Pamela Thorby Telemann: Recorder Sonatas and Fantasias

Pitch: a' = 415Hz. Having previously won praise for her recordings of Baroque greats such as Handel and Vivaldi, Pamela Thorby completes her anthology of eighteenth century favourites with 'Telemann: Recorder Sonatas and Fantasias', a double album overflowing with warmth and conviviality. 

Joining Pamela for her latest recording are a host of familiar faces: Ensemble Marsyas' Peter Whelan (bassoon), Alison McGillivray (cello), Elizabeth Kenny (archlute/guitar) and Marcin Swiatkiewicz (harpsichord/organ). Together they perform seven of Telemann's most engaging sonatas, followed by Pamela taking centre stage in the twelve solo Fantasias which close the programme.

Performer's Note:

I am full of admiration for the warmth and conviviality of Telemann’s writing, the easy beauty of his melodies, and the knowing playfulness and ingenuity, across many national styles, that lovingly and effortlessly pervade his structural and rhetorical compositional devices. No wonder we find intrigue and education in the study of his fantasias. They are gateways for single-line players to melodic and harmonic Baroque ‘gardens of eloquence’.

As a keen gardener myself, I like to imagine Telemann, a man well educated in the liberal arts, in old age after a life well lived happily applying principles of decorum, proportion and structure to a wondrous garden embellished with his favourite flowers, some of them perhaps grown from seeds and bulbs originally sent by his friend Handel. I love this well-known quote from Telemann in a letter dating from 1742: ‘I am insatiable where hyacinths and tulips are concerned, greedy for ranunculi and, especially, anemones.’

It is hard to comprehend the outstanding energy and talent of the man: he remained joyous and enthusiastic about music throughout his life, eager to learn and add to his expertise at every stage, forward-thinking, prodigious and youthful in outlook. He was also by every account a thoroughly decent human being (while possessing, as Steven Zohn’s note below makes clear, an impressive head for business). Though in this selection of sonatas the spotlight is on the recorder, it seemed entirely appropriate to include the delightfully convivial B flat Trio Sonata, TWV 42:B4, with harpsichord obbligato from the collection Essercizii musici, since we had the required forces: we played it with relish at the end of our two happy days together.

I am lucky to be living in a new century that has seen a third golden age – after the Renaissance and Baroque – of recorder instrument-making and playing. So I have seized the moment to record the fantasias on a wide range of recorders of many sizes, instruments known to players in the eighteenth century but only recently again perfected by modern makers. As an alternative to playing the set on a single instrument, I have tried to adopt an overarching progression of keys and recorders whose character, I felt, complemented each fantasia by turn (the original keys are in brackets). Transposition is second nature to the recorder player, and I offer this varied sequence as an example of twenty-first-century performance practice in action: I weighed up the importance to modern ears of key ‘affect’ against the opportunity to show how players may exploit the particular resources available to them. In further defence of changing key, I comfort myself with two contemporary theorists’ quotations from Judy Tarling’s wonderful book The Weapons of Rhetoric: Mattheson states that ‘No key can be so sad or happy in and of itself that one might not compose the opposite’, while Heinichen observes that ‘it remains the case, therefore, that every single key and all keys...are suited to expressing many opposing affections’. If Telemann could take a walk down the corridor of a music conservatory today, he would hear (as I did recently at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where I have the privilege to teach) students of not only the flute and recorder but also the oboe, bassoon, trombone and viola da gamba taking just such affectionate ownership and care of his Twelve Solo Fantasias. © Pamela Thorby, 2015

Telemann Recorder Sonatas & Fantasias:

