DANZI: Wind Quintets, Op. 56, Nos. 1-3 / Wind Sextet, Op. 10 (Michael Thompson Wind Ensemble/ Mike Purton) (Naxos: 8.553076)
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Franz Danzi (1763 -1826)
Wind Quintets Op. 56, Nos. 1 -3
Sextet in E flat major
In the mid-18th Century the city of Mannheim enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for its music. Described by the German writer, Schubert as \the musical Athens of the German-speaking world," the city owed much of its fame to its court, "whose rays," according to Leopold Mozart, "illumine the whole of Germany, nay even the whole of Europe, like those of the sun." Central to the musical success of the court was its orchestra, which Leopold described as "undeniably the best in Europe", and which, according to Charles Burney, could boast "more solo players and good composers than any other orchestra in Europe." Under the early direction of Johann Stamitz, this "army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle as to fight in it," was responsible for a number of developments in orchestral writing, but is remembered in particular for establishing the crescendos and diminuendos which were to become an integral part of symphonic music during the remainder of the century.
Among Stamitz's "army of generals" was Innocenz Danzi, a cellist who joined the orchestra in 1754 and subsequently married Margarete, the daughter of the composer Carlo Guiseppe Toeschi. Franz, the oldest of their three children, was born on 15th May 1763, and showed early promise both as singer and as a cellist, singing in the Elector's chapel choir as a boy, and joining the Mannheim Orchestra in 1778 when he was just fifteen years old. Despite this success he stayed behind to play with the orchestra of the national Theatre when the court moved to Munich later in the year, and rejoined the orchestra only in 1783 when he succeeded his father as its principal cellist. By now, however, his heart lay in composition, and after his opera, Die Mitternachtstunde, scored a considerable success in 1788, the cello became of less importance to him.
Danzi's appointment as Vice Kapellmeister to the Munich court in May 1798 was not entirely successful, partly because of a personality clash with the Kapellmeister and partly because Margarete's death from consumption in 1800 left him emotionally unable to direct opera in which she had previously sung. He must therefore have been pleased to move to Stuttgart as conductor of the Württemberg Orchestra in 1807 even though the city could not rival Munich in musical terms. It was also dominated by intrigue and debauchery and its attraction wore off so quickly that within a year Danzi was looking for employment elsewhere. This proved elusive, and until he was offered the post of Kapellmeister at the Baden court in Karlsruhe in 1812, he derived great solace from his growing friendship with Carl Maria von Weber, who was twenty-three years his junior but with whom he shared a correspondence, sometimes in verse or musical recitative, until his death.
To a musician whose background was with the Mannheim Orchestra, standards at Karlsruhe must have seemed abysmal. The 26-man orchestra was even worse than at Stuttgart, and despite Danzi's attempts to improve their playing, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported that even 1817 he was having to "stamp out the beat with his foot in an attempt to hold the orchestra together, especially at important entries." His efforts took a toll on both his health and enthusiasm but did have some effect: by the time of his death on 13th April1826 the orchestra boasted 44 members and a repertoire which included works by Mozart, Cherubini, Beethoven and Weber as well as Danzi himself. He also seems to have maintained a sense of proportion about his situation, earning the respect of Ludwig Spohr as "a most amiable artist" and of Max Maria von Weber as "a plump little man with a rounded head and sharp, clever eyes which always seemed good-humoured."
Although Danzi did not live in any of Europe's main musical centres after 1812, the publication of his Op. 56 Quintets for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon indicates that he kept abreast of the latest development, for this combination of instruments had hardly been used until Anton Reicha published six quintets in Paris in 1817. Further sets of six followed annually for each of the next three years, and then in 1821 Danzi published his own Quintets Op. 56, giving them not to his usual publishers but to the Parisian Maurice Schlesinger and allowing their dedication to Reicha to appear in larger letters than his own name. This was clearly an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Reicha's quintets, and sales were helped by Danzi's use of a concise style, technically undemanding and formally conventional, which contrasted with Reicha's expansive and often virtuoso approach. The Op. 56 Quintets also exhibit Danzi's gift for attractive melodies and gently chromatic harmonies, but whereas he usually favoured the top line in his chamber music, these works follow Reicha's example and treat all the instruments equally.
The Wind Sextet is a product not of Reicha's influence but of the "Harmonie Bands" which had been retained by the aristocracy throughout Europe during the second half of the eighteenth Century. These popular ensembles of two horns, two bassoons, two clarinets and for two oboes attracted an immense amount of music including an immense number of popular operatic transcriptions as well as some original serenades and divertimenti. Danzi's only work of this type, the Sextet in E flat, was not published in its original form and survives today only in a single manuscript copy, but the date of his revision for oboe or violin, two violas and cello, which was published as Op. 10 in August 1802 suggests that it was almost certainly composed for a "Harmonie" ensemble in Munich. The opening allegro is followed first by a particularly touching slow movement and then by a brisk minuet. The finale, a lively movement in 6/8 time, reflects the contemporary vogue for movements which recall the music of the hunt.
The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet
Michael Thompson - French Horn
Jonathan Snowden - Flute
Derek Wickens - Oboe
Robert Hill - Clarinet
John Price - Bassoon
The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet came into existence under its present name in 1992, when Barry Tuckwell announced that he was leaving the Wind Quintet that bore his name. Michael Thompson, who was appointed Principal Horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra by Riccardo Muti at the age of 21, resigned from the orchestra in 1985 to pursue a solo career, which he has subsequently done with wide acclaim. Other members of the Quintet include the flutist Jonathan Snowden, appointed Principal Flute in the Orchestra of Opera North at the age of 21 and soon after to a similar position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1985 he became Principal Flute in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The oboist Derek Wickens was Principal Oboe of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for eighteen years and since 1981 has been Principal Oboe of the Opéra Nationale at the Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, a position that allows him more time for solo work and chamber music. He was a founder member of the Barry Tuckwell Wind Quintet. After two years as Co-Principal Clarinet in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Robert Hill joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal. He has performed widely with the Nash Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta, of which he was a founder member. John Price began his orchestral career in 1967 as Principal Bassoon in the Ulster Orchestra, moving a year later to a similar position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1977 he joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal Bassoon, a