About rod

My name is Rod Hart. I live in Edinburgh. I read a lot and write. Two novels have appeared so far. To keep my brain turning over, I am also learning Swedish.

Mozart Symphony No 19, K132

A café I go to plays classical music. I was told that they change the type of music they play according to the time of day, so maybe by the evening they’re playing heavy metal. But they start the day with classical, I’m on the go early and this suits me fine. Especially since the music they play is rarely vocal – except at Christmas time, when they zap the unwary traveler with carols whether the Good News has reached them yet or not.

I find that if music has words it interferes with what passes for my thought process, which also uses words.

On one occasion last week I was innocently sitting in this haven of rest catching up with the news when the background music nipped smartly into the foreground. They were playing the minuet from Mozart’s Symphony No 19 in Eb, K132. I was amazed to hear it because, like other of his early symphonies, it hardly ever appears in concert programmes. It was written in July 1772 when Mozart was 16.

The work is in four movements, though Mozart wrote an alternative slow movement, as he did for the Paris Symphony of 1778. My recording gives both, and both are excellent. The first time I heard this symphony I was stopped in my tracks by the minuet and trio because the trio is modal.

At this point I will insert a brief digression concerning my father, now departed the scene. He was an excellent pianist, very much better than I have ever been. But on a visit to Russia he returned with a number scores where he was clearly biting off more than he could chew. For example, among the pieces he brought back was Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata. As might be expected from this composer, this piece is fiendishly difficult.

During our discussion of the music he had brought back I happened to mention tone and semi-tone intervals –  only to be pole-axed by his refusal to admit that such a distinction existed. I played him whole tone intervals (C to D) and semi-tone intervals (E to F) but it did no good. According to him they both sounded the same. So he was better at doing it and I was better at knowing what it was he was doing. Here endeth the digression.

In these happy times of ours there are thought to be two types of scale, major and minor. By convention, minor is deemed to be sad, though there is nothing intrinsically sad about it. And what is the difference between these two types of scale? In both there are two semi-tone intervals, the only difference lying in where these semi-tone intervals occur. That’s it. (Two semitone intervals are visible on a piano or electronic keyboard where two white notes are side by side with no black note between them.)

What does this have to do with Mozart’s Symphony No 19? The trio section of the minuet uses neither major nor minor but a type of scale known as a mode. Mozart uses modes so rarely you don’t heard it coming unless you know the piece, and here he uses one to great effect –  increased, I would say, by the fact that the minuet on either side of it is both strong and austere.

Beethoven also used modes on rare occasions, perhaps the best known being in the slow movement of the Quartet Op 132 (the Heiliger Dankgesang).

The modes are referred to by Greek names, Dorian, Lydian, and so on. Again, what defines them is where the semi-tone intervals occur. For anyone wanting more information on this subject, here is a link to the relevant Wikipedia entry.

http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Music_Theory/Modes

Another  notable feature of this symphony is the use of four horns, as in the Divertimento K131 which I mentioned in a previous post. Here, two of the horns are marked in the score as ‘alto’ and hit quite high notes from time to time.

I can’t find a recording of Symphony No 19 with vision as well as sound, but in this sound-only version the minuet begins at 9.28 into the recording and the modal trio at 11.18.

Classical Horn Concertos

Haydn and Mozart both wrote concertos for the French horn. Haydn wrote his for players in his orchestra –  Thaddaus Steinmüller (first horn) making more use of upper register, and Carl Franz (second horn), making less use of higher registers, though he was also excellent at the higher pitch. Mozart wrote his horn concertos for his friend Joseph Leutgeb, the manuscripts being covered in jokes and, in one case, using different colours of ink.

Horn (instrument)

Horn (instrument) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Haydn and Mozart were not writing these concertos in a vacuum. Many more horn concertos were written in those days than later – not what you might expect, since they were composed for the natural horn rather than the valve horn we have now. It took a great deal of technique to play these works using a natural horn, mainly involving use of the hand in the bell of the instrument.

This post concerns two composers of the time. They both composed many works for the French horn and both died not long after Mozart.

Franz Anton Rösler (c1750-1792)

Antonio Rosetti

Rösler wrote 16 concertos for horn and orchestra and 7 concertos for two horns and orchestra, one of which is lost. He died the year after Mozart, but not before composing a requiem for him. Their composing careers covered the same period.

Rösler changed his name to Francesco Antonio Rosetti. Since there is reason to believe he never set foot in Italy, my guess is that he used the change of name for marketing purposes. (The conductor Sir Adrian Boult once quipped that his profile would have been higher had he been called Adriano Bolto.)

František Xaver Pokorný (1729-1794)

Pokorny

The name Pokorný means ‘humble’ in Czech, the surname is common, and correctly attributing works to this composer is something of a minefield since he was not the only composer of this name.  To make matters worse, after his death his surname was erased from many of  his works and replaced by the names of other composers by the intendant of the Regensburg orchestra, Theodor von Schacht. (Wikipedia) It is clear, however, that he was a prolific composer who wrote concertos both for solo horn and two horns.

Why would he do this? One reason may have been Beate Pokorný, a horn virtuosa who was very popular in the Paris Concerts Spirituels of the 1780s. According to http://www.allmusic.com she ‘was not Pokorny’s daughter, but may have been his sister.’ A presenter on BBC Radio 3 was recently of this view. (Either that or his researcher was.)

Whatever their relationship, it is good see a lady horn player achieving such distinction at any time.

Academic Postscript

The Haydn scholar H C Robbins Landon has suggested that Mozart may have been influenced by Rösler’s concertos. It is not known if Mozart heard any of them, but an advanced interest in the horn is clearly evident as early as the Divertimento K.131, which contains an amazing passage for four horns. It was written in 1772 when Mozart was 16. As Erik Smith points out (Mozart Serenades, Divertimenti and Dances) this passage ‘remained unique for half a century or more’.

