La Réjouissance galante (18th-Century Triosonatas)


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    La Réjouissance galante
    Initially classified by traditional historiography as a transitional period between Baroque and Classicism, the galant style is now considered – thanks in large part to the contributions of musicologists Daniel Heartz and Robert Gjerdingen⏤ – as one of the most influential musical movements cultivated in Europe between 1720 and 1780. The repertoire collected in this recording by La Réjouissance, composed in Hamburg, London or Milan, confirms not only the international scale of this movement, but also the richness of its production, yet to be explored.
    Deceptively conservative and yet innovative beyond the formal, this is a new music for a new age, that of the Enlightenment. Naturalness, sensitivity and good taste are expressions that frequent conversations and treatises to describe a renewed artistic horizon that the gallant composers outlined by distancing themselves from the complexities of erudite counterpoint to give way to a more accessible instrumental language, characterised by light textures, harmonic clarity, singable melodies and short phrases, so regular that they seem symmetrical. To enliven these parameters, the musician incorporates a web of dance rhythms easily identifiable to a knowledgeable and curious listener who is often also a skilled performer. The new enlightened social order favoured a musical thought that was directly addressed to a cultured, urban and cosmopolitan public that was no longer satisfied with passive listening, but approached the musical event from an active position that had its centre of operations in the salons of the international aristocracy.
    Thus, the chapel master, the court musician or the chamber harpsichordist no longer write exclusively to show off their virtuosity or their expressive faculty, but also compose scores that can be negotiated for a receiver who enjoys the pleasure of practising an instrument, alone or in the company of others.
    The titles of the printed scores are conclusive in this respect. One example: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach published a volume of his Sonatas and Rondos for connoisseurs and amateurs (Clavier-Sonaten nebst einigen Rondos fürs forte-piano für Kenner und Liebhaber) in Leipzig in 1780. This edition was the first in a series of six publications for Kenner and Liebhaber. Such a title undoubtedly helped to promote the work and to reach the largest possible number of buyers, a matter of real importance in view of the fact that these were subscription editions, published by the author himself.
    In this sociological context, the trio sonata established itself as the perfect form for the aspirations of composers and performers. Established in the 17th century, this baroque construction would also exercise its sovereignty in the chamber music of the gallant, reconverted into an eighteenth-century form that was both ingenious and technically accessible; its conversational, sociable and light-hearted character was equally satisfying to professional and amateur musicians alike.
    professional musicians and amateurs alike.

    Here it is important to remember that, although the name suggests three performers, the trio sonata actually refers to three lines of voices: two melodic instruments and a basso continuo played by a polyphonic instrument, usually a keyboard (the left hand reads the written bass while the right hand develops the chords according to a given cipher or to the dictation of one’s own imagination) which is often reinforced by a monophonic instrument of low tessitura such as the cello, viola da gamba or bassoon. As on a stage, two instruments
    -two actors – engage in a dialogue, and their musical interaction evokes the emotional intensity of a drama without words. The continuo also participates in the scene, sometimes with a simple commentary, sometimes deeply involved in the narration of the story.
    It is precisely the trio sonata composed in the 18th century that is the cornerstone of this recording, La Réjouissance galante, a representative collection of pieces illustrating the many dialects that this musical form conjured up in its long life. In this sense, the score that opens this anthology, the Sonata in G minor TWV 42: g7 by Georg Philipp Telemann, perfectly exemplifies what has been said so far.

    Like almost all of the composer’s instrumental music catalogued to date, the score has come down to us in an unautographed manuscript copy, which makes it impossible to date it precisely; we can only guess that it was composed before 1740. Written for traverso, viola da gamba and continuo, the composer adheres to the conventions of the Italian style, which is not surprising, for as is well known, Telemann is a master of what Johann Joachim Quantz described as a mixed taste.
    Quantz described as mixed taste, the use of Italian, French or Polish airs to, as we said in the introduction, enliven the scores. A procedure that the musicologist Steven Zohn aptly describes as the imaginative expansion of established national styles in the Baroque.
    In this particular sonata, Telemann employs the structure of the sonata da chiesa: four movements defined by alternating tempi (slow-fast-slow-slow-fast) according to the model internationalised by Arcangelo Corelli. Telemann, however, incorporates the new modes of the galant style, with constant tonal affirmations of a cadential type, seductive melodies, and the three instruments in dialogue at the same level in the precious siciliana or in the adagio, bathed in a restrained melancholy thanks to the timbre of the viola da gamba. To finish, a technically brilliant allegro to showcase the skill of the performers.
    Telemann, after a long and prolific professional life, died on 25 June 1767, which necessitated the search for a successor to the prestigious position he held in Hamburg, that of maestro di cappella. On 3 November 1767, the city administrators decided in favour of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Sebastian’s second son and Telemann’s godson. Earlier, in 1738, C.P. Emanuel Bach had been employed by King Frederick the Great as harpsichordist at his courts in Berlin and Potsdam.
    It is well known that Frederick II of Prussia was a skilled flautist. The Sonata in E minor, H.551 Wq 124, included in this recording, was probably written to curry favour with him, hence it does not pose particularly difficult technical challenges, a feature which does not detract from its formal elegance and that distinction Johann Mattheson speaks of in defining music of the gallant.

