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Telemann: Trumpet Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D7

Telemann: Trumpet Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D7


609 words
program notes by Chris Myers

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Copyright © 2014 Chris Myers. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution or reproduction prohibited.

Trumpet Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D7
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
solo trumpet, harpsichord, strings

I. Adagio
II. Allegro
III. Grave
IV. Allegro

Do you ever feel like you try harder than anyone else, work longer than anyone else, and produce more than anyone else, but you still can’t win? There’s a solid chance that Georg Philipp Telemann would sympathize. In the 86 years of his life, this law school dropout may have written more music than any other composer in history—the Telemann Werkverzeichnis (Works Catalog) lists over 3,600 pieces, despite missing countless works whose manuscripts were destroyed during World War II. Somehow, he also managed to be an accomplished poet, a novelist, and so highly sought-after a director of church music that the city of Leipzig couldn’t afford him (they ended up having to settle for J.S. Bach).

During his time, Telemann was widely cited by music theorists as a model composer. Countless composers, including Bach and Handel, cited him as a major influence. But by the end of the 18th century, this popularity started to work against him. Critics began to view the quantity of his output as an indication that it compromised on quality. Comparing him to Bach, they disparaged his focus on melody over counterpoint, and he began to develop a reputation as a composer who composed by formula and lacked inspiration. Soon, he was relegated to the margins of music history, and as late as 1911, the Encyclopedia Britannica didn’t even have an entry for the composer.

Telemann’s reputation lay dormant until after World War II, when musicologists attempting to save German archives devastated by bombing uncovered hundreds of forgotten works by the composer. This discovery, which serendipitously coincided with the beginning of the Early Music movement, led to a new interest in his work and a newfound appreciation of his artistry and style.

In many ways, Telemann can be seen as the “anti-Bach”. Though the two were contemporaries and held each other in mutual esteem, they had very different aims as composers. It hardly seems controversial to suggest that Bach represents the epitome of Baroque music. Many musicologists, in contrast, view Telemann as a harbinger of the elegance and grace of the Classical style. Where Bach embraced contrapuntal complexity, Telemann’s music is focused on melody. Where the music of Bach is bathed in intellectual rigor, Telemann’s seems to have flown almost effortlessly onto the page. The thick harmonic textures of Bach contrast vividly with the often delicate song of Telemann.

This difference in temperament was reflected in the composers’ instruments of choice. Bach was, of course, the organist’s organist. Though Telemann also played organ (as did every other composer of the day), he considered himself primarily a flutist, violinist, and— interestingly— a singer. The composer left no doubt as to the influence vocal music had on his musical style. “Who plays on instruments must be versed in song”, he once wrote. With such an emphasis on lyricism, it’s no coincidence that the composer’s most popular works are the hundreds of concerti he composed for wind instruments.

The D major trumpet concerto is representative of these works. Structured in four movements, the piece exudes an air of effortless melodic simplicity throughout. The piece begins with a stately adagio. This initial statement is followed by the joyful ebullience of a playful allegro in which the trumpet and strings engage in an energetic dialogue of musical ideas. The third movement gives us (and the trumpet) a pensive moment to catch our breath before plunging into the long melodic runs of the finale which conclude the concerto with an elegant gesture of melodic nobility.

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