Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in one of his books, famously spoke of the “watershed” of year 1800. The expression was purposefully provocative: it is a commonplace of the history of ideas, of the arts, and of human societies, that no change happens in one day, and all are prepared by long processes and followed by long reception phenomena. Yet, it is true that, in the history of music, the years surrounding the turn between eighteenth and nineteenth century did represent something akin to a watershed. In those years, Beethoven was reaching his full maturity. Following the pan-European consequences of the French Revolution, and corresponding to broader historical trends, the bourgeoisie was completing its ascent, and claiming, as its own, practices and behaviours once typical for aristocracy. In the very first years of the nineteenth century, the posthumous publication of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier would ignite the first sparks of the rediscovery which would later be known as “Bach-Renaissance”. The fortepiano was definitively conquering its place as the most played instrument, and as the legitimate heir of the harpsichord and clavichord. For the first time in the documented history of Western music, works written in the past, and later neglected, were being revived. This was a typically English phenomenon, encouraged by the Bach-Abel concerts, and by the continuing appreciation of Handel’s music; but it was observed also in the Continent, where, little by little, Baroque music began to be appreciated and to furnish new stimuli to living composers.
The piano was by then ubiquitous in the homes of the bourgeoisie and of the aristocracy; piano teachers were in high demand, and could not give courses to all the students who requested lessons. The piano’s capability to produce a wide, and ever-increasing, range of tone colours, begged the question about the finesses of dynamics, which had to be written on the score – whereas in earlier times they could simply be taught by the teacher. The musical text acquired a new meaning, as the repository of something transcendent, of the mystery of musical and artistic inspiration. Relatedly, composers such as Beethoven began to be revered as geniuses, and as something akin to divinities. If the budding Romanticism was establishing music as a new kind of religion and spirituality, genius composers were its gods, and musical texts its sacred writs.
In this context, Beethoven and his works epitomized the perfection of musical art; the composer’s figure embodied the Romantic ideal of an artist-hero, struggling against fate in the name of sublime artistry. Even though most players were amateurs, and would always remain such, the aura surrounding the musical genius was felt by all. And even though the most performed (and sold) musical works were always those in the “light” repertoire (such as the ephemeral Fantasies on operatic themes, or paraphrases on celebrated tunes), even amateur musicians perceived the charm emanating from the great geniuses of the time.
In an era when almost no widespread means of sound reproduction was available, live music was the only possibility for enjoying a particular composition. But even in the greatest and most musical cities, there was a limit to the repertoire and to the number of concerts which could be organized and could be attended by audience members. Moreover, many public concerts had the purpose of displaying the new virtuoso’s skills; their protagonists tended to favour brilliant works, if possible composed by themselves, with which they could be sure of winning the audience’s affections. Thus, even the major works of the greatest composers were at times missing from the concert stage: as has been said, this was the first moment in history when musical works from the even recent past were starting to be played.
The experience of hearing, and of performing, a major work such as a Beethoven Piano Concerto was, therefore, not as frequent as one could imagine. Yet, the live experience of such works was foundational for young musicians (e.g. prospective pianists and composers), but also something highly cherished and intensely desired by cultivated amateurs. Thus, music publishers began to issue transcriptions and adaptations: for instance, versions for four-hands piano duets of Beethoven’s Symphonies. These could be played by a teacher and pupil, for example, in order to have firsthand experiences of the textures and forms of Beethoven’s music, but they could also constitute a pleasant and stimulating way to pass an evening. Still, even the two-piano versions of the great Concertos were unsatisfactory under many viewpoints. Firstly, the very idea of “concerto” was missing from such arrangements. There was no “soloist” and no orchestral colour. Secondly, very few private homes had two pianos, and thus performances were not so easily realised. By way of contrast, frequently the great composers themselves had created, or at least authorized, chamber music versions of their own works. It is well known, for instance, that there is an original version by Beethoven of his Fourth Concerto, designed for chamber music performance; Mozart had created alternative versions of several of his Concertos; even the Concertos by Chopin could be performed with a small chamber music ensemble.
