Johan Helmich Roman is the first Swedish-born professional composer
in history. He played a key role in the development of musical
life in Sweden. He was a child prodigy at the violin, playing
at the age of seven in the court orchestra in which his father
was a violinist. From 1715 to 1721 he stayed in London, where
he was sent by King Charles XII to perfect his skills. In London
he played in the orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music under
George Frederic Handel as one of the second violinists. He also
became acquainted with famous masters of that time, including
Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Geminiani and Francesco Maria Veracini.
When he returned to Stockholm he was appointed deputy Master of the
Swedish Royal Chapel and given the task of building up the
city’s musical life. The situation in the Swedish capital
was very different from that in London: there were neither
public concerts nor opera performances. During the 1720s considerable
changes took place. Some of Lully's operas were performed
by a French theatre company, and Roman composed some works
of his own, including a cantata in honour of King Frederick
In 1726 Roman announced that he intended to publish his 12 flute sonatas.
In order to increase sales advertisements also appeared in
newspapers in other European countries. In Germany Georg Philipp
Telemann acted as Roman’s agent. The next year the 12 sonatas
were indeed published, with a dedication to Queen Ulrike Eleonora.
It is remarkable that Roman wrote his sonatas for the transverse flute,
an instrument he himself did not play. Although there are
some violinistic traits in some of these works they are quite
idiomatic for the transverse flute. It is clear from the title
page that Roman had written the sonatas for amateurs. Among
them the transverse flute was quickly growing in popularity,
both in Sweden and abroad. And the German flautist and theorist
Johann Joachim Quantz had stated that in the 1720s there was
very little music available which was specifically written
for the transverse flute. So there definitely was a market
for flute sonatas.
It is not known how well the collection sold, but copies have been
found in several libraries in Sweden and abroad. Apparently
they were played as late as the early 19th century. Like so
much music of that time Roman's sonatas reflected the 'goûts
réunis': there are Italian and French elements, and a number
of movements are in fact dances, although Roman uses only
the Italian character descriptions like allegro, adagio or
larghetto. The influence of Handel is particularly noticeable.
The structure of these sonatas reflects their individual character.
Most are in four or five movements, but there are also some
sonatas in six or seven movements. Some movements are divided
into subsections with different character indications. These
include the second movement of the Sonata No 2: larghetto,
andante, adagio. Unusual are indications like 'piva' and 'villanella'
which appear in the Sonata No 10. The first is what the French
would call a 'musette', the latter reflects the influence
of folk music which can be found at several points in these
When I listened to these sonatas it struck me that many movements are
quite dramatic, for example through the frequent use of short
general pauses. In this performance the interpreters have
included short cadenzas at various points. I don't know if
Roman gave any indication as to whether these should be added,
but they seem to me in line with the overall character of
these works. The artists have captured their spirit very well.
Their performances are bold and daring. In some movements
the realisation of the basso continuo has an almost concertante
character which definitely suits them.
The contrasts in tempo between the movements come out well. Fast movements
are generally played very fast and slow movements really slow.
Only occasionally do I find the tempi maladroit. The andante
of the Sonata No 1 in this case sounds more like an adagio.
Moreover, I could easily imagine a more differentiated treatment
of dynamics. There were moments when I was longing for greater
dynamic inflection from these artists.
That said, these remarks take little away from my appreciation of this
recording. This is first-rate music and with Verena Fischer, Klaus-Dieter
Brandt and Léon Berben it has found close to its ideal interpreters.
Johan van Veen