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Exploring Music: Darmstadt Overtures by Georg Philipp Telemann

The MHS Review 382 Vol. 11, NO. 4 • 1987

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David M. Greene


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Memories of Darmstadt! We had hastened to Frankfurt to replace the credit card my wife had in­advertently thrown out of the hotel window in Liege. We were ig­norantly assuming that we had reserved a room from Belgium. In­formed that we hadn't and that the hotel was full, we must have look­ed downcast, for the desk clerk asked, after a moment, if we really meant to stay only two nights. Having received effusive assurances, she handed me a key and indicated the elevators. We ascended, ominously, to the 13th floor, disembarked, and opened the indicated door. There was palatial luxury-a two-floor suite, with as many baths, kitchenette, bar, etc., and south-facing balconies on both floors. My spouse turned pale. "We can't afford this!" she husked. "Fine!" said I, "you go tell 'em!" It was our closest brush with wealth in 40 years.

Of a morning I enjoyed standing on one balcony or the other and looking down the highway that disappeared southward into what appeared an endless forest, and was said to lead nach Darmstadt according to the road signs. It didn't occur to me then that 170 years earlier G.P. Telemann pro­bably on occasion traveled that same road or its ancestor. But we never traveled it and so never saw Darmstadt.

In the 18th century the Darmstadt court was an important music center, especially under Count Ernst Ludwig

(1667-1739) and Grand Duke Ludwig I (1790-1830). The grand duke built up a formidable opera company which he sometimes conducted. Ernst Ludwig, himself a composer, gathered unto himself, after much study, a fine Kapelle, to run which he imported the composer Christoph Graupner in 1709. Graupner was a close friend and correspondent of Telemann who, in 1712, moved to Frankfurt, about 20 miles away. The friendship and the propinquity account for the vast amount of Telemann's music to be found in the State Library.

Among these holdings are 96 "ouvertures," which, like Bach's analogous works, are really French overtures with appended dance suites. Telemann is said to have composed nearly 1000 such works, but only 134 have surfaced. His ap­proach is inventive, playful, lighthearted, and more French than the French. Hamoncourt plays these four, on period instruments, with quirky sparkle.

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