Georg Philipp Telemann’s ability to produce high-quality works at lightning speed is well known; less remembered today is his mischievous sense of humor. He was known among his friends for writing wickedly clever satirical verses and playing musical practical jokes, as he once did with a cantor from a nearby village.
Seeking to aggrandize himself, this cantor determined that he would honor a certain festival day by performing a new sacred work by the local master. He repeatedly requested that Telemann write something for him and his choir, and, knowing that their musicianship was decidedly inferior, the composer repeatedly declined. At last the cantor made such a pest of himself that Telemann told him that he and a few friends would arrive with the new work for a rehearsal before the performance.
On the appointed day the composer handed the new work—a treacherously difficult fugue—to the cantor, whispering to his friends “Now the thieves shall confess their sins.” The singers proceeded to produce a dismal, discordant rendition as they unknowingly made fun of themselves. Telemann had set the line “Wir können nichts wider den Herrn reden” (We cannot speak against the Lord) in such a way that the hapless singers were “confessing” their ineptitude by repeating the words “Wir können nichts” (We cannot)!
The composer laughed heartily. “That certainly won’t do” he said. “Let’s see how we can remedy this.” He then took out a different composition, and he and his friends performed it—both saving the day and humiliating the presumptuous cantor.
This according to “Images of Telemann: Narratives of reception in the composer’s anecdote, 1750–1830” by Steven Zohn (The journal of musicology XXI/4  459–486; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-6402).
Today is Telemann’s 340th birthday! Below, a merry bit of tone-painting—“Postillion” from his Tafelmusik.
The resounding success of the premiere of Händel’s Rinaldo, his first opera in England, was tempered by satirical and sarcastic criticism in The spectator, a weekly journal dedicated to combining wit with morality.
The spectacular scenery and costumes, textual weaknesses, and lack of logic were all points of criticism. Joseph Addison, measuring the performance by the standards of reason, truth, and naturalness, hardly found occasion to mention the music and excellent cast.
The main forum for these ideas of a new moral, social, and national function for opera was the London coffeehouse. Thus the Enlightenment, through the medium of opera, came to influence the thought of large groups and stimulated new social behavior and artistic standards.
This according to “Mit Rindern, Schafen und Spatzenschwärmen: Die Londoner Uraufführung der Oper Rinaldo von Händel” by Wilhelm Baethge (Das Orchester XLIII/11  17-22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1995-14126).
Today is the 31oth anniversary of Rinaldo’s premiere! Below, the opera’s march remains one of its most popular excerpts.
BONUS: John Gay’s celebrated repurposing of the march for The beggar’s opera.
In the preface to his collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica (1619) Michael Praetorius engaged in a play on words, juxtaposing the similar-sounding Latin terms concio and cantio. But the passage is not a mere display of cleverness—it is a theological assertion that musicologists have described as a manifesto on liturgical music.
Praetorius wrote (translated here): “it is essential to the highest ideals of church government, as well as to a corporate worship service, that there be not only concio, a good sermon, but also cantio, good music and singing.” By stating that worship would be incomplete without “good music and singing” he was expressing the underlying premise of his entire career as a Lutheran church composer and cantor.
This according to Michael Praetorius Creuzbergensis: The man, the musician, the theologian by David Susan, a Master of Divinity thesis accepted by Concordia Seminary in 1971 (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1971-15384).
Today is Praetorius’s 450th birthday! Below, the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Monteverdi Ensemble, conducted by Matthias Beckert, perform his Puer natus in Bethlehem from the same collection.
In 2020 A-R Editions issued Giovanni Stefani’s song anthologies (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-14972), which brings together for the first time all three of Stefani’s anthologies in modern transcription, allowing performers to play either from the original alfabeto notation or from a modern realization, given both in modern guitar chord symbols and harmonies in staff notation, making it possible for all instruments to participate in the continuo band.
The three song anthologies of Giovanni Stefani survive as the most abundantly printed seventeenth-century songbooks with the chordal guitar notation known in Italy as alfabeto. Printed in multiple editions from 1618 to 1626, Stefani’s books anthologize nearly one hundred songs, many of which appear copied in numerous other manuscripts, attesting to their widespread appeal in early modern Italy.
While beginners will be drawn to their simplicity, experienced performers will delight in the improvisational opportunities made available by songs built on the spagnoletta, folia, ciaconna, and romanesca.
Above, the cover of Stefani’s first anthology, Affetti amorosi; below, Costanza amorosa as it appears therein.
Johann Sigismund Kusser (or, as he was known in England and Ireland, John Sigismond Cousser) was a Hungarian-born musician who, after a varied and successful career in the German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, settled in Ireland in July 1707.
