WEISS: Lute Sonatas Nos. 5, 25 and 50
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Silvius Leopold Weiss(1686-1750)
Sonatas for LuteVolume 2
No. 5 in G major; No.
25 in G minor; No. 50 in B flat major
Silvius Leopold Weiss was the most important lutenist of the eighteenthcentury. He is mentioned by his contemporaries along with Bach and Telemann asone of Germany's most accomplished musicians. Born in Breslau or Grotkau, inwhat is now Poland, Weiss probably had his first lute lessons with his father.
His younger brother, Johann Sigisimund, was also a lutenist, and although heachieved fame as a child prodigy, his stature as a composer never rivalled thatof his brother. A sister of the two was also an excellent lutenist.
Like many young musicians, Weiss began his career touring the Europeanroyal courts in search of a lucrative position. In 1708, he accompanied thePolish Prince Alexander Sobieski to Rome, where he stayed until the Prince'sdeath, six years later. Although we know very little of his activities in Rome,he surely had close contact with Italian composers, as can be heard in his Suonatas(from the Italian suonare - to sound).
In 1718, Weiss was appointed court lutenist in Dresden by August theStrong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Weiss would keep this positionuntil his death thirty-two years later, even turning down an extraordinaryoffer of two thousand Rheintaler yearly from the court in Vienna. As to whyWeiss chose to stay in Dresden, we can assume that the musical life thereoffered him possibilities not available elsewhere. An elite group of well-knowncomposers, singers and instrumentalists had been gathered under August theStrong and his successor, Friedrich August II These included Johann DavidHeinichen, Francesco Maria Veracini, Johann Georg Pisendel, Johann JoachimQuantz, Pantaleon Hebenstreit and later Johann Adolf Hasse and his wife, thesoprano Faustina Bordoni. Famous castrati, such as Senesino and Berselli, gaveexciting guest appearances.
The court life in Dresden at this time was certainly not free ofintrigues and jealousies. In 1738, Weiss was arrested, perhaps because of adisparaging remark about his superiors. Only through the intervention of CountKeyserlingk, a music-lover and friend of the Weiss family, was he finallyreleased Another incident, which had occurred in 1722, was much more seriousfor Weiss and threatened to end his musical career. A violinist called Petitwanted Weiss to support him in his bid for a position at the court Perhapsbecause Weiss was not helpful enough in this matter, Petit bit him on the thumbso badly that it was feared he would never play again. Fortunately, the injurywas not so serious and Weiss was able to perform again several months later.
Contemporary reports portray Weiss as a brilliant performer andimproviser. He is said to have competed with Johann Sebastian Bach (Weiss onthe lute, Bach on the harpsichord) at improvising fantasies and fugues. We knowof at least one visit in 1739 to the house of the Thomaskantor in Leipzigdocumented by Johann Elias Bach. Weiss and his circle of friends in Dresdenwould apparently go to great lengths to hear good music. In 1723, Weisstravelled together with Carl Heinrich Graun and Johann Joachim Quantz to Pragueto hear the opera Costanza e Fortezza by Johann Joseph Fux. Uponlearning that no more seats were available, they volunteered to play in theopera orchestra. One can imagine that the conductor, Caldara, substituting forFux, who was ill, was more than happy to have such illustrious instrumentalistsfor the performance.
Silvius Weiss died on 16th October, 1750, in Dresden. At the time of hisdeath there was little left of the relative comfort in which he had lived. Heleft his family with virtually nothing. His widow eventually found a positionas a nursery-maid at the court to a princess of the royal family.
Silvius Weiss left over six hundred pieces for solo lute. The best ofthese can be found in two manuscripts; one in the British Library in London,and one in the Sachsisches Landesbibliothek in Dresden. Taken from thesesources, the three Suonatas on this recording can be roughly groupedinto early, middle and late works.
The Suonata in G major can be considered an early, maturework. Found in the London manuscript, this piece is a showcase for Weiss'slegendary virtuosity, as well as his melodic gift. The individual movements aretied together through the recurring use of similar melodic material. Forexample, the opening phrases of the Allemande and the Bourree usevirtually the same melody, rhythmically altered to fit the needs of the dance.
The same is true with the arpeggiated Courante and the contrapuntal Menuet.
Even in the Gigue, Weiss reaches back to the opening phrases, nowrhythmically much more complex, of the Prelude.
The Suonata in G minor is found in both major collections and isa somewhat later work. In this recording it is played from the Dresden version.
The Prelude (added later and not in the London manuscript) serves tocapture the attention of the listener and introduce the mood and harmonicfoundation of the following pieces. A graceful Allemande andante leadsto a Passepied, which, according to Quantz, is similar to a Menuet, butplayed more lightly and quickly. After a rollicking Bourree, with ahornpipe-like opening motif, Weiss sets a reflective, serene Siarabande inthe relative major key of B flat. In the London version of this piece, the Menuetis titled La Babilieuse. This could be translated as 'the babbler',and reaches back to the practice of giving pieces descriptive title, inseventeenth century French. This work closes with a spirited French Gigue, reminiscentof J.S. Bach.
The Suonata in B flat major has all the majestycharacteristic of the late works of Weiss. It begins with a sweeping Introduzzioneon a grand scale, combining the rhythmically free feel of a Prelude, withthe repeated structure of the more usual Allemande. The following Couranteis a complex, arpeggiated work that has little to do with the actual dance.
Between the Bourree and the Menuet, both on a very large scalehere, with inventive melodic development, we find the deeply moving,introverted Sarabande in G minor, one of Weiss's most beautiful pieces.
The Presto, a concerto movement in the style of Arcangelo Corelli, isagain conceived in epic proportions and is a dazzling display of Weiss's skillboth as a player and composer. Indeed, in its technical and expressive scopethis Suonata confirms the words of Ernst Gottlieb Baron, that SilviusLeopold Weiss "was the first to have shown that one could do more on thelute, than anyone could imagine".