KRAUS: Symphonies, Vol. 3 (Petter Sundkvist/ Swedish Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554777)
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Joseph Martin Kraus(1756-1792): Symphonies, Volume 3
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 his fatherwas undergoing indictment for misuse of office, a charge later dropped. In 1776he resumed his studies in law at Gottingen University, coming under theinfluence of the remnants of the Gottinger Hainbund, a Sturm und Drang literarycircle. 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. His opera Azire was rejected by the Royal Academyof Music, but in 1780 he was commissioned to compose a trial work, Proserpin,whose text had been conceived by the king himself. Its successful privateperformance at Ulriksdal in 1781 brought an appointment as deputy Kapellmastareand in 1782 a grand tour of Europe at Gustav's expense to view the latestin musical and theatrical trends. This took him throughout Germany, Vienna,Italy, England, and France where he met major figures of the period such asGluck 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 the next several years he achieved a reputation in Stockholm forhis disciplined conducting, his activities as a composer, and his rigorouspedagogical standards. He was a participant in the Palmstedt literary circleand contributed much to the establishment of Stockholm as one the leadingcultural centres of Europe. Following the assassination of Gustav III in 1792,Kraus succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty-six.
As a composer, Kraus can be seen as one of the most innovative of theentire century. His earliest training instilled in 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, thedramatic, and it is not surprising, 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 total, some fourteen works in thisgenre survive, although there are indications that this is only a fraction ofthe total. For example, six symphonies written in Gottingen and described inhis correspondence have been lost, as have groups of works from Buchen,Mannheim, and, possibly, Paris. What has survived, though, indicates that astrong dramatic element infuses the works, making them more theatrical thansimply mass-produced concert works. The trend towards more occasional, dramaticmusic intensified during his last years, when symphonies began to be used forspecialised purposes, often involving state affairs.
With his close personal connections to literary Sturm und Drang figures,Kraus can be slid to be one of the few composers whose music reflects thetenets of this style. One of the particular trademarks is an abundant use ofminor keys, which have resulted in remarkably dramatic and emotionalinstrumental works from the pens of figures such as Mozart and Haydn. Theresulting dark colour, when coupled with shifting dynamics, tremolo strings and insistent rhythmic patterns,foreshadows the world of the Romantics, presenting sometimes sinister anddisquieting pieces that are restless, filled with dramatic passion, and offeran emotional content that contrasts with the more sedate Viennese Classicism.
While it would be an error to state that all or even a majority of Kraus'smusic was written entirely within this style, this recording concentrates uponminor key symphonies that exemplify his Sturm und Drang roots,demonstrating his penchant for emotion and passion over lightness andpredictability.
The Symphony in Eminor (VB 141) was probably begun in Amorbach in December 1782 and completed inRegensburg in March of the following year. It is known that Kraus was impressedby symphonic works of both Rosetti and Haydn, which may have influenced him tobegin the composition of this work. But in Regensburg, he was treated royallyas an official guest of the Thurn und Taxis court, with daily concerts in hishonour, and the impetus for finishing it as a special gift to the RegensburgKapelle seems likely.
The work was publishedin 1787 in Paris and until recently was attributed to the popular composerGiuseppe Cambini. Recent research, however, has shown that this symphony bearsno resemblance to any authentic work by Cambini, and that furthermore theexistence of authentic parts in Regensburg attributed to Kraus supersedes theprinted edition. An explanation for this mystery is that Kraus probably leftthe work (along with one or two others) to be published in the French capital,but the publisher Boyer, knowing that the unknown Kraus would not sell well,simply substituted the more popular Cambini's name. In a time without copyrightprotection, such things were endemic, and thus this work probably belongs tothe "beautiful and brilliant symphonies" written in Paris noted byRoman Hoffstetter, which have formerly been thought lost. The work is in threemovements. The first is a fast-paced display of orchestral virtuosity, withdistinctive French dotted rhythms, textural changes, and surprisingemotion-filled themes. The second is a lilting, lyrical episode reminiscent ofHaydn, with string themes layered between the violins, violas, and bass, andthe end of each section is a prominent oboe or horn solo. The third movementadds a flute to the scoring of oboes, horns (one in the principal key, thesecond in the relative major), and strings. The finale is likewise fast paced,with skirling strings and rushing scales, giving it an almost perpetual motionfeeling. Hints of Beethoven can be found in the careful orchestration andabruptly shifting harmonies.
The Symphonie funebrein C minor (VB 148) is perhaps Kraus's most dramatic and least typicalsymphonic work. Written in April of 1792, it is more incidental than concerthall music. In March Gustav III was shot at a masked ball (an incident whichserved both Auber and Verdi as an opera plot), succumbing to his wounds threeweeks later. Kraus, an ardent supporter of his patron, wrote both a funeralsymphony and cantata; this work was performed during the actual burialceremonies on 13th April. In keeping with the solemn occasion, all fourmovements are in slow, lugubrious tempos, with careful orchestration thatmaintains the gravity of the ceremonies. While it is in four movements, theexpected symphonic form and structure gives way to two impressive outer movementsthat flank two very brief interludes. The character