Born into a family of renowned Québécois musicians, Geneviève Soly was eight years old when she realised that she was going to be a performer. This revelation came while she was listening to an LP [...]
They spoke about it
The program on this recording covers nearly 35 years of Graupner’s creative output. It includes two works that have come down to us in original editions (those of 1722 and of 1733) and two in manuscript form, one of them autograph (around 1750-1753), the other in the hand of Samuel Endler, vice-Kapellmeister of the Darmstadt court (around 1720).
Martius in G minor (GWV 111)
This is the only G-minor harpsichord partita in all of Graupner’s output, which is surprising since this was a very common key during the Baroque Era. There is however no evidence of a reason for this unusual fact. Graupner treats this key quite seriously and with a degree of solemnity, with a touch of nostalgia and gentleness in the Sarabande—a magnificent piece reminiscent of his teacher Kuhnau.
The Praeludium contains contrapuntal elements. The Allemande and the second episode of the Menuet en Rondeau both make use of a continuo-style compositional technique, that is, a bass line over which the composer adds chords. These pieces could almost have been read with a simple figured bass. While this is not an unknown technique, it is quite rare. The second part of the second minuet of the partita Winter (GWV 121) is also written in this manner. The Air en Bourrée recalls the rigaudons previously recorded, with its repeated notes and its evocation of a sailors dance. The Courrante is in Graupner’s “mixed” manner, as heard previously in this set of recordings.
Partita in G major (GWV 142)
Graupner was nearly 70 years old when he composed this partita, just before going blind. To the best of our knowledge, it is his last work for harpsichord. How moving to witness the old composer returning to his first love! He had published two important sets of harpsichord pieces when he was in his thirties, in addition to the 1733 set.
This partita is full of serenity, while also being playful, joyful and replete with savoury musical ideas. The composer’s imagination is still as sharp as ever! He uses here one of his favourite keys, G major, which shows up seven times in his other partitas. C major was the only other key he used more often.
In the prelude, Graupner uses broken chords in triplets over an octave bass, perhaps for the sheer pleasure of making the instrument resound. The Courante is somewhat puzzling: the opening phrase is in the old French style while there are rococo motives at the end of the second part. The untitled slow movement Graupner literally squeezed on the ten remaining staves after the Air alla Polonese is an exceedingly original and songful piece brimming with ornamental passages (passaggi), and it also contains elements of the galant style. The musical substance of the Air alla Polonese can also be found in the eponymous movement of the overture in G major GWV 466 (composed around 1733), which made it possible to identify the harpsichord partita, whose manuscript is unsigned. However, the style of this work casts no doubt on its authorship, even without this clue to its authenticity. This is the only polonaise for harpsichord by Graupner. It calls to mind the one in D major by C.P.E. Bach in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.
One could identify a unifying “hunting horn” motive in this work. Indeed, as early as the second bar of the Prelude, there is such a horn call with an echo, as from within a forest. This motive is heard again later on in the partita as a downward or upward three-note ornament, appearing at the end of the Allemande, in the second half of the Courrante, in the first Menuet, as well as in the Air alla Polonese. This ornamental motive could alternately bring to mind a galloping horse.
Partita in C minor (GWV 132)
The Allemande performed here is taken from another C-minor suite from the same Darmstadt Harpsichord Book. It also resembles yet another C-minor allemande from the same book, previously recorded, in which a figure—a “bird” figure—is evident in certain sections, freely performed here on the upper manual of the harpsichord. The other movements of the partita convey a peaceful, simple, and profound atmosphere. The Courante belongs to the specifically Graupnerian “mixed” manner, in which the first and final phrases of the piece are in the French style, while the rest of the movement is in the Italian style.
Partita Winter (GWV 121)
The Four Partitas for the Harpsichord entitled The Four Seasons were published in Darmstadt in 1733, engraved by Graupner himself, with a preface in which the composer insists on how difficult a task it is to engrave on copper plate. He compels himself once again to this task, he writes, because his set Monatliche Clavir Früchte of 1722 had met with such success. This was the last set of harpsichord pieces published by Graupner, then aged 50. Unfortunately, only Winter, the first partita of the cycle, has come down to us.
The titles, writes Graupner in his preface, have no pretension of being descriptive. He also mentions some elements of fingering. He quotes Fux on the simplicity of music, whose prime role is to please the listener and touch his heart. He also quotes a proverb that perfectly suits his galanteries: “Simplicity is difficult.”
The key of F minor, used here, is heard only once again in the master’s harpsichord works. It represents affects of tranquillity and introspection, but also a certain “brittle” quality due to the musical temperament. It is curious to note that Antonio Vivaldi’s Winter from his Four Seasons (L’inverno. Op. 8 No. 4 (RV 297) in Il cimento dell’armonica e dell’inventione, Amsterdam, 1725) is also in F minor. Here once again, Graupner aims at having the harpsichord resound to its fullest by the use of arpeggios, broken chords and long, sustained harmonic notes.
The two sole Airs en Sarabande among Graupner’s harpsichord partitas are recorded here. Graupner was certainly very partial to sarabandes, as they are often highly expressive pieces. It is hard to make a clear distinction between an “air” in dance form and a bona fide dance. In the case of his sarabandes, though, Graupner almost always leans toward a very vocal character. Yet despite their apparent simplicity, the two Airs en Sarabande on this recording are particularly poignant and intensely vibrant.
The Largo prelude includes an extended fugal section, marked Un poco Allegro, a rare occurrence in Graupner. Unique in his harpsichord works, there are three alternating minuets. The ensuing form is as follows: Menuet I, Menuet II, Menuet I Da Capo, Menuet III, Menuet I Da Capo. The third is in F major, just as the second minuet of the G-major partita recorded here is in G minor. Cases of alternating modes are rare in Graupner’s works.
The partita Winter is particularly elaborate and is longer than almost every other partita by Graupner. The Allemande and Courrante are two very elaborate pieces both using, for example, left hand octaves. A truly novel writing technique used in the second episode of the Bourrée en Rondeau and in the Allemande is most probably employed to bring out the most of the instrument’s resonance. It consists of a broken octave bass line underpinning the rhythmic and ornamental extrapolation of a two-voice chord in the right hand.
Graupner will never have ceased to astonish us, up until his last printed collection!
© Geneviève Soly, Montreal, September 17, 2006
Translation: Jacques-André Houle