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The Complete Works recorded by Benedek Csalog, Alexis Kossenko & others, on period instruments – for free download
by Benedek Csalog
Since the start of the Quantz project, I have received many questions about the project, and I have had to talk about this initiative in interviews and radio broadcasts.
In the following, I will try to collect the most important questions that have been asked so far and answer them in as much detail as possible.
How did you come up with the idea to try to record more than 500 pieces written for the flute alone – later on together with Alexis Kossenko – and make them available to the public for free? How did Alexis get into the picture?
I have dreamed of such a project for a long time. A few years ago, right after my studies in The Hague – I was a student of Bart Kuijken – I performed all the chamber works for flute by C. P. E. Bach at 8 concerts with a two-week interval, that is, about 50 works. A few years later I repeated the same thing in Leipzig. A little later, I was supposed to perform 50 flute works by 50 baroque composers at 10 concerts in Budapest, but this series was interrupted halfway through due to organizational difficulties. But such big projects in principle inspire me a lot, and I like to learn new pieces, and not always play the same ones. While still studying in The Hague, I mastered the special tonguing technique, which is a necessary condition for the performance of the works of Quantz and other Potsdam and Berlin composers of that time. Last but not least, I prefer to play only first class pieces. It was obvious that sooner or later I would “arrive” for approx. 550 flute works by Quantz. These are truly first-class pieces with very high technical requirements. This is just a challenge for me.
While I only dreamed about it, time passed, and I did not have the opportunity to start, for various reasons. It was 2018 when I finally jumped in, but I realized that I was unlikely to be able to do it alone, without other partners, I had to get someone else to participate in the recordings. One of the best performers of this repertoire is Alexis Kossenko, a French flutist. I loved his recordings of C. P. E. Bach concerts, I was sure that I should ask him as a partner. I wrote him a long letter, to which he immediately replied very enthusiastically, and said that he had already thought about it and would be happy to cooperate.
I created the project’s website and recorded 11 sonatas in two sessions. If we add to this the material my two previous CDs, containing 7 flute sonatas and 4 flute concertos – these will be uploaded to the site soon – we are already at 22 works.
In the meantime, however, Alexis also became a very successful conductor. This is very good news, but due to his busy schedule, he will definitely not be able to record hundreds of flute concertos anytime soon. So the concept has changed a bit. I’m trying to record sonatas and asking other partners to record concertos and other works, along with Alexis of course, who I hope will record some of the pieces for the project. Invitations will be sent out soon to flutists I can imagine that they will be able to perform and record at a high level.
How does the website work? And why is this form – for free download and online distribution – needed?
It is a very simple concept. The pieces are recorded in CD quality at 44.1 KHz / 16 bit or even 96 kHz / 24 bit resolution. We will upload this to the website in MP3 format so it can be streamed or downloaded, of course for free of charge. We may create a paid page for the original resolution recordings later.
In addition to the recordings, the sheet music of the works can also be downloaded in the form of the best available contemporary manuscripts. In the coming weeks, I will be uploading sheet music of many other sonatas and concertos in addition to those already recorded. Thus, the-quantz-project.com site will be the best source for works, a kind of sounding library.
The classical music CD market has collapsed. Only a few stars can release new CDs and make profit out of them. Orchestras make recordings with very high public support, or possibly from private sponsorship. And only very few buy these CDs anyway.
Making recordings available for download for 1-2 dollars will not work either, because they are instantly stolen and made available for half the price, and as a result, in worse quality. It’s the same with YouTube, where the sound quality is worse than the original, and you still can’t make money on it. However, if I make it free in good quality MP3 format, it will get a big audience and it shouldn’t be stolen and sold for money to anyone in bad quality. And, perhaps, some of the enthusiastic listeners are ready to sacrifice money for audiophile or CD quality.
Is it realistic to record so many works in the foreseeable future?
No. But if we don’t do it now, then never. If I get bored halfway through or get that old I won’t play well enough, hopefully there will be someone to continue. But for now I am full of enthusiasm and energy. There have already been larger recording projects, for example Scott Ross’s recordings of the complete sonatas by D. Scarlatti or the complete recordings of Bach’s cantatas by Leonhardt and Harnoncourt.
Is it worth recording the full oeuvre at all, is this music interesting enough? Are the pieces attractive enough?
Yes, yes and yes. For some reason, in the middle of the last century it was customary to say about Quantz that he was a boring, dry, second-rate, pedantic composer. This was said about him by those who did not know any of his works. In fact, he was an extremely inventive, sensitive writer, with a wonderful sense of form and superb craftsmanship. He studied with the best masters of that time, personally knew all his important contemporaries, was familiar with the most modern trends in style. It is an incredible loss for modern flute players not to know this work.
How do you see Quantz’s place as a composer among his contemporaries?
His best works are comparable to the level of Telemann, C.P.E Bach, Vivaldi, and other eminent composers of his time.
