musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Handel in Darmstadt"

Geneviève Soly, harpsichord

rec: Jan 12 - 14, 2010, Mirabel (Québec), Église Saint-Augustin
Analekta - AN 2 9121 (© 2010) (54'08")

Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760): Partita in G (GWV 145): marche; George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Chaconne in G (HWV 435a); Sonata in F (HWV 427a); Sonata in G (HWV 579); Suite in C (HWV 443): sarabande; gigue; Suite in B flat (HWV 434); Suite in B flat (HWV 440)

In comparison to composers like Bach and Telemann it is only fairly recently that Christoph Graupner has been given attention. That is surprising considering the fact that he was an important actor at the music stage in Germany in the first half of the 18th century, and was in close contact to some of the main composers of his time. The collection of pieces for the harpsichord which is the subject of this recording by Geneviève Soly bears witness to this.

This collection is called the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book, which is preserved in the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek in Darmstadt, and was copied by Graupner's close assistant Samuel Endler. In her programme notes Geneviève Soly suggests the collection could be the result of Graupner collecting harpsichord music by his friends and colleagues from as early as his years in Leipzig, where he studied with Johann Kuhnau, Johann Sebastian Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor. It is with a suite of Kuhnau that the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book opens, which can be interpreted as a tribute to his former teacher. The book also contains music by Graupner himself as well as pieces by Telemann and Handel.

The strong ties between Telemann and Graupner are well documented. In total 96 of the 134 extant orchestral overtures by Telemann have been preserved in Darmstadt. In 1712 Christoph Graupner was appointed Kapellmeister here, and that same year Telemann moved to Frankfurt - about 30 kilometers from Darmstadt - to take up the position of city music director. Telemann and Graupner knew each other from their time as students in Leipzig, and they had remained in close contact since. Telemann sometimes borrowed members of the Darmstadt chapel when he needed additional musicians for specific occasions.

The connection between Handel and Graupner is lesser known, and there is also some confusion about who borrowed from whom. It is not only the fact that Graupner included pieces by Handel in the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book, which prove the connection between them. The Sonata in G (HWV 579) is based on the theme of the marche from Graupner's Partita in G (GWV 145). Whereas Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht believed Graupner borrowed the theme from Handel, Geneviève Soly believes it was actually Handel who parodied Graupner. More evidence of the connection between Handel and Graupner is the Sonata in B flat (HWV 339) by Handel which was published in 1979 and only exists in a copy by Graupner. This piece dates from 1709 when he entered the service of the court in Darmstadt.

Geneviève Soly writes this could be seen as testimony to "the human and musical sympathy between the two composers, who had been good friends at the Hamburg Opera". But Handel left Hamburg for Italy in August of 1706, and according to New Grove Graupner moved from Leipzig to Hamburg that same year. If this is true the two men seem to have had very little time to develop a friendship. But Ms Soly also writes that a good amount of Handel's music in the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book "could have been given Graupner during friendly exchanges between the two Saxons while working at the Hamburg Opera, around 1705-06, and kept up after they parted ways". As she is working on a biography of Graupner, these data could be the result of latest findings in regard of Graupner's whereabouts in the first decade of the 18th century.

The Darmstadt Harpsichord Book contains 29 pieces by Handel, 20 of which are recorded here; this figure refers to the various movements and sections, which means that the Suite in B flat (HWV 434) counts for eight, as it contains a prelude, a sonata and an air with 5 variations. Johannes Brahms used the air for his Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, op. 24. The prelude with its many arpeggios reflects the influence of the French prélude non mesuré.

The Chaconne in G (HWV 435a) exists in five versions, of which this one is the first. Notable is the middle section, marked adagio and written in the minor key. The Suite in F (HWV 427a) is best known as the second of the eight suites from the collection of 1720. Here the first version of this suite is performed, which differs in various ways from the later print. The second movement of the early version, an allegro, doesn't appear in the edition of 1720.

The Suite in C (HWV 443) is the only item from the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book which wasn't published in Handel's lifetime. It is a very early piece - Ms Soly states it was Handel's first harpsichord work - and dates from 1700 or a little later when the composer was still in Halle. It is a shame only two movements from this suite are performed here. Considering the short playing time of this disc the whole suite could have been played.

The Sonata in G (BWV 579), mentioned before, is the only piece on this disc which is not included in the Darmstadt Harpsichord Book. It dates from Handel's Italian period, and is written for two manuals. This opens the possibility that it was intended for the organ. Notable is the fact that Handel not only uses a theme by Graupner, but also quotes Buxtehude.

Geneviève Soly is strongly interested in Christoph Graupner and devotes much of her time to exploring his oeuvre. It was for that reason that she was also interested in this collection of harpsichord music, which bears witness to the ties between Graupner and Handel. From this angle this disc isn't only an interesting addition to the Handel catalogue, but also to our knowledge of the life and work of Graupner. Like in her previous recordings of harpsichord music by Graupner Geneviève Soly delivers fine performances on a beautiful harpsichord, a copy of an instrument by the German harpsichord maker Mietke.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Geneviève Soly

CD Reviews