DANZI: Wind Quintets, Op. 67, Nos. 1-3 (Michael Thompson/ Michael Thompson Wind Ensemble/ Philip Fowke) (Naxos: 8.553570)
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Franz Danzi (1763-1826)
Wind Quintets, Op. 67 Nos. 1-3. Sonatafor Horn and Piano in E flat major, Op. 28
In themid-eighteenth century the city of Mannheim enjoyed an unrivalled reputationfor its music. Described by the German writer Schubert as "the musicalAthens of the German-speaking world," the city owed much of its fame toits court, "whose rays," according to Leopold Mozart, "illuminethe whole of Germany, nay even the whole of Europe, like those of thesun." Central to the musical success of the court was its orchestra, whichLeopold described as "undeniably the best in Europe", and which,according to Charles Burney, could boast "more solo players and goodcomposers than any other orchestra in Europe." Under the direction ofJohann Stamitz, this "army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle as tofight in it," was responsible for a number of developments in orchestralwriting, but it is remembered in particular for establishing the crescendos anddiminuendos which were to become an integral part of symphonic music during theremainder of the century.
Among Stamitz's "army ofgenerals" was Innocenz Danzi, a cellist who joined the orchestra in 1754and subsequently married the daughter of the composer Carlo Giuseppe Toeschi.
Franz, the eldest of their three children, was born on 15th May 1763, andshowed early promise as a singer and as a cellist, singing in the Elector'schapel choir as a boy and joining the Mannheim Orchestra in 1778 when he wasjust fifteen years old. Despite this success he stayed behind to play with theorchestra of the National Theatre when the court moved to Munich later in theyear, and rejoined the orchestra only in 1783 when he succeeded his father asits principal cellist. By now, however, his heart lay in composition and afterhis opera Die Mittemachtstunde scored a considerable success in 1788,the cello was increasingly relegated to the sidelines.
Danzi's appointment as ViceKapellmeister to the Munich court in May 1798 was not entirely successful,partly because of a personality clash with the Kapellmeister and partlybecause his wife Margarete's death from consumption left him emotionally unableto direct operas in which she had previously sung. He must therefore have beenpleased to move to Stuttgart as conductor of the W??rttemberg Orchestra in 1807even though the city could not rival Munich in musical terms. It was alsodominated by intrigue and debauchery and its attraction wore off so quicklythat within a year Danzi was on the lookout for another job. This provedelusive, until he was offered the post of Kapellmeister at the Badencourt in Karlsruhe in 1812. He derived great solace from his blossomingfriendship with Carl Maria von Weber, who was 23 years his junior but with whomhe shared a correspondence, sometimes in verse or musical recitative, until hisdeath.
To a musician whose background was withthe Mannheim Orchestra, standards at Karlsruhe must have seemed abysmal. The26-man orchestra was even worse than at Stuttgart, and despite Danzi's attemptsto improve their playing, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reportedthat even in 1817 he was having to "stamp out the beat with his foot in anattempt to hold the orchestra together, especially at important entries."His efforts took a toll on both his health and enthusiasm but did have someeffect; by the time of his death on 13th April 1826 the orchestra boasted 44members and a repertoire which included works by Mozart, Cherubini, Beethovenand Weber as well as Danzi himself. He also seems to have maintained a sense ofproportion about his situation, earning the respect of Ludwig Spohr as "amost amiable artiste" and of Max Maria von Weber as a "plump littleman with a rounded head and sharp, clever eyes which always seemed good- humoured."
Although Danzi did not live in any ofEurope's main musical centres after 1812, the publication of his Op.56Quintets for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in 1821 indicates thathe kept abreast of the latest developments, for this combination of instrumentshad hardly been used until Anton Reicha published six quintets in Paris in1817. Reicha then published a further set of six annually for the next threeyears, and Danzi was clearly trying to cash in on their popularity, giving hisset not to his usual publisher but to the Parisian Maurice Schlesinger, andallowing the dedication to Reicha to appear in larger letters than his ownname. His sales figures were also helped by his concise style, technicallyundemanding and formally conventional, which contrasted with Reicha's expansiveand often virtuoso approach.
Danzi must have been encouraged by theresponse to the Opus 56 Quintets for soon afterwards he composeda further six works for the same combination of instruments. This time,however, they were published by Johann Andre of Offenbach, who was famous forhis pioneering editions of Mozart's works and under whose imprint a few ofDanzi's works already appeared. The new sets, which again demonstrate thecomposer's facility with attractive melodies and gently chromatic harmonies,appeared around the end of 1823 or early in 1824 as Opus 67 and 68
with consecutive publisher's plate numbers but no dedications.
When Breitkopf and Hartel advertisedDanzi's Sonata for Horn and Piano in E flat, Op.28 in the November 1804edition of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, they also offered acello part as an alternative to the horn line. This canny sales pitch wasprobably adopted because of the sheer novelty of the medium; although the hornwas well established as a concerto soloist, there was no tradition of it beingaccompanied by piano. Franz S??ssmayr had abandoned a work for the twoinstruments, but Beethoven had found their contrasting characteristics easierto cope with and it is likely that his sonata for horn and piano which had beenpublished in 1801 was the model for Danzi's own work in the genre.
Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung wasgreatly impressed by the result, publishing a lengthy review of Danzi's"distinguished" sonata in May 1805 and praising in particular the"uncommonly pretty" sound of the two instruments playing together.
The critic also enjoyed the work's "agreeable and flowing melodies",and appreciated the composer's achievement in keeping the score "tree fromartificial airs and graces." The piano line obviously required a"first-rate player who can produce a beautiful tone on theinstrument", but "lay well for the hand" and was "agreeablyfree from hocus pocus". It was, he concluded, a work in which "everypage cries out to become well-known".
Michael Thompson Wind Quintet
Flute: Jonathan Snowden
Oboe: Derek Wickens
Clarinet: Robert Hill
Bassoon: John Price
Horn: Michael Thompson
The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet cameinto existence under its present name in 1992, when Barry Tuckwell announcedthat he was leaving the Wind Quintet that bore his name and the otherinstrumentalists unanimously turned to the finest horn soloist they knew totake his place. When approached, Michael Thompson had no hesitation inaccepting the invitation to head the illustrious group. The original Quintet,which brought together five of London's leading wind-players, was formed in1969 and in the course of the next two decades performed in Russia,