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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Kapitänsmusik 1738 (TWV 15,11)

Cornelia Samuelis (Der Friede, Die Andacht), Veronika Winter (Der Schutzgeist Deutschlands, Hammonia), soprano; Jan Kobow (Das Vertrauen, Die Elbe), Immo Schröder (Die Unachtsamkeit, Die Zaghaftigkeit), tenor; Ekkehard Abele (Der Kriegsgeist, Die Gerechtigkeit), Gregor Finke (Der Neid, Die Wahrheit), bass
Rheinische Kantorei; Das Kleine Konzert
Dir: Hermann Max

rec: Sept 28 - 29, 2007 (live), Knechtsteden, Klosterbasilika
CPO - 777 386-2 (2 CDs) (© 2010) (2.08'18")
[Texts included; translations: E]

Oratorio (Wohl dem Volke); Serenata (Es locket die Trommel)

One of the many duties of Georg Philipp Telemann as Musikdirektor in Hamburg was the composition of the Kapitänsmusik which was to be performed every year during the convivium, the festive banquet of the sixty-seven members of the officer corps of the civic guard. This event took place on the first Thursday after St Bartholomew's Day (24 August). The Kapitänsmusik consisted of two parts. It started with an oratorio which was performed during the midday meal; the serenata was played in the evening. Telemann composed 36 such works, of which only nine have survived.

In the (sacred) oratorio the many blessings of Hamburg are spelled out, mostly by a character called Hammonia (Hamburg). She calls on the citizens to praise God for his blessings. Here this is expressed, for instance, in a chorus of Hammonia with her children: "Holy being, you source of good, blessing and prosperity issue forth from you. You make sure that Hamburg's wall forever stand. Take from us the thanks for this." Various allegorical characters turn up which declare their bond with the city: Die Andacht (Devotion), Die Gerechtigkeit (Justice), Die Wahrheit (Truth) and Das Vertrauen (Trust). As in most such pieces there is an opposing character: Die Unachtsamkeit (Negligence). He acknowledges that there is much to enjoy in Hamburg, but for him the blessings are rather the earthly pleasures, like food and drink: "I look forward to the oyster season". He doesn't want to waste any time at thinking about "the source of the blessing and its surplus". The other characters react with abhorrence, as Negligence "forgets that our God is the origin of good", as Devotion says. Hammonia then says he should "avoid my domain". The oratorio ends with the last stanza from the hymn 'Herr Gott, wir danken dir' (Johann Franck, 1618-1677).

The serenata is quite dramatic. This is to be expected because Telemann was a successful opera composer; from 1722 until its closure in 1738 he was the director of the Oper am Gänsemarkt. But this serenata is more dramatic than those in other Kapitänsmusiken in that its central subject is war. There was a historical reason for that. Hamburg was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and its emperor, Charles VI, was involved in a war against the Ottoman empire since 1737. Although Hamburg was not directly struck by the war, it was part of the empire and therefore involved in the conflict. The serenata begins with a 'Chorus of the Heroes' in the form of a battaglia: "The drum calls with rolling beats, the mortars roar, the swords flash - this brings joy to our brave hearts". The warriors are encouraged by Der Kriegsgeist (The Spirit of War), the Elbe asks the shepherds to end their joy and "lay down your gentle flutes". It is then Die Zaghaftigkeit (Timidity) who describes the horrors of the war: "My heart beats in my horrified breast to think of the ominous gloom of signs of misfortune. (...) O who, who will save us from ruin?" Then Der Friede (Peace) enters and declares that "I am the one who watches over you". This gives Timidity new strength.

In the last part of the serenata the enemy is specifically mentioned. The Spirit of War says: "The eagle leads the legions before Istanbul's now horrified gate. He displays in sharpened talons, the sword drawn for Turkish ruin". He is encouraged by the Elbe: "Go, let German courage accustom the wild Saracens even more to servitude". This is followed by an aria which has again the form of a battaglia. As in the oratorio there is an opposing character. This time it is Der Neid (Envy) which expresses his "pleasure in Germany's misfortune". "I even see now with happy eyes the whole burden and your demise coming". But then Der Schutzgeist Deutschlands (Germany's Guardian Spirit) turns up and declares: "Germany is loved by heaven itself. Up, heroes, up to the fight". The serenata ends with a chorus: "Germany's glory shall always stand, and your happy prosperity, Hamburg/Schwerin, is ordained by God".

Considering that Germany was no political unity, but a patchwork of largely independent territories the use of the term 'Germany' is remarkable. It was hardly used in those days, and in his liner-notes Eckart Kleßman sees it as an expression of the wish "to put an end to the notorious threat posed to the practically defenseless German states, to strengthen their self-confidence, and to reinforce this self-confidence with military security". Whatever the reason may be, this aspect and the pronounced treatment of the subject of war makes this Kapitänsmusik rather unique in this part of Telemann's oeuvre.

One of the dramatic features of the serenata is the representation of the various characters. In particular The Spirit of War and Timidity are remarkable, as well as Envy. The characteristics of these protagonists are impressively explored by the various singers. In the oratorio it is the role of Negligence which attracts attention. Here Immo Schröder shines in his humorous portrayal of this character. Veronika Winter gives an immaculate performance of the role of Hammonia. As Germany's Guardian Spirit she sings the last aria of this work, 'Ergreifet den Degen' (Grip the sword) which is quite virtuosic. But most arias are of a considerable technical level, and Telemann shows again his creative spirit, not only in the vocal parts but also in the instrumental score.

This Kapitänsmusik was first performed in modern times in 1965 in the former GDR, but its text had to be changed in many respects, for political reasons. Therefore the live performance in 2007 in Knechtsteden which was recorded by the German classical channel WDR Cologne and released by CPO, is the work's first modern performance in its original state. Hermann Max and all other participants deserve our gratitude for bringing this very fine piece of music to our attention. I am looking forward to the Kapitänsmusiken which are still waiting to be recorded.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Rheinische Kantorei

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