Christoph Graupner:
Monatliche Clavirfrüchte 1722, vols 1-2
Review by John Collins

Title: Christoph Graupner: Monatliche Clavirfrüchte 1722. Edited by Jörg Jacobi 2004. Books I and II.

Publisher: Edition Baroque eba4004 & 4010.

Price: 11 Euros per volume

Reviewed by John Collins

Christoph Graupner, 1683-1760, composed maybe 65 keyboard suites (or Partien as they are titled in the sources), mainly preserved in MSS in the Hessischen Bibliothek in Darmstadt, (a facsimile edition of 17 of these has been published by Editions Fuzeau) but amongst three printed collections he did oversee the engraving of twelve suites entitled Monatliche Clavirfrüchte… meistenteils für Anfänger, issued singly in 1722, each one representing a specific month of the year. In the two volumes published so far in this modern edition (Fuzeau publish a facsimile) Jörg Jacobi presents the first six suites up to June. Each suite contains a prelude, allemande, courrante (sic) and sarabande with the addition of several galantarien including menuets, gavottes and airs, some of which are en rondeau in form, making the total of pieces 13, 10, 8, 9, 8 and 8. Only suites 1, 3, 4 and 5 have a gigue, which concludes the suite. Keys used are: January – C, February – G, March - G minor, April – C minor, May – F major and June- F minor (the C minor and F minor pieces have a key signature of 2 and 3 flats respectively.

The preludes are suitably varied, those to suites 1, 3 (in ¾) and 5 (in a gigue-like 6/8) containing some imitative writing, motivic rather than fugal, no. 2 is homophonic with chords against quaver triplets, no. 4 has predominantly dotted rhythms against quavers and no. 6 is built on semiquaver arpeggios with slurs to indicate overholding. Apart from nos 2 and 6, each prelude concludes with an improvisatory adagio, no. 5 having an extended treble trill over arpeggios. The allemandes are mainly written in flowing semiquavers, with some demisemiquaver passagework, with, in no. 4 an occasional foray into triplets. In no. 3, the movement from the 2nd bar is based on LH quavers with offbeat RH semiquaver chords, a most effective. No. 5 is quite different, and looks most daunting on the page with written out alto trills or intervallic oscillations in demisemiquavers against treble semiquavers whilst the bass has a drum roll like dactylic figure. The courrantes are all in 3/2 and contain much two-part writing of quavers against crotchets; Lh passages in octaves occur in no. 3. The sarabandes are all in ¾, the writing varying from chordal to two-part writing; no. 6 is the most extended, in the second half after the first phrase the LH is a murky bass in quavers through to the final cadence. The gigues to nos. 1 and 3 are in 6/8, 4 and 5 are in 12/8, all apart from no. 2 being in equal quavers, no. 2 being written in dotted a rhythm. No. 4 has a homophonic treatment, the others are loosely fugal, the subject being inverted at the start of the second half.

The wide variety of galanterien adds considerable attraction to these pieces, many of them being marked “alternativement”. In suite 1 the loure proceeds gently in a 6/4 with dotted rhythms, the air in ¾ containing in most bars RH dotted triplet quavers in the first two beats followed by duplet quavers, in the second half this combination is played against a murky bass off semiquavers.In suite 2 a Sommeille contains enough rhythmically varied detail to prevent sleep from setting in! The air that concludes this suite is in ¾; following a minuet this does seem inconclusive. In no. 3 there are airs en bourée and en sarabande, the latter being particularly expressive with several tirades. The following menuet en rondeau is also a successful movement, the opening eight bars being followed by two “couplets” before a return to the theme. The first is built on a RH quaver movement against LH crotchets, the 2nd and 3rd being an octave higher than the 1st, and the second couplet having RH crotchet chords over a LH quavers in which the 2nd, 4th and 6th notes are the same. In suite no. 4 the Gavotte en rondeau is another successful da capo movement, the final couplet being in quaver tripets in contrary motion. The menuet en rondeau in suite 5 is yet another da capo movement, with plenty of octaves in the LH. The two da capo airs in suite 6 are written in bourrée rhythm, the couplet of the first air being based on a repeated note figure. The French influence in the galanterien is immediately apparent, and makes a most successful and melodious counterpart to the Germanic preludes and main dances. The title of this collection is almost certainly intended as a mark of respect to his teacher Kuhnau who in 1696 published a set entitled Fische Clavier Früchte oder sieben suonaten. With regards to the psychological import of the attribution of each piece to a specific month, that is open to debate, and remains down to the individual to formulate his/her own opinions!

The edition is very tidily printed, no movements requiring page turns. Ornaments and slurs are clearly marked, the latter requiring careful practice to enable the composer’s articulation to be carried out correctly. Occasionally the use of the treble clef to cover notes that would have been clearer printed in the bass clef on leger lines may cause a visual distraction. The brief introduction covering aspects of Graupner’s life and of these suites is in German only – it includes Mattheson’s warning against playing Graupner’s works from sight because of their difficulty! The pieces printed here are certainly tricky in places, but the musical content makes them a most welcome addition to the repertoire and enables us to look at the development of the keyboard suite by the German contemporaries of J.S.Bach. There is plenty of material here for careful study that will repay the time spent and enable us to see why Graupner was so highly thought of in his time and into the 19th century. Edition Baroque is making available an interesting selection of pieces for various instruments and the website is worth a close look; they offer a speedy mail order service, although at the last time of personal contact payment had to be made in Euros and there was no facility for using a card. It is to be hoped that the remaining six suites in this series will be published before too long, and possibly that further suites by the Darmstadt master will be included in the series in the future.

© John Collins, Nov 2010

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