    Unlike Telemann’s sonata, C. P. E. Bach structured his work in three movements – slow – fast – (more) fast – a sequence that also predominates in the sonatas written in Dresden and Berlin, always under the clear influence of the compositions for flute and continuo by the aforementioned Johann Joachim Quantz.
    Also of German origin was Fortunato Chelleri (originally his surname was Keller), a composer little frequented today, but highly appreciated in the 18th century, so much so that Jean-Benjamin de La Borde, in his Essai sur la musique ancienne et moderne (1780) mentions him as an excellent composer and an extraordinary harpsichord player.
    We know that Chelleri became internationally known as an opera composer in Venice, although his professional life took him to Barcelona, London, Florence and Stockholm. In 1730, while serving as chapel master of the Landgrave Karl of Hesse-Kassel, he published a collection of six harpsichord sonatas (preserved in the Library of the University of Lund) with the beautiful title Sonatas de gallanterie (Sonatas of gallantry). The Sonata in G major included on this disc also belongs to this period. Written for flute, viola da gamba and continuo, it is defined by formal and melodic references to the Italian style, as we saw in Telemann’s music. The best is to be found in the slow movement, which certifies a more than interesting melodic invention, and Chelleri, without being an innovator, elaborates the materials that would give rise to the galant style in a personal, very theatrical and expressive synthesis. Recovering and enhancing the value of his work is another of the contributions that guarantee the musicological interest of this record.

    And, still on the subject of discoveries, the chronicle of the discovery of the Sonata in B flat major for flute or violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo by Carl Friedrich Abel, selected by La Réjouissance, is worthy of a monograph, as we shall now see.
    In the spring of 2015, the musicologist and curator of the National Library of France, François-Pierre Goy, catalogued a collection of 18th-century musical manuscripts and printed scores in the historical documents section of the Ledenburg Collection, now deposited in the Lower Saxony State Archive (Niedersächsisches Landesarchiv) in the city of Osnabrück.
    The main body of documents consists of works composed for viola da gamba, and its most notable guest is a copy – the only one documented to date – of the first printing of the twelve fantasias for viola da gamba solo that Telemann published in 1735 in Hamburg, music that experts considered lost for decades until Goy identified this original in the Ledenburg Collection.
    As if this were not enough, the inventory also contains three trio sonatas for viola da gamba by Carl Friedrich Abel, also in manuscript and unpublished. Perhaps the most beautiful is the one included in this recording, catalogued as WKO 110d, A5:5A, of which only one part, the viola da gamba part, is preserved in the above-mentioned collection.
    Although published as attributed to Johann Stamitz, the complete score has been unequivocally identified as the fourth of Abel’s six sonatas preserved in manuscript in the music archive of the University of Uppsala.
    Experts believe that the composer wrote it in England, where he had been living since 1759 and where a few years later – specifically in London in 1762 – he met Johann Christian Bach, one of the apostles of the gallant style in Heirz’s words.
    Friendship and a similar professional vision encouraged them to form the famous Bach-Abel concerts, the first public subscription concerts in England. Between 1765 and 1782, at performances scheduled on Wednesdays, Bach and Abel presented all kinds of instrumental music, their own or that of other contemporaries, defending the galant style when the immense shadow of Handel still dominated music-making in England.
    It was during this period, in London in 1764, that the printer J. Welcker published the Sonata in A major catalogued as W. B47b, as part of a collection, Six sonates pour le clavecin accompagnées d’un violon ou flute traversiére et d’un violoncello, dedicated to Princess Augusta Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel.
    Domenico Alberti’s influence on this score by Johann Christian Bach is evident and reminds us of his years of study and craft in Milan. Arranged in two movements, which are in turn arranged in binary form, the traverso and cello accompany the harpsichord, which here does not play a basso continuo but a leading role in which broken chords and cascading triplets test the harpsichordist’s fingering. Stylistically, the balanced structure and the perfection of the harmonic relationships launch this sonata into early Classicism.
    And finally, we return to Hamburg, specifically to Altona, where Pierre Prowo was organist. As with the work of Fortunato Chelleri, Pierre Prowo’s music is practically unpublished, and as if this were not enough, the stylistic similarity and the skill of his writing for woodwind instruments meant that the few works that have been located were attributed for a long time to his contemporary and neighbour Telemann. In fact, the sonata performed here by La Réjouissance coincides with Telemann’s in that it is written in G minor and structured in four movements. The flute part is very demanding, as is the viola singing, and both modulate a discourse full of nuances, reinforcing each other.
    Inés Mogollón © 2023


