Franz Danzi (1763-1826)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 40, Nr.3, en si majeur pour basson, violon, alto, et violoncelle
larghetto non troppo
W.A. Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Prelude & fugue, kv 404a, no.2 in g minor, for string trio
François Devienne (1759-1803)
Quatuor, Oeuvre 73, Nr.1, en do majeur pour basson, violon, alto, et violoncelle
rondo; allegro moderato
Streichtrio B-Dur, D.471
Quatuor, Oeuvre 46, Nr.2 en Bb, pour le basson principal, deux altos et basse
A Serious Evening Affair is a journey through some of the highlights of the bassoon and string trio repertoire, representing one of the earliest works for this combination, by François Devienne, a quartet by the early romantic composer Franz Danzi, and culminating in the masterpiece of Bohemian Franz Krommer. Giving context to the various musical languages of the time are works for strings by Franz Schubert and W.A.Mozart. Needless to say in this evening’s proceedings there are as many moments of humour to be found as of gravity.
Very much in vogue in the last quartet of the eighteenth century was the symphonie concertante, or concerto for two or more instruments. The Parisian audiences delighted in the theatrical and ostentatious interplay between soloists who competed in expressive power as much as in virtuosity. These works featured wind instrumentalists with greater frequency, including the often-performed music of François Devienne, celebrated flautist and bassoonist, and later also pedagogue and composer of high regard. As contemporaries wrote of him, Devienne composed very readily and painlessly, which one feels immediately in the easy inspiration and spontaneity of his musical ideas. The melodies are always lively with an infectious forward rhythmic impulse and natural logic of dimensions, creating a flowing line that avoids all rigidity at phrase-ends and cadences. As charming and gracious as it is, the music is never superficial. Not only does Devienne display an excellent sense of humour, especially in the third movement rondo, but there are often moments of true drama and suspense.
The first quartet of Devienne is clearly infused by the spirit of the symphonie concertante. The melodic material and bravura passage work is shared fairly equally between the “soloists” on bassoon and violin; the viola and cello are mostly in accompanying roles, though their lines are often independently interesting with the occasional solistic outburst.
As a composer, Franz Danzi can most easily be classified as an exponent of the Mannheimer School. The quartets, Op. 40, were written around 1813 when Danzi had just been appointed Kapellmeister at Karlsruhe and had begun teaching composition at the newly founded Institute of Art; an intensely busy and fruitful period of his life. Playing and hearing the music never ceases to surprise and please. Danzi’s dramatic flair is ever apparent, with his mastery of setting atmosphere and creating a sense of expectation. The melodies are distinctively fresh and cantabile, born along with buoyant momentum by dance-like rhythmic figures. Their often folk tune-like simplicity is given added piquancy by the many adventurous turns in the harmony. Danzi’s instrumental writing is highly idiomatic but at the same time he attains an equality and a true blending of voices, which is one of the most satisfying aspects of performing chamber music of this quality. In his unfettered lyricism, atmospheric shades of light and dark, the same wistful alternations between lightheartedness and introspection, Danzi’s music is often reminiscent of Franz Schubert’s. Thus Schubert’s Allegro for string trio makes a telling and illuminating partner to the Quartet on this programme.
The six Adagios and Fugues, kV 404a, of W.A Mozart, contain fugues transcribed for three voices from J.S.Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and the “Art of Fugue” as well as Adagios derived largely from Bach’s music. They display not only a reverence for the baroque master’s work, but also give a particularly interesting and specific insight into the ways in which Bach’s compositional style may have been integrated into the formal and expressive language of Mozart.
In Franz Krommer’s quartet, a second viola assumes the role usually taken by violin. The absence of a truly treble instrument in the scoring gives dense harmonies, sombrely glowing sonorities and a richly deep tonal world. Krommer uses the abundance of tenor colours to create extraordinarily individual textures and special effects, some of which even border on the bizarre. The Bohemian composer follows in the line of a long and rich tradition of instrumental writing, much of it featuring winds, centred around the court of the Habsburg emperors in Vienna, where he was the last officially appointed court composer to Emperor Franz I. In this work, the bassoon is given ample opportunity for acrobatic display and songfulness, all within a solid structural framework which is given integrity by its strong thematic consistency and the use of almost ostinato-type rhythmic figures.