Georg Philipp Telemann: Wassermusik Suite


Georg Philipp Telemann composed his Wassermusik suite (full title Hamburger Ebb’ und Fluth) c. 1722 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Hamburg Admiralty. The suite, which is split into 10 movements, represents Hamburg’s geographical location and uses water deities to represent Telemann’s desired nautical theme. The suite premiered in April 1723. 


The Music


Movement I – Overture

The Overture to the suite starts slowly and blossoms into an energetic ‘Allegro’ which aims to represent the constant flowing of water. Telemann’s intricate woodwind writing compliments the driving strings, who really take the reins of this movement. Near the end of the movement the opening slow section returns to mark the water calming down once more before finishing on a perfect resolution chord. 


Movement II – Sarabande: Die schlafende Thetis’

Translating into ‘The Sleeping Thetis’, the sarabande second movement represents the snoozy sea goddess, Thetis, who is the mother of Achilles. The calm strings allow room for the recorders to play a soft lullaby. The low energy and soft dynamics represent the sleeping aspect of the movement. As it began, this movement concludes quietly. 


Movement III – Bourrée: ‘Die erwachende Thetis’

Now representing Thetis awakening, the energetic strings open with a grand unison passage. The recorders join in as the excitement of piece is rolled out across the movement. The stately bourrée dance keeps the melody restrained, but also adds intensity to the music. This movement is certainly a good one to wake up to!


Movement IV – Loure: ‘Der verliebte Neptunus’

This movement is representative of the sea god Neptune in love. The rich string open paired with the solemn tempo of the movement adds to the drama of the music. As the theme is passed between the sections of the orchestra, the dynamic begins to grow also. Another one of the shorter movements, Loure ends quietly. 


Movement V – Gavotte: ‘Spielende Najaden’

Representing the ‘Playing Naiads’, the playful fifth movement shows the light-heartedness of the water nymphs. Built chiefly on call and response passages, the music is bounced between the strings and woodwind throughout before the winds have the last say.


Movement VI – Harlequinade: ‘Der schertzende Tritonus’

Representing ‘The Joking Triton’, the bright sixth movement shows a lighter side to Telemann’s writing. The highly decorated theme is passed from the lower strings to the woodwind and then to the upper strings who bring the ensemble together. Dramatic drops in dynamic are seen in this movement. 


Movement VII – Tempȇte: ‘Der stürmende Aeolus’

Focusing on the ruler of the winds, Aeolus, the dynamic seventh movement depicts the god’s more stormy nature. The driving force of the strings represent the moving wind and tempestuous nature of wind. The movement concludes triumphantly. 


Movement VIII – Menuett: ‘Der angenehme Zephir’

God of the west wind, Zephir is the last deity to be used in the suite. The gentle rocking  at the start makes way for a richer variation later on in the movement. The light movement of the melody carries through the whole movement, making it one of the calmest and musically-intriguing of them all. 


Movement IX – Gigue: ‘Ebb und Fluth’

Moving on to the tides of Hamburg itself, the ninth movement represents the ‘Ebb and Flow’ of their homeland water. Starting quietly and soon building into a flourish of music, the dramatic changes in dynamics make the loud sections even more dramatic. The intricate melody supports the rush of the ebb and flow of the Hamburg tides. 


Movement X – Canarie: ‘Die lustigen Boots Leute’

Depicting ‘The Merry Boat People’, the finale movement again focuses on Hamburg and the happy sailors that reside there. The instantly-recognisable opening theme is stately, but joyous. The celebratory finale uses lots of unison playing to show the strength of the people. The finale movement concludes back in the home key in glorious unison. 


Happy Reading!

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