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ClassicsOnline Home » GRAUPNER, C.: Partitas, GWV 121, 133, 149 (Akutagawa)
Acontemporary of J.S. Bach and Telemann, Johann Christoph Graupner was held in great esteem during his lifetime both as a prolific composer of large vocal and orchestral works and virtuoso harpsichordist, although he is now largely forgotten. With their considerable requirements of virtuosity Graupner’s harpsichord suites surpass Handel’s in grandeur of conception, and sometimes even match the younger man in musical substance. His immense and flamboyant Chaconne in A major is perhaps the most superb of all the many keyboard works of the genre.
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
On the strength of the chamber and orchestral music of Graupner that I have heard on recordings (he is rarely programmed in concerts,) I had until now considered him a competent also-ran of a period rich in overlooked musical prodigies and geniuses. I stand humbly corrected now: on the basis of these three partitas, Graupner now stands on a much loftier level, even far above Telemann. My newly found admiration for this composer lies in no small measure to the superb artistry of Ms. Akutagawa (any relation to composer Yasushi Akutagawa, I wonder?). The cathedral acoustical setting for the recording adds to the lustre of the music too. What I found rather disappointing was not a word about the magnificent-sounding instrument she plays.
By David Denton
For the lovers of Baroque music this is going to be their discovery of the year. Who was Johann Christoph Graupner? Well, put him into context with the fact that city of Leipzig wanted him to take their top music job in preference to Johann Sebastian Bach. When his present employer declined Graupner’s request for dismissal, Leipzig chose Bach instead. Born in Saxony in 1683, we eventually find him, after serving his apprentice years, in Hamburg at the Gansemarket opera where he made his mark on German music. Financially tempted to Darmstadt in 1709, he enjoyed working there with the high quality musical resources at his disposal where he worked until his death in 1760. He could there indulge in , composing large-scale vocal and orchestral works including 1442 cantatas, and a sizable catalogue of instrumental music that contained a series of Partitas for Harpsichord. The word ‘Partitas’ maybe somewhat of a misnomer as they were Suites of dances, their outgoing flamboyance akin to the Italian school of Domenico Scarlatti. That brilliance is particularly heard in the exhilarating Chaconne in A (track 15). Graupner was a virtuoso of the harpsichord, and would have performed these challenging compositions. His most ambitious were the Partitas covering The Four Seasons. If he completed the score, then the music sadly is lost, and we are left with an often blustery picture of Winter captured in dance rhythms. The performances are given by a young Japanese harpsichordist, Naoko Akutagawa, who studied in Germany as a student of the eminent Glen Wilson. The sheer pulsating brilliance of her playing stand among the most exciting harpsichord discs I have encountered for decades. The dexterity, punchy technique and willingness to take very fast tempos is breathtaking. But how can Naxos fail to give us the make of instrument she plays? Do they not understand that this is exceedingly important to those interested in Baroque music. I am probably wrong, but this sounds like a genuine period instrument. The sound really grips you from the first to last bar, and the engineers have not been afraid of some mechanical noise in order that we get the undiluted feel of the instrument. Fabulous, but please Naxos can we have much more from Akutagawa, you have struck gold.
Johann Christoph Graupner (1683-1760)
Partitas for Harpsichord
In 1722 the town council of Leipzig was searching for a new cantor for the church of St Thomas. They first accepted the application of the most famous musician in Germany, Georg Philipp Telemann, who parlayed their offer into better working conditions for himself in Hamburg. The annoyed council then turned to the Kapellmeister of one of the major German courts, that of the Landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt. He is the subject of our recording: Johann Christoph Graupner. His master ostensibly refused to let him go, and raised his salary too. As one councillor put it, “since we cannot get the best, we must settle for a mediocrity”, and so, with a warm recommendation from Graupner, they hired the Kapellmeister of a petty court town near Leipzig, one Johann Sebastian Bach. The cantorate was an advancement for him, at least in status, if not ultimately in quality of life.
