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Interview May 2018: 10 Questions with L. Bosch

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Leon Bosch: Official Sites
Leon Bosch Site: Leon Bosch Official Site
Leon Bosch Site: Leon Bosch – I Musicanti (Official Site)
Leon Bosch: Leon Bosch (Twitter)
Leon Bosch: Leon Bosch (LinkedIn)
Leon Bosch: Leon Bosch (Facebook)
Leon Bosch: I Musicanti Publishing
Leon Bosch: Leon Bosch (Meridian Records)

Leon Bosch: CD Albums
Leon Bosch: Dittersdorf: Virtuoso Works for Double Bass
Leon Bosch: Bottesini: Virtuoso Double Bass Vol. 2
Leon Bosch: Bottesini: Virtuoso Double Bass Vol. 1


1. You have released a marvellous CD Album with the Complete Works for Solo Double Bass by Dittersdorf, teacher of Vanhal and among the friends of Haydn and Mozart. Can you tell us about these special rather demanding and magnificent works left by Dittersdorf, the story behind them and their fortune among the contrabassists, also today? What led you to produce this special CD Album with the music by Dittersdorf for the Solo Double Bass? What attracts you most about Dittersdorf’s music, with that for double bass especially written between 1766 and 1767?

The Classical era was a golden period for the double bass, and it is believed that around 250 concertos were written for the instrument during that musical epoch.

Without Johannes Matthias Sperger (1750 – 1812) however, Dittersdorf’s concertos for double bass, the concerto by Vanhal, and many other solo works for the instrument would now be lost forever. Sperger was not only double bassist in Haydn’s orchestra at Esterházy, but a virtuoso solo performer in his own right, and a prolific composer too; he is credited with at least eighteen solo concertos, a handful of sonatas, many beautiful pieces of chamber music with double bass, as well as orchestral music, much of which is only just coming to public attention.

Dittersdorf’s autographs of his works for double bass have not survived, but it was Sperger’s set of parts, in the hand of a careless Viennese copyist, that provided the sole basis for the survival of both concertos, the sinfonia concertante for viola, double bass and orchestra, as well as the duetto for viola and double bass.

They were composed for the brave Pischelberger whom Dittersdorf himself met in Vienna in 1760s and then employed as one of the soloists in his orchestra at Court in Grosswardein (now Oradea, Romania), and Rodney Slatford’s Yorke Edition first published these in 1978, decades in advance of the Urtext movement.

Georg Hörtnagel’s LP recording of Dittersdorf’s second concerto, on the Turnabout label (along with the Sinfonia Concertante) ensured its popularity with bassists, and it retains its utility as an audition piece for many orchestras around the world.

My own relationship with Dittersdorf’s second concerto began in 1980, when I performed the Schott/Tischer-Zeit version with University of Cape Town’s Symphony Orchestra conducted by Allan Stephenson; I still possess a cassette tape of the recording we made a few days after that performance, and it reminds me of the ground I have covered since then.

The performance of music from the classical era has undergone a revolution of sorts during my time as a professional musician, and so too has my own understanding, that is now informed by innumerable interrelated factors, not least the experience I have accumulated over more than thirty years as a soloist, chamber orchestra principal, chamber musician and pedagogue.

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It was my own curiosity that initially drove me to learn all of Dittersdorf’s music for double bass, before I moved on to the concertos by Vanhal, Zimmerman and Hoffmeister, whom I subsequently discovered to have composed three concertos and four solo quartets for the instrument. I also began to explore the slightly earlier concertos by Capuzzi, Pichl, Cimador and Kohaut, and although I already have two of his sonatas in my repertoire, my exploration of Sperger’s concertos has only just begun.

The available literature on the subject of historically informed performance of the music of the classical era is now more extensive than ever, and so too reliable editions.

Participating in the London Mozart Players’ Contemporaries of Mozart recording project as principal double bass under the baton of Matthias Bamert, introduced me to unfamiliar composers and many new works, whilst the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ unique manner of working allowed me the opportunity to explore the iconic standard classical repertoire much more deeply.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields has enjoyed a special affinity and acclaimed relationship with the music of the classical period (see the extensive recordings of the symphonies, concertos amongst others, by Mozart, on the Philips label) and proved to be the perfect partner for my project to record this CD of all Dittersdorf’s solo works for double bass; it will remain a durable testament to a supremely rewarding chapter in my musical life.

For this recording I decided to perform the Yorke Edition version, along with Sperger’s own cadenzas, and my friend the conductor and musicologist David Murphy prepared the orchestral material from Sperger’s set of parts.

Classical concertos are invariably in D major, on account of Viennese tuning (A-D-F#-A). This tuning produces a unique resonance, whilst also enabling unique figurations in passagework.

Performing classical solo repertoire on a modern double bass tuned in fourths (E-A-D-G) presents many challenges therefore, not least recreating the kind of resonance associated with Viennese tuning, and negotiating the complex passagework, that becomes even more fiendish on fourths tuning. In his edition of the second concerto for Schott, Tischer-Zeit eliminated many of these awkward passages for that very reason.

Preparing for my CD recording with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields presented me with a valuable opportunity to re-valuate everything I thought I knew about Dittersdorf and the performance of music of the classical era in general, and working as soloist with my erstwhile colleagues, directed by Kenneth Sillito, proved to be especially invigorating.

Kenneth Sillito possesses the rare ability to dramatically affect the sound of an entire orchestra, and his instinctive understanding of musical structure, and the uniquely collaborative nature of the classical concerto, along with his ability to recognise and respond to even the subtlest of nuances, and enable principled and rewarding interplay, made for an experience that I shall cherish forever.

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The more keenly attuned listeners will know that I perform both of Dittersdorf’s Concertos in E-major, and I justify this on the grounds of the semitone scordatura employed in the second concerto; Sperger’s orchestral parts are in the key of E-flat major. The use of a whole tone scordatura in solo repertoire is still employed today, since it enables more effective projection, something that can be a challenge for this unwieldy instrument.

My Dittersdorf masterclass for The Strad magazine can be found here (at The Strad site):
https://www.thestrad.com/masterclass/masterclass-leon-bosch-on-dittersdorfs-double-bass-concerto-no2-first-movement/7822.article.

My enduring but as yet unfulfilled dream, is for the discovery of Haydn’s Concerto for double bass (ca. 1763), which is presumed to have been lost in the fire at the Esterházy Court and given the quality of the double bass solos in his symphonies No. 6, 7, 8, 31, 45 and 72, it will be a magnificent composition.

According to certain sources, a few contrabassists (among them perhaps Karr) probably became the owners of some possible fragments (which would be even in Haydn’s own handwriting) of this long lost Concerto for double bass by Haydn…

Leon Bosch presents von Dittersdorf’s Double Bass works

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2. During his second London Tour, Haydn met the great double bass virtuoso Dragonetti and the two became friends, then Dragonetti reached Vienna in 1799 and 1813 and befriended also Beethoven and in 1813 Dragonetti was leading the double basses, during the premiere of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. You yourself have also prepared a The Strad Masterclass on Dragonetti’s Famous Solo for double bass. Can you tell us about this incredible artist, his life, his works and his technical work on the double bass, a man, whose legendary big hands were the origin of that special term man mostro (i.e. monster hand).

Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846) ought really to occupy a far more prominent position in the affections of double bassists, musicians in general, and also the listening public; he was the first significant double bass virtuoso in history, and a pivotal figure in the musical life of the United Kingdom, his adopted homeland.

Dragonetti was a larger than life character in many respects; he kept company with nobility, as well as rubbing shoulders with the foremost composers of his generation. He was also an expert negotiator, often receiving fees that exceeding those of the leaders of orchestras. He traded in fine musical instruments, as well fine art, and pursued a hobby collecting marionette puppets. He amassed his collections in some of the most extravagantly expensive property in central London, incontrovertible proof of his financial acumen.

His compositions provide ample testimony to his prowess as a virtuoso instrumentalist, and the revolution he ignited in the development of instrumental technique. His legacy as influencer of composers is equally exceptional, and many iconic passages in the orchestral repertoire would not otherwise exist.

Domenico Dragonetti’s Andante and Rondo was the first solo piece that I performed in public and preparing for that performance transformed my relationship with Dragonetti into a life-long passion.

As a young student at the University of Cape Town I enjoyed the luxury of time to examine Dragonetti’s music in microscopic detail, and by the end of a six-month period preparing for my first appearance as double bass soloist, I was confident that I had developed an informed understanding of the unique demands and indeed essence of Dragonetti’s music.

I was utterly convinced that I had worked out exactly how Dragonetti would have played his own compositions; the tempi, the fingerings, the bow distribution, the sound, nuances specific to his intellectual and psychological make-up, and so forth, but it wasn’t until many years later, when I first used an authentic Dragonetti Bow (identical to the one that occupies pride of place alongside his Gaspar da Salò double bass at St. Mark’s in Venice)… that my suspicions were finally confirmed!

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All my students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance are obliged to learn at least one composition by Dragonetti, and without exception, they struggle to master the complex technical and idiomatic demands of the music, but hopefully this provides them with the kind of sobering experience necessary for real progress.

Dragonetti’s output for the double bass is vast and varied, and although much of it remains unpublished, in collections at the British Museum in London, and the Boston Public Library, selected highlights are beginning to appear online, and hopefully this heralds a long overdue rehabilitation.

His twelve waltzes for unaccompanied double bass represent an iconic contribution to the repertoire and should form the basis of every aspiring double bassist’s education. It is my contention that anyone who can play these more than just perfunctorily well, will be well on their way to earning a living as an instrumentalist.

Rossini was commissioned to compose his vivacious Duetto for cello and double bass for Sir David Salomons (1797-1873) one of the founders of London and Westminster Bank who was also a keen amateur cellist, to perform with Dragonetti. I am in the habit of performing this along with Dragonetti’s own Duo for cello and double bass, an equally charming and challenging composition.

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Fiona Palmer’s book about Dragonetti is not only an interesting read, it provides some useful insights into Dragonetti’s many strengths and idiosyncrasies.

After forty years studying, performing and teaching Dragonetti’s music I have yet to record any of it, but hopefully my CD The Dragonetti Phenomenon, should materialise before too long.

I have in the meantime however felt emboldened enough by my love for, and understanding of Dragonetti’s music, to write a Masterclass article for the Strad about one of his own favourites, The Solo in E minor:
https://www.thestrad.com/the-strad-masterclass-leon-bosch-on-dragonettis-famous-solo-for-double-bass/5517.article

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3. The works for Solo Double Bass represent such a peculiar and charming repertoire, since the double bass is not generally associated with beautiful and magnificent cantabile, while it, in reality, has wonderful possibilities. How do you see this special repertoire for Solo Double Bass from Dittersdorf and Dragonetti to the 21st century contemporary music and what are the perspectives for the future, in your opinion?

The repertoire for solo double bass is more extensive and diverse than even double bassists realise, and the instrument’s expressive capabilities are often also grossly underestimated.

