The Paris Quartets

The Charles River Sinfonietta just got their grant proposals approved for performing a chamber music concert in Plymouth MA later this year,  and included in our program will be some of Telemann’s Paris Quartets for flute, violin, cello(or viola da gamba) and Bass (b.c.)

Telemann started composing music for this combination of instruments about 1730,  about 8 years before he composed the Paris Quartets.  His  first 6 quartets for this combination of instruments were greatly appreciated and he traveled to Paris in 1738  at the invitation of “several virtuosi of that  city”  who, he reported “had developed a taste for several of my printed works” .   He didn’t say  particularly  which works but most likely was referring to  the 6  quartets written in 1730  that had been greatly appreciated in France and had given him a good reputation even before he arrived in 1738.  The premiere performance of these quartets was done in France with the virtuoso flautist Michel Blavet, along with Jean Pierre Guignon, on violin Jean Baptiste Antoine Forqueray on gamba and Edouard on cello. These 4 musicians were among the best in Paris and  had great musical positions and influence  in the city’s musical life.

This combination of instruments, flute, violin, cello and bass was Telemann’s own creation. And for the next  six quartets composed for this combination, the Paris Quartets,  he wrote them for the musicians in Paris and  tried to have the music fit the French style with emphasis on naturalness , vivacity, merriment and brevity and “fleeing all far-fetched and pompous excesses”.  The French music of that time according to Quantz contained ” many ingratiating and agreeable ideas”  especially due to its “continuous and concertante melody”.  These Paris Quartets certainly fit that description.  The concertante style is always there but without bursting the French inspired form of the movements.  The dance style,  like rondeaus, is felt in the music quite a bit, and as Finscher remarked “the dance types per se are always in evidence.”  The wonderful performance done by these musicians in Paris at the time helped make these pieces become popular but  also the high standards that Telemann imposed on himself, his deep knowledge of French  music, his refined taste, and  his nature as an homme d’esprit.

These Paris quartets were certainly greatly enjoyed in Paris starting in 1738, and we hope they can be enjoyed to a  similar level in 2019 in Plymouth MA.  We certainly look forward to performing them.

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