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
Partita in A minor (GWV 150)
This partita comes from a manuscript known as the Darmstädter Clavierbuch, or Darmstadt Harpsichord Book, copied around 1720 by Samuel Endler, a friend and colleague of Christoph Graupner’s, and Konzertmeister, composer and vice-Kappelmeister at the court of Darmstadt. The manuscript contains 17 partitas by Graupner among works by other composers.
Graupner composed twice as many works in minor keys as he did in major keys. His writing in the minor mode is often quite straightforward—making the pieces easy to read and play—and frequently have a nostalgic air about them. The beauty of Graupner’s music is immediately evident in this partita, written in the French style, except for the Italian-style gigue. The allemande, courante, sarabande and minuets are all written in this simple and touching melancholic mood, giving the piece a rather dark character.
To highlight this, I employed a slightly “unequal” touch to the “Allemande” and “Courante,” even in the broken chords (where the French of this period would not have done so), and even though it is notated equally in the source. The idea for this interpretation came from one of Graupner’s cantatas, in which an entire aria, in the form of a French-style courante, is notated with a dotted rhythm, including the broken chords. The tempo is rather slow, characteristic of the French courante style, which is evident in the ornamentation and the frequent use of hemiola (a duple accentuation within two consecutive measures of triple metre).
From the very first reading, it is clear that the rudimentary two-voice “Sarabande” is merely a sketch. Maybe Endler jotted it down quickly after hearing it; or perhaps he did not have time to complete it. In any case, I had taken the liberty of completing the harmony to make a four-voice piece when, to my amazement and completely by chance, I stumbled upon a piece identical to this sarabande—the bass aria of the character Meleagrano from Graupner’s pastoral drama La constanza vince l’inganno (Act III, Scene 6). Graupner wrote a number of harpsichord sarabands that, like this one, resemble opera arias or accompanied melodies with rather full accompaniment, and this discovery confirmed the hypothesis of Graupner’s “vocal” sarabands. It is therefore an arrangement of the piece from the pastoral drama that you hear on this recording, which, given the drama’s date of composition (1715), is certainly the original version.
The “Rigaudon en Rondeau” and the “Menuets alternatifs” (with a da capo of the first minuet after minuet II) are little gems that lend themselves beautifully to ornamentation. I added a third harmonic voice to the rondo (refrain) of the rigaudon.
Graupner regularly uses dynamic markings in both his sacred music and his harpsichord music, often indicating that a motive is to be repeated as an echo. While this piece does not contain dynamics, you will hear them in the second section of the “Gigue,” starting with the motif I call “the bird.” This motif consists of three rising and descending tones or semi-tones. It is repeated several times in a row (four times in this case) on ever higher starting notes and always with an echo. A similar motif can also be heard in the allemande of the Partita in C minor, found in this same Darmstadt Harpsichord Book and recorded in volume 2 of this series.
Partita VI in E major (GWV 106 and 119)
This partita comes from the large collection of eight Partien auf das Clavier, which Graupner had engraved and published at his own expense in 1718. It is the eighth (and therefore final) work to be recorded in Analekta’s series of Graupner’s Partitas for Harpsichord. The writing here is erudite, the harmony is sophisticated (e.g., the modulation to G-sharp minor in the allemande), and the idioms—some of which are of his own invention, such as the use of the thumb on the offbeat in the inner voices to make the instrument ring—point to his thorough knowledge of the harpsichord.
The “Allemande” and the “Sarabande” are in the French style, and Graupner took the trouble to write a dotted rhythm to indicate notes inégales (i.e., unequal note lengths) throughout the allemande, which, as we have seen above, he did not always do. The sarabande could stand as a model for the use of the dotted rhythm as a means of expression. These two pieces also have a particular lullaby-like quality in common.
The “Courante” is highly original in its use of dynamics (indicated as p. and f. for piano and forte). This is the only piece I know of in the harpsichord repertoire that that uses an echo effect in a single hand—in this case the left—by moving it from the upper keyboard (for the softer passage) to the lower keyboard (for the louder passage), while the right remains on the lower keyboard throughout. Indeed, the left hand’s soft-loud alternation (in that order) is somewhat unusual in itself, as we are more used to hearing loud-soft alternation. This principle is employed only in the B section of the piece; however, Graupner had previously introduced what would become the B section’s echo motif in measure 7 of the A section.