The repertoire for the instrument is punctuated by the compositions of the great virtuosi; Dragonetti, Bottesini and Koussevitzky, and in common with most other musical activity nowadays, there is the regrettable propensity to repeat a mere handful of popular compositions, much to the detriment of the instrument itself, and music in general.

In a culture that elevates heroism and self-indulgence above principle, responsibility and self-actualisation, music is not immune from these pressures, and in the words of a good friend of mine, double bassists are likewise firing at the wrong target.

I am not opposed to transcriptions in principle but following the exploits of the Soviet bassist Rodion Azarkhin who in his eponymous manner recorded his own transcriptions of works like Bach’s Chaconne and Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen on the double bass, there appears to be an unhealthy obsession with performing transcriptions of anything from Bach’s suites for solo cello, to Mozart’s violin concertos and Elgar and Dvorak’s cello concertos.

Whether this represents a worthwhile musical endeavour, or the equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s dog walking on its hind legs, merits some discussion, at the very least.

There were throughout history many equally worthy virtuosi, pedagogues and champions of the instrument who composed music that is nowadays unjustly neglected, amongst whom Franz Simandl, Gustav Laska, Eduard Madenski, Adolf Misek, Josef Hrabe, Lajos Montag, František Èerný, Pedro Valls, Anton Torello and Josep Cervera-Bret; names that ought to be familiar to bassists.

My own curiosity for researching repertoire was first ignited whilst I was a student at the University of Cape Town; the process of discovering and reviving lost works became an inextinguishable passion, and some of my colleagues now refer to me as the Sherlock Holmes of the double bass, a badge I am happy to wear, for it reminds me of my responsibility to continue along this path.

It was whilst researching the music of Pedro Valls for the CD recording devoted to his works:
http://www.leonbosch.co.uk/music_84604.php

that I came to learn more about his students Anton Torello and Josep Cervera:
A) Anton Torello composed a handful of charming works for the instrument but made his name as principal bassist of the Philadelphia Orchestra;
B) Josep Cervera on the other hand never left his native Catalonia, and was much more prolific, composing in excess of 60 compositions for the instrument; it is thanks to his grandson Carles Cervera that I have had access to all the manuscripts and recorded a CD Album devoted to this very beautiful music.

Leon Bosch presents Josep Cervera’s works for Double Bass

The second half of the twentieth century, immediately post-world war two, saw a dramatic revival in the fortunes of the double bass as a solo instrument, and virtuoso instrumentalists like Gary Karr, Ludwig Streicher and Franco Petracchi, and other distinguished players around the world inspired mainstream composers like Robert Fuchs, Reinhold Glière, Paul Hindemith, Berthold Hummel, Norbert Sprongl, Karl Rankl, Jean Francaix, Hans Werner Henze, Gian Carlo Menotti, Nikos Skalkottas and Eduard Tubin to write for the instrument.

In the United Kingdom composers including Lennox Berkeley, Alan Bush, Gordon Jacob, David Ellis, whose Sonata Op.42 for unaccompanied double bass achieved worldwide recognition, John McCabe and Richard Rodney Bennett, with some encouragement by Rodney Slatford (he was incidently the first British bassist to make a solo recording) felt emboldened to write for the double bass. Benjamin Britten, inspired by the bassist Adrian Beers, wrote some fabulous double bass parts in his orchestral works, but it is a matter of regret that he, like Malcolm Arnold, another illustrious British composer, never wrote a solo piece for the double bass.

The relationship between composer and performer has always been critical to the development of music, and in the twenty-first century instrumentalists bear no less a responsibility.

Commissioning new music for the instrument is something that I began to do almost by accident during my student days at The Royal Northern College of Music, when I asked fellow student and composer Ian Morgan-Williams to compose Sglein and Disglair for Double Bass and piano.

Then in 1986, part of the prize I’d won in a competition enabled me to commission Pueblo for solo double bass from John McCabe.

I have since then commissioned or been the dedicatee of a few dozen compositions by composers including Malcolm Lipkin, Roxanna Panufnik, Robin Walker, David Ellis, Hendrik Hofmeyr, Peter Klatzow, Paul Hanmer, Allan Stephenson, John Woolrich, David Earl, Paul Patterson, Robin Walker, Michael Viljoen, Michael Blake, Anton Pietersen, Grant McLachlan, Paul Kimber, Ivor Hodgson and Simon Parkin, with many more compositions in the pipeline.

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4. This year you are among the judges of BBC Music Young Musician 2018with Jennifer Pike, you yourself are a teacher and you regularly give masterclasses. What was your experience like, in your role as a judge and as an educator? What leads you towards teaching? What are your pieces of advice and tips to the young performers who are approaching the works for Double Bass soloist for the first time? What are your projects for the future?

Although I have always taught, given masterclasses, served on competition juries internationally and also on conservatoire examinational panels, it was only after leaving The Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 2014 that my commitment to teaching was transformed into something much more structured, methodical, and meaningful.

It is my privilege to be Professor of Double Bass at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

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My teaching of the double bass is underpinned by a fundamental aesthetic that encompasses a uniquely identifiable concept of sound, virtuosic instrumental command, and an intellectual foundation rooted in eternal curiosity.

Imparting the knowledge I have been fortunate enough to acquire over the course of a lifetime is not only a privilege, but my responsibility. My advice to aspirant young virtuosi? Respect yourself, respect the music you’re entrusted with, respect the instrument you play, and resist the temptation to see life as a zero-sum game. Culture, creativity and artistic fulfilment ought never to be degraded into a competitive sport, but if there exists an element of competition in music, that competition has to be a personal one; how to become the best human being and artist one can possibly be?

Because all music is ultimately judged at the emotional level, successfully judging competitions requires a framework of objectivity, and I have to that end defined four basic criteria that guide me when my judgement or opinion is required, as was the case recently with the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2018:
1. Technical
2. Musical
3. Intellectual
4. Aesthetic.
It is only once all these factors have been meaningfully integrated, and added to the unique life experiences of each individual, that creativity can flourish.

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The teaching method I have developed originated in my realisation that success as a teacher would require me to learn to explain complex concepts in the simplest manner possible, in order to enable a quicker route to mastery for my students. My system, which I believe to be absolutely fool-proof utilises a simple 4-point plan about which I am currently in the process of writing a book, and an article for the Strad magazine.

My projects for the future come in various categories:

1. Conductor and Soloist/Director
The double bass and I continue to pursue a passionate relationship, but thanks to Sir Neville Marriner’s encouragement, I am now forging a career as a conductor, and also directing my own concerto performances from the double bass; a rewarding and inspiring challenge.

2. Recordings
I have ten solo recordings on the Meridian Records label, and am after a short hiatus, ready to resume my recording project; near the top of an ever increasing to do list will be:
(a) The Twenty First Century British Double Bass
(b) The South African Double Bass
(c) Josep Cervera: The Catalan Virtuoso volume 2
(d) The Dragonetti Phenomenon
(e) Gian Carlo Menotti’s Concerto for double bass
(f) Franz Josef Keyper – The complete concertos for double bass and orchestra.

Franz Josef Keyper (1756-1815) the Danish double bass virtuoso composed seven concertos for double bass, none of which has received any exposure since he himself performed them.

Unlike other virtuosi at that time, who employed the use of Viennese tuning, Keyper played on an instrument tuned in fourths.

I have to date performed Concerto No. 2 and Concerto No.5, and it is my intention to perform, record and publish all his concertos for double bass.

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3. Soloist and Chamber Musician
Relieved of the intensive schedule of orchestral tours I pursued over the last 30 years, I am now devoting myself much more energetically to the interests of the double bass as a solo instrument.

It is an honour to be the recipient of so much wonderful new music, and I will over the next three months be performing the world premiere performances of the Concerto for Double Bass by Paul PattersonThe Song of Bone on Stone for solo double bass by Robin Walker, and Isipho for double bass and piano by the South African composer Peter Klatzow. I will also visit India for the first time and direct a performance of Franz Keyper’s Concerto No.2 in G Major with the Bombay Chamber Orchestra.

My chamber ensemble «I Musicanti embodies the universally cherished ideal of total artistic freedom and unrestrained self-expression, and it aims to provide a home to creative and imaginative artists who share the ambition of realising this dream».

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It now lies at the heart of my activities as a chamber musician, although I do of course appear as guest artist with many other distinguished artists and ensembles worldwide.

This year has been particularly busy one for Schubert’s Trout Quintet, and a performance that I am particularly looking forward to is with Benjamin Grosvenorat the SouthBank Centre on 29th May 2018.

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   4. Author/Writer and Publisher
Inspired by the example of Japanese author Haruki Murakami, whose books What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa made such a deep impression on me, I am now beginning to write about everything that I am passionate about: Music, the double bass, politics, running, and life in general. My publishing company I Musicanti Publishing is dedicated to making available all the compositions I have unearthed over the years, all my own transcriptions for double bass, some of the new music composed for me, and chamber music with double bass currently not in print

5. Running
I have been running marathons and ultra-marathons for the last few years and have set myself the goal of completing a 100-mile race before the end of 2018. If everything goes according to plan, I should become a Centurion in October when I am scheduled to run the Autumn 100.

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5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.

I actually have two favourite works by Haydn; his Symphonies No. 1 in D and No. 104 in D London.

Both continue to feature significantly in my consciousness and affections, primarily because of the power of my first encounter with each.

Haydn’s London Symphony was the very first symphony I ever played, at the age of 16, with the University of Cape Town’s Symphony Orchestra conducted by the British cellist, composer and conductor Allan Stephenson. The rather regal first movement opening Adagio made as profound impression on me as did the jaunty Finale, but it was the musicologist Professor Günther Pulvermacher who made me aware of Haydn’s unique contribution to the development of the symphony, and his particular talent for turning mere fragments into a coherent whole.

From that auspicious beginning in 1978, Haydn’s 104th symphony would feature more regularly in my professional career than any other symphony, but I had to wait until the end of my orchestral career and the start of my journey as a conductor, to encounter Haydn’s Symphony No.1 for the first time.

In May 2017 I performed a concert with The Liverpool Mozart Orchestra in which I conducted Haydn’s Symphonies No.1 and No. 104, and also directed two concertos from the double bass: Franz Keyper’s Concerto No.2 in G major and Allan Stephenson’s Concerto for double bass (2005).

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The quality and maturity of Haydn’s first symphony belies the youth of its composer, and it has become a firm favourite of mine.

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When it comes to Mozart I find this question rather more difficult to answer, but I have to admit that first discovering his concert aria Per Questa Bella Mano K.612 for bass voice with obbligato double bass (written again for Pischelberger, who, once left Dittersdorf and reached Vienna, was now working with Schikaneder, the producer of The Magic Flute, at that time) was a particular joyful moment for me. To have a work for double bass by a composer of this stature is of course a privilege, the fiendish technical demands notwithstanding. The opening Adagio is exceptional poignant and tender, and the Allegro requires virtuosity and exuberance in equal measure, from both soloists.

