Listening Recommendation | Harper's Magazine

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Listening Recommendation


Georg Philipp Telemann, Trauer-Musik eines kunsterfahrenen Kanarien-Vogels (Funereal Music for a Sweet-Singing Canary)(1721); recording by Hermann Prey and the Deutsche Bach-Solisten, Philips

Telemann firmly stakes out the bronze medal position among the German Baroque masters, but his contemporaries didn’t see things that way. In 1722, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann competed for the position of Kantor in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, and the vestry picked Telemann hands-down. Fortunately for posterity, Telemann was lured back to Hamburg and never accepted the position. As a result, Bach accepted the post and launched the production of his liturgically sequenced cantata series, viewed by many as the crown jewel of the entire late Baroque repertoire. Telemann also took his hand to the cantata form, in a style much more light-hearted than Bach; indeed, some have seen in it some friendly mockery. The best of these is the cantata Trauer-Musik eines kunsterfahrenen Kanarien-Vogels, in which Telemann sings a sweet farewell to his pet canary. By the way, we know from the opening line, Ach, weh, meine Kanarin ist tot!, that the bird in question was a female. For which reason, this funeral music is particularly appropriate for Tuesday, October 23, as the House Judiciary Committee convenes to look at the mischief of a like-named aviary figure from Montgomery, Alabama. Prey’s singing is wonderful, and the piece is paired with another cantata in a lighter mode, Der Schulmeister (The Schoolmaster).

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