Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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A Cup of Jo(hann): Bach’s Coffee Cantata

Cup of coffee with Bach on it

 

“If I can’t, three times a day,
Be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee,
In my anguish I will turn into
A dried-up roast goat.”

This is the lament heard in Johann Sebastian Bach’s secular cantata BWV 211, Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht [Be still, stop chattering], which is better known as the Coffee Cantata.

In this little comic cantata, a father bemoans the fact that his daughter cannot live without coffee.  He tries to find a way to persuade her to stop drinking it.  She agrees to quit if he can find a suitable husband, but she exacts a promise from her suitors that she will be permitted to continue to drink coffee.  She sings,

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,
Lovelier than a thousand kisses,
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I must have coffee,
And, if someone wants to delight me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift.

This coffee commercial brought to you by Zimmermann’s coffee house.

Bach actually had a gig in a coffee house, in fact, Zimmermann’s.  He directed a small ensemble, the collegium musicum that met regularly at Zimmermann’s and played for the customers.  Can you imagine sitting there drinking your coffee and listening to Bach play?  This ensemble, with evolving membership, had been playing in Leipzig for years, and had previously been led by Kuhnau and Telemann(!)

Here is a full performance of the Coffee Cantata conducted by Ton Koopman.

Or if  you would prefer, here is a full performance of the Coffee Cantata conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

You can see the German lyrics and English translation here.

So grab a cup of coffee and enjoy a break with Bach!

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Image attributions:  Image of coffee cup By lual (Open Clip Art Library image’s page) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACoffee_cup_icon.svg.

Image of J. S. Bach.  Artist unknown, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJohannSebastianBach1685-1750UndSoehne.jpg.

Mashup by C. Gallant.

 


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Newly Rediscovered Telemann Viola da Gamba Fantasias Score, Recording Now Available

Telemann

Viola da gamba enthusiasts, this is your lucky day!

Over the weekend, Thomas Fritzsch, who rediscovered the lost Telemann solo viola da gamba fantasias, performed them at the annual Telemann conference in Magdeburg, Germany.  The score and CDs were available for sale at the performance.

Couldn’t make it to Magdeburg?  I’m here to help.

Here is a website where the Telemann score can be purchased.  You can see a sample page of the new edition and a sample page of a “complete facsimile” edition there.  Here is another source for the Telemann score.

The publisher’s page has a link for CDs, but it brings you back to the page for the score.  I’m guessing CDs will be available there at some point.  I couldn’t find physical CDs elsewhere at this time.

Can’t wait?  Amazon has an MP3 album available now. So does iTunes (a search for “Telemann Fritzsch” will take you right there).

Short on cash?  You can hear it on Spotify.  Check your favorite music streaming service for availability.

So tell a friend–Telemann is back!

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Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann, watercolor by Valentin Daniel Preisler [Public domain], after a lost painting by Ludwig Michael Schneider (1750), via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATelemann.jpg


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Telemann and the Dead Canary

CanaryEnsemble

 

Oh, alas, my canary is dead!
To whom can I bemoan my misery,
To whom can I bemoan my bitter pain?
Who will take this song to heart with me,
To whom can I bemoan this misery?

 

The other day I told you about Mozart’s starling, and the poem he wrote in its memory.  Today, I’m going to tell you about music written by Georg Philipp Telemann for another departed avian friend.  But first let me tell you about Telemann.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was an über-prolific composer of the baroque period (over 3,000 compositions!).  He was born in Magdeburg in what is now Germany.  He was mainly self-taught and learned to play a wide variety of instruments, despite his family’s initial vehement opposition to a musical career.

Telemann was highly regarded, and held prominent music posts in Leipzig, Eisenach, Hamburg and other cities. He knew Bach and Handel, who bought and studied his works.  He was godfather to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel.

Telemann was offered the music director post of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, which he declined; only then was it offered to Bach (after yet another candidate turned down the post).

In later centuries, criticism was leveled at Telemann for the sheer volume of music that he composed (accused of quantity over quality).  It should be noted that during his time in Hamburg, he was required to produce two cantatas per Sunday, a passion per year, and other liturgical music as needed.

A variety of his works can be heard on Telemann’s Wikipedia page.  Many more can be heard and viewed on YouTube.  Here is just one, his Sonata in F Major.

Ahhhh.  Soothing.

Now for the canary.  While he was in Hamburg, a patron commissioned a cantata, a lament over the loss of a pet canary that had been killed by a cat.  Telemann produced it straightaway, with the title Cantata of Funeral Music for an Artistically Trained Canary-Bird Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to His Master.  After wondering whether Telemann was being paid by the word, I listened to this unusual offspring among Telemann’s teeming brood.

It’s a tragic/comic lament.  The bird’s owner describes his great pain at the bird’s loss, its great skill, and the terrible end it has come to.  He expresses his anger at Death, for being unfeeling, and hopes that he will be torn up and burst from eating the bird (!). Finally, he sadly bids the bird a fond farewell, and reads the epitaph on the bird’s tombstone, which is written in dialect.

