New Classics

German composer, singer, writer, lexicographer, diplomat and music theorist Johann Mattheson was born and died in Hamburg. He was a close friend of George Frideric Handel, although he nearly killed him in a quarrel during a performance of Mattheson’s opera Cleopatra in 1704. Handel was saved only by a large button which turned aside Mattheson’s sword. The two were afterwards reconciled and remained in correspondence for life: shortly after his friend’s death, Mattheson translated John Mainwaring’s Handel biography into German and had it published in Hamburg at his own expense.

The son of a well-to-do tax collector, Mattheson received a broad liberal education and took lessons in keyboard instruments, violin, composition and singing. By age nine he was singing and playing organ in church and was a member of the chorus of the Hamburg opera. He made his solo debut with the Hamburg opera in 1696 in female roles and, after his voice changed, sang tenor at the opera, conducted rehearsals and composed operas himself.

Most of his compositions were vocal, including eight operas, and many oratorios and cantatas. He also wrote sonatas and keyboard music, including pieces meant for keyboard instruction. Following his critically acclaimed 6-CD series of the harpischord Suites of Handel for Divine Art, Gilbert Rowland here plays the equally fine but less well known suites by Mattheson, written in 1714. The 3-CD set presents the 12 Suites in full; uncut and with repeats observed. Certainly very musical and original, the Suites deserve to be considered on a level with those of Handel at the very least.

These are masterful performances by Rowland, one of Europes most senior and accomplished harpsichord experts, who plays a 2-manual French-style instrument by Andrew Wooderson (2005) after an original from 1750 by Goemans. Highly recommended.

—John Pitt