If your mental picture of a harpist who writes Nocturnes is that of an ethereal, angel-like damsel, well, forget about it. Few people are more distant from this image than Nicholas-Charles Bochsa, who co-authored the Six Nocturnes Concertans recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album. Born in France, in the fateful year 1789, he was a child prodigy whose debut as a piano soloist took place at the very young age of seven, and who wrote his first large-scale compositions (including symphonies and concertos) within the following two or three years. One of his first operas, Le retour de Trajan ou Rome triomphante was staged when its composer was just sixteen, to celebrate the arrival of Napoleon in Lyon. Shortly after, Bochsa moved to Paris, where he studied composition and fell in love with the harp, which would become his favourite instrument; he also actively intervened in the mechanical processes of harp-making, cooperating with Sébastien Érard in the development of the double movement pedal harp. Possibly remembering the celebratory opera, and certainly impressed by the young harpist’s skill, Napoleon appointed him Harpist of the Imperial Chapel; thus, the ambitious musician quickly found his way into the Parisian high society, and soon became the harp teacher of Empress Joséphine and of Empress Marie-Louise. Indeed, his fortune lasted much longer than Napoleon’s, since Bochsa successfully survived Napoleon’s fall and the Restoration (indeed, Louis XVIII “restored” him as court harpist). Bochsa had also secured his position by marrying up, with a noblewoman called Madame de Genlis. Freed from bread-earning worries, Bochsa focused on composition and wrote an impressive amount of works, both for the public stages and for the delight of amateur chamber musicians.
If Bochsa’s life, until then, was a typical example of the successful self-made man, at that point he began to deliberately destroy his fortune. Since his expenditures far exceeded his income (however large), he had the brilliant idea of forging documents and promissory notes, signing them by the names of famous musicians – and even, unashamedly, by that of Lord Wellington – and boasting about faked identities and official roles. Condemned to twelve years of forced labour in 1818, he managed to flee France and to seek asylum in England; surprisingly, however, he quickly recovered his reputation and was admitted to the circles of the high British nobility. Ironically, he became the harp teacher of the Duchess of Wellington, but also of one of the greatest English harpists, Elias Parish Alvars. His career skyrocketed, with the support of the British crown and with the establishment of the Royal Academy of Music, where he became the first harp teacher ever.
Evidently, however, a leopard can’t change its spots; and the less-than-angelic Bochsa seriously broke the law once more, becoming a bigamist with an opera singer who abandoned her husband for him. The couple concertized throughout Europe, and eventually crossed both the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean: Bochsa in fact died in Sidney in 1856.
Having thus established that Bochsa was no harp-playing winged cherub, we must admit that the Nocturnes recorded here do not betray the adventurous life of one of their composers. The other, Rodolphe Kreutzer, was indeed much less unscrupulous: he was one of the greatest violinists of his time, and the dedicatee of Beethoven’s majestic Kreutzer-Sonata (which in turn inspired Tolstoy’s novella, which in turn inspired Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet no. 1). And although Kreutzer’s virtuosity on the violin was such that he wrote a series of Etudes/Capriccios which predate Paganini’s by several years (and which are even today among the inescapable trials of the budding violinists), he was by no means a solitary genius; in fact, he cowrote several collaborative pieces with many of the greatest and most fashionable composers of the era. For example, he cooperated with such musicians as Luigi Cherubini, André Grétry, Étienne Nicholas Méhul and Ferdinando Paër; last but not least, he joined forces with Bochsa for this series of six Nocturnes.
The term Nocturne refers to a genre which was quickly catching the interest of the musical world at the time: if John Field was one of the first to compose successful and beloved Nocturnes for the forte-piano, by Chopin’s time the genre boasted a rich catalogue of expressive, touching and sometimes tearful pieces. The “Concertans” in the title alludes instead to the dialogic features of these works: these pieces, created through the encounter of the top harpist with the top violinist of the time, unavoidably display a masterful treatment of both instruments, a skillful knowledge of their peculiarities, and a wealth of melodic and harmonic ideas.
Indeed, the fact that both musicians were composers of successful operas is rather evident throughout this collaborative work. The opening of the first Nocturne, for example, is marked by a long singing phrase by the violin, to which it would be very easy to set lyrics in verse; in spite of the simplicity of the tunes, however, the harmonies are refined and frequently rather complex, and the piece is suffused by a tender and passionate atmosphere.
In the second Nocturne, instead, we find a markedly different situation, perhaps unexpectedly: here the tempo is a brisk Allegro vivace agitato, and the opening gestures are dramatic, exuberant and deeply pathetic. If we were to imagine this music to lay still within the world of opera, this would be a very tense duet, with a fierce character and a subdued but expressive interlocutor. The harp undergoes the most impressive transformation: its arpeggios have nothing of the caressing and rippling quality one normally associates with it, and they create a powerful mass of sound, building up a kind of storm in the evocation of orchestral sonorities. In spite of this, moments of deep and intense lyricism are not missing.