Performances of Per questa bella mano K.612 remain relatively rare, but it is one of the required audition pieces for the position of principal double bass in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

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6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837).

Hummel is probably best remembered as Konzertmeister to Prince Esterhazy at Eisenstadt, and for succeeding Haydn as Kapellmeister.

He was predominantly concert pianist though, and was taught by Mozart, Clementi, Albrechstberger, Haydn and Salieri at various junctures in his development. His influence on the compositions of Chopin and Schumann is undoubted, and the slow movement of his Quintet in E-flat minor Op.87 illuminates this connection especially well.

Hummel first came to my attention when I performed this very Quintet for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, that proved to be the inspiration for Schubert’s Trout Quintet. A composer who employed the double bass in his chamber music was naturally going to find favour with me, and I have over the years performed this Quintet and his Septets with piano and double bass on a fairly regularly basis.

Other than for his trumpet concerto in E-flat, none of his other compositions ever presented themselves throughout my career as an orchestral player, until The London Mozart Players recorded a number of his piano concertos and the concerto for violin and piano with Howard Shelley, as well as one of the solo violin concertos and the Potpourri for viola with James Ehnes.

Hummel’s output as a composer is vast, including 8 piano concertos, 10 piano sonatas, a piano quartet, 8 piano trios, concertos for mandolin, bassoon and trumpet, sacred music, ballet music, sets of variations and potpourris for various solo instruments, as well as compositions for guitar, an instrument for which he enjoyed a special passion, also thanks to his friendship with M. Giuliani.

He curiously never composed a symphony however, but did make particularly elegant arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies, for piano, flute violin and cello, and these are on the agenda for performance and recording with my ensemble, I Musicanti.

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7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency.

Leopold Anton Koželuh (1747 – 1818) – Sinfonia Concertante for trumpet, piano, mandolin and double bass.

Koželuh’s outstanding reputation and success as a pianist, composer and teacher enabled him to decline the Archbishop of Salzburg’s offer to succeed Mozart as court organist and although his output is naturally dominated by the piano, this beautiful and elegant sinfonia concertante is significant for a number of reasons:
1. The combination of soloists must surely be unique in the history of music.
2. Koželuh’s challenging, idiomatic and sensitive writing for each of the soloists, as well as his skilful orchestral accompaniment, demonstrates a highly informed understanding of the capabilities and potential of each of the solo instruments.
3. It is characteristic of the sinfonia concertante form of the time, and unashamedly celebrates and fully utilises the skill of instrumentalists.
4. Pischelberger, for whom the double bass part was written features yet again, a testament to his stature as a soloist.

In his book About Conducting, Sir Henry Wood, founder of the BBC Proms, identifies a number of challenges that characterise the adverse working environment experienced by British orchestral musicians, especially rank and file string players, and the detrimental effect it can have upon their well-being.

But, he does go on to propose some solutions, not least the responsibility the conductor bears for unleashing the frustrated soloist within each of these demoralised, disaffected and alienated artists.

Musicians in the classical era, despite their subordination to the interests of the aristocracy, appear in my view to have enjoyed more favourable conditions for self-expression, and for fulfilling their artistic potential; I like to think that the popularity of the sinfonia concertante as a musical vehicle during this epoch supports my theory.

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8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?

Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf’s autobiography ought in my view to be compulsory reading.

[The three major versions of von Dittersdorf’s autobiographies are available through the MozartCircle OnLine Library (the original German one with an introduction by Karl Spazier and the most famous translations in English and in French:
MozartCircle Online Library
at von Dittersdorf WebPage, where you can find also a complete edition of theDittersdorfiana.
On MozartCircle you find also von Dittersdorf: His Life in Discs]

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It was whilst I was preparing for my recording of Dittersdorf’s compositions with The Academy of St Martin in the Fields that an ex-student of mine, Carl Hinde, alerted me to the existence of Dittersdorf’s autobiography.

Dittersdorf was not only an esteemed virtuoso who played string quartets with Haydn, Mozart and Vanhal, he was considered a pre-eminent musical authority and this colourful memoir was dictated to his son from his deathbed.

In it he provides us with an unparalleled insight into the artist’s relationship to the aristocratic society at that time. It also describes in some detail his own education and development as an artist and illuminates his personal journey as the servant to the Archbishop of Grosswardein and then in Johannesberg with the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, Philipp Gotthard von Schaffgotsch, both as Hofkomponist and then also as Amtshauptmann (Governor) of Freiwaldau (1773), officialy becoming also a Baron in that period, offices that let him, from time to time, reach Vienna and attend its soirées, salons, concerts and theatres and meet there with Mozart, Haydn, Paisiello and the others.

Most intriguingly, he regales us with tales of his own musical exploits, his relationship with innumerable eminent musicians and composers of significance at that time, and it is this aspect that I personally found most illuminating.

Dittersdorf was of course a virtuoso violinist (and violist) first and foremost, and in addition to 18 concertos for the violin, 5 for the viola and 3 concertos for two violins, his vast output includes the first mature cello concerto of the classical era, the only concerto for oboe d’Amore that I know of in the classical period, over a hundred symphonies, concertos for string quartet, piano, harpsichord, oboe and flute, sacred music, opera, oratorios and cantatas.

Dittersdorf was prolific by any standard, and with his compositions being so typical and representative of the classical era, these can surely teach us something. He speaks most fondly however of his Grand Concerto for eleven solo instruments (written in 1766 and including double bass) and what a pity that this manuscript should be lost. (see Dittersdorfiana p. 89: «… working at a Grand Concerto for eleven instruments, in the first allegro of which each soloist began with a passage for himself alone. Gradually three, five, seven, and finally nine parts were brought in. In the last solo all eleven took part… The twelfth alternativo was played by all eleven solo instruments, and, after a cadenza and a changeful capriccio, closed with a shake in sixths played by nine instruments…».)

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9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

I have thought about this exhaustively and have come to the conclusion that there is no single movie or documentary that I can endorse, without reservation.

There are of course many enjoyable, but flawed films and documentaries, and perhaps this represents a gap in the market, yet to be filled by an enterprising creative artist?

10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?

Vienna, without a shadow of a doubt!

Vienna, the city of dreams remains one of the most vibrant cultural hotspots in the world. It boasts an illustrious musical lineage, and was during the classical era home to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, who helped transform music into a respected cultural art form of greater social significance.

During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s whilst I was a still a student in South Africa, I established contact with Doblinger music shop (established in 1817) in Vienna, on account of their healthy catalogue of sheet music for the double bass, and spent all the money I earned from my party-time job selling refreshments in a cinema kiosk, buying as much music for double bass from them as possible.

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Large brown envelopes of music arrived at my home in the township from Vienna on a regular basis and playing the music of these European composers enabled me to travel to Vienna and most of the rest of Europe, without having to leave my practice room.

When I did finally visit Vienna for the first time, Doblinger Music shop was naturally at the top of my itinerary, and walking into this quaint shop on Dorotheergasse, from which my collection of music originated, was like a dream come true.

Its dusty shelves and glass-fronted wooden music cabinets gave one the impression of stepping back in time. Even the shop assistants were dressed in a rather historic manner and handled the music and treated their customer with a degree of reverence that I imagine Beethoven and Schubert might have commanded.

I left the shop with yet more music and wandered through the streets of Vienna visiting places where the great composers had either lived, or had their music performed. I was surprised to come across plaques commemorating the lives of so many other composers, who have since been relegated to obscurity. Amongst these was Rodolphe Kreutzer to whom Beethoven dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 9 Op. 47, and who most violinists know of, because of his etudes for the violin.

My tour of Vienna also took in the Hochschule für Musik, other music conservatoires, and concert venues in the city. It was particularly impressive to see the density of musicians per head of population, and the swagger with which they went about their business, knowing that their work as artists is valued by the society of which they form an integral part.

Performing in the Musikverein over the last 25 years has been a particular joy, and I retain many happy memories of concerts there with Sir Neville Marriner and The Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

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Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!

Thank you!

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Copyright © 2018 MozartCircle. All rights reserved. MozartCircle exclusive property. 
Iconography is in public domain or in fair use.

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CD Spotlight May 2018: N. Porpora World Premiere Recording of Germanico

ReviewTitle

Nicola Porpora

Just few know that Nicola Porpora,
beside being the mentor
of the most famous Farinelli, whom
Mozart met in Bologna,
was also a great composer and
the teacher, in composition, of
Joseph Haydn. Enjoy this
World-Premiere Recording
with a stellar cast!Max Emanuel Cencic
Capella Cracoviensis

Decca Classics

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Impossible Interviews April 2018: Giovanni De’ Bardi the Father of Opera & of Football

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Who is Giovanni de’ Bardi?

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Giovanni de’ Bardi: Opera & Football
Member of one of the most important families in Florence linked to the family Medici and Lorenzo il Magnifico and famous for being the bankers of the Kings of England through the Middle Ages, just few know that Giovanni de’ Bardi is a fundamental figure in the history of music, since in 1576-1592 he decided to found the Modern Melodramma (and therefore the Modern Opera) and to develop the musical form of Monody (against Polyphony)…

And…

… seriously convinced to revive the ancient games of football of the Ancient Greeks and of the Ancient Romans, in 1580 Giovanni de’ Bardi first wrote the official rules of Calcio Fiorentino, founding thus the first Modern Football Game regulated by a precise code of rules, a first Modern Football Game with code of rules that will be the model to all the other forms of Modern Football Games from Soccer to Rugby and American Football…

de’ Bardi i.e. of the Bards: nomen omen
As for the case of Volta, also de’ Bardi is a meaningful surname.
Alessandro Volta is the modern pioneer of electricity (inventor of the electrical battery) and discoverer of methane at Lake Maggiore (in 1776: Mozart, Piano Concertos K.238 and K.246; Haydn, Symphony No. 61 and No. 66) and in the Apennine Mountains in Italy. But the most curious thing is that his surname Volta is a very ancient Etruscan name of a monster of the Tuscan Apennine Mountains, represented as a sort of killing monstrous wolf emerging from the wells and the depth of the earth like a natural gas (methane). And this Etruscan monster Volta was killed by electricity through a lightning hurled down from the sky after special prayers by the Etruscan priests of lightning (see Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, II, 54, 140).
The Florentine surname Bardi/de’ Bardi comes from the very Celtic word Bardus, i.e. bard in English and bardo in Italian, a man who invents and plays music and sings, both a verse-maker and a music composer,… What a meaningful surname for the man, Giovanni de’ Bardi, who in the 16th century deliberately decided to found the Modern Opera and the Monody music, in the attempt to revive the ancient forms of Ancient Greek music.

