KRAUS: Symphonies, Vol. 2 (Petter Sundkvist/ Swedish Chamber Orchestra/ Urban Svensson) (Naxos: 8.554472)
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Joseph Martin Kraus(1756-1792): Symphonies, Volume 2
Joseph Martin Kraus can be considered one of the most talented andunusual composers of the eighteenth century. Born in the central German town ofMiltenburg am Main, he received his earliest formal education in nearby Buchenand at the Jesuit Gymnasium and Music Seminar in Mannheim, where he studiedGerman literature and music. Following studies in law at the universities inMainz and Erfurt, Kraus spent a year at home in Buchen in 1775-1776, while hisfather was under indictment for misuse of office, a charge later dropped. In1776 he resumed his studies in law at Gottingen University, but under theinfluence of the remnants of the Gottinger Hainbund, a literarycircle in the Sturm und Drang vein, be began to explore a career inmusic. In 1778 he published his treatise Etwas van und ??ber Musik, whichis one of the few actual theoretical works devoted to the adaptation of Sturmund Drang literary philosophy to music.
In 1778, with the encouragement of fellow student Carl Stridsberg, thecomposer decided to dedicate his life to music and to seek employment in Swedenat the court of Gustav III. Although promised a position, he found it difficultto break into the cultural establishment of Stockholm, and for the next twoyears he faced dire economic circumstances as he attempted to overcome thepolitical obstacles in his way. His opera Azire was rejected by theRoyal Academy of Music, but in 1780 he was commissioned to compose a trialwork, Proserpin, the text of which had been conceived by the kinghimself. Its successful private performance at Ulriksdal in 1781 brought anappointment as deputy Kapellmastare and in 1782 a grand tour of Europeat Gustav's expense to view the latest in musical and theatrical trends. Thistook him throughout Germany, Vienna, Italy, England, and France, where he metmajor figures of the period such as Gluck and Haydn.
Kraus returned to Stockholm in 1787 and the following year was appointedas First Kapellmastare and director of curriculum at the Royal Academyof Music. For several years he enjoyed a reputation in Stockholm for hisdisciplined conducting, his activities as a composer and his rigorouspedagogical standards. He was a participant in the Palmstedt literary circle andcontributed much to the establishment of Stockholm as one the leading culturalcentres of Europe. Soon after the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Kraussuccumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 36.
As a composer, Kraus can be seen as one of the most innovative of theentire century. His earliest training brought him the Italian style of theMannheim composers, the contrapuntal rigour of Franz Xaver Richter and J. S.
Bach, as well as the dramatic style of C.P.E. Bach, Gluck, and Gretry. A man ofmany talents, the composer was also theorist, pedagogue and author (a book ofpoetry and a tragedy). His compositional style features the unexpected and thedramatic and it is no surprise, therefore, to find many forward-lookingstylistic devices that anticipate music of the next century.
Kraus began composing symphonies during his youth, and completed hislast only a few months before his death. In all some fourteen works in thisgenre survive, although there are indications that this is only a fraction ofthe total. Indeed six symphonies written in Gottingen and described in hiscorrespondence have been lost, as have groups of works from Buchen, Mannheimand Paris. What has survived, though, indicates that a strong dramatic elementinfuses the works, making them more theatrical than simply mass-producedconcert works. The trend towards more occasional, dramatic music intensifiedduring his last years, when symphonies were of lesser importance than the stagein the musical venues of Stockholm.
The Symphony in A major (VB 128) is one of the earliestsymphonies by Kraus to have survived. Stylistic evidence dates the work to hisfirst years of formal musical study in Mannheim, from 1768 to 1772, when hecame under the influence of members of the famed Mannheim Kapelle. Evidence ofKraus's interest in providing a dramatic foundation can already be found inthis youthful work. The first movement s characterized by bold unisons,flashing motivic figures and expansively worked out contrasting themes, whilethe second is filled with considerable lyricism. This symphony is one of onlytwo to include a minuet, filled with textural contrasts and a slightly obtusedance rhythm rather than the expected staid triple metre. The final movement,however, is the dramatic tour de force, containing within a centralsection a musical depiction of a hunt, complete with authentic horn-calls. Theviola part is largely missing in the original source of this work. For thisrecording, the viola part has been added to the missing sections, doubling thebass-line at the octave. This represents one possible version of the work,although the original part may have been more independent, as evidenced by theextant sections in the second and final movements.
The Sinfonia buffa in F major (VB 129) was likewise probablycomposed during Kraus's early years in Mannheim. Unlike the previous work, itis a three movement Italian sinfonia with a title that reflects thedramatic content of the entire composition. The symphony is a miniaturepantomime, with an opening movement that moves swiftly between contrastingscenes, from sudden outbursts of melodramatic emotion to melodies that trailoff into unsettling silence. The unusual drama is highlighted by the end wherea rising triad poses a musical question. The second movement with itsmonophonic chant opening and sudden changes between major and minor reinforcesthe dramatic content. The finale is a fast-paced 'perpetual motion machine',with extensive virtuoso passages for the flutes, a forward-looking section forstrings that anticipates Verdi, and a portion of altered Gregorian chant, as ifa mendicant monk were wandering through the musical landscape of thisnon-scenic drama.
The Symphony in F major (VB 130), composed for a small orchestraof a pair of horns and strings, was written in 1776 during Kraus's enforcedresidence in Buchen. In three movements, it reflects the composer's growingmaturity, whilst accommodating the reduced forces of the Buchen Kapelle. Thefirst movement is solidly composed, with particular attention paid to formalstructure. The use of Mannheim devices is evidence of his completed studies,while the march-like secondary theme is calculated to appeal to audiences ofthe time. The lyrical second movement contains a plethora of flowing melodieswhose technical structure provides for dynamic contrast and accentuationwithout the need for special markings. The finale is a stylized hunt in 6/8time, fast-paced and lively but without the particular allusions thatcharacterize the Symphony in A major.
The Symphony in C major a violino obligato (VB 138) dates fromKraus's first years in Stockholm, 1778 and 1779. Similarly in three movements,it is a work that foreshadows the composer's penchant for harmonic surprisefound in later works. The most salient feature is the existence of a soloviolin, whose virtuoso part is less than a concerto but greater than a normal obbligatopart. It is the eighteenth century equivalent of Berlioz's Harold inItaly, in which the soloist interacts with the orchestra throughout,sometimes as the soloist and at others as a primus inter pares. Indeed,Kraus also includes smaller obbligato parts for the flute andvioloncello, lending the work an unusual soundscape. The opening slowintr