Georg Philipp Telemann (14 March 1681 – 25 June 1767)
In 1992, I recorded Telemann’s 12 Fantasies (1735) for solo violin. They have been at the centre of my repertoire ever since. I have long wanted to record these works on gut strings and with an early bow. The opportunity to develop a relationship with this extraordinary Andrea Amati, crystallised my resolve to do this. The violin is the property of the distinguished violinist Jonathan Sparey, and on loan to the collection at the Royal Academy of Music. As soon as I put a bow to it, it was obvious that this was the instrument which could take me back to the Telemann set. The combination with a bow made by Genoese archetier, Antonino Airenti, proved irresistible; the two instruments complement each other perfectly, offering me new vistas of colour and inspiration.
However, the origin of my fascination with these works was my earlier encounter with the 12 Fantasies (1732/3) for solo flute. The historical relationship between string playing and wind brass repertoire/performance fascinates me. Any accomplished musician of 17th and 18th Centuries was a multi-instrumentalist, composer and usually a trained singer. Johann Joachim Quantz, whose Treatise of a Method for Playing the Transverse Flute (1752 Berlin) is more or less the bible of style and practice in 18th Century Northern Europe, was also a violinist. There is perhaps more practical information about violin playing in this work than Leopold Mozart’s contemporaneous A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing (1756). This represents the natural crossover of techniques; I feel that this continues.
I am particularly grateful to the wind players who have inspired me along the way. Really important experiences for me, have working and talking with the much-missed trumpeter James Watson; our many conversations gravitated to the reciprocity between blown and bowed instruments. But it was the astonishing flute-player Janne Thomsen who introduced me to Telemann ends that movement he potential of these pieces; her profound understanding of the inter-relationships of line, breath, timbre and colour remain a model of the indissoluble melding of technique and artistry. For this I am truly grateful. I studied and played the Telemann flute Fantasies, in private, and at a safe distance from the critical ears of my flutist friends. This led, naturally, to the performance and recording of the violin works.
Early on, I noticed that the earliest known edition of the Flute Fantasies (in the Brussels Conservatoire Library ) reads, on the front page “Violino”. I am not suggesting for a minute that these are violin pieces, but modestly, that violinists should learn them, as a balance to the rather earthier (I generalise) violin works. But there is another aspect to this; composers such as Telemann, taking advantage of the extraordinary expressive and colouristic opportunities of the flute of the time, also had aspects of the violin at back of their minds. A simple example of this would be the placing/tuning of ‘open strings’. These are present throughout the works; ironically, in order to keep within the compass of the flute-the works never go below D (a tone above middle C)-which is an open string on the violin, or above the E, two octaves and a tone higher (which is a ringing ‘harmonic’ on the violin).
12 Fantasies for violin (1735) TWV 40:14-25
Day One- 14 12- 14
No 1. B Flat Major (Largo, Allegro, Grave, Allegro)
Unlike Bach’s 6 Sonate e Partite, Telemann’s Fantasies do no divide neatly between da camera and da chiesa conventions. But, like his friend, Telemann relished giving the impression that he was going to obey the rules, and then ignoring them. Fantasy 1 is a ‘church sonata’, with a slow movement in the relative minor (g). Telemann wrote no violin fantasy in G minor; this work is the exact key reversal of Bach’s G minor Sonata BWV1001. Like Bach, Telemann seems to offer a prelude and fugue, however, he was fond of the ‘fake fugue’, like the similar gambit in Mozart’s 33rd Symphony. Telemann then instructs the player to repeat the second movement in toto after the very sombre Grave, making the structure A-B-C (relative minor)-B.
Fantasia 1 B flat Major
No. 2 G Major (Largo, Allegro, Allegro)
If the Fantasies are heard in sequence, the playfulness of Telemann’s ‘internal linking’ becomes very clear. Fantasy 2 ‘resolves’ the lonely G minor Grave of No. 1. Telemann’s soulful opening, picks up the duplet/triplet dialogue of the Largo of No 1, and instructs the player to play both rhythms at the same time, a comparatively rare gesture until the 20th Century. The second movement offers another playfully ‘contrapuntal tease’, and but one very much in the manner of ‘Jagdmusik’, with riding music, horn calls, and bird song (like the pursued quarry in Vivaldi’s Autumn). The Allegro is the first dance music in the cycle, perhaps a ‘furlana’.
