About this Recording
GP657 - TÜRK, D.G.: 6 Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs (1789) (Tsalka)
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Daniel Gottlob Türk (1750–1813)
Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs (1789)


A recording and critical edition of the 48 keyboard sonatas of the North German composer, performer, theorist, and pedagogue, Daniel Gottlob Türk 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 prepares 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 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen (1753), as well as to his keyboard sonatas. Shortly afterwards Türk, under the supervision of his mentor and friend Johann Adam Hiller, composed his first two collections of sonatas. These twelve works 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. After Türk began a long and fruitful career as director of music at the University of Halle, six more volumes of his sonatas, mostly intended for students and amateurs, were released from 1783 to 1793. The Klaviersonaten Grösstentheils für Kenner (1789) was the only collection which Türk specifically dedicated to professional players. The six sonatas presented on this volume are here recorded for the first time.

Considering Türk’s multi-volume conception of his eighteen Kleine Klaviersonaten and his twelve Leichte Klaviersonaten, it is probable that the six Klaviersonaten Grösstentheils für Kenner were conceived as a first volume of a series presenting sonatas with longer and more technically complex movements. Subsequent volumes, however, never materialised. Through the publication of Klavierschule and this set of sonatas for highly trained players in 1789, Türk solidified his theoretical and creative authority on not only the clavichord, his favourite instrument, but on all types of keyboard instruments available during the period. It is revealing that this set of sonatas lacks a preface, especially when one considers that Türk provided one for the initial set of each of his other published collections. Given his conscientious and methodical personality, it seems unlikely that this was an oversight; perhaps the composer chose to omit a preface because Klavierschule made the addition of technically and interpretative comments irrelevant. If this is the case, one can see how closely the creative and theoretical aspects of Türk’s musical career were intertwined.

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 of ideas. As is well-known, the close identification between keyboardist (Clavieriste) and orator had been established by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in his Versuch decades before Türk began composing his sonatas.¹ Türk consciously cultivated the speaking style in his keyboard sonatas, as he himself stated in Klavierschule: “Every emotion and passion can be expressed in [this genre]. For the more expressive a sonata is, the more the composer can be heard. …The more the composer avoids the commonplace, the more excellent is the sonata.” Türk, who often performed his own works, added:

Whoever performs a composition so that the affect, even in every single passage, is most faithfully expressed and that the tones become at the same time a language of feelings, of this person it is said that he is a good executant. Good execution, therefore, is the most important, but at the same time, the most difficult task of making music.²

Taking the composer’s comments into account, it becomes clear that one should avoid the erroneous perception that Türk and other North German composers of the time could only express “gentle” or over-refined Rococo emotions in their works. Evidently, compared to grand sonatas composed specifically for the grand piano and the concert hall by slightly later composers such as Beethoven and Clementi, Türk’s affective musical gestures appear limited. As listeners, musicologists, and performers, however, we should not judge the oeuvre of a composer retroactively, but within the aesthetic context of its age. Within it Türk’s musical vocabulary is extremely varied and eloquent. Consider, for example, the Allegro di molto e con fuoco of Sonata No 1 in A minor, HedT.104.8.1 (track 3). The movement is symphonic in its conception; it contains sudden dynamic shifts and strong octave doublings in the bass. Register and character contrasts of both stormy and “sighing” motivic material recall Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies from the 1770s. Contrapuntal complexity, on the other hand, is not rare in these works. In the Adagio cantabile e sempre piano of Sonata No 3 in B minor, HedT.104.8.3 (track 8), Türk crafted an exquisite polyphonic interplay among the three voices.

There are delightful movements in this collection where all musical elements seem to be exaggerated to produce caricature-like effects. The Grave e pomposo of Sonata No 4 in G major, HedT.104.8.4 (track 11) can be read as a parody of the so-called Classical “learned style.” Grandiose and festive elements, on the other hand, can be found in the last work of the collection, the Sinfonia No 6 in C major, HedT.104.8.6. A closer look at this work reveals Türk’s natural translation of symphonic novelties of the time to the idiomatic possibilities of keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and pianoforte. Overall, this sinfonia exemplifies the desire of composers during the 1780s to integrate musical conventions and gestures of larger instrumental and vocal genres into the keyboard sonata. The exuberance and high spirits of the outer movements are balanced by the delicate tenderness of the inner movement, much like symphonies in the same key by Stamitz, Haydn, and and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Various orchestral timbres are delightfully represented by changes in texture, register and articulation, which amplify the expressive gamut of the keyboard. Conventional symphonic gestures (e.g. hammer-like blows, general pauses, and drumming basses) would not have gone unnoticed in Türk’s era. At the same time, the composer imprints his own personal style on this public genre—a fact that must not have escaped his contemporaries.

Overall, these six keyboard sonatas possess a personal core that alerts the modern listener to both their originality and good taste. Türk was a musician who understood in the deepest sense the musical grammar of his era; who could emulate and manipulate its most interesting formal and expressive elements, and who, finally, demonstrated both systematic intelligence and vivid imagination in his own musical creations. He was not a mere imitator, but a composer contributing his own voice to the stylistic influx of the 1770s and 1780s.

The Klaviersonaten Grösstentheils für Kenner was Türk’s next-to-last published collection of sonatas. During the 1790s the composer turned his attention mainly to pedagogical miniatures.³ It is probable that professional obligations did not permit him sufficient time to compose works of a larger format; perhaps, as he himself perceived during the 1790s, the strong influence of the imaginative and novel Viennese school made his works seem somewhat old-fashioned. The slow demise of the clavichord during the composer’s lifetime, and his resistance fully to adopt the pianoforte, must have also contributed to the disappearance of his sonatas from the mainstream repertoire a few decades after his death in 1813.

