One characterising trait of Baroque aesthetics is its tendency to “improve” over nature. Whilst the Renaissance ideal was to “imitate” nature in the most convincing fashion, Mannerism and Baroque tended to push this imitation to its limits, thus turning it on its head. Extreme fidelity became something akin to caricature, or, in other cases, to an effort to transcend the limits of nature itself. Whilst this is best observed in Baroque art, with its gigantic, majestic, at times exaggerated traits, something of this viewpoint is also seen in music. The struggle to go beyond the limits is observed in all major Baroque composers: for instance, in J. S. Bach’s almost impossible feats in the art of counterpoint, or in his pioneering efforts to compose in all major and minor keys. Indeed, the year 2022 in which this Da Vinci Classics album sees the light marks the tercentenary of the first volume of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, in which Bach demonstrated that it was possible for a keyboard player to perform in all twenty-four keys. Another field in which Baroque composers liked to astonish their hearers was their attempt to overcome the “natural” limits of the instruments. Most musical instruments, in fact, have a primary destination: there are instruments “born” to play a standalone melody, others whose texture make them ideally suited to sustain a bass line, others which are capable of performing rich harmonies and were therefore mostly employed as harmonic “fillers”; still others allowed for the performance of polyphonies. Some of the great geniuses of the Baroque era were keen to subvert these institutionalised roles, and to assign new tasks to instruments which had been hitherto considered unsuited for performing them. Thus, a handful of daring composers, among whom, notably, J. S. Bach again, entrusted complex polyphonic textures to the violin and to the cello: these instruments are capable of performing with relative ease passages in double stops, but great skill is needed to play triple- or quadruple stops, which are frequently employed in such pieces. In the case of double stops, they can actually be played simultaneously; triple stops can be played “almost” simultaneously; quadruple stops are impossible to play as chords, and must be arpeggiated: thus, harmony and polyphony are only partially actual, and must in part be imagined by means of the implied harmonies.
Viewed from this vantage point, the flute would seem the least indicated instrument for performing without a continuo. On the flute, even double stops must be arpeggiated, and, theoretically, the flute’s only ideal destination is the performance of solo tunes. However, the Baroque taste for challenges did not eschew this almost impossible bet. A few very daring composers tried their hand at solos for unaccompanied flute, among them Johann Sebastian Bach (again!), his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, and Georg Friedrich Telemann (who befriended the Bach family). They defied the common-sense idea of the flute needing a continuo accompaniment, and demonstrated that, given a very gifted composer and a very gifted player, the flute could sustain demanding and complex works by itself.
Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for unaccompanied flute are the ultimate proof that this is possible indeed. They were published about 1727/8 (indeed, their own tercentenary is quickly nearing), and only one copy of their first edition survives: it is preserved in Brussels. However, curiously, the titlepage of this single copy reads “Fantasie per il Violino, senza Basso”, and the composer’s name is not mentioned. On the one hand, thus, if one reads “red wine” on a bottle of wine, one is justified to think that the content is red wine. On the other, however, if the wine, once poured, is white, it is licit to doubt the label’s reliability. In fact, once one opens the score of these Fantasies, it becomes rather obvious that they are written for the flute, rather than for the violin. The most evident proof is that the range never descends below the low D, which was the lowest note on the transverse flute in D of Telemann’s time. Were these Fantasias to be played on the violin, the instrument’s fourth string would never be employed, and this is patently absurd. Moreover, the Fantasia’s twelve keys, excerpted from the twenty-four virtually available to the composer, are selected in accord with the Baroque flute’s idiosyncrasies; for instance, there is no Sonata in B major. Furthermore, there are no double stops and chords such as a solo violin could have played.
Whilst all this proves that the wine inside the bottle is indeed white, the question as to the misleading label remains. As is the case with the wine, the most likely explanation is also the simplest: the wrong label was put on the right bottle, or vice versa. Telemann in fact did write twelve Fantasias for unaccompanied solo violin (TWV 40:14-25), which, unfortunately, have not been handed down to us. They were published in 1735 – i.e., considerably later than those for solo flute – and it is likely that some confusion arose among the two sets.
If a composer makes great and innovative demands on a solo performer, it is more than likely that he or she has a particular player in mind. It would be slightly absurd to require something hitherto unheard from an instrument, without being assured that there will be somebody capable of mastering it. Music historiography has not ascertained whether such a musician was in Telemann’s mind, but it is true that the composer was in close contact with Rudolf and Hieronymus Burmester, two siblings from Hamburg, for whom he wrote his second set of Methodical Sonatas. It is possible, thus, that they were the intended performers of his exceptional set of Fantasias.
The very name of “Fantasias” is slightly puzzling, when applied to these works. One normally associates the idea of a “Fantasia” to a capricious piece with an improvisational style, and with no obviously discernible form. Here, instead, there is a profusion of clearly recognisable forms, at times taken from dance music, at times from other genres, including polyphonic pieces such as Fugues, and even a French Overture. Interestingly, this French Overture is found in the same position as in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, i.e. as the first piece of the work’s second half, and, even more interestingly, Bach himself adopted the same scheme also in the other works of his Clavier-Übung (for instance, the fourth keyboard Partita of Clavier-Übung I opens with a French Overture, and the great French Overture for the keyboard follows the Italian Concerto in the second volume). It can be argued, therefore, that “Fantasia” here has a variety of meaning which transcend the most obvious ones. For example, this can regard the concision of some of the individual movements, or the fanciful combination of diverse “national” styles (the Italian, the French, the Polish etc.). Moreover, Telemann liked to label as “Fantasia” his works for solo instrument, as was the case for solo harpsichord, violin, and viola da gamba.
