Lost Generation (Ries - Hummel -Weber)
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THE LOST BEETHOVEN GENERATION FERDINAND RIES (1784-1838): Foreword:
Most composers we encounter have well known contemporaries, Haydn and Mozart; Brahms and Wagner, Borodin and Mussorgsky, Debussy and Ravel. They come in their twos and threes and fives. When we come to examine Beethoven (1770-1827) there are very few other names of his time that now stand out, apart that is from Schubert (1797-1828), who during his own time was hardly known at all. It seems that Beethoven’s existence was so awesome that there was no room for anyone else. There were other composers around but just who were they? This is an interesting topic to pursue and indeed, at one time, we had contemplated a series that Matthew might give on this subject to be called “The Lost Beethoven Generation”. Fame is frequently fortuitous. Not all known composers are great and not all great composers are known. At one time we had mooted including in this series on Beethoven’s concertos one item by one of his lesser known contemporaries. However, Beethoven has again turned out to be too great to warrant the intrusion. I have commenced writing pen pictures on some of this generation but I have reached a stage where I can see that I will not be likely to conclude this before the end of this term. Hardly any of the eight names I proposed can possibly match Beethoven but many have simply disappeared below the horizon and one wonders how and why. For the time being and as a taster I have prepared the following note on the least known, Ferdinand Ries, whose music I have surreptitiously played when testing the sound equipment before Matthew has begun talking on the big man himself. --------------------------------------In any discourse on Beethoven the name of Ries as Beethoven’s secretary keeps cropping up that it comes as a surprise to find that he had an output about as large as that of Beethoven. He is never played but fortunately his music is to be found now on CD. His father, Franz Ries played in the orchestra at Bonn and had given support to Beethoven in his early years. Ferdinand Ries was born in 1784 and would have only been eight when Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in 1792. By 1803 the Rhinelands had become part of France and they would have been playing La Marseillaise there. Against that background Ries made his way to seek his fortune in Vienna with a note from his father to Beethoven asking for his son to be taken on as his pupil. The latter took Ries on as his librarian and secretary and gave him master class piano lessons. Beethoven, as he had earlier done, also sent Ries to Albrechsberger and Salieri for his composition lessons as well. It was Ries, making his first public appearance, who gave the first performance in public of Beethoven’s third piano concerto with great success. Beethoven’s confidence in his pupil was illustrated by allowing Ries to perform his own cadenza. His stay with Beethoven lasted only for three years.
By 1805, following the Austrian defeat at Austerlitz, and French troops occupying Vienna, Ries realized that as a citizen of Bonn he could be put in jankers for not having signed on with the French army and he made his way back to Bonn to do just that. As it happened he got turned down for military service as unfit, not unsurprisingly, in that he only had one eye. After spending a year in Bonn he went to Paris, to try his luck at the centre of the Empire. By 1808, a little more than a year later he had returned, somewhat disheartened, to Vienna where he met up again with Beethoven who sought to procure remunerative posts for Ries. Their relationship became somewhat strained with a near falling out when Ries had sought a post with the king of Westphalia at Kassel. Beethoven, with thoughts of himself leaving Vienna, had his eye on the position at Kassel and saw Ries as trying to block him. Happily the waves of wrath subsided. In 1809 Ries encountered further difficulties and again had to leave Vienna. The War of the Fifth Coalition had broken out. While Beethoven was in his basement writing his Emperor Concerto with the French artillery besieging the city, Ries was facing again the question of conscription, not however this time from the French but from the Austrians against the French. Surely it must go in the Guinness book of Records that here must have been the only one eyed man to be called up for enlistment by both warring factions. After another stay in Bonn Ries went on to give concert tours from 1809 to 1813 in Kassel, on to Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm. At St Petersburg he met the famous cellist Romberg who had been in the orchestra in the Bonn days and became its director in 1790. Together the two gave recitals, little wonder at the output by Ries for cello and piano. The Ries/Romberg duo toured Russia for two years more, according to Ries, to keep one step ahead of Napoleon. In particular Ries wrote a Duo Concertant on Russian Songs, opus 72 also known as “Potpourri sur Trois Airs Russes”. The third of these themes is familiar, containing the Russian