodes) and in musical and thematic substance.
Although characterized by an effort at simplicity which anticipates the gallant and preclassical styles, Graupner’s style nevertheless preserves a distinctly German flavour in many ways. For example, certain movements, such as the third movement of the Recorder Concerto (GWV 323), are entirely contrapuntal. Moreover, Graupner breaks from the Italian style with his non-use of instrumental virtuosity in solo parts and frequent use of instruments little associated with the Italian style. Indeed, while the Italians were partial to the violin, Graupner favours the flute, oboe d’amore, bassoon and chalumeau.
Bassoon Concerto (GWV 340)
The Bassoon Concerto (GWV 340), recorded here for the first time as it appears in the autograph version, is in B flat major, a pastoral key rarely employed by Christoph Graupner. The theme of the first movement is of a rare elegance, and employs elements of French ornamentation. The third movement has a strong rustic dance flavour and a pleasingly playful quality. This movement has an ABA formal structure and the da capo has been reduced in this recording to a repeat of the first tutti.
The Chamber Music
The corpus of Graupner’s chamber music preserved at the Darmstadt library consists of 37 works. Besides the 20 trio sonatas for two violins and continuo, we find two sonatas a quattro and four sonatas for harpsichord obbligato and violin or flute. The works recorded here, which adopt the sonata da chiesa form (four movements of alternating slow and fast tempos), illustrate the symbiosis frequently employed by Graupner between the church sonata form and the suite composed of dance movements. Indeed, the last movement of the Sonata for Obbligato Harpsichord and Violin (GWV 711) is a minuet, and that of the Sonata a Quattro (GWV 212) is in fact a gigue.
In this sonata, the second movement adopts the structure of a fully developed fugue, a form dear to Graupner. Few composers have been as successful as Graupner at writing sonatas a quattro, a genre which presages the classical string quartet and whose form is mentioned in composition treatises of the period.
In the two Largos of the Sonata for Harpsichord Obbligato and Violin, the continuo part, written out by Graupner, is realized with eight-note chords ascending as high as High C4. Now this might spur a reconsideration of the principles of thoroughbass realization which are currently in use… The Presto of this sonata, also contrapuntal, possesses the playful element so characteristic of Graupner’s work.
Between 1707 and 1719, Graupner wrote eight operas for the opera houses of Hamburg and Darmstadt. In Hamburg, where he held the position of harpsichordist at the Opera am Gänsemarkt, he wrote three other operas in collaboration with his conductor, Reinhardt Keiser, one of German opera’s dominant figures in the eighteenth century. Only the complete music of three of his operas has survived until today.
Like his colleagues Handel, Mattheson and Keiser, Graupner explored the new dramatic possibilities of the period. He demonstrated as much creativity as they, although he was less prolific in this area. Indeed, it was as an opera composer that he was to achieve his first success, at the age of 25. He would show himself to be possessed of a great sensitivity for portraying dramatic characters. To illustrate his gifts for theatrical music, we have included in this recording excerpts from the opera “Dido, Königin von Carthago,” composed in 1707.
© Geneviève Soly, June 27, 2002 Translation: Marc Hyland