by Ben Hogwood
Picture (left to right): Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Beethoven, Antonio Salieri
In which we briefly explore the music and influence of two of Beethoven’s teachers. In their entry on the composer, The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians talk of how the composer initially struggled to find an appropriate teacher. “In his dissatisfaction Beethoven went to another master, Albrechtsberger, a distinguished authority on contrapuntal and sacred music who had been court organist for twenty years”, reads the article. “Beethoven’s lessons with this able teacher continued for an indefinitely recorded period that was more than a year.”
Albrechtsberger was a well respected composer but his music has rather fallen by the wayside. His best-known composition is an unusual one, a Concerto for Jew’s Harp and Orchestra. Once heard, the sound of this unusual instrument is certainly not forgotten, its friendly buzz either appealing or infuriating – a marmite instrument for sure! As you may well hear from the String Quartet included on the Spotify playlist below, Albrechtsberger’s output was extremely accomplished – but not always with especially distinctive material.
Grove then talks of how, from “about 1793 to 1794 he put himself under another specialist, Antonio Salieri, court Kapellmeister, who had for many years been director of the Opera and was himself a flourishing operatic composer.” Beethoven’s aim here was to get a greater understanding of the musical aptitudes required for the stage. As Grove points out, that may seem a bit odd for a composer looking to excel in the supposedly more rigid forms of the symphony and the sonata. Yet Beethoven built on the essence of musical drama, studying with Salieri until 1802 and maintaining strong links with him after that.
Listening to some of Salieri’s large canon of music reveals a composer capable of turning his music into a drama. The Sinfonia in Pantomima, written for Armida, gives an idea of his dramatic instincts, changing mood quite abruptly. It also acknowledges the influence of Gluck in the operatic world at the time. The Overture to Daliso e Dalmino has a rush of violins, uses timpani freely and generates quite a head of steam, which surely would have appealed to his pupil. Likewise the terrific cut and thrust to the Overture to Les Danaides, with flurries of violins.
Again, we will have to wait until the Beethoven listening starts in earnest to gauge the influence of Salieri in particular. Yet the signs are – with Ludwig a dedicated pupil – he will have absorbed important elements from both these teachers. Now to see what Haydn and Mozart could impart!
You can listen to the music of Albrechtsberger and Salieri on the playlist below:
You may also wish to try an acclaimed recent release from Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques, a thrilling account of Salieri’s opera Les Horaces, written seven years before Beethoven came to call: