Day 265: Cantatas On the Death of Joseph II, On the Accession of Leopold II

BeethovenCD70jpg“Ugh” again.

More operatic singing.

Today’s marks an interesting point in the first year of my three-year journey through the creative works of the world’s masters of their respective art forms. I’m just 100 days shy of completing one full year. I’m also just 16 CDs away from completing the Beethoven leg of my journey.

The performers on today’s CD are:

Fiona Cameron soprano

Teele Joks mezzo-soprano

Mati Korts tenor

Leonid Savitski bass

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

Estonian National Symphony Orchestra

Tonu Kaljuste conductor

There are two cantatas on today’s CD:

On the Death of Emperor Joseph II

On the Accession of Emperor Leopold II

What’s the story behind these cantatas?

Google to the rescue.

First, On the Death of Joseph II.

Here’s what the San Francisco Symphony web site has to say about On the Death of Joseph II:

Beethoven composed the Cantata on the Death of the Emperor Joseph II in 1790, but the work was not performed until 1884, when it had its premiere that November in Vienna.

What happened next is not so clear. The minutes of the Literary Society for a meeting on March 17 [1790] state that “for various reasons the proposed cantata cannot be performed,” and a projected performance the following year in the nearby town of Mergentheim did not materialize either. The Joseph cantata is almost certainly one of the works that Beethoven showed to Haydn, an act whose ultimate consequence was Beethoven’s move to Vienna; for the rest, he made no effort to have it performed or published, though he did not forget it. The manuscript was bought by the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel at an auction in 1813, disappeared from view for many years, and came to light again at another auction in 1884. It was performed in Vienna that November and in June 1885 the music was at last heard in Bonn.

Brahms examined the manuscript in 1884 and was moved to write to the critic Eduard Hanslick: “Even if there were no name on the title page, none other could be conjectured—it is Beethoven through and through: the beautiful and noble pathos, sublime in its feeling and imagination; the intensity, perhaps violent in its expression; moreover, the voice-leading and declamation, and in the two outer sections all the characteristics which we may observe in and associate with his later works!”

So this was never performed in Beethoven’s lifetime. Sad.

Second, On the Accession of Leopold.

Information is harder to come by for the second of these cantatas. All I can come up with so far is that Accession was also composed in 1790. One web site – The Unheard Beethoven – offers some interesting background on both.

I’m not a fan of this type of singing. Too screetchy.

These performers have talent. No question about it. To my ears, they sound gifted. I just don’t appreciate this type of music.

To each his own.

Day 262: The Creatures of Prometheus, Ritterballett

BeethovenCD67The Creatures of Prometheus?

The heck is that?

Or, the heck are they?

I swear, the titles of Beethoven’s compositions are getting truly interesting, if not bizarre.

I’ll let my fingers do the Googling to find out what this 19-track CD is all about.

Here’s what its entry on Wikipedia has to say:

The Creatures of Prometheus (German: Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus), Op. 43, is a ballet composed in 1801 by Ludwig van Beethoven following the libretto of Salvatore Viganò. The ballet premiered on 28 March 1801 at the Burgtheater in Vienna and was given 28 performances.

The overture to the ballet is part of the concert repertoire. Beethoven based the fourth movement of his Eroica symphony and his Eroica Variations (piano) on the main theme of the last movement of the ballet.

A ballet. That means no singing, right?

According to the back of the CD sleeve, these are the performers on today’s CD:

Tracks 1-11

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
David Zinman conductor

Tracks 12-19

Staatskapelle Berlin
Gunther Herbig conductor

The music is excellent.

Yet, I cannot figure out what the creatures of Prometheus are. Or why that is this ballet’s title.

And why have a ballet called “The Creatures of Prometheus,” anyway? Sounds kind of like dancing to The Creature From the Black Lagoon to me.

But what do I know?

Beethoven was 31 when he composed this delightful ballet.

That’s what I know.

Track 3 (“Maestoso andante – Adagio – Andante quasi allegretto”) is beautiful. Nice harp playing. Beautiful melody. A very fine piece of music using instruments I haven’t heard much of so far.

The second part of today’s CD is Continue reading

Day 107: And Now…a Flute!

HaydnCD107Another great CD of Haydn’s Piano Trios, this time with a distinct and immediately noticeable difference: the introduction of a flute.

In other words, a change in players: flautist Marion Moonen in, violinist Remy Baudet out.

It’s still a trio – the Van Swieten Trio, in point of fact – but now the music takes on a different sound.

I’m a big fan of the flute. That’s why I like Jethro Tull. And Red Priest.

Add a flute to a song – especially a rock/metal song – and you have my undivided attention.

And so it was wheimagesn I pushed Play on today’s CD. “A flute!” I said to myself. “Am I listening to the right CD?”

I looked at it and realized it was, indeed, Haydn CD 107: Piano Trios HOB XV:15-17.

But a flute! Now, you’re talkin’, Joseph!

Now would be a good time to introduce all of the players. So…

Providing the music for these wonderful Piano Trios is the Van Swieten Trio, which consists of:

Bart van Oort fortepiano
Marion Moonen flute
Jaap ter Linden cello

A brief bio of Marion Moonen from the web site The Bach Players:

Marion Moonen studied flute at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague with Paul Verhey and Frans Vester, and Baroque flute with Wilbert Hazelzet. She is a member of various ensembles and orchestras, including the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, the Kleine Konzert of the Rheinische Kantorei with Hermann Max, the Van Swieten Society, and Concerto d’Amsterdam. Since the formation of the ensemble Musica ad Rhenum in 1992 she has performed and recorded much of the repertoire for two Baroque flutes with flautist Jed Wentz. She features on recent recordings with Wilbert Hazelzet, the Van Swieten Society, the Attaignant Consort, and other chamber groups.