theme used by Beethoven in his Rasumovsky Quartet No 2 in the trio section of its third movement, also later used by Mussorgsky in the Prologue to Boris Godunov. After 1812, it became somewhat dangerous to hang around in Russia and Ries then returned to Stockholm where he was made a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music. In 1813 he arrived in London where he settled, down marrying an English girl and started a family. He was very successful in England and could trade off his personal acquaintance with Beethoven. He continued to compose and was a brilliant pianist. Through Salomon, who had brought Haydn to London and who himself once played in the Bonn orchestra, Ries was introduced to the Philharmonic Society, became its first conductor and negotiated commissions on their behalf from Beethoven with whom he always remained close. These included three overtures by Beethoven and the negotiations for what was originally intended to be the first performance of Beethoven’s ninth. After 10 very successful years he decided to return to Germany to the Rhinelands, now German again, and settled in Frankfurt where he conducted and organized festivals. He died in 1838. He wrote eight symphonies, eight piano concertos as well
as a violin concerto and one for two horns. There were also three operas and two oratorios. His chamber music is written for more varied combinations than Beethoven did, sonatas, trios, quartets, sextuors, a sepet and octet, flute quartets and clarinet trios. His earlier music sounds so like Beethoven at times that he could be said to be to Beethoven what Rory Bremner is to Paddy Ashdown. Some of his orchestral works even pilfer bits of Beethoven. Who’d know anyway? However, regardless of the odd plagiarism Ries could sound at times so like Beethoven. Beethoven admired Ries sufficiently to request Ries to dedicate a symphony to him. Mind you Beethoven also advised Ries to try and stop sounding so like him. When he is good he is very, very good and it is as if one were discovering Beethoven works you had not heard before. His later works begin to give sound to his own voice, much more romantic as he moved into the 1820’s, the piano writing being a foretaste of Chopin. Remember that Ries was almost a generation younger than Beethoven and he drew nearer his own exact contemporaries, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Carl Maria von Weber, all three products of the 1780’s, all three virtuoso pianists as well as composers who wrote with their own concerts in mind. Ferdinand Ries is a wonderful discovery and well worth anyone’s time exploring further. If you are into dinner parties you could try out a disc of the Oeuvres of Ries and ask who the composer is. (If your guest should have happened to have appeared on University Challenge he will probably answer “Vaughan Williams”?). Ries was a brilliant performer of his day but he got best known for his stories about Beethoven. Ultimately his fame came from his most significant non-musical work, the “Biographical Notes” on Beethoven that he published with Franz Wegeler. They are a valuable collection of first-hand notes written by two men who knew Ludwig van Beethoven from their earliest days together in Bonn. As to “Biographical Notes”, I could never compete.
Ferdinand Ries 1784 - 1838
Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Johann Neopomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837) Rarely has a composer seemed so assured of immortality, so overrated in his own time, so underrated in ours. So wrote Jeremy Nicholas for a CD booklet on Hummel sonatas. Born six years earlier than Ries, died one year before him but such different fortune. A child prodigy to compare with Mozart, he was born in Pressberg (Bratislava) where his father was a conductor at the theatre and military bandmaster. Hummel originally learned the violin but turned to the piano. When he was eight the family moved to Vienna. His father became the conductor at the Theater an der Wien where he would have conducted the Magic Flute. Hummel was introduced to Mozart who gave him free lessons and lodged him in his house for two years. Mozart was sufficiently impressed to advise Papa Hummel to take the boy on a concert tour of Europe, advice which was taken. Four years followed with travel in Bohemia, Germany, Denmark, Scotland and then to London where he took lessons from Clementi and Haydn who at that time was on his first London visit.. Because of the French revolution France and Spain got missed and the Hummels returned to Vienna. Here Hummel took lesson from guess who? Albrechtsberger and Salieri. Also Haydn who was still nominally kappelmeister with the Esterhazy family at Eisenstadt, remaining director for life. It was Haydn who recommended Hummel to the position there of concert master. With the Esterhazys he continued in the wake of Haydn writing various masses. An unfinished recording cycle under the late Richard Hickox serves as proof of their superb quality. He had given up his career as a virtuoso to concentrate on composition but in 1811 he got the push from the Esterhazys following his lack of discipline and endless financial demands. Hummel had in fact become one of Beethoven’s chief rivals in Vienna but they represented something different, that between conservative and progressive composers. Hummel would be content to develop the classical musical language of Haydn and Mozart within its established forms in contrast to those of you know who – who felt that their style had exceeded its sell by date. Hummel only produced three string quartets, his opus 30 in 1804 following Beethoven’s Opus 18’s in 1801. It is certainly unfair to judge Hummel’s really good quartets against Beethoven’s undoubted greater cycle. It is almost certain that Hummel would have known of the
