VANHAL: Symphonies, Vol. 1
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Johann BaptistVaňhal (Wanhal) (1739 -1813)
Selected SymphoniesVol. 1
Johann Baptist Vaňhal was one of the most popular Viennesecomposers during his lifetime. History has, however, been unkind to hisreputation, the result of irresponsible statements that were made byimaginative authors who were not acquainted with him or his circumstances. Thegeneral impression is that he was melancholy and depressed when, in truth, heappears to have been basically happy and personable. Wild claims have also beenmade that early in his career he was so overcome by madness caused by religiousfervour that he burned some of his music. After that, the story goes, thequality of compositions deteriorated so much that he never realised the promiseof his early works. The lie to this assertion is given by the splendidsymphonies included on this CD. It contains the Sinfonia in C major, C3,
one of his earliest works, along with three of his later ones, includingthe Sinfonia in D major, D17, which I believe to be one of his last.
His vitality and inventiveness are evident in all of them.
One part of Vaňhal's reputation is, however, true. He was the firstmajor composer of the time who was strong enough to renounce the offer of a'good' - and terribly demanding position - and to live comfortably until hedied in Vienna at the age of seventy-four. His success was possible because ofhis other personal characteristics. He was humble and deeply religious - notambitious for fame, high position, or fortune. He was also shrewd, hard-workingand sensitive to changing economic and social conditions. As a result hedecided to cease composing symphonies and chamber music when the market inVienna was drying up in about 1780, and began to explore other possibilities.
The results were spectacular. He composed, for example, more than 247 works(mostly unpublished), large and small, for the church. He also wrote a hugenumber of pieces all of which centred around the keyboard. His compositionsincluded serious works, such as the keyboard Capriccios, and songs andcantatas for voice with keyboard accompaniment. He also published many piecesfor instruction and entertainment which became very popular, includingimaginative pieces with descriptive titles such as The Battle of Trafalgar. Inall he produced more than 1300 compositions in a wide variety of genres. To thepresent, only the symphonies and string quartets have been sufficiently studiedto ascertain his complete contribution.
The four symphoniesincluded here provide a good introduction to Vaňhal's symphonic style andillustrate why he was considered such an important exponent of the genre.
The Sinfonia inA major, A9, was probably composed ca 1775-78, at about the same time asthe Sinfonia in C major, C11. That it was written by Vaňhalis not confirmed by any of the usual eighteenth-century catalogues or references;however, there are no contra-attributions. Its claim for legitimacy isconfirmed by its stylistic factors, especially by similarities with otheraccepted works of the same period. The clearly established authenticity of the Sinfonia,C11, which in some respects it resembles, therefore serves as atouchstone for the A major work, especially in view of Vaňhal'slong-demonstrated creativity, innovative ability and interest in experimentingwith approaches to composing symphonies.
The most strikingfeature of the Sinfonia is its overall construction as a multi-tempoone-movement symphony. The outer movements, brilliantly scored with oboes andclarini (in D), enclose a captivating central 'movement' in which Vaňhal makes magical use of a solo cello doubled at theupper octave by the first violins. This exuberant and powerful symphony has onefurther surprise to spring: the Finale concludes with a hushed quotationof the opening measures of the symphony thus emphasizing its unique structurein the most dramatic way possible.
I believe that the Sinfonia in C major, C3 was one of theearliest of Vaňhal's symphonies and that it was probably composed in1760-62. The "No.1" inscribed on the title-page of the copy from theDoksy collection, now preserved in the Narodni Museum in Prague, helps toconfirm that it is one of Vaňhal's earliest symphonies and that he mighteven have written it before he came to Vienna. The Sinfonia is inthree-movement Overture style with segue indicated between the movementsin several versions. The basic instrumentation probably called for strings witha wind choir of two oboes, two horns, two trumpets (clarini) and timpani.
However, some versions call only for clarini and others for horns only; somecall for both and omit the timpani, as is the case in this recording.
Regardless, it is a brilliant and exciting symphony which must have caught theattention of soiree audiences during Vaňhal's first years in Vienna. The Finale(Presto) opens with a 'stomping' rhythm which permeates the entiremovement; one wonders if the movement was ever danced to.
The Sinfonia in D major, D17 is one of three symphonies publishedin 1780 as Op.10 by J.J. Hummel in Berlin. They were the last of Vaňhal'ssymphonies to be newly published and I estimate that they were composed ca 1779.
All the evidence suggests that these symphonies were commissioned by Hummel andthat the extant manuscript sets of parts in various archives were copied directfrom Op.10 rather than from an earlier source. The Sinfonia is a finework; I believe that it is one of Vaňhal's best. From the haunting D minorintroduction scored for strings (with muted violins) to the dashing andbrilliantly composed finale, the work is uniformly strong and quite the equalof any of Haydn's symphonies of the period. At first glance it appears to be inthree movements, but the Andante molto opening has a life of its own -much the same as the Adagio openings to Mozart's 'Linz' Symphony No.
36 in C major, K. 425, composed in 1783 and to Symphony No. 38 in D, K. 504,composed in 1786. Mozart's prominent use of the chromatic rising figure in theintroductions to both symphonies is similar to that found in bars 33-35 ofVaňhal's introductory movement. Further, his use of Vaňhal's openingmotif from the introductory movement as the basic ingredient for the PocoAdagio second movement of K. 425 suggests that Mozart may have beenimpressed with Vaňhal's Sinfonia at some point before he composedK. 425. Certainly the critic C.F. Cramer was impressed. Writing in the Magazinder Musik in Hamburg in 1783 he said: "may Herr Vaňhal not beprevented ... from giving us more such symphonies".
One of Vaňhal's late symphonies, the Sinfonia in C major,C11, was most likely composed during the period 1775-78. One contemporary copyof the work is styled Sinfonia comista / con per la sorte diversa on thetitle-page. The headings for the individual movements are marked, I. Sinfoniala Speranza / Allegro con Brio, II. Andante cantabile / il sospirare eLanguire, and III. at the beginning: Finale: la Lamentazione / Adagiopiu Andante and after 17 bars L'Allegrezza / Allegro. The symphonyis, therefore, a programmatic work, whose individual movements are supposed toportray varied moods: I. 'Hope', II. 'Sighingly and Languidly' and III.
'Lamentation', followed by 'Gaiety, Cheerfully and Festive'. It musthave been composed