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Read also the review of the book: Mozart’s Music of Friends
- Your book Mozart’s Music of Friends (official site: mozartsmusicoffriends.com) has proved once more that J.Haydn has played a fundamental role in the evolution of chamber music, and has cast further documentary light on the strong connection between his chamber music works and the social conversational interrelation typical of the 18th century community and this from the very beginning. You mention in your book, just for example, his String Quartets Op. 1 published by La Chevardière in 1764 as Six Simphonies ou Quatuors Dialogués.
It’s hard to overstate Joseph Haydn’s importance, not only in terms of his own output of chamber music but furthermore in terms of his influence on the following generation. We all know the six quartets that Mozart dedicated to him, but I only recently learned of the over 40 collections of quartets that were dedicated to Haydn during his lifetime. My friend and colleague Balázs Mikusi, based at the National Széchényi Library in Budapest, oversees Haydn’s personal collection of quartets and has pointed out that Haydn owned several of these published collections, which are mostly by composers who today are little known. It’s difficult to imagine a history of the Viennese string quartet without Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart.
- Do you see a possible influence of the socio-political hierarchy system of the 18th century Ancien Régime in the game of the parts and in the evolution of chamber music?
I think about this in two ways, one literal and one more figurative. According to an oft-cited foundation myth (reported by Haydn’s biographer Griesinger), Haydn’s invented the string quartet at the request of a Baron Fürnberg, who needed music for four friends to play together at his country estate. The story is probably not true, but it reflects an understanding of the aristocracy’s role as musical patrons and hosts. It’s hard to tell the story of Viennese chamber music in this period without mentioning, for example, King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, Baron von Swieten, or Prince Rasumovsky played vital roles (just to name a few). And certainly the aristocracy’s deep engagement in chamber music (especially in Vienna) influenced those upper-middleclass families who sought to emulate their manners and customs. If one’s children could learn to play music with grace, that would elevate their social status.
But a second way to answer this question is more metaphorical: the Enlightenment period brought about changing attitudes in music (just as in society) toward hierarchy vs. equality. If an earlier styles had more prescribed roles for melody instruments vs. harmony instruments vs. the bass, late-18th-century chamber music draws special attention to the role-exchange and witty interplay among the parts. The theorist Heinrich Christoph Koch writes that, in a string instrument, there is not a single instrument with the ancestral privilege (Vorrecht) to be the main melody, but four main melody instruments that exchange taking leading roles. This spirit of interchange seems to me to emulate the witty repartée of the salons, which cultivated a certain loosening of strict, aristocratic hierarchy.
- After having delineated the fundamental aspects of the real meaning of conversation in music in the 18th century and then having reached the formal definition of a Multiple Agency methodology, what is your technical advice to the musicians who want to play chamber music in a more historically informed way?
Of course there are many ways a performance can be informed (by history, by our own intuitions, by inspiration from other art forms, by innovative new ideas, etc.), and that’s very a good thing.
As far as historically informed performance, we’re all familiar with sources about period instruments, ornamentation, etc. But another way to be historically informed is to consider the spirit of the music vis a vis the culture that gave rise to it. This is what led me to exploring the Enlightenment salons, which emphasized sociability, wit, and artful conversation. This is mirrored in the music that was played in these salons, you can see this in both historical accounts of these performance settings and in paintings or drawings that depict them, since the social aspects are emphasized as much as the musical ones. Therefore, sensitivity to this spirit of social intercourse is another way to be historically informed that matters just as much as, say, playing on gut strings or with a fortepiano.
- Do you think there may be possible technical solutions to perform chamber music on stage, but reproducing at the same time the more intimate and private salon atmosphere for which most of chamber music was originally conceived?
At John Ella’s Musical Union concerts in England (founded 1845), he placed the musicians in the center with the audience seated all around them. He wrote that this was meant to simulate for a larger audience the intimate experience of a Quartettabend in a Viennese salon.
Whether it’s the setting of the room, or the way musicians interact with audiences, I think we can find ways to emulate aspects of the private salon atmosphere for larger audiences. The strict rituals and protocols of the traditional concert hall are not for every listener, so there’s room for us to experiment with ways to break down the wall from performers to audience. Usually we think that to do so is very innovative, but perhaps it’s actually going back to traditions that predate the formal concert halls.
- Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.
I’m glad I don’t have to limit myself to playing just one! But since you ask for one of each, I’ll mention the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio, which is a favourite of mine being a violist. The story that Mozart composed the game while playing skittles (Kegelspiel) is not true, although Mozart was a great enthusiast of the game. But since the piece was written for the theretofore unprecedented combination of piano, clarinet, and viola, Mozart is constantly inventing new ways to use the instruments within the texture, and the players seem to be working out their roles throughout the piece as they do. Of course the piece is of special interest for me, being a violist, since Mozart wrote that part to play for himself.
And for Haydn, I’d mention the Trio no. 44 in E Major, which (as I violist) I unfortunately can’t play. But the opening is brilliant, since it’s as if the piano wanted to play pizzicato – a piano masquerading as a string instrument!
- Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?
