Grand and neglected chamber works of the early Romantic era
Admission: $20 (adults), $15
(students and seniors)
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Grand Quintetto Op.
5 for fortepiano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn
Grand Septet for clarinet,
bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass
Adagio for clarinet and strings Heinrich Bärmann
Trio Op. 36 for fortepiano, clarinet and cello
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In this concert we present three chamber works painted on a grand canvas, and one little morsel, by composers whose lives spanned the late Classical and early Romantic periods, and whose efforts deserve to be better known than they are. The word "delusions" in our title refers not so much to the music (or to ourselves!), as to the association of three of the composers with notorious misattribution of compositions. The story of this misattribution is a telling comment on how we sometimes excessively venerate the work of the "great masters", while failing to appreciate that of the lesser lights...
The fame and the considerable body of compositions of Friedrich Witt (1770-1836) never spread very far from Würzburg in Germany, where he spent most of his career as Kapellmeister. (To borrow the subtly scathing words of a certain well known Toronto music critic - not originally applied to Witt! - he had a "regional career".) Witt's reputation is unfortunately tarnished by the so-called Jena Symphony, which upon its "discovery" in 1909 was hailed as a youthful work of Beethoven. When in 1957 it was established that Witt was the author, it was suddenly noticed that the symphony was heavily derivative of Haydn - some references even use the word plagiarism - and the acclaim turned to condemnation; apparently the young Beethoven would have been forgiven for copying Haydn, but not poor old Witt!
The appeal of the Grand Quintetto Op. 5 for fortepiano and winds, however, makes us wish that Witt's music were better known. Following the instrumental combination pioneered by Mozart and then Beethoven, the Quintetto deserves a place in the company of the quintets of those masters.
It's somewhat mysterious why the highly appealing, innovative and well crafted music of the Swedish composer Franz Berwald (1796-1868) failed to receive its due recognition during his lifetime. Nowadays Berwald is recognized as a composer worthy of note, though regrettably, this is perhaps partly because of the novelty of his nationality. He received his baptism as a musician as a violinist in the Royal Swedish Opera orchestra in his native Stockholm, following which he embarked on a career as a composer, at which, however, he never managed to achieve financial success. The list of other occupations which Berwald pursued in order to make ends meet displays his eclectic abilities: founder of a pioneering orthopaedic institute in Berlin (whose methods were still in use until the early 1900s); manager of a sawmill, a glass works and a brick and tile factory; and progressive writer on social issues.
The Grand Septet in Bb uses the same instrumentation at Beethoven's Septet, which was a concert favourite in Stockholm as elsewhere in the early 1800s. Berwald's Septet was published in 1828 - probably not coincidentally, the same year as the Schubert Octet - but may be a reworking of an earlier (and now lost) septet from 1817. Its melodic charm, effective instrumental writing and structural interest justify the Septet's position as the most often performed of Berwald's works.
"Never more beautiful tones" was one among many glowing endorsements of the playing of Heinrich Bärmann (1784-1847), the preeminent clarinettist in Germany in the early 19th century and the player for whom most of the clarinet music of Carl Maria von Weber, among others, was written. Based in Munich, where he served as prinicpal clarinettist in the court orchestra for forty years in addition to his career as a travelling virtuoso, Bärmann was also a composer in his own right, producing a large body of music, mostly for his own instrument (in fact, Weber's clarinet parts contain a significant amount of input from Bärmann).
Like most of Bärmann's works, the Quintet/Septet No. 3 in Eb for clarinet and strings with optional horns, dating from 1820, has largely disappeared from the public ear, with the exception of the Adagio movement, which was later republished - by the same prestigious company that originally issued the complete Quintet! - under the name of Richard Wagner. Thus, for nearly a century it has been entrenched in the clarinet repertoire as the "Wagner Adagio". Though Wagner was certainly no stranger to delusions of grandeur, at least he was not personally to blame for this fraud.
The reluctant law studies of Anton Eberl (1765-1807) were mercifully cut short when his family ran out of the necessary money, forcing him to fall back on music in order to make a living (such is the irony of life!). Born and raised in Vienna, he was befriended and encouraged by Mozart - it's not clear whether he was actually Mozart's student - whose music became a model for Eberl's compositions. Starting in the late 1780s, publishers began issuing a number of Eberl's piano works under Mozart's name, and this practice continued throughout his life, despite his strenous efforts (and Constanze Mozart's) to correct the record. Even as late as 1944, Eberl's Symphony in C was advertised, at its modern era premiere performance, as an "unknown Mozart symphony". Eberl and his music were held in high regard in his lifetime, in many eyes as the equal of Beethoven, and his early death was mourned as the loss of a significant artist.
