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Johann Gottlieb (1702/03 - 1771) / Carl Heinrich (1703/04 - 1759) GRAUN: Trios

[I] "Trios for 2 Violins & Basso"
Les Amis de Philippe
rec: Nov 6 - 9, 2006, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Sendesaal)
CPO - 777 423-2 (© 2009) (75'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Trio in c minor (GraunWV Av:XV,19); Trio in D (GraunWV Av:XV,23); Trio in D (GraunWV Cv:XV,100); Trio in E (GraunWV Av,XV,27); Trio in A (GraunWV A:XV,13)

Anne Schumann, Dorothea Vogel, violin; Monika Schwamberger, cello; Ludger Rémy, fortepiano

[II] "Trios for Violin or Viola & Clavier"
Les Amis de Philippe
rec: Oct 16 - 19, 2008, Bremen, Radio Bremen (Sendesaal)
CPO - 777 633-2 (© 2013) (68'24")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Trio for violin and keyboard in A (GraunWV A:XV,13); Trio for violin and keyboard in A (GraunWV C:XV,90); Trio for violin and keyboard in b minor (GraunWV C:XV,92); Trio for viola and keyboard in B flat (GraunWV A:XV,16)

Anne Schumann, violin; Eva Salonen, viola; Ludger Rémy, fortepiano

[III] "Trios"
Les Recréations
rec: Nov 11 - 14, 2010, Frasne-le-Château (F), Eglise St Joseph
Raumklang - RK 3008 (© 2012) (70'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Trio for keyboard and viola in c minor (GraunWV Av:XV,20); Trio for 2 violins and bc in c minor (GraunWV Av:XV,19); Trio for 2 violins and bc in G (GraunWV C:XV,89); Quartet for 2 violins, viola da gamba and bc in g minor (GraunWV Av:XIV,10)

Matthieu Camilleri, violin, viola; Clara Mühletaler, violin; Emily Robinson, cello; Atsushi Sakai, viola da gamba; Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord


These three discs shed light on an interesting and important part of music history: the development of the baroque trio sonata to the sonata with obbligato keyboard. It is demonstrated here with trios from the pen of the Graun brothers. They played an important role in German music life in the mid-18th century.

The names of the two brothers appear on the title pages of both CPO discs. The reason is that it is mostly not known who composed what. Apparently their handwriting is not known: their music has only been preserved in copies. Most pieces are signed with di Graun or del Graun. Johann Gottlieb was a celebrated violinist and composed mostly instrumental music, whereas Carl Heinrich was successful as a tenor and wrote a large number of operas, cantatas and sacred music. Even so, it would be wrong to suggest that all the instrumental works were written by Johann Gottlieb. The numbers (GraunWV) refer to a catalogue of the oeuvre of the Grauns, put together by Christoph Henzel. He made a clear distinction between pieces which can be attributed to Johann Gottlieb (A), Carl Heinrich (B) or one of them (C). The small letter v indicates that the attribution is not 100 percent sure.

The fact that many of their trios are available in a pretty large number of sources bears witness to their popularity. Almost none of them were ever printed in their lifetime. It was mostly music for the growing amateur market which was published, and the trios by the Graun brothers were technically too demanding to be suitable for non-professional players. The first disc includes five trios for two violins and bc. As the original manuscripts have not been preserved it is impossible to say when they were written. However, the copies can sometimes be dated and that gives at least some indication as to when they must have been composed. The disc opens with the Trio in A (GraunWV A:XV,13) which is available in a copy from around 1730. Even if that was not known its texture is traditional baroque: it has three movements in the order fast - slow - fast. This was quite common at that time, reflecting the form of the Italian solo concerto. The Trio in D (GraunWV Cv:XV,100) must have been written not later than 1750. It is also traditional in that it follows the structure of the Corellian sonata da chiesa. The three other trios are more modern and have the order of movements which was to become the standard in the mid-18th century: slow - fast - fast. The slow movements in these trios are particularly expressive. A good example is the affettuoso from the above-mentioned Trio in D. In the fast movements these trios show their adherence to the German tradition of counterpoint. The mixture of traditional and modern elements is one of the features of the instrumental music of the Graun brothers. Some of these fast movements are highly virtuosic.

The second disc includes four trios for a melody instrument and obbligato keyboard. This was to become the standard in the last quarter of the 18th century, when many sonatas for keyboard and a melody instrument were written. However, these trios by the Grauns are different from, for instance, the sonatas for keyboard and violin by Mozart or even the piano trios by Haydn. Most of these trios are adaptations of sonatas which were originally written for two instruments and basso continuo. That has left its mark in the fact that the keyboard is not as dominant here as in the sonatas or trios from the late 18th century. In that repertoire the melody instruments mostly don't have a very virtuosic part to play. That is different here: the violin parts are no less demanding than in the trios of the first disc. Some trios were conceived as sonatas for a melody instrument - mostly a violin - and keyboard, but even those exist in alternative versions for two instruments and basso continuo. Especially interesting in this regard is the Trio in B flat which is scored for viola and obbligato keyboard. However, the right hand of the keyboard part has the addition "violin", which indicates that this trio can be played as a 'traditional' trio sonata as well. The fact that this trio is scored for viola is another notable aspect as this was an instrument which was to become more important during the mid-18th century.

The third disc opens an even broader view on the composing of the Graun brothers. It includes one of the trios which also appears on the first CPO disc, but also a piece of a type which is not represented on either of the CPO discs: a quartet for two violins, viola da gamba and bc. The quartet - often called quatuor - was considered one of the most brilliant forms of chamber music and held in high regard in Germany. Telemann and Fasch were the leading masters of this genre. Graun's Quatro in g minor - probably by Johann Gottlieb, but that cannot be established - is technically demanding in all its parts. The Trios in c minor and in G are of the modern type, starting with a slow movement which is followed by two fast movements. Despite written in the same key the two Trios for keyboard and viola are different works. They are substantial additions to the repertoire with a solo part for the viola.

The Grauns don't appear very often on concert programmes. It is to be hoped that this will change, because these three discs include some of the best chamber music from the mid-18th century. For players these pieces are highly rewarding. They are technically challenging, but also musically very satisfying, and full of expression. This very fine repertoire receives outstanding performances. The playing of the violinists and violist of Les Amis de Philippe is brilliant, and the pathos of the slow movements is fully explored. The choice of keyboard is questionable in some cases. Ludger Rémy argues that the fortepiano was quite common at a relatively early time in Berlin where the Grauns worked. It would be different if this music would have been written for amateurs. Among those the fortepiano was probably very rare until the last quarter of the century. Even so, the trios which very likely date from the 1730s would probably have been better served with a harpsichord. However, this is just a small detail which doesn't reduce the value of these two recordings.

The disc of Les Récréations is just as good, but somewhat different. In all the pieces the basso continuo is played with harpsichord, and that is perfectly possible, even in late compositions. The performances of Les Amis de Philippe are more intimate whereas Les Récréations delivers more extraverted performances. That is partly due to the recording: it seems that the miking in the Raumklang recording is closer than in the CPO recordings. Moreover, the recording took place in a church, which is not the ideal venue for repertoire like this.

These three discs are highly important and make one understand why the Graun brothers were such celebrities in their time.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Les Récréations

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