Saturday, 24 February 2018


“Graupner is one of those unfortunate victims of fate and circumstance - a contemporary of Bach, Handel, Telemann, etc., who has remained largely - and unfairly – neglected.” - David Vernier 

Christoph Graupner (13 January 1683 in Kirchberg – 10 May 1760 in Darmstadt) was a German harpsichordist and composer of high Baroque music who was a contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann and George Frideric Handel.

Born in Hartmannsdorf near Kirchberg in Saxony, Graupner received his first musical instruction from his uncle, an organist named Nicolaus Kuester. Graupner went to the University of Leipzig where he studied law (as did many composers of the time) and then completed his musical studies with Johann Kuhnau, the cantor of the Thomasschule (St. Thomas School).

In 1705 Graupner left Leipzig to play the harpsichord in the orchestra of the Hamburg Opera under the direction of Reinhard Keiser, alongside George Frideric Handel, then a young violinist. In addition to playing the harpsichord, Graupner composed six operas in Hamburg, some of them in collaboration with Keiser, a popular composer of operas in Germany.In 1709 Graupner accepted a post at the court of Hesse-Darmstadt and in 1711 became the court orchestra’s Hofkapellmeister (court chapel master). Graupner spent the rest of his career at the court in Hesse-Darmstadt, where his primary responsibilities were to provide music for the court chapel. He wrote music for nearly half a century, from 1709 to 1754, when he became blind. He died six years later.

Graupner inadvertently played a key role in the history of music. Precarious finances in Darmstadt during the 1710s forced a reduction of musical life. The opera house was closed, and many court musicians' salaries were in arrears (including Graupner’s). After many attempts to have his salary paid, and having several children and a wife to support, in 1723 Graupner applied for the Cantorate in Leipzig. Telemann had been the first choice for this position, but withdrew after securing a salary increase in Hamburg. Graupner’s “audition” Magnificat, set in the style of his teacher, mentor and predecessor, Kuhnau, secured him the position.

However, Graupner’s patron (the Landgrave Ernst Ludwig of Hesse-Darmstadt) would not release him from his contract. Graupner’s past due salary was paid in full, his salary was increased; and he would be kept on staff even if his Kapelle was dismissed. With such favorable terms, Graupner remained in Darmstadt, thus clearing the way for Bach to become the kantor in Leipzig. After hearing that Bach was the choice for Leipzig, on 4 May 1723 Graupner graciously wrote to the city council in Leipzig assuring them that Bach “is a musician just as strong on the organ as he is expert in church works and capelle pieces” and a man who “will honestly and properly perform the functions entrusted to him.”

Graupner was hardworking and prolific. There are about 2,000 surviving works in his catalogue, including 113 sinfonias, 85 ouvertures (suites), 44 concertos, 8 operas, 1,418 religious and 24 secular cantatas, 66 sonatas and 40 harpsichord partitas. Nearly all of Graupner’s manuscripts are housed in the ULB (Technical University Library) in Darmstadt, Germany.

After he died, Graupner’s works fell into obscurity for a number of reasons. His manuscripts became the object of a long legal battle between his heirs and the rulers of Hesse-Darmstadt. A final court decision denied the Graupner estate ownership of the music manuscripts. The heirs were unable to obtain permission to sell or publish his works and they remained inaccessible to the public. Dramatic changes in music styles had reduced the interest in Graupner’s music. On the positive side however, the Landgrave’s seizure of Graupner's musical estate ensured its survival in toto. Fate was not so kind to J. S. Bach's musical legacy, for example. Another factor that contributed to Graupner's posthumous obscurity was that, unlike Bach, Graupner had very few pupils other than Johann Friedrich Fasch to carry on his musical legacy.

Here are some of his Orchestral Works, played by Nova Stravaganza under the leadership of Siegbert Rampe from the harpsichord:
1) Sinfonia in G Major GWV538 (9:38)
2) Overture in E Flat Major GWV429 (21:07)
3) Concerto in E Minor GWV321 (15:38)
4) Overture in E Major GWV439 (23:11)
5) Sinfonia in G Major GWV578 (7:08)

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