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ClassicsOnline Home » TORELLI / HANDEL / ALBINONI / GABRIELI: Baroque Trumpet Concertos
The development of the piccolo trumpet has made it possible to tackle both original Baroque trumpet repertoire and transcriptions of works originally intended for oboe, with which it has a comparable tube length. Included here are examples of original trumpet repertoire from composers such as Torelli and Gabrielli working at the Basilica of S. Petronio in Bologna, and by Fasch and Telemann, together with apt transcriptions of oboe compositions by Albinoni and Handel.
By David Denton
Domenico Gabrielli (1651–1690) • Giuseppe Torelli (1658–1709)
Tomaso Albinoni (1671–1750) • Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767)
Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) • George Friedrich Handel (1685–1759)
Baroque Trumpet Concertos
The Baroque trumpet was a valveless instrument approximately 2¼ metres in length, usually in D. It could produce only the notes of the so-called harmonic series. Since, in proceeding upwards, the size of the intervals between these notes progressively decreases, it is only in the fourth octave – the high register – that a complete scale is obtainable. To render melodic passages a player must thus ascend to dizzying heights – 'high C' or even higher, depending on the instrument's pitch, the composer's inclination, and the performer's capabilities.
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, trumpet makers sought to escape the tyranny of the harmonic series in their search for chromaticism. With the invention of the valve around 1815, after brief flirtations with hand-stopping, slides, and key mechanisms, they ushered in the modern era of the fully chromatic trumpet. The gaps between the harmonic series notes are bridged by additional lengths of tubing connected to the valves, activated individually or in combination to lower the pitch by successive semitones. Trumpets were then built in increasingly higher pitches.
The instrument now in universal use to perform high Baroque trumpet parts is the piccolo trumpet in B flat/A. Its tube length of approximately 65 cm is comparable to that of an oboe. On such an instrument it is thus possible to perform not only works originally conceived for the Baroque trumpet, but also transcriptions of oboe concertos. The resulting expansion of the trumpet repertoire is mainly due to the charismatic Maurice André (b. 1933), who in the 1960s and 1970s employed an entire army of musicologists to invade European libraries in search of transcribable works.
Thomas Reiner, a leading exponent of the piccolo trumpet, has profited from such efforts. The compositions he interprets in this collection accordingly fall into two groups: those originally written for the Baroque trumpet, all in D major (Telemann's concert sonata, Handel's suite, and the works by Gabrielli, Fasch, and Torelli), and transcriptions of oboe concertos (Telemann's Concerto No. 21, Handel's Concerto in G minor, and the Albinoni work), which offer welcome harmonic relief by featuring various minor modes.
The cellist Domenico Gabrielli and the violinist Giuseppe Torelli were both active in the orchestra of the Bolognese Basilica di S. Petronio. The church's huge dimensions virtually cried out for the sound of the trumpet. From 1665 well into the following century, the so-called Bologna school of composers produced an unusually large number of sonatas or sinfonias for one, two, or four trumpets with strings that were performed during Mass on high feast days, especially 4 October, dedicated to the city's patron saint, Petronius. They feature fast movements in D major in which the trumpet(s) and strings enter into a lively dialogue, and slow movements for strings touching more remote tonalities. Gabrielli was the inventor of a type of movement found in his Sonata No. 4 in which two solo instruments, trumpet and cello, vie with one another above a thorough-bass accompaniment. With over 36 such works Torelli was the most prolific Bolognese composer for trumpet(s); his movements without trumpet are often tripartite (slow-fast-slow), as in the present brief Sinfonia, G. 4, dated 1693.
Tomaso Albinoni is a representative of the Venetian school. He was a gentleman of independent means who took pleasure in composing numerous operas and instrumental music of high quality. His Opus 9 was a collection of twelve concertos published in Amsterdam in 1722. The present concerto is one of his best known and most frequently performed works. Both outer movements derive their form from the so-called 'devise aria', in which the soloist's first entry is an abbreviated version of the orchestral introduction, his second entry beginning identically but now developing the musical material. Here the soloist and the accompanying strings share in the development. The middle movement conjures up the picture of a gondola placidly gliding over rippling waves, the soloist intoning beautiful sustained notes above an accompaniment of incessant eighth and sixteenth notes.
Georg Philipp Telemann was a highly prolific composer, with some 1700 church cantatas in at least twenty annual cycles, fifty operas, 125 orchestral suites and 125 concertos. In 1702, during his years of law study in Leipzig, he founded a Collegium Musicum which performed weekly and existed until 1745. His principal positions were in Eisenach, Frankfurt, and finally Hamburg, where he was musical director of the four main churches. Telemann's charming Concert Sonata (original title: Sinfonia, with a trumpet "se piace" in the outer movements) is heard here in a substantially revised version allowing the trumpet to participate in melodic action outside the harmonic series. The work is in a lightweight galant style, with most of its emotional energy being reserved for the dramatic middle movement. The first movement of his Concerto No. 19 is in a more learned style; both its broad fugue subject and animated countersubject are developed by the solo instrument and the strings. The second movement is a gentle siciliano, whose placid melody, piano, is occasionally interrupted by a dramatic downward scale in the bass parts, forte, like a stroke of lightning, before it comes to a peaceful conclusion. In the third movement, Telemann again develops both a spirited subject consisting mainly of eighth notes (quavers) and a sharply contrasting countersubject in repeated sixteenth notes (semiquavers).
Johann Friedrich Fasch, like Telemann, studied law in Leipzig in 1708-11, even directing a second Collegium Musicum there. After numerous peregrinations (to Darmstadt, Bayreuth, Greiz, and Prague), he served as court chapelmaster in Zerbst from 1722 until his death. His Concerto à 8 with solo trumpet eloquently displays his style of composition, influenced by the French and Italian schools. The first, Italianate, movement is dominated by a ritornello which, with its repeated sixteenth notes, is highly reminiscent of the beginning of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The second movement is a brief duo for trumpet and first oboe. The third movement begins like a French minuet, gradually revealing Italian characteristics during its course; in one of its repetitions, the minuet theme is interrupted every four bars by sharp sixteenth-note trumpet interjections.
George Frideric Handel probably composed the Concerto in G minor (Oboe Concerto No. 3) in 1703 in Hamburg. No original score or parts survive. The earliest edition was published by J. Schuberth & Co. around 1863- 64. Today the work is regarded as authentic, despite the dubious state of its source material. Its first two movements, with pompous dotted rhythms and sprightly figuration, respectively, are reminiscent of a French overture. The way Handel works with the second movement's two themes is similar to Albinoni's and Telemann's procedure, described above, and shows how important the Italian school of composition was for Germans of Handel's generation. The third movement is a hauntingly beautiful siciliano in song form (AABB). The final movement bears noticeable similarities to the second movement of Handel's Organ Concerto Op. 4, No. 3, thus being still another example of how the composer was constantly revising his musical material. The Suite in D major was published in 1733 by Jonathan Johnson – presumably without the composer's consent – as "The Famous Water Peice [sic] Compos'd by Mr. Handel". Three of its five movements are already known from other works of his: the first is indeed derived from the Water Music. The remaining movements, a jig and a minuet, are by no means of inferior quality. In fact, the centrally located minuet proves to have the most significant musical content of the entire work.
Edward H. Tarr
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