Michael Tsalka

Historical Keyboard Instruments

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is home to one of the finest collections of historical keyboard instruments in the world. The Museum’s first keyboard acquisition was a seventeenth-century Italian harpsichord that was purchased with donated funds in 1886. This was followed by important keyboards from collectors such as Joseph W. Drexel (1889), Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown (1889), Bernardus Boekelman (1911), and BH Homan (1929). By the 1930s the Museum had established itself as one of the finest repositories for keyboard instruments in the world. Other individual pieces collected by generations of curators have augmented this collection over the past century. The Museum’s collection includes iconic instruments such as the so-called “golden harpsichord” with life-sized gilt figures of the mythological Polyphemus and Galatea, which was designed by Michele Todini and built in Rome in the 1670s. The collection also includes the earliest surviving piano built by the inventor of the instrument, Bartolomeo Cristofori, in Florence in 1720; a mother-and-child virginal that is the earliest known work of Hans Ruckers, the founder of the Antwerp dynasty of harpsichord makers; and an eighteenth-century pedal piano attributed to Leopold Mozart’s friend Johann Schmidt of Salzburg which can be heard on this recording. The era in which Daniel Gottlob Türk lived was an exciting one for keyboard players and composers. There was an enormous variety of instruments available from the spinet and the harpsichord to the clavichord and the relatively new pianoforte. Innovative makers continued to explore new possibilities for keyboards and experimental composers such as Türk pushed the instruments to their limit. Although Türk’s music can easily be performed on any of the main keyboard types that were available at the time, his compositional style is especially well-suited to the clavichord and pianoforte, which allow the performer to produce contrasting volumes by adjusting the velocity and strength of the keystroke.

Four instruments from the Museum’s collection were employed for the present recording. The first one is a clavichord made in 1763 by Christian Kintzing of Neuwied (Northern Germany). An unusual feature of the Kintzing is its pantalon stop, which when engaged raises a second set of tangents into contact with the strings. When a key is struck the tangent on the key hits the string and the string is allowed to sustain much longer. This sound effect was done in imitation of the large hammered dulcimer invented and played by Pantaleone Hebenstreit. As Hebenstreit toured Europe with his instrument, called the pantaleone, he thrilled audiences with his feats of virtuosity and his ability to play expressively. Both the clavichord and the pantaleone were extremely popular throughout northern Europe in the eighteenth century and influenced taste towards expressive keyboard music, which would help establish receptive audiences for the pianoforte.

The other three instruments used in this recording are representative of the fast-changing and surprising transformation of the pianoforte during the composer’s lifetime. These changes accelerated in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, when Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg introduced a new piano action that was significantly different from the earlier Italian design. Stein’s action, called the prellmechanik, simplified that of Bartolomeo Cristofori by dispensing with the intermediate lever and placing the hammer in direct contact with the key. The hammer is mounted in a “kapsel” with a “beak” at the end. When the key is pressed, the “beak” is caught on the escapement, propelling the hammer head up toward the string. When the hammer falls, the position of the “beak” allows it to return to its rest position. In this design, the hammer position is reversed, which placed the fulcrum at the end of the key, maximizing the leverage the player could exert on the hammer. Stein also redesigned the case with bracings better suited for the demands of a hammer-action piano that the earlier harpsichord-style cases.

Although Stein’s pianofortes are not featured in this recording, a remarkable instrument at the Museum, believed to be by one of the apprentices of Stein, Johann Schmidt, is presented. Schmidt moved to Salzburg where, with the assistance of Leopold Mozart, he secured the job of court organ-builder and instrument-maker. The instrument is a pedal piano thought to have been built around 1790. Pedal instruments were not uncommon in the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach is known to have owned a pedal harpsichord and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano by Anton Walter is thought to have had a pedal mechanism that has since been removed. The pianoforte attributed to Schmidt has a 61 key compass on the manual. There are thirteen pedals, but all except the lowest five duplicate the bass notes of the keyboard. The instrument also has dampers and a moderator that can be activated with the player’s knees. A roll of parchment that can be pressed against the bass notes creates a buzzing sound that is referred to as a “bassoon stop.”

Ferdinand Hofmann, a contemporary maker to Johann Schmidt, was a leading maker in Vienna and eventually became president of the civic keyboard-makers’ association in 1806. The striking, almost architectural décor of this instrument typifies the maker’s early work. Knee levers lift the dampers, and a knob over the nameplate operates a mute stop, also known as a moderator. The instrument has a five-octave range (61 notes).

Although the piano built by Conrad Graf of Vienna ca. 1838 was built more than two decades after the death of Daniel Gottlob Türk, some of his sonatas work remarkably well on this instrument. It is likely that pianists would have played his sonatas on instruments like this in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Graf was one of the most important makers in Vienna in the 1820s and 1830s. German composers in the generation succeeding Türk, such as Beethoven, Czerny, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Brahms, owned and used Graf pianos. This instrument was made the year before the one owned by Robert Schumann.

Jayson Kerr Dobney
Associate Curator and Administrator in the Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Manhattan, USA)

¹ CPE Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, part I, 1st ed (Berlin 1753), 123–4.

² Daniel Gottlob Türk, School of Clavier Playing, trans Raymond H. Haggh (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c 1982), 321.

³ Among them were the 120 Handstücke für angehende Klavierspieler (vol I, 1792 and vol II, 1795), 12 kleine Tonstücke mit beygefügter Fingersetzung (1795), and 30 Tonstücke für 4 Hände, angehenden Klavier- und Fortepianospielern gewidmet (1807–8).

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