Posts tagged ‘musicology’

October 12, 2015

Valtice – Johannes Matthias Sperger: Sinfonia F-Dur (Ankunfts-Sinfonie)

by ada

Another post in the Travel Series, because I’m totally taking this seriously! This time it’s about Johannes Matthias Sperger, an Austrian composer and double bass player, born in Valtice (which at the time, as part of the Habsburg empire, was called Feldsberg), just about four months before Johann Sebastian Bach died.*

Although according to contemporary sources a virtuoso double bass player, Sperger wasn’t a particularly interesting person, neither did he have a very unusual life (for 18th century standards, that is), so unfortunately there isn’t much to tell about him. He was born (obviously), learnt to play the double bass from Johann Georg Albrechtsberger***, worked for the Hungarian nobility (specifically for Batthyány József and Erdődy Lajos), entered Freemasonry, lost his job, toured Europe and finally ended up at the Ludwigslust court of Friedrich Franz I. He died in some Salmonella infection at the age of 62, and nobody remembers him anymore but the double bass players because nobody has ever composed for the double bass but Sperger and Dittersdorf so they have to appreciate every tiny piece of music they’ve got, poor guys.

Here is a photo of Valtice, in case you’ve already forgotten how it looks. It’s very likely not the same view as Sperger got to enjoy it about 250 years ago, but it’s still rather nice.

Valtice Chateau 117

I decided to post the only work of Sperger that has any historical relevance: the Sinfonia F-Dur, also called Ankunfts-Sinfonie, composed in 1796 for the king Friedrich Wilhelm II von Preußen, a decent violoncello player himself. It is a reference to Joseph Haydn’s Sinfonie Nr 45, the famous Abschieds-Sinfonie, written in 1772 for the prince Esterházy Miklós József.

* and he died just a week before Joseph Wölfl did**

** finding a correlation between intimate biographical details of insignificant composers totally helps you navigate in the jungle of music history, haha

*** a post on him is coming too****, because remember? It was only a few months ago that I went to his birthplace

**** I’m bursting with unnecessary information on the lives and times of minor composers, all deceased at least two hundred years ago, so hold on! Only a few decades until I retire and will have All The Time to write All The Blog Posts!

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September 18, 2015

Mödling – Ludwig van Beethoven: Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, Nr. 29 Op. 106

by ada

When the idea of the Travel Series first occurred to me, it seemed totally feasible. Like, go to places and then write about their relevance in classical music. Well, as it turns out, I do the first part (“go to places”) really well, but have some serious problems regarding the second. I visited Mödling exactly five months ago, managed to post my photos of it only one month later, and then life happened and everything became more important than Ludwig van Beethoven, whose music I don’t really fancy anyway.

But now! I still have 35 minutes left of my lunch break and I’m determined to use it the right way and show the world the places where Beethoven spent 5 summers of his life composing great music like the Diabelli-Variations (I’ve never got over the third variation, because it is so boring I am no pianist), the Mödlinger Tänze (which later turned out to not be from Beethoven at all), the Missa Solemnis (vocal works written after 1790 make me nervous) and the somewhat weird Piano Sonata Nr 29, one of the two sonatas he wrote specifically for the fortepiano.

Beethoven spent the summers of 1818-1819-1820 in this house, called Hafnerhaus, owned at the time by the potter Jakob Tuschek:

Untitled 6

And this is where he wrote the biggest part of his Missa Solemnis in the summer of 1820:

Untitled 136

And here is Beethoven himself, looking wild and dark, as usual:

Untitled 18

And now, after this totally uninformative introduction, let’s listen to the 4. movement (Introduction and Fuga) of the great sonata for fortepiano, Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier, Nr. 29 Op. 106, written during the troublesome* summer of 1818 on the first floor of the Hafnerhaus and dedicated to his student, the archbishop Rudolph of Austria.

* as it seems, neither housekeepers nor maids could put up with the temper tantrums of the great Beethoven for more than 4 weeks at a time, so he spent most of his time sitting in his room and being hungry while waiting for the maid who has already run away the evening before**

** doing something to help themselves is obviously not an option for geniuses. They have to either be served or keep starving. Going out to buy food is for lowly commons***

*** can you tell I don’t really like Beethoven?

April 1, 2015

music for Holy Tuesday – Johann Gottlieb Janitsch: Sonata da Camera in G minor

by ada

Instruments only for today’s music – one of the quartets that are so typical for the work of Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, the viola da gamba player of the Berlin court of the German emperor Friedrich II (der Große). Its third movement, an Adagio ma non troppo, is an adaptation of the old church hymn O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Originally written by Arnulf of Leuven in the 13th century as part of the religious poem Salve mundi salutare/Rhythmica oratio, translated to German by Paul Gerhardt in 1656, adapted to the melody of the love song Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret that appeared first in Hans Leo Haßler‘s 1601 collection Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng, by Johann Crüger already in 1640, but only published in 1656, in the sixth edition of his collection of Protestant church hymns Praxis pietatis melica, and still being a source of inspiration for Janitsch (and co.) somewhere around the middle of the 18th century – this hymn definitively has what we should call a fruitful career.

Although on this recording the melody instruments are the oboe, the violin and the viola, it was originally composed for two violas and the traverso. The latter most likely was played by Friedrich II himself, as he is known to have been an amateur but very enthusiastic and talented flute player (and a lover of music, literature and arts in general. And also a lover of potatoes, but that’s another story). My favourite travelling music historian, Charles Burney has witnessed him playing and, as reported in his Continental Travels 1770-1772, was “much pleased and even surprised” with the King’s musical production. He found it important to mention though, that the capacity of His Royal Lungs has noticeably declined with age and “he was obliged to take his breath, contrary to rule, before the passages were finished”. Poor Friedrich.

