Georg Philipp Telemann

Overture-Suite in F major

TWV55/f11 • “Alster”

About this work

This work, described by conductor and composer Gunther Schuller as "a tour de force of orchestration and ingenuity," was written around 1725 for the unusual combination of four horns, two oboes, bassoon, and two violins; it has also been performed by larger Baroque orchestral ensembles. As the title suggests, the work is a programmatic depiction of Alster Lake and its surroundings, near Hamburg. The nine movements of this suite contain quite a variety of imaginative sound effects. One depicts swans floating on the lake's surface; another uses the horns to evoke cannon fire. There are echo effects, suggestions of mythological themes associated with the area, and imitations of frogs and crows that will raise a smile from an audience every time. Especially notable is the movement entitled "Village Music of the Alster Shepherds," which contains a panoply of wrong notes and other forms of musical noise. A forerunner of Mozart's Ein musikalischer Spass (A Musical Joke), it likewise depicts the musical malfeasance of an ill-trained band of small-town players. Given that Telemann's music remained well known into the 1770s, it is tempting to wonder whether Mozart might have modeled his own parody on this work. Although not one of Telemann's best-known pieces, the Alster Echo holds considerable appeal both for specialists interested in the nature of Baroque musical allusion and for general audiences interested in having a good time.