Few historical figures had such a relevant importance for the transverse flute as that of Frederick II of Prussia, “the Great”. An enlightened sovereign and a passionate musician, Frederick II von Hohenzollern preferred practising for hours under the guidance of his flute teacher, the authoritative musician Johann Joachim Quantz, instead of providing for the war duties to which his role called him. Beyond any other consideration about his figure, however, Frederick II is today an absolute reference point not only for flutists, but also for all those who are passionate for Baroque music. In his court, in fact, some of the most important musicians of the time could be found; they were drawn to Potsdam not only by the prestige, but also by the actually copious money which the King generously invested in order to secure for himself the very best musicians. Thus, an unrepeatable concentration of musical talent could be found in a single place: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Quantz (whom we cited above), the Graun brothers and Franz Benda, to cite but few. This discographic project aims therefore to recount that fragment of music history, and to describe the atmosphere which deeply impressed even the great Johann Sebastian Bach during his famous journey to Court in 1747. That occasion would provoke the creation of one of Bach’s most complex compositions, i.e. the Musical Offering BWV 1079. It is not by chance, therefore, that the album opens with the famous Thema Regium, which, according to legend, was dictated by Frederick himself to J. S. Bach. Later, we find a composition by Frederick himself. In this A-minor Sonata are found all the stylistic elements recognizable in most of the music composed at his Court – indeed, today we speak of a “Berlin style” with reference to the works explicitly conceived for Frederick’s transverse flute.
This piece is followed by a Trio Sonata by Bach, which survived in no less than two versions: one is for viola da gamba and obbligato harpsichord (BWV 1027), and another for two transverse flutes and continuo (BWV 1039). Here we propose a new and unpublished adaptation for solo transverse flute with obbligato harpsichord. Compositions by Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Joachim Quantz and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach complete this journey inside Frederick’s court. In their works, a knowledgeable compositional style for the flute emerges; it is enriched (as in the case of the famous G-major Sonata by C. P. E. Bach) by typically style galante elements, which Frederick’s preferred music would increasingly favour. In the programme’s conclusion, there is a contemporary homage to Frederick II and to his Court, i.e. Abschied von Potsdam. Positioned as an ideal coda at the end of the album, Abschied von Potsdam pays homage to a joyful – but, at the same time, dramatic – moment in the life of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
It was his farewell, in 1768, to Frederick’s Court, where he had worked for almost thirty years, and suffered a treatment which did not correspond to his value. His occasion for abandoning the court was his appointment as Musical Director and Cantor in Hamburg, replacing Georg Philipp Telemann after his death. This piece is a Passacaille with an introduction and coda, grounded on a series of ten notes (four of which are repeated). They are drawn by lot and constitute a line upon which the Variations are weaved. For this last piece only, I decided to use a modern ebony Böhm flute with silver mechanism, capable of rendering all of the piece’s dynamic nuances. Finally, I wish to mention that this discographic project began after I got acquainted with the copy of Frederick II’s flute realized by the Milanese flute-maker Fabio Di Natale. This instrument, unique in its genre, convinced me to realize this homage to Frederick II and to his court. I would like therefore to thank Fabio Di Natale for lending me this precious instrument.
Notes about the instrument
by fabio di natale
The precious original flute, completely inlaid in ivory, is today in the possession of an Italian collector who acquired it from a French merchant of art and musical instruments.
The Flute was given in exchange for another rare keyboard instrument which the Italian collector owned and in which the merchant was very interested.
Asked for more information about the flute’s provenance and history, the merchant affirmed that the instrument had come to him after many plights originating from one of the many historical Franco-Prussian wars.
Seemingly, at that time, a Prussian officer had become a prisoner of a French one – or possibly vice-versa.
As a matter of fact, the instrument, along with other valuable objects, was bartered in exchange for the freedom of one of the two officers.
The original instrument’s tuning is between 392 and 400 Hz, and it certainly originally included several extra bodies which however have not survived to present-day. The headjoint can be divided into two parts and lengthened through a tenon and a barrel (which are, however, completely blocked today); they would have permitted to perfectly tune the extra bodies following Quantz’s style. The instrument can still be played, but just for very short times, because the numerous micro-fissures (which are present especially in the headjoint) tend to enlarge themselves dangerously during usage, compromising the structure’s sound and integrity. The original flute is entirely inlaid, and, along with the King’s monogram, in the headjoint it has other symbols (such as the deer, the oak leaf etc.) under the shield-shaped etching.
These same royal symbols are found in many other of the King’s belongings, so that the flute is certainly attributed as an instrument once owned by Frederick II. The reconstructed copy, in synthetic ivory, is tuned at 415 Hz and reinterprets the original, while faithfully maintaining the proportions among the joints and the sounds.
I dedicated particular care to the meticulous reconstruction of the decorations and of the symbols found in the original flute, among which, of course, the magnificent monogram of the King, made of two intertwined letters which can be interpreted both as F & R (for Federicus Rex) and as J & Q (for Johann Joachim Quantz). Quantz was a famous musician, the King’s teacher and possibly the ideal builder of this instrument.
