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Early eighteenth-century German instrumental music was substantially influenced by French and Italian music, and particularly by the styles of Lully (overtures followed by dance movements) and Vivaldi (concertos). Nevertheless the voice of German music continued to be heard through composers such as Telemann and Fasch, who succeeded in combining the advantages of those 'imported' foreign styles with the 'skilful, strict polyphony' that had always been the hallmark of German music but which had fallen out of favour with younger composers, who deemed it melodically deficient and rhythmically too tame. The French and Italian influences acted as a stimulus, bringing new freshness and vitality to German music; at the same time, in the hands of the German masters those styles gained a depth that was admired throughout Europe.
The pieces presented here illustrate that combination of French, Italian and German styles. All of them were written between about 1705 and 1725, and their technical and musical demands indicate that they were intended not for amateur musicians but for the great virtuosos of the court orchestras and their cultivated audiences. During that period Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) rose brilliantly from the position of Kapellmeister at the; court at Sorau to that of musical director of the city of Hamburg, and came to be regarded as Germany's leading composer. After Sorau he was Konzertmeister, then Kapellmeister at Eisenach from 1708 to 1712, when he went to Frankfurt-am-Main as municipal director of music and Kapellmeister at the Barfusserkirche (until 1720). The works on this recording were written during Telemann's years at Eisenach where, he tells us, he composed numerous "Sonatas... for 2, 3 and up to 8 or 9 parts" for the excellent musicians of the court orchestra. The career of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) was similar but less spectacular. While a student at Leipzig University he attracted attention by founding a collegium musicum which eventually became the famous concert series of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. After various engagements, he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Bohemian Count Morzin in Lukavec (1721), before accepting the position of court Kapellmeister in Zerbst (1722-1758).
Telemann's Sonata a 5 in F major (TWV 44:11) is to all appearances a four-movement church sonata, but its rich music surpasses the latter in its scope. In the opening Affettuoso the composer repeatedly plays on the contrasting timbres of the two pairs of instruments (high and medium), before presenting an impressive five-part section that is harmonically rich and melodically elegant. In the second movement, a fugue, the composer immediately uses the device of stretto. The density of the contrapuntal texture is constantly 'loosened' by means of concerted episodes. A short vocal-style Adagio then leads into the impetuous final fugue which, like the second movement, combines refined polyphony with virtuosic joy.
The first movement of the Sonata in F major (TWV 43:F1) is exceptionally bold. To chordal accompaniment from the lower strings, the first violin plays a solemn and expansive 'recitative'. An impetuous fugal Gigue follows, with the composer expertly combining dance-like rhythms, concerted elements and perfect counterpoint. The Andante is like a trio-sonata movement with accompanying parts. The final movement is again a fugue based on concerto form, with the thematic developments providing the ritornelli, and the connective sequences the episodes. The lively theme is reserved at first for the upper strings, appearing in the bass only towards the end of the movement.
Telemann's skilful counterpoint in the Concerto in G major (TWV 43:G5) is almost obscured by the rich, sensuous sound and playful lightness of the piece. The constant use of stretto in the Adagio and the strict fugue with several obbligato countersubjects of the Presto go almost unnoticed. An elegiac and tuneful Largo is followed by a final movement in two sections, with a mixture of elements characteristic of the concerto and of sonata form.
Although Fasch appears to be imitating Telemann's quartet style in his Sonata a 4 in D minor, the accents are nevertheless very personal. The Largo begins with a dialogue in free imitation between the two violins, which leads to a lively, fugal Allegro, its expansive, vigorous subject heard from the upper voices only, and its various thematic elaborations constantly leading to dashing sequences. The Largo, with its ostinato rhythmic pattern, calls to mind the slow movement of a Venetian concerto. Concerto-like features are also in evidence in the final movement, its ritornello taking the form of long canon-like sections for the two violins, joined from time to time by the viola.
The Concerto in A major (TWV 43:A4) functions almost like a four-movement symphony. The polyphonic treatment of the many ideas is conducted playfully and with admirable ease. We note above all the many, often amazing sound effects: melancholy cantilenas from the violin, sonorous, vigorous chords, swift repetitions and long sustained notes, expressive sighs, bold leaps...
The Concerto in D minor (TWV 43:d2) also follows a four-movement structure. To demonstrate the equality of the four voices, the thematic material is presented first by the viola in the opening movement. The second is a lively, scurrying Allegro with ritornello and episode played by the same instrument, following the principle of the Vivaldian concerto. The tension eases briefly at the beginning of the Andante when the introductory melody is played by both violins, but then the three upper voices, now in strict canon, now using complementary rhythms, race through the syncopated final movement.
The Sonata a 5 in F minor (TWV 44:32) is a solemn, serious piece. The very dense Adagio accumulates suspended dissonances. The climate intensifies in the Allegro, which takes the form of a strict double fugue, again very dense, full of thematic references. In the Largo all five voices come together in a compact and harmonically very rich movement, in which the listener receives amazing sound impressions through the ascending sequences of suspensions and bold interrupted cadences. The accumulated tension is finally released in the wild Presto, a loosely constructed fugue, impelled by the driving force of its subject.
- 2004 Peter Wollny