Johann Joachim Quantz – Four Concertos For Flute
Release date: -Dec-
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Benedek Csalog – Baroque flute
Aura Musicale – Directed by: Balázs Máté
The criteria through which since the mid19th century we have been accustomed to evaluate the work and oeuvre of an 18th century composer would certainly be misleading in the case of Johann Joachim Quantz (16971773). His career, his objectives and the compromises he was willing to undertake do not at all match the Ro-mantic image of a composer. Thus it is not at all surprising that by now even audiences unfamiliar with his works have formed a disadvantageous and stereotyped judgment of him. This cannot be altered even by the fact that during his life and for a short period after his death those few who could hear him play the flute and knew his works which were, particularly, almost entirely limited to the genres of flute concerto, flute sonata and trio sonata were unanimous in his praise, likening his concertos to the greatest master of the genre, Vivaldi. What made his oeuvre so special? What is the reason that even the most concerned persons in the question, today’s flautists are more or less unacquainted with his works? In his youth he learned to play many other instruments besides the violin and the keyboard instruments, which belonged to the basic musical training. From 1714 he filled various short-lived positions as a town musician. After having an opportunity to hear one of the most outstanding groups of the age, the royal orchestra of Dresden, with Pisendel’s and Veracini’s violin and Buffardin’s flute play (the latter was the first man who made the new instrument, the French transverse flute popular in the German territories), he began to concentrate mainly on the violin and the oboe. He studied the counterpoint in Vienna with Zelenka, and then became an oboist in the
“Polnische Kapelle” of August II in Dresden. Perhaps to further his artistic career, he took flute lessons from Buffardin for a month, and during a trip to Rome in 1724 he studied composing with Gasparini. His long journey to Italy gave him a chance to meet the great composers of the age in person. During his next visit to Paris he was deeply impressed by the playing of the flautist Blavet.. He returned to Dresden via London, where he met Händel, and the Netherlands. In 1728 he was employed as a flautist in the Saxon Royal Chapel (Königliche Kapelle); from this time he gave flute lessons to the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick (the later Frederick the Great) in Berlin twice a year. In 1741, Frederick, who became by that time the king, invited him, after several unsuccessful attempts, to Berlin on extremely advantageous terms that Quantz could not refuse. His service included the duty to give regular flute lessons to the king, to direct and occasionally to take part in the evening chamber concerts, to make flutes and, naturally, to com-pose new pieces. As for the financial side of his service, it is quite telling that his honoraria exceeded several times that of C.Ph.E. Bach’s, who worked as a harpsichord player (!) in the royal band of musicians. However, his contract also contained a clause according to which his com-positions were for the king’s exclusive use, and they could not be circulated outside the court in any way. Except for a few duets and sonatas com-posed earlier, this stipulation was indeed kept, and his works were stored in the carefully guard-ed royal archives. Throughout his long life, he remained in service upon these conditions. From his 300 flute concertos, 200 sonatas and 40 trio sonatas, only one or two were published during the 18th century, and his playing could be heard only by a chosen few. In his own time, this was enough for the emergence of a legend.
However, by the later norms of musical history, his oeuvre is peripheral, impossible to continue due to its obscurity, and consequently less valuable. And yet, based on the traditions of the great model, Vivaldi, in his own genre, the solo concerto with string accompaniment he managed to write music that can still affect the audiences deeply through its integration and employment of the main musical trends (French and Italian) and composing techniques of his time on an exceptionally high artistic level.
Published in 1752 in Berlin, his Flute Method (Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte Traversière zu spielen), the most thorough treatise on any instrument to date, devoted even more space to the description of the contemporary performing practice and the main aspects of composing and judging works in certain genres especially close to him, such as the sonata and the solo concerto, than to the actual playing methodology of the flute. We get a minute description of Quantz’s views on the proportions between movements and between sections of the movements as well as the principles behind these; he attempts to define these relationships in terms of keys, affects, the actual length and tempo of sections and movements. Writing about the performance, a separate chapter covers the performing difficulties and questions of fast and slow movements, and, in the context of the latter, the problems of ornamentation. For this, he attaches a model movement, the famous Adagio, to which he gives almost note by note performing instructions.
