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Christoph GRAUPNER (1683 - 1760): Overtures & Trios

[I] "Orchestral Suites"
Finnish Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch
rec: Oct 14 - 16, 2013, Pernajan kirkko
Ondine - ODE 1220-2 (© 2013) (76'29")
Liner-notes: E/Fi
Cover & track-list

Overture for transverse flute, viola d'amore, chalumeau, strings and bc in F (GWV 450)a; Overture for transverse flute, viola d'amore, 2 chalumeaus, horn, strings and bc in F (GWV 451); Overture for viola d'amore, bassoon, strings and bc in G (GWV 458)

[soli] Petra Aminoff, transverse flute; Tindaro Capuano, Asko Heiskanena, chalumeau; Krzystof Stencel, horn; Jani Sunnarborg, bassoon; Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch, viola d'amore

[II] "Trio Sonatas"
Members of the Finnish Baroque Orchestra
rec: Oct 14 - 16, 2013, Pernajan kirkko
Ondine - ODE 1240-2 (© 2014) (59'03")
Liner-notes: E/Fi
Cover & track-list

Sonata à 3 for transverse flute, viola d'amore and bc in d minor (GWV 207)afgij; Trio for bassoon, chalumeau and bc in C (GWV 201)bcij; Trio for transverse flute, viola d'amore and bc (GWV 217)afgij; Trio for viola d'amore, chalumeau and bc in F (GWV 210)bfgi; Trio for 2 violins and bc in c minor (GWV 203)dehik; Trio for 2 violins and bc in E (GWV 208)dej

Petra Aminoff, transverse flutea; Asko Heiskanen, chalumeaub; Jani Sunnarborg, bassoonc; Hannu Vasara, violind; Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen-Pilch, violine, viola d'amoref; Markku Luolajan-Mikkola, viola da gambag, celloh; Eero Palviainen, lutei; Petteri Pitko, harpsichordj, organk


There was a time Christoph Graupner was a largely unknown quantity, but those days have gone. The discography of his oeuvre is growing slowly but steadily. Among the most recent additions are the two discs which the Finnish Baroque Orchestra has devoted to two parts of his oeuvre: the orchestral overture and the trio sonata. They represent two of the main genres of instrumental music of the baroque era.

Graupner was born in Kirchberg in Saxony and entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696 where his teachers were Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau. From 1704 to 1706 he studied jurisprudence at Leipzig University. Here he met Georg Philipp Telemann which resulted in a lifelong friendship. There were quite some similarities between them: both had a lively interest in the French style and both composed operas from early in their career. In 1706 Graupner settled in Hamburg where he became harpsichordist of the Oper am Gänsemarkt. He probably cooperated with Reinhard Keiser in the composition of operas, and he himself wrote five. In 1709 he was invited by Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt to enter his service as vice-Kapellmeister to Wolfgang Carl Briegel. The latter died in 1712 and Graupner took over his position. He remained in Darmstadt until the end of his life.

The fact that the Landgrave had his own opera theatre must have played a significant role in Graupner's decision to move to Darmstadt. Unfortunately, the increasingly precarious financial situation forced his employer to close his theatre, and Graupner's career as a composer took a decisive turn. Instead of writing operas he now concentrated on the composition of instrumental music - orchestral and chamber music - and of sacred cantatas. Unlike his operatic output which has been lost nearly completely, almost the entire oeuvre of his Darmstadt years has been preserved.

There is a growing interest in his music, and that is understandable as it has a character of its own. There are very few similarities with music written by his German contemporaries. It is an intriguing question why that is the case. In her liner-notes Anssi Mattila writes: "Perhaps it is because he spent fifty years cooped up in the same court and wrote a huge amount of music that his music somehow seems detached from its time and the surrounding world." I am not so sure about that. Darmstadt was not exactly in the middle of nowhere; Frankfurt was nearby, and for a number of years here his friend Telemann worked. When the latter needed some extra musicians for performances he turned to Graupner and borrowed musicians from the Darmstadt chapel. Moreover, most of Telemann's orchestral overtures have been preserved in copies which were made in Darmstadt. Graupner must have known Telemann's music very well, but even so there are few parallels between their respective compositions.