Fantasia 2 G Major
Day Three 16-12-14
No. 3 F minor (Adagio, Presto, Grave, Vivace).
In 1752, Johann Joachim Quantz observed that, “A minor, C minor, D sharp major, and F minor express a melancholy sentiment much better than other minor keys.” As late as 1806, Christian Schubart defined the characteristics of F minor as ‘Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave’. Playing this extraordinary movement on the amazing little Amati, with the richly coloured gut strings, and Airenti’s wizard’s wand of a bow, I confess that it was completely impossible to avoid these notions. Telemann’s note choice demands discomfiting, flibbertigibbet intonation. Like the first Fantasy, the grave is in a relative key (the dominant minor) before the ghastly final minuet, ironically named Vivace (‘lively’).
Fantasia 3 F minor
No. 4. D Major (Vivace, Grave, Allegro)
This grand opening, blasts away the gloom with Italianate fanfare. In the 17th Century, suites by Vitali, Biber, Matteis and Walther often had unaccompanied movements imitated the trumpet. Telemann’s trumpeting is filtered through other conventions, particularly the model of the sonatas and concerti of Corelli and Vivaldi, studied and imitated all over the German-speaking countries. But for the player Telemann seems to say: ‘I admit it, that last movement was not ‘Vivace’. This is Vivace!!’ Jesting continues in the Grave (in the relative B minor), which is anything but grave. It begins parody, as if Telemann was mocking some bewigged French court composer, before finishing with a Lilliputian throwaway peroration, in the manner of his Gulliver Suite TWV40:108(written the same year). And then the fun begins; the last movement is a large-scale rustic gigue, real dance music to get the toes tapping and the dust rising.
Fantasia 4 D Major
No 5. A Major (Allegro, Presto, Allegro, Presto, Andante, Allegro)
Telemann remains in Italianate mode, beginning with suitably ‘toccata’-like ‘bariolage’ (alternating notes against an open string) and contrapuntal answers. This derives from Corelli’s D Major Sonata Op 5 No 1, available in multiple editions by the 1730s. It also harks back to the opening Flute Fantasy (also A major). But Andante shares most with the third movement of Bach’s A minor Sonata – also a faltering tune with a walking eighth-note bass line beneath. But there’s more to it than that, or rather, there’s a lot less. This six-bar movement s in F sharp minor, ending on a solid dominant, which should take us back to the tonic. Instead, a jaunty allegro starts up, in A major (not resolving the previous C sharp!). Bearing in mind the two beats rest which Telemann in the gap, this suggests (to me) that the movement repeats in the imagination, perhaps with a lyrical line on the top. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter; …” John Keats wrote those words a century later, but Telemann offers a practical demonstration.
Fantasia 5 A Major
Day 6 20 12 14
No 6. E minor (Grave, Presto, Siciliana, Allegro
E minor has peculiar melancholy, and composers approach it with care. Mozart’s one work in this key, the E minor Sonata K304, demonstrates this eloquently. Telemann’s approach decidedly da Chiesa, at least for the first two movements, a contrapuntal prelude and an austere quasi-fugue Performing this work, it is always a wrench to tear myself from the fugal second movement into the ironically ‘alla rustica’ mood of the G major Siciliana. But this is difficult crossing which Telemann seems to relish, setting up a deliberately uneasy balance between major and minor, the substance of the finale.
Fantasia 6 E minor
Day 7 21 12 14 E Flat Major
No 7. E Flat Major (Dolce, Allegro, Largo, Presto)
This is very much the heart of the violin cycle. It is, at first glance, the simplest. The C minor Largo demonstrates Telemann’s genius with almost no material. The ‘empty’ spaces in this movement are not ‘fermatas’, but rhythmically notated silences. The final presto shows how little can be said, with élan, the complete opposite of the depths plumbed by the previous movement: ‘Glissez, n’appuyez pas’…
Fantasia 7 E flat Major
Day 8 28 12 14 E Major
No 8. E Major (Piacevolmente, Spirituoso, Allegro)
Telemann shows his command of the virtuoso techniques of his day. He avoids high registers, perhaps evidencing a relaxed hold of the violin, or just reflecting the domestic context and intention of the set. I can attest from happy experience that it is more suited for performance, ‘at table’, then a lot of contemporaneous music which does not invite the listener in close. Fantasy 7 offers a variety of sophisticated bowing techniques, ‘parlando’ up-bow staccato, alternating ‘stabbed’ notes and lyrical slurs, swirling runs in triplets and 32nd notes, ‘bariolage’, ‘leaping’ gestures across the violin. Telemann seems more disposed than his contemporaries to use a rich varieties of techniques in a small timeframe.