What sheet music do you play from? Very few works have been published so far …
Mostly from handwritten copies located in the immediate vicinity of Quantz. Most of the original manuscripts are lost, but almost all of his works are available thanks to the work of excellent scribes, his colleagues. Sometimes the state libraries in Berlin and Dresden even have two or three equivalent handwritten copies of many works, well preserved and relatively easily accessible. The publication of “modern” editions began in the middle of the 20th century, at first they were not very good. But in recent decades, excellent publications have also appeared, for example, Rachel Brown published some of them. I also had a release with several sonatas from the Hungarian publishing house EMB. However, the publication of the entire composition does not make sense anyway, because modern manuscripts are perfectly readable, and soon all these well-preserved notes will be available on my website. I also plan to find volunteers to record the pieces in a music notation program with an additional basso continuo implementation. In the original manuscripts there are only figured basses, many harpsichordists and pianists, unfortunately, cannot play them.
How can this project be funded if there is no income generated? Do you pay for it all?
As I mentioned, later we can ask for money for the audiophile version of the records. But I’m hoping to rely on crowdfunding first, while I’ve launched two crowdfunding campaigns. Unfortunately, I started the project at the most inopportune moment, a few weeks before Covid hit. Unfortunately, both campaigns generated far less than expected. But I am very grateful to the donors for allowing the project to continue.
Of course, I cover the deficit myself, but my possibilities are very limited, which is why the project is moving slowly.
I hope it will be easier to find sponsors as the recording progresses. There would be a great need for a manager who would also be in charge of fundraising.
In any case, the website has a ‘Donate’ button, just click on it and you can already support the project.
Another important change in the financing and implementation of the project is that I decided to record the works myself in order to be a flutist, sound engineer and music director all rolled into one. This will make it much cheaper to record the sonatas, so we can move faster. I bought the minimum necessary equipment with private subsidies and also mastered this profession.
If there were no financial and organizational constraints, I could record 6 sonatas every two weeks, which means that in less than two years it would be possible to complete the recording of 200 sonatas.
Wouldn’t it be worth involving a lot more flutists?
Well, I have special expectations for flutists who may be involved in the project: using a Quantz flute copy with a pitch of around 390-400 Hz, because Quantz preferred that pitch. This is even lower than today’s standard baroque pitch of 415 Hz.
The use of contemporary techniques is expected, I have already mentioned Quantz’s special tonguing technique. And of course one needs a good knowledge of the style, a thorough knowledge of the information available.
And the pieces are tricky. There are many very good baroque flutists, but few of them have the special motor skills required for these virtuosic pieces. It’s also not easy to get good partners, a low-pitched harpsichord, and recording funds at the same time.
There are only a few baroque flute players in the world who shall meet these requirements, and are as fanatic as myself.
Is the reception of the project measurable?
Yes. We have recorded many thousands of downloads and website visits, are reading rave reviews, and are seeing increasing traffic to our Facebook page.
Will there be concerts from the recorded or to be recorded works?
It would be great, but in these difficult times it is difficult to plan anything. Next year marks the 250th anniversary of Quantz’s death, which could open up opportunities for invitations to new concerts. And the income from such concerts could help finance the project.
What are the next steps?
These days I’m working on updating the wwbsite to reflect the new concept. I am also uploading about 20 new sheetmusic. The next recordings will take place in mid-March and will be uploaded to the site immediately after editing. We are talking about the recording of 6 sonatas in Budapest with two excellent partners playing the harpsichord. And I’m also uploading some of my previous CD recordings, so many recordings and sheet music will be available on the-quantz-project.com soon!
The Hungarian baroque flutist Benedek Chalog, winner of the most prestigious early music competitions (Bruges, Orlando, Melk), graduated from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague under Bart Kuijken.
As a soloist he performs throughout Europe, the USA, Brazil, Japan and the Middle East and has been invited to perform as a soloist at important early music festivals such as Musicora Paris, Holland Festival, Festival van Vlaanderen, Innsbruck Festival, St. Petersburg Festival.
As a soloist he has recorded 12 CDs, including the Complete Flute Sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach (Ramée label).
Benedek Csalog used to teach baroque flute at the Leipzig Music Academy, Germany and at the Bydgoszcz Academy of Music, Poland, and gives master-classes in Europe, Russia, Brazil and Japan. He is regularly invited to teach at the Tchaikovsky Conservatorium and the Gnessin School, Moscow.
Benedek Csalog has taught baroque flute at the Leipzig Academy of Music in Germany and at the Bydgoszcz Academy of Music in Poland, and also gives master classes in Europe, Russia, Brazil and Japan. He is regularly invited to teach at the Conservatory named after P.I.Tchaikovsky and the Gnessin School in Moscow.
In addition to concert activity, in 2019, together with Alexis Kossenko, he began recording a complete work for flute by J. Quantz (about 550 pieces) and has already published several sonatas on the The-Quantz-Project.com website.