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Genevieve Lacey on tracing the Telemann diary

Genevieve Lacey on tracing the Telemann diary

Genevieve Lacey is a recorder virtuoso, serial collaborator and artistic director, with a significant recording catalogue and a career as an international soloist. In 2018, Genevieve is Artist-in-Residence at Melbourne Recital Centre, takes on a new role as Artistic Advisor to UKARIA, and continues as Chair of the Australian Music Centre board, and inaugural Artistic Director of FutureMakers, Musica Viva Australia’s artist leadership program. 

Genevieve shares her first encounters with German Baroque composer and instrumentalist Georg Philipp Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute, its impact on her musical journey and how the piece inspired Genevieve to create her new album and live concert experience, Soliloquy. Catch a glimpse of Genevieve's virtuosity in the video above, captured by ABC Classics.

Tracing the Telemann diary

For a time in my adolescence I was possessed by a recording of Frans Brüggen playing the first of Telemann’s Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute. Something about the incantation of its opening was bewitching. I played it for my cousin’s funeral, the only thing I could think of to ease all that family pain. 

I never learned the other eleven properly. The first was too tightly wound with grief for me to imagine a relationship with any of the others. Yet not so long ago, on the final leg of a long-haul flight, somewhere high over a snowbound landscape, I surprised myself by scribbling Telemann’s title in my journal. Unexpected things emerge on planes; in that suspended state I often find myself dreaming and making lists. 

Re-reading my gnomic scribble during that magical week between Christmas and New Year, the year ahead dancing with the promise of something unknown, the old one quietly slipping away, I thought of devoting myself to one fantasia a month. I like their solitude. Climbing inside them, I can hear the workings of a brilliant mind. They’re private. Introvert. They could be my personal diary for the year ahead. 

I thought a lot that year about the compulsions of an artist in pursuit of an idea, the quiet obsessions that shape the way we live. 

Some composers make your instrument sing. Telemann played the recorder, among other instruments. You can feel that he had its contours in his hands, its voice in his ears. His recorder pieces fall out of your fingers, as though they were always there. 

These fantasias are written for flute. A cousin instrument, but not the same. Part of Telemann’s project with these fantasias is to trace the very different colours and moods of different keys. In the eighteenth century, musicians didn’t tune to equal temperament, the way a modern piano is tuned, where the space between every note is exactly the same. Instruments tuned to more complex systems, more idiosyncratic ones that for me, are more sensual, expressive. 

A recorder has no keys, nothing to help you play those chromatic black notes on a modern piano. You create those pitches by using complex fingerings, which veil the natural resonance of the instrument. These notes have colours that are often muted, fragile, unstable. So as well as being physically tricky to produce, their sound is quite particular. Old instruments like the recorder, and the wooden transverse flute that these pieces were written for, have beautifully uneven voices. In the eighteenth century, beauty was in part the unequal nature of these instruments, not the much more mechanised, uniform singing of later inventions. 

So when he writes in C minor (with three flats) for an instrument that has a home key of D major (two sharps), Telemann knew that almost every note would be delicate. As a player, this means that you are faced with some extreme technical challenges – pretty much every note has a convoluted finger pattern, which makes dexterity, speed, leaps, all quite clumsy. But the glory of these pieces is to revel in their awkwardness, the not-quite-right-ness, the fact that these difficulties throw you on the mercies of your own vulnerability, which brings out such wonderful qualities in sound, and in you as a person-player. 

Tracing this Telemann diary was acutely personal. It became a soliloquy – a series of moments out of time, out of earshot, diving ever deeper into sound, into memory, dream, and wonder. 

Genevieve Lacey performs Soliloquy, in collaboration with a creative team directed by Gideon Obarzanek in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall on Thursday 22 November 7:30pm. Discover more about the concert and book tickets here

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