March 14, 2007

Gratuitous Musickal Posting (TM)

Today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1681, of the great Baroque composer Georg Phillip Telemann in Magdeburg.

Telemann was in many ways the opposite of his great contemporary J.S. Bach (born four years later). He came of a non-musical family, whereas J.S. was what Peter Shickele called the "umpteenth musician of the Bach family." He travelled widely (including to places such as Paris and Berlin) whereas Bach stayed in the provinces. Musically, he was ever ready to hear new styles and ideas and incorporate them into his own work, producing a resulting eccentricity totally opposite to Bach's more traditional and formalistic output. Finally, Telemann was immensely popular (and well to do) in his time, while Bach labored in relative obscurity. (For all this, Bach and Telemann were still friends. Bach took several jobs previously held by Telemann and Telemann was Godfather to C.P.E. Bach.)

Of all the composers in the standard repertoire, I've always felt that Telemann benefited more than anybody else from the advent of the so-called period instrument movement. I remember as a boy listening to old recordings of Telemann's music and thinking them dull and plodding, quirky but without much life. However, performance groups such as Musica Antiqua Köln have since then attacked his music with a touch that brings out all the zest and spirit that Telemann must have had in mind when he originally wrote them.

Speaking of performances, here's a tip to all of you keyboard players out there. If you're at all interested in Telemann, I would strongly recommend that you pick up this:

Telemann Fantasies.jpg

The Thirty-Six Fantasias for Keyboard.

These pieces are very easy to play, even sight-readable. They are, nonetheless, very satisfying and sound well even on a piano.

Posted by Robert at March 14, 2007 10:22 AM | TrackBack

Bravissimo. Not nearly enough people give Telemann his due these days, as he seems to spend a lot of time in Bach's shadow. In fact, Telemann is the perfect yin to Bach's yang: Bach was interested in rigor and process, as evidenced by his fugue and canon output, while Telemann was ever the populist who wrote entertaining and lyrical fantasias etc. As such, Teleman makes the beter introduction to Baroque music IMO, as you don't have to know how to listen to a fugue or a canon to appreciate his work. Sure, the little dances in Bach's suites are accessible enough, but they still have the same Bachian voice.

Rameau and Couperin wrote some lovely music at the same time Bach lived as well. Couperin, especially, seems to have had a keen sense of humor, as many of his pieces contain "wink, wink; nudge, nudge" moments, which I love.

Posted by: Hucbald at March 14, 2007 03:55 PM

Yes, but as much as I enjoy Telemann, I'd still give him the cliff if it was the only way to keep hearing that Bachian voice. Fortunately, I don't have to choose.

I play a bit of both Rameau and Couperin every now and again as well. Rameau translates better to the piano, IMHO, probably because of the proto-classical melodic devices he uses.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at March 14, 2007 04:24 PM