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Georg Muffat and the goûts réunis

[I] Georg MUFFAT (1653 - 1704): Florilegium Primum 1695
Ensemble Salzburg Barock
rec: April 8 - 11, 2015, Munich, Städtische Musikschule (Festsaal)
Challenge Classics - CC72678 (© 2015) (70'42")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Fasciculus I 'Eusebia'; Fasciculus II 'Sperantis Gaudia'; Fasciculus III 'Gratitudo'; Fasciculus IV 'Impatientia'; Fasciculus V 'Sollicitudo'; Fasciculus VI 'Blanditiae'; Fasciculus VII 'Constantia'

Jochen Grüner, Kathrin Tröger, violin; Clarissa Miller, Lothar Haass, viola; Günter Holzhausen, violone; Veronika Braß, harpsichord

[II] "Towards Heaven"
Cölner Barockorchester
Dir: Andreas Hempel
rec: Oct 5 - 8, 2015, Honrath, Evangelische Kirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91603 (© 2016) (65'03")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Elisabeth-Claude JACQUET DE LA GUERRE (1665-1729): Céphale et Procris, tragédie en musique (suite); Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Concerto XII in G 'Propitia Sydera oder Günstiges Gestirn' [3]; Sonata II in g minor [1]; Carl ROSIER (1640-1725): Sonata VI in C [2]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture in g minor 'La Changeante' (TWV 55,g2)

Sources: [1] Georg Muffat, Armonico tributo, 1682; [2] Carl Rosier, Quatorze Somates à 5, 1697; [3] Georg Muffat, Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music, 1701

Robert Herden, oboe; Andreas Hempel, Justyna Niznik, Olga Piskorz, violin; Daniel Lind, Justyna Skatulnik, viola; Evelyn Buyken, cello; Kit Scotney, violone; Klaus Mader, theorbo, guitar; Natalia Spehl, harpsichord

In 1724 François Couperin published his Les goûts-réünis, ou Nouveaux concerts in Paris. The title was a programme: he was one of the strongest advocates of the mixture of the Italian and the French style in music. He was not the only one: since the late 17th century several German composers had studied the music of Lully and started to write orchestral suites or ouvertures in the French style. At the same time Italian opera made its influence felt and the early 18th century saw the emergence of the solo concerto, another Italian invention. In the first half of the 18th century a growing number of composers embraced both styles and mixed them with their own contrapuntal tradition, among them Telemann, Bach and Fasch. It is fair to say that it was Georg Muffat who was the first who brought the three main styles in Europe together and the only one who did so explicitly and with a purpose.

That purpose was not only - and probably not even in the first place - musical but political. "The weapons of war and their causes are far away from me: notes, strings and lovely musical sounds are my exercise, and since I combine the French manner with the German and Italian styles, I do not incite war, but perhaps help to achieve a desirable concord between these peoples, playing for dear peace". Thus he stated in the preface of his collection of suites in the French style which he published in 1695 under the title of Florilegium primum. This preface was printed in four languages, another expression of his ideals. He also gave here detailed instructions as to how French music needed to be played.

He knew what he was talking about as he had studied with Lully and other French composers from 1663 to 1669. He claimed to be the first to bring "ballet compositions and their flowing and natural gait, entirely shunning all other art, intemperate runs as well as frequent and ill-sounding jumps" to the German-speaking regions of Europe. At the time he published this collection he was Kapellmeister in Passau, a small town in Bavaria. In the decades before he had worked in Austria, and especially in Salzburg, but there his chances of promotion were frustrated by the presence of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, nine years his senior who - ironically - would die just a couple of months after Muffat in 1704.

The Florilegium primum is a demonstration of the French style. It comprises six suites, consisting of seven movements, except the last which has eight. Every suite - called here fasciculus - opens with an ouverture in the characteristic ABA form, with dotted rhythms in the A section. There are two exceptions: Fasciculus V opens with a symphonie and Fasciculus VII with an air. The latter is a bit different from the other suites anyway, for instance in the inclusion of two pieces which refer to French opera: Entrée des Fraudes and Entrée des Insultes. The closing movement of Fasciculus VI is called Eccho which is a reference to Italian 17th-century opera where the echo was a popular device. It is also the only movement with an Italian title; all other character descriptions are in French, such as gigue, balet, bourée and canaries.

