The early decades of the 18th century saw the emergence of the
Enlightenment. Its ideas were expressed in various magazines
which were aimed at the bourgeoisie. The first were published
in England. Translations of these magazines appeared in Germany,
in particular in Hamburg which developed into a centre of the
German Enlightenment. But soon magazines began to appear which
were written by Germans, and one of the people involved in their
publication was the composer and music theorist Johann Mattheson.
The first of these was published in the 1720s, and it seems that
at that time Telemann began composing pieces which were the musical
counterpart, as it were, of those magazines. They reflect the
ideas of the Enlightenment, which Ralph-Jürgen Reipsch,
in his liner-notes, sums up like this: "The virtuous man
was distinguished (...) by composure, equanimity, and imperturbability;
he was upright and moderate; avoiding extremes, he was always
to keep away from unwholesome passions and to the path of the
'golden mean'." It is easy to understand that the movements
and Sturm und Drang
the 18th century are often considered a reaction to this ideal
In the 1730s Telemann published three collections with 'moral
cantatas'. Although only the second and third volumes from 1735
and 1736 respectively were explicitly called 'moral cantatas',
the first six, which appeared in 1731, also belong to this category.
They were referred to as 'galant' cantatas, and that is mainly
because of the subject of love which all such cantatas were about.
But their tenor is clearly of a moral nature. In the beginning
of the cantata a situation is depicted, usually connected to
the protagonist of the cantata. Next it is described how that
situation is solved, usually through reason, and the concluding
aria expresses the moral lesson.
The texts are written by several then well-known poets some of
whom were also the authors of other works by Telemann, like Kapitänsmusiken
operas and intermezzi. Parts of these cantatas are also taken
from previous works. All cantatas are for one singer, even though
there is sometimes more than one protagonist. This was also common
practice elsewhere as in the French chamber cantatas of the early
18th century. The cantatas are not only modern in regard to their
texts, but also in the fact that their first and last arias express
The instrumental scoring is for strings and basso continuo, with
several obbligato parts for transverse flute, recorder, oboe
and violin. As so often in his oeuvre Telemann suggests various
alternatives for the instrumental scoring. And although in this
recording the solos are performed by soprano and bass respectively,
Telemann only indicates high or low voice. This was a way to
increase sales, as everyone could just use the instruments and
voices available. Apparently these cantatas were indeed widely
sold. The liner-notes give several quotations of contemporaries
who expressed their admiration for these cantatas.
It is interesting to have a look at the last cantata as it gives
a very clear impression of the spirit of the Enlightenment. The
cantata opens with a recitative in which we meet Tirsis, sitting
on a rock in the midst of a valley, his left arm, resting on
his knee, supporting his head. He sighs and then, in his first
aria, sings: "I hesitate between yes and no, which should
I choose?" The dilemma is, of course, two lovers. The recitative
explains: he loves Silvia whom he believes he can be happy with,
but she doesn't love him. Phillis, on the other hand, loves him;
with her he could gain esteem. The problem is: he doesn't love
her. "I constantly quarrel with love and honour, full of
doubt about the one to whom I should turn."
Then he hears a nightingale, and in his second aria he urges
him to sing: "Feathered siren, ripple, warble your tones
to promote my rest". In his next recitative Tirsis sees
the nightingale flee to another place and he draws this lesson
from it: "This creature that can turn its flight wherever
it wishes shall teach me by it: that nothing is so precious as
freedom. Therefore: honour and love, away! I'll now be my own
man again." In the closing aria we find the moral of the
story: "Living in freedom is the highest good. If passion
plays the master, our cheerful spirits are oppressed. Yes, yes,
I'm blessed! For a free spirit crowns me."
This is an example of how these cantatas are structured. We find
here the ideal - the 'golden mean': the avoidance of strong passions,
and composure: freedom (of strong passions) is the greatest good.
Also interesting is the role of the nightingale. In many cantatas
and operas birds are used as symbols for the state of mind of
a protagonist. But here the bird is a model from which man can
learn. And this refers to one of the ideals of the Enlightenment:
man should learn from nature in order to avoid errors in society.
Needless to say, Telemann effectively uses musical means to emphasize
the content. In the first aria the hesitation of Tirsis between
yes and no is expressed by the music circling around a centre.
The nightingale inevitably is depicted by a recorder. And in
the recitative which precedes the closing aria the last lines
are set in form of an extended arioso: "Therefore: honour
and love, away! I'll now be my own man again." One aspect
of these cantatas should be pointed out: there is often a close
connection between recitative and aria. A number of recitatives
end with a colon, and recitatives are used to explain the situation
which was displayed in the preceding aria. This creates a great
sense of unity sometimes lacking in baroque cantatas.
Ludger Rémy has again managed to dig up unknown pieces
from Telemann's huge oeuvre. Apart from giving a very good impression
of the influence of the Enlightenment on music, they show Telemann's
versatility and his sense of theatre. He was a prominent composer
of operas, after all. In this interpretation the dramatic character
of the cantatas is emphasized, in particular in the way the recitatives
are performed. There is a danger of exaggerating the drama in
these cantatas, and I feel Maria Jonas does not always avoid
that. In comparison Klaus Mertens is a little more moderate.
But all in all both singers do an excellent job here, and fully
reveal the character of these fine works. The players of Les
Amis de Philippe give equally spirited and engaging performances
of the instrumental parts. The obbligatos are also very well
In short, this is an interesting and musically rewarding disc
which should appeal to all lovers of baroque music.
Johan van Veen