Reading Mozart’s letters, I’m struck that he very often writes, «I arrived at the home of so and so, in such and such a city, and he had some very pretty new keyboard sonatas by composer XYZ». More often than not, XYZ is a name that I haven’t heard of and who is no longer part of the concert repertoire, and yet Mozart thought their sonatas were worth playing through and thinking about. Leaving aside the question of whose sonatas are better – not the most interesting question – we could at least say that music by so-called Kleinmeister helps us to understand the world Mozart or other more familiar composers operated in and the conventions they were drawing from. Music scholars are starting to look more thoughtfully at the broader landscape, rather than study a handful of master composers in a vacuum. See, for example, Robert Gjerdingen’s book Music in the Galant Style.
- Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency, especially after the long documentary research you have carried on for your book Mozart’s Music of Friends.
I’m a big fan of Mozart’s piano-and-violin sonatas and violin/viola duos, which I wish I’d hear more often in concerts and in recordings.
As for lesser-known composers: I can’t name one piece, but as a musician interested in string quartets, I am struck how few composers are represented in concerts today and how few I really know (especially since so many quartets were published only in parts and have never appeared in scores).
The Viennese music publisher Johann Traeg published an advertisement in 1784 in the Wiener Zeitung offering essentially a Netflix-like service for chamber music parts. For a modest fee, he would provide music for your weekly, private chamber music gatherings at your home (either three symphonies or six quartets, quintets, or sextets), but he required that the parts be returned the following day so you could receive new pieces the following week. His rental catalog contained over 1100 quartets, in more than 200 collections, by over 100 composers! (How many quartet composers from this period can you name?) This gives a sense for the voracious appetite of the Viennese aristocracy for new quartets to play through, week after week. Probably many of them were written more to sight-read through for fun, rather than to live with over a lifetime (as we do with canonical works today), but it gives an idea how much repertoire is out there than remains obscure today.
- Beside your books, do you have in mind a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
It’s hard to name just one! For a global view of the period, I can recommend very highly Daniel Heartz’s magisterial and amply documented trilogy of books, (1) Music in European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720-1780, (2) Haydn, Mozart, and the Viennese School: 1740-1780, and (3) Haydn, Mozart, and Early Beethoven: 1781-1802. He has other books too, including a great study of Mozart’s operas. His protegé John A. Rice has a book called Music in the Eighteenth Century that covers much of the same ground but more concisely in a single volume.
I would also mention the outstanding new collection entitled the Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory, edited by Danuta Mirka. The over twenty contributors explore musical topics or styles, such as the hunting style, brilliant style, ombra style, or dance styles, which gets into expressive musical meanings that we recognize when we play or listen to this music. The idea of musical topics was first suggested in a lovely book by Leonard Ratner entitled Classic Music, which has been a strong influence on my own work. Ratner’s influence cannot be overstated, since students and disciples, such as Wye Allanbrook, Kofi Agawu, and Raymond Monelle, have written important books that explore these same aspects. For example, Allanbrook points out that Figaro’s aria Se vuol ballare is essentially a stylized minuet. If a listener recognizes that the servant is singing in the style of a courtly, aristocratic dance, then it takes on extra meaning when he says Se vuol ballare, signor contino, il chitarrino le suonerò (If you wish to dance, my little count, I’ll play the little guitar).
Then I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style, which is such an important landmark in 18th century studies. My own book is dedicated in his memory, and his way of hearing the witty interplay of opera buffa in string quartets was profoundly influential for my work.
- Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.
Scholars are quick to point out the historical problems with Amadeus (Milos Forman’s adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s play), which is indeed highly fictionalized. But there are certain scenes in it that ring true to me in some way, and besides, the acting is superb. There’s a scene toward the end that shows Mozart composing parts of Die Zauberflöte in a pub, among his musician friends who try out the music as quickly as he composed it. The scene is pure fantasy, but it captures the silly tone Mozart uses in his letters and that surely were a part of his collaboration with Emanuel Schikaneder, the impresario who produced the performance, wrote the libretto, and performed at Papageno. One could imagine Pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pageno growing out of just such an evening of revelry!
- Name a place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music, considering that then also some composers friends of Mozart, like Pleyel and Vanhal, rapidly reached the New World with their music and even with own Societies of Followers and considering the special relation between the von Zinzendorf family and the Viennese salons and Mozart himself.
As an American, I always enjoy visiting Europe because I am surrounded by so many famous places in the history of western concert music. When I first visited Vienna and searched for my grandmother’s childhood home, I found that it was just around the corner from Haydn’s house.
But in the United States we have some sites with interesting 18th-century musical history as well. I recently attended a conference at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Moravian community in Bethlehem was founded in 1741 by Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, and music was fundamental to their society. For instance, the basic social unit in their community was called the choir. One of the scholars who organized the conference, Sarah Eyerly is also a descendant of the community and organized an authentic Singstunde service and performance of Moravian songs accompanied by cittern and harp. Our venue at Moravian College was originally known at the Brethren’s House, built in 1748 and later visited by George Washington.
And exactly there in 1811 the American premiere of Haydn’s The Creation was organized in the Sanctuary of Central Moravian Church. So I think it’s a strong symbol of how the Viennese divine sparkle of the music of friends of the circle of Mozart and Haydn managed to reach and enlighten so many parts of the World in just few years! Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
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