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Carl HÖCKH (1707 - 1773): "Violin Sonatas"

Mikolaj Zgólka, violin; Jaroslaw Thiel, cello; Aleksandra Rupocinska, harpsichord

rec: Jan 28 - 31, 2019, Wroclaw, Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music
CD Accord - ACD 255-2 (© 2019) (70'23")
Liner-notes: E/D/PL
Cover, track-list & booklet

Sonata in C (23. Stück) [1]; Sonata in D (SLUB Mus. 2976-R-2); Sonata in D (SLUB Mus. 2976-R-5); Sonata in E (SLUB Mus. 2976-R-3); Sonata in G (4. Stück) [1]; Sonata in G (SLUB Mus. 2976-R-1); Sonata in B flat (SLUB Mus. 2976-R-4)
[SLUB: Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Dresden]

Sources: [1] Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, ed., Musikalisches Vielerley, 1770

If you have never heard the name of Carl Höckh, there is no reason to be ashamed; I assume that only specialists in music for the violin may have ever heard of him. He is one of those performing musicians and composers who were famous in their own time, but are largely forgotten today. It is thanks to investigative minds like Mikolaj Zgólka that his music is taken off the shelf and that Höckh is given his rightful place in music history.

To my surprise, Höckh has an entry in New Grove, but the information given there is rather scarce and fragmentary. The liner-notes to the present disc add some interesting facts to what is already known. Höckh was born in Ebersdorf in Germany, and received his musical education there from the headmaster of the local school, who taught him to sing, but it is impossible to say how he learned to play the violin. At the age of fifteen, he went to Pruck (now Bruck an der Leita) in Austria to further his education. From 1725 to 1727 he did his military service, while playing horn in the wind band.

He then met the violinist Franz Benda, the viola and horn player Wilhelm Weidner and the flautist Georg Czarth. Together they travelled across Poland. After their arrival in Warsaw, Höckh entered the service of the starost (governor) Fabian Kazimierz Szaniawski; Benda was given the position of Hofkapellmeister. In 1732 Benda left Warsaw to enter the service of Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. When his employer died, Höckh found employment in the orchestra of the court at Zerbst, where Johann Friedrich Fasch was Kapellmeister. In 1734/35 Höckh was appointed concertmaster. He held this position until his death. He also acted as teacher; among his pupils were Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Johann Wilhelm Hertel, who were to become composers of fame.

Höckh must have written a considerable number of works, such as symphonies, concertos and sonatas for violin as well as some other pieces for his own instrument. Unfortunately most of his oeuvre seems to be lost, and the authenticity of some pieces which have been preserved can't be established. An additional problem is that his name is spelled in various ways.

This disc includes seven sonatas for violin and basso continuo from two sources. Two sonatas are taken from a collection published by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in Hamburg in 1770, under the title of Musikalisches Vielerley. The two composers may have met in 1750 or 1751, when Höckh performed his violin concertos in Berlin. They met again in 1758, when the Russian army besieged Berlin in 1758 and Bach took refuge in Zerbst. The other sonatas are kept in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Dresden.

All the sonatas are in three movements. In the Dresden sonatas they are in the order slow - fast - fast, in CPE Bach's edition in the order fast - slow - fast. Considering that these sonatas were written for the composer's own use in the first place, they attest to his technical skills, as they include many passages of double stopping, fast arpeggios and large jumps (for instance from the first to the sixth position) and go as high as the eleventh position. Stylistically they bear the traces of the galant idiom. The slow movements have much expression. Zgólka even sees Höckh's violin sonatas as pre-romantic.

There can be little doubt that this is a very important disc. These sonatas are technically challenging, but also musically compelling. Zgólka's performances are impressive, technically and musically. One can only compliment him for digging up these fine sonatas and performing them in such a way that every listener will recognize their quality. Jaroslaw Thiel and Aleksandra Rupocinska deliver excellent support.

Lovers of the baroque violin should not miss this disc. This is exciting stuff, brilliantly performed.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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