Out of the Shadows

Monday, 21 February 2022

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School; Quicksilver

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School
; Quicksilver

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 February 2022 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The American Baroque ensemble explores the inventive music written by local composers and visiting Italians for the Imperial Court in 17th century Vienna

Early Moderns: the (very) first Viennese School features the North American ensemble Quicksilver (Robert Mealy & Julie Andrijeski, violins, directors, Greg Ingles, trombone, Dominic Teresi, dulcian, David Morris, viola da gamba, Avi Stein, harpsichord & organ and Charles Weaver, theorbo) in a programme of music by composers associates with 17th century Vienna, Johann Schmelzter, Giovanni Legrenzi, Johann Rosenmüller, Giovanni Battista Buonamente, Johann Caspar Kerll, Johann Joseph Fux, Heinrich Biber, Giovanni Valentini and Antonio Bertali. Composers who, if they are known at all, are often simply names.

In 1622, the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II married Eleanora Gonazaga of Mantua, and she brought the music of Monteverdi and his colleagues to Vienna. Music continued to flourish under his successor Ferdinand III and reached a high point with the music-loving Leopold I, who came to the throne in 1658. This highly cultured emperor created a court in which the arts thrived, despite constant wars with the French and with the Ottoman Turks. It was one of the few courts in Europe to have a culture that could challenge the brilliance of King Louis XIV's France. 

The composers who came to Vienna were varied, a mixture of local men and Italians come seeking their fortunes. The disc includes 12 works of which 10 are sonatas though these are very different from 18th century sonatas. Instead we have the composer's imagination or fantasy creating whatever they wanted. This was music for show, but also for a small group of friends to play.

The earliest work on the disc is by Giovanni Valentini, who began his career with the Imperial Court in 1614 as "the newly appointed organist from Poland" where he had been organist to Zygmunt III. In Vienna, he soon rose to the influential position of imperial Kapellmeister by 1626.

Johann Schmeltzer was the first native born German to hold the post of Kapellmeister in Vienna, though having worked at the court for decades he only had a short time in the exalted post as he died in the plague. The ensemble plays a five-part sonata from his collection Sacro-profanus concentus musicus - that idea of playing music together placed centrally in the work's title. 

Giovanni Legrenzi came to Vienna seeking his fortune but despite an Italian patron arranging for one his operas to be presented in the city he failed to win a post, and the post Kapellmeister was already filled by Antonio Bertali. Legrenzi's collection La Cetra was part of the marketing, the name referring to Emperor Leopold's emblem and we hear a sonata from it. 

The disc finishes with one of Bertali's sonatas, one that also appears in a collection in Uppsala created for the Swedish court, an example of how the music of this Viennese school travelled. And we also hear a sonata by Schmelzter that was written for the the Prince-Bishop of Olmütz (son of Emperor Ferdinand II) who kept his own significant musical establishment.

Johann Rosenmüller didn't actually work in Vienna but his music appeared in collections and was admired. He had a dramatic career, all set to become the next Thomaskantor in Leipzig he was arrested for homosexuality and fled to Venice, where the music and the opera there had a remarkable effect on his music. We hear a sonata from his last set, published in 1682

Giovanni Battista Buonamente came to Vienna with Eleanora Gonzaga and became musicista da camera to the Emperor so we can imagine Buonamente and colleagues playing his Sonata Prima (from his sixth book of sonatas) for the Emperor's delectation or simply has background music!

Johann Caspar Kerll studied initially with Valentini, one of Schmeltzer's Italian predecessors at the Viennese court, before travelling to Rome and studying with Carissimi. Time as Kapellmeister at the Munich court ended with a dispute, which is how he ended up in Vienna, where he lived through both the plague and the Ottoman Turks' siege. Here we hear a Passacaglia where the mix of German and Italian idiom is clear, embedded in a classic French form! Not much of his chamber music survives, so the ensemble also records a sonata with a virtuosic obbligato viola da gamba part. This comes down to us thanks to a copy made by Gustav Düben in Sweden.

Johann Joseph Fux is perhaps one of the better known names on the disc. By the 1690s he was working for the Archbishop of Hungary, a friend of the Emperor and a mass dedicated to the monarch led to Fux's work at the Imperial court under three Emperors. The sonata we hear was copied by Zelenka in 1717, but probably dates from the turn of the century.

Publishing in Vienna was not that common an occurrence for chamber music, it tended to be circulated in manuscript which makes attributions tricky. So we hear a sonata which might be by Biber! Much of the music on the disc survives thanks to that Prince-Bishop of Olmütz, because his copyist created a fine and extensive collection.

The performances are uniformly excellent, and the give and take of the players brings out the sociable element in this music. Their flexibility is admirable, as this music is rarely fixed and each composer has a different idea of what a sonata should be. But most of all this is virtuoso music, it was designed to impress but also to be enjoyable to play and listen to. The best works on the disc have a fascinating combination of German structural thoroughness and Italian melodic fantasy. No wonder this music was popular, and it seems strange that many of these works are not better known.

 
Sonata VII à 5 Johann Heinrich Schmeltzer (c. 1623–1680) from Sacro-profanus concentus musicus (Nürnberg,1662)
Sonata terza à 2 Giovanni Legrenzi (1626–1690) from La cetra, sonate a 2-4, Libro quarto, Op. 11 (Venice, 1673)
Sonata X à 5 Johann Rosenmüller (1617–1684) from Sonate à 2, 3, 4, e 5 (Nürnberg, 1682)
Sonata prima à 3 Giovanni Battista Buonamente (1595–1642) from Sonate e canzoni, Libro sesto (Venice, 1636)
Sonata à 4, La Carolietta Schmeltzer from the Liechtenstein-Castelcorn Collection, Cz-KRa A634
Passacaglia variata Johann Caspar Kerll (1627–1693) from Toccate, Canzoni, et altre Sonate (1676)
Sonata à 4, K. 347 Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741) from Königlichen Privatsammlung, D-Dl Mus.1-B-98
Canzon à 3 in g minor Kerll from the Düben Collection, S-Uu imhs 4:5
Sonata à 3 att. Heinrich I.F. von Biber (1644–1704) from the Liechtenstein-Castelcorn Collection, Cz-KRa A568
Sonata con duobus violinis Anonymous from the Liechtenstein-Castelcorn Collection, Cz-KRa A579
Sonata à 4 Giovanni Valentini (1582/3–1649) from Deutsches Musikgeschichtliches Archiv, D-Kl 2o Mus, fol. 60r
Sonata à 3 in a minor Antonio Bertali (1605–1669) from Prothimia suavissima, Book 2 (1672)
Quicksilver (Robert Mealy & Julie Andrijeski, violins, directors, Greg Ingles, trombone, Dominic Teresi, dulcian, David Morris, viola da gamba, Avi Stein, harpsichord & organ and Charles Weaver, theorbo) 
Recorded on August 17-20, 2016 at Drew University Concert Hall, Madison, New Jersey
 
The disc is available from the GEMS website.








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