I found a video of this odd cantata, illustrated with apt photos, featuring none other than the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau  (Part 1Part 2Part 3—really, there are three parts).  Here is a highlight, the aria Mein Kanarine, gute Nacht.  A sweet song for a sweet songbird.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Philipp_Telemann

http://www.baroquemusic.org/bqxtel.html

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/mn0001456424/biography

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Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann Engraving by Georg Lichtensteger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_quartets#/media/File:Telemann3.jpg

Canary, by [No machine-readable author provided]. Muriel Gottrop~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACanary.jpg.  Modified by C. Gallant.

Angel with harp. Jan Matejko, Church of St. Mary in Krakow, 1895.  [Public domain] via Wikimedia


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Haiku Wednesday: Telemann, Newton, and Roy G. Biv Walk into a Concert…

A_caricature_of_Louis-Bertrand_Castel's_-ocular_organ-

Color joins music
The ocular harpsichord
The world’s first light show.

After the recent excitement about the discovery of a lost work by Telemann, I couldn’t resist this story, which I read in an entertaining article by Becky Ferreira.

Turns out, Telemann also wrote several pieces for the ocular harpsichord.

Wait…the what?  Ok, settle in for a slightly convoluted story.

It’s hard to believe that there once was a time when people didn’t know how colors worked, but it’s true.  The laws of physics governing them hadn’t been worked out yet.  People were coming up with all kinds of theories, and Isaac Newton decided to throw his hat in the ring too.  Maybe he shouldn’t have, what with the apple and all; or maybe the theory came after that alleged apple assault (actually it did; his Principia Mathematica that discussed gravity came out in 1687.  As a further side note, a piece of Newton’s apple tree escaped Earth’s gravity briefly in 2010).

Anyway, in his 1704 work Opticks, Newton presented his theory of colors.  He also related the seven colors you see in a prism (or a rainbow; hence the Roy G. Biv) to musical notes, the seven notes in the diatonic scale.  Here Newton used the Dorian scale, the white notes on a piano starting with D.  Newton theorized that the spectrum of colors and the diatonic scale used the same ratios.

Newton's_color_circle

As it turns out, Newton didn’t get it quite right (but I think we can cut him some slack, given the whole gravity thing, and calculus).  But his theory generated a lot of excitement and discussion (for more on historical discussions of color and music, read this).

The French mathematician Louis Bertrand Castel, inspired by Newton’s theory, souped up a harpsichord, adding sixty lanterns with different colors whose light would be shown when specific notes were pressed.  Castel said, “the pressing of the keys would bring out the colors with their combinations and their chords; in one word, with all their harmony, which would correspond exactly to that of any kind of music.” (Franssen, via Ferreira).

Sadly, the only image of the ocular harpsichord, also called the color organ, is one that lampoons the device (shown above).

Enter Telemann (finally).  Telemann saw the ocular harpsichord while he was in Paris, and penned a description of the device.  He also was inspired to write several pieces of music for it.  Sadly, I could not find those specific pieces—I wanted to see how chromatic they were (sorry! couldn’t resist).

While the ocular harpsichord has not survived, the idea of combining light, color, and music certainly has, providing a new avenue to interpret the tonal colors of music.

Here is John Adams’s Harmonium, as visualized on the face of Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

 

With thanks to my friend Louis B. for referring me to the Ferreira article.

References

Becky Ferreira, “Behold the Ocular Harpsichord, the Laser Light Show of the 18th Century”, Motherboard, 16 November 2015.  http://motherboard.vice.com/read/behold-the-ocular-harpsichord-the-laser-light-show-of-the-18th-century

Maarten Franssen, The Ocular Harpsichord of Louis-Bertrand Castel, http://www.tbm.tudelft.nl/fileadmin/Faculteit/TBM/Over_de_Faculteit/Afdelingen/Afdeling_Values_and_Technology/sectie_filosofie/medewerkers/Maarten_Franssen/doc/OcuHarpsCastel.pdf

Isaac Newton, Opticks, 1704, Book I, Part II, Proposition VI, Problem 2

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Image attribution

Castel’s ocular harpsichord, characactured by Charles Germain de Saint Aubin, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_caricature_of_Louis-Bertrand_Castel’s_%22ocular_organ%22.jpgNewton’s color wheel.

Color wheel.  Isaac Newton, Opticks [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newton%27s_color_circle.png


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Lost Telemann Work Found after 280 Years!

Telemann

The Telemann Research Center in Magdeburg, Germany has announced that Georg Philipp Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for Viola da Gamba has been found.  Telemann had released the work to his publisher in August 1735, but it was believed that the work had not survived.

Following a tip from a French colleague, Thomas Fritzsch located a complete copy of the printed score approved for publication in a private collection.

It is stated that publication of a collection of works for viola da gamba without a bass would have been unprecedented for 1735.  The fantasias are described as a “cornucopia of musical ideas” demonstrating Telemann’s “extraordinary knowledge of the capabilities of the instrument” and his mastery of the chamber music form.

The fantasias will be presented for the first time at the Telemann Festival to be held in Magdeburg, Telemann’s home town, on 11-20 March 2016.  At the same time a CD and the long-awaited published score will be made available.

References

Zentrum für Telemann-Pflege und -Forschung Magdeburg http://www.telemann.org/telemann-zentrum/news/109.html

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Image attribution:  Georg Philipp Telemann, watercolor by Valentin Daniel Preisler [Public domain], after a lost painting by Ludwig Michael Schneider (1750), via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATelemann.jpg