Introduction to Telemann's F Dorian (F Minor) Sonata. Terry B. Ewell presents information on the best editions, melodic and harmonic aspects of the composition, and further details on the accompaniment. Music by Terry B. Ewell, Eva Mengelkoch, and Frances Borowsky.  BDP #301.

<music: Telemann F Dorian Sonata, 3rd movement by Terry B. Ewell, bassoon, Eva Mengelkoch, harpsichord, and Frances Borowsky, cello.>

Welcome to this series of videos on this famous work by Telemann for the bassoon. I am Terry Ewell. This video will provide a brief introduction to the Sonata, which will give the context for the later videos.

Georg Philipp Telemann was a German Baroque composer, whose fame during his time was established by his musical genius as well as his work ethic. Part of the popularity of this Sonata lies not only with the quality of the composition, but also with the reputation of Telemann, who composed abundantly in every genre of music available in his day. In all it is estimated that he composed over 3,000 musical works.

We are fortunate to have three marvelous works written for the solo bassoon. Before I discuss the Sonata in more detail, I want to bring to your attention two other works that have been published just over two decades ago. Telemann’s Sonatinas in C minor (or C Dorian) and A minor are two marvelous works that deserve just as much performance time as the F Minor Sonata. The A minor Sonatina in particular is an extraordinary composition.

The history of the two Sonatinas is quite interesting. The bassoon solo part has been available for centuries but the continuo part, the accompaniment, was lost. There are two modern printings of the works. In the Amadeus version of the piece the editor guesses on what that accompaniment might have been and unfortunately is not very successful in several places. The discovery of an old violin manuscript of the work, however, has allowed for the restoration of the continuo part in the Schott edition. Editions of the A minor Sonatina are available on including the discovered violin edition.

The most famous of the three solo works for bassoon is the masterpiece commonly called the Sonata in F Minor. Actually, it really should be called the Sonata in F Dorian.

The authoritative edition of the Sonata can be found for free on It is also reprinted in the Amadeus version of the work. Let’s take a look at this so that we can better understand the composition.

Here is the authoritative edition of the work. You will see that it comes from the publication Der getreue Music-Meister. On page 44 of this collection of Telemann’s music, you find the solo bassoon music on the top and the continuo part on the bottom. The little squiggle marks at the end of the lines indicate where the next note is. This is a very polite way at that time of showing the next note. For instance, you can see on the first line at the end a squiggle with a line through it that indicates a C above the clef, the staff, and the next note for bassoon is a C above the staff.

This is a copy, not the original manuscript (I must add as well).

On the last page it indicates that this composition could also be played on flute.
Notice the unusual key signature. Here we have some of the flats duplicated on the staff. Reducing the duplicates leaves us with three flats, Bb, Eb, Ab. This means that the work is not in F minor or F Aeolian rather it is in F Dorian. Now, the Dorian mode is different in Telemann’s mind than minor. Compositions in the Baroque period, particularly those in the Germanic regions, didn’t fit only two categories—major and minor. Compositional choices were not just binary but could include Dorian and Aeolian modes, each of which had a different expression or compositional meaning for many composers. Employing modes instead of major and minor was common for J. S. Bach as well as Telemann. The monograph by Joel Lester, Between Modes and Keys: German Theory 1592-1802, brilliantly explains the mindset of Germanic composers.

In it he states:

“As late as the generation of Haydn and Mozart, German theorists of the stature of Kirnberger were still insisting on the importance of knowledge of the modes for composers and performers alike.”

Well, I don’t understand what the full meaning a particular mode would have meant for Telemann. Perhaps each mode expressed a certain sentiment for him. But I have several ideas of why Telemann chose the Dorian mode rather than the Aeolian mode in this composition. This is an absolutely seminal decision that influences the composition on several levels. Let me explain this to you.

The Dorian mode with three flats has a D natural in the scale. This differs from the Aeolian mode, with four flats, that has a Db as part of the scale. The Aeolian mode became the standard way to express the minor key in the Baroque period and later. A Db in the Aeolian mode is part of the scale collection and thus has no constraints for resolution. That scale member could move upward or downward. Notice, however, that when a Db is introduced into a Dorian scale, it must be expressed with an accidental. The accidental is an alert to both the composer and the performer that something is different, and this note needs to be treated with special care. This special treatment of Db and in particular the downward movement after the note is an important feature of the first movement.
Here is the first page as given in the authoritative edition. Notice that I put red lines over those notes where that Db in the first movement resolves downward. This is a very important and prominent feature in the first movement.

Any accidental in the music during the Baroque period not only draws the attention of the eye, but also triggers the mind to look for how this out-of-key-note will be resolved. Here the half step resolution downward is required and appears frequently in the movement.

Furthermore, in this composition the use of the Dorian mode restricts harmonic choices in the composition. In typical minor compositions the work often features a movement in the relative major of the key. For instance, an A minor composition will have a C major movement. This is not the case with Telemann’s F Dorian Sonata. The third movement features the dominant, C minor, rather than the relative major key, Ab major.

The third movement is unusually because there is a play between E flat and E natural. The E flat fits the Dorian mode. However, the E natural allows for the C chord to be the dominant of F.

Now, the F Dorian Sonata is not the only work where Telemann makes use of modes. For instance, Telemann’s Zwanzig kleine Fugen [Twenty Small Fugues] presents carefully crafted modal compositions evidenced by his tables in the preface.

So, when Telemann chose the Dorian mode in this composition, it was not just a haphazard selection.  The Dorian mode imposes relationships with the composition’s melody and harmonies.

Well, let’s move on.

It is important to understand that most Baroque Sonatas are two-part compositions. They have one melody in the treble (or bass) clef and one melody in the bass clef. This is quite different than most compositions in the Classical and Romantic periods.

You can see the two melodies quite clearly in the second movement. The movement starts with a clear melody in the bassoon. There is a supporting melody, which looks more like a harmonic part in the bass. You can see that the bass line picks up that melody during the time that the bassoon is resting.

It is extremely important that performers realize that Baroque chamber compositions are really conversations between equal partners. Yes, the bass part has the responsibility of anchoring the harmony, but unlike most bass parts in Classical and Romantic music, these lower lines are really melodies as well. For this reason, many of the Baroque Sonatas make excellent duets.

The lower line is called the continuo part. The lower line should be performed by two instruments not just one. The bass line could be played with a cello or bassoon. In addition, the left hand of the harpsichord player or sometimes organ player would double this bass line providing even more volume and balance to the solo part.

The numbers given in the music provide guidance on the harmonies to be played. In a sense, Baroque music has more in common with Jazz than Classical music. All the notes performed are not printed in Baroque music. It is a bit like a chart in Jazz in which it is expected that the musicians would add their personal touch with improvisation. The numbers would be realized or expressed with the right of the harpsichord player. Players at that time created new accompaniments in the right hand at each reading.

Well, now that you have a brief overview of the composition it is now time for you to understand common mistakes that occur in performances of the work. Please see the next video.

<music: Telemann F Dorian Sonata, 4th movement by Terry B. Ewell, bassoon, Eva Mengelkoch, harpsichord, and Frances Borowsky, cello.>