In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the practice of playing pieces for four-hand duet on the piano became increasingly widespread, due to a number of reasons. The ascent of the bourgeoisie implied a growing literacy and musical education; indeed, the bourgeoisie started to appropriate practices and habits which had previously been aristocratical privileges, including the concept of music as a fundamental aspect of Bildung, the spiritual “building” of a person’s and a society’s culture. With bourgeois men increasingly working in offices distinct from their houses, the female members of the family spent most of their times in their homes and in those of their friends, and, since they could normally afford domestic help, they had more time for leisurely activities: music-making was one of the favourite pastimes and social activities. Moreover, the bourgeoisie also crowded theatres and concert halls, and they liked to reproduce at home the famous motifs and themes they had heard on the operatic stage. The preferred system for this reproduction was, of course, playing the pieces personally; for amateurs and music-lovers, the piano transcription of an orchestral/vocal score would have been far too complex to play, and the possibility of dividing the “notes” between two keyboard players was a particularly welcome one.
While this practice created a positive habit and the specific compositional and technical traits of four-hand keyboard playing, it remains strictly bound to the instrument of the piano and to the domestic context of Hausmusizieren, the music-making of the educated bourgeoisie. The leisurely and almost “cozy” style of this kind of chamber music appears to be dramatically distant from the features of a seemingly similar instrument, the organ.
Different from the piano, the organ’s setting is typically the church; in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, it was an instrument played mostly by male musicians (whereas most piano dilettantes were female); the organ’s repertoire was seemingly more serious and severe than the frequently frivolous adaptations for piano duet; and the physical intimacy between the two players on the same piano keyboard would have seemed rather out of place in the soberer setting of a church.
These elements undoubtedly account for the objective discrepancy between the enormous amount of works and transcriptions for piano duet on the one hand, and the relatively scanty works for four-hand organ duet on the other. However, scantiness does not imply inexistence, and these rare gems are really worth rediscovering. Indeed, if the organ’s manuals are similar in appearance to the piano keyboard, it is common knowledge that the principles ruling the two instruments’ mechanics are utterly different from each other; moreover, the organ possesses a pedalboard which is missing on most pianos. It would seem, then, that there are many more differences than similarities between the two instruments. However, the stimulus behind several transcriptions for organ duet came precisely from some instrumental limitations, particularly as concerns the pedalboard. Many organs, especially in southern Europe, were structurally insufficient for the performance of complex works involving the organ’s pedals. In consequence, these were adapted for four-hand organ duet, with the “Primo” playing the part originally prescribed for performance on the manual, and the “Secondo” playing the pedal part on another manual. This limitation became, as is often the case, a valuable opportunity, and, along with countless transcriptions (most of which were impromptu and therefore left no written trace), several composers decided to create original compositions for this ensemble.
This Da Vinci Classics album includes examples of the various genres hitherto cited. The Sonata by Johann Christian Bach is unlikely to have been conceived for performance on the organ, even though Johann Christian’s father, the celebrated Johann Sebastian, had been one of the greatest organists of all times. However, Johann Christian, Bach’s youngest son, was under many aspects a very different character from his father, and this Sonata’s aesthetic principles have virtually nothing of the Baroque style practised by Johann Sebastian. Here, the Classical style is at its best and at its most refreshing, and it is easy to understand why a warm and great friendship blossomed between Johann Christian and the much younger Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In spite of the lightness and brilliancy of this piece, which would seem ill-suited to the majestic sound of the organ, in fact this Sonata is particularly appropriate for performance on the organ, due to its “symphonic” style. The rich counterpoint and dense texture are valuably enriched by the varied timbre of the organ stops.