A more typical example of Nocturne is no. 3: here the violin becomes a true instrumental embodiment of the human voice, including the characteristic embellishments and adornments which were common fare in the contemporaneous operatic scene. The skillful accompaniment by the harp provides a huge resonance by virtue of its frequent use of low octaves, thus creating an ideal (though unobtrusive) amplification to the violin’s singing.
The fourth Nocturne is a true operatic scene with all the props: a slow, dramatic introduction, with powerful and wide gestures flowing into a slow, expressive song: its main elements will be found in the brilliant second part (Allegretto pas trop vite), where the two instruments literally “play” with each other: both have melodies of their own, both sing together and both display virtuosity and bravura with the peculiar traits and distinctive features of their individual idioms.
In the fifth Nocturne, which has beautiful and touching melodies in turn, the characteristics are typically instrumental rather than vocal, in the large intervals and dark tones of the violin’s opening phrase: the initial descending octave, followed by an ascending octave a fifth higher, build together an expressive range which encompasses almost the full extension of the human voice.
Finally, the sixth Nocturne has something of the character piece: it makes use of particular sound effects, and its allusion to a “pastoral” aspect is made evident both by the tempo and pace (a 6/8 Andante) and by the drone-like accompaniment frequently employed by the harp, as if in imitation of a bagpipe. In fact, the expression “louré” refers to the Loure, an ancient wind instrument, similar to a bagpipe, used in Normandy: the choice of imitating that instrument through the use of two utterly different timbres, such as the strings of the violin and of the harp, is a genuine stroke of genius.
Thus, it can be said that both composers gave their best in this cooperation: evidently, their collaboration stimulated both, and each of them contributed melodies, textures, harmonies, technical ideas and creative stimuli. These forms of cooperation were going to become less popular in the nineteenth century, since the typically Romantic “cult of the genius” seemed to impose individuality and self-expression as a compulsory requirement for every work of art, and the idea of a collective creation seemed to belittle the originality of the result.
By way of contrast, collaborative creation resurfaced in the twentieth century, particularly in the domain of songwriting and in creative projects which purposefully challenged the idea of individualistic expression.
The Nocturnes concertans by Bochsa and Kreutzer, therefore, are a brilliant example of how two expert, skilled and imaginative musicians could profitably cooperate, realizing pleasurable works, in which each musician has the opportunity of displaying bravura, expressivity, tone-colour and virtuoso technique, for the enjoyment of the players themselves and of all those listening to them.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
David Scaroni: Born in Rovigo in 1984, he graduated at Conservatory of Vicenza under the guidance of G. Bertagnin. He has participated in several masterclasses following lessons by I. Grubert, S. Tchakerian, L. Spierer and he perfected his musical skills with master players R. Ranfaldi at the Accademia "L. Perosi" in Biella and M. Rogliano at the "Accademia Musicale" in Pavia and "Accademia Steinway Society" in Verona.
He has collaborated with many Italian Orchestras such as the "Orchestra d'Archi Italiana", "Orchestra Leonore", "Orchestra Haydn di Bolzano e Trento", "Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna", "Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto", "Filarmonica Toscanini di Parma", "Orchestra Nazionale della RAI di Torino" and has collaborated with important conductors like U. Benedetti Michelangeli, G. Kuhn, W. Marshall, D. Renzetti, K. Nagano, Sir N. Marriner, A. Ceccato, V. Fedoseev, R. Muti and many soloists like J. Pratt, P. Domingo, U. Ughi, P. Zuckerman, K. Zimerman, M. Argherich, D. Geringas, G. Sollima, A. S. Mutter.
He has performed on tour in Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Finland, Azerbaijan, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Emirates, United Arab Emirates, South Korea, Argentina and in many prestigious theaters like Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Teatro Real in Madrid, Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Musikverein in Vienna.
He recorded for many record labels: Tactus, Decca, Stradivarius, Velut Luna, Ducale, Universal Music, Amadeus, A Simple Lunch, Azzurra Music, Da Vinci Classics.
His review of Six Violin Duos op.4 by G. Cambini has been published for Da Vinci Edition.
He has always had a great passion for chamber music and in 2012 he founded the Trio Hegel (www.triohegel.com) with which he won national and international competitions and performed on tours around the world.