The sonatas and fantasias on this recording derive from three of the 42 collections of music Telemann published in Hamburg: the Essercizii musici (‘Musical exercises’, c.1727), Der getreue Music-Meister (‘The faithful music master’, 1728–29) and the 12 Fantaisies à travers. sans basse (‘12 Fantasias for transverse flute without bass’, 1732). The Essercizii musici were long considered Telemann’s swan song as an engraver and publisher of his own music, a remarkable business he gave up in 1740 with the sale of his engraved copper and pewter plates. But recent research has established that the collection appeared towards the beginning of his tenure as City Music Director in Hamburg (1721–67), probably during the period 1726–28, when he was still testing out engraving techniques. Having recently published a set of 72 sacred cantatas (the Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst of 1725–26), the composer now issued his most ambitious set of instrumental works to date: twelve solos and twelve trios for recorder, flute, oboe, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord with continuo. Each instrument has two solos with continuo and participates in four trios with another instrument and continuo. The harpsichord’s solos are French suites, offering some stylistic balance to the more Italianate idiom of the other music, and in its trios the instrument is partnered with recorder, flute, oboe and viola da gamba. These last four trios, featuring the harpsichord in an essential (obbligato) role normally assigned to a melody instrument, were the first of their kind to appear in print. Together with J.S. Bach’s six trios for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1014–19a (completed around 1725), they may have initiated a vogue for chamber works with obbligato keyboard in the 1730s and beyond.

The fast movements of the Sonata for recorder, harpsichord and continuo, TWV 42:B4, evoke the concerto allegro through virtuoso episodes alternating with energetic refrains. In such sonatas ‘in concerto style’, as one eighteenth- century writer put it, the instrumentalists do double duty as both ‘soloists’ and accompanying ‘orchestra’. Perhaps the most striking movements among the two solos recorded here are the opening ones. In the Sonata in D minor for recorder and continuo, TWV 41:d4, the Affettuoso movement is particularly expressive: lying high in the recorder’s range, it twice calls on the player to negotiate repeated notes that get progressively softer – an effect which requires the skills of a very proficient player. The opening movement of the Sonata in C major for recorder and continuo, TWV 41:C5, alternates singing adagio segments with improvisatory allegro segments, a kind of capricious mixture that Telemann actually titled ‘capriccio’ in a flute sonata published in Der getreue Music-Meister.

Telemann’s Faithful Music Master was, as he acknowledged in his preface, the first music journal published in Germany. During its 50-week run, issues (called ‘lections’) consisting of four densely engraved pages of music appeared every two weeks. Included were vocal and instrumental works in small scorings: sonatas, suites, arias, songs, dances, canons and compositional exercises in all the current styles and for all the common instruments. The music was at first exclusively by Telemann, but eventually other composers, including Bach, contributed pieces as well. One had to subscribe to the journal rather than purchase individual issues, since multi-movement works were cleverly broken up between issues (this was a marketing strategy followed in later music journals inspired by Der getreue Music-Meister).

The compact Sonata in F major for recorder and continuo, TWV 41:F2, inaugurated the Faithful Music Master’s lessons. Its opening Vivace occupies the journal’s first page, at the bottom of which one reads ‘the rest to follow’. Sure enough, subscribers had to wait two more weeks to obtain the second and third movements. In the nineteenth issue, subscribers received the first two movements of the brilliant Sonata in C major for recorder and continuo, TWV 41:C2. Here a singing (‘cantabile’) first movement precedes a virtuoso allegro that gives way, after a page turn, to singing of the vocal kind: a ‘moral’ cantata whose text encourages one to maintain equanimity in the face of hardship. Whether subscribers were intended to make an association between the solo movements’ character and the cantata is anyone’s guess, but it is entirely possible that the Faithful Music Master paired his pieces with purpose.

The expansive Sonata in F minor, TWV 41:f1, commencing in the journal’s eleventh issue, is better known in its primary scoring for bassoon and continuo. In fact, as Telemann’s only bassoon sonata it has long occupied a prominent place in the instrument’s repertory. Its slow movements convey a tragic affect, whereas the fast movements – and the finale in particular – capture something of the bassoon’s humorous quality. The option of performing the solo on the recorder appears to have occurred to Telemann only after all the music had been engraved (and spread out over no fewer than four issues of the journal!). Following the fourth movement, we read that ‘this solo may also be played on the flûte à bec’, the French term for the recorder that was commonly used in Germany. This would not be the last time that Telemann treated the two instruments as interchangeable: four years later, in his Musique de table, he provided the option of replacing recorder with bassoon in his quartet for recorder, two flutes and continuo.

