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CD reviews






Christlieb Siegmund BINDER (1723 - 1789): Sei Suonate per il Cembalo op. 1

Paulina Tkaczyk, harpsichord

rec: Sept 15 - 17, 2012, Kraków, Music Academy (Concert Hall)
Dux - 1153-1154 (2 CDs) (©2014) (1.57'24")
Liner-notes: E/D/P
Sonata in F, op. 1,1; Sonata in D, op. 1,2; Sonata in c minor, op. 1,3; Sonata in E, op. 1,4; Sonata in a minor, op. 1,5; Sonata in B flat, op. 1,6

"In the Dresden circle Binder held the same position as Philipp Emanuel Bach in Berlin", according to a scholar in a book on music in Dresden in the time of Viennese classicism. However, Christlieb Siegmund Binder has remained an unknown quantity, not only in our time, but also in his own. Very few of his music was published in his lifetime and his influence was virtually confined to Dresden. This is all in strong contrast to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach who strongly influenced the main representatives of Viennese classicism: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Binder was also soon forgotten after his death.

He was born in Dresden as the son of an oboist and spent his entire life there. As a choirboy he received lessons from Pantaleon Hebenstreit, who was famous across Europe as a player of the pantaleon, a large sort of dulcimer. Hebenstreit died in 1750 and the next year Binder was appointed pantaleonist at the court. In 1772 the English music historian Charles Burney visited Binder in Dresden and found his pantaleon being unplayable. "[The] strings were all broken, for the present Electornas never wished to consent to the payment of a replacement". Binder's employer, Friedrich August III, was far more interested in the harpsichord. His personal library included 343 harpsichord concertos. Binder once stated that he possessed "taste and an extraordinary gift for music, an admirable skill on the harpsichord". This explains that music for harpsichord - concertos and sonatas - take a central place in his oeuvre which comprises exclusively instrumental music. In 1768 he dedicated a collection of 18 harpsichord concertos to his employer.

The sonatas op. 1 were printed in 1759 and dedicated to Maria Antonia Walpurgis, the wife of the then elector Friedrich Christian. They consist of three movements; most of these - and all of the fast movements - are divided into two sections each of which has to be repeated. They are technically demanding and certainly reflect Binder's own skills as a keyboard player. During his visit in Dresden Burney heard him play the organ and was very impressed, especially by his command of the pedals. The sonatas are a mixture of elements of the baroque style and that of the Empfindsamkeit and Sturm und Drang. Among the former is the use of counterpoint, for instance in his writing of fugues. The Sonata V in a minor opens with a movement in two sections. Each of them consist of two subsections. The first is called grave and is dominated by arpeggios. It is reminiscent of the French prélude non mesuré, although one could probably also see the influence of Binder's playing of the pantaleon here. There are many scales across the keyboard and virtuosic figurations in baroque manner. However, there are also many dynamic indications. Some of them are used to create an echo, another device of the baroque style, such as in the tempo di minuetto from the Sonata IV in E. In other movements the use of dynamic contrasts is much more in the style of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. That is the case, for instance, in the andante from the Sonata I in F where the dynamics sometimes change from one bar to the other: in the first 30 bars there are no fewer than eight indications of forte and piano. In uno poco lento from the Sonata II there are even single chords which are required to be played forte. That same sonata opens with an allegro which is interrupted several times by an adagio of only a couple of bars. The opening movement from the Sonata III in c minor has the indication moderato - presto, and these two alternate throughout the movement. It is especially these features which justify the comparison with CPE Bach. Whereas the fast movements of these sonatas are technically brilliant, the slow movements are certainly not devoid of expression. A good example is the cantabile alla pastorale from the Sonata III in c minor.

One issue in keyboard music of this time is the choice of instrument. It seems pretty clear that Binder had the harpsichord in mind. In the 1750s the fortepiano had not established itself yet. This means that the dynamic indications have to be realized by switching from one manual to the other. That is how Paulina Tkaczyk plays these sonatas. Unfortunately the harpsichord she uses is not specified.

Binder's music is hardly known; very few of his works are available on disc. I have been able to find recordings of two keyboard concertos, a cello sonata and three organ chorales. From that angle this set is a major contribution to the discography and considerably enhances our knowledge of Binder's compositional style. Paulina Tkaczyk is an outstanding interpreter and an eloquent defender of this set of sonatas. They arouse my curiosity about the rest of his oeuvre. It seems definitely worth exploring.

Johan van Veen (©2015)
2018  Paulina Tkaczyk