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
Monatliche Clavir Früchte (Darmstadt, 1722)
In 1722, Christoph Graupner engraved and published twelve harpsichord suites with the very Baroque title Fruit Basket for Each Month, Pieces for Harpsichord, undoubtedly in reference to the Fresh Fruit for Harpsichord (Frische Clavir Früchte, 1696) by his teacher Johann Kuhnau.
After having recorded about a third of the works comprising the Monatliche Clavir Früchte on previous CDs from the present collection, we here present the four suites that extend from April till July. The remaining works will appear on an upcoming recording.
Structure of the Suites
On the title page, Graupner indicates that the set consists of preludes, allemandes, courantes, menuets, sarabandes, gigues, etc., but avoids the term “partita.” There are six suites in major keys and six in minor keys, each with a varying number of fairly short pieces. Most take up no more than a page, with only a few encroaching on the next—in which case the composer/engraver filled in the remainder of the second page with a new movement. Such thriftiness was not uncommon at the time, neither in Germany nor in France, where the price of paper ran high. But this results in the printed order of the pieces not always being ideal for performance (as when an allemande is followed by a menuet or an air, when we would expect and prefer a courante). Moreover, it is not necessary to play all the movements of a suite. In this recording, a few have been omitted. The longest piece in the set is the D-major chaconne, taking up three full pages.
Suites for Connoisseurs and Amateurs
Graupner states in his title that the pieces are mainly intended for beginners. Indeed, most of the works can be sight-read, or nearly so.
In 1719, in his Exemplarische Organisten-Probe, the famous theoretician Johann Mattheson, friend to Graupner and Handel, had cautioned against taking on Graupner’s harpsichord works unprepared. He was referring to the partitas of the first set composed, engraved, and published by the Darmstadt master in 1718, the Partien auf das Clavier (recorded on volumes 1-5 of the present collection). The dissimilar technical requirements of the two sets are certainly quite striking.
The distinction between connoisseurs (Kenner) and amateurs (Liebhaber) was normal at the time. It was common to publish collections for amateurs, or others that catered to both markets by including a mix of easy and challenging works, precisely as in the 1718 Partien. Sets of pieces were rarely published for the connoisseur alone.
In fact, many amateur musicians had received sufficient training as to readily play short pieces with the requisite style, flair, and technique. Since engraving was an expensive venture, it is understandable that composers aimed for the widest and most promising audience possible. For some time, as it happens, prospective buyers had been found among the more discerning amateurs in search of quality entertainment. It was in such a spirit that Kuhnau’s partitas were said to have been “composed and published for the choice pleasure of all amateurs.”
An Outline of the Pieces
The preludes are contrapuntal and serious; they all end with an adagio, with the exception of the one in F minor, which obviously calls to mind the opening of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Harpsichord. In fact, if one was to play each broken chord of Graupner’s prelude twice, like Bach’s, we would have two pieces with exactly the same number of measures.
The allemandes feature the characteristic arpeggio motif. The allemande in F major, though, is somewhat out of the ordinary, its dotted rhythms giving it a noble stance, whereas allemandes are ordinarily more flowing and lyrical. The rhythmic motif of the left hand octaves (eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes) recalls the beating of timpani. The passage is musically quite original and affords the player the pleasure of making the instrument sound and resound to its fullest.
The courantes are all in what is perhaps a typically Graupnerian style (I know of no other instance) I call mixed since it combines the contrasting characteristics of the French courante (quite slow, in many voice-parts, with hemiolas at the cadential points) and the Italian corrente (rather quick, in two voice-parts).
The sarabandes in C minor and in F major have a characteristic rhythm of dotted sixteenth note followed by a thirty-second note—this short note being treated as an échappée (type of nonharmonic tone) in the C minor sarabande and as a birdcall (half-step up) in the F major sarabande. Both pieces finish with a petite reprise (shortened repeat). In the F-minor sarabande, the second half uses completely new musical material from the fourth measure on. This is a rare practice in dance compositions. The new material is an extended 16-bar phrase that has the harpsichord singing in the manner of a prelude, with octaves in the left hand, repeated notes in the soprano, and lovely harmonic filler in the alto voice.
In keeping with Graupner’s usual practice, the music of the galanteries (menuets, gavottes, air en rigaudon) is highly characterized, lively, and playful, in a fairly robust style which is wholly appropriate. In the F-major menuet, notice the abundance of octaves in the left hand.
The short air in C minor is modeled after the opera and is nothing like a dance movement as it is so often in the partitas. An air in a suite is indeed either an air de danse (dance tune) or a transposition of an opera aria.
The two gigues that conclude the suites in C minor and in F major are both typically Italian, swift and in ternary rhythm, with the characteristic articulation of the three eighth notes (two slurred, one detached).
Finally, the chaconne in D major is full of lovely invention. It is bursting with exuberant ideas and its contrasting moods assure interest is maintained throughout.
Upon finishing the recording of the four suites in this set, I have the pleasant impression of having served music that is well-written, showing an art full of mastery and imagination. These are the works of a generous and well-versed composer/harpsichordist, who loves his instrument and knows perfectly how to put it in its best light. The relative technical ease of these pieces takes nothing away from the joy of playing them, and their musical qualities guarantee the listener an equal joy, inasmuch as he accepts to experience genuineness, vigor, vitality, and good taste without, for once, hoping to climb the loftiest peaks of Parnassus.
© Geneviève Soly
Translation: Jacques-André Houle
Harpsichord Hubbard & Broekman, Boston 1998, after Hass, kindly on loan from the maker
Temperament: modified 1/5th-comma meantone (“tempérament ordinaire” for Julius)