Giulia Rettore: Italian harpist Giulia Azzurra Rettore is an enthusiast solo harpist, but she especially enjoys playing amongst chamber ensembles and some of the major North-Italian orchestras: Solisti Veneti, I Virtuosi Italiani, Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, I Pomeriggi Musicali, Orchestra Filarmonia Veneta, Orchestra delle Venezie, Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo, working under the baton of Ramon Tebar, Claudio Scimone, Ed Gardner, Romolo Gessi, Tiziano Severini and many others. She has performed in prestigious halls and festivals in the UK, Italy, Switzerland and Romania, such as: Queen Elizabeth Hall (London), London Coliseum (English National Opera), Teatro Dal Verme (Milano), Piccolo Teatro Regio (Torino), Teatro Malibran (Venezia), Auditorium Pollini (Padova) in Italy, Odeon Theatre in Bucarest (Romania). She loves premiering new pieces: “Silenzio” for prepared harp and “Le tavole del peccato” for flute, sax and harp by S. Spagnolo, “La Cantata della Creazione” by P. Valtinoni and “Annunciazione” by M. Lanaro with the Italian Chamber Group “Ensemble Musagète” and “Polifonici Vicentini” choir. In 2008 she won the first prize as a solo harpist at XXIII International Competition Giovani Talenti “Città di san Bartolomeo al mare” in Italy and always gained prizes in Chamber Music Contests, especially in duo with the violin, such as first prize at “Città di Maccagno Competition 2010”. Giulia did her master studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London with the inspiring harpist Gabriella Dall’Olio, after completing her Italian harp diploma with Anna Loro at Brescia Conservatoire in Italy. She attended harp courses and masterclasses with Elizabeth Fontan-Binoche, Letizia Belmondo, David Watkins, Marie-Pierre Langlamet, Fabrice Pierre, Sylvain Blassel, Willy Potsma, Margherita Bassani, Francesca Tirale and many others.
Nicholas Charles Bochsa: (b Montmédy, 9 Aug 1789; d Sydney, 6 Jan 1856). French harpist and composer. His father, Charles Bochsa (d 1821), a Czech oboist and composer, settled first in Lyons, and from about 1806 was established as a music seller in Paris. Nicholas studied music with his father, and was remarkably precocious as a performer on many instruments, and as a composer. At the age of 16 he composed an opera, Trajan, in honour of Napoleon's visit to Lyons. When his family moved to Bordeaux soon afterwards, he began to study composition formally with Franz Beck, under whom he wrote a ballet and an oratorio, Le déluge universel. In 1806 he entered the Paris Conservatoire to study harmony under Catel. He studied the harp under Naderman and Marin, and finally decided to make this his principal instrument, though throughout his life he was a skilful player of almost every known instrument. His reputation as a harpist owed much to his compositions for the harp, which immensely expanded its technical and expressive range; he was constantly discovering new effects, exploiting the full possibilities of Erard's new double action.
In 1813 Bochsa was appointed harpist to the emperor, and in 1816 to Louis XVIII. During this period he composed seven operas for the Opéra-Comique, one of which, La lettre de change (1815), had a long run and became known outside France. In 1816 he was commissioned to compose a requiem for Louis XVI, to be used at the ceremony of reinterment of the beheaded king's remains. It was an immense work in 15 movements, with accompaniments for wind band and percussion (since the music was to be used in procession); Whitwell has pointed out remarkable anticipations of Berlioz's Symphonie funèbre et triomphale, even to the title of the last movement, ‘Récitative et apothéose’.
Meanwhile Bochsa had been developing a lucrative business in forged documents of various kinds, and in 1817 he was compelled to leave the country. On 17 February 1818 the Paris Court of Assize condemned him, in his absence, to 12 years' imprisonment with a fine of 4000 francs, and to be branded with the letters ‘T.F.’ (‘travaux forcés’, or forced labour – the standard penalty for forgers). He took refuge in London, where he soon achieved a prominent position in the musical world as a harpist and conductor. On the founding of the RAM he was appointed professor of harp and general secretary, not without opposition. In the next few years he had to face mounting attacks on his character; his forgeries became known, it was rumoured that he had contracted a bigamous marriage with Amy Wilson (having a wife still living in France) and on 4 May 1824 he was declared bankrupt, his creditors receiving only 7d. in the pound. Accordingly on 26 April 1827 he was dismissed. In 1826, however, through the influence of the king, he had been appointed musical director at the King's Theatre, and he retained that post until 1830. There was serious trouble in 1829 when he reduced the salaries of the orchestral players and when, the principal players having resigned, he replaced them with inferior musicians.
During this time Bochsa composed three ballets for the King's Theatre, and gave annual concerts which were exceedingly popular, both for his own brilliance as a harpist and for the curious novelties he introduced. In the 1830s he played in London and the provinces with consistent success, often touring with Henry and Anna Bishop. In August 1839 he eloped with Anna Bishop, following her around Europe and the world on her various tours; at Naples he was appointed musical director of the Teatro S Carlo for two years. He arrived at Sydney from San Francisco late in 1855, became ill and died there. Many accounts state that he wrote a requiem for himself while on his deathbed, but a contemporary source states that he merely wrote down a ‘mournful refrain’ on a scrap of paper, which was used as the basis for a requiem at his funeral.
