Beethoven & admirers
Beethoven literally dominated the 19th century with his music. No composer was able to avoid his influence and no composer could write anything without granting the absolute dominance of Beethoven. This applies to Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner as well as many others. The composers Reicha and Spohr were not only great admirers of Beethoven, but they also befriended him. Schubert even worshipped Beethoven and managed to meet the grand master in real life on a number of occasions. But, as opposed to his famous colleague, when Schubert died in 1828 – a year after Beethoven and only 31 years old – he was poor and almost entirely forgotten. He had to wait another half a century before his fame would take off.
This program includes three quintets by Beethoven, Reicha and Spohr. Each of these is set in a different formation: the Hexagon’s hexagon, in turns, without pianist, flutist or oboe. In this way, every piece has got something different to offer to the listener’s ears and eyes. Finally, it all comes together in Schubert’s renowned Rosamunde!
Anton Reicha (1770-1836)
Quintet opus 91 nr. 3 in D major (1818)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Kwintet opus 16 in Es groot (1796)
Louis Spohr (1784-1859)
Kwintet opus 52 in c klein (1820)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Delen uit Rosamunde D.797 (1823) Arr. Christiaan Boers
Anton Reicha was a Czech-French composer who started his career as a musician in 1785 when he, together with his uncle, joined the orchestra of the Archduke of Cologne in Bonn. It was there in Bonn that he met the young Beethoven, with whom he developed a friendship that lasted until the end of their lives.
From 1794 onwards he first lived in Hamburg and later in Vienna. In 1806 he left for Parijs, where he stayed until his death in 1836. Not just his musical pieces, but also his books on composing and piano playing are of great importance. His students of composition at the Paris conservatory included Frans Liszt, Charles Gounod, César Franck and Hector Berlioz. Together with Fransz Danzi, Reicha earned great fame as the inventor or founder of the wind quintet. Reicha wrote no fewer than 24 quintets for this formation. His Quintet in D major is characterized by its great virtuosity, expressive melodies and original harmonies.
When thinking about Beethoven’s chamber music, many people might associate it with the revolutionary complexity of his late string quartets or great piano sonatas. His name also seems to be so inextricably linked to the unrelenting and the all-overpowering, that one would almost forget that the great master of Bonn composed many pieces that are of a much lighter nature. Remarkable about the lighter side to Beethoven’s oeuvre is that it almost always concerns pieces that were composed before 1801 – still in his Classical Period – and include wind players. Like Mozart, Beethoven wrote delightful piece for wind ensemble, his renowned Octet for example, but also his larger but very charming Septet (1799), in which we hear Beethoven from his most ‘sunny side’. In addition to the Septet, its three years junior Quintet for Piano and Wind (Opus 16) is probably Beethoven’s most important work in his Early period. Beethoven modeled his Quintet Opus 16 after Mozart’s Quintet KV 452, a work written in the same scale and the same instrumentation. Much can be said about the similarities between both works, but the differences are not in any way less striking. While Mozart’s piece is pure chamber music, Beethoven appears to have written a piano concerto, but for a small number of musicians.
The grand, slow introduction betrays the influence of Joseph Haydn, one of Beethoven’s teachers. Both there and further in the opening movement, the music seems to have an almost symphonic side. More than in any other early work by Beethoven, this one seems to show the promise of the nine symphonies that he would later write. Like in the first movement, the lyrical Andante has a more complex nature than the corresponding part in Mozart’s piece. Finally, the Quintet Opus 16 is loudly concluded with a playful Rondo.
A quarter century after the publication of Beethoven’s quintet, the literature for piano and wind players was enriched with a third one, written by Louis Spohr. Spohr was one of the most celebrated musicians of his era. He was not only cherished as a violinist and conductor, but was always seen as one of the foremost composers of his time. In the Nineteenth century his name was mentioned in one breath with people like Beethoven or Mendelssohn. Quite a few works by Louis Spoho – who, for example, composed fifteen violin concertos – owe their creation to his double role as composer and performing musician. Spohr did not only write music intended to be performed by himself, but also for his wife Dorette, a famous harp player. The Quintet Opus 52 originates in a tragic twist to her career, which Spohr described extensively in his memoirs: “A sad time in my life commenced. Due to the demands of playing the new harp and due to the mixed feelings about the last concert, Dorette felt so exhausted and ill, that I feared that she might be struck by a third nervous breakdown. It was high time to take an important, but difficult decision about her future.” That decision entailed that Dorette should be convinced to stop playing that “nerve-racking instrument” and switch to the piano, which she used to play very well in her youth.
In order to re-excite her passion for the piano, Spohr started working tirelessly on the quintet which she should be the first to perform. Spohr departed from the structure employed by Mozart and Beethoven in a number of ways. Unlike the previous two quintets, Sphor’s work consists of four movements rather than three. Additionally, the oboe was replaced by the flute. After Dorette’s performance, other pianists also included Spohr’s quintet in their repertoire. No one less than Frederic Chopin considered it a charming piece – albeit a very difficult one.
When Vienna-based composer Franz Schubert was inspired, music was created faster in his head than he could note down by pen. And, while working on his music theatre piece Rosamunde, Prinzessin von Zypern, he was full of that inspiration. He started working on it on the 30th November 1823 and completed the work by 18th December of the same year – two days before it premiered. Rosamunde survived exactly two performance and, while Schubert’s music was very much appreciated by the press, it disappeared into oblivion for a very long time. Only in 1867 the work was rediscovered by George Grove and Arthur Sullivan – it was immediately performed in that same year. Since then, Schubert’s repertoire cannot be thought of without Rosamunde. The Hexagon Ensemble plays this extraordinary work in an arrangement of their own.