de’ Bardi: the great bank & wool companies of Florence
The family de’ Bardi (or simply Bardi), in Florence since the 10th century AD, was one of the most important and powerful families in Florence. Through their commercial company, the Compagnia de’ Bardi, they ran important international banks and also factories for the treatment of wool, wool which usually arrived in Florence from England in great quantities.
The Compagnia de’ Bardi had many offices in Italy, in Europe, in Africa and Asia:
a-(Italy) Ancona, Aquila, Bari, Barletta, Castello di Castro, Genova, Napoli, Orvieto, Palermo, Pisa, Venezia;
b-(Europe) Avignone, Barcellona, Bruges, Cipro, Maiorca, Marsiglia, Nizza, Parigi, Rodi, Siviglia;
c-(Asia) Constantinopole, Jerusalem;
d-(Africa) Tunisi;
e-(Rome) one of three major banks of the Pope in Rome with Peruzzi and Acciaiuoli;
f-Bank of the King of England, of the King of France and of the King of Naples.
In Florence the Family de’ Bardi had 60 Family houses, of which 45 were located in Oltrarno. The city street of origin of their Family was the via de’ Bardi(Oltrarno) and their major palaces were Palazzo Canigiani (via de’ Bardi nn. 28-30, Florence) and Palazzo Bardi (via Benci n. 5, Florence).
In 1810 the main family de’ Bardi was extinct and their properties were incorporated in the properties of the famous family Guicciardini (the descendants of famous figures like Francesco Guicciardini; and again nomen omen the family name means Hunting horns).
The last surviving member of the Family de’ Bardi died in 1964 in Florence as Bardi Serzelli conte di Vernio, who lived in the Family Palace used by Giovanni de’ Bardi for his music Camerata in 1576-1592 and who left an important series of pictures to the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

de’ Bardi in Florence: Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio
The importance of the Family de’ Bardi was not only linked to their activity of major bankers, but also to a fundamental connection with two major figures of the Italian and International Literature: Dante Alighieri and Giovanni Boccaccio.
If Dante’s Beatrice (the central inspirational character of his books Vita Novaand Divina Commedia) is really Beatrice Portinari, Beatrice (called Bice) got married to Simone de’ Bardi (called Mone) as his first wife, when she was ca. 15 years old. As is well known, Beatrice died when she was still young (8 June 1290) and Mone de’ Bardi got married to his second wife, Sibilla (called Bilia) Deciaioli. Mone de’ Bardi had, at least, three children: Francesca, Bartolo and Gemma. Unfortunately, we do not know if Mone’s children were children also of Beatrice (his first wife) or of Sibilla (his second wife). However, the three children of Mone then got married to other members of the major Florence families, the Strozzi and the de’ Medici, so that Contessina de’ Bardi was the grand-mother of the great Lorenzo de’ Medici il Magnifico himself.

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The father of Giovanni Boccaccio, that Giovanni Boccaccio, author of the Decameron and who, with Francesco Petrarca, opened in Florence the first modern University Course of Ancient Greek (the first European professor of Ancient Greek was Leonzio Pilato, pupil of Barlaam Calabro) and financed the first modern translations of the ancient Greek books and in this way opened the way to the European Humanism and the Renaissance, his father was a major official of the Bank of the Bardi in Naples, responsible for the management of the money of the King of Naples. How this Naples experience in his youth with his father, as bank official of the Bardi at the court of the King of Naples, was crucial to Giovanni Boccaccio’s life and to his literary works is well known.

Giovanni de’ Bardi: the founder of the modern football games
Giovanni de’ Bardi, was not only a member of the Florentine Aristocracy well trained in both Latin and Ancient Greek and Music Composition, but he was also a well known military commander, who had had an adventurous and tempestuous life in his youth spent in Florence.
As a military commander, Giovanni de’ Bardi took part in various campaigns in Europe and in the Mediterranean. He fought for the de’ Medici against Siena, then he was at the Siege of Malta in 1565 and, once nominated captain, he fought victoriously in Hungary for the Emperor Maximillian II.
His great interest in the antiquities and in the necessity of a fundamental military training led him to establish, once and for all, the rules for an ancient Florence football game, which he thought crucial to the training of the young aristocratic men of Florence to the military life.
In order to better achieve his intent, Giovanni de’ Bardi studied the historical origin of the ancient football game typical of Florence and so he tracked its origin in the Ancient Greece football games Episkyros (i.e. the Game of the Ball on the Skyros Central Line) and Phaininda (i.e. the Deceiving Game with the Ball) from which the Romans derived their own version of this football game, the Harpastum(i.e. the Game of Carrying the Ball Away). Being Florence an ancient Roman town established by Julius Caesar himself in 59 BC, there was/is a certain real possibility that the Roman game Harpastum just survived in Florence, across the Medieval centuries, as the ancient Florence football game.
This ancient football game is described in this way by Julius Pollux in his book Onomasticon (9, 104-105):
1-2 teams one before the other on a field;
2-the field divided in 2 halves by a central line, called skyros;
3-the game starts with the ball positioned on the skyros central line (after this the name of the game Epi-skyros);
4-there are 2 backlines behind each team;
5-one team wins by carrying the adversary team/ball beyond the adversaries’ own backline.

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According to the various sources we have, this kind of football game (already used in ancient Sparta, played by two teams of 12/14 men each and with a ball of leather inflated with air and called kenysphaira or follis) was very similar to modern Rugby with the addition of a few characteristics typical of Soccer (and, in general, it was a game even more violent than Rugby and American Football): and this is how Calcio Fiorentino (i.e. Florentine Kick Game) actually works. This kind of game was also praised by Galen in his treatise De parvae pilae exercitio(On the exercise with the small ball), as perfect for the physical exercise of the body.
Hence in 1580, following the authority of the ancient lexicographers, antiquarians, physicians and surgeons, Giovanni de’ Bardi finally established the fundamental 33 rules of the game of football with his book Discorso sopra il giuoco del Calcio Fiorentino, being the first in history to do so and creating thus a game similar both to Soccer and to Rugby/American Football.

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Since de’ Bardi’s football game (Calcio Fiorentino) was the first football game governed by established rules and the Florentine cultural activities always being highly influential across Europe, we understand how the rules defined by de’ Bardi worked as a fundamental model and reference for any kind of modern football game.
Today Calcio Fiorentino is still played in Piazza Santa Croce (Florence) every year (see videos infra).

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Since de’ Bardi, at the beginning, wanted the game to be an elite game for the aristocratic families (a sort of military exercise in the form of a football game, as the Harpastum was for the ancient Romans), families who usually were also in charge of the military activities of Florence, many important historical figures used to play Calcio Fiorentino throughout the centuries, even though it was a very violent, hard and tough game: among them there are three popes (Clemens VII, Leo XI, Urbanus VIII) and many political leaders and men from the Italian major aristocratic families (de’ Medici, Gonzaga, Barberini) and even the French princes of Condé (cadets of the House of Bourbon).

Read the Book on Football by Giovanni de’ Bardi (Florence 1580, .pdf file)

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Videos on History and Tradition of Calcio Fiorentino

Giovanni de’ Bardi: the founder of modern opera
Giovanni de’ Bardi was also well trained in the art of music and his love for the Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman traditions led him to develop the art of music, by reviving the ancient musical forms as described in the ancient manuscripts: a typical behaviour of a man of the Renaissance, who cultivated the love for the Ancient texts and traditions, like the truest Humanist, inspired by the Florentine Petrarca’s and Boccaccio’s first activities in this field (see supra).

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Thus Giovanni de’ Bardi, in a period between 1576 and 1592, started a series of musical activities carried on by a group of people who usually kept their sessions of cultural discussions and of music playing at de’ Bardi’s own palace in Florence, Palazzo Bardi (via de’ Benci n. 5, Florence). This group received the name of Camerata de’ Bardi or Florentine Camerata. It was made up by composers, music theorists and scholars and was led by Giovanni de’ Bardi himself (the patron and host), who was also a music composer (unfortunately most of his music works went lost and are still lost).

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Among the major composers and theorists who worked with Giovanni de’ Bardi there were the most famous Vincenzo Galilei (the father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei), Giulio Caccini (the composer of the first operas ever written) and Pietro Strozzi. The musical activities of this group were inspired by the works and the ideas of the scholar Girolamo Mei, a specialist of Ancient Greek drama and music, and were summarized in a series of books and works crucial to the development of modern melodramma/opera/monody:
1-Giovanni de’ Bardi, Discorso mandato… a G. Caccini sopra la musica antica e ‘l cantar bene;
2-Vincenzo Galilei (dedicated to Giovanni de’ Bardi), Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna;
3-Pietro de’ Bardi (son of Giovanni de’ Bardi), Lettera a G. B. Doni (describing the activities of the Camerata de’ Bardi and the birth of melodramma/opera);
4-Giulio Caccini, Le Nuove Musiche (the most important and theoretical part is its introduction Prefazione about Plato’s and other Greek philosophers’ theories on music and singing and the necessity of creating a new type of music different from the polyphony: effetti… che non potevano farsi per il contrappunto nelle moderne musiche, i.e. effects… that it was not possible to create through the counterpoint in the modern music pieces; Giulio Caccini was also an important music teacher of the new monody style and had many pupils ready to wide spread the new techniques, among them also collaborators of Monteverdi himself)
5-Jacopo Peri, Introduction to the score of Euridice (ritrovare questa nuova maniera di canto… gli antichi greci, i quali cantavano sulle scene le tragedie intere, i.e. to find out this new form of singing… the Ancient Greeks, who used to sing entire tragedies on stage)

The efforts and studies carried on by the Camerata since 1573 were finally supported, in the 1590s, by a new rival Florentine cultural circle led by Jacopo Corsi, who managed to gather around himself the same scholars and theorists who were involved also in the Camerata activities.
In this way, the two rival groups led Jacopo Corsi himself, Jacopo Corsi’s composer, Jacopo Peri, and de’ Bardi’s poet Ottavio Rinuccini to collaborate in creating the first opera ever written Dafne (unfortunately a work still lost: there are just a few fragments left of this opera composed both by Jacopo Corsi and by Jacopo Peri) in 1597/1598 (premiere probably 26 December 1598, Palazzo Tornabuoni, Florence, the palace of Jacopo Corsi).
Two years later the collaboration of the two composers Jacopo Peri (patron Jacopo Corsi) and Giulio Caccini (patron Giovanni de’ Bardi) with de’ Bardi’s poet Rinuccini led to the premiere of the second opera in history and the earliest still surviving opera, Euridice (premiere 6 October 1600, Palazzo Pitti, Florence).