Both composers wrote a large number of overtures, reflecting their preference for the French style. A number of them include solo parts for one or several instruments. Among Telemann's most famous overtures are those with a solo part for the recorder and for the viola da gamba respectively. Otherwise the scoring of his overtures is rather conventional. There is nothing conventional about the scoring of the three overtures the Finnish Baroque Orchestra has chosen. The viola d'amore was not a very common instrument anyway, and the bassoon was mainly used as a basso continuo instrument, but little solo music was written for it. A feature of Graupner's oeuvre is the frequent participation of the chalumeau. This was a relatively new instrument, and Graupner was one of the few composers who used it frequently, much more often than Telemann, whereas Johann Sebastian Bach never used it. Graupner didn't confine himself to writing part for one chalumeau; in some overtures he used even three of them.

There is also little in common between Graupner's compositional style and that of his contemporaries. His music often gives the impression of being a sequence of ideas which suddenly come and go. The three overtures recorded here bear witness to his different treatment of the same form. In the two Overtures in F the solo instruments intervene only after a couple of bars in the ouverture, but in the Overture in G (GWV 458) only the B section of the ouverture includes solo episodes. The fifth movement of the latter work (air, with the indication largo) is dominated by the viola d'amore and the bassoon, with the strings playing pizzicato. Here Graupner uses solo episodes to make a distinction between two similar dances: both the second bourrée and the second menuet include solo passages whereas in both cases the first is entirely for the tutti. The Overture in F (GWV 451) has even four menuets, each with a different texture as far as the solos are concerned. That work ends with a chaconne, another token of Graupner's interest in the French style, although it is very different from any chaconne written by French composers. I can't remember Telemann including chaconnes in his Overtures, but many of them have a movement which shows the influence of folk music. That is also the case in Graupber's Overtures: the air en polonese from the Overture in F (GWV 450) and the first air from the Overture in G include a drone. Lastly, in the Overture in F (GWV 451) Graupner wrote a brilliant horn part; it is known that the chapel in Darmstadt had some horn virtuosos in its ranks, and Graupner must have been keen to use their skills.

The second disc includes trios, as Graupner mostly called them. In fact, these are trio sonatas and represent one of the most popular genres of chamber music of the time. Graupner's trios are in three or four movements; some movements are divided into a slow and a fast section. Again one notices the unusual scoring: viola d'amore and chalumeau are not a very common scoring nor is the combination of chalumeau and bassoon. Although the instruments frequently play in parallel motion there is quite a lot of counterpoint in these trios, for instance the Trio in c minor and the Sonata à 3 in d minor whose closing movement includes fugal episodes. Some movements are quite virtuosic, such as the first allegros from the Trio in C and the Trio in E respectively, and the vivace which closes the Sonata in B flat, one of the most brilliant pieces of the programme. The Trio in E is also remarkable for the harmonic tension in the second largo and the repeated figures in the closing vivace, which seem a kind of fanfare motives. The Sonata à 3 has strongly dramatic traits, especially in the fast movements.

Graupner and the Finnish Baroque Orchestra seem a happy marriage. These are definitely some of the best recordings of Graupner's music I have ever heard. The players seem to have entered this project with a strong motivation to show how good a composer he really is, and they have succeeded brilliantly. They play with zest and imagination and the many and often sudden contrasts are explored to the full. The soloists from the ranks of the orchestra have done an excellent job, both in the solo parts of the Overtures and in the trios. If you want to know what Graupner's music is like, these discs are the best way to get to know it. Those who have heard his music before should not hesitate to add these discs to their collection.

Can we have some more, please?

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Finnish Baroque Orchestra

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