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Christoph Graupner (1683 - 1760): Instrumental Works

"Orchestral Works"
Nova Stravaganza
Dir: Siegbert Rampe

rec: Jan 6 - 8, 2002, Bad Arolsen, Fürstliche Reitbahn
Dabringhaus & Grimm - MDG 341 1121-2 (77'21") [1]

Concerto for 2 transverse flutes, strings and b.c. in e minor (GWV 321); Overture in E (GWV 439); Overture in E flat (GWV 429); Sinfonia in D (GWV 538); Sinfonia in G (GWV 578)

"Orchestral Works Vol. 2"
Nova Stravaganza
Dir: Siegbert Rampe

rec: Jan 9/11/13, 2003, Bad Arolsen, Fürstliche Reitbahn
Dabringhaus & Grimm - MDG 341 1252-2 (55'08") [2]

Overture in F (GWV 451); Sinfonia in F (GWV 571); Trio for 2 violins and b.c. in c minor (GWV 203)

"Ritratti a colore - Bläserkonzerte"
Antichi Strumenti

rec: Sept 25 - 27, 2000, Bad Teinach, Dreifaltigkeitskirche
Stradivarius - Str 33581 (54'09") [3]

Concerto for bassoon, strings and b.c. in B flata; Concerto for 2 horns, timpani, strings and b.c. in Gb; Concerto for trumpet, strings and b.c. in Dc; Concerto for 2 trumpets, strings and b.c. in Dd; Concerto for transverse flute, strings and b.c. in De

soli: Aki Matsushige, transverse flutee; Guy Ferberc, Michael Maischd, Fritz Schulerd, trumpet; Ermes Pecchenini, Benedetto dall'Aglio, hornb György Farkas, bassoona; Jochen Krämer, timpanib

"Die Kunst der Imitation" [The Art of Imitation]
Antichi Strumenti

rec: Oct 30 - Nov 1, 2002, Mondovì Piazza, Istituto Musica Antica
Stradivarius - Str 33632 (65'24") [4]

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758): Sonata: Canon for 2 violins and b.c. in d minor; Christoph Graupner: (2) Canons a 2; (2) Canons a 3; (2) Canons a 4; Canon all'unisono for 2 violins and b.c. in F; Trio for 2 violins and b.c. in c minor (GWV 203); Trio for 2 violins and b.c. in D; Trio for 2 violins and b.c. in E; Trio for 2 violins and b.c. in g minor; Johann Melchior Molter (1696-1765): Canon: Sonata a 3 for 2 violins and b.c. in A

Gerd-Uwe Klein, Laura Toffetti, violin; Tobias Bonz, cello; Andrea Marchial, harpsichord, organ

Christoph Graupner was one of the most prolific composers in Germany of his time. He wrote a large number of instrumental and vocal works, which until the last five years or so have been almost completely neglected.

Born in Kirchberg in Saxony he received his first music lessons from local musicians, and then went to Leipzig in 1696 as an alumnus of the Thomasschule. The time in Leipzig turned out to be crucial for his development as a musician and composer.
Here he became acquainted with Telemann, who was the leader of the local Collegium Musicum. Perhaps it is through Telemann that Graupner got interested in French music, as is evident from the number of orchestral overtures in French style he has composed. Another similarity between Telemann and Graupner is the writing for a wide variety of instruments, among them less common ones like the viola d'amore and the chalumeau.

Together with his friend Johann David Heinichen he studied with the then Thomaskantor Johann Kuhnau, who thoroughly instructed them in counterpoint. In his autobiography Graupner writes that "both I and Heinichen had much profit from his teachings, both for harpsichord and composition. I myself also offered Kuhnau to copy out music and wrote for him for some time. I thus had the opportunity to note many things and whenever I had a doubt, I asked him to explain so that I knew how this or that was to be understood."

The study of counterpoint had a lasting influence on Graupner. Just like Heinichen he developed a special interest in the canon. In 1730 he started to write 5625 canons on the same subject. And in 1736 he copied Kuhnau's treatise Von dem doppelten Contrapunct, which was circulating only in manuscript. This is most remarkable, as at that time the aesthetic of the Enlightenment quickly won ground. Its main theorist was Johann Mattheson, who, in 1723 in his journal Critica Musica, specifically wrote that the foundation of music is not the canon but melody and that the ability to write a melody owes little or nothing to the artifice of the canon.
The ensemble Antichi Strumenti has devoted a whole disc to Graupner's fascination for the canon and for the principle of imitation in general. It has selected 6 canons and also recorded all of Graupner's sonatas for 2 violins and b.c. These were presumably composed as late as the first part of the 1740's. Imitation and counterpoint are dominating in the sonatas in minor keys and in the slow movements of the sonatas in major keys. Also recorded is a canon sonata, one of four Graupner wrote in 1737. Here the canon sometimes turns from a 2-part into a 3- or even 4-part structure. As a contrast two canon sonatas by Graupner's contemporaries Fasch and Molter have been recorded, which are rather more conventional.

One may be tempted to conclude from this that Graupner was a conservative composer. But he wasn't. After working three years in Hamburg at the Opera, he went to Darmstadt, where he became the Hofkapellmeister at the court of the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. It is here that he wrote the main part of his oeuvre, and this demonstrates he - like Telemann and Bach - was in favour of a mixture of national styles, in particular the French and the Italian. And over the years his compositional style clearly changed, but gradually. Apparently he preferred evolution over revolution.

