Telemann for the Cello

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was a contemporary and friend of J.S. Bach (1685-1750). Together with both Bach and Vivaldi (1678-1741), he was one of the most prolific composers in music history ….. but, sadly, not for the cello. Of his approximately 70 known concertos, only two include a cello as soloist, and both of these are concertos involving multiple other solo instruments in which the solo cello has in fact very little to do. Compare this to his 37 concertos featuring the violin as a solo instrument (!) and his 3 concertos for viola(s) and 2 for viola da gamba. Even in his chamber music output he very much favoured the Viola da Gamba over the cello. The flowering of the cello that occurred in Italy and France in the mid-1700s would take some time to penetrate into Germany and it appears that there were few cellists (but many gambists) north of the Alps in Telemann’s (and Bach’s) time. So we can feel entirely justified in searching around in Telemann’s output written for other instruments, in search of treasures that are suitable for transcription to the cello.

So why wouldn’t we start with his music for gamba, for example with his recently discovered and published (2015) “12 Fantasias for Unaccompanied Viola da Gamba”? Well, unfortunately, music written for gamba is often not very suitable for playing on the cello (look at Bach’s Gamba Sonatas for example) in the original key, even though the clef, register and way of holding the instrument might be the same as for the cello. This is because the gamba has 5-7 strings and is tuned in fourths (see Transcribing Gamba Music for Cello). This means that, although Telemann wrote extensively for the gamba, we are often better off stealing from his violin and viola repertory and transposing the music down into the cello register! These pieces, being conceived for four-string instruments tuned in fifths, are usually much more suitable to transcription for the cello than his gamba works. So here then are some of his most interesting works for violin and viola, transcribed for the cello as the solo instrument:

  1.   Viola Concerto (with cello as the solo instrument)
  2.   Fantasias For Solo Violin