Recorder Repertoire: Do Something Fresh!

Troost-Jeronimus“Oh no, not again!” I cannot help but react this way whenever I see the Handel or Telemann recorder sonatas listed on a recital program or on somebody’s recording. Indeed, while I thoroughly enjoy the charm of both, especially of the Handel, I must admit that these two collections have become way too “beaten to death” in the modern recorder world. In particular, these wonderful collections have developed a somewhat odious reputation as not-so-difficult student repertoire. Indeed, perusing at the contents of the Suzuki recorder school books, much of the listed “first” repertoire consists of Handel sonatas. Even in my case in using the Duchenes volume 2 book during my beginning stages, Handel was my first “real” recorder music and was designated as ideal beginners’ repertoire.

Although the Handel/Telemann sonatas are indeed not so difficult to play and therefore excellent repertoire for starters, doing so all the time has many a time led to them being treated as “easy” music and mere etudes. For many, this strikes an unappealing chord, though I myself continue to adore them for their sheer beauty and charm. Indeed, they make great recital pieces, especially when performing for audiences with short attention spans and those with minimal classical music/early music experience. Still, since they are played so much in music world by countless recorder players ranging from students to professionals, they have become practically “overplayed” to the point that they lose their charm and freshness, prompting reactions like the one I described at the beginning of this post.

While totally discarding Handel and Telemann from lessons and performances is not an option (!), finding recorder repertoire well off this beaten-to-death path is highly desirable not only for the audience’s sake, but also for the performer’s sake and sanity. As I already know from my own personal experience, playing the same pieces over and over again can become highly tedious. Yes, the human race does seek consistency, yet it simultaneously craves variety. Hence, locating recorder repertoire to fill this need for variety may seem daunting and impossible since the instrument’s repertoire is relatively small, yet many excellent options are available in urtext format, waiting to be discovered by even the most well-seasoned of players.

One of my top selections of such pieces are the six lovely Corellian sonatas by Ignazio Sieber, a contemporary of Vivaldi and oboe teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta, the foundling home where Vivaldi was the music director. These hauntingly gorgeous sonatas — which are true works for the recorder as opposed to transcribed works originally intended for violin or flute — are a true treat for both the performers and the audience, holding countless surprises for both. While written in the true Italian Baroque tradition, Sieber’s sonatas contain many unusual twists, including highly unconventional harmonies in the basso continuo line and violinistic passages which still take the recorder’s individuality (e.g. range, sound, playing technique) into account. The level is definitely on the higher end of the difficulty spectrum, yet even upper intermediate players can delve into them with a serious mind.

The Amadeus urtext edition of these six lovely sonatas — an excellent edition and investment for any serious recorder player — can be purchased from Von Huene Workshop, where I purchase all recorder-related

Image courtesy of http://www.free-scores.com

products and have my recorder repaired. The folks in charge of the shop are highly knowledgeable and friendly; I have been extremely pleased with their service to me over the past three years. The Sieber Amadeus compilation is listed in their sheet music database and can be purchased either over the phone or online:

http://www.vonhuene.com/Default.aspx?tabid=30

Very few recordings of the Sieber sonatas exist, with absolutely no online videos available. However, the Naxos label has released a period-instrument recording of them. While one can listen to them on the Naxos library upon subscription, Classics Online offers both a complete CD purchase and a per-song purchase option, in addition to free mini-previews:

http://www.classicsonline.com/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=793648#

In general, I myself have thoroughly enjoyed the Sieber sonatas, as have my early music mentors. Prior to me introducing them to them, they had never heard of neither Sieber nor these sonatas. I first showed them to my voice teacher, a musicologist who specializes in Baroque music and serves as my accompanist. After we had played through the fourth sonata in G Minor, he was highly impressed — albeit shocked by the excessive seventh chords in the harmony. Still, he declared them structurally and musically superior works — a view he still holds today. Then I brought them along to my recorder lesson a week later, playing them for variety after my teacher and I had had enough going through the Telemann Suite in A Minor. Before playing them, I told him about my voice teacher’s reaction and told him to judge for himself. Upon completion of the second movement, my teacher — who was accompanying me on the piano — loudly exclaimed, “These harmonies are crazy!!!!” I smiled and replied, “Told you.” Consequently, due to their relatively unknown status, their fine musical structure, and unconventional traits, I highly recommend the six Sieber sonatas for any recorder player desiring something “fresh” for practice or recital. Seriously — don’t pass them up.

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