One probably wonders about the titles of these suites. In his liner-notes Michael Malkiewicz believes that they have a specific meaning: "The learnedness of a Jesuit-taught composer (...) provokes thought about their significance". However, this is impossible to prove. There seems to be little doubt, however, that - as he also observes - the succession of keys is deliberate: the suites in minor keys are embraced by suites in the major and these four "run, as do the open strings of a violin (g-d'-a'-e"), upwards within the circle of fifths". Two violins take the upper parts, the two middle parts are played on violas. It is impossible to say whether this music is intended for a performance with one instrument per part as is the case here as well as in the only previous recording I know, by Ars Antiqua Austria (Symphonia, 1998; reissue: Pan Classics, 2012). It seems possible to perform these suites with a larger ensemble, including oboes playing colla parte with the violins, as was practised in France under Lully. It is a bit surprising that there are not more recordings on the market, considering the historical importance and the musical quality of this collection. A recording with a larger ensemble would make for an interesting comparison. That said, this recording deserves a whole-hearted welcome. The ensemble delivers very fine performances which show the sensitivity of the players for what it takes to bring this music to life. They avoid too strong dynamic accents in the Italian or German manner which would be out of place in French music. Muffat emphasizes the importance of a correct bowing technique in order to realize the rhythms of the dances, and the players are well aware of that.

The second disc includes two pieces from other collections by Muffat which show his Italian side. The Cölner Barockorchester opens its programme with the Sonata II in g minor from Armonico tributo, the first collection of music by Muffat which was printed (1682). This was the fruit of his sojourn in Italy. In 1678 Muffat took up a post at Salzburg as organist and chamber musician to Archbishop Max Gandolf, Count of Kuenburg. His employer granted him leave to visit Italy in the 1680s. He went to Rome where he studied with the organist Bernardo Pasquini. This left its mark in his collection of organ toccatas which was published in 1690 under the title of Apparatus musico-organisticus. There he also heard Corelli's concerti grossi, long before they were published. This strongly influenced his style of composing: the five sonatas of Armonico tributo can be played with single instruments: they are defined as "chamber sonatas suitable for few or many instruments" but in the score the letters T and S refer to tutti and solo respectively. Like in Corelli's concerti grossi the solo episodes are for two violins and bass. Even so, a performance with one instrument per part is legitimate and seems to be the standard these days. We should keep in mind that Corelli's concerti grossi were also performed in various scorings, from trio sonata to an orchestra of about 40 players, and sometimes also with additional wind.

In 1701 Muffat published a collection of twelve concerti grossi under the title of Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music. Here he partly used movements - mostly revised - from earlier editions. The Concerto XII includes a ciaconna which first served as the last movement of the Sonata V from Armonico tributo, then with the title of passacaglia. In the preface he explicitly allows the performers to take some freedom in the line-up. If more instruments are available the performers should not hesitate to use them. He even suggests the inclusion of oboes in the concertino. Here we get a performance with one instrument per part, like in the sonata from Armonico tributo.

Muffat opens and closes the programme and in between we find specimens of the French and the Italian style. The least-known composer is Carl Rosier, born in Liège and for the most part of his life active in Germany, living in Cologne from 1675 on. That was probably the reason that this Cologne-based ensemble included the Sonata VI in C in the programme. It is an example of the mixture of Italian and French elements: it opens with a canzona which is followed by three French dances. It has the traces of a solo concerto as the oboe part has quite some independence. Telemann was one of the most prominent exponents of the 'mixed taste' in Germany, but with a special preference for the French style. That comes particularly to the fore in his orchestral suites. The Ouverture in g minor 'La Changeante' is scored for strings and bc, but here the oboe plays colla parte with the first violin in some of the movements. As so often Telemann included movements with a title; the third, for instance, is called Les Scaramouches, referring to a character from the commedia dell'arte. In France Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was one of the first to include Italian elements in her oeuvre, for instance in the composition of trio sonatas. However, nothing Italian is notable in the extracts from Céphale et Procris, a tragédie lyrique first performed in 1694.

Although the programme has a different purpose as expressed in the title - a demonstration of the reflection of ideas in music through keys, musical figures and programmatic titles -, it can also be considered as an illustration of the meeting of the different styles and their blending in European music. The main interest, as far as the repertoire is concerned, are the pieces by Rosier - who is hardly represented on disc - and Telemann; the suite recorded here is one of his lesser known. I have enjoyed the performances, but the miking is a bit too close. The sarabanda from Muffat's Sonata II is played at a pretty fast tempo which seems debatable. The booklet includes no information about the pitch; it needs to be said that German and French music was played at different pitches at the time. Moreover, strictly speaking we need different instruments for the middle parts (violin II, viola) than in German or Italian music. This hairsplitting apart this disc offers much to enjoy.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Cölner Barockorchester

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