Toronto-based Tafelmusik is one of the world’s leading period performance ensembles, renowned internationally for its distinct, exhilarating, and soulful performances. Founded in 1979 by Kenneth [...]
They spoke about it
Telemann‘s skills as a composer of programmatic music are well demonstrated in this selection of orchestral suites. Programmatic elements range from the musical representation of ideas, emotions, images or events to the imitation of actual sounds.
The Alster Overture depicts the sights and sounds of life on the banks of the Alster river in and around Hamburg. The work is unusually scored for four horns, oboes, bassoon and strings, with the horns and winds dominant throughout. It is perhaps the most “picturesque” of all of Telemann’s orchestral suites.
We find Pallas Athena, the warrior goddess, at play, and Pan, god of the pastures, at rest. We hear the carillons of the city, and the village music of the Alster shepherds. We are offered an image of a gracious swan, and serenaded by a raucous consort of frogs and crows. The suite ends with a lively gigue as shepherds and nymphs take their leave.
Burlesque de Don Quichotte
Telemann based two works on the adventures of Cervantes’ beloved hero, Don Quixote, one a serenata entitled “Don Quichotte auf der Hochzeit des Comacho,” and the other a whimsical suite for strings. The serenata was composed in 1761, when Telemann was 80 years old. It is not known whether the suite was written in conjunction with the serenata, or whether it was written earlier.
The movements of the suite depict various adventures of the high-minded knight-errant Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza: the awakening of Don Quixote, in which he drifts in and out of sleep as reveille is sounded; the infamous attack on the windmills; sighs of love for the “princess” Dulcinea; the misadventures of Sancho Panza as he is tossed in a blanket by pranksters; the lolloping gallop of Don Quixote’s old horse Rosinante; the halting gallop of Sancho Panza’s donkey; and finally Don Quixote asleep, dreaming of his next escapade.
Telemann is able to capture many of the idiosyncrasies of Cervantes’ characters in the music, resulting in a lively, amusing suite.
Suite “La Bourse”
Between 1712 and 1721 Telemann lived in Frankfurt on the Liebfrauenberg in a large house belonging to the Gesellschaft Frauenstein, an association of prosperous businessmen. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange was located on the ground floor of the building. Telemann’s suite “La Bourse” may well have been commissioned by one of the Frankfurt businessmen. With the reference to the Mississippi Company the work must have been written in 1720. Speculation was all the rage in the new age of the Enlightenment, and two ventures in particular caught the public fancy: London’s South Sea Company, based on trade with Spanish America, and Paris’s Mississippi Company, founded to exploit the natural resources of Louisiana. Both companies were backed by their governments, the latter hoping to erase public debt. Activity on the exchange was at an unprecedented high in the early months of 1720, with investors stampeding to buy the escalating stock. In September shares in both companies plummeted, investors were ruined, and the economies of England and France were shattered. The dramatic events in London and Paris resounded throughout Europe, and life at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange must have been particularly stressful in 1720.
Telemann offers his benefactors a sympathetic, if somewhat lighthearted, musical account of their tribulations. After movements depicting the tensions of the speculators—”le repos interrompu” (interrupted peace), “la guerre en la paix” (war in peacetime), “les vainqueurs vaincus” (victors vanquished) and “la solitude associée” (communal solitude)—Telemann ends the suite on a positive note, with a lively Gavotte entitled “l’espérance de Mississippi” (hope for the Mississippi). A speculator’s eternal optimism must, after all, prevail! (In fact, the Mississippi Company was successfully reconstituted in 1723 as the Compagnie des Indes and extended its markets and influence to the Caribbean and India, as well as the Mississippi valley.)
© Charlotte Nediger