BETWEEN GALLANT STYLE AND VISIONARY MUSIC…
Joan Vives Bellalta, Musician and populariser
A priori, this concert’s program brings us representative music from the last two-thirds of the XVIII century, halfway between gallant style and classicism. But it is clear that great geniuses always strive to break the fashion patterns and create works that transcend the limits established by each era.
The Symphony in E flat major Wq 179 by C P. E. Bach, written in 1757 and subsequently revised, captures us from its first bars, since far from the tender, loving character that the baroque tradition had linked to the tonality of E flat major, the emotional instability and the contrasts draw the link of this work with the Empfindsamer (or sentimental) taste, which Frederick the Great of Prussia, the Flute King, had implanted in the music played in his Berlin and Potsdam palaces, where Carl Philipp worked as a harpsichordist for almost forty years. The disturbing calm of the central movement gives way to the final presto, written in the purest hunt topic.
The Symphony by W. F. Bach, the older brother of the previous one, predisposes us to a pastoral setting by tradition among composers of the time to use the F major tonality, far from what we will hear here. Born during his time in Dresden at the beginning of the 1740s, this symphony lives up to the apocryphal nickname by which it is known in German, «Die Dissonanzen,» for the abundance of harmonic surprises with which Friedemann Bach will surprise and captivate us as if the free and intense style of his brother from Berlin had suddenly become his own. Or the unique style of Jan Dismas Zelenka, also a composer at the Dresden court. The gentle final minuets return us to tradition.
Pure classical beauty bursts forth exultantly in the Concerto in C major for cello and orchestra, one of the two Haydn concertos for this instrument still preserved. Although it was known to exist – because Haydn mentions it in a draft catalogue of his own work made in 1765 – the concerto was lost until 1961. At that time, the Czech musicologist Oldřich Pulkert found the manuscript in the National Museum of Prague. We stand before a youthful work, created during the first years of the composer’s work at Eisenstadt Palace, in the service of the Esterhazy family, and most likely intended for that orchestra’s leading cellist, who at the time was Joseph Weigl. It is undoubtedly one of the most delicious pages written for cello during the second half of the XVIII century.
In the composer from Lucca orchestral output, Luigi Boccherini, a dozen cello concertos particularly stand out (in addition to being a composer, he was also a virtuoso of this instrument). He published the first four in Paris around 1770, shortly after settling in Spain, where he worked for the Infante Luis de Borbón at the Boadilla del Monte Palace. One of these concerts is precisely the G. 480, written in G major, where the composer’s virtuosic ability and exquisite classicist charm become evident. By the way, this concerto’s adagio was one of the fragments used by Friedrich Grützmacher in 1895 to construct the hybrid work that was then called Boccherini’s Concerto in B flat major, combined with a fragment of the sonata G. 565 and the G. 482 concerto, with many additions by Grützmacher himself, including notes, ornaments and re-orchestration. Today, we will hear the music as Boccherini conceived it.
After the parenthesis represented by the two pages for cello, we will complete the concert by returning to the almost pre-romantic singularity of one of Haydn’s most charismatic symphonies. Already from the first bars, this symphony’s Sturm und drang (storm and action) character is defined, which, more or less, will continue to mark, or simply perfume, the rest of the work. This term, taken from the play of the same name by Friedrich Klinger, is used to refer to a whole series of musical works that emerged around 1770, and not only by Haydn, which share features that seem to herald romanticism, such as the minor modes’ characteristic dark and melancholy colour, orchestral beats, syncopated rhythms, abrupt cuts, harmonic surprises… Composing exclusively for Prince Nikolaus allowed Haydn to make risky music, which would not have been well understood if it had been destined for an audience like that of Vienna. Especially singular is the Finale, which, after starting forcefully, stops abruptly, switching to a sweeter second part in major mode, from which the musicians will rise progressively, leaving only two violins to strike the final chord. Hence the nickname «Symphony of Farewells,» with which it became renowned. Haydn explained that this was the only diplomatic way he could find to let Prince Nikolaus know that the musicians wanted a few summer vacation days in 1772, even though he had exceptionally decided not to go. Genius put to the service of transcendence, even concerning the working rights of musicians.