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Telemann: Viola Concerto in G Major

For viola solo; strings with basso continuo

Composed and first performed c. 1715 in Frankfurt for the weekly Frauenstein concerts

Published after a manuscript copy in Darmstadt by Bärenreiter-Verlag (Kassel, 1968), ed. Hellmuth Christian Wolff

Duration: about 15 minutes

Georg Philipp Telemann, with his 900 or so works, is said to be the most prolific composer of all time and was considerably more famous in the early 1700s than J.S. Bach. He also had a better job, as cantor of the major churches in Hamburg. His career and Bach’s intersected a number of times, and Telemann stood as godfather to C.P.E. Bach.

The famous Viola Concerto, the first for that instrument, is one of nearly 200 Telemann composed while serving in Frankfurt as city music director (1712–21). There he was an officer for the upper-middle-class Frauenstein Association, which sponsored “weekly great concertos” of its collegium musicum: in short, an early philharmonic society, giving a subscription series of orchestra concerts.

The concerto is in four movements, not the three that came to be standard, thus following the model of the church sonata by Torelli and others. The Largo and Allegro form an opening-movement pair, followed by a discursive slow movement with unusual harmonic twists, and concluding with a binary dance-like movement. Professor Wolff notes “the stamp of Telemann’s personal artistry, his gay and pleasant amiability, his understanding of the instrument in question and its tonal character.” Note the interesting deployment of the bass line, sometimes participating in the imitative polyphony, sometimes taken by violins and violas in unison, and occasionally falling out altogether. Here the basso continuo is anything but continuous.

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