Full performance of the earliest opera survived: Euridice by Peri & Caccini

So, in this way, that man, Giovanni de’ Bardi, that John of the Bards, who had founded the modern football games in 1580, managed to found also modern opera, the art of to act singing (il recitar cantando, an expression invented and introduced in 1600 by one of the composers of his Camerata de’ Bardi, Emilio de’ Cavalieri)…

Works by Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi at Palazzo Bardi, Florence

Monody or polyphony: a dilemma from de’ Bardi to Gluck, Mozart & Wagner
To create the melodramma/opera the Camerata de’ Bardi had to develop the technique of the monody and did this, by following the instructions of the Ancient Greece philosophers and theorists. Therefore monody started acquiring a position of contrast to the traditional polyphony style of that period, a polyphony style perceived as highly complicated (up to the obscurity), a corrupt and twisted form of music, incapable of conveying real emotional effects to an audience (nonetheless, as far as we know, it seems that both de’ Bardi and Caccini, in the end, thought that that counterposition of the two styles had not to be so completely radical).
Moreover the ideas of simplicity and of perspicuity which were cultivated with the monody style (that’s to say a canto and an accompanied basso with some chordal harmony, leading, in the end, to a recitativo, arioso and aria style) created a sort of dilemma, which had a great highly influential role in the history of music: monody vs. polyphony or harmony vs. counterpoint or homophonic-melodic treatment vs. contrapuntal treatment, as Schoenberg put it?
If we comprehend this passage well, we’ll better understand why the aesthetic ideas behind major composers like Paisiello found music perspicuity a fundamental aspect of the work of a music composer and which theoretical ideas led Gluck to carry on a reform of opera which had to change the structure of opera itself into a sort of simplified (also musically speaking) aboriginal purity. How Wagner developed such ideas, also from Gluck, into his form of opera/theatre (recitar cantando) is well known.
And we comprehend also why composers like Haydn and Mozart, following the ideas of C.P.E Bach, cultivated and developed forms of music, which were fundamentally and theoretically an amazing, marvellous and highly developed combination of the two techniques, the homophonic technique and the contrapuntal one, and why a certain acrimony emerged in Vienna between the Haydn-Mozart group of people and the Gluck group of people (among them Gluck’s pupil and official successor Salieri) with those many various accusations carried against Mozart and his opera writing: too many noteslack of respect for wordGerman rubbish, due to its open contrast to the Italian and Gluckian simplified purity.

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WORKS BY DE’ BARDI
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A) Theoretical writings on music by de’ Bardi:

• Discorso mandato… a G. Caccini sopra la musica antica e ‘l cantare bene

He left also many works on Literature.

B) Compositions by de’ Bardi:

Unfortunately most of his works went lost. Here the surviving works:
• Miseri habitator (intermedii del 1589)
• Lauro, ohimé Lauro (1582)

At imslp.org de’ Bardi’s works (but the man in a portrait by Raffaello at IMSLP is Baldassare Castiglione and not Giovanni de’ Bardi):
Giovanni de’ Bardi at IMSLP.

CD Spotlight April 2018: 2 Piano Concertos by the Son of Mozart

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Franz Xaver Mozart

F.X. Mozart, the son of Mozart
born in 1791, was a good and
talented musician. Unfortunately
being Mozart his father created
serious difficulties to his career
both as musician and as composer.
Let’s re-discover his works
a few of them considered even by
young Liszt for some time.

Howard Shelley
Sinfonieorchester St. Gallen

Hyperion Records

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Interview March 2018: 10 Questions with D. Curtis

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David Curtis: Official Sites
David Curtis Site: David Curtis Official Site
David Curtis: David Curtis (Twitter)
David Curtis: David Curtis (LinkedIn)
David Curtis: Orchestra of the Swan Official Site
David Curtis: Orchestra of the Swan (YouTube)
David Curtis: Hungarian Symphony Orchestra Miskolc

David Curtis: CD Albums
David Curtis: Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
David Curtis: Mozart: Piano Concertos K413-K414-K415


1. You have recently conducted a Concerto with Tamsin Waley-Cohen playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 (21-22 November 2017). You both had already produced a marvellous CD with the Violin Concertos by Mendelssohn in 2013. What are your considerations on these two different series of Violin Concertos? Is there some sort of continuity or not? What has been your experience during the recording sessions of Mendelssohn and when preparing the Concertos by Mozart?

The set of 5 Mozart violin concertos composed from 1773 to 1776 form a core part of any violinist’s concerto repertoire, especially numbers 3, 4 and 5 though the first two are also worth exploring. As with all of Mozart’s repertoire they are deceptively difficult, extremely sophisticated and require playing and musical understanding of the very highest degree. I was recently invited to a semi-final of the Singapore International Violin Competition, the Mozart Concerto round, and it was indeed highly revealing.

The Mendelssohn early concertos for violin and violin & piano with string orchestra present their own challenges for the soloists. Unlike the Mozart concertos, probably composed for him to perform as concertmaster in Salzburg, the Mendelssohn concertos were first performed by violinist Eduard Rietz with Mendelssohn at the piano. They are clearly more juvenile and less sophisticated than the Mozart and, in some senses, are more reliant on the soloist having a sympathetic understanding of the composer’s intention.

The great conducting guru Jorma Panula is always insistent that «a conductor’s role is not to interpret but realise the composer’s intentions» and soloists of the calibre, sensitivity and understanding of Tamsin Waley-Cohen and pianist/composer Huw Watkins clearly distinguish between these two.

That said the Mendelssohn concertos are a genuine delight to perform and to listen to when played with such freshness and joy as on this disc with Huw and Tamsin. I believe they, and the strings of Orchestra of the Swan, absolutely capture the essence of the music and the composer’s intention. The music has, in my view, a certain youthful energy, charm, naivety and sheer exuberance, semi-quavers rushing around like a hormonal teenager. I don’t believe it is the most sophisticated music and to treat it as though it were somehow rather misses the point. Even a composer of Mendelssohn’s extraordinary gifts and genius must still have had youthful enthusiasm.

Trying to capture the music, as opposed to the notes, in any recording can be difficult and the challenge in recording the Mendelssohn concertos was to ensure that we kept alive to the youthfulness and charm of these two early gems and as the CD is the BBC Music Magazine’s Recommended Choice others seem to agree!

A live performance is very different and Tamsin and I have performed concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, all 3 Mendelssohn, Mozart, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Huw Watkins, in over 35 concerts in the UK, Istanbul and Mexico and I think this has develop a mutual respect and trust between us. Rehearsal are a continual exploration of the score, our approach is always collaborative and, perhaps reflecting my background as viola player in the Coull Quartet. for 30 years, and her chamber music experience, I think be both bring a chamber music approach to our performances, achieving both an intimacy and a directness. I never try to get in the way and one of my most memorable reviews was from Chris Morley, Senior Music Critic at the Birmingham Post who observed during a performance of The Lark Ascending that «Curtis is a conductor who clearly knows when not to!» I took that as a compliment to both me, Tasmin and the members of the orchestra.

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Pre-Concert Talk Mozart Concerto November 2017

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2. You have produced also a beautiful CD Album with the piano concertos KV413-414-415 composed by Mozart. and you always have, in the repertoire of your various seasons, works by Mozart, Haydn and also Dittersdorf. What is your relationship with the music of the Classical Era and what attracts you most about the music of this period?

I think the answer to this question lies in my studies at the Royal Academy of Music with Stephen Shingles, former principal viola at the Academy of St. Martins, and Sidney Griller, professor of chamber music at the RAM and leader of the Griller String Quartet from 1931 – 1961. The Coull Quartet had chamber music coaching from Sidney pretty much every week for there and a half years before leaving the Academy to become Quartet in Residence at Warwick University in 1978, a 3 year contract that, 40 years later, still continues!

For the first year or so with Sidney my recollection is that we learned a new Haydn string quartet almost weekly, later complemented by Mozart, early, middle and finally late Beethoven! Although this may seem an unorthodox route to train as a conductor in retrospect I think it was absolutely invaluable. Those sessions with Sidney and my subsequent career in the Coull viola player really gave me an understanding of the roles of the various voices in a quartet and given my view that an orchestra is simply a larger quartet, the same holds true. My approach with chamber and symphony orchestras is very much a collaborative chamber music based ethos, if an orchestra really listens and play as an ensemble then the role of the conductor is transformed.

In answer then to the question What attracts you most about the music of this period? is that as all the great orchestral repertoire springs from the well of this period, an understanding of Haydn, Mozart et alii is essential to developing a sound orchestral technique on which to build.

On a personal note I’m often dismayed to hear performances of Haydn symphonies which lack charm, wit, humour and humanity, all too often these performances are given by major symphony orchestras with esteemed maestros… who have clearly never played a Haydn quartet. I’ve often been asked which composer I would most like to have as Resident Composer to which my answer is always Haydn. Mozart would be impossible to work with, Beethoven simply too terrifying but Haydn, here was a composer who wrote not for his patrons, not for his audiences but above all for his musicians.

I also mentioned Steve Shingles and the Academy of St. Martins and one of the earliest influences I had was hearing the Academy, with Steve as principal viola, on a recording of Mozart Divertimento K136 when I was about 10 years old. I had simply never heard playing like it and had no idea that an orchestra could sound like that. I still have the LP in my collection and the vitality of the early Academy recordings has been a huge inspiration and influence in what I have tried to achieve.

Steve Shingles used to play a Lavazza viola I later bought from him and played on in Coull Quartet for many years.

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Julian Bliss presents Weber Clarinet Concerto with Orchestra of the Swan

3. You have conducted a series of concerto-events in collaboration with BBC for the recent celebration of the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare. And also this year 2017 your Orchestra of the Swan has been involved into special Shakespeare oriented events in collaboration with the RSC, like Musical Transformations (October 2017). How do you see this synergy Shakespeare & music and are there other projects of this kind for the future?

Being based in Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon there are clearly potential major influences on Orchestra of the Swan’s programming, Shakespeare’s influence on composers from his own time to the present day is difficult to over-estimate and I have in my bookcase a four volume index and cross reference of music relating to Shakespeare whether it be major works such as the Romeo and Juliet overtures and ballet suites to far smaller songs and incidental music for the plays.

Much of the music composed has been for large scale symphony orchestra, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Verdi immediately spring to mind which are obviously not practical for a chamber orchestra, however there are less well know works and of course, as a champion of new music we commissioned a series of new works for the 450th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare in 2014 and a major new work for choir and chamber orchestra from Dobrinka Tabakova, Immortal Shakespeare, which we performed in Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 23 April 2016. The church is of course Shakespeare’s final resting place and the performance was the day after St Georges day so exactly 400 years and 1 day since the bard’s death. The performance was recorded for BBC Radio 3 and I hope to record Immortal Shakespeare at some future date, watch this space.

For the 450th anniversary I commissioned new work from Roger Steptoe, Huw Watkins, Roxanna Panufnik and Pete Wyer and I also ran an international composition competition won by Kristina Arakelyan and her setting of Sonnet 115.

We also performed repertoire by Finzi, the Love’s Labours Lost Suite, a much under-rated work, Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite and Howard Blake created a special version of his suite for A Midsummer Night’s Dream and of course, Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with four narrators taking key roles.

We later performed the Mendelssohn in the Istanbul Festival with leading Turkish actress Tilbe Saran taking the role of narrator. For me this was an interesting experience to say the very least. Tilbe was reading the script in Turkish and I had on my stand my score for the orchestra, her script in Turkish and the original Shakespeare. Tilbe and I decided at a rehearsal with piano the previous day that we’d smile at each other and make it work. It certainly seemed to as after the performance I was congratulated on my clear understanding of Turkish as I’d been able to follow every nuance of Tilbe’s delivery. Smiles really go a very long way in delivering a great performance!