Beethoven opus 18’s but he could hardly have been expected to absorb them. The magnitude of the accomplishments of Beethoven eluded most of his contemporaries for decades. Still, the three quartets of Hummel have more than just charm in their development. If Beethoven won the battle of the string quartet, it was Hummel who won the lady, one Elisabeth Roeckel, a singer, whom he married in 1813 with Salieri as the witness. Beethoven had already shown some interest in her. After the marriage the business like Elisabeth took over management of Hummel’s career. Without the former Esterhazy income she was shrewd enough to realize that there was more to be made from performing than composing and Hummel resumed his career as a touring virtuoso pianist but not for long. It was a changing world post Vienna Congress and Johann wanted a settled position like any serious young man in his mid thirties. So, in 1819, after two not so good years in Stuttgart Hummel got the post of Archducal Kapellmeister in Weimer, a position he would retain until his death. During his Weimar years he formed a close friendship with Goethe. He invited the best musicians of the day to visit and make music there and he is said to have created Weimar as a European musical capital. He brought into existence one of the first musicians' pension schemes and gave concerts when the retirement fund ran low. He was also one of the first to agitate for musical copyright to resist performance piracy. After Goethe's death in March 1832 his own health began to fail and he had less contact with the local theatrical circles and was less in demand. Hummel became hugely influential. Czerny had transferred from Beethoven to Hummel in the mid 1800’s after studying for three years with Beethoven. It wasn’t quite like van Persie transferring from Arsenal to Manchester United because Czerny continued to play Beethoven and proof read his scores. In 1828 Hummel published A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instruction on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte, a best seller despite its title and which sold thousands of copies within days of its publication. 19th century piano playing was influenced by Hummel, through his instruction of Czerny who was later to teach Liszt. Hummel's influence can also be detected in the early works of Chopin and Schumann. Those who love the Chopin concertos should listen to Hummel's piano concertos in B minor and A minor which Chopin was likely to have heard when Hummel was on one of his concert tours to Poland and Russia. Chopin kept Hummel's piano concertos in his own repertoire. Other musicologists have commented that there is so much in common between the two of them for their similarity to be just coincidental. Schumann also considered becoming one of Hummel’s pupils as did Liszt. Neither though could afford Hummel’s charge out rate for lessons which is one reason why Liszt ended up with Czerny instead. Being one of the great virtuosi of his day his main output was for the piano,. He wrote eight piano concertos, ten piano sonatas as well as eight piano trios, a piano quartet and a piano quintet. This last was a development with chamber music to include the double bass and Hummel’s quintet was in a format followed by Schubert in his Trout Quintet. Other unusual combinations were two piano septets, a mandolin concerto, a mandolin sonata, not to mention the delightful trumpet concerto. He was constantly interested in the guitar, and was himself a talented player. What is conspicuously lacking in his output is the symphony.
Towards the end of his life, Hummel saw a new generation of composers on the horizon, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt and his own music beginning to go out of fashion. He died famous, with a lasting secure reputation, so it seemed, but his music was quickly forgotten at the onrush of the Romantic period, perhaps because his classical ideas were seen as a tad dated. Fashion can be a cruel arbiter. Take Haydn for example. Until the 1960’s, with the exception of one or two symphonies with nick names, only his late works got performed. Fortunately Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica came along and recorded the complete 104 symphonies and Haydn has not looked back. Like Haydn, Hummel was overshadowed by Mozart. He was an undoubted talented composer with a lot of individual talent. Posterity should have been kinder and accorded him a more lasting reputation.
