Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Telemann's Use of Rhythm in Fantasia #6


Don't take my recent activity with the Rochut Etudes (1 here, and 2 here) as an indication that I'm swaying from the Telemann project in favor of Rochut. I hope to try to record Fantasia #6 this weekend.

Number 6 is written in D minor--I'll be recording Alan Raph's edition which is in F minor. The first movement is marked dolce, which means sweetly. Interestingly, Raph has his edition marked Andantino (dolce). I assume he adds the Andantino marking because dolce by itself only indicates style, but not tempo. Andantino is somewhat interesting because there's some ambiguity in the textbook definition of the term. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music:

In present usage, usually slightly less slow than andante. The term is ambiguous, however, in part because of the ambiguity associated with andante. In the late 18th century, andantino seems to have called for a tempo slower than andante. Beethoven wrote to his publisher in Edinburgh, George Thompson, that the term could be used for a tempo either faster or slower than andante.


So if andante is a walking tempo, what's the diminutive of a walking tempo? Slower or faster? What's the diminutive of toast? Or vanilla?

Fortunately, I think the character of the notes drives a likely conclusion. Much of this movement contains eighth-note lines--not fast lines, but driving ones. These phrases need a strong sense of forward motion or I think they kind of die. So in this case, I think Raph's Andantino is telling us, sure, it's a walking tempo, but we're walking to the bus stop a block away and I think I see the bus coming, so let's keep it moving. I've added some ornamentation on the repeats, including a descending 16th-note run which turns each 16th-note into a triplet three measures from the end of both the A and B sections. I hope to try that same ornamentation at the end of the much faster third movement.

A few days ago, I suggested that Telemann does some interesting plays with rhythm in this Fantasia. One trick his does is shifting the beats of a phrase to an unexpected place in a measure. He does this right in the first measure. When you have a piece written for a monophonic instrument, you can (and Telemann does) get a neat effect by starting the song on beat two. This movement (Allegro) is in 4/4, and the first four notes we hear are quarter notes. However, the first beat of the first measure is a quarter rest. So the first five beats are as follows:

1.[rest] - 2.F - 3.E - 4.G | 5.C ..

where the "|" is the break between measures. Since there's no bass line to tell you where you are in a particular measure, you hear the song like this:

1.F - 2.E - 3.G - 4.C | ..

In other words, you think beat 2 is beat 1. This messes you up as a listener because it leaves you struggling to find beat 1. Just when you think you've found it, Telemann does it to you again in measure 11. He throws that rest in on beat 1 and starts the party on beat 2. Then, a few measures later, at the end of measure 15, Telemann repeats the phrase (in a different key), but he starts it on beat 4. It has the effect of slamming on the brakes and hitting the reset button (those metaphors don't really work well together, but still, that's the effect). The beat is very easy to find; what's tricky is predicting where the next measure and phrase is going to start.

Telemann challenges his listener rhythmically again in the third movement, Spirituoso. The movement is in a lively 3/2. It's clearly a dance. Even though the meter is 3/2, it works more like 6/4. The cool thing about "6" is that you get to pick if you're in 3 (accents on beats 1, 3, and 5), or if you're in 2 (accents on beats 1 and 4). Think of the song "America" from "West Side Story".

"I like to be in A-mer-i-ca"

That's the same thing but in 12 instead of 6. The accents are on "I" (beat 1/12), "be" (beat 4/12), "mer" (beat 7/12), "i" (beat 9/12), and "ca" (beat 11/12). So the rhythm is 123-123-12-12-12, where the accents are on the 1's

Telemann shifts back and forth, somewhat irregularly. In the first few measures of the Spirituoso movement, the accents want to fall like this: 123-123 | 12-12-12 | 12-12-12 | 123-123 | 12-12-12 | 12-12-12. Looks like a pattern until you get a little deeper into the movement, where occasionally we get a extra "3" thrown into the mix just to make sure we're not getting complacent. This is a very cool rhythm. Whenever I play this movement, I can imagine a bunch of Riverdancers stomping in, tapping the accents where you least expect them to land.

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