Bochsa was one of the most prolific of all composers for the harp: his music is not profound, but it is often adventurous and sometimes brilliant. His harp method was long regarded as a classic.
Rodolphe Kreutzer (b Versailles, 16 Nov 1766; d Geneva, 6 Jan 1831). Violinist, composer and teacher. His father, a wind player, came from Breslau in about 1760 to play in the newly formed Swiss Guards of the Duke of Choiseul; he also played and taught the violin locally in Versailles but was not in the orchestra of the royal chapel. Rodolphe was the eldest of five surviving children and received his early musical education from his father. From 1778 Anton Stamitz taught him the violin and composition; on 25 May 1780 Kreutzer performed a concerto by his teacher at the Concert Spirituel, Paris, and was received as a prodigy. In 1782–3 he heard Viotti’s solo violin performances and was influenced by his style of writing and playing (although he met Viotti, there is no evidence that he became his pupil). In May 1784 Kreutzer performed his own First Violin Concerto at the Concert Spirituel. After the death of his parents within three months (November 1784, January 1785) he came under the kindly influence of Marie Antoinette and the Count of Artois, who probably arranged his acceptance into the king’s music during 1785. He wrote chamber music and played more of his own violin concertos, and by 1789 was a leading virtuoso; in that year he moved from Versailles to Paris.
No primary evidence has been discovered for Fétis’s assertion that two operas by Kreutzer were privately produced under the queen’s patronage in the closing years of the ancien régime. But a series of operatic works was brought out by Kreutzer from 1790, chiefly at the Comédie-Italienne, later Opéra-Comique. The two pieces which established his stage reputation were Paul et Virginie and Lodoiska; the latter was preferred to Cherubini’s work of the same name, also first given in 1791.
The flood of energy that characterized the musical world of the Revolutionary period brought about the Institut National de Musique (1793), forerunner of the Conservatoire (1795); Kreutzer was attached to both, as professor of violin. He was to teach at the Conservatoire until 1826, and sat as a member of its council from 1825 to 1830. The famous 42 études ou caprices for violin (originally 40; the additional two may not be Kreutzer’s) appeared initially in 1796, published by the Conservatoire.
Kreutzer made a successful concert tour of Italy in 1796: by this time he had composed at least eight violin concertos. During a second tour he was attached to Bernadotte’s party on the latter’s appointment as French ambassador to Vienna in February 1798; his activities included the removal of Italian manuscripts to France on Napoleon’s orders. A Beethoven letter of 4 October 1804 reveals that the two men came into contact, and that Beethoven heard Kreutzer’s playing. The Violin Sonata op.47 (called the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata) dates however from 1802–3; the dedication to Kreutzer was made without the latter’s knowledge, and the sonata was published in 1805. It is not thought that the work was ever played publicly by its dedicatee. His career in Paris from 1798 on was marked by particularly successful concert appearances at the Théâtre Feydeau and the Opéra, some of which were made jointly with Rode. When Rode departed for Russia in 1801 Kreutzer replaced him as solo violin of the Opéra; he joined Napoleon’s chapel orchestra in 1802 and his private orchestra four years later.
The opera Astyanax (1801) was fairly successful; but it was Kreutzer’s first ballet score, Paul et Virginie (1806), using music from the earlier opera, which appealed sufficiently to the public to hold the stage for 15 years. Aristippe (1808), a comedy on the popular Anacreon theme, also proved a success, and was given until 1830. The ballet Les amours d’Antoine et Cléopatre (1808), with its spectacular finale, was Kreutzer’s third stage work to catch the public imagination. The biblical opera Abel (1810), though at first indifferently received, was revived (minus its second act) in 1823; Berlioz wrote an ecstatic letter of appreciation to the composer. From 1802 to 1811 Kreutzer was a partner in Le Magasin de Musique, a publishing and retail concern formed with Cherubini, Méhul, Rode, Isouard and Boieldieu.
While on holiday in 1810 he broke an arm in a carriage accident and his career as a soloist ended. Nevertheless, he continued to play in ensembles and retained his official positions. After the Restoration in 1815 Kreutzer was named maître de la chapelle du roi; the next year he was created second conductor of the Opéra, then chief conductor in 1817. Habeneck replaced him in this post in 1824, the year in which Kreutzer became a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. From 1824 to 1826 he took overall direction of music at the Opéra. In the spring of 1826 Berlioz approached him unsuccessfully with a view to having La révolution grecque performed at the Opéra’s series of concerts spirituels. But by this time Kreutzer’s own style could find little public favour and his last opera Matilde was refused by the Opéra. His health declined from 1826, when he retired from most of his public positions.