CARL MARIA VON WEBER (1786-1826) Weber is better known to us than the names we’ve so far met. He is a survivor. Best known in the concert hall for the overtures to Der Freichutz, Euryanthe and Oberon, wonderful catchy works. Regular listeners to Classic FM will be familiar with one or another of his clarinet concertos. Der Freichutz stays in the repertoire of most opera companies. Weber was known primarily as an opera composer, the first to create German opera as opposed to Mozart. Die Zauberflotte was not so much a national opera but an opera (a marvellous one at that) with a German libretto. Weber was the one to develop a full romantic language and at the same time sowed the seeds for a German national movement. Yet much of Weber is unknown. I have to confess that I had for years perceived him as another Austrian composer probably based in Vienna, no doubt by reason of his relationship to Mozart. So to correct that record, Weber was born and lived for the most part in Germany and was as German as Angela Merkel. Weber was the eldest of the three children of Franz Anton von Weber and his second wife, a Viennese singer. One source states that the “von” was an affectation and that Franz who had began his career as a military officer was not actually an aristocrat. Anyway he apparently got dismissed from the regiment of the Duke of Holstein and went on to hold a number of musical appointments before founding a theatrical company in Hamburg in 1787, one year after Carl was born. The link between Weber and Mozart came through Franz’s brother. A member of the famous orchestra at Mannheim, he had four daughters, each a Weber, and all notable singers. It sounds a bit like Cosi fan Tutte. When Mozart visited Manheim he met them and took a fancy first to Aloysia. After she turned him down he switched his attentions to her younger sister Constanze whom he married in 1782. So, as a result, Carl Maria von Weber, not born till four years later became a cousin by marriage of Mozart, then 30, By the time he was four, 1790, the year before Mozart died, Carl was displaying musical gifts as a singer and at the piano. Franz, himself a
gifted violinist, had ambitions for him to become a child prodigy like Mozart had earlier been. Weber's education, was impaired by the peripatetic life of a musical/theatrical family. In 1798 following his mother’s death from tuberculosis, Weber was sent to study with Haydn’s younger brother, Michael, at Salzburg. Haydn Minor happily worked there, in contrast to Mozart, under Archbishop Colloredo. Later that year, Weber moved on to study in Munich. That same year at the age of 12 came Weber's first published work, six fughettas for piano, and other works soon followed including his first opera, The Power of Love and Wine, now lost. In 1800, the Webers moved to Freiberg, where Weber wrote another opera called, The Silent Forest Maiden, which was produced first at Freiberg and later performed in Vienna, Prague, and Saint Petersburg. In 1801, the family returned to Salzburg, where Weber resumed his studies with Michael Haydn and also with the Abbé Vogler. Following the success of Weber’s opera Peter Schmoll and His Neighbours, Vogler recommended him to the post of Director at the Opera at Breslau in 1806. Weber had a rough time of it there. He sought to make reforms by pensioning off older singers, expanding the orchestra, and tackling a more challenging repertoire. Weber’s experience here could be compared to that of the young Herbert von Karajan with his first appointment at Ulm. The even younger Weber’s attempts at reform were met with strong resistance from the musicians and the Breslau public. What turned out even worse was his accidentally swigging engraver’s acid which his father had left in a wine bottle. Weber was found unconscious and it took him two months to recover, losing his singing voice in the process. He left his post in Breslau more in frustration and from 1807 to 1810 he served as private secretary to Duke Ludwig of Wurttemburg. Weber's time in this post was plagued with troubles. He fell into debt; had an ill-fated affair with a singer at the opera. And to cap it all he got accused alongside his father who was charged with embezzlement of a large sum of Duke Ludwig's money. Carl was in the middle of a rehearsal for his opera Silvana when he was arrested and thrown into prison on the order of the King. After a summary trial, Carl and his father were banished from Wurttemburg. It could only happen to an opera composer. It sounds like a foretaste of Offenbach. From 1810, Weber continued travelling in Germany. His stature grew as an opera director , Prague from 1813 to 1816; from 1816 to 1817 he worked in Berlin, and then director of opera at Dresden. His aim was to establish German Opera as opposed to Italian Opera which had been dominating the European music scene since the 18th century and now with Rossini the top dog in Vienna of all places. In 1817, Weber married Caroline Brandt, the singer who created the title role of his new opera, Sylvana. Weber remained first and foremost an opera composer, which was his natural forte, in much the same way that his slightly younger contemporary, Schubert, had become principally a composer of song. Like Schubert, Weber did write other genres but whatever they were they seem to derive their inspiration from the music of the stage and particularly the aria. A really good instance of this can be found in the four piano sonatas he wrote. These are not often heard and they should be. Yet they are not at all influenced by Beethoven. They are do not contain Beethoven’s sense of architectural design or contain structural development. Instead they sound