 

Reinhold Glière

Reinhold Moritzevich Glière lived through the worst of the Soviet era and came through unscathed. The main reason for this seems to have been his style of composition, which was relatively conservative but also on occasion nationalistic. (His ballet, the Red Poppy was praised “as the first Soviet ballet on a revolutionary subject”.) Not only was he not attacked as Shostakovich and Prokofiev were, he was awarded honours. Some of these were medals, which clinked like a small percussion section as he walked along. He came to the concerto late in life, being sixty-three when he wrote his first, the Harp Concerto Op 74.

Gliere

The concerto is in the conventional three movements and lasts around 26 minutes. It is a very enjoyable work. My favourite recorded performance is by Les Concertos Vagabonds with Agnes Clément as soloist. (The talented Ms Clément is also a fine bassoonist.) Les Concertos Vagabonds perform the work with a reduced orchestra, which entails some reallocation of parts. The horn player is outstanding, which is just as well since he features a great deal in this version. Although performed with reduced forces in what comes close to a chamber arrangement, this performance does not come across as a chamber work thanks to the slightly reverberant acoustic.

Glière was capable of very heavy orchestration. For example, in his narrative Third Symphony he uses a large orchestra with quadruple woodwind to illustrate extracts from the life of the legendary hero, Ilya Muromets. An orchestra like this would have drowned out the harp, and though the orchestra for this concerto gives us solid orchestral tuttis, there are many stretches where the scoring approaches chamber quality, allowing the harp to make its mark. So performing it as Les Concertos Vagabonds do works very well.

The composer could not play the harp and sought the advice of the famous Russian harpist, Ksenia Alexandrovna Erdely (1878-1971). She made so many suggestions that he offered to credit her as co-composer, but she take did not take up the offer and the concerto was published as the work of Glière as edited by Erdely. This is only guess on my part, but it was probably knowing Erdely which led him to write this work in the first place – a piece of good fortune for harpists, because few composers have written a concerto for this instrument and this one is very good.

Glière was of German/Polish background but grew up in the Ukraine. He was married with five children. Sometimes when composing he would retreat to the garden, where he was to be seen even when it was raining – sheltering with his manuscript paper under a large table with his feet sticking out. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read this.)

As for Erdely, she lived a long and productive life and we know a lot about it thanks to her book, The Harp in my Life. As far as I know this book is only available in Russian, but a compressed account of her life may be found in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-century Harpists: A Bio-critical Sourcebook by Wenonah Milton Govea.

So, when did any of us last have a chance to hear this lovely concerto live in the concert hall? None of us? Well, there’s a surprise.

Composers of note

People interested in classical music are well aware of household names such as Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. There is a good reason for that since they are both notable composers. If we were in any doubt of this, concert programmes would confirm it. Beethoven symphonies and concertos are a staple of concert programmes, and Tchaikovsky is always well represented. A glance at the recording catalogue would reinforce this view. Conductors are given to recording ‘Beethoven cycles’ in much the same way as pianists like to record complete sets of Beethoven sonatas. A search of the Fifth Symphony on Presto, a well-known classical music website, brings up 39 pages listing recordings of this work, and each of these pages lists several recordings. We could reasonably ask how many recordings of this work we really need.  Conductors also like to record ‘Mahler Cycles’ primarily, it seems, for the Japanese market.

Some other composers are reasonably well represented in concert programmes too, such as Haydn, Mozart and Rachmaninov, but what has always amazed me is the composers who are seldom or never to be found in live concerts but whose music is well crafted and enjoyable. You would think that if music is well written and a pleasure to hear, concert programmers would let us hear it. But in the main they don’t. Here are just two examples.

Franz Krommer (1759–1831)

Krommer

Krommer is listed in Wikipedia under a Germanic form of his name. In fact he was born in what is now the Czech Republic and might better be known as František Kramář. For many years there was a great deal of confusion over this composer’s name, to the extent that when I was at school (many years ago) we believed there was a composer called Frantisek Krommer Krammer, a name we liked a lot.

Kramář’s output was considerable, including symphonies, concertos and seventy string quartets, though nowadays he is best known for his many works involving wind instruments. I know only a small percentage of his output, but greatly enjoy both of his concertos for two clarinets. Why do we never hear them in the concert hall? They are well written and inventive. Because two clarinet soloists would have to be paid? That can’t be the explanation, since the powers that be never schedule any of his solo concertos for clarinet either.

Bernhard Molique (1802-1869)

Molique

Molique wrote a flute concerto, a cello concerto and six concertos for violin that I know of. But he also wrote two concertos for Signor Regondi, an Italian gentleman who was a virtuoso player both of the guitar and the concertina. And of these two instruments it was not, as you might expect, the guitar that he wrote them for but the concertina.

This might seem an odd instrument to write a concerto for since the concertina is small and not well capable of standing out against an orchestra. But if you have heard a virtuouso concertina player in action, Simon Thoumire, for example, you would not be so surprised. The scores of both concertos exist but one remains unpublished.

If I win the lottery I will happily pay to have it published and for these concertos to be performed and recorded. But this is unlikely to happen. I don’t buy lottery tickets – so I am marginally less likely to win it than those who do.

Molique also wrote a sonata for concertina and piano. This has been recorded (alas, though sensitively, on the accordion). It is a delightful work with a sonata form first movement very fully worked out.

To illustrate the man at work, here is a movement from one of his concertos for concertina and orchestra (played on the accordion).

Where would we be without Youtube?