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
Born in Kirchberg, Saxony, in January 1683, Christoph Graupner was one of the most important composers of his time. The composers Heinichen, Mattheson, Grünewald, and also Fasch (who was a student of his) counted among Graupner’s friends and admirers. After studying in Leipzig with Kuhnau—J.S. Bach‘s predecessor at the Thomaskirche—Graupner left the city in 1705 to assume the function of harpsichordist in the Hamburg Opera Orchestra, directed by Reinhard Keiser. During that period, Graupner composed several operas that met with much public acclaim. After hearing the works performed upon his visits to Hamburg, the landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, an avid music lover and occasional composer, decided he must have Graupner in his service.
In 1709, Graupner was thus offered a post at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt, where he became Hofkapellmeister in 1711. His duties—which consisted in composing both sacred and secular court music, copying it, having it rehearsed and conducting it, as well as playing the harpsichord—kept him so busy that he worked with no time off, and of this he discreetly complained. In March of 1723, at the request of the landgrave, he regretfully turned down the prestigious position that had been offered him: Cantor at St. Thomas’s in Leipzig. This allowed Johann Sebastian Bach to be granted the post. Struck with total blindness in 1754, he stopped composing altogether after having turned out some 2000 works of the highest quality.
II. The Partitas (or Suites) for Harpsichord
There are two reasons why Graupner’s harpsichord music occupies a special place in his output. First, unlike the other works of his immense body of work, it was not composed out of obligation, but rather for the sheer pleasure of it and as the expression of his own particular skills. Secondly, 21 of the 41 partitas that have come down to us were issued in three volumes he engraved himself. This is unique in Graupner’s musical output. These original editions are documents of inestimable value, prepared with the utmost care and precision, and which the composer believed to be worthy of publication. The remaining harpsichord works of Graupner have come down to us as manuscript copies or autograph scores. They consist of a group of 17 partitas copied by Samuel Endler, found in the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book (which also includes partitas by Telemann and by Handel), as well as three unclassified partitas and three isolated pieces. Graupner is one of the major 18th-century composers for the harpsichord, not only for the quantity and quality of his compositions, but also for his inventiveness on both the technical and stylistic levels. The programme of this record was designed to give a general idea of the various facets of the harpsichord music of Graupner, recognized in his time as a great harpsichord virtuoso and a first-rate composer.
Partita in C minor (GWV 150)
This serious-minded partita, which might well recall the music of J.S. Bach, begins with two outstanding pieces: a prelude and an allemande so tightly knit that Graupner exceptionally wrote at the end of the first the word volti (turn the page) so that the second would follow immediately. On top of having some improvisation-like harmonic surprises in store, the prelude develops two musical ideas: one is melodic and the other could be compared to the song of a bird, sometimes made up of half or whole tones, sometimes of repeated syncopations, principally accompanied by thirds. The bird idea reappears in the allemande, where sixty-fourth note runs sound like billing and cooing. Graupner had a knack for composing airs with variations, with which we readily associate Handel (The Eight Great Suites, 1720). In this partita, the variations alternately use sixteenth notes (variations 1, 3, and 5) and dance-like rhythms (variations 2, 4, and 6).
Februarius in G major (GWV 110)
The work recorded here comes from the Monatliche Clavir Früchte, published in 1722. This is a set of 12 pieces that, instead of being called partitas, each bears the Latin name of a month. Short, easy, and entirely charming, these pieces all contain a prelude, an allemande, a courante, and several other dance movements or airs, all of which Graupner probably did not intend to be performed in their entirety and consecutively. I decided to play all the movements of “February,” placing the final air—imitating a lovely opera aria the likes of which Handel often wrote—after the courante.
The prelude, akin in spirit to a Schubertian lied, is quite original. There are thematic relationships between the prelude and the sommeille, the allemande and the courante, as well as the sarabande and the following Air II (which is actually a musette). To my knowledge there exists no “sommeille” in the entire harpsichord repertoire other than the two by Graupner. The sommeille, principally a vocal work, was very much in vogue in France during the 17th and 18th centuries, when it was used in tragédies lyriques (Lully, Desmarets, Destouches, and Rameau) and in cantatas (Bernier and Jacquet de la Guerre). It can exceptionally be found in French instrumental music (Couperin and Montéclair), but I know of no other example in Germany.
In the present suite it is a slow movement in 4/4 with a highly embellished and poignant melody in the treble part, obviously reminiscent of the opera, accompanied by a walking bass in eighth notes. III. Partien auf das Clavier (Darmstadt, 1718) This remarkable set most likely met with a certain amount of success at the time. The set contains eight partitas, in C major, C minor, D major, D minor, E-flat major, E major, E minor, and F major, and it is prefaced by the composer. There are four known extant copies of the original edition as well as three complete, non-autograph manuscripts.
This is the first set Graupner engraved and published himself, and he clearly took great care in its preparation. Almost devoid of errors, the music displays much originality while still retaining elements of the past. Partita III in D major (GWV 103) Several partitas from this set present unifying musical elements. In the Partita III in D major, for example, the startling modulation to G major in the second bar is used again in the courante, the sarabande, and the chaconne. This final chaconne deserves high praise: beginning in the purest French style, it proceeds to lead us through all the possible idioms of harpsichord technique and musical styles of the time. It goes so far as setting side by side, in variations 10 and 11, a piece notated in octaves in the left hand and heavy syncopated chords in the right—in the manner of Handel or even Schumann!—and a luminous variation that prefigures Vivaldi’s concerto for two mandolins. The penultimate variation is a “high wire act” of virtuosity, to quote the musicologist Alberto Basso who thus qualified the cadenza from J.S. Bach‘s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto (the autograph dating from 1721). This variation is certainly one of the very first virtuoso passages in the history of harpsichord music.
The Partien auf das Clavier include several Rigoudons en Rondeaux (sic), a dance rarely used in harpsichord suites. It is a dance characterized by a joyous, rustic, and straightforward mood, recalling a sailor’s dance, according to Mattheson. It somewhat resembles the bourrée and the gavotte. In this collection of recordings devoted to Graupner, we have already recorded those of partitas I, II, and VIII. The rigaudon from Partita III combines a Lombardic rhythm on broken intervals with a melodic group of four slurred eighth notes. The sarabande (written sarabante here, like a German speaking French!) includes a “double” which is in fact a variation, since in borrowing the harmony of the sarabande it draws upon a specific style of writing, in this case the so-called lute style.
Instrument used in this recording: Hubbard Broekman 1998, Hamburg-style double-manual harpsichord after the designs practices of H.A. Hass, ca. 1730’s. Range: 61 notes, five octaves, F-f””, transposing. Disposition: Upper manual 1 x 8′; lower manual 1 x 8′, 1 x 4′, buff stop. Lower manual slides in to engage upper-manual dog-legged jacks.
© Geneviève Soly, October 13, 2003 Translation: Jacques-André Houle