Johann Joachim Quantz: Flute Concerto No. 129
Born in Oberscheden, Germany in 1697, Johann Joachim Quantz was a prolific flautist, Baroque music composer and educator. It wasn’t until his early teens when Quantz began to study music formally, first with his uncle, and then with organist Johann Friedrich Kiesewetter. Initially, Quantz studied composition, and studied many scores of his contemporaries to gauge an idea of style and genre. In 1718, he became oboist in the Dresden Polish Chapel of August II.
Between 1724 and 1727, Quantz performed as a flautist on a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. Quantz visited cities such as Rome, Naples, Paris and London, and soon became very well-travelled as a professional musician. 1728 was a busy year for Quantz, as he accompanied August II to Berlin, where they met the Queen of Prussia and Frederick II of Prussia. Frederick – often referred to as ‘Frederick the Great’ – took up flute performance that same year, and Quantz became his tutor.
For many years Quantz remained in Dresden, residing in the Saxon Court until 1740, where he then moved to Berlin after taking the official role of flute teacher, maker and composer at the Royal Court. Quantz stayed here until his death in 1773).
Although most well-known for his extensive catalogue of flute music, Quantz also wrote a treatise on traverso flute performance entitled Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (eng: On Playing the Flute). It is now regarded as a valuable source for 18th century flute playing, technique and style. Quantz was also an influential flute maker, with his main innovative addition to the 18th century flute being the inclusion of the second key, making intonation clearer on enharmonics.
Most of the compositions Quantz wrote in his lifetime were not published, making it nearly impossible to pin dates down to compositions. What we do know, however, is that he composed over 200 sonatas, 300 concertos and 45 trios – all for the flute. Since his death, Quantz’s music has had a largely positive reaction from educators, researchers and performers alike. Many of Quantz’s sonatas are on grade syllabus’ for flute examinations around the world, and his works are often a staple for many flautists.
Flute Concerto No. 129
In traditional concerto form, this work is in three movements:
Beginning with a bouncy theme in the strings, the Allegro opening movement is full of life. With fast-moving scalic passages and strong melodic lines played in unison, this introduction lasts around one minute before the flute plays its first line. The flute plays a similar theme to that of the beginning, however with some changes, including the order of themes and harmonic progressions played. The soloist’s lines are much more virtuosic than that of the accompaniment, with unrelenting semiquaver passages and quick changes of octaves.
This movement poses various sections that sees the accompaniment offering interludes between the soloist’s sections, which gives light and shade to the movement. There is a noticeable difference between the two parts of the ensemble, with the flute and upper strings becoming more delicate, and the lower strings offering strong and loud bass lines. The end of the first movement sees the strings recap to the first melodic lines of the work, and close on a perfect cadence.
The second movement, marked Arioso, is the slowest of the three sections of the concerto. Interesting it is marked Arioso, as this term is usually associated with opera, highlighting the middle ground between recitative and arias. This could insinuate that the flute soloist is the main voice, and its message is important to the central idea of the concerto. This movement is delicate and full of decorations from the upper strings and flute, creating a rather whimsical atmosphere for the movement.
The finale movement, marked Presto is an exciting end to this light-hearted flute concerto. A pulsating repeated rhythm from the ensemble sets the scene for this finale. All instruments in the ensemble are utilised in this movement, especially the soloist, whose virtuosic lines sing out above everything else. The finale ends, like the other two movements, on a perfect cadence which is set up by a strong repetition of a phrase, which resolves quickly on a short note.
Quantz’s 129th Flute Concerto in E minor is quintessential of the composer’s style and the genre of that era. Although we are unsure as to when this concerto was written, it is perhaps fair to suggest it was in the central part of Quantz’s life, due to the number and the style in which it is composed in.