The Trio in c minor (GWV 203), which appears in two of the recordings reviewed here [2] [4], may be traditional in its use of imitation, but in its three-movement structure (fast - slow - fast) it breaks away from tradition.
The Overtures also break new ground in several respects. The overture as a whole wasn't formalised: only the opening movement, ouverture - which gave the whole composition its name - was defined: it was always written in ABA form. But what followed was the choice of the composer. Sometimes the overture consisted of dances which had their origin in the French keyboard suite. We find these in the Overture in E (GWV 439) [1], where the ouverture is followed by dances like bergerie, réjouissance and loure. But sometimes descriptive titles appear in this kind of overtures, as we find them frequently in Telemann's. Graupner's Overture in E flat (GWV 429) [1] contains two of them: L'intrepidezza (fearlessness) and L'inessorabilità (implacability). This is remarkable, considering that it has been composed not later than 1736. Here we find the influence of the newer trends in French keyboard music, where François Couperin wrote his Ordres which contain many character pieces. In Germany this example is followed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who composed a number of character pieces for keyboard. And the character of L'inessorabilità is particularly intriguing as it contains a dialogue between two voices, which are very different in character. This very much reminds of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Sonata Sanguineus und Melancholicus, with its very contrasting material for the two violins.
Also notable is the use of menuets in some overtures. The Overture in E (GWV 439) [1] contains two pairs of menuets, with a tombeau in between, and the Overture in F (GWV 451) [2] even has a movement of four menuets: ABACADA.

It is also in the Overtures that we see two specific features of Graupner's compositional style. The first is the use of very short motifs, which the contemporary theorist Adlung described as 'short and sweet ideas'. This structure makes Graupner's music somewhat unpredictable, therefore interesting, but also less easy to remember than that of most of his contemporaries. In the Overture in F (GWV 451) that effect is even enhanced by the fact that the motifs are divided over transverse flute, viola d'amore, 2 chalumeaux and horn, with the usual strings and b.c.
This instrumentation reveals another feature of Graupner's compositional style. As was mentioned before, Graupner didn't only share with Telemann a preference for the French style, but also a love for a wide variety of instruments, among them less commonly used, like the viola d'amore and the chalumeau. At the time this Overture was written (around 1735) the chalumeau was a relatively new instrument. It seems Graupner developed a great love for its soft-edged sound, as he is using it pretty often in his sacred cantatas as well. Also rather unusual was the writing of just one part for the horn - in most orchestral works horns played in pairs. The horn part in this Overture is extremely virtuosic, in particular in its range, which reflects the brilliance of the horn players at the court in Darmstadt, Mahler and Schwarz.

Graupner's interest in a wide variety of instruments is also demonstrated in his Concertos. He composed solo parts for no less than 21 instruments or combinations of instruments. The ensemble Antichi Strumenti made a choice from this output. [3] In these concertos Graupner - like Telemann - makes full use of the characteristics of the istruments. Very often the court at Darmstadt was in financial trouble, and that had its effect on the size of the orchestra. Graupner regularly made use of free-lance players, which he sometimes contracted in Leipzig. But one may assume that he not always had the best possible musicians at his disposal. This could explain why the horn parts in the Concerto in G are not very demanding, in contrast to that in the above-mentioned Overture in F (GWV 451).

Over the years Graupner's style of composing changed gradually. This is most clearly demonstrated by his Sinfonias. Some of these are reworkings of Overtures: in the Sinfonia in F (GWV 571) [2], whose autograph dates from the 1750s, three of the four movements seem to be derived from an Overture, probably written before 1730. As a result this work is rather old-fashioned. Very different are the Sinfonia in G (GWV 578), written before 1748, and the Sinfonia in D (GWV 538), written before 1752 [both 1]. In particular the latter shows a strong congeniality with the style of the Mannheim school, with its orchestral crescendi and contrasts in tempo and dynamics (very striking in the first movement).

The performances are various. Both recordings by Nova Stravaganza and the recording of Graupner's Concertos are outstanding and do full justice to the brilliance of the scores. The solo parts are all superbly played, and the ensemble playing is impeccable. These releases show a great zest on the part of everyone involved. It must have been a great privilege to play this fine music for the first time ever.
In comparison the recording of Canons and Triosonatas is a big disappointment. The playing is technically anything but perfect, but also musically uninteresting and pale. The comparison of the two interpretations of the Trio in c minor (GWV 203) by Nova Stravaganza and Antichi Strumenti respectively makes that all too clear. In comparison with the dull performance of the latter this sonata seems to be a completely different piece in the swinging interpretation of the former.

These recordings impressively prove that Graupner isn't just a 'minor master' of the 18th century in Germany, and more than 'a contemporary of Bach and Telemann'. He was a very distinguished composer whose works considerably add to the picture of musical styles and compositional developments in Germany in the period from about 1725 to 1760. One can only hope that more will follow, and that others may be encouraged to perform more of Graupner's output which is awaiting to be rediscovered in the archives in Darmstadt.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

Relevant links:
Christoph Graupner
Christoph Graupner-Gesellschaft
Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt

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