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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Christoph GRAUPNER (1683-1760)
Orchestral Works Vol. 2

Overture in F (GWV 451) [32:33]
Trio for 2 violins and bc in c minor (GWV 203) [06:59]
Sinfonia in F (GWVC 571) [15:23]
Nova Stravaganza/Siegbert Rampe
Recorded in January 2003 at the Fürstliche Reitbahn in Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD
MDG 341 1252-2 [55:08]



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Christoph Graupner was one of the most prolific composers in Germany of his time. He wrote a large number of instrumental and vocal works, which until the last five years or so have been almost completely neglected.

Born in Kirchberg in Saxony he received his first music lessons from local musicians, and then went to Leipzig in 1696 as an alumnus of the Thomasschule. The time in Leipzig turned out to be crucial for his development as a musician and composer.

Here he became acquainted with Telemann, who was the leader of the local Collegium Musicum. Perhaps it is through Telemann that Graupner got interested in French music, as is evident from the number of orchestral overtures in French style he has composed. Another similarity between Telemann and Graupner is the writing for a wide variety of instruments, among them less common ones like the viola d'amore and the chalumeau.

Together with his friend Johann David Heinichen he studied with the then Thomaskantor Johann Kuhnau, who thoroughly instructed them in counterpoint. In his autobiography Graupner writes that "both I and Heinichen had much profit from his teachings, both for harpsichord and composition. I myself also offered Kuhnau to copy out music and wrote for him for some time. I thus had the opportunity to note many things and whenever I had a doubt, I asked him to explain so that I knew how this or that was to be understood."

The study of counterpoint had a lasting influence on Graupner. Just like Heinichen he developed a special interest in the canon. In 1730 he started to write 5625 canons on the same subject. And in 1736 he copied Kuhnau's treatise 'Von dem doppelten Contrapunct', which was circulating only in manuscript. This is most remarkable, as at that time the aesthetic of the Enlightenment quickly won ground. Its main theorist was Johann Mattheson, who, in 1723 in his journal 'Critica Musica', specifically wrote that the foundation of music is not the canon but melody and that the ability to write a melody owes little or nothing to the artifice of the canon.

It shouldn't be concluded from this that Graupner was a conservative composer. After working three years in Hamburg at the Opera, he went to Darmstadt, where he became the Hofkapellmeister at the court of the Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. It is here that he wrote the main part of his oeuvre, and this demonstrates he - like Telemann and Bach - was in favour of a mixture of national styles, in particular the French and the Italian. And over the years his compositional style clearly changed, but gradually. Apparently he preferred evolution over revolution.

The trio sonata recorded here, probably composed around 1744, is traditional in its use of imitation, but in its three-movement structure (fast - slow - fast) it breaks away from tradition. The Overture which opens this recording, also contains some less usual elements. The structure of the overture wasn't formalised, with the exception of the first movement, called 'ouverture', which was always written in ABA-form, as it is here. But what followed was to the choice of the composer. Remarkable is the fact that we don't find here just a pair of menuets, but four of them. Even more striking is the scoring: transverse flute, viola d'amore, 2 chalumeaus, horn, 2 violins, viola and basso continuo. The chalumeau was a relatively new instrument at that time (around 1735), and Graupner developed a great love for its soft-edged sound. And it was rather unusual to write just one part for the horn - in most orchestral works horns played in pairs. The horn part is extremely virtuosic, in particular in its range, which reflects the brilliance of the horn players at the court in Darmstadt, Mahler and Schwarz.

The Overture displays a particular feature of Graupner's style: the use of very short motifs, which the contemporary theorist Adlung described as 'short and sweet ideas'. This structure makes Graupner's music somewhat unpredictable, therefore interesting, but also less easy to remember than that of most of his contemporaries. In this Overture that characteristic is even enhanced by the fact that the motivic material is divided over all instruments involved.

Most of Graupner's Sinfonias date from the 1740s and 1750s. Some of these were recorded in the first volume which was released in 2002, and are reminiscent of the style of the Mannheim school. The Sinfonia performed here is a reworking of an Overture, which dates probably from before 1730 - only the first movement (largo - allegro - largo) is new. The date of its composition is reflected by the second movement, which is a fugato. This composition is another example of Graupner's talent for instrumentation, in particular when transverse flutes and oboes contrast with the strings playing pizzicato.

This recording impressively proves that Graupner isn't just a 'minor master' of the 18th century in Germany, and more than 'a contemporary of Bach and Telemann'. He was a very distinguished composer whose works considerably add to the picture of musical styles and compositional developments in Germany in the period from about 1725 to 1760. The playing of Nova Stravaganza is outstanding, and does full justice to the brilliance of these scores. The solo parts are all superbly played, and the ensemble playing is impeccable. This release shows a great zest on the part of everyone involved. It must have been a great privilege to play this fine music for the first time ever. One can just hope that more will follow, and that others may be encouraged to perform more of Graupner's output which is awaiting to be rediscovered in the archives in Darmstadt.

Johan van Veen



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