March 2017 is Baroque Month here at Bachtrack, and 2017 is the 250th anniversary of Georg Philip Telemann's death. With his ensemble La Stagione Frankfurt, recorder/traverso specialist and conductor Michael Schneider has recorded one of the most extensive discographies of Telemann's music. Michael talks to us about Magedeburg's most famous musical child.

Michael Schneider © Sven Cichowicz
Michael Schneider
© Sven Cichowicz
This year is the 250th anniversary of Telemann, a composer whose works you’ve championed. Tell us about your upcoming programme “Mature Telemann meets young Mozart”. What are the links you will be making?

It's an exciting idea that Mozart and Telemann could have met (although in fact most probably they didn't). Telemann: the old and mature  composer, who kept on composing until the last breath of his long life and who had followed all musical developments and who adopted a lot of the new pre-classical style in the works he composed during his "Indian summer". Mozart: the child genius who had been trained by his father in the Italian Baroque style and who dreamed of becoming "immortal like Händel and Hasse".

The Ino cantata is clearly Telemann's most advanced achievement of an early classical style, and at least in their musical works, both composers really did meet! That's why we combine this work with symphonies of the young Mozart. Telemann himself never composed a symphony, we may wonder why. He always stuck to the French ouverture-suite!

Is there anything else that you are planning to celebrate the anniversary?

We are planning  a series of concerts in the Rhein/Main Area with instrumental works as well as some first performances of a couple of wedding cantatas. We will finish our complete recordings of "concertos for mixed instruments " with Vols V and VI (for CPO) as well as two CDs of "Concerti da camera" (Quartets).

What first attracted you to Telemann’s music?

His rhythm, the tone-colours, the melodies... It's always great fun to play and to listen to his music. He wrote perfectly for all kind of instruments – and I don't know any bad piece by Telemann. During recording sessions, it has sometimes happened that we feel annoyed by a piece – and it then inevitably turns out that it was composed by somebody else!

Faced with a listener who knows nothing of Telemann’s music, what would you give as an “elevator pitch” that would persuade them that this is music that must be heard?

If somone is interested at all in music of former ages, particularly in Baroque music and more particularly in music by German born composers, who composed in a sort of "mixed style", then you cannot avoid dealing with the three "great" masters JS Bach, Händel and Telemann! Each of the three offers a very personal  aspect of this immense artistic world, though they have a lot in common, too. 

Within this "trialogue" Telemann appears as the most "modern" and the most "enlightened" composer (from our point of view): a real "European" – but maybe English people don't consider this as a qualitiy any more? 

He knew and deeply understood everything what happened in the musical world and he transferred all these influences into his own style (especially also East European folk music) . Telemann's importance is still to be discovered, because many of his major works are not been performed a lot nowadays.

You would lose the whole image of musical Baroque wothout knowing Telemann! As Gustav Leonhardt used to say: "You have to catch the spirit of the era." Without Telemann you would miss one of the most important aspects of this spirit.

What are the top Telemann works that you would recommend to get to know his music? And why is each of these special?

That's impossible to say. I like most his ouverture-suites, concertos, operas (Emma und Eginhard), chamber music, oratorios (Die Hirten an der Krippe").

There is one important aspect about performing Telemann. More than with other composers, the impression of Telemann's music is dependent on the quality of the performance. If you don't find the right tempo, the right precision, the right spirit, the right instruments – or simply the appropriate "performance practice", than you may not catch at all the quality of the music. This is a difference from J.S. Bach. If you succeed in hitting the bull's eye in performing, then Telemann's music is irresistible!

We’re seeing a lot of interest in reviving Baroque opera outside the two big names of Monteverdi and Handel. Why are Telemann’s surviving operas such rarities, and do you plan to do anything about it?

I have already performed or recorded some of them! A great advantage for German audiences is that the language, at least in the recitatives, is mostly German – but this fact seems to be a disadvantage outside German-speaking countries.

René Jacobs seems to be a great fan of Telemann's operas. And he already did a lot for them with his performances, for example in the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I am convinced that there will be much more Telemann on opera stages in the future.

If you could go back in time and ask Telemann one question, what would it be?

"Would you be so kind to compose at least one more concerto for recorder and traverso like the E minor one?"

You’ve entitled La Stagione as “The Sound Gourmets”. Can you tell us how the name came about, and what it should mean to your listeners?

For us, who are no longer the wild and the young among the Early Music Musicians, we are now the experienced, but nevertheless passionate. It's now time to enjoy! The music as well as music making with good friends.

What are the places you love best for performing Baroque music? It could be for any reason: the interior decor, a sense of history, the acoustic, a particular audience or anything else.

Of course, the best are historical places. You feel immediately whether it's an appropriate place or not for the music you are performing. If it's the right place, than your instruments will give you back a thousand thanks in offering inspriation for your playing.

Tell us about your favourite Baroque instrument: who was it made by, and what makes it special?

Although I am a professional recorder and traverso player, I mostly like my harpsichord. I can spend hours and hours playing on it. It's a German type, built by Rainer Schütze in 1986, so it has just had its 30th birthday.   

What’s the first thing you do when a concert has finished?

I thank my colleagues for a wonderful experience!