Author: Graham Topping
In the first of Chiltern Arts’ autumn launch concerts, the internationally-renowned Academy of Ancient Music contrasts two of Bach’s astonishing, vivid Brandenburg Concertos with the elegant wit of Bach’s great friend Telemann.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s great set of six Brandenburg Concertos is possibly the finest job-application ever delivered. Bach must have wanted the Margrave of Brandenburg’s employment very badly. Over and above the immense labour of composing over two hours’ worth of music, Bach hand-wrote a special presentation copy for the Margrave: it ran to 170 pages, densely packed with notes, in pen and ink (and no mistakes).
The concertos have won over countless millions of music-lovers since 1721, yet they didn’t get Bach the job. Indeed, it seems that the Margrave didn’t even bother to open the music. Bach’s beautiful, laboriously written-out manuscript just disappeared into the Brandenburg library, like a CV into the waste bin.
But then, job-hunting has always been the same: a soul-destroying grind to some, a mere game to others. Just a few years later, Bach and his great friend Telemann – godfather to Bach’s oldest son – were rivals for a prestigious job running the city of Leipzig’s superb musical institutions. Telemann got it. But he was only playing the field, to force his current employers in Hamburg to give him a raise.
“Oh well”, moaned Leipzig’s Councillor Plaz, “since we cannot get the best, then we will have to settle for average”. So instead, they picked… the now almost-forgotten Christoph Graupner. And Graupner’s boss wouldn’t let him go. So the great Bach was Leipzig’s reluctant third choice!
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century critics were less smitten with Telemann-the-‘best’; meanwhile they elevated the ‘average’ Bach into a musical god. But put the two together, as the Academy of Ancient Music do, to launch Chiltern Arts’ brand new international concert series, and you just marvel at how very different these composers are – and how brilliantly they show off each other‘s distinctiveness. They both gain from the contrast.
Telemann is a high-class entertainer. He’s like a great conversationalist: witty, spirited, ever-ready with a clever take on an old idea. The sort that quickens your mind and makes you feel alive. And he never harps on too long; there’s no padding.
He’s also interested in the wider world. In the Chiltern Arts concert you’ll hear a giddy, stomping dance in the Polish style complete with imitation bagpipe-drone (Telemann worked for a year in Poland, where he said you could harvest enough musical ideas for a lifetime). You’ll also hear his vivid illustrations of the great Spanish comedy Don Quixote, complete with Quixote’s broken-down horse charging at windmills, his miserable sighs for the farmgirl Dulcinea, and Sancho Panza being thrown in the air from a blanket.
Bach, on the other hand, is serious-minded. He’ll argue a point at length but with such vigour and passion that his ideas could stay with you for life. He can move you, as he surely will when the Academy of Ancient Music play the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with its tender, compassionate middle movement. Or he’ll dazzle you with his energy, as in the wildly jazzy harpsichord solo which explores life, the universe and everything in just three minutes of that same concerto’s first movement.
Pavlo Besnoziuk and his players in the Academy of Ancient Music are international superstars, like Telemann. And they’re renowned for both their virtuosity and the depth of character in their music-making, as Bach was. Whether you know this music or not, they’re sure to bowl you over – so come and celebrate the launch of Chiltern Arts with the very best musicians for the job!