CMSA 2008 Workshop: Telemann and the Mandolin Revisited

Presented in Longueuil, Quebec on October 16, 2008 by John Goodin, Luther College

CMSA workshop

Here is a pdf file containing the sheet music for all of the Telemann pieces presented and played at the workshop:

Below are links to recordings of selected pieces as performed on October 16, 2008 by the workshop attendees. Please bear in mind that these musicians are sight-reading music that they have just received and that the workshop was presented at 10:00 in the morning. Also note that no attempt was made to create "authentic" renditions. We were simply enjoying the notes at comfortable tempos.

Bouree from the Wedding-Divertissement (1718)
Passpied from the Wedding-Divertissement (1718)
Allegro from Fantasie no. 1 of the 12 Fantasies a travers, sans basse (1732)
Allegro from Fantasie no. 12 of the 12 Fantasies a travers, sans basse (1732)
Moderato from Fantasie no. 10 of the 12 Fantasies a travers, sans basse (1732)
Menuett no. 1 from Sept fois sept et un menuet (1728), melody only
Menuett no. 9 from Sept fois sept et un menuet (1728), melody only
Menuett no. 46 from Sept fois sept et un menuet (1728), arranged for 2 mandolins
Menuett no. 50 from Sept fois sept et un menuet (1728), arranged for 2 mandolins
Allegro from Sonata no. 1 of the Six sonates a violon seul (1715)

Telemann and the Mandolin Revisited (text of the workshop presentation)

Back in 2000 I wrote an article for the Mandolin Journal titled "Telemann and the Mandolin". In that article I argued that, even though Telemann didn't actually write any music for the mandolin, it was all right for us to play music that he wrote for other instruments, like the violin and flute, on our modern mandolins. I then talked about some of the pieces from his vast output that I thought were especially fun to play.

In today's workshop we will play a number of short pieces. Some of them were mentioned in my earlier article but many have become favorites of mine since that time. In particular we will play several minuets from a collection that he composed and self-published in 1728. I will talk a little more about these minuets later.

While it is still true that I have found no indication that Telemann wrote any music for the mandolin or the mandolino I have discovered that (according to Steven Zohn in his recent book Music for a Mixed Taste: Style, Genre, and Meaning in Telemann's Instrumental Works, Oxford U. Press, 2008) he wrote for, and played, an instrument often called the mandora. In late seventeenth and early eighteenth century Germany this was an instrument best described as a kind of bass-lute and sometimes referred to by a variety of other names. He used this plucked-string instrument to accompany the flute in "many of his sacred vocal works, especially those composed at Frankfurt" (Zohn) between 1712 and 1720.

Telemann's path to becoming a composer was not an easy one. He had to overcome the opposition of his parents who wanted him to become a lawyer. He had to compete with the likes of Bach himself for employment. His different positions required him to compose music for all sorts of occasions including religious services and weddings.

The first pieces we will play come from suite of short pieces intended to help celebrate a wedding around 1718. [Bouree & Passpied from Wedding Divertissement]

In 1714 Telemann (then age 33) married Maria Catherina Textor (then age 16), his first wife having died in 1711 shortly after the birth of their only child. This second marriage resulted in an additional nine children. None of my sources mention what kind of father and husband Georg might have been but Maria, by 1724, was publicly rumored to be having an affair with a Swedish military officer (Steven Zohn in Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online). She also apparently amassed a large gambling debt which may very well have been partly responsible for the equally large amount of music that Telemann composed and self-published in the 1720s and 1730s. By 1736 Maria had left their home but she outlived Georg and died in 1775 at a convent in Frankfurt.

In 1728 Telemann published his first collection of "Seven plus Seven plus One" minuets (Sept fois sept et un menuet) for keyboard or solo instrument with accompaniment. He published a second set of 50 (Zweytes sieben mal sieben und ein Menuet) in 1730. The set from 1728 was dedicated to a merchant named Andreas Plumejon but was advertised for sale to the music-loving public. These pieces are especially charming and are clearly aimed at amateur musicians.

I have spent much of the last year transcribing these pieces from a keyboard edition published in Berlin in 1930. One of the reasons I like these pieces is that the melody lines stand alone without the need of any accompaniment. [Menuetts nos. 1 & 2]

After playing the melodies of these 1728 minuets for a while I decided it would be interesting to arrange them as duets. I have taken the bass lines from the original publication and worked them into a part for a second mandolin. Even though these parts sound much higher than what the composer intended they still work well with the melody lines.

Telemann's dedication of these minuets was composed in verse and after praising Herr Plumejon he adds this caution (as translated by Steven Zohn):

And if you value a concerto with many parts
The menuet needn't suffer by comparison.
Moreover, this little thing is not so modest.
For know that one must give much consideration to it:
Melody and harmony, invention and weightiness,
And what it doesn't need are empty heads.
[Menuetts 8,9,42,43,46,47,40,50]

After playing so many short and friendly pieces I don't want to leave you with the impression that all of Telemann's music is easy. Your packet contains two movements from a collection of sonatas for violin and keyboard that Telemann wrote in 1715 (Six sontes a violon seul) which are more challenging but still are very suitable for our mandolin. The Corrente from Sonata no. 4 has been transposed down from Am to Em for my purposes here but it is very playable in its original key as well. [Allegro from no. 1, Corrente from no. 4]

Most of this music (and much other music by Telemann) is readily available from your local music store or online vendor. Much of it is available free online as well. The Minuets we have played today are more difficult to find but I will be making them available at my website in the near future. Hopefully you have enjoyed this brief survey of some of Telemann's music and will be inspired to seek out more of the music composed by this remarkable man.

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Created on October 25, 2008 by John Goodin, last updated on October 31, 2015.