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To his 18th century contemporaries, Georg Philipp Telemann was the most famous, influential, and highly-regarded German musician of the day. Four years older than his friends J.S. Bach and Händel – both of whose reputations have now eclipsed his – Telemann was more prolific than either, wrote sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental music in virtually every genre, published on a nearly unprecedented scale, and did more than any other musician of his time to break down barriers that kept music a separate and elite component of civic, court, and church ceremony to elevate the role of music in the life of the middle class.
Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?
Much Ado About Nothing, 2.3.57-58
The first in a series of posts about the lute.
I would wager that while many, perhaps even most people in our culture have heard of the instrument called the lute and may even know what it looks like, most have never heard one played – either live or on a recording. Yet this paragon of musical instruments, this “instrument of angels” was the most popular instrument in Europe for hundreds of years. Throughout the Renaissance, the lute occupied a position in European society analogous to that of the piano in the nineteenth century. Lute virtuosi played for royalty and popes and were famous throughout the continent, and a rising middle class created demand for the new industry in printed sheet music, providing for music making at home. The art of music took its place at the center of culture on an unprecedented scale. This musical revolution gave birth to the invention of the instruments we use today and intensified the position of music at the heart of both religious and secular ceremonies, while the public and royalty alike acknowledged famous musicians as celebrities and prophets. At the forefront of all this was the lute – a symbol of music’s divine place in human life and the most popular musical instrument of the age.
Olga Scheps seems poised to take on the world. A young pianist with extraordinary powers of expression, Olga has been enchanting audiences throughout Europe for several years but seems to be little known in the United States, or in the general English-speaking world. From what I have been able to learn, she has only appeared once in the U.S. – two performances of Liszt’s Concerto No. 2 with the San Antonio Symphony in 2012 – but from the pace of her concertizing and recording for the last few years, it seems like it will just be a matter of time before she begins to make similar strong impressions on music lovers on this side of the Atlantic. In 2015 alone so far Olga has performed either solo recitals or as concerto soloist with orchestras throughout Germany where she lives, in Spain, Wales, and Japan, and made debuts in Israel and Sweden. She records exclusively for Sony and has produced five CDs in the last six years – four solo recital discs and a luminous, touching recording of both Chopin concerti with Matthias Foremny and the Stuttgart Kammerorchester released in 2014. Her latest recording – Vocalise – was released in Germany on July 17.
Olga’s repertoire is a balanced combination of the very familiar (read: warhorses) and the seldom performed, and she brings to everything she plays a deeply considered emotional sensitivity to the impulses that drive the music. Although it is clear that she has the technical prowess and sheer muscle to pull off the grandest effects called for in the many masterpieces in her repertoire, it is the beautiful clarity of her approach to playing the piano and her attention to subtle details of expression which I find most remarkable.
This is the first in a series of occasional posts about the recorder, its historical and contemporary repertoire, its champions, and its place in music education.
Being a recorder player has been a humbling experience. The recorder is not highly regarded in American musical culture, and most people who know of the instrument only know it because they were given a cheap plastic recorder in elementary school and learned to play a few simple tunes on it in a classroom setting. Occasionally I meet someone who is familiar with it from its occasional use by folk music groups or recognizes the instrument from the opening of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven (or perhaps I’ve Seen All Good People by Yes). Most people – including many classical musicians I have met, and many elementary school music teachers who actually teach recorder to their music classes – are unaware of or uninformed about the recorder’s long history, or of its beautiful if modest historical repertoire that includes works written specifically for recorder by masters including J.S. Bach, Händel, and Vivaldi, or of it’s employment in virtuosic avant-garde compositions since the 1960s.