About this Recording
8.573899 - Flute Concertos (Baroque) - LECLAIR, J.-M. / PERGOLESI, G.B. / TELEMANN, G.P. (The Grand Mogul) (B. Kuijken, Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra)
English 

The Grand Mogul
Virtuosic Baroque Flute Concertos

 

The solo concerto as an instrumental genre emerged in Northern Italy in the first quarter of the 18th century, not long after the concerto grosso, in which several instruments, typically two violins and violoncello, take the solo roles. Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) was one of the most influential composers of concertos. Most of his concertos feature the violin as a solo instrument, no doubt because he was a great violin virtuoso himself. However, he also wrote a fair number of concertos for other instruments: violoncello, oboe, recorder, bassoon, flute, viola d’amore, mandolin, and harpsichord. Incidentally, the first printed collection of flute concertos is Vivaldi’s Op. 10, published in Amsterdam in 1729.

Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in D minor, RV 431a was mentioned in a 1759 Amsterdam sales catalogue, bearing the title ‘Il Gran Mogul’, but a copy was discovered only in 2010. Vivaldi used a similar title for his Violin Concerto ‘Il Grosso Mogul’, RV 208, but the musical substance is completely different. Would ‘mogul’ (a person of great power and wealth), refer to the virtuosity of both solo parts? In any case, at a later time, Vivaldi transposed RV 431a into E minor, an easier tonality for the one-keyed flute. He also somewhat shortened it and considerably simplified the solo passages. His flautist/customer must have given him the instruction not to write notes higher than d³. Respecting this, Vivaldi could not avoid some unhappily arranged passages. This E minor version (RV 431) is transmitted in Vivaldi’s hand, but it unfortunately lacks the second movement—instead, Vivaldi wrote: ‘Grave Sopra il Libro come stà’, instructing his copyist to transpose the original slow movement one tone higher without making any further changes. This copy was subsequently lost or was never executed. Vivaldi created some more confusion by altering the very beginning of the new E minor version—was this a way of pretending that it was an altogether new concerto? The recently discovered copy of the original D minor version includes the second movement (which could thus be transposed in order to complete RV 431), but unfortunately lacks the second violin part. In the first and third movements, this can be partially borrowed from RV 431, but at some places (and in the complete second movement) it needs to be newly composed. This is not such a difficult task, when all other parts are extant. We want to thank the publisher, Edition HH (Launton, United Kingdom), to have granted us the permission to make use of their reconstruction. In the Larghetto, Vivaldi lets the flute float over a simple chordal accompaniment of the strings. This is the type of writing that strongly invites the soloist to add a layer of ornamentation onto the quite bare melody. I do hope that Vivaldi would have agreed with what I did to his composition.

Italian concertos rapidly became very popular in the Netherlands, England, Germany, France and the Scandinavian countries. Wealthy noblemen or merchants would purchase musical manuscripts during their grand tour in Italy, or had printed editions (often from Amsterdam) sent to their country. Numerous Italian musicians emigrated to the north as well, bringing compositions of their own or from other authors with them. The Italian concerto style was also widely imitated by local composers, with varying degrees of success. The library of Stockholm (Sweden) holds many manuscript copies of 18th-century ‘Italian’ concertos and sonatas, several of them bearing the name of famous composers such as Vivaldi, Pergolesi, or Tartini. Some of these attributions seem questionable, or are clearly wrong: innocent mistakes or purposeful forgery? Then, just as today, a piece by a ‘great’ composer will have sold better or have been received more favourably by the audience than an anonymous one. Copyright did not exist, and anyway those famous composers lived far away, beyond control. The Concerto in G major for flute, 2 violins, and basso continuo by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710– 1736), conserved in the Stockholm library, might well fall into this category. Pergolesi was a much admired composer of (religious and secular) vocal music, and one wonders why he should have composed flute concertos. In the catalogue of an 18th-century music collection, the beginning of this composition appears under the name Hasse. Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783) was also a very famous composer of vocal works, but wrote many instrumental pieces as well. Since Pergolesi and Hasse were both trained in the Naples school, there is often no great stylistic difference between them. However, comparing this concerto to genuine Hasse flute concertos, one notices that that its melodic invention is richer, more dramatic and flexible than with Hasse—might it thus be Pergolesi, after all? Hasse and Pergolesi were both extremely famous, so any fraudulent attribution could go to either of them. Or was it written by still another composer from the same school, or in imitation thereof? In any case, the Stockholm manuscript is poorly written and the many mistakes and inconsistencies necessitated a thorough revision. Maybe the northern lovers of Italian music were not the finest connoisseurs? Since this concerto is generally known under Pergolesi’s name, I decided to continue that tradition, but decidedly without claiming his authorship. Anyway, attaching a different composer’s name does not change the character and quality of this charming concerto.

