This download features Intimate, virtuosic pieces written by the greatest composers of the eighteenth century for their friends and family. A short selection of our favourite tracks; these anticipate the release of Concentus VII's first full length album later in 2011.
Concentus VII was formed to perform Baroque chamber music, with an emphasis on repertoire with wind instruments and basso continuo. Its members perform with leading early music ensembles in the UK and Europe such as The Academy of Ancient Music, New London Consort, Gabrieli Consort and Players, Philidor Ensemble, The Sixteen and Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. For more information please look at our website, www.concentus7.com
Some notes on our composers:
George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) is best known today for the great oratorios of the 1740s, which became defining landmarks in an increasingly self-confident and distinctively English Georgian culture. But, like his patron the King, he was born in Germany, and his near-dominance of London’s musical life in the 1710s and 20s rested on a string of Italian operas, from which he made a fortune as composer-impresario. Although he was subsequently bankrupted (twice) as tastes shifted, these works were at the time genuinely and deservedly popular—catchy tunes first heard in the opera house on the lips of a diva would often find their way to less exclusive theatres and become common currency.
Handel was slow to appreciate the demand thereby stimulated for his instrumental music, which shares a lot of material with the operas. But others were not, and Handel’s “Opus 1” (from which the sonata in the present programme is taken) was actually a pirate edition put out by John Walsh in 1730. Walsh later became Handel’s “official” publisher.
The first Larghetto, after a dreamy introduction, opens out into a thoughtful prelude in dotted rhythm, before leading into an Allegro at once determined and irresistably fluent—perfectly fitted to its role as the overture to the opera Scipione, about the Roman general who defeated Hannibal. Along with the unusual addition of a Gavotte, the dotted/fugal opening pair gives the sonata something of the character of a suite. The central Larghetto would make one of Handel’s (or Purcell’s) most moving arias; while the closing Allegro actually does appear as an air to the joys of peace in Alexander (the Great).
Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714–1788) One of J.S. Bach’s older children by his first marriage, Godchild of G.P. Telemann.
Early in his career he unwittingly stumbled into one of the weirdest of all eighteenth century courts when he accepted a post with Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia—the future Frederick the Great. Voltaire took one look at this place and ran away as fast as he could. He was particularly horrified that he was forbidden to bring his mistress along to this all-male court. Frederick was a strange and contradictory despot; he presided over a francophile court rejecting his native language as being suitable only for peasants, and while not busily invading neighbouring principalities obsessively practised the flute. He meted out corporal punishment to musicians who improvised during performances and attempted to fossilise the state of music in Berlin around the works of his flute master, Quantz (whose criticism Frederick took without a whimper—his notebooks are filled with the sorts of comments that would make the average music student give up on the spot). Luckily for us this resulted in a unique musical style particular to Berlin—intense, passionate, syncopated and intimate, epitomised by the extraordinary proto-romantic art songs and keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach.
Frederick wasn’t that impressed by C.P.E. Bach (his own repertoire being restricted almost entirely to Quantz’s concertos), but he petulantly refused to let him take a job elsewhere. Telemann lobbied intensively on Bach’s behalf, and got nowhere. In spite of Frederick’s ambivalence, Bach built up a formidable reputation as a keyboard virtuoso and hugely influential composer. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were all indebted to him. Equally renowned as a theorist his Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, a systematic and masterly treatise is still in print today.
Finally, in 1768 he won the position of Kapellmeister in Hamburg following the death of Telemann. He beat one of his own half-brothers to get the job and held it until his death twenty years later. Between 1769 and 1788 Bach composed over twenty settings of the Passion and some seventy cantatas, litanies, motets, and other liturgical pieces, as well as numerous chamber works.
Georg Philipp Telemann (March 14th 1681 – June 25th 1767) was the archetypal eighteenth century polymath—linguist, diplomat*, businessman and publisher, as well as one of the foremost composers of his age. He died prosperous and famous (his income at Hamburg was about three times what Johann Sebastian Bach earned at Leipzig, and he made a substantial profit on his publications)—and, remarkably for a man of such overt ambition—extraordinarily popular—a happy, humorous man, loved and universally respected by his contemporaries.
Utterly determined to make a career from music despite the opposition of his parents, he was sent to Leipzig University (stopping off on the way to visit Handel) where he studied law, science and languages. While a student he founded the Collegium Musicum subsequently directed by J. S. Bach. He promoted concerts, and threw himself into performing and composition, writing for and becoming director of the Leipzig Opera in 1703 and organist at the Neue Kirche in 1704. Thereafter he held a series of important musical posts (Zorau, Eisenach, Frankfurt, Bayreuth) and travelled widely. He left traces of himself all over Europe—autograph copies of his music fill libraries throughout Germany and his journals found their way across the whole of the western world. (Handel subscribed from London). He assimilated the musical styles of France, Italy and Poland (particularly folk music), combining and adapting them effortlessly in his own compositions.
In 1721 he accepted the prestigious post of Kantor of the Hamburg Johanneum. It included teaching responsibilities and the directorship of Hamburg's five principal churches, and unlimited opportunities to compose and perform. Given a free reign over the musical life of Hamburg he began by increasing the number of public concerts in churches, the Drill-Hall and at the ‛Lower Tree-House’ tavern, subscription concerts at which a wide variety of sacred and secular music was performed. He became music director of the Hamburg Opera, and published Der getreue Musikmeister (“The Faithful Music Master”) from 1728. Intended as a sort of music lesson by post the periodical appeared every two weeks in the form of a four-page “Lesson”. It consisted entirely of printed music—and rather like Victorian serialised novels, if you liked the first two movements of a sonata you would have to buy the following edition to find out what happened next. Telemann retained his post in Hamburg until his death in 1767, although throughout his tenure he managed to travel widely despite his hectic (self-imposed) schedule. He was succeeded in the position by his Godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
His output was startling in its range and sheer volume—church cantatas (numbering at least 1043), settings of the Passion for each year that he was in Hamburg (46 in all), occasional pieces,opera, oratorio, orchestral music and a vast quantity of chamber music, much of which he published himself. He had a lifelong friendship with Handel; they corresponded and in 1750 Handel went to the trouble of sending him from London “a crate of flowers, which experts assure me are very choice and of admirable rarity”.
* an eighteenth century euphemism for a spy
This album was recorded and produced by Adrian Hunter, at Toddington Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire in October 2010.