Here’s a list of Haydn’s piano trios. The are referred to by their Hoboken catalog names, and their date of composition is not always certain. So I’ll Continue reading

Day 106: A Few Delightful Surprises

HaydnCD106Another FAVORITE!

I was hooked from the first few notes of Movement I (“Andante”) of Piano Trio in C Minor.

There’s a melody here!

Haydn wrote a discernible melody!

This isn’t just a well-crafted landscape of music. It’s compelling – nearly hummable – to boot.

And that’s not even taking into account the lovely piano work, which is especially extraordinary in this piece (the piano really cuts loose about 3/4 into it). And the violin passages (it switches from the piano carrying the melody to the violin carrying the melody at about the 1:00 mark).

I could listen to Piano Trio in C Minor HOB XV:13 all day long.

Piano Trio in A Flat HOB XV:14 is no slouch, though. Terrific piano work in Movement I (“Allegro moderato”). Movement II (“Adagio”) is much slower, but no less compelling, especially when the piano is tinkling away and the violin is doing its pizzicato best to arrest my attention. Movement III (“Rondo Vivace”) brings this Trio to a close in grand style.

Piano Trio in F HOB XV:2 is also quite exquisite from Movement I (“Allegro moderato”) to Movement III (“Finale: Adagio with four variations”). Movement III contains really interesting instrumentation. It’s very hard to describe (because, remember, I’m not a musicologist). But from about the 3:54 mark until the 4:25 mark it’s almost comical. The instruments would play Dee-Do-Dee-Do-Do and then there’d be a Dee! Dee! Dee!, then back to Dee-Do-Dee-Do-Do and then another rapid-fire Dee! Dee! Dee! I’d say listen for yourself, except I couldn’t find that particular clip on YouTube.

The entire CD is worth listening to again and again.

Providing the music for these wonderful Piano Trios is the Van Swieten Trio, which consists of:

Bart van Oort fortepiano
Remy Baudet violin
Jaap ter Linden cello

Here’s a list of Haydn’s piano trios. The are referred to by their Hoboken catalog names, and their date of composition is not always certain. So I’ll Continue reading

Day 98: White Out

HaydnCD98I like to put things in context.

Take these Haydn string quartets, for example.

They were composed in 1790. Haydn was 58. Two days from now, on January 8th, in the same year Haydn composed Op. 64 string quartets, George Washington, America’s first President, will deliver the first State of the Union address. (See the article here.)

501px-Gilbert_Stuart_Williamstown_Portrait_of_George_WashingtonThat bears repeating. Forty-eight hours from now, albeit two-hundred twenty-four years ago, George Washington will speak to the fledgling United States for the first time to tell us how things are going. At that time, America consisted of 13 states. And things were probably going fine.

Today, America is 50 states (depending on whom you ask) and our State of the Union is in sorry shape, indeed.

BenFranklinDuplessisAlso, in the same year Haydn composed Op. 64, Benjamin Franklin (one of the Founding Fathers of America) died.

A lot has changed in two and a half centuries. Yet, here I am listening to music compose before George Washington first addressed America. Remarkable, wouldn’t you say?

I wonder what the weather was like on this day in 1790.

I can tell you this much: The weather is frightening now. The worst snow and cold we’ve experienced in decades. So I’ve been listening to Haydn at home lately. Doesn’t pay to risk my life to drive to Panera just for one of their bagels and, maybe if the gods are smiling, a cup of their Light Roast coffee.

For more background on Haydn’s Op. 64, please see yesterday’s post.

I’m not sure why, but Continue reading

Day 97: Of Snowstorms and Bagels

HaydnCD97As I type this, Michigan is in the middle of a winter storm warning the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.

It’s a good day to be holed up at Panera, drinking Light Roast coffee and eating a bagel.

Or, it’s a good day to be holed up at home, not venturing out into the weather. But I’m a bit of an adventurist. Or a fool. Take your pick.

Either way, today’s CD features Haydn’s Op. 64 quartets (Nos. 1, 2, 3), composed in 1790. Haydn was 58.

For some reason, these are called the “Tost” quartets. I’ll find out why soon enough.

After a bit of Googling, I found this as a pdf for I don’t know what:

From 1783 to 1788 the Hungarian Johann Tost was principal second violin in the Esterházy orchestra of which Haydn was music director. When Tost left Esterházy in 1788 to freelance in Paris, Haydn entrusted 6 quartets to him with a view to finding a publisher. Tost was successful, and they were published in Paris in two sets of three as Op 54 and 55. A later set of six, Op 64, were written in 1790, the year that Haydn first visited London. Around this time Tost returned from Paris, married the housekeeper at Esterházy (of whom Haydn was also fond) and used her money to set up a successful cloth business in Vienna. There in 1791 he also found a publisher for this Op 64 set, which are gratefully dedicated to him. Tost continued to play the violin and commission chamber works, whose performances in aristocratic homes provided an entrée for his cloth business; incidentally he is possibly the dedicatee (“composto per un amatore ongarese”) of the last two of Mozart’s string quintets.

Oh, now I see where that pdf came from. This web site. It’s an organization Continue reading