This story serves here not to illustrate the obtuseness of the good Leipzig burghers, but to point up the high esteem in which Graupner, now largely forgotten, was held at the time. He was born in Kirchberg in Saxony in 1683. His talent as a choirboy was recognized early on, and he became a choir student at St Thomas under Kuhnau for eight years, until 1704. (Telemann arrived in Leipzig as a student in 1701, and promptly took over the Collegium Musicum. They renewed their friendship when Telemann was working in Frankfurt, near Darmstadt.) Graupner fled Leipzig as a war refugee in 1706, breaking off his law studies, and went to Hamburg, where his period of residence overlapped with Handel’s last months at the Gänsemarkt opera. It was at this house where Graupner’s meteoric rise began in 1707, first as harpsichordist, then as composer of five operas and collaborator, with Reinhard Keiser, on three others. In 1709 he was invited to Darmstadt as vice-Kapellmeister; he rose to the top post on his predecessor’s death in 1712, remaining there until his own, in 1760. Blindness overtook him in old age, as it did Bach.
Graupner’s main duties involved the composition and performance of large-scale vocal and orchestral works, the great mass of which (including 1442 cantatas) are only now being catalogued. Here we are concerned with the more intimate art of the harpsichord. Graupner had a sterling reputation as a performer, and the extreme requirements of virtuosity in his suites for the instrument would seem to confirm this. He was the first German to recommend in print the use of the thumb for scales, in the preface to his first published keyboard works: a set of “partitas” (1718), a misnomer for a suite of dances, taken over from his old schoolmaster Kuhnau. Another set of suites followed in 1722, and in 1733 he started publication of a series of partitas called “The Four Seasons” - but either he never pursued the enterprise beyond “Winter”, or the others have been lost.
This last work is included in our recording – the others here presented were never printed. They are found in an undated manuscript, beautifully prepared by a court copyist, containing seventeen untitled suites by Graupner (which we will call partitas), alongside works by the three colleagues who probably exercised the most influence on him: Kuhnau, Telemann, and Handel. This is, therefore, a highly personal document, compiled, I think, for his master the Landgrave after he stopped composing for the harpsichord. It contains his finest and most difficult keyboard music – probably too difficult to be considered for publication, and thus reserved for private performance. The preludes, in particular, are highly improvisatory and technically demanding.
The probable encounter with Handel in Hamburg, and certainly an acquaintance with his “Eight Great” suites published in 1720, clearly bear fruit here. Graupner’s suites parallel, even surpass Handel’s in grandeur of conception and gesture, and sometimes match the younger man in musical substance. They share a robust, adventurous sensibility and a love of elaborate decoration typical of the German high baroque. It is pleasant to imagine the two young Saxons, nearly contemporaries and barely out of their teens, duelling at the harpsichord in the orchestra pit of the Hamburg opera after a frustrating rehearsal.
Graupner’s partitas are stylistically more advanced than Handel’s, simply because they were in all likelihood composed later. Whereas Handel seldom goes beyond the Italian idiom of around 1700 – Corelli, Bernardo Pasquini, Alessandro Scarlatti – Graupner can include influences from later French and Italian schools, particularly the Venetian concerto style. The standard order of dances is often tossed overboard entirely, and the current German idea of a “mixed style” is here realised to such a degree as to become almost chaotic.
The immense Chaconne in A major deserves special mention. This series of variations on a four-bar bass line (actually the traditional passacaille bass, with an added en rondeau element of an opening “theme” repeated in the middle and at the end) comes at the end of one of the longest of the partitas, which already has two of Graupner’s favoured final movements: a set of variations and a gigue. To add the chaconne would elongate the partita out of all proportion. The work clearly belongs to a South German tradition of monumental one-off chaconnes and passacailles, and so, taking into account the compilatory nature of the source, we have taken the liberty of detaching it from the other movements. Standing alone, it is revealed as perhaps the most superb of all the many keyboard works of the genre, certainly the most flamboyant, the most extreme – in a word, the most baroque.
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GRAUPNER, C.: Partitas, GWV 121, 133, 149 (Akutaga...