Having expressed his preference of the “vermischte Geschmack” (mixed style) in the brilliant works of the Musique de Table of 1733, Telemann in some of his subsequent publications separated the various stylistic components again, as if wishing to preserve the advantages of the Italian and the French style – to which he owed significant inspirations – against a flood of new musical trends, some of which he considered superficial. In this he was following a classicist trend that had been initiated by François Couperin (1668–1733) in his chamber music collections published between 1724 and 1726. In this sense the VI Ouvertures à 4 ou 6 – which are presented here for the first time in a complete edition – are French in style, while the Sonates Corellisantes of 1735, on the other hand, follow the Italian idiom. George Frederic Handel (1685–1759) as well followed this trend with his Concerti grossi Opus 6 of 1739, in which he combined influences both of the concerto and the overture.
While the concertato overtures of the Musique de Table boasted seven distinct parts, Telemann now reduced the number of parts to four, leaving it to the performers to equip each part with one or several players and to use doubling or alternating woodwinds. With the optional addition of two horns in the overtures in F major, E flat major, and D major he responded to the newest symphonies which with their brass instruments were able to produce a fuller ensemble sound in the middle range.
The exemplary and therefore intentional character of the six overture suites lies in their individual succession of movements, which mirrors precisely Telemann’s methodological approach to this genre. Each of the six suites consists of an overture and a series of six additional movements which combine to form a unique and original work. Generally the three-part first movement is compositionally the most demanding. Telemann always sets this movement in a serious mood, including the carefully constructed fugal middle sections, and reserves a variety of affects for the subsequent movements. Each suite builds up and dissolves its tensions in a different manner, yet mostly the principle of contrasting individual movements prevails.
In 22 of altogether 36 suite movements Telemann goes through almost his entire repertoire of dance movements: Bourrée, Branle, Canarie, Chaconne, Courante, Entrée, Forlane, Gaillarde, Gavotte, Gigue, Hornpipe, Loure, Menuet, Passacaille, Passepied, Polonoise, Rigaudon, and Sarabande. In these he is less concerned with ornamental description than with concise characterization, however. As the most popular dance the Menuet appears in altogether five suites; it is always accompanied by a contrasting double (trio) and its position within the succession of dances varies frequently. The Rondeau, which here follows the pattern ABACA, appears three times, once under the title of Musette. The Air, a movement type of variable metre and character and hence an ingredient of the overture nearly as important as the Menuet, appears here as a slow movement containing reminiscences of a melody from the Kleine Kammermusik of 1716 which Telemann frequently quotes in his compositions. His character pieces include the Réjouissance, which here appears with a lively double, and the unique Villanelle, which is marked Modéré and thus requires a calm tempo. Also of a certain narrative turn are the Pastourelle, which is again marked Modéré, La douceur (softness), Les coureurs (the racing horses), Les gladiateurs (the gladiators), Les querelleurs (the quarrelers, a variant of the physically fighting gladiateurs), Napolitaine (with a double), and Harlequinade. The term Mourky describes a fashionable popular song and refers to a novel technique of accompaniment (fast octave leaps in the bass) which also appears in the eighteenth movement of Telemann’s Oden of 1741. Interestingly, these movements are rather characterizing than descriptive.
Altogether the VI Ouvertures à 4 ou 6 offer a wonderful compendium of movements of this genre of almost unlimited possibilities, assorted exemplarily by similar or contrasting musical moods and arranged by contrasting keys employing a large part of the common tonal palette. They show Telemann the author and publisher in his mastery of defining and presenting the entire repertoire of established dances in their natural character.
(Peter Huth, translation by Stephanie Wollny)