Telemann’s Mimetic Art: <i>The Characteristic Overture-Suites</i>

Steven Zohn

in Music for a Mixed Taste

Published in print April 2008 | ISBN: 9780195169775
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199865536 | DOI:
Telemann’s Mimetic Art: The Characteristic Overture-Suites

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Telemann ventured into the field of what 18th-century writers called “characteristic” music. His enthusiasm for musical mimesis in the overture-suite makes him something of a curiosity among his German contemporaries, for whereas composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Friedrich Fasch freely mixed social dance types (for example, the branle, courante, and menuet) with those associated more with the theater (sarabande, gigue, canarie, chaconne, passacaille, and “airs” and rondeaus evocative of opera and ballet), they wrote relatively few characteristic movements. Titles such as “Les Poëtes”, “Les Païsans”, and “Balet pour les Amazones” became less common after 1700 as the overture-suite increasingly moved toward concert music and away from its theatrical origins. This chapter shows that Telemann’s characteristic overture-suites not only run counter to this tendency, but more fully realize the genre’s mimetic potential than anything written previously. In their expression of an unprecedentedly broad range of subjects, they adumbrate the characteristic symphony of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And to a greater extent than any of Telemann’s other instrumental works, they reveal him as a man of the theater, avid reader, humorist, and keen observer of the physical and political world.

Keywords: overture-suites; characteristic movements; musical mimesis

Chapter.  17880 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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