Many of the other instrumental works in Der getreue Music-Meister have alternative scorings as well, sometimes with clefs and key signatures friendly to particular instruments. Thus the Sonata (solo or duet) in B flat major, TWV 41:B3, may be played as a solo for viola or viola da gamba and continuo, or as a duet for various combinations of those string instruments with recorder or flute, in either B flat or A major. Although the combination heard here (recorder with bassoon and organ continuo) is not among those specified in the score, it is both effective and in keeping with the Faithful Music Master’s flexible attitude towards scoring. Another novelty of this charming sonata is that each of the four movements is strictly canonic throughout, the bassoon repeating the recorder’s music at an interval of time that varies from one movement to the next. Canonic sonatas such as this one enjoyed a brief vogue in Germany during the 1720s and 1730s, and in the context of the journal as a whole, the use of strict counterpoint meshes nicely with the other canons, fugues and diverse contrapuntal curiosities intended to educate and entertain subscribers.

Already in the eighteenth century, it was common for recorder players to perform works originally written for the flute by transposing the music to a more favourable key. Thus it would be unsurprising if Telemann’s fantasias for unaccompanied flute were often heard on recorder during the eighteenth century, as they are today. In fact, we may speculate that Telemann’s original title page, missing from the sole surviving copy of the first edition (to which the title page for Telemann’s later set of violin fantasies has been mistakenly appended), would have offered the option of performing the music on recorder and oboe. The flute fantasias were the first in a series of four publications also including sets of fantasias for keyboard, unaccompanied violin and unaccompanied viola da gamba (regretfully, no copy of this last collection has been traced). The flute works are perhaps the most inspired of the three surviving fantasia sets, given how Telemann works around the instrument’s inherent limitations in simulating multiple contrapuntal voices. Precisely what inspired such sophisticated works remains unclear, as there were few precedents for unaccompanied flute music, the most noteworthy example being Bach’s Partita in A minor, BWV 1013.

Cast in two to four movements, the fantasias invariably end with a dance in binary or rondeau form. Among these concluding dances (and those found at the opening of Fantasias 8–10) are standard types such as the allemande, corrente, sarabande, gigue, bourrée and minuet. But there are also earthy, rustic dances like the ‘fiddle’ tune alternating with stylized bird calls at the conclusion of Fantasia 12. Among the more improvisatory, ‘fantastic’ movements are the toccata-like opening of Fantasia 1, with its steady stream of contrasting musical ideas, the capriccios of Fantasias 3, 5 and 12 (alternating fast and slow segments, as in the Essercizii musici solos mentioned above) and the ‘pattern’ prelude commencing Fantasia 11. But most impressive of all are several fugues (Fantasias 2 and 6–11), a chaconne/passacaglia (Fantasia 5) and a French overture (the ‘Alla francese’ of Fantasia 7). Such movements audaciously ask the flute, incapable of playing more than one note at a time, to simulate a keyboard instrument or full string ensemble. Characteristically, Telemann opens up broad musical vistas in these epigrammatic fantasias, each of which takes up a mere page in his edition. © Steven Zohn, 2015


Pamela Thorby Recorder
Peter Whelan Bassoon 
Alison McGillivray Cello
Elizabeth Kenny Archlute & Guitar
Marcin Swiatkiewicz Harpsichord & Organ

Recording information: 

Recorded at National Centre for Early Music, York, UK 29-30 April (sonatas) and 24-25 July (fantasias) 2014
Produced and recorded by Philip Hobbs
Post-production by Julia Thomas
Cover image by Alison Cornford-Matheson
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Pitch: a' = 415Hz

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