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"The Silent Elector" (Music for two keyboards)

Leipziger CembaloDuo

rec: August 29 - Sept 2, 2011, Torgau, Rathaus (Festsaal)
Klanglogo - KL 1501 (© 2012) (64'41")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Peter AUGUST (1726-1787): Divertimento I a due Cembali in D; Carl Heinrich GRAUN (1703/04-1759), arr Peter AUGUST: Concerto a due Cembali in B flat (GraunWV B,XIII,45); Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809), arr Peter AUGUST: Concerto for harpsichord, violin and strings in F (H XVIII,6); Johann Gottlieb JANITSCH (1708-1763), arr Peter AUGUST: Quartetto VI in c minor; Joseph SCHUSTER (1748-1812): Six Pièces per due Cembali

Hildegard Saretz, harpsichord; Michaela Hasselt, fortepiano

Music for two keyboards from the 18th century is rather rare. Most music was written for the growing market of amateur musicians. Keyboard instruments were expensive, and it seems unlikely that many amateurs could afford to own more than one such instrument. In comparison the repertoire for keyboard à quatre mains is much larger. The music which is recorded by the Leipziger CembaloDuo was not written for common amateurs, but for the Saxon Elector Frederick August III (1750-1827). In 1772 the English music historian Charles Burney visited Dresden. He writes: "His Electoral Highness is of a reserved disposition. Naumann, his maestro di capella, and Gasman, had informed me, that his highness was so good a musician as to accompany readily, and in a masterly manner, on the harpsichord, at sight; but he was so shy of playing before company, that even the Electress, his consort, had hardly ever heard him". Frederick August is the "silent Elector" the title of this disc refers to.

Music making and botany were the Elector's main passions. A considerable part of his music collection has survived and this allows to get a pretty good impression of what musical life at the Dresden court looked like. The court organist and keeper of the music collection was Peter August; it was he who partnered the Elector in his playing of the keyboard. To that end he arranged a large number of orchestral and chamber music for two keyboards. The compositions by Carl Heinrich Graun, Johann Gottlieb Janitsch and Franz Joseph Haydn all fall into this category. Graun's Concerto in B flat was originally scored for keyboard and strings. In August's arrangement the solo part and some of the material from the ritornellos are given to the first keyboard; the second plays the ritornelli and the tutti passages. The Concerto in F by Haydn was written for keyboard, violin and strings. The keyboard part is kept as it was written, whereas the violin and the bass parts are allocated to the second keyboard. The ritornellos are played by the two keyboards together.

The Quartetto VI in c minor by Johann Gottlieb Janitsch is an example of a piece of chamber music which Peter August arranged for two keyboards. For many years Janitsch was at the service of the Prussian crown prince Frederick. In this capacity he organised the so-called Freitags-Akademien, first in Rheinsberg, later also in Berlin, after Frederick had become King of Prussia. He was especially famous for his quartets, and this is an example of such a quartet, originally scored for oboe, violin, viola and basso continuo. Peter August names the two parts of his arrangement Pianoforte co' Flauti and Cembalo respectively.

This information is interesting with respect to performance practice. Despite its name the Leipziger CembaloDuo plays here on harpsichord and fortepiano. One could argue that the fact that Peter August mentions the fortepiano in his arrangement of Janitsch's quartet is an indication that this instrument had already become part of musical performances at the court. On the other hand, the fact that he specifically refers to the fortepiano in this case could also be an indication that he had special - musical - reasons for that, and that in other cases the harpsichord was first choice. The quotation from Burney mentions only the harpsichord - not the keyboard in general - and he refers to a visit as late as 1772.

In this recording the use of two different instruments is not historically motivated. In the liner-notes we read: "The decision to record the two individual cembalo parts on a cembalo and a Hammerflügel on the present disc allows for a clear distinction between the two instruments which would not be possible in a performance on two cembalos (and which is called for in consideration of today's concert audiences rather than by the Elector's private music making)". This also explains that in Janitsch's quartet the first keyboard part - designed for the fortepiano - is played at the harpsichord, and the harpsichord part at the fortepiano. (I have no idea why in the English translation of the liner-notes the German terms for harpsichord and fortepiano have been left untranslated.)

The programme begins and ends with original works for two keyboards. Peter August composed the Divertimento I in D, which is in the style of the keyboard music from southern Germany and Austria. The Elector's music collection includes many keyboard compositions by Georg Christoph Wagenseil, who in the third quarter of the 18th century was the leading keyboard composer in Vienna. In 1787 Peter August died and his duties were taken over by the second Kapellmeister Joseph Schuster. The Six Pièces per due Cembali are character pieces with a sometimes humorous character. Among the titles we find La Coquette, Le Diable qui danse avec sa belle mère and Les métamorphoses d'arlequin.

As I have already indicated the decision to play this repertoire on harpsichord and fortepiano as well as the way these are used is debatable. However, the most problematic aspect is the fortepiano chosen for this recording. If a fortepiano should be used, then a copy of a Walter from around 1805 is rather odd. Although the dates of the various arrangements are not given, it seems likely that most pieces are 25 years or more older than the fortepiano. Considering the many changes in fortepiano building during the last quarter of the century this instrument is not very suitable for this repertoire. One of the arguments for the use of two different instruments is the distinction between the two parts. That was probably not the ideal of the arranger or composer. In this performance the difference goes too far. I assume that an older type of fortepiano - for instance a Silbermann - had harmonized better with the harpsichord.

Hildegard Saretz and Michaela Hasselt have selected a very interesting programme of music for a rare combination of instruments. Their playing is very good, lively and engaging. That makes the questionable features of this recording all the more regrettable.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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Leipziger CembaloDuo

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