About this Recording
GP627-28 - TÜRK, D.G.: Keyboard Sonatas, Collections 1 and 2 (1776-1777) (Tsalka)
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Daniel Gottlob Türk (1750–1813)


A recording and critical edition of the forty-eight keyboard sonatas of the North German composer, performer, theorist, and pedagogue, Daniel Gottlob Türk (1750–1813), has long been overdue. Today, Türk remains best known for his extensive and extremely detailed musical treatise, Klavierschule (1789), one of the most important sources for keyboard performance practice of the late eighteenth century. He is also well known among piano teachers as the composer of a collection of useful keyboard miniatures, the Kleine Handstücke für angehende Klavierspieler, which systematically prepare beginning students for the many challenges of more advanced repertoire.

Türk’s musical training, which he received as a teenager in Dresden from Gottfried August Homilius, a former student of Johann Sebastian Bach, thoroughly prepared him for the varied musical roles, which he had to adopt throughout his professional life. When he became a student at the University of Leipzig in the early 1770s, the keyboard virtuoso, Johann Wilhelm Hässler, introduced him to Emmanuel Bach’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen (1753) and also to his keyboard sonatas. Shortly afterwards, Türk, under the supervision of his mentor and friend Johann Adam Hiller, began to compose his first two collections of sonatas. These twelve works, recorded here for the first time, were initially published by Breitkopf in Leipzig and Halle in 1776 and 1777. Because of their popularity, the two collections quickly went out of print. Six more volumes of sonatas were released by Breitkopf in the 1780s and early 1790s.

Türk´s keyboard collections grow directly from his lucid understanding of the contrasting, expressive potential of the sonata genre as developed by North German composers during the 1750s and 1760s. For Türk, the keyboard sonata was the perfect aesthetic medium to express the boldest and most experimental musical thoughts. In Klavierschule, the composer expressed this idea in the following terms:

Among compositions written for the keyboard, the sonata probably has the greatest claim for being in the first place…Consequently this species of instrumental compositions presumes a high degree of inspiration, much power of invention and a lofty—I would almost like to say musical-poetic—flights of thoughts and expression. Just as the subjects of the ode are uncommonly diverse and treated at quite different lengths, so is this true of the sonata.¹

Most of the slow movements of the first and second collections exemplify Turk’s superb and nuanced understanding of the rhetorical style. A case in point is the Grave of Sonata VI in G major, HedT.98.2.6 (CD 2, track 17). Here, repeating dotted-rhythmic figures, minor tonality, forte dynamics and thick chordal textures, perhaps representing sober majesty, combine seamlessly with pleading melodic gestures. Türk is a master of detail; his scores, like those of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, are full of dynamic, agogic and expressive markings. The composer often demands variety, sensibility and control from his performer. For example, in the four opening bars of the Adagio assai of Sonata II in E flat major, HedT.98.2.2 there are seven dynamic markings on the score (CD 2, track 5). On the contrary, in very fast movements (eg Prestissimo from Sonata III in A Major, HedT.98.2.3), we find very few slurs or dynamic markings, a clear indication that Türk desires a brilliant and virtuosic execution (CD 2, track 9).

Until now, our superficial knowledge of Türk’s most sophisticated creative output has distorted our understanding not only of his talents as a composer but also of the exact nature of his musical treatise. This recording helps to demonstrate that Türk’s keyboard sonatas are both aesthetically accomplished and important to our understanding of the Classical period’s creative diversity. Furthermore, the sonatas’ correlation to key stylistic and aesthetic concepts discussed in the composer’s own influential Klavierschule make their reincorporation into the standard repertoire desirable and perhaps even crucial. As pedagogy, Türk’s easier sonatas are marvelous stepping-stones for young pianists preparing to play more complex works by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. Through their thoughtful and numerous markings and transparent construction, these works introduce the harmonic, rhetorical, formal, and expressive laws governing the musical style of the period.

Michael Tsalka

The Five Historical Keyboards Used in the Present Recording

Türk lived during a period in which a greater diversity of stringed-keyboard instruments was in common use more than in any other historical period. This is attested, for example, by the extensive list of keyboard instruments at the beginning of Türk’s own Klavierschule (1789). Although pianos had been known in Germany since about 1730, they coexisted with harpsichords, clavichords, and other types throughout the rest of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. The present recording, made on five quite varied instruments drawn from the extensive collections of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, is intended to reflect the diversity available to musicians of Türk’s day.

