ROSETTI: Bassoon Concertos
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Antonio Rosetti (c.1750-1792)
Bassoon ConcertosUnder the rule of Prince Kraft Ernst (1748-1802) the court musical establishment of Oettingen-Wallerstein in Swabia enjoyed two periods of remarkable success. The first of these was during the opening years of his rule from 1773, unfortunately only three short years, since, after the unexpectedly early death of the Princess, the widower was for a long time in mourning and did not want to hear any music. The second, a longer period, was from 1780. The Prince had taken the Mannheim orchestra, famous throughout Europe, as his model and generally had distinguished and well-known players recruited: the list of musicians in his Kapelle in the 1770s and 1780s and the visiting soloists of this period read like a Whos Who of the musical world of the times of Haydn and Mozart. This is true particularly of the horn-players, among whom Johann Türrschmidt (1725-1800), Johann Georg Nisle (1731-1788), Joseph Nagel (1751/2-1802) and Franz Zwierzina (1751-1825) were among the best known European virtuosi of the time.
Antonio Rosetti was probably born Anton Rös[s]ler in Litome??r??ice (Leitmeritz) about 1750. His first years are obscure, but in 1773 he had his first fixed employment in Wallerstein as livery servant and double bass player. From then onwards using only the Italian form of his name, he found there a court musical establishment of very good musicians, soon regarded as one of the best ensembles in Europe, as a number of reports witness, and one that in the 1780s had a gifted complement of some thirty players. Rosetti very soon began to compose symphonies, concertos and chamber music for the orchestra and its soloists, but also for employers elsewhere. Appointed Kapellmeister in 1785, he wrote chamber music especially for the woodwind and brass players of the court establishment, both the ever increasingly popular Harmoniemusik, music for wind ensemble, as well as for other instrumental combinations. Among these are, as far as we know, the earliest wind quintets in the history of music.
With the death of the Kapellmeister Carl August Westenholz (1736-1789) at the court of the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in Ludwigslust, there arose a vacancy for which Rosetti applied, since he was suffering ill-health and was no longer happy with the material conditions of his work. As the Prince had great difficulty in financing his expensive musical establishment, Rosettis requests for an increase in his salary were in vain. He was given the position, which brought him three times his Wallerstein salary. There was also in Ludwigslust an efficient court Kapelle of 29 distinguished musicians and a choir of twelve full-time court singers. It was here that Rosetti wrote, in addition to instrumental works, a number of splendid choral works. Meanwhile his reputation had spread throughout Europe, with performances of his compositions and often favourable comparison with those of Mozart or Haydn. A Requiem that he had written in 1776 in Wallerstein was performed in Prague nine days after the death of Mozart as a tribute to the latter, with 120 performers and an audience of four thousand. Rosetti was invited by Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia to Berlin, where he performed choral works, but returned ill and shortly afterwards, only 42 years old, he died, on 30th June 1792.
Certainly in his Wallerstein period Rosetti dedicated himself above all to his horn virtuosi, for whom he composed thirteen solo horn concertos and seven for two horns. He was also inspired, however, by other wind instruments, leaving some five bassoon concertos. Three of these are now recorded on compact disc for the first time, two of them, the Concerto in B flat major (Murray C69) and the Concerto in F major (Murray C75), were presumably written in Wallerstein, with the two others, both in B flat major (Murray C73 and C74), some time later, during his period of employment in Ludwigslust; in the latter place there was, from 1788 to 1793, a famous bassoonist, Franz Anton Pfeiffer. The fifth concerto, in E flat major (Murray C68), is preserved in manuscript in the Thurn und Taxis Library, but is no match in the inventiveness and elaboration of the solo part for the four here performed.
The manuscript of the Concerto in B flat major (Murray C73), the best known of Rosettis bassoon concertos, is found in a copy by the oboist and bassoonist of the Ludwigslust Hofkapelle F.C.W. Berwald (1775-1797), not to be confused with the Swedish composer Franz Berwald or the latters cousin Johan Fredrik, in the Schwerin Landesbibliothek (No.4621); it was published in 1965 by Simrock-Verlag. The skilfully elaborated solo part impresses in the first movement after, typically for Rosetti, a grand orchestral introduction with interesting modulations and virtuoso writing with triplets and semiquaver passages. In the F major central movement the bassoon has rhapsodic notes sustained over two or three bars. As so often Rosetti ends this concerto with a jaunty rondo in 6/8 metre.
The hitherto unpublished Concerto in B flat major (Murray C69) was similarly taken from a copy by F.C.W. Berwald and edited by the conductor Johannes Moesus and the International Rosetti Society (IRG), of which he is president. The technically very demanding solo part in the sonata-form first movement is thematically related to the later Concerto in B flat major (Murray C73), while the orchestral linking passage is surprising in its length. The E flat major central movement offers the soloist, in its gentle triple metre, an opportunity for a fine singing cantilena. The last movement, again a B flat major rondo, varies its catchy theme not only in ever new turns of phrase but in contrast with inventive counter melodies, elaborated with virtuosity. In the scores of such concertos by Rosetti and his contemporaries the two oboes, regularly used with two horns, are here replaced by two flutes, a striking feature.
The Concerto in F major (Murray C75), in a less usual key, has not hitherto been published and similarly has been edited by Johannes Moesus and the International Rosetti Society. The manuscript is again in the Schwerin Landesbibliothek (No.4260). The opening movement with the unusual direction Allegro moderato begins with a tutti with widely spaced melodic intervals and allows the solo bassoon to display the full range of its expressive possibilities in virtuoso semiquaver and triplet runs. The Poco adagio central movement, in B flat major, indulges in long arching melodies, taking the bassoon into its lowest register. For the jaunty final rondo with its charmingly syncopated theme Rosetti chooses duple rather than 6/8 metre. The concerto was first revived on 26th August 2001 in St Nicholas Cathedral in Prague under the direction of Johannes Moesus.
The fourth work here included, the Concerto in B flat major (Murray C74), is also preserved in manuscript in the Schwerin Landesbibliothek (No.4622). It was published in 1955 by Schott in an edition by Denis Stevens (No.10420). The broadly elaborated first movement, true to the direction Allegro spiritoso, is varied, coupling sheer virtuosity with many intricate bassoon runs. This sparkling opening is followed by a very simply sustained melodic central movement in F major. In the final movement the charming 6/8 rondo theme, again with its virtuoso elaboration, is twice unexpectedly interrupted by a cantabile Adagio insertion in triple metre.
According to the custom of the time, the soloist has added his own embellishments to repeated sequences, transitional themes and introductions. All the cadenzas are by Professor Eberhard Buschmann of Würzburg, who is particularly known for his long collaboration as a bassoonist with the famous Consortium Clas