Our commission programme celebrating Shakespeare even extended to our tour to Mexico in November 2016 when Anglo Arts Mexico commissioned the young Mexican composer Alejandro Basulto to compose a new work for the tour. His Jig Variations, based on an original Elizabethan melody with nine variations each based on contemporary Mexican dance rhythms, celebrated Kemp’s jig from London to Norwich after he fell out with Shakespeare and devised this publicity stunt.

Shakespeare’s influence is very much alive and well!

Immortal Shakespeare – Dobrinka Tabakova (21 April 2016)

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4. What’s the origin of the name of your Orchestra Orchestra of the Swan and what’s the story behind its foundation over twenty years ago? You have recently received your new position as Principal Guest Conductor of the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra (Miskolc) and the overseas touring of your Orchestra is increasing considerably in these two years: what are your projects in this wider scenario? When you work with these different orchestras in different countries and you are preparing a new series of concerts, what are your pieces of advice to the musicians on approaching Mozart and on approaching Haydn? What do you think fundamental for a marvellous performance?

The story behind Orchestra of the Swan is very simple and perhaps surprising…

… In 1995 I was approached by the then director of the Stratford Music Festival who asked if I could fix a small string orchestra for a concert in the festival that would also enable his very talented daughter to perform the Mathias clarinet concerto. On a whim I agreed and called various friends to see if they’d like to play in the concert, several agreed but also asked who would conduct, my reply simply being that as there was no budget for a conductor I’d take it on myself to wave my arms around. So, we had a date, a soloist, a programme, a conductor, players fixed… but no name for the orchestra. Several of us met some months before the event and threw around various names; Stratford Chamber Orchestra, Midland Chamber Orchestra, Shakespeare Players etc., finally someone, it may or may not have been me said, «there are swans everywhere in Stratford, how about Orchestra of the Swan?»…

… As it was by then getting late and we’d all had several glasses of wine we agreed that would do.

The concert seemed to go well, everyone had a good time and the following year we were back at the festival again when it occurred to me that perhaps Stratford could support a small chamber orchestra series so the following season I promoted series of 6 string orchestra programmes and I believe I persuaded pianist Alan Schiller, with whom I’d worked with in the Coull Quartet, to perform the 3 Mozart concertos K412, 413 and 414 with us; plus ca change plus ca la meme chose!

Since then OOTS has grown organically but in some ways I’ve tried to hold true to the original idea, find a group of players who want to enjoy making music together, nurture young and emerging talent, perform great repertoire from the classical canon and work with outstanding soloists.

As I leave OOTS to concentrate on my other projects and conducting I can reflect that 22 years later it seems to have done the trick!

My approach with other orchestras is fundamentally the same, though most of the repertoire with the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra (Miskolc) is rather larger scale, this season my programming has included Holst Planets Suite, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition, Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and contemporary work by Roland Szentpali – concerto for 4 saxophones, Theo Verbey – Fractal Symphony, Frigyes Hidas – concerto for 2 trombones then in March the Oscar Navarro – clarinet concerto (www.mso.hu) and a new commission from American composer and colleague Peter Lieuwen, Heartland (www.mso.hu), which draws on American and Hungarian folk influence and will be premiered on April 27 in Miskolc with the composer present, do join us!

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5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.

How on earth to choose single favourite work from these two great masters, these are the really difficult questions but for Mozart I would choose his opera The Magic Flute.

For me Mozart is at his greatest when writing for the voice but so often we hear this in other repertoire, particularly the piano concertos which perhaps come closest to his operas. For me this also determines my approach to conducting Mozart, my question is always «is the music singing, is the tempo right for the music to sing?»…

… Wagner is reputed to have said that 90% of conducting is finding the right tempo (Wagner: The whole duty of a conductor is comprised etc., 1869) and yes, I believe that’s probably pretty accurate and with Mozart if the performance is too fast to hear the voice or to slow to sustain the line then, it’s probably too fast or too slow!

Haydn is even harder to answer, there are so many great works, an obvious choice would be The Creation, perhaps one of the late great Paris or London series of symphonies or an earlier, quirkier symphony such as the Farewell, certainly a great favourite of mine, even if F# minor/F# major does pose some problems for the performers as well as probably taxing the ears of the court at Esterhazy!

So, I’m going to choose one of Haydn’s quartets that I performed on many occasions with the Coull Quartet, the Sunrise Opus 76 No. 4 (with the Coull Quartet I had also recorded Haydn’s quartets Op. 33 Nos. 1-6).

The Sunrise Quartet is such a great work, a joy to perform and to listen to and I love Haydn’s some typical self-deprecating comments, like «Ah, yes, but it still reminds me of great amount of work that remains to be, even by someone like myself».

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6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?

I think that Christian Cannabich (1731 – 1798) is a composer and violinist who certainly deserves to be more widely recognised, not just as a composer of numerous operas, ballets, symphonies, concertos string quartets and piano trios, but even more importantly as the director of the Mannheim court orchestra, a role he assumed on the premature death of Johann Stamitz with whom he’d previously studied.

His role as Director of the Mannheim Orchestra from 1774-1798 saw a flowering of one of the finest orchestras of the period which perhaps laid the foundations of modern orchestral technique. The Mannheim orchestra was renowned for its excellent discipline, the individual skill of its players and their performance style which included new dynamic elements, crescendi and diminuendi which allowed of the full orchestra to accompany a soloist without covering them since the Mannheim orchestra members were all virtuosi, the composers who wrote for them could create new orchestral sounds by capitalizing on this new development.

It’s hardly surprising that from 1777, 3 years after Cannabich assumed his role as Director, that Mozart visited Mannheim several times beginning and became a good friend of Cannabich, indeed Mozart lived for a time in the Cannabich household and gave almost daily keyboard lessons to Cannabich’s daughter. Mozart greatly admired Cannabich, writing in his letters «Cannabich, who is the best director that I have ever seen, has the love and awe of those under him» (9 July 1778) and in a letter to his father he wrote; «I cannot tell you what a good friend Cannabich is to me».

For Mozart to speak so highly of Christian Cannabich speaks volumes to me and surely justifies re-evaluation of his music and place in the development of orchestra technique.

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7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency. 

I’d like to cheat a little here if I may and choose a work premiered on 7 April 1805, the Symphony in Eb by Anton Eberl.

Eberl (1765 –1807) studied piano and composition from Mozart and as well as being a prolific composer he was an outstanding pianist. Most of his works are now sadly lost but during his lifetime his work was so highly regarded that it was frequently passed off as being by… Mozart.

This so appalled Eberl that he finally published the following notice in a newspaper «However flattering it may be that even connoisseurs were capable of judging these works to be the products of Mozart, I can in no way allow the musical public to be left under this delusion».

Contemporary critics also wrote in the Berlin Musical Journal that; «Since the symphonies of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, nothing but this symphony has been written which could be placed alongside theirs».

The reason for my choice of Eberl’s E flat major Symphony lies in the significance of the date of its premiere and companion work in the same programme.

The Eberl symphony is indeed a charming work and, at the time was reviewed rather more favourably than the other symphony in Eb that was also performed in that same concert, the symphony in question being of course Beethoven’s Eroica

… I choose this symphony not in any way to diminish Eberl’s reputation, his work deserves to be more widely played, but I’d invite readers to consider this. After hearing a very charming but essentially rather light-weight work by Eberl, consider hearing perhaps the world’s greatest symphony being premiered. Nothing demonstrates to me more strongly that this was a pivotal moment in music history.

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8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?

The book I’d choose is not specifically on the Mozart Era but a book primarily written with conductors in mind by the late, and very great conductor Erich Leinsdorf, The Composers Advocate, subtitled A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians and published by Yale University Press.

In his preface he says «the musician is privileged to make a living while dwelling each day with genius». Genius is a description that is now banded around all too frequently but there is no doubt that if we are working with music of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven et alii we are indeed «dwelling each day with genius».

And with that lies a responsibility to the composer, our fellow musicians and of course our audiences and I refer back to Jorma Panula’s distinction between interpretation and realisation again springs to mind.

This is a book that demands that conductors real know and understand their craft, the titles of the 7 chapters almost biblical in their direct simplicity:
1. Knowing the Score
2. Knowing the Composer
3. Knowing What Composers Wanted
4. Knowing Musical Tradition
5. Knowing the Right Tempo: 1
6. Knowing the Right Tempo: 2
7. Knowing the Conductors Role

It couldn’t be much clearer, and I find it telling that he devotes not one, but two chapters to tempo, we’re back to Wagner’s assertion that 90% of conducting is finding the right tempo!

Needless to say, this is a book I strongly recommend to any conducting class I take.

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9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

My answer here may be something of a surprise, a cliché and perhaps be considered too lightweight but I suggest Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus.

Now, I can almost sense the purists shuddering at this choice and the portrayal of Mozart as a vulgar, irritating buffoon and in some respects yes, I agree, the film is not historically accurate, especially in its portrayal of the relationship between Salieri and Mozart which, although the older composer was probably jealous of his rival’s genius, and who wouldn’t have been, was at the least mutually respectful.

However it’s frequently been said that you should never let facts get in the way of a good story and, in the same way that I find James Cameron’s telling of the Titanic story brings the actuality of what happened on that dreadful night to life far more vividly that an historically accurate narrative I think the film Amadeus does reveal a truth about Mozart’s life, his circle, friends and rivals…

… It has also had the effect of bringing Mozart’s music to a far wider audience and for that reason alone I consider it a valid choice.

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10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?

I’m not sure there is any one place that is a single crucible, there are so many competitors for that accolade, Mannheim, crucible of the Mannheim School, Vienna, home of the Viennese school (both of them), Salzburg, Esterhazy – where Haydn is said to have had to find creativity within himself and which could perhaps be considered the birthplace of the symphony, Prague – where Mozart achieved such success, London and Paris which feted Haydn and Mozart.

However I think that more generally the broader culture and architecture of the towns and cities in Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary can in some more subtle way inform our understanding of our deeper European cultural roots. All artists are a product of their environment and culture and the great canon of repertoire by Haydn, Mozart, Dittersdorf, Vanhal, Salieri, Stamitz, Danzi, Eberl, Pleyel and so many others must be influenced by their environment, in much the same way as it’s impossible to imagine Shostakovich creating his music world had he not been living in the Soviet Union at that particular time in history.

A very personal viewpoint is that I have a favourite café in Miskolc, Café Frei, and no apology for the free advertisement. One of my favourite ways of spending time between rehearsals in Miskolc is to find an outside table in the warm sun, sitting with a coffee and a score or book and listening to the sound of the trams, the piano accordion player on the next block and looking at the beautiful central European architecture…

… Perhaps I have a vivid imagination but in my minds eye I can almost see Haydn walking down the street, pulling up a chair and joining me for a coffee so we can discuss my latest commission from him!

