Routes to Beethoven – The Teachers: Salieri & Albrechtsberger

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:

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.

Sound of Mind 10 – Sounds of Spring

If you’ve been indoors for over a week now, the chances are you’ll be climbing the walls!

Happily there are reasons to be cheerful just around the corner – not least the imminent arrival of spring.

Classical music composers have always taken to spring in their music, from Vivaldi through to Stravinsky. This playlist celebrates their portrayals of the season, through works including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Schumann‘s Spring Symphony, Beethoven, Sibelius and finally Britten.

Have a listen and harness the positive energy our composers can provide!

 

Ben Hogwood

Routes to Beethoven – Handel

by Ben Hogwood

As we move on from the two Bachs, Johann Sebastian and Carl Philipp Emmanuel, towards Beethoven, we arrived at the person he described as ‘the greatest, most ablest composer’ – George Frideric Handel.

In his superbly written Beethoven biography, Jan Swafford makes the point of how “Handel, who died in 1759…gave the first inkling that there could be such a thing as a permanent repertoire. One of the things that made Beethoven what he became was the understanding, still relatively novel at the time, that one’s music could not only bring fame in life but also write one’s name on the wall of history.”

Swafford goes on to tell of how, when Beethoven was seeking outside ‘influences’ from the work of other composers, he repeatedly asked his publishers Breitkopf & Hartel for scores and literary works. These were by the two Bachs already mentioned, but extended specifically on the musical side to Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Masses.

The effect of Handel on Beethoven’s late works – in particular the Missa Solemnis and Choral Symphony – is also considered. He goes as far as to suggest that “The whole of the Missa Solemnis is informed by Handel…” while noting that “Beethoven jotted down the dead march from Saul as he worked on the Ninth.”

We also learn of how, “out of the blue, in the middle of December arrived the forty-volume set of Handel’s works sent by his British admirer Johann Stumpff. Beethoven was overjoyed. ‘I received these as a gift today; they have given me great joy with this…for Handel is the greatest, the ablest composer. I can still learn from him.'”

Listening to Handel over the last few days has been a thoroughly uplifting experience. His instrumental music in this encounter has been full of positive intent, while one listen to the Messiah confirms it to be the work of a composer working in the white heat of inspiration. Some of Handel’s word painting here is exquisite, such as the excitement of the violins when they portray the arrival of the angels to the shepherds.

Beethoven clearly had some familiarity with Handel’s sacred works, for in 1796 he used an excerpt from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, ‘See, the conqu’ring hero comes’, as the basis for a brilliant set of variations for keyboard and cello.

Handel’s Concerti Grossi and Organ Concertos are revealed to be a strong blend of invention and convention – that is, following some of the models already established but with a composer putting his own stamp on proceedings. The Op.6 concertos have such a good nature to them, but also a few more spicy dissonances in the slower music especially.

The Keyboard Suites – which Beethoven may well have played – also have craft and harmonic originality in good measure:

It appears that the true influence of Handel on Beethoven’s music may not become clear until we reach the late works – but that throughout he was held in an incredibly high regard, an inspiration to Beethoven as he sought to become a lasting household name.

Listen

This Spotify playlist presents some of the works discussed, including two of the Keyboard Suites, the first of the Op.6 Concerti Grossi and Part 1 of Messiah. It begins with the second of the Water Music suites, illustrating how Handel could work to commission but find plenty of inspiration in doing so:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to a quick look at the music of one of his teachers, Anton Albrechtsberger.

Routes to Beethoven – C.P.E. Bach

by Ben Hogwood

Our first stop on the route to Beethoven was one of the great fathers of music, Johann Sebastian Bach. Moving on a generation, we arrive at the doorstep of his second surviving son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel.

Comparing the music of the two best known Bachs is like comparing chalk with cheese. Whereas the senior composer Johann Sebastian was notable for the order of his exemplary part writing, meticulously crafted melodies and an incredible economy of expression, Carl Philipp Emmanuel assumes the mantle of a rebellious son. As Steven Isserlis brilliantly describes it, his music is that of ‘divine disorder’.

In his best work, C.P.E. drives forward with terrific energy and unpredictability. Try this Fantasy in C major for starters, played on the fortepiano by Robert Hill:

But what was the extent of his influence on Beethoven? In his recently published biography, Jan Swafford writes how Beethoven began his studies with Christian Gottlob Neefe around 1781. “Central to Neefe’s influence on Beethoven”, he writes, “was Leipzig’s living memory of two towering composers who had lived and worked in the city: J.S. Bach…and his son C.P.E. Bach.”

He goes on to talk of how, “during his later years in Berlin and Hamburg, C.P.E. became the prime musical representative of the aesthetic called Empfindsamkeit, a cult of intimate feeling and sensitivity.” Empfindsamkeit (which can loosely translate as ‘sensitivity’) was associated with C.P.E. and a group of composers working for his employer, Frederick The Great.

Flötenkonzert Friedrichs des Großen in Sanssouci by Adolph Menzel

This approach, also known as Sturm and Drang, gained momentum through the 1760s, thanks to the output of Haydn, Mozart and an influential group of early symphonists operating in Mannheim. C.P.E. Bach was regarded as one of its pioneers, with further assertions made in his important treatise Toward the True Art of Clavier Playing. Here he declared that “moving the heart was the chief aim of music, and to do that one had to play from the heart and soul.”

In the New Oxford History of Music, Philip Radcliffe notes how “C.P.E. Bach’s richly varied range and texture in keyboard writing affected later composers such as Haydn and Beethoven. True to Empfindsamkeit, he preferred extremes, very high and very low ranges, sudden contrasts of thin and full textures or close and distant spacing. The expressiveness at the keyboard strangely did not influence his orchestration, where he showed no particular aptness in either choice or treatment of instruments.”

C.P.E.’s output includes some eye-opening moments. As well as the Fantasy above there are some fine works in the traditional style. The Cello Concerto in A minor, a substantial piece, has terrific drive to its writing in the fast movements, but also a deeply emotive lyrical side:

C P E Bach Cello Concerto A minor from Konserthuset Play on Vimeo.

The keyboard works, of which there are many, strain at conventional writing. The Sonata in D minor, included in the playlist, is the opposite of conventional ‘front loaded’ works. Where the first movement would often be the dominant one, on this occasion the third of three movements is twice as long as the first two – and is a colourful and thoroughly enjoyable set of a theme and variations.

C.P.E.’s Symphonies are striking in their unbuttoned enthusiasm and power, and are on occasion misunderstood as being reckless. The keyboard works operate with a freedom glimpsed much less commonly in the works of his father – which seems to have been Beethoven’s approach too. His choral music is striking, too – the hour long oratorio Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu (The Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus) is a powerful utterance, while shorter pieces such as the motet Helig ist Gott are notable for their vivid responses and word painting.

This musical freedom was shared by Beethoven, so it will be interesting to see how closely the approaches of the two composers align. The respect shown by Beethoven to C.P.E.’s documentation and keyboard works shows his deep and lasting respect for the composer, and will surely extend into a willingness to challenge the norm and push down musical boundaries.

Listen

This Spotify playlist presents just a small proportion of the massive output of C.P.E. Bach. It is intended to give an idea of his fearless approach to composition and his instinctive writing for orchestra, solo keyboard and choir. As you listen you will I’m sure recognise a fierce energy and drive, and also the sense of pushing against the boundaries of much of the music around him:

Next up

Routes to Beethoven moves on to the music of Handel, a composer Beethoven greatly admired.