The Flute Concerto in C major by the French violin virtuoso Jean-Marie Leclair (1697–1764) was printed in 1737 as part of his Op. 7. It stands in a series of very demanding violin concertos, and bears the comment Les Solo peuvent ce jouër sur les Flûte Allemande ou Hautbois (‘one can play the solo part on transverse flute or oboe’). As a violin concerto it would be strangely easy in this context, indeed. For the oboe the key of C major is well-suited, but the solo passages frequently lie much too high. For the flute, it generally fits much better, though C major is not an easy tonality and one solo passage includes a high note that was not (well) playable on many one-keyed flutes. Did Leclair not know, or did he not care, and considered that it was the soloist’s role to cope with any such difficulties? As a composer, Leclair is clearly bilingual: in his opera Scylla et Glaucus and in some instrumental movements, he can sound thoroughly French, not unlike Rameau, but in his concertos he adopts the Italian form and style. As a violinist he was trained by Giovanni Battista Somis (1686–1763), himself a pupil of the great Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713).

For many years, Michel Blavet (1700–1768) was principal flautist in the Paris Opéra. He must have heard and played many great French operas by Lully and his followers, and also those of Rameau. Blavet was better known as a high-rank performer than as a composer. The more conservative music lovers, who remained faithful to Lully’s style, strongly attacked the Italian violinists (and their French imitators) of Blavet’s generation. Whereas the former were accused of utterly bad, over-expressive and forced taste, Blavet was considered to be the epitome of the good old virtues. He was praised for the noblesse in expression, for touching without shocking, for combining stunning virtuosity with elegance and ease. His Concerto in A minor for flute, 2 violins, and basso continuo seems to be his only flute concerto, and curiously enough it is not conserved in any French library: it sits in the library of Karlsruhe, Germany. It naturally shows Italian influence—since c. 1725 many Italian virtuosos performed their concertos in the Concerts Spirituels in Paris where Blavet himself was a frequent guest—but it is never outrageous or cheap. The middle movement is an exquisitely French gavotte that could have stood in any fashionable opera of the time.

The main source of the Flute Concerto in D major TWV 51:D1 by Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767) was penned by his friend and admirer Christoph Graupner (1683–1760), the Kapellmeister of the Darmstadt court, where countless Telemann compositions were copied and executed. Telemann’s concertos do not always follow the typical Italian sequence of concerto movements: Fast–Slow–Fast. In this case he put another slow movement at the beginning, relating this piece more closely to the standard sonata form of Slow–Fast–Slow–Fast. Telemann masterfully changes character and style between the four movements. In the opening Andante, he lets the melody superbly float over a full and rich harmony—richer than any Italian composer would have used in this context. The following Vivace is a densely-written fugato, interrupted by virtuoso flute solo passages. In the Largo, Telemann gives us one of his most beautiful ostinato movements, where a bass melody is repeated over and over again, sometimes slightly varied, below always different flute elaborations. The final Allegro integrates nimble flute solos into a joyous gigue, as if soloist and orchestra were dancing together. Telemann might not possess J.S. Bach’s gift of extreme inner coherence and contrapuntal skills, nor Handel’s borderless energy, ambition and sense of drama. He certainly knew and revered these two ‘giants’, but chose to write differently, according to his own character and taste, with great charm, fluid invention and ever changing colours. He must have been a jolly fellow, whom I would have loved to meet and pass time with.

Although exact composition or publication dates are unknown (except for the Leclair Concerto) these concertos were most likely composed between the end of the 1720s and the beginning of the 1740s. In the first half of the 18th century, concertos were most often performed with small forces, and we respected this in our recording. Usually the ‘orchestra’ consisted of a simple string quartet (two violins, a viola, and a cello), to which a harpsichord was added. Pergolesi and Blavet even require no viola part. A violone often doubled the bass part in the lower octave during the tutti sections, but remained silent during the solo passages. In this set up, a natural balance and a supple interaction between soloist and orchestra is achieved, together with greater flexibility and intimacy. The Romantic concerto, with its heroic ‘one-against-all’ is still far off!

Barthold Kuijken


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