    La Réjouissance

    Mariya Miliutsina
    Traverso (Giovanni Tardino after Bizey, +/-1730)

    Amarilis Dueñas
    Viola da gamba (Eduardo Francés Bruno after Colichon, 1693),
    Baroque Cello (Eduardo Francés Bruno after Montagnana, 1740)

    Natalia Lentas
    Harpsichord (Rafael Marijuan, after Ruckers)


    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

    Fortunato Chelleri [Kelleri, Keller, Cheler]
    (b Parma, c1690; d Kassel, 11 Dec 1757). Italian composer of German origin. He was a choirboy at the chapel of the Madonna della Steccata, Parma (1700–03), but after the death of his German father when Fortunato was 12, and of his mother three years later, he was cared for by his maternal uncle Francesco Maria Bazzani, a priest and maestro di cappella of Piacenza cathedral, who instructed him in singing and keyboard playing. The opera Griselda (1707/8, Piacenza), usually attributed to Chelleri, was in fact a revival of Albinoni's setting for Florence (1703); however, Chelleri may have contributed the six arias that are new. This and other misattributions originate in Gerber's long article (GerberL) based on a supposedly autobiographical account by Chelleri himself. Equally dubious is the authorship of an Alessandro il grande (1708, Cremona). It seems that Chelleri's first opera was Zenobia in Palmira, composed in 1709 for Barcelona, which during the war of the Spanish Succession regained its status as a court and mounted an opera season with a group of Italians headed by Caldara, Astorga and Porsile.

    Friedrich Karl Abel : (b Cöthen, 22 Dec 1723; d London, 20 June 1787). Composer and bass viol player, son of (2) Christian Ferdinand Abel. He was no doubt a pupil of his father’s, especially for the bass viol; but on his father’s death in 1737 Carl Friedrich may have turned to the former relationship with the Bach family and gone to Leipzig to study, as Burney, who knew Abel, stated. By 1743 Abel was a player in the court orchestra under Hasse in Dresden; the connection with the Bachs was maintained – W.F. Bach was an organist there until 1746, and J.S. Bach had held an appointment as court composer from 1736. Abel left Dresden in 1757–8 during the destruction of the city by Frederick the Great. He then travelled, visiting the house of Goethe’s family in Frankfurt and probably the musical centres of Mannheim and Paris. He had already begun to compose in Dresden; the Breitkopf catalogue of 1761 advertises solo and trio sonatas and concertos, all with the flute, and describes Abel as a chamber musician to the King of Poland.

    During the 1758–9 season Abel went to London, the city where he was to spend most of his remaining years. His first public concert there was on 5 April 1759 (a few days before Handel’s death). Abel demonstrated his versatility by performing on the bass viol, the harpsichord, and Sir Edward Walpole’s newly invented pentachord, as well as being the composer of most of the music. Over the next five years Abel increased his reputation in London through his own annual concerts and through his direction of the concerts of other artists. In 1760 he was granted a royal privilege for the publication of his music in London; while publishing his early works there on his own account, he ensured his continental reputation by selling his op.1 to Hummel and his opp.2 and 3 to Breitkopf. The association with J.C. Bach began late in 1763, and the first sign of their joint efforts was a concert on 29 February 1764; thus the relationship of the Bach and Abel families continued. Both men were appointed chamber musicians to Queen Charlotte in about 1764, posts they held to their deaths; both were also friends to the Mozarts during their visit to London (1764–5) and served as mentors to the young Wolfgang. Abel’s Symphony in E op.7 no.6 was copied by Mozart and was long regarded as Mozart’s work (formerly k18).