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Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!

Thank you!

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Copyright © 2018 MozartCircle. All rights reserved. MozartCircle exclusive property. 
Iconography is in public domain or in fair use.

CD Spotlight March 2018: 3 Symphonies by a Pupil of Mozart

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3 Symphonies by Eberl

The Symphonies by Eberl deserve
some attention because Eberl was
one of the pupils of Mozart
and because a few works
by Eberl were often considered
works written by Mozart himself.
His Symphony E-flat premiered
with Eroica by Beethoven.

Concerto Köln

Teldec Records

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Interview January 2018: 10 Questions with I. Page

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Ian Page: Official Sites
Ian Page Site: Ian Page & Classical Opera / The Mozartists
Ian Page: Ian Page (Twitter)
Ian Page: CO & The Mozartists (Twitter)
Ian Page: CO & The Mozartists (Facebook)
Ian Page: CO & The Mozartists (YouTube)
Ian Page: CO & The Mozartists (Season 2017/2018)

Ian Page: CD Albums
Ian Page: Mozart: Il Sogno di Scipione
Ian Page: Mozart: Haydn, Beethoven: Perfido!
Ian Page: Mozart: Zaide


1. In 2017/2018 you are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Classical Opera, that, with its period-instrument orchestra under your direction as conductor, has gained the status of one of the major international leading exponents not only of the music of Mozart but also of his many contemporaries (i.e. Gluck, J.C.Bach, T.Arne, N.Jommelli and many others), thanks to a series of highly critically acclaimed live concerts and CD recordings. In 1997 you have founded Classical Opera, then in 2017 you have launched The Mozartists… Can you tell us about the story behind the birth and the many years of activity of Classical Opera? When did you encounter the music of Mozart for the first time and when did you decide to found Classical Opera and why? What have been the major challenges and the major accomplishments, you experienced during these 20 years? And what about The Mozartists?

It’s been a wonderful journey, although in many ways I’m always too close to it to be able to see the growth and evolution from a proper perspective.

In my late teens the music of Mozart occupied an increasingly important place in my heart – the piano concertos were my initial way in – and when I was at University at York (my degree was actually in English Literature), Roger Norrington came to conduct Beethoven’s Eroica symphony with the chamber orchestra there. It was completely revelatory for me, and I soon started supplementing by listening habits with period-instrument recordings of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

I was bowled over by how fresh, vibrant and surprising this core repertoire sounded with these instruments…

…The music suddenly seemed to make so much more sense; it was like scraping the veneer off an old painting by a great master and discovering that the original colours were so much brighter and more compelling.

By this stage I was in London studying as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music, and there I met David Syrus, who was for many years Head of Music at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (he only retired from the position last year). Like many other students before and since, I was fired by David’s musicianship, wisdom and supreme decency and generosity as a human being, and opera seemed to represent the ideal fusion of my twin loves of music and literature.

One thing led to another, and I naturally gravitated more and more towards Mozart’s operas…

…After the RAM I joined the music staff at Scottish Opera, where I worked with the Handel specialist Nick McGegan on a new production of La clemenza di Tito, and this again proved a revelatory experience. I was astonished by how wide the gulf generally was between a good and a bad performance of works like Tito or Idomeneo, and the following year Nick asked me to assist him at the uniquely beautiful and evocative rococo theatre in Drottningholm, Sweden. I was also now working at Glyndebourne, and specialising increasingly in Mozart. This was still limited to the big four or five operas, but I was becoming more and more interested in where Mozart’s operatic style and personality grew from. This was the seed for starting Classical Opera; I was struck by the dichotomy between Mozart being arguably the most highly regarded composer in the history of opera and yet only about a quarter of his operas holding a place in the repertoire of the world’s opera houses. There was no sudden light-bulb moment, but it gradually became important to me to try to set up a company that could do for Mozart what the Royal Shakespeare Company does for Shakespeare.

Over the years our brief, and my interests and ambitions for the company, have evolved, influenced partly by my growing fascination with placing Mozart’s music in context and partly by the feeling that there should be no limit to the repertoire we explore, having invested so much in assembling a wonderful team of musicians and establishing a shared philosophy and approach to performing the music of the 18th century. The name Classical Opera has increasingly felt limiting to this evolution, and earlier this year we launched The Mozartists as a vehicle for our expanding concert work.

Over our first 20 years our repertoire has already ranged from cantatas by Handel and Pergolesi to symphonies by Beethoven and Schubert, but Mozart – and his operas in particular – has always been our starting point. This new name allows us greater freedom and flexibility in our programming, while hopefully also causing less confusion among promoters and audiences. The important step for me was the recognition that we’re not exclusively an opera company, and so long as Mozart remains central to our repertoire and mission, there’s no reason why we can’t also explore Handel and Beethoven and even beyond.

20th Birthday Concert – 9 October 2017

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Classical Opera Company rehearsing Artaxerxes

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Classical Opera - Adriano in Siria

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2. In October 2017 you have released the CD recording Il Sogno di Scipione by Mozart, an opera composed in Salzburg in 1771, when Mozart was only 15 years old. You have studied and conducted Mozart’s early works, especially operas, for a long time: what’s your general impression on this incredible work by a young genius of 15 years old? Which parts of Il Sogno di Scipione impressed you most? In June 2018 you are going to conduct Mozart’s first full-length opera La finta semplice (1768), marking so another 250th anniversary. La finta semplice was written in 1768, in difficult conditions, and Il Sogno di Scipione in 1771, after Mozart’s formative experience in Italy: what’s the technical difference between the two works, in your opinion? Il Sogno di Scipione is part of your project The Complete Mozart Operas, which started in 2012: at which point of your Mozartian operatic parcours are you now and what for the future?

The parallel with Shakespeare is a significant one.

Both Mozart and Shakespeare wrote some works that are less good than others, but even in the least good ones they will suddenly do something – tap a depth of beauty, wisdom or truth – that no one else could have thought of.

Il sogno di Scipione is an interesting case in point. It’s not one of his most challenging or accomplished works – indeed it’s the first release in our ongoing complete Mozart Opera cycle that we recorded without having previously performed the work in the theatre or the concert hall – but it still has touches, details, sleights of hand, that none of his contemporaries could have thought of…

… There’s an accompanied recitative near the end in which Scipio awakens from his dream. As he stirs the sound-world suddenly changes and the strings play two bars that instantly transport the listener to a magical, elevated place.

Il sogno di Scipione

The more familiar I become with Mozart’s early operas the more aware I become that what he was extraordinary at is matching the scale and ambition of each work to the level and expectation of the commission. Works commissioned to celebrate royal weddings were virtuosic but emotionally shallow, and works written for young or amateur performers were charming but technically undemanding, while he was able to throw the kitchen sink at major commissions such as Mitridate and Lucio Silla, in the knowledge that he was writing for some of the top singers and players of the day.

Il sogno di Scipione was commissioned as a dutiful and obsequious act of homage to the Archbishop of Salzburg, so it had a specific function whose message would only be muddied by a complex plot. In truth, the piece has virtually no plot whatsoever, and this had been one of my reasons for not having performed it before. During rehearsals for the recording, though, the moment we accepted the lack of plot and started to explore the way the score underpins and enhances the philosophical nature of the libretto, we found that the music suddenly lifted off the page, and it was wonderful to see how much our singers and players started to appreciate and enjoy the piece.
La finta semplice was composed for Vienna’s leading opera buffa singers, although in the end it was never performed there, and Goldoni’s libretto is genuinely comic, so the twelve-year-old Mozart gave it his best shot. In keeping with the styles of the day, the arias are substantially shorter than opera seria ones, but the music is astonishingly skilful and successful, and the chain-finales already anticipate the celebrated Da Ponte operas

La Finta Semplice Trailer – 6 & 8 June 2018

… At the conclusion there is even a poignant pre-echo of Le nozze di Figaro, as Giacinta begs forgiveness from her brothers for her impish trickery. With Rosina’s Senti l’eco and Amoretti, too, time suddenly seems to stand still and the comedy is briefly suspended in a vision of genuine sincerity, compassion and vulnerability.

The next release (the seventh) in our ongoing complete Mozart cycle will be of Bastien und Bastienne, which we are coupling with the early dramatic cantata Grabmusik. These two works, both completed before Mozart even reached his teens, will be released in autumn 2018, and again reflect Mozart’s skill at matching his music to the scale of the commission. Bastien und Bastienne was the only one of Mozart’s operas to be conceived for performance in a private house rather than a theatre or opera house, but its bucolic charm and simplicity are beguiling.

Grabmusik, meanwhile, was allegedly the result of a test set by the distrusting Archbishop of Salzburg, who had the young composer confined to solitary confinement while he set the text, to prove that he was not receiving help from his father or any other elders. The result is one of Mozart’s least known works, but it contains music of incredible emotional range, that must have quashed any doubters for good!

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Ian Page’s
THE COMPLETE MOZART’S OPERAS – CD Series (2011-2017)
& Other Albums
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Mozart: Il sogno di Scipione
Perfido! Vocal Works by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven
Mozart: Zaide

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Handel: Where’re You Walk
Mozart: Il Re Pastore
Mozart: Mitridate, re di Ponto

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Mozart: Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots
Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus
Gluck: Blessed Spirit

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Arne: Artaxerxes
A-Z Mozart Opera

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3. In 2015 with your Classical Opera you have launched another special type of concerts, synchronically featuring works by Mozart and by his major contemporaries during the same musical season: MOZART 250, which, through its concerts and its retrospective Series, chronologically follows an ideal 250th anniversary line in the annual footsteps of Mozart’s life from 1765/2015 (Mozart’s childhood visit to London) to 1791/2041. What led you to create such special annual series of musical events? Beside Mozart’s La finta semplice, in 2018 you’ll present Haydn’s Applausus, his Symphony No. 26 Lamentatione and other works by him and music by J.C.Bach, Jommelli, Hasse and Vanhal: what about your interest in the music by this group of composers and, in particular, in the music by Haydn?

Again, I can’t remember the exact moment I had the idea, but it seems to incorporate several of the things that are important to me. I’ve always been fascinated by what music Mozart heard and was influenced by, and which of his fellow composers he admired (he was famously dismissive of most of them!).

I also found myself being increasingly frustrated by reviewers and commentators judging Mozart’s early works in comparison with the masterpieces he was writing twenty years later rather than with the other music being written and performed at the same time.

Even when I first set up Classical Opera it seemed obvious that if we learnt to perform works like La finta semplice and Mitridate well then that would beneficially inform our performances of the great masterpieces of his maturity, and with MOZART 250 it’s proved really useful to be able to place Mozart’s works alongside works being written in the same year by other composers. Even those pieces which Mozart would almost certainly not have heard throw light on the gradual evolution of musical style during his lifetime, and of course the works that he did know are of even greater interest.