Within this context, it was perfectly acceptable, and even praiseworthy, for celebrated virtuosi to create new versions; these were particularly appreciated if the arranger had been in close contact with the composer. This could certainly apply to Ignaz Moscheles, whose friendship with Beethoven is so well documented that Beethoven’s last known letter was addressed to him. In it, Beethoven expressed the wish to be able to write another symphony for the British audiences, who appreciated his music so much, and who had learnt to know it partly through the good offices of Moscheles himself. Ignaz Moscheles was a Bohemian-born composer of Jewish descent. He was hailed as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) piano virtuosos of his time; he had a superb technique, but was also appreciated as a composer in his own right. In particular, he would develop an intense friendship with Felix Mendelssohn, who held him in great esteem – to the point that Mendelssohn invited Moscheles to teach at his Conservatory. Moscheles would keep championing Beethoven’s music; for instance, he would conduct the Ninth Symphony at the concerts of the Philharmonic Society on the first decennial of the composer’s death, substantially contributing to the work’s dissemination in London. His version of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto is therefore not only beautiful in itself, but also constitutes a valuable witness of past performing practices. The scoring chosen by Moscheles is shrewdly elected: a string quartet with “reinforced” high and low parts, since the flute provides timbral variety and empowers the high texture, and the double bass provides depth to the low register.
This ensemble manages to perfectly and efficaciously render the great variety of Beethoven’s textures, the majestic solemnity of this Concerto, the exquisite tenderness of its lyrical second movement, and the heroic elan of the outer movements.
Moscheles is also the transcriber of one of the most appreciated of Beethoven’s Overtures, the Egmont Overture. Egmont was the protagonist of a Goethe tragedy. He embodied the prototype of the Romantic hero, as depicted by the prince of German literature and as given musical life by the champion of German music. Goethe was sincerely pleased with Beethoven’s musical realization of his literary ideas, and the composer felt at ease in the aesthetic world portrayed by the great poet.
Even closer to Beethoven’s heart was the myth of Prometheus. The Greek myth narrated the story of a demigod who stole fire from the Olympian gods in order to share it with the mortals. For this reason, he was cruelly punished by Zeus. Beethoven saw in Prometheus’ figure an image of his own struggle against the cruelty of his deafness; in Prometheus’ fiery resistance, he glimpsed his own acceptance of suffering for the sake of bringing the fire of art to his contemporaries and to those after him. The “Prometheus theme” (a subject employed by Beethoven in a ballet, called The Creatures of Prometheus) would recur in many of Beethoven’s most important works, including the Third Symphony and the Eroica Variations for piano.
In spite of the shared Classical setting, The Ruins of Athens did not elicit such immediate and visceral sympathy in the composer. This work was the result of an explicit commission, celebrating the Austro-Hungarian rulers in the city of Pest. Beethoven, of course, did not undertake the task lightly; yet, probably, the subject did not passionate him as much as the other two did. In spite of this, here too he demonstrates the full palette of his compositional imagination and the fecundity of his genius. These three Overtures are presented here in transcriptions realised by Moscheles (Egmont), by the great virtuoso Hummel (Prometheus), and by Stephen Francis Rimbault, a less known figure who was an organist, arranger and composer. Here too, Beethoven’s dense orchestral texture is, so to speak, condensed in the chamber music versions. Certainly, Beethoven is said to have thought “orchestrally” even when he was writing for the solo piano; yet, and precisely for this reason, it is possible to imagine the full palette of Beethoven’s colours even when lighter versions are offered; in turn, these afford us the possibility of fully discerning the transparency of the composer’s scoring and the lucidity of his musical thought.