A similar situation is encountered with Mozart’s Sonata in D major KV 381. Mozart had used to play piano duets with his sister Nannerl from their early childhood on, and he developed a compositional technique for four-hand keyboard duet which combined the intimate character of domestic music-making with sonorities and virtuosity more typical for the concert stage. This was, of course, a consequence of their early acquaintance with public performances, in which they had to demonstrate their skill while also maintaining the charming simplicity of their relationship as a brother and sister. This Sonata, similar to that by Johann Christian Bach (whose style it imitates), is a very symphonic piece; Mozart was still a teenager, at that time, but his compositional ability and his ambitions are evident in the self-assured treatment of the large form and in the varied combinations of the instrumental writing. In this case too, therefore, the arrangement for organ reveals new facets of a known work, and it allows us to glimpse yet another aspect of its inexhaustible musical potential.
On the other hand, a piece which is undoubtedly to be numbered among the almost forgotten works is the C-major Prelude and Fugue by Mozart’s contemporary, the British John Marsh. A gifted composer, and perhaps the most prolific musician of the era in England, Marsh was also the author of an impressive collection of journals which still await a thorough study and which will doubtlessly reveal many unknown aspects of the musical life of his time. Unfortunately, most compositions by Marsh are lost, but those which have been preserved bear witness to their composer’s talent and imagination. He was a man of many interests and a polymath, and was an expert organist, as well as a conductor and organizer of concerts. The Prelude and Fugue recorded here demonstrate his ability and mastery of the form and of the polyphonic technique, and his fantasy in the elaboration of the musical material.
Similar to Marsh, also Franz Adolph Berwald was a man of many talents and the greatest representative of the cultivated musical repertoire in his own country. In his case, he pioneered the composition of “classical” symphonies in Sweden, and was appreciated as a violinist, as a violist and as a teacher of composition and orchestration. However, and once more similar to Marsh, Berwald did not limit himself to music only: in his case, the choice to dedicate himself to other disciplines was also partly due to the lack of professional opportunities in the musical field. Nevertheless, Berwald managed to excel also in a seemingly unrelated discipline, i.e. orthopedic studies, to which he substantially and innovatively contributed. His En landtlig bröllopsfest is extraordinary under many viewpoints: it was originally conceived for four-hand organ, it fascinatingly anticipates the upsurge of “national” schools in the late Romantic era, and it brilliantly describes the various religious and festive stages of a rural wedding ceremony. The musical material for this work partially comes from a collection of Ländliche Spiele und Tanz, vividly depicting the rural traditions of his country.
The relatively short Fantasie op. 35 by Adolf Friedrich Hesse is in turn a sequence of contrasting but consistent sections, alternating more lyrical with more brilliant moments. Hesse was one of the most important German organists of his time, and had been educated in the august tradition of Bach’s organ style. In fact, he was a pioneer of the Bach-Renaissance, and used to perform entire recitals with works by the German master. The contrast with the Italian brilliant style of opera buffa practised by Rossini could seem particularly striking, therefore. However, this is partly a misleading impression, since Rossini was in turn a great admirer of the German musical tradition – in fact, he was even criticized for his Germanophilia, and nicknamed “Il Tedeschino”, the Little German. Even though there are only scanty traces of the Baroque polyphonic tradition in such a famous piece as the Sinfonia from L’italiana in Algeri, undoubtedly Rossini had learnt the aesthetic principles of that musical tradition and interpreted them in his own, highly personal style. This impressive transcription demonstrates the full potential of a version for four-hand organ duet of such a brilliant piece: in particular, the celebrated technique of the Rossinian crescendo seems particularly well-suited to the organ’s terraced dynamics and to its expressive potential.
This album, then, by juxtaposing famous and unknown artists and their pieces, as well as original works with transcriptions, is a very welcome demonstration of how the organ, an orchestra which can be played by one musician alone, can become an even richer repository of varied timbres in the (four) hands of two players.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Luca Ferrari: He is the second choirmaster and organist of S.Lorenzo's Cathedral in Genoa (Italy). He studied organ and organistic composition with F. Dellepiane at Conservatoire N.Paganini (Genoa) and he obtained the degree in 1992. He also studied harpsichord with Barbara Petrucci in 2005. In 1997 he won the first prize at the famous international organistic competition "G.Callido" at Borca di Cadore (Belluno- Italy).
