A Baroque Cornucopia
In Thursday's WFCR classical music, we'll broadcast several colorful and entertaining Concertos and Orchestral Suites by the greatest German Baroque composer of orchestral music, in honor of the anniversary of his birth. Wait a second, you might reply — isn't J.S. Bach's birthday next week, on the 21st? Right you are, my fellow Bachophile! I'm referring instead to old Sebastian's distinguished contemporary, friend, and godfather to one of his sons, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767).
Wait another second, you might respond — when it comes to German Baroque music, isn't Bach the beginning, the end, the alpha, the omega, the Big Kahuna, the whole enchilada, and the one before whom all other composers must humbly bow down? Well yes, usually. But when it comes to orchestral music, I think that even the immortal Bach was outdone by Telemann. First of all, whereas Bach left a relatively (for him) small corpus of Concertos and Orchestral Suites (the two leading orchestral genres of the day), Telemann's work list includes over 120 of each (others may be lost) and well as dozens of works in other genres.
OK, so Telemann wins for quantity. What about quality? That's where Telemann's fecundity goes from merely impressive to downright amazing. For I've heard and broadcast dozens of these works. And I've yet to come upon one that didn't impress me with its invention, melody and wit. I especially get a kick out of his knack for unusual instrumental combinations, animating each instrument as if a character in a play. That's a knack he shares with Duke Ellington, who knew exactly for whom he wrote every note, as no doubt did Telemann. We'll hear that in today's first Concerto, featuring a front line of flute, the rare oboe d'amore and the even rarer viola d'amore. It turns up again in our second Concerto, fronted by flute, chalumeau (the folk ancestor of the clarinet), oboe and, coolest of all, two double basses whose agile contributions remind me of a pair of dancing bears. In our third Concerto, there's only one soloist, but when you've got a violinist who imitates a tree-frog on the make, who needs another? Then, later in the afternoon, we'll wrap up our birthday tribute with an Orchestral Suite featuring a pair of what may be the Telemann instrument par excellence, the Baroque horn. Speaking of cornucopia!
All right, Bach will get his due next Thursday. But today, let's doff our lids to a composer for whom music was all about pleasure, and didn't stint in providing it — the model of the composer-entrepreneur, beholden to his audience and customers while also producing durable art that has stood the test of time. Couldn't classical music use more like him today?