Together, these versions allow us to get a glimpse into a unique world, when “music” was only “live music”, and when sociability was a fundamental component of musical enjoyment.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022
Alberto Bologni studied at the Conservatorio Cherubini in Florence, and subsequentely took a soloist’s diploma at the Rotterdam Conservatoire. His training was informed by some of the most celebrated European violin-playing traditions: the Venetian school of G. Pasquali and the German-Hungarian school of Jenö Hubay via S. Materassi, and the Russian-Soviet of Oistrakh and Kogan through Stephan Gheorghiu and Ilya Grubert. He appears regularly on the major Italian and European stages. He has composed cadenzas for violin concertos by Mozart, Haydn, Viotti and Paganini as well as some pieces for solo violin, for string quartet and for piano. His recordings has been highly praised by the Italian and English-speaking musical press. He teaches violin at the Conservatorio “L. Boccherini” in Lucca, and collaborates regularly with several universities in the USA and UK. He plays a Santo Serafino, Venice 1734, formerly belonging to Cesare Ferraresi.
Anne Lokken is born in Berkeley, California, and she completed her high school studies at the University of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she received her Bachelor of Music Degree in viola performance in 1979. The same year she won a scholarship for the 'Young Artists' program at the Tanglewood Institute, where he worked with Leonard Bernstein. From 1980-2016 she held the role of 'Viola di Fila' with the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra where she played with the most important conductors including Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Riccardo Muti, Carlos Kleiber, and Claudio Abbado.
Fabrizio Datteri: Graduated in 1991 at Musical Institute “Luigi Boccherini” in Lucca; Biennal Master in piano at the institute “Boccherini” in 2007 cum laude; Master in Chamber Music at Pianistic Academy of Imola (special award, 2002); Graduated in Harpsichords at Florence Conservatory in 2002. Specialized with A. Specchi, PierNarciso Masi, Sergio Fiorentino, Bruno Canino (Hochschule fur Musik "F. Liszt" in Weimar), J. Achucarro (Accademia Chigiana, Siena), K. Bogino (Accademia in Chioggia), B. Bloch and A. delle Vigne (Mozarteum Salzburg). Won several competitions, as a soloist and in chamber duo. Plays as a soloist and in chamber ensembles; collaborations with most important Italian musicians and non, like: C. Rossi, A. Nannoni, A. Farulli, P. Carlini, D. Dini Ciacci, B. Bloch, P. Vernikov, P. Cuper, M. Marasco, Trio della Scala, ecc. Played in Usa and Europe: Carnegie Hall, Istanbul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona, Hamburg, Warsaw, Cracow, London, Copenaghen, Amsterdam and many italian theatres. Played as soloist with Pomeriggi Musicali, Oradea Symphonic Orchestra, Mexico State Orchestra, Filarmonica Istanbul, and others.
Gabriele Ragghianti studied at Luigi Boccherini Musical Institute, graduating with highest honours, cum laude and with a special mention. Winner of many national or international contests, he has worked, as principal double bass, with several symphonic and chamber orchestras, both Italian and foreign. Since 1988 Gabriele has been soloist double bass of I Solisti Veneti. He performed as soloist in more than 2.500 concerts in 85 countries worldwide, playing in many important concert halls and at the most prestigious festivals. He has carried out an outstanding work in chamber music, collaborating with musicians of great fame. He took part in many recordings for the radio and the television, both in Italy and abroad, recording more than 150 CDs and DVDs, working with famous artists worldwide. Gabriele teaches at the Conservatory “L. Boccherini” of Lucca, and he’s regularly invited as guest teacher to some of the most prestigious musical institutions in Italy and abroad. He is a D’Addario artist and performs on a doublebass made by Cristiano Scipioni.
Ludwig van Beethoven: (b Bonn, bap. 17 Dec 1770; d Vienna, 26 March 1827). German composer. His early achievements, as composer and performer, show him to be extending the Viennese Classical tradition that he had inherited from Mozart and Haydn. As personal affliction – deafness, and the inability to enter into happy personal relationships – loomed larger, he began to compose in an increasingly individual musical style, and at the end of his life he wrote his most sublime and profound works. From his success at combining tradition and exploration and personal expression, he came to be regarded as the dominant musical figure of the 19th century, and scarcely any significant composer since his time has escaped his influence or failed to acknowledge it. For the respect his works have commanded of musicians, and the popularity they have enjoyed among wider audiences, he is probably the most admired composer in the history of Western music.