Georg Philipp Telemann—who was a close friend of the Bach family and godfather to Johann Sebastian’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel—was unquestionably the best-known composer in Germany in the first half of the 18th century. In 1733 he published a large collection of orchestral and chamber music under the title Tafelmusik. The importance of this publication can be seen in the names of some of the people who subscribed to it: George Frideric Handel (in London), Michel Blavet (in Paris), and in Dresden Johann Joachim Quantz and Johann Georg Pisendel (who was the foremost student of Vivaldi). The pieces were divided into three “Productions,” each of which opened with an Overture/Suite, followed by a Quartet, a Concerto, a Trio-sonata, a Solo sonata, and finally a Conclusion which was in fact the final movement of the Overture/Suite. The Overture in E minor is from the first Production. The orchestral Overture, a form which originated in France in the operas of Lully, was popularized in Germany primarily by Telemann. It consists of two contrasting sections, the first slow and majestic with uneven rhythms, and the second fast and imitative. In this case, the French overture form is combined with Italianate concertante writing, with solo episodes for two violins and two flutes. It is followed by a series of six movements which are either dances (Loure, Passepied, Gigue) or in dance-like movement (Réjouissance, Rondeau, and Air), and lastly by the Conclusion.

Only three violin-concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach survive in their original form, the solo-concertos in A-minor and E-major, and the double-concerto in D-minor (others survive in the form of concertos for harpsichord and orchestra, the first keyboard concertos). The Concerto in E-major is much larger in both time and scope than the other two. Its harmonic style is more adventurous, ranging into keys that were used very rarely even in later centuries, like G-sharp minor. The relative simplicity of harmony in the others suggest that they may have composed during Bach’s years in Weimar (1707-1717), whereas the remote tonalities in the E-major concerto imply the period spent at Anhalt-Cöthen, during which Bach was exploring the far reaches of Baroque tonality in his Well-Tempered Clavier of 1722. Like all of Bach’s concertos, this one is in the three-movement format established by Torelli and Vivaldi, fast–slow–fast.

Sir John Tavener (not to be confused with the composer from the early Tudor period, John Taverner) has, in the last few decades, become prominent as the English representative of a group of composers, mostly from Eastern Europe, whose music reflects the influence of the Russian Orthodox tradition rather than the western, Roman Catholic: others include Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki. This music is characterized by slow-moving harmonies and repetitive use of small melodic figures, and has been dubbed by some critics as “holy minimalism.” The 1995 “Song of the Angel” combines a soprano soloist singing the single word “alleluia” with an ecstatic solo-violin line supported by a lush orchestral texture. It was featured on a compact-disc recording released in 1998 celebrating the 25th anniversary of London’s Academy of Ancient Music.

George Frideric Handel spent the years 1717-1718 at Cannons, the estate of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos, unofficially in the service of the Duke. Brydges was at that time one of the wealthiest men in England, having acquired an immense fortune while serving as Paymaster-General during the War of the Spanish Succession (one might well question the legitimacy of that acquisition!). He hired the finest architects and artists available to enhance his estate, and one of those was Handel. During his time there, Handel composed not only the eleven “Chandos Anthems” but also Acis and Galatea and his first English oratorio, Esther. The fourth of the Chandos Anthems, O Sing unto the Lord, begins with an orchestral “sonata” which is in the same two-part form as the “sinfony” which begins Messiah—a slow introductory section followed by a quick fugal section. The soprano’s exhortation to “Sing unto the Lord” is echoed by the choir, followed by a choral fugue which concludes with striking block chords. The fourth movement is a tenor aria in which the orchestral music depicts graphically the raging waves of the sea. The fifth movement is a dialogue between the two solo voices and the orchestra, with the organ accompanying both. A pair of choral movements conclude the anthem, the first of which functions as a slow introduction to the lively finale—mirroring the sonata which opened the anthem.

© 2003 Daniel Pyle