Founded in 1989, the Quatuor Alcan of the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean Symphony Orchestra has earned the enviable reputation of being the best Canadian ensemble of its kind since the advent of the Orford [...]
Jewels of the Classical Era
They spoke about it
What is Classical Music?
The term “classical music” has been applied to a range of music from different cultures, and gradually came to mean “authentic” or “principal.” In Western European music, it is distinguished from “popular” music, although history has shown that popular and classical forms were once closely woven together and to some extent, still are. Classical music has also developed its own conventional history, which unfolds over a series of periods including the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Enlightenment or Classical (with a capital “C”), and the Romantic, Modern, and Contemporary eras, each of which evolved characteristic styles and forms. Whichever way we approach them, each of these periods also reveals its own particular beauty. This series of compilations invites the listener to savour salient examples of works penned by composers from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern eras and gleaned from Analekta’s impressive roster of performers.
Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven: Forging the Classical Style
The generic terms “classical” and “classic” refer to cultural productions that embody authenticity of style, whatever their provenance. This should be distinguished from the term “Classical,” with a capital “C” which, when taken in the context of Western art music, refers more specifically to works composed by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven; in other words to the “Viennese Classics” or “First Viennese School.” The great pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen confined the Classical style mainly to the instrumental works of the First Viennese School and it is with only one exception (Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate, a vocal work) that we adopt this perspective for the present recording.
Haydn’s role in the dissemination of the Classical style was primordial. He successfully merged the tuneful galant approach of the Enlightenment with more learned contrapuntal devices inherited from earlier composers. One contemporary wrote of Haydn in 1790: “He possesses the great art of making his music oftentimes seem familiar; thus, despite all the contrapuntal refinements therein, he becomes popular and pleasing to every musician.” (Gerber, Lexicon, 1790). Mozart, who was close to Haydn especially in the 1770s, enjoyed similar if not as universal ease with his public. He had the ability to compose in every genre current in his time with patently superlative technical skill, which no doubt explains his astonishing productivity. In his earlier years, Beethoven shared, with Haydn and Mozart, an eagerness to please his public but this was eventually tempered by the sweeping influence of the French Revolution and by his increasingly withdrawn lifestyle, moral outlook, and quest for an ultra-expressive personal style. Whether Beethoven’s style is “Classical” or “Romantic” has certainly been the subject of much debate, especially from his Eroica Symphony onward.
Franz Joseph Haydn (b Rohrau, Lower Austria, 31 March 1732; d Vienna, 31 May 1809)
Haydn has been called the first of the three Viennese Classics and with reason. He composed in every musical genre, is familiarly known as the father of the symphony, and no musical historian would dispute a similar, even more apt paternity for the string quartet. He was immensely famous in his lifetime and celebrated as a hero of European culture in his maturity.
String Quartet in F major, Op.77 No.2
1. Allegro moderato 7:20
Haydn’s 68 string quartets are the heart of his chamber music output. From his very earliest works in this genre, which belong to the lighter class of the ensemble divertimento, the composer’s stupendous control of instrumental dialogue and formal equilibrium was already a distinctive feature.
By the end of the 1790s, when the quartets Op.77 were composed, Haydn had been fortified by the second of two immensely successful journeys to London. He concentrated on expanding the dimensions of his string quartets, which have sometimes been qualified as “orchestral,” a more or less apt description that nonetheless reflects the important changes he brought to the genre he himself invented. The Op.77 works, dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz (also one of Beethoven’s patrons) ideally represent the composer’s depth, maturity, exquisite sensitivity and command of formal structure. Apart from these qualities, the characteristic feature of the first movement of the F-major Quartet heard on the present recording is a placid and deeply expressive principal theme.
