STAMITZ, J.: Orchestral Trios Nos. 1 - 3, Op. 1 and No. 3, Op. 4 (Donald Armstrong/ Murray Khouri/ NZSO Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553213)
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Johann Stamitz (1717 - 1757)
Orchestral Trios - Volume 1
Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz, one of the most influential figures in Europeanmusic during the mid-eighteenth century, was born in Nemecky Brod (Deutsch brod)in June 1717. His father, Antonin Ignac, was organist at the Dean's Church andlater became a merchant, land-owner and town councillor. Johann probablyreceived his early musical training from his father before entering the JesuitGymnasium in Jihlava in 1728.
Stamitz is known to have been a student in the Faculty of Philosophy at theUniversity of Prague during the academic year 1734- 35 and is thought to haveleft the University in order to establish a career as a violin virtuoso. He wasprobably engaged as violinist by the Mannheim Court in 1741- 42 as a result ofcontacts made during the coronation in Prague (as King of Bohemia) of theBavarian Elector Carl Albert, one of whose closest allies was the ElectorPalatine.
The earliest known reference to a concert appearance by Stamitz occurs in anadvertisement for a concert in Frankfurt am Main on 29th June 1742 at which hewas to perform alternately on the violin, viola d'amore, cello and double bassas well as furnishing a concerto for two orchestras of his own composition.
Stamitz's professional career took off in Mannheim. In 1743 he was named ErsterHoff Violinist (First Court-Violinist); in 1745 or 1746, the date isuncertain, he was awarded the title Concertmeister and 1750, was named to thenewly-created post of Instrumental-Music Director.
Under the Elector Carl Theodor (1724 -99), an enlightened ruler with stronginterests in philosophy, science and the arts, the court at Mannheim became oneof the most glittering in Europe. Although an important patron of art andliterature, CarI Theodor's central interest was music and he spared neithereffort nor expense in building his court into one of the leading musical centresin Europe. In addition to presenting regular productions of new operas andballets, the Mannheim Court engaged a number of exceptional musicians, amongthem Franz Xaver Richter, the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, Ignaz Holzbauerand the cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Fils (Filtz), all of whom played inthe incomparable orchestra led by Johann Stamitz.
The Mannheim orchestra presented weekly 'academies' in the Rittersaal (theKnight' s Hall) at the Electoral Palace. These academies were relativelyinformal social gatherings and visitors were often given standing room to hearthe performance. The academies were the primary responsibility of the Concertmeisterand Stamitz was required to prepare and conduct the performance, performoccasional concertos and provide orchestral compositions of his own. While theorchestra achieved its greatest fame in the two decades following Stamitz' sdeath, there can be little doubt that he provided the original impetus towardsthe development of its new style of accurate, precise performance.
In one of the most famous descriptions of the Mannheim court orchestra theaesthetician C.F.D. Schubert recalled that listening to the orchestra:
One believed oneself to be transported to a magic island of sound... Noorchestra in the world ever equaled the Mannheimers' execution. Its forte islike thunder; its crescendo like a mighty waterfall; its diminuendo a gentleriver disappearing into the distance; its piano is a breath of spring...
Dr Charles Burney, the English music historian, observed:
Indeed, there are more solo players, and good composers in this, than perhapsin any other orchestra in Europe; it is an army of generals, equally fit to plana battle, as to fight it.
In the late summer of 1754, Stamitz undertook a year-long journey to Paris,appearing there for the first time in a Concert Spirituel of 8thSeptember 1754. While in Paris he lived at Passy in the palace of the fermiergeneral A.-J.-J Le Riche de la Pouplini?¿re, a wealthy amateur whoseprivate orchestra he conducted, and was also active in public concerts in theFrench capital, appearing with particular success at the Concerts Italiens.
Stamitz probably returned to Mannheim in the autumn of 1755, dying there lessthan two years later, aged 39. The official record of his death reads:
March 30, 1757. Buried, Jo'es Stainmiz, director of court music, soexpert in his art that his equal will hardly be found. Rite provided.
Hugo Riemann, the pioneering German musicologist, classed the OrchestralTrios with Stamitz's symphonies probably on the strength of their highmusical quality. Eugene Wolf's more recent analysis of the works, however, clearlyindicates that for Stamitz they occupied a well-delineated middle ground betweenchamber trio and symphony, generally avoiding both the melodic intricacy of thechamber style and such common symphonic traits as slow harmonic rhythm,simplified texture and conspicuous use of crescendo passages.
From a stylistic perspective, the Trios represent a deliberateadjustment between Stamitz's familiar large-scale orchestral style and theintimacy of the chamber idiom and for this reason he no doubt directed theengraver, Mlle Vend??me, to describe the works as being suitable for performanceby a trio or by a full orchestra.
All the Orchestral Trios appear to be relatively late works, probablydating from around 1754-55. The six Orchestral Trios Op. 1, whichappeared in 1755 or early 1756, were Stamitz's first published works and provedhighly influential throughout Europe. Cast in four movements, like many of hislater symphonies, the Op. 1 Trios are attractive works and rather moresophisticated in construction than the works of many of his contemporaries.
Stamitz eschews strict counterpoint of the kind frequently found in the baroquetrio sonata but frequently introduces short imitative passages between the threeinstrumental parts which serve to propel the music forward. Slow movements aremore simply constructed and are not dissimilar in style to certain types ofoperatic aria of the period. The minuets, sturdy and strongly rhythmical, lacksomething of the lilting quality of the Viennese minuet but often containsurprising harmonic twists in the Trios, which reveal occasional tracesof Eastern European folk-music. The finales are typically light and bustling incharacter, frequently resembling the French gigue in style.
The same essential stylistic qualities are to be found in the Trio in Cminor, issued posthumously by the Parisian publisher Huberty in a collectionof Six Symphonies, Op. 4 (1758), and the Trio in E major,published as Op. 5 by Huberty in 1759 along with several symphonies by Richterand Wagenseil.
The first movement of the C minor Trio has a driving intensity whichlooks backward to the baroque and, in some measure, anticipates thehighly-charged emotional world of the Sturm und Drang symphonies ofVanhal, Dittersdorf and Haydn. Something of this intensity survives in therather sinister Minuet & Trio and in the vigorous 3/8 finale.
New Zealand Chamber Orchestra
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