At this point we should mention that this model is helpful mainly for the performing of slow sonata movements in the same style, which includes Quantz’s own works but also e.g. J. S. Bach’s Sonata for flute in E major, a composition which bears a striking stylistic similarity to the Adagio. However, the middle movements of Quantz’s flute concertos represent principles different from these. As a statistic analysis has shown (see Meike ten Brink: Die Flötekonzene van J. J. Quantz I Georg Olms Verlag, 1995), Quantz apparently did follow his Flute School’s theories elaborated with an almost scholarly thoroughness in his own concertos with more or less consistency. Nevertheless, it is his constant deviations from them as well as the incredibly variegated and really imaginative handling of Vivaldi’s basic scheme and even its occasional negligence that demonstrate the fact that Quantz was by no means a dry theoretician but a flesh and blood musician and an inspired composer. A smaller part of the flute concertos was written in Dresden, and the rest in Berlin. When they were finished, his Berlin compositions were immediately copied, and two or three complete parts of each work were soon taken to the archives closest to the potential residences of the king. This is what the signs “pour Charlottenburg”, “pour Potsdam” or “pour Sans Souci” indicate on the title pages. Nearly all of the 300 concertos are accessible in these very carefully prepared and almost faultless manuscripts in the collection of the Staatsbibliothek of Berlin.
The manuscripts were discovered by Moritz fürstenau, an excellent flute virtuoso of the first half of the 19th century; unfortunately, Fürstenau is also the person who is mostly responsible for the fact that there is a distortion in the evaluation, publication and performance of these works that prevails to this day.
He found a manuscript copy of the concerto in G major, present in our recording. from Quantz’s Berlin period, in the Dresden library, where it was taken by Pisendel. Fürstenau noticed the remarkable merits of the piece and performed it with great success. Preparing for the performance, he introduced articulations and dynamic marks into the original reflecting the taste of his own age, and transposed some passages an octave higher. Even before Fürstenau. several changes had been made in the scores, probably as a sign of performances during Quantz’s lifetime but without his co-operation. While Fürstenau’s notes can be clearly distinguished, it is much more difficult to separate the earlier modifications written with a similar ink and sometimes with pencil from the original. All subsequent editions of the work. actually the only widely known composition of Quantz were based on this irremediably scrawled source and thus provide a completely false image of the work. In the slow movement of one of the Berlin copies we can also find dynamic alterations (with the original signs scraped off) which reflect a late 18th century taste aiming at a smoother. rounder and less dramatic effect. All of the other complete Berlin sources, however. have been spared of any later interventions – our performance is based on these materials. Evidently. the fact that the original manuscripts contain relatively few articulation marks simply means that the basic rules of articulation were part of the common contemporary musical language, and. moreover, its local, “Quantzian” features were familiar for the only targeted performer, Frederick.
The same applies to dynamic marks. Although, as it is. the concerto in G major happens to have a remarkably large number of such marks. in general the dynamics and the articulation were determined by the relationship between the actual musical situation (register, harmony, movement) and the convention, and they were indicated only at places which deviated from this relationship. In fact. one of the general features of the late Baroque and especially the Berlin style is an exceptionally refined use of dynamics and articulation. For this reason, it would be a great mistake to follow the original marks of the score according to our reading and interpreting traditions of today or the late 19th century.
In the royal concerts held almost every evening Frederick usually played three or four concertos, partly performing newly completed pieces and partly drawing from earlier ones. Occasionally, works from other genres were added. e.g. trio sonatas. whose performance Quantz may also have taken part in. Besides the well-known concerto in G major. we have selected from the manuscript archives of the Berlin library three other compositions for the present recording that have never been published or recorded previously. The piece in G minor. the one whose character is the most similar to the G major work, is a true “Sturm und Drang” work with its heightened emotions, excited and fast scales. tremolos and quick turns of mood in the first movement followed by a painful. grim slow movement with sordino strings, whose weight is successfully released by the humorous Presto. The concerto in C major anticipates Haydn with its clean and fresh tone and balanced periods, while the first and last movements of the concerto in D major follow the pattern developed by Vivaldi. We hope that the above-mentioned flute concerto in G major, especially its magnificent slow movement will not only provide a true experience of (re)discovery for us, the performers. but also an encounter (hopefully not the last one) with a talented, original and inventive composer for the listeners of this recording.
