Daniel Gottlob Türk belongs to the generation of
German keyboard composers who were active in the shadow of Haydn and
Mozart. As a result their oeuvre has largely remained under the radar.
Even keyboard players who specialize in the music of the second half
of the 18th century have had little engagement with this music. Only
recently I reviewed a disc devoted to another composer of that generation,
Johann Wilhelm Hässler (review
There is a connection between the two, as Hässler was Türk's
teacher for a number of years.
Türk was born in Claussnitz, near Chemnitz; he received his first music lessons from his father who was an instrumentalist at the service of Count Schönburg. His first formal teacher was Gottfried August Homilius at the Kreuzschule in Dresden. He then came under the guidance of Johann Adam Hiller, another pupil of Homilius, who played an important role in musical life in Leipzig, where Türk started his studies at the university in 1772. It was under the influence of Hiller that he began to compose vocal works. At the same time he took keyboard lessons from Hässler. It was through him that he became acquainted with the style of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and his treatise Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen
In 1774 Türk was appointed Kantor
at the Ulrichskirche in Halle; he remained there for the rest of his life. It wasn’t long before he became the leading force in Halle’s music scene, as a teacher at the Lutheran Gymnasium, as director of music at Halle University, and in 1787 as musical director of the Marktkirche, the main church of the town. He gave up teaching at the Gymnasium and completely concentrated on his musical activities, increasingly focusing on music for keyboard. He also wrote several treatises, for instance on the playing of the basso continuo. This was probably the last treatise on this subject before the 20th century. Moreover, he performed several of Handel's oratorios, and with that he laid the foundation of a Handel tradition which is still very much alive in Halle.
His music for keyboard reflects his interests in teaching and his pedagogical skills. The two sets of sonatas which are the subject of this set were written for amateurs, and that explains the title of Leichte Klaviersonaten
- easy keyboard sonatas. Several other collections serve the same target group, such as a collection of little pieces with additional fingerings. His keyboard compositions were much appreciated and the sonatas on this disc saw several reprints. As a theorist Türk was also held in high esteem. It is an indication of the man's character that Erwin R. Jacobi writes in the article on Türk in New Grove
, that one of his books was written with "the most scrupulous scientific exactitude". His writings were based on thorough studies for which he made use of his huge library.
In his liner-notes Michael Tsalka states that the title of the sonatas shouldn't give the impression that this music is simple. That is important as it only emphasizes what we know from other sources: the term 'amateur' - in Germany often called 'Liebhaber' - is not comparable with what we now usually call an 'amateur'. Many amateurs had considerable skills and required music which was challenging enough to keep them busy. That is exactly what Türk does in these sonatas. Their content is also interesting enough, as they contain many strong contrasts of Affekt
, and in this respect reflect the style which we know from a composer such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The titles of various movements indicate the expressive content, for instance 'con tenerezza' (with tenderness), 'con espressione' or 'innocentemente'.
Two issues in regard to this production need to be raised. The first concerns the choice of instrument. In his article in New Grove
Erwin Jacobi states that Türk took keyboard lessons from Hässler, and specifically mentions the clavichord. That seems to have been Hässler's preferred instrument, and one tends to think that Türk also had the clavichord in mind when writing these 'easy sonatas'. The fact that these works include indications in regard to dynamics also points in this direction. Tsalka doesn't use a clavichord here, but rather a harpsichord and three different fortepianos. The harpsichord is an instrument by Shudi and Broadwood (London, 1781) which has two pedals for the Machine Stop and the Venetian Swell respectively. The choice of an English instrument for German music - which may never have been performed in England - is surprising. The choice of a Stein fortepiano of 1784 is more plausible. The second fortepiano dates from 1785 and was built in Florence by Vincenzo Sodi. It is surprising how different this instrument's sound is from Stein's. It reminded me of the sound of the tangent piano
. With the fourth instrument comes the oddest choice: a fortepiano by André Stein from 1820. It is an upright piano with four pedals. One could justify this choice by the fact that Türk's music has remained popular for quite some time. It is certainly possible that it was still played after his death. Even so, from a musical point of view I find its selection unfortunate as the fortes
are rather exaggerated. In the case of the two older fortepianos thpse fortes
come off more naturally and that would have been even more so at the clavichord.
Part of the attraction of this disc derives from the fact that Tsalka plays original instruments which are part of the Marlowe A. Sigal Collection in Newton Centre (Mass, USA).
The second issue is the style of playing. In many movements Tsalka takes much freedom in regard to tempo and rhythm. That seems well in line with views expressed by Türk. Tsalka mentions Türk's "suspicious attitude towards the mechanical innovations of the metronome, which he feared ruined the beat's intrinsic inner flexibility and, therefore, its expressive core". That said, I think Tsalka goes a little too far now and then. In some movements the rhythm is hardly recognizable. This is also due to a sometimes extreme desynchronization of the two hands. I would prefer a bit more moderation in this regard.
That doesn't prevent me from expressing my gratitude for Michael Tsalka's undertaking of Türk's keyboard music. In most parts of this set his playing is fine and enjoyable. In my collection I have only one piece from Türk's pen, played by Paul Simmonds on the clavichord. I doubt whether much more is available on disc which makes this production all the more valuable. Those readers who are interested in keyboard music of the 18th century definitely shouldn't miss this one. They may also look for the previous set of two discs, entitled "Keyboard Sonatas, Collections I and II" (GP627-28).
Johan van Veen