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Unearthing Graupner


For over three decades, the Musicians of the Old Post Road ensemble has uncovered overlooked works from the Baroque to early Romantic eras that have been lost to audiences for centuries and performed same on period instruments.

On April 29th (4 pm, Worcester Historical Museum [Tickets HERE]) and April 30th (4 pm, Old South Church, Boston, [Tickets HERE] and online HERE), the group will offer “Into The Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner,” the prolific and gifted German composer and harpsichordist who, in his time, was as highly regarded as his contemporaries Bach, Telemann, and Handel. The following comes from MOPR copy submitted by Joanna Boyle.

Born in 1683 in Kirchberg, Graupner received musical instruction from local musicians, including the organist Nikolaus Küster. At age 11, he followed Küster to Reichenbach, where he remained until he was admitted into the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696, where he lived for 10 years, studying with Johann Schelle and Johann Kuhnau.

In 1706, Graupner moved to Hamburg, likely due to the outbreak of war between Sweden and Saxony. The day before his arrival, the position of opera accompanist at the Theater am Gänsemarkt opened, and Graupner remained there for three years, using the time to compose some eight operas of his own. In 1709 he took the position of Vice-Kapellmeister at Darmstadt court after Ernest Louis, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, heard him perform. In 1711 he succeeded Kapellmeister Wolfgang Carl Briegel. For the first few years of his post, court finances enabled Graupner to compose more operas, as well as cantatas and instrumental works, but in 1719, financial circumstances in the court began to curtail this level of activity.  

In 1722, the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig became vacant after Kuhnau’s death. Telemann, the first choice to succeed him, withdrew from consideration after Hamburg offered him a salary increase. Graupner was then offered the position, but the Landgrave rejected his resignation and offered him more money and salary payment priority. History will remember that the position eventually went to J.S. Bach; that Graupner was considered in the same category as these composers is a testament to his high regard and outstanding talent.

Graupner lived the remainder of his life in Darmstadt, composing continuously. He wrote in May 1740 to Johann Mattheson: “I am so overburdened by my employment, that I can hardly do anything else but must always ensure that my compositions are finished in time for a given Sunday or feast day.” Though blind later in life, he produced in total 1,418 sacred cantatas, 24 secular cantatas, 113 sinfonias, some 50y concertos, 80 suites, 36 chamber sonatas, and keyboard music, in addition to his operas. He was a humble man who cared little for his legacy; there are no known portraits of him, and he requested that all of his works be destroyed by fire after his death.

Fortunately, his children rejected this request and attempted to sell his musical estate to Ludwig VIII, the son of Graupner’s patron, Ernest Louis. The new Landgrave saw no reason to shell out more money for compositions for which Graupner had already been paid, and firmly refused their offers. In 1766, six years after Graupner’s death, his heirs tried again to sell his music to the Landgrave, and negotiations once again failed.

It wasn’t until March 1819 that Graupher’s descendants tried again, still believing that his work was a national treasure that should be preserved and performed. In their letter to the Grand Duke Ludwig I, they described Graupner’s music as “particularly suitable for the collection of his royal highness.” The Duke, a cultured man who loved art and music, paid 275 florins for Graupner’s music (about $3,000 today), and the compositions were entered into the court library, where they were preserved almost too well; as far as anyone can tell, they remained unstudied and unperformed. On September 11, 1944, Darmstadt was nearly entirely destroyed by wartime bombing. The music might have been lost forever, except by a stroke of good sense and good fortune; the year before, they had been moved to a safe location outside the city, the Heppenheim State Sanatorium and Nursing Home.

The music was returned to the city after the war, but remained largely neglected until relatively recently. Over the last 10 years or so, Graupner’s compositions have been gradually experiencing a revival, due in part to the research efforts of many academics and musicians, including Musicians of the Old Post Road. Dozens of his instrumental and vocal works have been published for the first time, and the Technische Universität Darmstadt is digitizing its musical holdings; about 2,000 Graupner compositions survive.

At the upcoming concerts Musicians of the Old Post Road will introduce one of his many inventive flute concertos, his Trio Sonata in B Minor for flute, violin, and continuo, his Sonata in G Minor for strings and continuo, and his Sonata in G Major for flute and obbligato harpsichord. The program also includes a chaconne for strings and continuo by Graupner’s Darmstadt patron Count Ernest Louis, a quartet for flute, two violas, and continuo by his talented student Johann Fasch, and a quartet for flute, strings and continuo by his good friend Telemann.

Instrumentalists for this concert include Suzanne Stumpf, traverso, Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violins, Marcia Cassidy, viola, Daniel Ryan, cello, and Michael Sponseller, harpsichord, all of whom will perform on period instruments. The Worcester concert is co-presented with the Worcester Historical Museum (members receive a $10 discount on their ticket).

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