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. His talent was prodigious: after a few weeks of organ-lessons at the age of 10, he taught himself violin and recorder and began composing; at the age of 12 he completed his first opera (one year younger than Mozart was when he completed his first opera). After holding positions in Leipzig, Sorau (in what is now Poland), Eisenach (where he became friends with the Bach family), and Frankfurt, in 1721 he was appointed Music Director for the the churches of Hamburg, a position he held until his death. (His successor in Hamburg was his godson, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.) During his years in Hamburg he composed many cantatas, oratorios, concertos, and overtures. Most of this music he published, which was a modern innovation: most composers circulated their music among their friends and students in hand-written copies. Telemann, in contrast, was an astute businessman as well as a profoundly gifted musician, and skilled not only in composing music but also in engraving it for printing.

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 (Re?jouissance, Rondeau, and Air).

George Frideric Handel was born and raised in Halle in Germany, and when only 18 moved to Hamburg where he was harpsichordist for the Opera (the oldest opera company in Germany, still in existence as the Hamburg State Opera). After the premier of his first opera in 1705 he moved to Italy to learn more about the operatic style in the land of its birth. For most of the five years which he spent in Italy he lived and worked in Rome, where he came in close personal and professional contact with the renowned violinist Arcangelo Corelli, who was also the originator of the concerto grosso. Handel returned to Germany in 1710, but before that year was over took a leave of absence and moved to London, where he remained for the rest of his life. At first he was highly successful composing and producing his operas (in Italian, with Italian singers), but in 1717 the company he was working with collapsed – not the last such setback he was to experience.

Between 1717 and his return to London in 1719, Handel worked 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.

Back in London from 1719, Handel rebuilt his career as a composer and producer of operas, but he did not ignore instrumental music. In fact, he composed a number of concertos to be used during the performances of his operas and oratorios. His fourteen organ concertos were intended for such use, and also a number of concerti grossi in the style of his Roman friend Corelli. In 1739, he was persuaded by his publisher John Walsh to collect or compose twelve of these, which appeared under the title 12 Grand Concertos for Violins &c in 7 parts, opus 6. The first of this set of twelve has five movements. The first is a majestic opening, which introduces the solo-ensemble of two violins and cello (like Corelli) in contrast to the full orchestra. The second movement, in a lively tempo, continues the dialogue between large and small ensembles, developing the opening motive through a series of key-changes and sequences. The third movement is in a stately three-beat measure that resembles the rhythm of a sarabande, and leads directly into the fourth movement, and rapid fugue. The concerto concludes, as do many of Corelli’s, with a gigue.

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 Pa?rt 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.

©2011 Daniel Pyle