In both this partita and the next on the disc, you will hear movements from the “November suite” in the Monatliche Clavir Früchte inserted between the usual four dances of the “classical” suite (allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue). The partita in E major contains only these four classical dances, making it the shortest of the 1718 collection and hence the decision to add a minuet and a gavotte. The “galanteries” (gavotte, minuet, bourée, rigaudon) are today among Graupner’s most well-liked works. The two chosen for this partita are in the same key, as per the German tradition—and Graupner’s practice—of using one key per partita. They add a certain lightness to what is otherwise, despite its optimistic character, a rather serious work on the whole.
Partita in C major (GWV 109 and 126)
A number of movements from two partitas in C major are collected here: one complete partita from the Darmstädter Clavierbuch (GWV 109) and the other a partial excerpt from the Monatliche Clavir Früchte, a collection that was also engraved and published at the composer’s own expense, in 1722. In the latter collection, Graupner does not use the term “partita” for the suites of dance movements grouped by key; he instead names them by month of the year. Each suite in the collection also has a prelude; however, it would appear that the order in which the individual dances in these suites (or partitas) should be played—and even how many of them—is left up to the performer’s discretion.
In using one source of dance movements to expand an already formed partita, I am employing a performance practice that was very current in the Baroque period. It is admittedly a very personal and subjective way of doing things (e.g., I like such-and-such a piece and want to record it!) and an arbitrary one that I would never apply systematically to Graupner’s music. Indeed, most of the partitas in the 1718 Partien auf das Clavier collection are manifestly conceived as a whole, with motifs employed across movements and an obvious structure to the entire work. The Partita in E major on this disc is the only one that truly permits such an interpretation.
In approaching the the Darmstädter Clavierbuch, one must realize that it is an exception in Graupner’s harpsichord oeuvre: there exists no autograph manuscript (i.e., in the composer’s own hand), nor is there an original edition (a very valuable source that generally reflects the composer’s wishes quite accurately). It is thus difficult to know what Graupner truly had in mind when he composed the works in it, which is why movements from other works can be so readily grafted onto this group of pieces.
The “Prelude” is an “organistic” piece with a free section, a fugue and a return to the free section; this is pure Graupner and physically a fun piece to play. The “Allemande” is very similar in style to many of Handel’s harpsichord works. Like the prelude with which I chose to precede it, the writing here affords a full, rich sound. The “Courante” is in the particular mixed style with which Graupner usually treats this type of dance, sometimes employing the light two-voiced Italian style, and other times opting for a more French style in three voices, in which most phrases end in a hemiola. The long thirty-second-note passages (passagi) of the “Sarabande” are all fully notated. This copiously free writing highlights the piece’s melodic quality. The composition of variations on a sarabande theme is in an older French tradition employed at Versailles by Michel Lambert, the father-in-law of Jean-Baptiste Lully and a great composer of airs de cour (court arias).
Graupner’s variations after the sarabande are in this same tradition, one which Handel also followed. The opening “Minuet” of the first group of alternate minuets is very similar to the minuet in G major by Christian Petzold in Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook, which is why this piece, with its pleasant lullaby-like motion, sounds so familiar. I employ a great deal of echo and registration in this piece. The “Loure,” a slow gigue, is very declamatory—we hear speech, though we cannot make out the individual words. With his usual attention to detail, Graupner varies the articulation of similar and successive motifs: the four descending sixteenth-notes from the first part of the dance are sometimes arranged in pairs, and other times in groups of four. The short final repeat, a French custom, is indicated by the composer. The “Gavottes” from the “Januarius suite” recorded here are very similar to his rigaudons: rough and solid—true sailors’ dances. The “Minuets” I also inserted from the same suite are childlike and leave much to the imagination. The fifth in this series of recordings of the harpsichord music of Christoph Graupner ends with a lively “Gigue.” Certainly, Graupner’s greatest strength is that he never disappoints and always keeps listeners on their toes.
© Geneviève Soly
Translation: Peter Christensen