The issue of arrangement is one commonly encountered by musicians and music lovers alike. Authenticity aficionados might scoff at the prospect of arranging music written for a specific medium for another as an aberration—the senseless destruction of a composer’s true intentions. However, in many cases the results yielded not only work brilliantly but also cast a new perspective, illuminating aspects of composition which might otherwise have gone unnoticed. The fact that the J.S. Bach cello sonatas, for example, work equally well on viola, guitar, or even trombone, as the sumptuous original, is not a coincidence but arises from the idea that, in many cases, the instrumental idiom being employed is of secondary importance to other elements. These can range from elevated ideals of musical essence, of Affekt meaning the emotional embodiment of a particular movement, to not-so-lofty matters of 18th-century marketing, making a musical publication as saleable as possible.
On this recording only one piece was originally intended for the bassoon: the Telemann Sonata in F minor, TWV41:f1. Telemann was one of the most highly regarded musicians of the 18th century, and is often mentioned with regard to the sheer volume of his compositional output, with estimates ranging from a modest 800 works to a staggering 3000. Telemann’s instrumental music takes up relatively little of his oeuvre, and it cannot be overstated that he was a consummate and considerate master of the instrumental form, not a musical factory spewing out work after work.
The Sonata in F minor comes from Telemann’s Der getreue Musik-Meister (The Faithful Music Master), a pedagogical collection of pieces aimed at amateur music-making in the home. The 70 compositions of Der getreue Musik-Meister (primarily by Telemann, but also including works by J.S. Bach and Zelenka) are scored for an array of instruments, ranging from the now pitifully rare descant viola to a single piece for bassoon. It is interesting to note that in the case of the Sonata in F minor, Telemann gives an alternative instrumentation for flûte à bec: the beaked flute, or recorder as it is now known.
The recorder version is scored some two octaves higher than the bassoon, and yet the work retains all of its musical essence and character regardless of which instrument plays. It can be speculated that Telemann had versatility well and truly in mind when contributing to Der getreue Musik-Meister: there is no instrumental writing so idiomatic as to be exclusive. It must have been a delight to hear this music played in the home by various family members or friends, making use of whatever instrument happened to be around. The bassoon’s mellow, lugubrious tone is perfect for shaping the wistful Triste, as well as the gorgeous but melancholy Andante, its presence and agility as suitable to the two fast movements as any other instrument.
The two other Telemann works on this recording were originally intended for viola da gamba, an instrument the composer loved and continued to include in his orchestral scores long after its popularity had waned. Indeed, these two compositions come from the last collection Telemann ever published himself: the Essercizii musici of 1740. In contrast to the Sonata in F minor, Telemann’s writing in these two pieces is highly idiomatic, and contains some elements that simply cannot be rendered on a woodwind instrument.
However, being another bass instrument, the range of the music requires no transposition and is perfect for the bassoon, and with sensitive transcription and intelligent continuo-playing, the works sound just as instinctive and comfortable as if they were written for bassoon to begin with. The Sonata for viola da gamba and continuo in A minor, TWV41:a6 gives a much more active role to the continuo part than is usual, best embodied by the short but hot-tempered Allegro, which pits the virtuosic bassoon line against the continuo in furious fugato, standing in stark contrast to the simple and aptly-named Soave. The Sonata for viola da gamba and continuo in E minor TWV41:e5 has a more vocal quality, and after the gentle Cantabile and Italianate Allegro, includes a recitative introduction to the endearing Arioso. The piece closes with a graceful minuet-like Rondo.
When Telemann died in 1767, his post as Kapellmeister of Hamburg was filled by none other than his godson: Carl Philip Emanuel Bach. C.P.E. Bach was the second surviving son of his now-famous father’s first marriage. He was an immensely highly-regarded musician and composer in the late 18th century, and his stature inspired W.A. Mozart to write: ‘He is the father, we are the children’. For some decades preceding his appointment to Hamburg, Bach was in the employ of King Frederick II ‘The Great’ of Prussia who was a flutist and composer, as well as being a notorious war-monger. It was for Frederick that Bach presumably wrote the Sonata for solo flute in A minor Wq.132. (To fit the range of the bassoon, and to enhance its expressive capacity, this version of the sonata is transposed down to D minor.)
Bach reputedly lamented that the piece was too difficult for the King to play, after hearing the blind prodigy virtuoso Dülon play it. The solo sonata is extraordinary for its spaciousness. Beginning with the Poco adagio–surely some of the most exquisite and sublime music Bach ever wrote–the texture is clearly delineated into its constituent voices. Even in the following fast-paced movements, Bach never loses clarity. So effective is Bach at his task that adding another note, much less an accompanying instrument, would seem ridiculous excess.
In his lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach was not the monumental figure he is perceived as today but a rather humble musician. J.S. Bach occupied a number of postings as Kapellmeister around Germany before settling in Leipzig, where he would stay until his death. It was probably around the time of his arrival in Leipzig that Bach wrote the Sonata for flute and continuo in E minor, BWV1034 (A minor for bassoon) and dedicated it to King Frederick’s employee, flutist Michael Gabriel Fredersdorff.
The sonata is laid out in the sonata di chiesa (church sonata) format of alternating slow and fast movements. An expansive, relentless first movement gives way to a cheerful Allegro, replete with rapid passagework and variations. The spacious, chaconne-like Andante, one of Bach’s most beautiful melodic enterprises, yields room for yet more variations, before a brisk, dark and showy Allegro closes the piece. The Sonata for fl ute and continuo in B minor, BWV1030 (for bassoon in E minor) is notorious for its enormous first movement, the longest single movement Bach ever wrote.
Despite its length and difficulty, the free ritornello structure of the first movement allows the players to engage fully with one another, and it does not give the outward appearance of a musical monolith. The intensity of the opening movement is relieved with the simple and charming Largo e dolce, before the two-part third movement, Presto – Allegro, juxtaposes furious contrapuntalism with a quirky, syncopated gigue. The B minor sonata is one of two
flute sonatas for which Bach wrote an obbligato continuo part, rather than providing figures and allowing the harpsichordist to improvise, as was the norm. It stands out not only for being a show piece, which it certainly is, but also a testament to the ingenuity and unmitigated creativity of the man whose name is now synonymous with High Baroque music.