Despite the early influence of Mozart, Eberl's later writing moved sustantially towards a more Romantic idiom, sometimes even foreshadowing Chopin and Liszt. The Grand Trio Op. 36 for fortepiano, clarinet and cello, written in 1806, is in a generally more conservative style. Following the model of Beethoven's Trio Op. 11, it fulfils its billing as being grander and more ambitious, making considerably higher demands on the performers and their instruments.
Our picture for this concert, the castle of Neuschwanstein built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, may not quite fit the period of the music - in a fake Mediaeval style but not begun until 1869 - but nothing symbolizes delusion of grandeur more than this disastrously expensive folly. (Hmm... does that remind us of producing chamber music concerts?!)
The last years of the 18th century witnessed the rapid evolution of the Classical fortepiano into instruments recognisably on the path towards modern pianos. The fortepiano of the 1780s and 90s, as built by numerous makers in Vienna and South Germany, had a small range of normally five octaves (FF to f’’’), and either knee levers or hand stops instead of pedals to raise the dampers and to apply muting. A lightweight wooden frame with consequent low string tension, leather covered hammers, and light, simple, direct action combined to produce an incisive, percussive sound with little volume or sustaining power, and a touch that encouraged subtle articulation. In this concert we use a modern reproduction by Thomas and Barbara Wolfe of a Viennese fortepiano by the Schanz brothers, ca. 1790. The development of this instrument into pianos of the modern type, which began shortly before 1800, was paralleled by a fundamental change in the way it was played, with the earlier, mostly separated, harpsichord-influenced approach being replaced by a dominantly legato style. (Only a couple of decades after Mozart’s heyday, Beethoven asserted that Mozart “used a technique entirely unsuited to the piano”.)
Woodwind instruments of the Classical period were built according the dictum that keys and pads were a regrettable necessity to be avoided if at all possible, being unreliable and detrimental to the tone, and consequently a were equipped with a minimum of keys. The poor or idiosyncratic notes which inevitably resulted were either carefully avoided by composers, or regarded as part of the character of the instrument. To provide the flexibility to deal with unevenness of the scale, a much lighter, more subtle playing approach was employed compared with the present day. As with keyboard and string instruments, playing style emphasized articulation rather than long legato lines. The increasing technical demands of music from the late 1790s onwards, however, necessitated the addition of more keywork and eventually, by 1820 or so, led to the complete redesign of the instruments, which at the same time became more powerful and less subtle. (The rapidity of the mechanical revolution in woodwinds in the early 19th century can be judged from the fact that the saxophone was patented only 19 years after Beethoven’s death!)
The natural horn, or hand horn, or Waldhorn, was the horn used in orchestras and chamber ensembles through the Classical period. It achieved a full chromatic scale by means of interchangeable crooks and the complex, difficult technique of hand stopping, which gave it a tone quality that frequently varied dramatically from note to note; in general the sound was more veiled and less brassy than with a modern horn. The invention of valves in the early 19th century was controversial; while some players and composers welcomed the much easier technique, greater freedom of modulation, greater power and more homogeneous tone of the new valve horn, others decried the loss of the distinctive sound and character of the natural horn.
The fundamental design of the bodies
of stringed instruments had reached its current state by the late 17th
century; subsequent development took place in the areas of the neck and
fingerboard, the strings and the bow. The Classical period and the
early 19th century were a time of transition, during which heavier soundposts
and bass bars were fitted. At the same time, the short, highly arched
Baroque bow gave way first to a “transitional” bow and then to the modern
style, Tourte pattern bow, with its longer, stronger, concave stick and
wider, tighter, more readily adjusted bowhair. The holding position
of the bow changed correspondingly. All of this led to an evolution
in the idioms of bowing, articulation and musical expression, the emphasis
switching from delicate articulation to smooth legato, and more power and
projection. Strings until well into the 20th century remained a combination
(with many regional differences) of plain gut, twisted gut or - for the
larger strings - gut core with silver or copper winding. In this
performance a cello of the Baroque model is used, with gut strings and
a Classical bow. The cello endpin did not enter general use until
the mid 19th century.
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