Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Telemann's Paris Quartets: Chamber Music of the High Baroque

October 3rd is opening day of Catacoustic's 15th season, and a stellar ensemble will be in town to celebrate. Matthew Dirst is the multi-award-winning (Fulbright scholar, Grammy nominee, and many others) founder of Ars Lyrica. Colin St-Martin has studied, toured, and recorded extensively in Europe and North America on the Baroque flute, as has Jin Kim on the Baroque violin. And Artistic Director Annalisa Pappano will be debuting her new bass viol.

GP Telemann
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was one of the most important and well-known German composers

of his time. His accomplishments came, however, in the face of a difficult personal life. His family intended him for the law, and when he persisted in his passion for music (he composed his first opera at the age of 12) they confiscated his instruments and unsuccessfully forbade further musical pursuits. Luckily for history, his gifts and ability caught the attention of his schoolteachers, classmates, ministers, civic leaders -- everyone around him, in fact -- and law school never stood a chance. His first wife died early in their marriage; his second wife cheated on him, incurred large gambling debts, and later left him. He struggled with publishing disputes, near bankruptcy, and failing health.

Michel Blavet
Even so, Telemann was a prolific composer (one of the most prolific in Western history) and was highly regarded by his peers, including Handel and JS Bach (he was godfather to CPE Bach). Telemann published the first German music periodical in an effort to encourage music making by amateurs and music students. He also pioneered the idea of music as the intellectual property of its composer. His compositions were innovative, combining elements of musical styles from across Europe. He helped bridge the musical transition from the Baroque to the Classical period.

J-P Guignon
By the 1730s Telemann was a famous composer, known throughout Europe. He wrote the first six of the Paris Quartets in preparation for a visit in Paris at the invitation of several famous musicians: flute player Michel Blavet, violinist Jean-Pierre Guignon, viol player Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, and a cellist by the name of Prince Edouard (today unknown). Telemann likely played harpsichord in these musical encounters. He wrote separate obbligato parts for cello and viol in a very diplomatic gesture, so the cellist and viol player could take turns in the ensemble. 

The name “Paris Quartets” was  stuck onto them only in the 20th century; some of them were actually published in Hamburg. The pieces we are performing today were originally named Nouveaux Quatuors en Six Suites. While they have a French title and French suite form, they were really more of a réunion des goûts, or a blending of the styles of many countries. The Paris Quartets sounded quite modern to contemporary ears, flirting with the newly popular galant style.

J-B Forqueray
Telemann wrote this of his musical experience in Paris:
“The admirable performances of these quartets by Messrs Blavet (transverse flute), Guignon (violin), the younger Forcroy (viola da gamba) and Edouard (cello) would be worth describing, were it possible for words to be found to do them justice. In short, they won the attention of the ears of the court and the town, and procured for me in a very little time an almost universal renown and increased esteem.”

Saturday, October 3, 7:30pm
Trinity Episcopal Church
326 Madison Avenue
Covington, KY  41011
Tickets $25, $10 students. Season tickets for Catacoustic's 15th season will also be available ($100 for five tickets) at the door, or at

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