Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Telemann's Fantasias and the Bach Cello Suites

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 - 1767) wrote 12 Fantasias or Fantasies for unaccompanied flute. Each piece consists of multiple movements in a variety of Baroque styles. I first discovered this music many years ago in a set of Trombone transcriptions by Alan Raph, and I still rely heavily on that edition.

The music hearkens the Bach Cello Suites, which are also a mainstay in the studies of serious low brass players. It's difficult to avoid comparisons. Both the Fantasias and the Cello Suites use a single instrumental voice to maintain melodic lines while implying often complex harmonies. Both from Germany, the composers were contemporaries--Bach was born four years after Telemann. The Fantasias were published in 1732-33--a decade or so after the Cello Suites were presumably composed.

Both are sets of large works in which the performer is completely exposed from the first note to the last. There's no hiding. And there are no breaks. You can't let your guard down for a second.

It's quite easy to hear some of the Cello Suites in the Fantasias; however, as Alan Raph points out in the forward to his Telemann edition,
"Unlike the 'Bach', these fantasies are composed for a wind instrument and thereby ask for little compromise on the part of the trombonist. Phrase-breathing is an inherent part of their construction, while double-stops and re-tuning of strings are not."

Oh, yeah. Breathing. That's where the cellists (and I'm a budding cellist myself) laugh at us wind players when we attempt to scale the Cello Suites--those inconvenient sixteenth-note runs that last for pages at a time. Taking a quick look through Telemann's score, you can see he's not shy about creating somewhat lengthy phrases that require lungs filled to capacity and efficiently used--he was writing for the whispering breath of a flute after all, not the oom-pah of that large twisting spaghetti of brass, which is the tuba's smaller cousin; however, there is always that light at the end of the tunnel--a sixteenth note rest or a chop-able eighth note or quarter note at the end of two or three lines of sixteenth notes.

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