operatically derived. Many of the piano works of this period—and not just the countless opera selections and variations—were, in effect, operatic scenas transferred to the concert hall and salon and their main object was to entertain. However I do not accuse Weber of this. In 1819, he wrote, Invitation to the Dance, his most famous piano piece. It is in the form of a rondo which Weber dedicated to his new wife of only a few months. He described the work as "rondeau brillante". Brillante was the buzz word of the day and at this time Weber, Hummel and Ries who also wrote his own Introduction and Rondo Brillant were being grouped as the Brilliant School. The Invitation to the Dance of Weber is the first work in waltz form, not for dancing to but listening to, a miniature tone poem for piano, more about the dancers than the dancing. In this it is similar in concept although quite different in mood to Sibelius’s Valse Triste. It fell to Berlioz to give it an orchestral cloak. In 1841 Der Freischutz was to be produced by Berlioz at the Opera Comique. However Paris always had to have a ballet section to for the greater amusement of its audiences. Berlioz refused to provide ballet music stating that only Weber should writte it. It was against this stand off that Berlioz produced his orchestration of the Invitation to the Dance , haunting and faithful to the original and its composer. Weber’s most successful opera was Der Freischutz, the Marksman or the Free Shooter. It is romantic and terrifying and opens up the world of the fantastic which would have a profound influence on the Fantastic Symphoniy of Hector Berlioz. The first performance of Der Freischutz took place in 1821 in Berlin and soon led to performances in various European centres. Like other works he wrote, it is a singspiel with dialogue spoken in German, not sung recitative. On the very morning of its first performance , Weber finished his Konzertstuck (Concert Piece) for piano and orchestra the first performance of which he gave a week later. Der Freischutz was succeeded in 1823 by Euryanthe the overture to which in particular anticipatesWagner. A distinctive German sound can be detected in his two symphonies written earlier, around 1813 at much the same time that Beethoven was writing his seventh and eighth symphonies. Weber’s symphonies lean more towards Haydn than Beethoven just as Schubert was at the same time echoing Mozart. There is a feeling nevertheless of power in Weber’s orchestration which nods towards Beethoven particularly in his scherzos. Even in these youthful symphonies Weber produces horn sounds which remind one not only of Freischutz but also a prophecy of a German sound to come to the fore thirty years later in the symphonies of Robert Schumann. Besides the German sound Weber would invent the Chinese sound. We all are familiar with Turandot, at least those of you who are fans of the three tenors and Pavarotti in particular, but how many of us know the Turandot of Weber. His version of the ice cold princess was written in 1809 with a chinesey tune taken from Rousseau’s Dictionary of Music. This was indeed novel and exotic. Before then exotic music had been the use of Turkish delights. Weber’s Chinese tune was extensively used by Hindemith in his tribute to Weber in the pompously titled “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber” written by Hindemith in 1943, actually a rich and exciting work despite the title. In 1824, Weber received an invitation from The Royal Opera in Covent Garden, to compose and produce Oberon based on Shakespeare but it would have its influence on Mendelssohn with the incidental music to his Midsummer Night’s Dream. Weber accepted the invitation, and in 1826 he travelled to England, to finish the work and
conducted the opening performance of Oberon on 12 April. He travelled via Paris and Berlioz relates in his memoires his racing to Paris to meet his great hero only to find he had missed him by one day. Berlioz would never meet Weber who was already suffering from tuberculosis. He died in London in June 1826 during the night before his planned journey home. Weber was 39 years old. He was buried in London, but 18 years later his remains were transferred to the family vault in Dresden. The eulogy at the reburial was given by Wagner. Yet there was to be one further opera, The Three Pintos. It remained unfinished although Weber claimed he had done so. Apparently for Weber a work was finished once the ideas were firmly committed in his head and not when committed to paper. It was eventually taken up and completed by Mahler, who conducted the first performance in this form in 1888. Weber was very much his own man. He did his own thing. He has survived, probably because of his achievement in opera as much as anything, a little underrated, a little undervalued. Beethoven was the undoubted giant but Weber made a contribution which deserves more recognition. He on his own was the pioneer first in giving voice to a German awareness, a nationalist call, yes, but one which is never in your face and at the same time intermingled with the burgeoning romantic movement in music with its magical world of the mysterious and the fantastic.
Carl Maria von Weber 1786 - 1826