In March 2009 he went on and obtained a Master degree in Musical Branch of Knowledge regarding organ, studying with B.Gallizio at the Conservatoire N. Paganini (Genoa). His dissertation was about "Louis Vierne ".
Rodolfo Bellatti: He is currently organist of the Basilica N.S. della Rosa in Santa Margherita Ligure (Genoa - Italy). He studied organ and harpsichord with Flavio Dellepiane and Barbara Petrucci at the Genoa Conservatoire. He went on to obtain his solo diploma in the master class of Guy Bovet at the Bâle Hochschule für Musik, and his Master in Organ Music with Roberto Antonello at the Vicenza Conservatoire. In national and international competitions he won eight prizes to date.In addition to his concert-giving activities, he is also a researcher in the areas of organ building and musicology. He made a number of recordings for radio and produced several CDs devoted to historical instruments.
Adolf Friedrich Hesse (b Breslau, 30 Aug 1809; d Breslau, 5 Aug 1863). German organist and composer. He was taught by F.W. Berner in the Silesian Bach tradition, and on his first major concert tour in Germany met Hummel in Weimar and Spohr in Kassel. In Darmstadt he met Rinck, who had studied with Bach’s pupil J.C. Kittel, and with whom he studied for six months in the winter of 1828–9. From 1831 until his death Hesse was organist of the Bernardine church in Breslau. In 1844 he inaugurated the Doublaine-Callinet organ at St Eustache in Paris, where his interpretation of Bach’s organ works, hitherto almost unknown there, created as great a sensation as his own virtuosity. In 1851 he played very successfully in the Crystal Palace and elsewhere in London. Hesse was the first 19th-century German organist to win international recognition as a touring virtuoso, even before Mendelssohn. His concert programmes consisted mainly of his own compositions and works by Bach, including fugues from Das wohltemperirte Clavier. Doubt has recently been cast on the significance of Hesse’s teaching of J.N. Lemmens, whom Fétis regarded as Hesse’s heir and thus a link between the tradition of Bach and the modern French school.
Hesse’s compositions combined fugal polyphony modelled on Bach with rich, Romantic harmonies influenced by Spohr, whom he greatly admired. While his organ works were widely distributed, his orchestral and choral compositions were little known outside Breslau. During the last 15 years of his life, feeling dissatisfied at the direction of ‘modern music’, he hardly composed at all.
Franz Berwald (b Stockholm, 23 July 1796; d Stockholm, 3 April 1868). Swedish composer and violinist, son of (2) Christian Friedrich Georg Berwald. The leading Scandinavian composer of the early 19th century, he is remarkable for his bold and striking invention as well as for his originality in the handling of musical forms.
Gioacchino Rossini: (b Pesaro, 29 Feb 1792; d Passy, 13 Nov 1868). Italian composer. No composer in the first half of the 19th century enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time. His achievements cast into oblivion the operatic world of Cimarosa and Paisiello, creating new standards against which other composers were to be judged. That both Bellini and Donizetti carved out personal styles is undeniable; but they worked under Rossini’s shadow, and their artistic personalities emerged in confrontation with his operas. Not until the advent of Verdi was Rossini replaced at the centre of Italian operatic life.
Johann Christian Bach (b Leipzig, 5 Sept 1735; d London, 1 Jan 1782). Composer, youngest son of (7) Johann Sebastian Bach. As a composer he was the most versatile of J.S. Bach’s sons and the only one to write Italian operas. He was an important influence on Mozart and, with C.F. Abel, did much to establish regular public concerts in London.