    The association between Abel and Bach led to the establishment of the Bach-Abel concert series. This annual series of 10–15 concerts began on 23 January 1765 and continued up to 9 May 1781. They began as part of Mrs Cornelys’s entertainments at Carlisle House, Soho Square, and moved in 1768 to Almack’s Great Room, King Street, St James’s. Their success encouraged Bach and Abel to enter into partnership with G.A. Gallini, a retired dancer and brother-in-law of Lord Abingdon, to build their own concert room in Hanover Square. 1775, when that hall opened, marks the zenith of the Bach-Abel concerts, for in addition to the series there they offered 11 oratorio evenings at the King’s Theatre, with new works in the sinfonia concertante form proving a popular attraction.

    The opening of the Pantheon concerts in 1774 gave rise to an element of competition that doomed the complacent Bach-Abel series. The decline was no doubt hastened by Gallini’s rival series at the Hanover Square rooms on another night. Bach’s death at the beginning of 1782 might have ended the faltering enterprise, but Abel managed to continue the concerts under his own name for the rest of the season. Strangely, Bach’s widow declined Abel’s public offer of assistance. Possibly the relationship between Bach and Abel had by then become no more than a business matter; after sharing a home for many years, they had found separate residences in 1771, and unlike his flamboyant partner, Abel seems to have led a quiet and well-ordered life.

    Abel’s contribution to the Bach-Abel concerts included the direction on alternate evenings. The concerts introduced to London many musicians from the Continent, and while Bach’s influence can be seen in the choice of singers, many of the instrumentalists had known Abel at Dresden or his brother at Ludwigslust. Abel seems to have visited Paris with some regularity in the 1770s and 1780s; he was said to be teaching the viol to a fermier-général there, and it was probably he who introduced the several performers from Paris featured at the concerts. The directors also supplied most of the music that was given; much of it must appear among Abel’s published symphonies, concertos, quartets and trios. Those and his keyboard sonatas designed for the amateur were published from 1765 by Robert Bremner, who thereafter issued the first editions of almost all Abel’s works and reissued those that had been printed before that date. At this time Abel was highly regarded as a performer on the bass viol, and at most concerts he displayed his talents in a solo or concerto. The concerts Bach and Abel gave at court (for example one for the Prince of Wales’s fifth birthday on 12 August 1767) were in a sense an offshoot of their series; their influence is also seen in the number of individual benefit concerts that they were asked to direct both in London and in nearby cities during the summer. The programmes of these events serve as a good guide to the music played at the Bach-Abel series, the programmes of which are not extant.

    At the end of the 1782 season Abel left London to visit his homeland. He saw his brother in Ludwigslust and probably his younger brother Ernst Heinrich (who was to claim Abel’s possessions after his death) in Hamburg. He also spent some time at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm, Crown Prince of Prussia, at Potsdam; Abel had dedicated his op.15 quartets to the prince in 1780, and now he so impressed with his viol playing that he received 100 louis d’ors and a gold snuff-box. The manuscripts of five of his symphonies were (until 1943) in the Berlin Stadtsschlossbibliothek, which suggests that he composed them for the prince, possibly on this visit. An advertisement in Cramer’s Magazin der Musik (25 February 1783) shows that manuscript copies of his sonatas and quartets for the gamba were in circulation.

    From the beginning of 1785 until his death Abel was again active at the Hanover Square rooms. He was billed as principal composer and viol player to the Grand Professional Concert, successor to the Abel concerts of 1782 that maintained much the same personnel as the Bach-Abel series; but the new symphonies performed there (perhaps the Berlin set) remained unpublished. His last concert appearance was as a bass viol virtuoso in a benefit for Mrs Billington, the daughter of Bach’s pupil Mrs Weichsell, on 21 May 1787.