Because of the expressive manner in which the clavichord could be played, this instrument, in particular, underwent an upsurge in popular and professional musical favour in the second half of the eighteenth century. New large models were developed, provided with full-compass keyboards of five octaves or more and made “unfretted,” that is, with strings for every note, thus enabling unimpeded playing in every tonality. The clavichord played on this recording, built by Johann Paul Kraemer and Sons in Göttingen in 1804 (NMM 3335; Rawlins Fund, 1983), is a fine example of these large late instruments. Its compass, FF to a3, exceeds five octaves. Like most north-German clavichords, it includes octave strings in the bass to enrich the tone and clarity of the lowest notes.

The harpsichord by Joseph Kirckman, London, 1798 (NMM 3328; Rawlins Fund, 1983), is one of the oldest known historical harpsichords. Although it was made at the end of the eighteenth century, it conforms to the type made in England since the 1720s with two manuals of compass FF-f3, with 8’ and 4’ stops on the lower manual, a dogleg 8’ played by both manuals, an upper-manual “lute” (nasal) stop plucking the same set of strings as the dogleg 8’, and a buff stop affecting the lower-manual 8’. Also, there are two pedals: a machine stop which, when pushed down, removes the 4’ and dogleg 8’ stops, leaving a single 8’ on the lower manual, and engages the lute stop to sound on the upper, and a Venetian swell (not used in this recording). English harpsichords of the same basic model were known in Germany, for example, at the court of Frederick the Great, who owned several London-made instruments. Even as far east as Vienna, a Kirckman two-manual harpsichord was imported and offered for sale by the prominent publisher and music merchant Artaria in 1784.

Spinets, essentially small harpsichords with a single set of strings, are usually considered to have been the earlier counterpart of upright pianos, cheap instruments of inferior quality for those who could not afford full-size instruments. Such an assessment is certainly mistaken with regard to the spinet by Johann Heinrich Silbermann, Strasbourg, 1785 (NMM 6205; Rawlins Fund, 1999), which is a superb musical instrument in its own right as well as a fine piece of furniture. This spinet, which has the full five-octave compass of FF to f3, is the only instrument by the renowned Silbermann family in a collection outside Europe. JH Silbermann and his brothers, of the Strasbourg branch of the family, were the nephews and successors of the prominent Saxon organ builder Gottfried Silbermann.

Pianos in eighteenth-century Germany were of two general types. Of these, one, as first made by Gottfried Silbermann in the 1730s and 1740s, was provided with hammer heads covered with soft leather yielding a velvety tone. In the other type, also first known in the 1730s, the striking surfaces were of bare wood, generating a loud, bright tone. The tangent piano, a variety of grand piano developed by Frantz Jacob Spath and his son-in-law Christoph Friedrich Schmahl in Regensburg about 1780, is of the latter type. It is distinctive in that the action elements analogous to the heads of normal piano hammers are separate upright slips of wood, tangents, which strike the strings and rebound. The instrument played here (NMM 4145; Rawlins Fund, 1987), dated 178[4] (the fourth digit is indistinct), is a typical example of Spath & Schmahl’s work. It has two knee levers for una corda and raising the dampers, and two hand stops, a buff and a moderator, which interposes strips of leather between the tangents and strings for a softer tone.

Pianos with the six-octave compass FF-f4 would have been known to Türk near the very end of his life. The grand piano heard here, by Anton Martin Thÿm, Vienna, about 1815–1820 (NMM 3587; Rawlins Fund, 1985), is firmly in the south-German/Austrian piano-making tradition stemming from the work of Johann Andreas Stein in Augsburg and Anton Walter in Vienna in the 1780s and 1790s. The Thÿm piano has seven pedals (not all employed in this recording) for various special effects in addition to the usual. From left to right, they are: una corda, harp (buff plus dampers raised), bassoon, dampers, strong moderator, medium moderator, and Janissary (bells and drum).

John Koster
Conservator of the National Music Museum, SD, USA

¹ Daniel Gottlob Türk, School of Clavier Playing, trans. Raymond H. Haggh (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c.1982), 383–4.

Kirckman harpsichord
CD1, Sonata No. 2; CD2, Sonata Nos. 4 and 6

Spath-Schmahl tangent piano
CD1, Sonata No. 4; CD2, Sonata No. 3

Thÿm piano
CD1, Sonata Nos. 3 and 6; CD2, Sonata No. 2

Kraemer clavichord
CD1, Sonata No. 5; CD2, Sonata Nos. 1 and 5

Silbermann spinet
CD1, Sonata No. 1

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