Fantasia 8 E Major
I would like to thank the poet Guy Gallo for inspiring this project. Over the years, he brought be back, again and again, to the enchantment that he found in the Telemann violin Fantasies, and argued that I should return to them, older (if not wiser). His lyrical voice, and sense of the divine in the quotidian has been in my mind and heart through the whole process.
A note on the Violin by Luthier David Rattray
During my time as Instrument Curator at the Academy I welcomed many violin making students from around the world to view the treasures of the collection. The reaction to these works was interesting to observe. The Stradivari’s were greeted with voices of excitement and wide eyed reverence, Guarneri’s with nervous chuckles and often an element of bewilderment, however on presenting an Andrea Amati violin the room would fall silent, this shared experience of being in the presence of something akin to the luthier’s ‘Holy Grail was a privilege and honour.
Andrea was born at the beginning of the sixteenth century in renaissance Italy, a period of extraordinary vitality and experimentation. Although there are few clues as to his training, it is clear from the designs and proportions of his violins, violas and cellos, that he was a scholar with intimate knowledge of geometrical form, fine woodworking skills and of acoustical function; he was also the first to use the now legendary Cremonese varnish to beautify and preserve his instruments. Although rather primitive violins had been around for a few decades before Andrea became established, he refined the design, developing the use on an ‘inside mould’ , allowing near identical sets of instruments to be assembled. Andrea’s fame went well beyond Italy, to the French and Spanish courts, where his instruments were often extravagantly painted with royal motifs and mottos. Andrea’ Amati’s violin making sons Antonio and Girolamo played a significant part in the workshop and inherited the family business on their father’s death in 1577.
The term ‘design classic’ is without doubt over-used, the tag can be defined as a manufactured object with timeless aesthetic value and one with a lasting impact on society. Given this criteria then arguably Andrea Amati created the greatest design classic of all time; how many other objects made four hundred years ago still function in the role intended and musically. As we can hear from this recording his instruments retain a rich tonal palette that is rarely surpassed. Andrea Amati’s designs have served as a blueprint, followed and developed by all the great violin making traditions that followed. Amati laid the foundations for western art music as we know it today.
David Rattray is one of the great living violin makers and restorers, specialising in both modern and historical instruments. He curated the collection at the Royal Academy of Music from 1989 to 2013. He has published extensively, on British and Italian lutherie. davidrattrayviolins.co.uk
Archetier Antonino Airenti, maker of the bow used for this recording
Usually when I am asked “Why should I use a copy of an historical bow? ”I answer, “Because it works! And it can teach you a lot”, but then I add “-on an istrument historically mounted.” My experience of thirty years had taught me that. Now, Peter has demonstrated in practice that a seventeenth-century bow can also work well on a violin with a different mounting and, above all, it can still lead a musician to perform to the best the strokes for which it was designed. And that’s the point here: the bows before the French Revolution are not necessarily neither primitive nor imperfect. It’s pretty hard to believe that the extraordinary craftsmen who created the world’s finest violins could be satisfied with imperfect bows: I mean, men in whose instruments even the smallest detail was carefully designed. Maybe, simply, those bows were designed to perform a certain kind of music. They succeeded and, apparently, they can be very good even today.
From this remove, I still know this music
Familiar as a sunset or a lover’s touch.
Precise, simple, welcoming as if even I
Might play it. Of course I never will.
The violin has escaped my aging hands.
Still, I can hear it in my head. I am sure
Of the next note. Telemann gave me
That comfort, surrounding me with his
Enviable certainty. Each crisp sound
Leading to the next, building an edifice of
Pattern and yearning. Such purity of purpose
Clarity gathering like wisdom.
Yet always, woven into the clear math
Of music, a constant fear of unfulfillable longing.
January 28, 2014
New York City