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
Performed by Geneviève Soly, this fourth disc dedicated to the harpsichord works of Christoph Graupner presents three partitas from the collection Partien auf das Clavier, published in Darmsttadt in 1718.
Partien auf das Clavier (1718)
Graupner himself paid for the engraving of this exceptional collection, but since its original publication in 1718, it has never been reprinted, either in a modern edition or in facsimile. There are four known copies of the original edition—in the libraries of the Brussels Conservatory, the University of Oslo, and the cities of Berlin and Darmstadt—and three anonymous manuscript sources: one in Darmstadt, one in Berlin, and lastly, the one at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, which I stumbled across though a happy convergence of circumstances in November 2000 and which marked the beginning of the Graupner Project.
The collection demonstrates both Graupner’s erudition as a composer and his extraordinary mastery of the different idioms—certain of his own invention—that served to give the harpsichord all manner of voices. Not only was Graupner without a doubt one of the great harpsichordists of the 18th century, but his writing demonstrates an attention to detail on a par with that of François Couperin. His ornaments are diverse and precisely noted, either with symbols or written out. In addition to the usual ornaments, he also used the Schneller, one of the few typically German ornaments, which sounds as an inverted mordent (toward the end of the allemande of the Partita in D minor, for example). He was also fond of passaggi—groups of joined notes or ornamental lines, generally written in smaller notation, which link melodic elements. Examples of these occur in the first part of the loure of Partita V in E flat and in the second part of the allemande of Partita VII in E minor.
Graupner also frequently used articulation signs as well as indicating dynamics (from pp to f). The French, Italian and German styles of the 17th and 18th centuries commingle with an easy intimacy in his music, reflecting the powerful imagination and sense of taste that characterize this composer.
Partita IV in D minor (GWV 104)
While the shortest, and technically the easiest, partita of the entire collection, this in no way diminishes its musical qualities or its charm. In the preface to the collection, Graupner states that he wrote it with the idea that weak and strong performers alike would take some enjoyment from it. Published in 1953 by Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig, among eight partitas attributed to Graupner (only four of which he actually composed), the Partita in D minor is undoubtedly aimed at amateurs and—except for the doubles (variations) of the “sarabande,” which are given a German treatment, and the final “menuet,” which stands out from the other pieces by its clearly gallant style—is in a pure 17th-century French style. It would appear that Graupner wanted to pay homage to the French composers of the Grand Siècle (Louis Couperin and Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, for example) and demonstrate his intimate acquaintance with this style.
D minor being the most common key of the period, the amateur would have likely felt himself in familiar territory with this partita. Interestingly, D minor is one of the least common keys in the harpsichord oeuvre of Graupner: only 3 out of the 41 partitas known to exist are in this key.
The “sarabande” consists of an accompanied melody, as was Graupner’s habit, allowing great freedom for improvisation on the repeat. The other two partitas on this disc also employ this form. This particular saraband, however, is unique in that it has three sections rather than the two usually found in all Baroque dance movements.
Partita V in E flat major (GWV 105)
This partita also follows the French style throughout, except for the double of the “sarabande” and the “gigue.” The latter movement is in pure 17th-century German polyphonic style, like the gigues of Graupner’s teacher, Kauhnau, who employed it systematically in the gigues of his Neue Clavier Übungen of 1689 and 1692. Graupner used this old gigue style three times in the collection (it also appears in the Partita in C minor, recorded in volume 2), but he would later abandon it completely in favour of the light and quick Italian gigue, with its dotted and triplet rhythms.
The “allemande,” joyful and full of invention, leaves the performer much room for ornamentation on the repeats—one of the characteristics of this dance in Graupner’s hands, as evidenced several times on the preceding discs. The second part of the work opens somewhat unusually on an arpeggio, which is generally associated with freer forms.
The “sarabande” contains some interesting harmony. For example, the second section starts in the tonic key rather than the expected dominant or relative key. Also surprising is the 7th chord that appears four measures from the end. There are other harmonic surprises in the Partita in E minor, which follows this work: at the end of the “air en menuet” and in the second section of the “sommeille.”
The loure, an Italian gigue played slowly and employed primarily in France, is rarely seen in solo harpsichord suites. However, Graupner used them in five of his partitas. In this “loure,” a repeated note gives the dance its impetus.
Partita VII en E minor (GWV 107)
This partita is clearly of Italian inspiration. Not only are the “courante” and “gigue” in the Italian style, but the “air” has a particularly operatic flavour (track 19).
I took the liberty of adding a movement to this piece: the “sommeille” (track 20) comes from the Partita in G major (GWV 151), from Darmstadt manuscript 1231. Not only is the sommeille an operatic piece, but the Partita in G major from which this one is taken also contains the saraband from the Partita in E minor recorded here, though transposed to G minor for the occasion, a unique occurrence in Graupner’s partitas.
The “sarabande” is full of emotion. Interestingly, the first measure of the right hand is identical to the first measure of the soprano part of the “Quia respexit humilitatem” of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat, which was composed later.
The “air en menuet” and its double (track 17) are completely charming, and I treat them, along with the subsequent “menuet” (track 18), as a whole, even going so far as to repeat the first section of the “air en menuet” as a da capo after the third piece of the group. The idea for doing this sprang from the harmonic relationship between these pieces: the bass of measures 2 to 5 of the minuet is identical to measures 2 to 5 of the “air en menuet”; and this passage is itself a canonic response to measures 1 to 4 of the right hand. In the double, Graupner uses a particularly charming and ingenious technique of his own invention; by repeating a note of the inner harmony (in this case, the alto voice, played with the thumb of the right hand), he causes the melody stand out against it. This idiom might be compared to the modern use of the piano’s sustain pedal. Graupner also uses this “invention” in the “allemande,” where the repeated note sounds on the off-beats (measures 12 to 17, again in the alto voice).
Note that in the final “gigue,” Graupner makes use of duple-against-triple figures (four sixteenth-notes against a triplet quarter- and eighth-note), as well as writing a three-part echo sequence that starts piano (p / f / p).
?Geneviève Soly, 2004
Translation: Peter Christensen