Christoph Graupner was one of the most prolific composers in the Germany of his time. He wrote a large number of instrumental and vocal works, which for a long time have been almost completely neglected. That is rapidly changing: over the last ten years a number of discs with his music have been released.
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.
This disc proves that Graupner stuck to his interest in counterpoint all his life. It begins with a Canon all'unisono in B flat, which dates probably from around 1736 - the year he copied Kuhnau's treatise. It is scored for two oboes, cello and basso continuo, and consists of six movements: grave, tempo giusto, adagio, allegro, a movement without tempo indication which is played here as a largo, and a menuet. The sound of the two oboes moving alongside and around each other is especially delightful. The slow movements are full of expression, and here the two oboists add their own ornaments to the melody lines.
The two next works are pieces for the transverse flute. The Sonata in G (GWV 707) is remarkable in that it is an early example of a piece for the transverse flute which was only just beginning to become popular, at the cost of the recorder. It is taken from a manuscript with chamber music by composers from Germany as well as other countries which was completed by 1720 at the latest. It is therefore assumed Graupner's sonata dates from his Hamburg period (1706-09) or shortly thereafter. In this piece the basso continuo is played by the harpsichord only, without an additional cello. That can be explained from the fact that Siegbert Rampe uses the copy of a harpsichord which was built around 1710 by Johann Heinrich Harraß, and has a 16' stop which Rampe uses throughout the sonata. Such instruments are increasingly used these days. As such instruments have survived there can be no doubt that they are historical. But as only a small number have come down to us, there is every reason to question how widely disseminated this kind of instruments were.
From the 1720s more and more chamber music was composed in which the harpsichord was given a concertante role. That is also the case in the Sonata in g minor (GWV 711) in which the transverse flute accompanies the harpsichord. But as so often Graupner follows his own path. In many of such sonatas the melody instrument plays with the right hand of the harpsichord. Although the flute sometimes does the same here or imitates a phrase in the right hand of the harpsichordist, it mostly has its own line, largely independent of the keyboard. Despite the date of composition (c.1740) this sonata follows still the traditional structure of the sonata da chiesa, with a sequence of four movements: slow - fast - slow - fast. The last movement is a menuet which is strongly ornamented in this recording.
Half of this disc is taken by the Overture in F (GWV 447) which is scored for recorder, two violins, viola and basso continuo. Again, it should be pointed out that Graupner is out of step with his time. The Sonata in G was one of the first in Germany written for the transverse flute, this Overture dates from around 1740, when the recorder had largely become obsolete. It belongs to the genre of the overture-suite, which was modelled after Jean-Baptiste Lully. Among the most prolific composers of such overtures were Graupner and his close friend Telemann. The Overture is performed here with one instrument per part, and that is certainly an option. In the light of this the title of the disc, "Orchestral Music", is hardly accurate. But then, in a time when instrumental ensembles were often rather small and there were various options in regard to the number of players involved, the distinction between "orchestral music" and "chamber music" is blurred anyway.
This particular Overture has been recorded two times before. That doesn't matter as all three discs have additional music to offer which is worthwhile. And all performances on this disc are first-rate. The oboists give very fine interpretations of the Canon and the Canadian flautist Annie Laflamme is the sensible performer of the two sonatas with flute, adding nice ornamentation where needed. The recorder part in the Overture is beautifully realised by the Swiss recorder player Matthias Weilenmann. The violin parts are a bit thin and could have be a little more colourful. But that is about the only criticism.
If you don't know Graupner's music, this disc with its varied repertoire is an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with his style. And if you have listened to it, there is a good chance you will want more. The previous two discs by Nova Stravaganza on the same label are a good way to extend your knowledge of Graupner's music.
Johan van Veen
This disc proves once again that Graupner was his own man - Nova Stravaganza delivers excellent performances.