The recording of Quantz’s flute concertos raised an important question: how large should be the string ensemble? The performers have run into some contradictions here. The famous concert hall of the “Sans Souci” in Potsdam, where most of the compositions were performed for the first time, is so small that only an ensemble of only a handful of musicians, probably soloists could play there. This is not at all surprising, since in the contemporary way of thinking it would have been inconsistent with the king’s rank to indulge in his passion for the flute in front of a wider public. Accordingly. the contemporary parts in Berlin contain only one copy for each string part. How-ever, we have contemporary scores of several flute concertos in Dresden that are much lengthier (with two or three copies for each part) and thus attest to a larger group of musicians. These manuscripts may have been prepared after the exemption of the exclusive royal right for concerts in representative, larger auditoriums with sufficient space for a bigger ensemble. Since the concertos were to be recorded in such a large hall, and the excellent sound qualities of our soloist also made this possible, we ultimately decided to perform the concertos with a group that was considered to be of an average size at the time (3 first violins. 2 second violins, 2 violas. I violoncello. I double-bass, and a keyboard continuo).
This allowed us to reach a sound more full and commanding as well as an intimate atmosphere of chamber music depending on the given musical context. Undeservedly forgotten and often unjustly criticized without being familiar with the works themselves, we feel that the greatest merit of these concertos is exactly their structural variety. This is what gives such an exciting experience to their performers and. as we sincerely hope, to their listeners. They are made extremely colorful and variegated by monumental orchestral passages often concluding in unison; sometimes songlike and sometimes brilliant virtuoso flute solos; almost opera-like ariosos and passages that even resemble recitatives as well as the irresistible dance-like rhythms. The grandiose themes and the almost classical structure of some orchestral ritornelle (at certain moments it is as though they were written in a miniature sonata form with musical materials reminiscent of a sonata’s first and second subjects with a codetta. each of a differing character) attest to a quite significant composer who was not much behind his colleagues of the first-rank in his time, such as C. Ph. E. Bach. Indeed, when comparing Quantz with the latter we can find several motivic similarities. The polished ness of the inner parts and the richness of motivic development are characteristic features of Quantz’s music as well. His harmonic world and usage of keys is quite diversified and balanced. It would be futile to look for fantasia-like improvisative solo passages so typical of C. Ph. E. Bach, a com-poser of keyboard pieces.
Nevertheless, the brilliant flute parts emerging, as it were, from the “very soul of the instrument” as well as the composing technique utilizing all possibilities of the differing characters of the registers have a refreshing effect, which is far from any cheap and empty virtuosity. The concertos being quite many colored works abounding in dynamic nuances, we have selected for the continuo instrument the tangent piano, which was often used in German territories in the 18th century. The tangent piano has a sensitive volume control within relatively wide limits, and its several interesting registers make it possible to create many kinds of timbres. For this reason, this special instrument has proved to be an ideal accompanying instrument for these significant compositions.
We would like to thank the staff of the Staatsbibliothek, Berlin for making the manuscripts available for us and Miklós Spányi for lending us his tangent piano for the recording.
Since he won the early music competition in Brugge and Orlando, Benedek Csalog (Budapest, 1965) has become one of the most eagerly sought-for specialists of early music in Europe. He won recently second prize at the early music competition held in Melk (Austria) – the first prize was not distributed. He studied in Budapest and later in The Hague with Barthold Kuijken. He performs regularly as a soloist in Europe, North and South America and the Near East. He is a teacher of the early music department of the Leipzig Conservatorium. He teaches courses in Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Brazil, and the Netherlands.
Translated by Dávid Oláh –