Posts tagged ‘Travel Series’

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!

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?

September 17, 2014

Piran – Sonata for flauto traverso and continuo in G major by Giuseppe Tartini

by ada

I was planning to do a Travel Series ever since I visited Burano island, the birthplace of Baldassare Galuppi, father of the musical genre opera buffa, uhm, well, one and a half years ago. My original plan was to complete my poor, abandoned Salzburg Series which, I’m afraid, will remain unfinished (just like some other great works of music history, like Schubert’s Unvollendete Symphonie, haha) and start other new, shiny series (I am bursting with ideas. Jewish Baroque liturgical music! Female Baroque composers! The Devil in music! La Folia! The seasons! Death! Love! Animals!). Oh well. I’m slowly losing all my illusions regarding My Own Self lately and it is time to acknowledge the – rather obvious – fact that I do not have that perseverative, ambitious personality that leads to quick (or rather, any) success. And that I need more time than other, healthy people to accomplish less than other, healthy people. But it’s the will that matters, isn’t it?

So let’s make at least one of my ideas happen and start the Travel Series with Giuseppe Tartini. He was born in 1692 in Piran as the son of the director of the still existing Piran salt mines. He, like most of the musicians of his time, was a man with a thorough education. Besides music he also studied humanities and law. Because he was quite the rebel, he defied the will of his parents who wanted him to become a priest and got married at the age of 18. After this he was forced to flee to Assisi without his wife for three years. That’s where he began to play the violin in an autodidact way and where that memorable encounter with the Devil happened, which resulted in his most famous work, the sonata Il trillo del diavolo (The Devil’s Trill). After years of travelling, he settled in Padua where he spent his life teaching the violin, composing and writing his main and heavily criticised theoretical work, Trattato di Musica, based on (mostly erroneous) mathematical calculations. One of his ideas (or rather observations) proved to be right though and so he discovered the existence of the “terzo suono”, the “third tone”. These are the additional tones that you can hear when an interval of two tones are played at the same time. They are also called combination tones (sum tones or difference tones, depending on if it’s the summation or the difference of the frequencies of the original two tones). This is the basic phenomenon behind the medical examination used to evaluate the hearing capacities of newborn babies and to diagnose tinnitus. So after 300 years, Tartini’s discovery has found a practical use other than tuning the violin. Oh well. A late recognition is better than no recognition at all.

The Piran people are rather proud of the “maestro della nazioni”, as Tartini was lovingly called by his contemporaries for his extraordinary teaching skills (you can read his educational letter to his pupil, Maddalena Lombardini, translated to English by one of my favourite people, the travelling music historian of the 18th century, Charles Burney, here), so they named Piran’s main square after him:

Piran Tartinijev trg

Here is he conducting the Piran roofs, tourists and pigeons in eternity:

Piran Tartini sculpture 1

There is a small exhibition in the house Tartini was born, but it is not allowed to take pictures, so here is the photo of my (rather worn) sandals on the stairs that lead to the exhibition room. Just to prove I was in fact there, haha. (Okay, so these could be any stairs anywhere but believe me. They are real Piranian Tartini stairs. Even if they are neither old nor historical enough to be original.)

Tartini house Piran 1

I was tempted to post a recording of the The Devil’s Trill, because it is a piece of music everybody has heard of, and also because although it is a piece of music everybody has heard of, it is also a melody nobody can actually recall; but mainly because I have a lot to say about the Devil and His deeds. Unfortunately I am a very picky audience and am also very hard to please. Of all the recordings YouTube has to offer I only found one that makes my standards and it abruptly ends a few tacts into the third movement. The other recordings are mostly that middle 20th century kind of crap with overused vibrato and symphonic settings I get nightmares from (while I am an honest admirer of both David Oistrakh and Itzakh Perlman when playing Romantic repertoire, I refuse to listen to them playing Baroque. It hurts so much). So I took comfort in being (or rather having been, once upon a time? Depression really sucks) a traverso player and picked the flute sonata performed by Jed Wentz whom I was Facebook friends with during my carefree, pre-depression times (okay, so during the times I was slowly, painfully slipping into depression over the period of long, long years). It is a nice sonata even if it’s nothing spectacular. Tartini was a great teacher but, obviously, not a very exciting composer.

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