Trio in G major Hob.XV:25
2. Finale: Presto, Rondo all’ongarese 3:08
The Gryphon Trio
The famous “Gypsy Rondo” from this piano trio embodies both Haydn’s Bohemian roots and the 18th-century piano trio genre, which must be understood as an “accompanied sonata” in which the keyboard dominates the ensemble. Dedicated to Haydn’s London copyist Rebecca Schroeter and composed in London in 1794-95 this trio, along with Nos.24 and 26 in the Hoboken catalogue No.XV are the fruits of the composer’s encounter with the rich, effervescent musical life of the English capital.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791)
Mozart excelled in every compositional medium current in his time. This, more than anything else, has caused him to be regarded as the most universal composer in Western music history. At the time of his death, and even considering his poverty-stricken final years, his reputation stood high. The romantic image of Mozart that prevailed in the 19th century was fuelled by anecdotes such as his increasing obsession with death (causing him to write his famous Requiem, ostensibly for himself), and images of him as the eternal child and rebel, no doubt compounded by his premature death at age 35.
“Haydn” Quartet in G major K.387
3. Andante cantabile
Mozart heartily emulated the quartets of Haydn; especially the latter’s Op.33 (1781). Like Haydn’s works in this genre and period, the ensemble writing is conceived as a four-part discourse between the instruments which transcends simple four-part harmony. Along with those of Haydn and Beethoven, the “Haydn” quartets have been described by critics as prime examples of the Classical quartet.
Due to the matchless ease with which Mozart composed all of his works, the cycle of six “Haydn” quartets took little more than two years for him to complete. The first of these, of which the “Andante cantabile” movement is heard on the present recording, was completed in Vienna, on December 21,1782.
Sonata for Fortepiano and Violin in D major K.306
4. Allegro con spirito 7:16
David Breitman, fortepiano
Jean-François Rivest, violin
Because of the popular visual portrayal of the child-prodigy Mozart playing the harpsichord or piano, it is often forgotten that Mozart was not only a keyboard virtuoso, but also a brilliant violinist. He earned a living in the string section at court in his native Salzburg until late 1777, when he resigned this position and left for Mannheim and Paris, seeking his own independence, autonomy, and fortune.
It was in Paris that Mozart composed the sonata for keyboard and violin K.306 and, according to Mozart scholar Cliff Eisen, this work breaks the expressive and stylistic pattern of the cycle of six so-called “Mannheim” violin sonatas (K.301-306) characterized by “jarring dissonances and harmonic and rhythmic disjunctiveness.” Sonata K.306 is the only three-movement work in the cycle and is free of many of the tortuous characteristics of the five preceding works in the group. Again according to Eisen, this work is a “virtuosic romp, extroverted, full of energy,” in which the violin is “more a partner in the musical dialogue and the keyboard writing is neither restrained nor spare, but has a hint of orchestral style.”
Exsultate jubilate K.165
5. Molto allegro
Lyne Fortin, soprano
Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Joseph Rescigno, conductor
The solo motet Exsultate jubilate was written during what was to be Mozart’s last journey to Italy as a child prodigy (October 1772 to March 1773). The three-movement piece was intended for Venanzio Rauzzini, the Milan Opera’s primo uomo. More than seven years later, Mozart revised it for the soprano Francesca Ceccarelli who was scheduled to perform it in Salzburg in 1780. Thus this devotional work is actually rooted in the world of opera, a genre in which Mozart’s multifaceted genius proved emblematic. And what dazzling vocal display the piece demands, particularly the final movement heard on this recording. It concludes with a rousing, virtuoso Alleluia, no doubt one of the Classical crowd-stoppers of all times.
Ludwig van Beethoven (b Bonn, bap. 17 Dec 1770; d Vienna, 26 March 1827)
In his early years as a composer, Beethoven extended the Viennese Classical tradition of Haydn and Mozart. In his later years, he developed an increasingly personal style and came to be regarded as a dominant figure of 19th-century Western art music. He is probably the most admired figure in the history of Western music.