    That final concert represents an act of generosity typical of the warm-hearted Abel, who often gave concerts for the needy and helped to introduce young performers. The most famous among those whose careers he furthered are the cellists John Crosdill and James Cervetto, for whom Abel provided a showy duet in 1778. With the violinist Wilhelm Cramer and the oboist J.C. Fischer, they formed the core of the Bach-Abel troupe for many years. Cramer’s son, the pianist Johann Baptist, later publicly acknowledged Abel as one of his composition teachers, but it seems that Abel had no other famous pupils for either composition or the viol. His generosity was equalled by the strength of his attachment to his friends, among whom was the painter Thomas Gainsborough; the friendship resulted in an exchange of music and paintings – Gainsborough’s magnificent portrait of Abel with his gamba (see illustration) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777 and is now at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California (other portraits of Abel include one by Robineau in the royal collection and an anonymous painting in the Music School at Oxford). Abel appears to have had a particular fondness for art and artists, for in addition to his collection of Gainsboroughs he cultivated the friendship of the designers and engravers Bartolozzi and Cipriani. He was also good friends with the Mannheim violinist Wilhelm Cramer, and the two shared an apartment before Cramer’s second marriage, from 1776 to about 1779. It was at this time that Abel first showed signs of the illness that was to kill him; it was apparently brought on by rich living and in particular by an over-indulgence in drink, but it seems impossible to link this with any tragedy in his life (as has been suggested). Up to the time of his death Abel maintained a highly respected position in London society, at court, in the homes of the nobility, in fashionable circles, and among his fellow musicians; the several obituaries were unanimously laudatory.

    Abel’s reputation as a performer is closely connected with the bass viol. He also played the harpsichord well, but references to his performance on the french horn are the result of his admiration for a keyboard sonata by Ferdinand Horn which he must have played either on the harpsichord or in an arrangement for solo bass viol. That instrument was by this time approaching the end of its history; Abel’s obituary in the Morning Post of 22 June 1787 remarked that ‘his favourite instrument was not in general use, and would probably die with him’. It still had players in amateur circles; and in his last ten years Abel experienced in London the professional competition of Andreas Lidl. His playing may have been slightly influenced by the possibilities of the cello; the only direct evidence of his style comes from the obbligato to an aria from Sifari, performed with Guarducci on 5 March 1767, which consists of an expressive cantabile in the upper register with few chords. The several pieces for solo bass viol now in the New York Public Library exploit the instrument’s resources more fully and in virtuoso fashion, especially in the rich adagios and in one fugue; these works may have been written for a pupil rather than for Abel’s own performance. Most of the rest of the surviving literature was obviously intended for amateurs, which perhaps implies that Abel’s own performances were usually improvised; Burney wrote: ‘I have heard him modulate in private on his six-stringed base with such practical readiness and depth of science, as astonished the late Lord Kelly and Bach, as much as myself’. Abel was especially praised for his refinement of taste and his depth of feeling in adagios. He did not emphasize technical display in his performances; Burney commented that the ‘most pleasing, yet learned modulation; the richest harmony; and the most elegant and polished melody were all expressed with … feeling, taste and science’, and that his manner of playing an adagio soon became a model for string players.

    Abel was primarily a composer of instrumental music; his few vocal pieces are relatively unimportant. The symphonies, sonatas and bass viol pieces form the largest groups among his output. Abel’s style underwent little change; although he eventually came to write bass lines free of the plodding continuo style, the texture of two parallel melodic voices with a supporting bass, derived from the trio sonata, can be found in most of his trios and in many of his quartets and symphonies. Most of his works are in three movements, the remainder in two.

    Abel’s music is generally genial, energetic and light-hearted. He rarely used minor keys, and there is little trace of deeper emotion or Sturm und Drang, although his harmonic style is exceptionally rich and expressive. His melodies are often markedly instrumental in character, with broken chords, syncopation and appoggiaturas as common features; but he had a penchant for phrases of unusual lengths, and some of his music is refreshingly free from the two- and four-bar unit so common in the pre-Classical period. The slow movements usually have elegant, lyrical, highly ornamented melodies of considerable breadth; his finales are commonly in dance rhythm, often minuets (sometimes with variations but rarely with trios) or rondos. The result is a refined, urbane version of the Mannheim style with perhaps an Italian influence evident in the more vocal melodies and lighter moods. Burney remarked that his ‘invention was not unbounded, and his exquisite taste and deep science prevented the admission of whatever was not highly polished’; he commented on a certain languor, and praised his harmony and ‘selection of sounds’ as models of perfection.

    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.

    Johann Christian Bach (b Leipzig, 5 Sept 1735; d London, 1 Jan 1782). Composer, youngest son of (7) Johann Sebastian Bach. As a composer he was the most versatile of J.S. Bach’s sons and the only one to write Italian operas. He was an important influence on Mozart and, with C.F. Abel, did much to establish regular public concerts in London.

    Pierre Prowo
    (b Altona, nr Hamburg, 8 April 1697; d Altona, 8 Nov 1757). German organist and composer. He came from a family of good standing and sympathetic towards music. He is known to have been organist of the Reformed church at Altona from 1738. A large number of his instrumental works survive, and show competence as a secondary master in the development between suite and sonata.