We’ve already featured over thirty composers in the first three years of MOZART 250, and our 2015 mini-festival exploring the music being performed in London during Mozart’s childhood stay there featured several composers that not even I had heard of before – people like Mattia Vento, Davide Perez, George Rush and William Bates.

We’ll be releasing a 2-CD set of highlights from these concerts in May 2018.

If everything goes according to plan MOZART 250 will generally form approximately half of our live projects each year between now and 2041.

Every January we present a retrospective concert offering an overview of the musical year 250 years previously. Our 1768 survey, which takes place at Wigmore Hall on 23 January, will include symphonies by Haydn and Vanhal, a flute concerto by Johann Christian Bach, played by our principal flautist Katy Bircher, and arias from Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Piramo e Tisbe, Haydn’s Lo speziale and Mozart’s La finta semplice, all sung by the young Swiss-Belgian soprano Chiara Skerath, making her UK début. Devising these programmes is very labour-intensive but I really enjoy the process, and it always throws up some fascinating discoveries.

Of course there are some years when Mozart was extremely prolific and others when he wrote very little, but even the least productive years provide opportunities to dig a little deeper into other more obscure repertoire…

…  1766 (2016), for example, was a relatively thin year on paper, but it enabled us to present the UK première of Jommelli’s Il Vologeso, which proved to be a great success. As we enter the fourth year of MOZART 250 a consistent pattern is starting to take shape, with Haydn unsurprisingly emerging as the leading light alongside the young Mozart.

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And about Haydn,…

… just consider that, beside Applausus and his symphony No. 26 for this season, I’m on a mission to champion all the symphonies without a nickname, because they tend to be overlooked in favour of those with nicknames, and among those nos. 47, 80 and 99 are particular favourites.

Haydn 2009 Celebrations

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Ian Page’s MOZART 250 – The Journey of a Lifetime
Complete Concerts Series (2015-2018)
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Mozart 250: Year 1768-2018
Mozart 250: Year 1767-2017
Mozart 250: Year 1766-2016
Mozart 250: Year 1765-2015

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4. You have worked at Glyndebourne and Drottningholm, experiencing, in this way, peculiar conditions of opera performance, a few of them, certainly typical of the 18th century (the Drottningholm Theatre, for example): how such experiences enriched your vision of the 18th century music? You have worked also with Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Alexander Gibson, Ivor Bolton, Nicholas McGegan, Mark Wigglesworth: how did they contribute to your growth as a musician, as a conductor and as an artist? You work with many marvellous, also young, artists and professionals year after year: do you want to remember someone in particular and some anecdotes? And as an entrepreneur, what have been your major challenges and what your advice and tips for those who’d like to launch their careers in the world of classical music as entrepreneurs?

When I assisted Nic McGegan at Drottningholm we were working on a production of Una cosa rara by Martin y Soler, and it was fascinating to work on such a typical 18th-century opera there.

After a few weeks in a rehearsal studio in Stockholm it seemed like a distinctly average piece with a fairly ordinary cast, but as soon as rehearsals moved into the Drottningholm theatre the piece, and the singers, suddenly sounded a million dollars!

That was a really formative experience for me; it made me realise that there are so many 18th-century works that need the right tender, loving care to flourish, and that they really start to make sense when you can recreate the conditions for which they were originally conceived.

Glyndebourne was also a wonderful place to work, and it was there that I first met and worked with Sir Charles Mackerras. I worked on all three of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas there, and as assistant conductor I had musical responsibility for luxuriously extensive understudy rehearsals, which provided me with the opportunity to work with some of the leading young singers in the country. I subsequently assisted Mackerras on his recording of Idomeneo, and he followed the development of Classical Opera with a keen interest, always generous with his advice and encouragement. Along with Stanley Sadie and Christopher Raeburn – two other great people, great minds and great Mozartians – he was the most influential mentor for me in the early years of the company.

I worked with the other three conductors you mention on rather different repertoire – Puccini, Britten and Stravinsky – but I learnt a huge amount from all of them. Sir Alex was particularly warm and inspirational, and I continue to hold Mark Wigglesworth up as a role model for his fierce musical intelligence and the depth of his thinking and preparation.

Then there are the conductors and other musicians from whom I’ve learnt so much from watching them perform or listening to their recordings. We should always retain an overriding sense of modesty and humility, but at the same time it’s really important in refining our own thoughts and interpretations to analyse what we particularly like or dislike about other performers and performances.

When I started Classical Opera we quickly gained a reputation for our work in identifying and nurturing top-quality young singers. This was partly due to the fact that we couldn’t afford more established artists, but it’s also true that this repertoire particularly suits young voices.

Young singers also tend to be more open to the style of detailed, explorative rehearsals that I prefer, and what I find particularly satisfying now is that when singers who worked with us at the start of their careers come back after a gap of several years, we already have a shared language which comes back in a matter of minutes, as with all good friendships.

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It took me rather longer to work out and identify the sort of players that I most enjoyed working with, but now that we have established such a strong and loyal sense of ensemble I’m continually inspired and fed by the players with whom I work.

It takes a certain type of open spirit, and intellectual rigour, to tame and master these wonderful old instruments, and building an ensemble isn’t just about finding the best players but also about instilling the right shared values, goals and reasons for doing what we do.

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5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.

Oh dear, these answers will probably change on a daily basis!

For Mozart it would probably have to be one of the operas or one of the piano concertos.

The C minor Mass would also be a contender, probably more so than the Requiem, and a recent addition to the short-list would be the Sinfonia Concertante K.364, which I conducted for the first time three months ago. But how to whittle it down to one? The old cliché is probably right, that my favourite Mozart opera is the one I’m working on at the time, but this week, and off the top of my head because I know the question will get harder the more I think about it, my short-list would be Idomeneo, Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte and the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor. And if I had to name one – today, and without questioning why on earth Figaro and Don Giovanni aren’t on my shortlist – I’ll say Così fan tutte. It’s such a profound, complex and modern score, and is still widely misunderstood and under-appreciated.

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Haydn is hardly any easier.

As I’ve already said previously, I’m on a mission to champion all the symphonies without a nickname, because they tend to be overlooked in favour of those with nicknames, and among those nos. 47, 80 and 99 are particular favourites. Today’s podium places, though, would be occupied by:

3. String Quartet in F major, Op. 77, no. 2.
2. Piano Sonata No. 52 in E flat major
1. Symphony No. 44 in E minor, Trauer

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6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?

You mean apart from Mozart?…

… I’m only joking, but I do love the line of Peter Schickele, who, when asked which composer he considered to be the most underrated, replied: «Mozart – since the highest rave is a gross understatement».

Gluck CO’s Blessed Spirit at Gramophone Critics Choice December 2010

Apart from Mozart, there is still valuable work to be done in increasing appreciation of Gluck (especially his pre-Orfeo operas) and Johann Christian Bach, but of the more forgotten names there are five that stand out for me: Beck, Jommelli, Kraus, Traetta and Vanhal.

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7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency.

I have quite a lot of these, including several by the composers I’ve just mentioned.

They’re not confined to lesser known composers either; in March we’re performing Haydn’s Applausus cantata, which doesn’t seem to have been presented in London for many years. I’m in a very fortunate position, because when I do come across a neglected work that I really rate I can often incorporate it into our programming.

For this question, though, I’m actually going to choose a work by Mozart – his concert aria Ah, lo previdi, K.272…

Perfido!

… Mozart’s concert arias in general don’t get as much exposure as they deserve, and I’ve never understood why this should be…

… Maybe promoters just don’t think of singers to fill their concerto slot. Whatever the reasons for their relative neglect, Mozart’s concert arias contain some of his best music, and the more extended ones are like concentrated mini-operas in their own right.

Ah, lo previdi is certainly one of these, a scena lasting over twelve minutes and incorporating two fiercely dramatic recitatives – the second one in particular contains some astonishing harmonic shifts and moments of exquisite, tender vulnerability – and two arias, the second of which incorporates a beautiful oboe solo.

Mozart clearly held the work in high regard, subsequently urging his beloved Aloysia Weber to learn it and «to put yourself in all seriousness into Andromeda’s situation and position», and the celebrated Mozart biographer Alfred Einstein wrote that Mozart «almost never wrote anything more ambitious, or containing stronger dramatic feeling».

We are including this piece in Perfido!, our recent recording of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven concert arias with Sophie Bevan, and I was delighted how many of the reviews singled it out for praise.

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8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?

I’m very grateful for the opportunity that this question gives me to acknowledge some of the books I couldn’t do without!

With Mozart of course we are lucky in that we have a very substantial series of Mozart family letters that have survived, and Otto Deutsch’s collection of Mozart documents is similarly indispensable, so these are the two bibles.

Too many modern biographies intercede with their author’s own attempts to formulate a particular theory or new angle, but a glorious exception is Stanley Sadie’s Mozart: the early years. This was intended as the first of a two-part biography, but Stanley sadly died before he could write the second book. For a clear, authoritative and insightful overview of Mozart’s life and works up until 1781, though, this is the book to have.

Scarcely a month goes past without me referring to two other fabulous books: The Compleat Mozart (don’t be put off by the title), edited by Neal Zaslaw, is a wonderful compendium of Mozart’s complete works, and Peter Clive’s Mozart and his Circle contains invaluable biographical entries on all the important people in Mozart’s life.

Zaslaw’s benchmark book on Mozart’s Symphonies is also outstanding, and for Mozart’s operas I still don’t think that anyone has rivalled William Mann’s The Operas of Mozart, first published in 1977, which has the huge advantage of devoting a whole chapter to each of the pre-Idomeneo operas, rather than merging them into a token single-chapter appraisal.

My final top recommendation would be John A. Rice’s Mozart on the Stage, which has fascinating information and insights on how Mozart’s operas would have been composed, rehearsed and staged.

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9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.

Like the play, the film of Amadeus has plenty of critics, but despite its faults it does recreate the spirit of Mozart’s Vienna (despite being filmed in Prague!), and the flights of fancy about how some of Mozart’s compositions came into being are captivating and imaginative, if spurious. I also find Farinelli exciting for its evocation of 18th-century theatres and opera performances.

In terms of documentaries, Phil Grabsky’s excellent In Search of… series has incorporated full length films devoted to Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, but I have a hazy memory of a wonderful series of TV programmes on these composers (and Schubert) from the 1980s…

… It was presented by Bamber Gascoigne and had Stanley Sadie as musical consultant, and I think it was called Man and Music. I’ve no idea whether these programmes are available anywhere now, but I’d love to know if they are, if only to see if they’re as good as I remember…

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10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?

I’m not sure I can think of anywhere about which I could make such an expansive claim, but the Drottningholm Slottsteater is my own personal First Choice.

I’m a big fan of Stockholm and its people, and the story behind the theatre’s preservation is such a fortuitous and romantic one. It’s an amazingly beautiful place and setting, too, but more than anything it’s the ambience inside the theatre itself which is truly magical. It feels as close to time travel as I’m ever likely to get!

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Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!

Thank you!

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