In Dublin Kusser composed and directed the performances of at least 21 festive serenatas that marked important state occasions in Dublin between 1709 and his death in late 1727. Presented before the elite of local society in semistaged productions featuring costumes, stage machinery, and dancing, these works functioned as something of an operatic substitute in the city’s cultural life.
In 2020 A-R Editions issued Kusser: Serenatas for Dublin (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-1963), a critical edition comprising the three serenatas for which music remains extant. Two of these can be proven definitively to be of Kusser’s own composition, and the third, due to its musical style, overall structure, and subject matter, is almost certainly his creation as well. These works provide remarkably rare musical evidence of a key component of the artistic offerings of Dublin’s viceregal court during the early decades of the eighteenth century.
Below, “Come, lovely peace, the conqu’ror calls” from An idylle on the peace, one of the works included in the volume.
Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe minuit de Noël, H.9, is a rare example of a Baroque parody Mass.
Composed in the 1690s while Charpentier worked at the Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis in Paris (above), the Messe minuit de Noël is based on 11 French noëls—popular monophonic songs associated with Christmas—which are used as the structural basis of several sections of the Mass, and are integrated alongside newly composed musical material.
Several of the eleven noëls are themselves derived from secular chansons and are linked to Renaissance and early-Baroque dances, especially the branle, the basse danse, and the menuet. The rhythmic organization of the noël-based sections of the Mass reflects the roots of each noël in dance.
Interestingly, this type of rhythmic organization often conflicts with the metrical organization implied by the time signature. Charpentier’s Mass is fascinating due to the distinction and the interaction between the borrowed non-metrical noëls and his newly composed music, and the competing layers of stress and accent that emerge in performance.
This according to “Dance rhythms in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe minuit de Noël” by Steven Grives (Choral journal XLIX/6 [December 2008] pp. 36–44).
Below, the Deutsch-Französischer Chor Dresden performs the work.
Photograph of the Église Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis 2013 by Zinneke.
In 2018 Stainer & Bell issued Restoration music for three violins, bass viol and continuo, a critical edition of a small yet distinctive corpus of instrumental music at the Restoration court of Charles II and in the Catholic chapel of James II.
Introduced to England by the German violinist Thomas Baltzar, the genre was adopted by John Jenkins, whose ten fantasia-suites for three violins, bass viol, and continuo, together with five sonatas for the same group of instruments by Gottfried Finger (above), constitute the bulk of this volume.
Below, Finger’s Sonata in D major, op. 1, no. 9, one of the works included in the collection.
In 2018 A-R Editions issued Livre d’airs et de simphonies mélez de quelques fragmens d’opéra, a critical edition of a collection of works by Pierre Gillier that was first published in 1697.
The appetite for amateur music making in late seventeenth-century France led to an unprecedented demand for published chamber music. Gillier’s volume, comprising 64 small-scale vocal and instrumental works with basso continuo accompaniment, was one of a number of publications designed to meet this demand.
The collection is unusual in offering a variety of genres and is especially noteworthy for Gillier’s strategy of organizing the pieces “in order to make small chamber concerts out of them.”
Below, an excerpt featuring the voice of Sara Macliver.
In 2019 A-R Editions issued Manuel de Sumaya: Villancicos from Mexico City, a critical edition of all 34 villancicos with music by Sumaya conserved at the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María in Mexico City.
Recognized as the most significant composer from New Spain in the early eighteenth century, Manuel de Sumaya oversaw musical activity at the Cathedral during a time of stylistic change. Locally born and ordained as a priest, Sumaya wrote music that mixes the counterpoint and rhythmic vigor of seventeenth-century Hispanic music with more modern Italianate gestures prescient of international taste in the eighteenth century.
Scored for one to 12 voices with basso continuo and sometimes violins, these pieces communicate theological, doctrinal, and historical ideas about St. Peter, St. Rose of Lima, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Christmas, Corpus Christi, and other celebrations of the Catholic Church. Complete translations of the Baroque texts into English and commentary on historical performance practices included in the edition aim to facilitate revival of this key repertoire of colonial music.
Above, the composer; below, Hoy sube arrebatada, one of the works included in the edition.
In 2018 A-R Editions issued the first critical edition of John Eccles’s opera The judgment of Paris.
The work was one of at least four operas on the same libretto (written by William Congreve) composed for the 1701 Prize Musick competition sponsored by London’s Kit-Cat Club with the aim of promoting native English, all-sung opera; it won second place in the competition, after John Weldon’s setting, though it later became the most popular of the settings composed for the competition.
Scored for soloists, chorus, strings and continuo, with individual movements featuring transverse flute, recorders, and trumpets and timpani, the opera unfolds within a single act and depicts the mythological story of Paris and the three goddesses. Below, the opening of a 2016 performance by the Columbia New Opera Workshop.