The son of an obscure musician in a small provincial town, Beethoven struggled with the ambitions of his father to transform him into a famous, globe-trotting prodigy like Mozart. In the spring of 1787 he visited Vienna, where there seems to be little doubt that he met Mozart, with whom he wished to study. The illness and death of his mother cut that journey short, however, and after a mere two weeks in the Austrian capital, Beethoven returned to Bonn where he remained another four and a half years. In November 1792, he returned to Vienna with the encouragement of Count Ferdinand Waldstein, who wrote to him: “You are going to Vienna in fulfilment of your long-frustrated wishes. The Genius of Mozart is still mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes once more to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labour you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.”
Trio in E-flat major, Op.1 No.1
6. Scherzo (Allegro assai) 5:00
The Gryphon Trio
In his early years in Bonn and in Vienna, Beethoven earned a living as a pianist, improviser, and composer for the piano at a time when piano technique was expanding rapidly. This is the period in which he composed, among others, his piano sonata Op.2 No.2, and his famous Rondo a capriccioso.
Written during Beethoven’s first Vienna period, the three piano trios Op.1 (completed in 1794-95) provide an example of one of Beethoven’s earliest formal innovations: his substitution of the “Scherzo” in the place of the Haydnesque “Minuet” for the third movement of instrumental works. These early scherzos by Beethoven, however, move no faster than Haydn’s minuets, but they last considerably longer; one wonders how they were received by the older master. In the example on the present recording, repeated sections frame the central section (called a “trio”) in which a rollicking theme is highlighted by the piano above sustaining harmonies in the strings.
Sonata for Piano Op.110 in A-flat major
7. Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo 6:58
Anton Kuerti, piano
Beethoven’s three last piano sonatas, Op.109, 110, and 111 were written between 1820 and 1822, at a time when the composer was struggling with virtually complete deafness. Even more remarkable given the composer’s personal circumstances, these three works precede three other gigantic compositions, all completed between October 1822 and February 1824: the Diabelli Variations, the Missa solemnis, and the Ninth Symphony.
The Sonata Op.110 remains the most popular of the late sonatas because of the exquisite beauty of its melodic material. The final movement bears an unusual design: it begins with a wandering improvisation akin to a vocal recitative, which precedes what appears at first to be the most sober and austere of fugues. As the movement expands, however, so does Beethoven’s treatment of the melodic material which, in the words of Anton Kuerti, “swells and strains heroically, its expression disarmingly warm and open, inviting all to rejoice and resonate with its happy fervour.”
Symphony No.3 “Eroica”
8. Finale 11:47
Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal
Joseph Rescigno, conductor
It seems fitting to conclude this recording with a work that broke new ground both with respect to the Classical style and Beethoven’s own artistic imperatives. The “Eroica” is monumental, but so were the political events that inspired its composition. According to Beethoven’s disciple Ferdinand Ries, the composer had wanted to dedicate the work, composed in 1803, to Napoleon Bonaparte, whose revolutionary and democratic ideals he profoundly espoused. When news came to him that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor, the enraged Beethoven tore up the title page and stamped it underfoot. He subsequently re-named the work (he had originally named it Buonaparte) Sinfonia Eroica.
The first movement, heard on this recording, opens with two tonic E flat major chords, stated forte and staccato, which form the nucleus of the principal theme. By measure 37, however, the theme is fully unleashed, fortissimo, in truly heroic fashion. Thereafter, unorthodox deviations from the tonic key, sharp contrasts in orchestration, and passages of metric ambiguity combine to create the impression of a Promethean struggle. The whole movement is revolutionary in structure, thematic treatment, and spirit.
The “Eroica” is without precedent or prototype and seems to have sprung fully formed from the composer’s mind. It unquestionably breaks with the Classical tradition, and no doubt helped to confer on Beethoven the weight and power of an influence he was to exercise far beyond his lifetime upon composers several generations to come.
© Rachelle Taylor
Traduction: Les beaux écrits