John Marsh (b Dorking, 31 May 1752; d Chichester, 31 Oct 1828). English composer and writer. Despite his showing an early interest in music, his father, a Royal Naval captain, denied him a musical education during his school years at Greenwich Academy, intending that he too should follow a naval career. In 1768, however, he persuaded his father to allow him to undertake legal training and he was articled to a solicitor in Romsey. During the two years before leaving home in Gosport, then his father's station, Marsh took up the violin, studying with Wafer, the organist of Gosport Chapel. This was his only formal musical training, but enabled him to become sufficiently proficient to join in the subscription concerts in Portsmouth and Gosport. In Romsey he applied himself as assiduously to music as to law, teaching himself to play the spinet, viola (which became a particular favourite), cello, oboe and organ. These were also the years of his first retained compositions, works written specifically for a series of subscription concerts he founded in the town. Following the completion of his clerkship in 1773, Marsh set up practice in Romsey and the following year married Elizabeth Brown, the daughter of a Salisbury doctor. In 1776 he moved to a partnership in Salisbury, where he took up residence in a house near Close Gate. During the seven years that he lived in Salisbury, Marsh played an active role in the city's thriving musical life: he was a violinist at the subscription concert series, of which he became leader in 1780, a member of the Catch Club and an occasional substitute organist at cathedral services. He had by now become a prolific composer; a number of his symphonies had been introduced both at the subscription concerts and at the annual Salisbury Festival.
In 1783, having inherited an estate in Kent, Marsh abandoned his career as a practising lawyer and moved with his family to Nethersole House, some ten miles from Canterbury. He was immediately offered the directorship of the ailing Canterbury Concert, which he set about reorganizing with characteristic energy, soon transforming the Concert into a successful organization. Marsh recognised that he could ill-afford the upkeep of a large estate and within two years was again making plans to move. Following a short period at a prebendial house in the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, the family moved to Chichester in the spring of 1787. The house in North Pallant (no longer standing) that Marsh bought from the poet William Hayley was to remain his home for the remaining 40 years of his life. As at Canterbury, his arrival coincided with a period when local concert life was at a low ebb and Marsh was again given the challenge of reviving the subscription concerts as manager and leader. His success ensured that Chichester enjoyed a thriving concert life until 1813, when he retired from concert leadership. Although he never lost interest in music, the last 15 years of his life were mainly devoted to his family and extensive travels, during which he frequently managed to take in one or more of the provincial music festivals. Active and in good health until the final months of his life, Marsh died at his home after a short illness and was buried a week later at All Saints, West Pallant.
Although Marsh took a lively and active interest in music throughout his long life, it was, as he pointed out in the autobiographical sketch he provided for John Sainsbury, ‘not his only pursuit’. The journal that he kept for most of his life reveals a man of extraordinarily diversified interests, ranging from astronomy (on which he wrote two published books) and campanology to a part-time military career as an officer in the sometimes unruly Chichester Volunteers during the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to Marsh's extensive writings on music, his published articles address such topics as religious philosophy and geometry. His writings on musical topics cover a wide range of subjects, and reveal an unusually balanced and sensible approach to arguments such as the relative merits of ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ compositions. Marsh was also occupied with the prevailing low standards of cathedral music: in the preface to his Cathedral Chant Book (1808) he laid the foundations for the reform of Anglican psalm chanting.
The most important of Marsh's extant compositions, the Eight Favorite Symphonies published between 1784 and 1800, reveal a composer well-versed in the requirements of the mixed professional and amateur provincial orchestras he encountered. Concertante parts for more able players are judiciously juxtaposed with easier tutti writing, and in a work like the Conversation Sinfonie, for two orchestras, composed in 1778, Marsh also shows a keen awareness of orchestral colour, disposing his two groups so as to pit high instruments against low. He was one of the first musicians in England to appreciate Haydn's stature, and his finest surviving symphony, A Favorite Symphony, no.6 in D major (1796), pays particular homage in a four-movement work scored for full Classical orchestra including trumpets and timpani. In general terms the symphonies are characterised by an open, direct freshness and strong melodic appeal, qualities also in evidence in the five-movement string quartet of 1785. The anthems are confident and effective examples of the later Georgian verse anthem. Marsh's special concern for affective word setting is articulated in his criticism of certain aspects of William Boyce's setting of By the waters of Babylon (Ps cxxxvii) in the preface to his Six Anthems, op.18.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.