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Johann Stamitz (1717 - 1757), Franz Xaver Richter (1709 - 1789): "Early String Symphonies"

New Dutch Academy
Dir: Simon Murphy

rec: Jan 10 - 13, 2003, The Hague, Oudkatholieke Kerk
PentaTone - PTC 5186 028 (55'32")

FX Richter: Sinfonia a 4 in c minor; Sinfonia a 4 in B flat; J Stamitz: Sinfonia a 4 in D; Sinfonia a 4 in A; Symphony in D, op. 11,1: andante non adagio

Lidewij van der Voort, Judith Steenbrink, Fredrik From, Rachael Beesley, John Wilson Meyer, Hanneke Wierenga, Tuomo Suni, Mario Konaka, Antina Hugosson, Josine van der Akker, violin; Jan Willem Vis, Esther Lombardi-van der Eijk, viola; Judith-Maria Becker, Mimé Yamahiro, cello; Robert Franenberg, Joshua Cheatham, double bass; Andreas Rizzato Arend, theorbo; Guillermo Brachetta, Haru Kitamika, harpsichord

The music of what is known as the Mannheim School is recorded from time to time. In recent years an orchestra like Concerto Köln has given some attention to representatives of this 'school'. But never before an orchestra was founded with the specific aim of performing this repertoire. That, however, is what the Australian-born violist Simon Murphy, now living in the Netherlands, has done. Although the orchestra does play other repertoire - last year it played a programme with music by Corelli at the Holland Early Music Festival in Utrecht - it is concentrating on the music of the composers who worked at the Mannheim court in the period from the 1740s to the 1770s, as its orchestra developed into - according to many contemporary observers - the best in the whole of Europe.
The music journalist Charles Burney called it "an army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle, as to fight it."

The name Mannheim school does appear already in the 18th century. Abbé Vogler used the term in 1778, but only to characterise the style of playing of the Mannheim court orchestra. It wasn't until the 20th century that the name was used with reference to a style of composing.
In this respect one has to think of features like sudden dynamic contrasts, the use of Seufzer (sighs) and the application of crescendo and diminuendo. But the Mannheim orchestra wasn't the first to use these effects, nor were the composers working there the first to include them in their compositions.
This style of playing and composing finds its origins in Italy, where a composer like Niccolň Jommelli used the crescendo for the first time. In one of his letters, the German composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt (1752 - 1814) reported that "when Jommelli caused this to be heard in Rome for the first time, the audience gradually rose from their seats with the crescendo and did not breathe again until the diminuendo, when they first observed that they were out of breath. The last effect I have observed myself in Mannheim."

The fact that this development in music is ascribed to Mannheim, and that the Mannheim school strongly influenced composers of later generations, like Mozart, can be put down to a large extent to the qualities of the Mannheim orchestra. The foundations were laid by Carl Theodor, Elector Palatinate of Mannheim. The German composer, poet and writer about music Christian Friedrich Daniël Schubart (1739 - 1791) wrote: "Music ewoke the Elector in the morning; it accompanied him at table; it sounded for him at the hunt; he prayed with it at church; it lulled him to sleep at night, and it is to be hoped that in the end it greeted this truly good prince at the gates of heaven".
Carl Theodor collected a whole bunch of first rate musicians from all over Europe, like the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling and the oboists Alexander Lebrun in the 1740s, together with some of the best Bohemian horn players, and the cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Fils in the 1750s, as well as the composer Ignaz Holzbauer, acting like co-Kapellmeister, working alongside Johann Stamitz, another musician of Bohemian origin, who joined the orchestra as cellist in 1741, and in 1745 was the highest paid musician at the court. In 1750 he received the title of director of instrumental music, a post which was especially created for him.

It wasn't a new compositional style which he introduced; his early works are rather conventional in comparison with his later compositions. His main contribution to the increase of the level of music making at the Mannheim court was the way he trained his orchestra. As XXX writes in the article on "Mannheim" in New Groves': "The precision of attack, the ability to reflect the smallest dynamic nuance, the uniform bowing, and the fact of every player's having been trained, or having had his technique polished, by Stamitz and subsequently Cannabich, produced unprecedented results."

The said Johann Christian Cannabich (1731 - 1798) entered the orchestra at the age of 13, was pupil of Johann Stamitz and Jommelli respectively and later became leader of the Mannheim orchestra. He had an international reputation as conductor and was admired by Mozart.
In Mannheim the 'new' clarinet was also added to the orchestra. Stamitz went to Paris where he performed at the Concerts Spirituels during 1754-55. One of his symphonies was performed there with clarinets and horns in March 1755, the earliest recorded use of clarinets in a symphony.
And another characteristic of the Mannheim orchestra was that it included a large number of composers. They not only composed their own music, but also exploited the technical abilities of their colleagues in the orchestra.

Two of the Mannheim composers are represented on this disc. On the one hand we find here two symphonies by Johann Stamitz, sometimes called "the father of the symphony", on the other hand two symphonies by Franz Xaver Richter. He came to Mannheim in 1746 as a bass singer. At the beginning he sang in the opera, after 1749 mainly church music. As a composer he was influenced by the 'new style', but his music also contains conservative trademarks, like the use of fugal techniques.
The features of the style of the Mannheim school don't shine through equally clearly in every single piece or movement. But the four compositions played here all contain some characteristics of this style. The Seufzer which were mentioned before are frequently appearing in the first movement (allegro ma poco) of Richter's Sinfonia a 4 in c minor. This movement also contains many passages with descending semiquavers. This can all be connected to the key of c minor, which expresses sadness and languishment.
The key of D major is, according to the booklet, "noisy, joyful, warlike and rousing". The first movement of Stamitz' Sinfonia a 4 in D does give ample evidence of that, for example in the first movement (presto), which does sound pretty aggressive, and so does the last movement, another presto, with its frequent upward leaps.
The last movement (presto), of Richter's Sinfonia a 4 in B flat contains repeated general pauses. It is preceded by an andante, which is written in cantabile fashion, reflecting the "cheerful love" this key stands for.
The key of A major is characterised as "brilliant and uplifting". This certainly comes through in the first movement (allegro assai) of Stamitz' Sinfonia a 4 in A, which opens this disc, and in the energetic last movement (presto).

The performance is nothing less than brilliant. Technically the orchestral playing is of the highest standard. We certainly find the 'uniformity' the orchestra of Mannheim was famous for. And the 'driving bass lines' associated with the Mannheim symphonic language is omnipresent here, for instance in the first movement (spiritoso) of Richter's Symphony in B flat. Part of the continuo group is the theorbo; sometimes it is a little too prominent, like in the third movement of Stamitz' Symphony in A.
In general there is a good differentiation between the phrases within a movement, and there are lots of strong dynamic accents. The very pronounced way in which the subject of the first movement of the first piece on this disc is presented gives a strong indication of the things to come.
The only disappointment is the fact that only one movement of Stamitz' Symphony in D, op. 11,1 has been recorded. There was plenty of space left to record it completely.

Hopefully this recording will be the first of many more.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

Relevant links:
New Dutch Academy

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