The “Bach connection” is also found as concerns Telemann’s choice to write a Fantasia in each of the chosen twelve keys. As said, Bach had probably astonished his contemporaries when he issued (in manuscript copies) his twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys, but, on a lesser scale, his fifteen Inventions and fifteen Symphonias for the keyboard also explore one key each. After Telemann, Schickhardt would publish L’Alphabet de la Musique, for the flute, in this case touching all major and minor keys (London, 1735).
To write in (almost) all keys, however, far from positing their “equality”, had the precise aim of highlighting their diversity. In the Baroque and Classical era, every key had its own “affection” (Affekt), or colour. Telemann clearly believed in the received theorisation of these colours, and heightened their emotional content through the affective power of his music. We notice this from the cycle’s outset, with the luminosity and cheerfulness of the opening A major, followed by a markedly different Fantasia in the melancholic and lyrical key of A minor. Another clear topos of the Baroque era is the idea of kingship associated with the key of D major. Here, Telemann combines the inherent brilliancy of this key on the flute with the traditional symbolic association (the note D is read re in the Latin countries, thus echoing the Latin rex, for “King”), and with the added value of the French Overture. In fact, French Overtures were in turn associated with the idea of nobility and kingship, thanks to their origins in the Parisian court of the Roi Soleil. Here, therefore, the flute becomes a “golden instrument” even at a time when transverse flutes were still made of wood, and seems to anticipate the grandiosity of later music.
At the same time, and even though the demands placed on the player are high in terms of both technique and expressivity, they are not impossible. Telemann clearly aimed at delighting as well as at instructing, at providing enjoyment together with improvement. His works, different from the solo “experiments” made by Bach on the violin (which became truly popular only in the nineteenth and twentieth century) did enjoy recognition and popularity already during the composer’s lifetime. Proof of this is that they were cited and discussed in major theoretical treatises, such as those written by Quantz, probably the most famous flutist of the era, and one whose writings are still commonly read and translated.
Together, these twelve works build a magnificent itinerary through different styles, genres, gestures, atmospheres, and images of the Baroque era. Telemann demonstrates the full potential of the instrument and his absolute mastery of its technique, while inviting us to enjoy the beauty of this music and to savour its fascinating richness.
Chiara Bertoglio, 2022
Rita D´Arcangelo: She graduated in flute, with honors, at the Conservatory of Music "L. D'Annunzio " in Pescara (Italy), she then graduated also at the "Royal Northern College of Music "in Manchester, “ the International Academy of Music in Milan " and " the Hochschule fuer Musik” in Mannheim. Rita studied with Sir James Galway for many years, following the masterclasses of the Weggis Flute Festival in Switzerland, where she won the gold Nagahara 14K flute headjoint in 2008 and was invited as Guest Artist in 2016 and 2019. First prize in numerous international competitions, she made her debut as soloist in 2011 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. She's one of the few flautists to have in repertoire the Concierto Pastoral by J. Rodrigo. She recorded for the German radios SR2, SWR and WDR, the Japanese National Television NHK and for the Vatican Radio. As a first flute she worked at the "HPAC Orchestra" and the Osaka Philarmonic Orchestra in Japan; Filharmonia Gorzowska, the United Chamber Orchestra and the Kammersolisten der Deutschen Oper Berlin. As chamber musician she plays in Duo with musicians as pianist Giuliano Mazzoccante and guitarist Jakub Kościuszko. She's flute professor at the Department of Music of the German State University BTU – Cottbus, at the private University Akademie für Musik in Berlin, and regularly teaches in masterclasses in Asia, Europe and U.S.A. The published discography includes: Chedeville: “The Pastor Fido”, 6 sonatas for flute and continuo (Wide Classique 2010); “Allegro con Brio” (Wide Classique 2012) in duo with Giuliano Mazzoccante, winner of the Award of Excellence in the Instrumental Performance Solo category of the Global Music Awards, Los Angeles, U.S.A; “A Virtuoso Journey”, (2015 Centaur) winner of the "Gold Medal Winner - Award of Excellence" of the Global Music Awards, Los Angeles, U.S.A; “Rita D'Arcangelo - Jakub Kościuszko” (QBK - 2016); “Solo Bach” (Centaur 2017) dedicated to solo flute music by J.S.Bach and C.Ph.E.Bach with also some transcriptions made by Rita D´Arcangelo, from the repertoire for violin and cello by J.S.Bach. “Inspired by Rita D´Arcangelo” (QBK 2019) a world premiere recording of new pieces inspired by her art. Rita D'Arcangelo is a Nagahara Flutes Artist and plays on a beautiful instrument crafted expressly for her by Kanichi Nagahara.
Georg Philipp Telemann (b Magdeburg, 14 March 1681; d Hamburg, 25 June 1767). German composer. The most prolific composer of his time, he was widely regarded as Germany’s leading composer during the first half of the 18th century. He remained at the forefront of musical innovation throughout his career, and was an important link between the late Baroque and early Classical styles. He also contributed significantly to Germany’s concert life and the fields of music publishing, music education and theory.