Romance (Naxos: 8.553216)
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Disappointingly enough the wordromance, in the history of music, has often held a more prosaic meaning than its modernconnotations imply. By the eighteenth century, however, earlier poetic meanings hadlargely given way to the descriptive use of the term to denote a lyrical slow movement.
Romance most aptly describes the slow movement of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night-Music),modestly titled and written in 1787. Equally apt is the use of the word to describe thetwo slow movements for solo violin and orchestra written by Beethoven in the followingdecade, intended, it has been suggested, for an early violin concerto that was nevercompleted. The Romance in F major, thesecond of the pair, is marginally better known than the first. Mozart used the termearlier to head the slow movement of his fine Piano Concertoin D minor, K. 466, one of the only two concertos he wrote in a minor key,composed during the optimistic earlier years of his last decade, spent in precariousindependence in Vienna, where he at first established a reputation as a composer andkeyboard- player. Carl Stamitz, here represented by the slow movement of his Cello Concerto No.2 in A major, was eleven yearsMozart's senior. His father, Johann Stamitz, had been responsible for the pre-eminence ofthe Mannheim orchestra, a strong influence on Mozart, who visited the place in 1777 and1778. By then, however, Carl Stamitz, having earlier established himself in Paris, withhis brother Anton, had moved to London. A prolific composer, he wrote some sixty concertosthat reflect, in their clarity of texture, contemporary style, and did much to help thepopularisation of the viola, an instrument on which he won a wide reputation as aperformer.
The nineteenth century might seem tobe above all the age of romance, with the independence of its musicians and artists, nowgenerally freed from earlier reliance on rich patrons. The Polish composer and pianistFryderyk Chopin, son of an emigre French father in Warsaw, might seem typical of theperiod. He spent the greater part of his career in Paris, where, for some nine years, heenjoyed a liaison with the romantic novelist George Sand (Aurore Dudevant), although theirrelationship clearly brought less romantic moments, as her children by her husband becameolder, finding in Chopin either a rival or an ally in family quarrels. The slow movementof the first of Chopin's two piano concertos is characteristic of his style of writing forthe piano alone, a dreamy nocturne. His concertos belong to the 1820s, before hisdeparture from Warsaw, when it seemed that he would need compositions for piano andorchestra in furtherance of a proposed career as a virtuoso pianist.
From the second half of the nineteenthcentury, Tchaikovsky has come to occupy an unrivalled position in romantic musicalrepertoire, not least through his three colourful ballets, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. His inspiration is essentially Russian,although he was never a member of the group of nationalist composers nick-named the MightyHandful and dominated by Balakirev. His Romance in Fminor is one of those short piano pieces that brought nineteenth-centurycomposers more money than their more ambitious works.
Nationalism of another kind is anessential part of the music of Dvorak, a Czech composer, born in a village of Bohemia andlater in life director of the Prague Conservatory, after a stint at the American NationalConservatory in New York. Dvorak's Romance in F minor,for violin and orchestra, is an extended and colourful work, if less overtlyCzech than some of his music.
The Norwegian violinist and composerJohann Svendsen, a contemporary of Grieg, occupied an important position in the music ofScandinavia, with his Romance in G major remainingan essential part of the repertoire of music for violin and orchestra.
Also included in the present progammeare the anonymous Romance d'amour, familiarfrom a recent French film and the Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich's Romance from his score for the 1955 film The Gadfly.