Translation by Chiara Bertoglio
Gabriele Formenti: Musician, writer, teacher and journalist, Gabriele Formenti was born in Milan in 1978. He graduated in modern and historical flute at the “G. Verdi” Conservatoire of Milan and then cum laude in baroque and classical flute with Marcello Gatti at the “A. Pedrollo” Conservatory of Vicenza. He has a BA in History of Music, for which he wrote a thesis on works for flute by Pietro Nardini. Formenti also attended masterclasses with Barthold Kuijken, and, for many years, summer courses in Kate Clark’s class at Urbino Musica Antica.
He has worked with Accademia Montis Regalis, Orchestra Sinfonica dell’Università degli Studi di Milano, il Bell’Accordo ensemble, Ensemble Il Demetrio.
In 1994, he was awarded first prize in the “Endas Lombardia” national flute competition.
He has also published “La musica dei Re” (Bibliotheka Edizioni), a novel about the Court of Friedrich II, King of Prussia and C.P.E. Bach (Florestano Editore). His second novel, “Il violino noir” (Bibliotheka Edizioni), about Leclair and his Stradivari violin has been published in 2017.
He has recorded for Bottega Discantica (P. Nardini, Six Triosonatas for two German Flutes) and for Brilliant Classics (C. Tessarini, Sonatas for Flute, G. Paisiello, Six Quartets for Flute, B. Campagnoli, Six Quartets for flute).
Journalist at Radio Classica (Class Editori), he developed many successful programs.
Gabriele Toia: He graduated in piano from the ‘G. Verdi Conservatory’ of Milan. He went on to study composition with Alessandro Solbiati and, under the guidance of Emilia Fadini, harpsichord and fortepiano. He specialized in clavichord with Bernard Brauchli and Christopher Hogwood, in harpsichord with Davitt Moroney and in baroque organ with Lorenzo Ghielmi and Paolo Crivellaro. Over time he has also dedicated himself to jazz music. He has given many recitals playing at numerous international music festivals and collaborated, among others, with the orchestra “basel sinfonietta”, the ensemble of violas da gamba “Il suonar parlante” conducted by Vittorio Ghielmi, the Orchestra Sinfonica Giuseppe Verdi in Milan, with conductors Michael Schønwandt, Giorgio Magnanensi, Monica Buckland Hofstetter and Fortunat Frölich and with pianist-early keyboard performer Michael Tsalka. Besides keyboard instruments, choral and chamber music, he has composed scores for several plays and short films as well as for numerous poetry readings, collaborating, with, among others, important italian poets Milo De Angelis, Vivian Lamarque and Franco Buffoni. In theater he has collaborated with the Piccolo Teatro di Milano (Giorgio Strehler and Oriella Dorella) and with actor Franco Branciaroli. His music has been performed in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Romania, Finland, Greece, The Netherlands, U.S.A., Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has won several prizes in international composition competitions such as the “Città di Albenga” in Italy and The Vox Novus in New York. He recently won the first prize (both jury and audience vote) at the International Clavichord Composition Competition (Finland). Some of his compositions are published by Simon Verlag, Berlin. He has recorded contemporary and ancient music for Ducale, La Bottega Discantica, MDS Records Zurich. Some of his compositions and performances have been broadcast by Rai Radio 3 e FD5, Radio Rumantsch, Schweizer Radio DRS 2 and WFMT Chicago and recorded on CD by Wirripang (Australia).
Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach: (b Weimar, 8 March 1714; d Hamburg, 14 Dec 1788). Composer and church musician, the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and his first wife, Maria Barbara. He was the most important composer in Protestant Germany during the second half of the 18th century and enjoyed unqualified admiration and recognition particularly as a teacher and keyboard composer.
Profile from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Friedrich II, King of Prussia (b Berlin, 24 Jan 1712; d Potsdam, 17 Aug 1786). German monarch, patron of the arts, flautist and composer. His father, Friedrich Wilhelm I, was alarmed at his son’s early preference for intellectual and artistic pursuits over the military and religious. In spite of being supervised day and night and in the face of his father’s rages and corporal punishments, Frederick managed, partly through the complicity of his mother and his older sister Wilhelmina, to read forbidden books, to affect French dress and manners and to play flute duets with his servant. As a seven-year-old he was permitted to study thoroughbass and four-part composition with the cathedral organist Gottlieb Hayne. Wilhelmina, also musically talented, joined him in impromptu concerts. On a visit to Dresden in 1728 the prince was overwhelmed at hearing his first opera, Hasse’s Cleofide; there he also first heard the playing of the flautist J.J. Quantz, who soon thereafter began making occasional visits to Berlin to give Frederick flute lessons. The king tolerated such amusements for a while, but by 1730 his disapproval had hardened to prohibition.
Johann Joachim Quantz (b Oberscheden, Hanover, 30 Jan 1697; d Potsdam, 12 July 1773). German flautist, composer, writer on music and flute maker.
Johann Sebastian Bach: (b Eisenach, 21 March 1685, d Leipzig; 28 July 1750). Composer and organist. The most important member of the family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments, as a composer, that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position. His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.
The first authentic posthumous account of his life, with a summary catalogue of his works, was put together by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel and his pupil J.F. Agricola soon after his death and certainly before March 1751 (published as Nekrolog, 1754). J.N. Forkel planned a detailed Bach biography in the early 1770s and carefully collected first-hand information on Bach, chiefly from his two eldest sons; the book appeared in 1802, by when the Bach Revival had begun and various projected collected editions of Bach’s works were underway; it continues to serve, together with the 1754 obituary and the other 18th-century documents, as the foundation of Bach biography.