Routes to Beethoven – The Mannheim School

by Ben Hogwood
Picture: Mannheim National Theatre, 18th century (Schlichten & Klauber)

As we move towards the music of Beethoven we have so far encountered the music of three great masters – J.S.Bach, C.P.E. Bach and Handel. While all three exerted some sort of influence on Beethoven’s music, it is arguably the music of C.P.E. that was to prove the most far-reaching and original.

C.P.E.’s music went in hand with the Sturm und Drang approach, composers encouraged to bare their souls more explicitly in their music rather than (or as well as) sticking to more conventional rules.

The court orchestra of Mannheim was a hotbed for composers employing the Sturm und Drang in the mid-18th century. Its high level of musicianship was noted by Leopold Mozart and son Wolfgang, who made a prominent visit to Mannheim in 1777.

In his fantastically readable and comprehensive history Music In European Capitals – The Galant Style 1720-1780, Daniel Heartz takes up the story. He tells of how the city was incredibly well-placed for musical entertainment. Much of this took place in the palace, built from 1720 and containing the Knights’ Hall or Rittersaal, which became “the site of the orchestral academies for which Mannheim’s court music was to become most famous”. From 1742 the palace (below, depicted in 1725 by J.C. Froimon) was equipped with an opera house installed in its eastern wing, and a huge number of musicians in its employment.

One of those musicians was Johann Stamitz, described by English music historian Charles Burney as ‘the late celebrated Stamitz, from whose fire and genius the present style of Sinfonia, so full of great effects, of light and shade, was in considerable degree derived’. The ‘light and shade’ of which Burney speaks corresponds with the Sturm und Drang.

Stamitz worked at the court in Mannheim from 1743, but his fame soon spread, and Heartz writes of ‘the performance of a symphony by him with horns, trumpets, and timpani to open the Concert Spirituel in Paris in 1751’. This led to a prolonged period of work in the French capital, though soon Johann returned to Mannheim where he died in 1757, succeeded by his pupil Christian Cannabich.

The playlist below includes a number of Mannheim composers, headed by Johann Stamitz and his son Carl. Johann’s Sinfonia pastorale in D major begins the selection, quoting extensively from a Bohemian Christmas carol. Heartz writes of how ‘Stamitz’s fame rests principally on the handful of symphonies…attributed to his last four years…without equal in the 1750s’.

From there son Carl takes up the baton with the well-loved Clarinet Concerto no.3. Listening to this bright piece, brilliantly played by Sabine Meyer, gives an illustration of the positive energy Stamitz used throughout his music. The Cello Concerto in G major, later in the selection, is even more substantial, an assured piece that has a deeply soulful slow movement.

Cannabich himself wrote a large number of symphonies. Heartz writes of how his Symphony no.22, included here, contains crescendos – the idea of music changing in volume now a completely accepted one by scholars and audiences. It also includes oboes and horns in the scoring, signs that the orchestra was beginning to expand.

Mozart, however, was not impressed for a good while – until a later Cannabich symphony passed his ears in Munich in 1780. Now the story was different. ‘I assure you, if you had heard it yourself it would have pleased and moved you as much as it did me, and if you had not known ahead of time, you would not have believed that it was by Cannabich. Come soon then and hear the orchestra and admire it!’

Other prominent composers in the Mannheim court were Franz Xaver Richter, whose Symphony in B flat major appears on the playlist, as well as Franz Ignaz Beck and Ignaz Fränzl.

Did they influence Beethoven’s way of thinking in any way? We shall find out in due course. In the meantime, listen below:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to a quick look at the music of two of his teachers, Anton Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri.

BBC Proms 2017 – Edgar Moreau and Il Pomo d’Oro at the Cadogan Hall

Edgar Moreau (cello), Il Pomo d’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev (harpsichord)

Hasse Grave and Fugue in G minor (c1735)

Platti Cello Concerto in D major (c1724)

Vivaldi Cello Concerto in A minor, RV419 (c1725)

Telemann Divertimento in B flat major (c1763-6)

Boccherini Cello Concerto in D major, G479 (c1760)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 7 August 2017

Listen to this concert on the BBC iPlayer

Fresh performances of seldom-heard repertoire. That sums up the fourth of the BBC Proms’ weekly visits to Cadogan Hall, downsizing as they do on a Monday lunchtime.

This was an invigorating hour, documenting the emergence of the cello as a solo instrument in the 1700s. Until then it was largely used as part of the ‘continuo’ – that is, the small section of instruments responsible for providing the harmonic base of the music – but thanks to composers such as Platti, Vivaldi and Boccherini the instrument’s own melodic potential began to be fully realised.

The first item in the concert provided some helpful context, a lean performance of the stern Grave by Johann Adolf Hasse, followed immediately by a Fugue rooted in dance forms. The authorship of this remains in doubt – Hasse is a contender, but a more likely composer was Franz Xaver Richter, a fellow Mannheimer. Whatever the outcome, the two pieces dovetailed nicely, setting the scene for the much brighter Cello Concerto in D major by the Italian composer Giovanni Benedetto Platti, employed in the German city of Würzburg.

His bright and breezy work showed off the cello’s new capabilities, if not quite raising it above the level of the surrounding violins. Edgar Moreau brought plenty of energy and pizzazz to the performance, however, with brilliant technique and studious interaction with the finely honed instrumental sextet Il Pomo d’Oro, and their charismatic leader Maxim Emelyanychev. His contribution on the harpsichord was a constant delight, punctuating the music and cajoling his players.

Vivaldi was next, one of the 20+ concertos he completed with the cello centre stage. This one, in A minor, had some tricks up its sleeve in the outer movements that Moreau enjoyed showing off, but the serene and rather beautiful melody in the central Andante stole the show.

Il Pomo d’Oro then took over for some forward looking music by Telemann. The German master’s Divertimento in B flat major contains glimpses of classical practice with its use of five light hearted ‘scherzo’ movements out of the six in total. There was plenty of variety within them however, and the poise and dexterity of the ensemble was a joy to watch.

Finally the cello got its best workout in one of Italian composer Luigi Boccherini’s 12 concerti. This one, the Cello Concerto in D major G479, sparked into life immediately, helped by Moreau’s immaculate control in the higher register, where most of the writing for cello could be found. This was a striking change in comparison to the Platti, the cello now much more dominant, and the duet with Zefira Valova’s violin in the slow movement felt more like a ballet score. Boccherini relocated to Spain, and the last movement betrayed this somewhat in its Fandango flavouring, where Moreau enjoyed the rapid dancing and energetic conclusion.

To bring us back to earth there was an encore of solo Bach, the Sarabande from the Solo Cello Suite no.3 in C. If Boccherini and co raised the cello to the heights in the concerto, then it was Bach who revolutionised the instrument in a solo capacity – and it was a nice touch to include that point here.

Ben Hogwood