February 18, 2014

music of the week – Francesco Rasi: Ahi, fuggitivo ben

by ada

I have mentioned Francesco Rasi before: he was that wild, adventurous, and quite impetuous singer, who took the script of Claudio Monteverdi‘s opera L’Orfeo with him to Salzburg, where he, with the help of Archbishop Markus Sittikus, produced and sung the leading role of the first opera performance in the German world ever and became thereby responsible for that exaggerated Teuton love of operas, which, some 250 years later, resulted in Wagner‘s Götterdämmerung. I try really hard not to blame him for it.

Rasi was also on quite bad terms with his stepmother, and after murdering her servant who was in charge for her estate, he tried to kill her too. He didn’t succeed though and had to flee. He was condemned to death by the court of Arezzo so he took refuge at first in Prague and then in Salzburg. Apart of his murderous nature, Rasi was a very talented, virtuoso and well-known singer of his time, who was a student of Giulio Caccini and whom “not only Italy but even all Europe venerated.” * ** He also played various instruments and composed a few volumes of music, mostly short songs in the early seventeenth century style of pure monody. One of these songs is Ahi, fuggitivo ben from his 1608 collection Vaghezze di Musica per una voce sola, where he, from a perspective of the abandoned lover, complains about the misery of being a fugitive. The moral of the story? Don’t try to murder your relatives (or anybody, actually) if you want to lead a relaxed life and plan to retire at your birthplace.

* letter from Don Gregorio Rasi to his nephew Giulio Francesco Rasi around 1650

** He was also deeply impressed by the weapons of the Hungarian artillery which he encountered during his 1601 travels. Am I the only one to find this small detail of his life quite charming? Oh, those times when music was still real as life! Why, why do I have to live in this boring age of global warming, genetically modified food and tumblr aesthetics?

August 9, 2013

music of the week – Passacaglia from Georg Muffats collection Apparatus Musico-Organisticus

by ada

Georg Muffat was a fellow musician of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber at the Salzburg court of the Archbishops Max Gandolph Graf von Kuenburg and Johann Ernst Thun, between 1678-1690. He was lucky enough to study both the French and the Italian way of making music (oh those honest and uncomplicated times of the 17th century with only two main trends to compare and to believe in) and to meet the two leading and trend-creating personalities of the era: Jean-Baptiste Lully (yay to the French) and Arcangelo Corelli (hurrah for the Italian). In the preface of his collections Florilegium primum and Florilegium secundum, he gives very detailed instructions* on how to play “in the French manner”, like how to hold the bow, how to place the fingers, etc. He also claimed (himself) to be the very first musician to introduce the French style to the German-speaking part of Europe, which I’m not sure is a historically true statement, but he believed so. Whatever, he did a tremendous job in creating the very beginnings of the so-called “mixed style” which later evolved to the fully completed style of German Baroque.

* that’s what makes me so mad at all those ignorant musicians who claim that we can play Baroque music as we please, because we have no information about the performance practice of the pre-recording times. Because we do have. A lot. More than enough for a lifetime to study. Every time I hear modern pianists and symphonic orchestras play Baroque, I cringe from pain. It should not be that way. Musicians should be educated about music before letting them play that music. I’m a firm believer of thorough education.

July 25, 2013

music of the week – Johann Ernst Eberlin: Toccata and Fuga in D minor

by ada

Todays music is Toccata and Fuga in D minor, composed by Johann Ernst Eberlin, organist of the Salzburg Dom between 1726-1763. It could easily be mistaken for a particularly uninspired counterpoint study of Johann Sebastian Bach, because Eberlin was sort of old-fashioned, which is something I rather like in music (I will never forgive Richard Wagner what he did to tonality). I find this piece a bit boring though, as well as Eberlin, but in a way he is totally right: you can’t go wrong with good old quintfallsequenz; it never fails to do its job of touching the hearts.

May 14, 2012

music of the week (month, haha) – Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Sonata representativa for violino solo

by ada

Well, it was quite a time since my last music post, but blogging becomes somewhat difficult in the lack of own internet connection.

I was really tempted to put some Mozart here but it would be only too obvious. Luckily the Salzburger Hof always served as a center of music, so there are plenty of composers to choose from. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber von Bibern was a very famous composer and violin virtuoso of his time, and got quite unjustly forgotten. Now he is only known in early music and musicology circles. If I mention Mozart, the average people go Oooohh!!!; if I mention Biber, the usual reaction is only some Heh? (if not something like Oh, Justin is sooo cuuute! which makes me want to kill everybody around me).

Again I was tempted to show one of the Mysterien– or Rosenkranz-Sonaten (Rosary Sonatas), as The Work of Biber, but he composed so many other music that are worth for listening, that it was really easy to resist this temptation. I chose the Sonata representativa (Representatio Avium) instead, which is a funny piece that mimics animal sounds. All the animals and their musical manifestations are taken from Athanasius Kircher’s famous music treatise, Musurgia universalis, published in 1650. If you are interested in such obscure musical ideas of the 17th century as how to play piano with cats’ tails or how to compose music with logarithms (well, Kircher could easily be considered as the first composer of computer music, haha), or just want to know why do parrots say hello in ancient Hebrew, I really recommend you to read this book. It’s written in Latin but, being the bestseller of the era, was (partly) translated to German as soon as in 1662. Kircher himself gained an enormous popularity through writing this compendium, he received emotionally loaded fan letters from enthusiastic nuns from all over the world. I don’t know if Biber ever met him but it’s clear that he read and appreciated his book.

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