The Gulliver Suite (1728)

February 4th, 2009

Reposted from a blog entry I wrote for an English course that I was TF’ing.

Two years after Gulliver’s Travels was published, it was set to music in Germany. Georg Philipp Telemann’s Gulliver Suite is one of twenty five “lessons” serialized in The Steadfast Music Teacher for the enjoyment of music makers at home. The suite, written for two violins, became an instant sensation. After all, who wouldn’t want to follow Gulliver on his exciting journey?

Like Swift, Telemann was interested in the body human, and in particular, the body in movement. Swift’s satire gave Telemann the idea for a programmatic dance suite, each of whose movements imagines Swift’s characters in terms of musical gestures. Some short excerpts follow.

More bold than stately, the opening procession sees Gulliver off on his voyage.

Download Intrada (0:10)

The chaconne has music as sprightly as the little people it depicts.

Download Lilliputian Chaconne (0:17)

By contrast, the gigue imitates the clumsy steps of giants. Gigues are typically fast-moving dances. This one, not so much.

Download Brobdingnagian Gigue (0:20)

The music of the Laputans is precious to the point of sleep-inducing, hence the title, reverie.

Reverie of the Laputans and their attendant flappers (0:10)

The fifth and final dance, a loure, sets the civilized against the barbaric.” Can you guess which violin is which?

Download Loure of the Well-Mannered Houyhnhnms and Wild Dance of the Untamed Yahoo (0:25)

Lastly, here is what score for the Lilliputian Chaconne and Brobdingnagian Gigue looks like. You don’t need to know how to read music to understand the visual joke being played here.

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