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Digging up really old music

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

During Spring/Summer 2022 I am working to complete my recording of works for bass vocal soloist and instrumentalists by the composer Christoph Graupner (1683-1760). This recording project is of great significance as it will illuminate the compositions of an important, yet oft neglected baroque composer. Graupner, who was a contemporary of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel, composed music for the Court Chapel of Hesse-Darmstadt from 1709-1754.

As a kid I loved the Indiana Jones movies. Like many, I imagined myself as an adult traversing the world, exploring archeological sites, and having grand adventures. Fortunately, my career as a singer and musicologist have actually allowed me to have a tiny slice of this type of adventure. I have traveled the world. I have engaged in research in fantastic archives. I have had grand adventures (with no danger or snakes involved, thank you very much)! This project, which included unearthing scores of music which hadn't been heard in around 300 years is part of that adventure. If you are interested in supporting this project (just imagine yourself as my trusty sidekick) please click the following link.

I would love to break down some of the cool things that goes on behind the scenes for a project like this.

Q: Where did you buy the music for this?

A: Unfortunately, there are very few pieces by Graupner that have been published. However, with each passing month additional modern editions are thankfully being published.

So I worked with a team of scholars and experts to create modern scores from Graupner's handwritten manuscripts. Luckily all of Graupner's manuscripts have been scanned and put online by the University in Darmstadt. Graupner's manuscripts are beautiful! It is almost possible to read directly from the scans of these manuscripts.

Unfortunately, the texts are almost impossible to read! I reached out to the Graupner Gesellschaft (Graupner Society) for help. They put me in touch with Herr Doktor Bernard Schmidt, who is an expert in deciphering these texts! It was amazing! He provided me with very detailed documents regarding the origins of the texts in addition to the texts themselves.

Once we had these texts, we had all we needed to recreate these scores and parts using modern musical notation software (Sibelius or Finale). Several of the cantatas were input and edited by NYC based harpsichordist Jeffrey Grossman. My UNM graduate assistant Cameron Smith completed one as well!

So those were the first few steps in this really fascinating process!

Now - more about Graupner.

The typical narrative encountered when discussing Christoph Graupner places him in comparison with J.S. Bach. If one has heard of Graupner, it is usually the bit of trivia that he was offered the Leipzig Thomaskirche cantor position before Bach, but was unable to accept the position. During his career Graupner was an incredibly prolific composer. From this period in Darmstadt there exist over 1400 surviving manuscripts of church cantatas. These cantatas, multi-movement works which are based on the liturgical calendar, feature various combinations of vocal soloists, choir, and instrumentalists. Unfortunately, Graupner fell into obscurity after his death. Of the over 1400 church cantatas extant, less than 10% have been recorded. Forty eight cantatas exist for solo bass voice and instrumental ensemble. Only 11 of these have been previously recorded. This project is of tremendous significance, as it will shed light on numerous recently unperformed and unrecorded vocal works. It will be of interest not only to scholars and baroque music specialists, but to the music lover who will surely enjoy the beauty of Graupner’s music. If you would like to hear this music - you can donate here. When you donate $25, you will receive a physical copy of the album.

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