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8.554019 - TELEMANN: Don Quixote / La Lyra / Ouverture in D Minor
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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)

Don Quixote Suite • Ouverture in D minor • Suite in E flat major, ‘La Lyra’


Georg Philipp Telemann was among the most distinguished composers of his time, a rival to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach in reputation, and the certain preference of the Leipzig authorities for the position of Cantor at the St Thomas Choir School, where Bach was eventually appointed in 1723. Telemann had, in 1721, taken the position of Cantor of the Johanneum in Hamburg, with musical responsibility for the five principal city churches of the city. His negotiations with Leipzig a year later proved the means to secure better conditions in Hamburg, where he remained until his death in 1767. He was succeeded there by his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian.


Born in Magdeburg in 1681, Telemann belonged to a family that had long been connected with the Lutheran Church. His father was a clergyman and his mother the daughter of a clergyman, while his elder brother also took orders, a path that he too might have followed, had it not been for his exceptional musical ability. As a child he showed some precocity, but it was while he was a student at Leipzig University, which he entered in 1701, that a career in music became inevitable. He founded the University Collegium Musicum that Bach was later to direct and in 1703 became musical director of the Leipzig Opera, composing some twenty operas himself. At the same time he involved his fellow-students in a great deal of public performance, to the annoyance of the Thomascantor, Bach’s immediate predecessor Kuhnau, who saw his prerogative now endangered.


After Leipzig, Telemann went on to become Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz,  a nobleman with a taste for French music, and in 1708 moved to Eisenach, following this with a position as director of music to the city of Frankfurt am Main in 1712. There were other offers of employment elsewhere, but it was to Hamburg that he finally moved in 1721, to remain there for the rest of his life.


As a composer Telemann was prolific, providing an enormous body of work, both sacred and secular. This included 1043 church cantatas and 46 settings of the Passions, one for each of the years he was in Hamburg. He continued to involve himself in public performances of opera in Hamburg, arousing some opposition from the city council, his employers. Once he had strengthened his position he took additional responsibility as director of the Hamburg Opera, while active in publishing and selling much of the music that he wrote. Four years Bach’s senior, he outlived him by seventeen years, so that by the time of his death Haydn was thirty-five and Mozart was eleven. His musical style developed with the times, from the characteristically late Baroque to the new stile galant exemplified by his godson.


In his later years Telemann returned to an episode from Cervantes’ influential novel Don Quijote de la Mancha in a serenade based on Don Quixote’s attendance at Camacho’s wedding. His light-hearted programme suite, described in its title as Burlesque de Quixotte, depicts episodes in the knight’s career in instrumental terms, a tribute to a work that, published in 1605 and 1615, had continued to have an influence on the European novel. In origin an attack, according to Cervantes, on the Spanish genre of Libros de Caballería, it is open to many interpretations, not least as a study of the nature of reality, in a world where toda la vida es sueño, y los sueños sueños son, in the words of his rival, Lope de Vega. Telemann’s suite starts with a French overture, its opening section marked by the expected dotted rhythms, not taken quite seriously, before the central fugal section. After his assumption of knighthood at the hands of an inn-keeper that he takes for a castellan and his first unfortunate adventures, Don Quixote is found by a man from his village and taken home. While he sleeps the priest and the village barber seek to root out the books that have been the cause of Don Quixote’s delusions, walling up the room where his books were kept. When he wakes, Don Quixote is puzzled by the disappearance of the room. Before long, however, he has recruited a labourer from the village, Sancho Panza, to serve as his squire, one who adds an element of plain, peasant common sense to the Don’s delusions, coupled with wondering credulity. The first of Don Quixote’s new adventures is to mistake some thirty or forty windmills for giants, which he proceeds to attack, with inevitable disaster, when his lance is shattered on a moving windmill sail. His sighs of love for his imagined mistress, Dulcinea del Toboso, no princess, but a farm-girl, are expressed in conventional instrumental sighs. Sancho Panza is led into various difficulties by his master, beaten by those that Don Quixote has opposed and, trying to leave an inn where the knight errant has refused to pay for his lodging, caught and tossed in a blanket. Don Quixote’s hack that he calls Rosinante, a name that suggests the nag’s earlier life, is depicted in a movement that frames a depiction of Sancho Panza’s donkey. The suite ends with Don Quixote at home once more and falling asleep, as the music fades away.


Telemann’s Ouverture in D minor, scored for three oboes, bassoon and strings, duly starts with a French overture, its formal opening section followed by the expected fugal passage that it frames, with its antiphonal use of the wind instruments and the strings. The fugal 9/8 section and formal conclusion are repeated. The first Menuet has a contrasting D major second Menuet, its trio section, entrusted to two violins and oboe in a three-voice texture. The Gavotte makes some use of a sighing descending figure, and the series of French dances continues with a Courante. The following Air gives some prominence to the first oboe, with wind and strings often used in dialogue. The Loure with its compound dotted rhythm leads to an English Hornepipe and to Canaries, a dance of Spanish origin. The suite ends with a gigue.


Scored for strings, La Lyra starts with the expected French overture. The following first Menuet frames a contrasting second Menuet, and this is followed by an unusual movement, La Vielle, an imitation of the hurdy-gurdy, once known as the lyra mendicorum, the beggars’ lyre, with its drone accompaniment to the melody and consequent dissonances. The Sicilienne avec Cadenze is a stately 3/2 movement, with an ornamented melodic line. The mood changes with a lively Rondeau dominated by its recurrent principal theme. The first Bourrée is repeated after the second, which offers a contrast of register, and all ends, as it must, with a Gigue.


Keith Anderson

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