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ClassicsOnline Home » KOŽELUCH, L.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 1 (K. English)
Few composers exemplified the late eighteenth-century Viennese keyboard style better than Mozart’s contemporary, the Czech composer Leopold Koželuch. A leading performer and teacher, he was even offered Mozart’s former post as court organist to the Archbishop of Salzburg. Preferring instead to preserve his independence, he produced over four decades, a series of major sonatas for fortepiano and harpsichord worthy to stand beside those of Haydn, Mozart, Clementi and Dussek, and as a precursor to those of Beethoven. This is the first volume of the complete recording of Koželuch’s 50 keyboard sonatas.
Leopold Koželuch (1747–1818)
Complete Sonatas for Solo Keyboard • 1
Leopold Koželuch was an esteemed contemporary of Mozart, and in many circles considered the finer composer. He was an early champion of the fortepiano and his Keyboard Sonatas are a treasure trove of late eighteenth-century Viennese keyboard style, including perfect examples of the form and foreshadowing Beethoven and Schubert. In this groundbreaking début recording, which will feature the complete cycle of fifty sonatas, the New Zealand fortepianist Kemp English plays original and replica instruments from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
Leopold Koželuch was born in Velvary, northwest of Prague in 1747. He was christened Jan Antonín but changed his name to Leopold to avoid confusion with his older cousin, also a musician, of the same name. His Czech family name of Koželuh (‘tanner’) became Koželuch to make it more manageable in German. Cousin Jan Antonín became one of Leopold’s earliest teachers, along with František Xavier Dušek, a noted Czech keyboard player and composer. In 1778, after some success as a composer of ballet music and having relinquished law studies, Koželuch moved to Vienna, Europe’s thriving musical centre and, as Mozart was to remark, ‘the land of the Clavier’. Koželuch soon established a fine reputation as a fortepianist, composer and teacher. By 1781 he was regarded so highly that the Archbishop of Salzburg offered him Mozart’s former post as court organist. He declined, later stating to a friend ‘the Archbishop’s conduct toward Mozart deterred me more than anything; for if he could let such a man as that leave him, what treatment should I have been likely to meet with?’ In 1784 Koželuch founded his own publishing firm (Musikalisches Magazin) in the same year as Hoffmeister and slightly behind Artaria (1778) and Torricella (1781). This was to provide an ideal vehicle for the publication of his compositions. He also forged valuable and profitable links with European publishers, notably in Paris (Boyer, Leduc and Sieber), London (Birchall, Longman and Bland), and Amsterdam. In 1792 he succeeded Mozart as Kammer Kapellmeister and Hofmusik Compositor to Emperor Franz II and remained in that post until his death in 1818. After 1802 Koželuch became associated with George Thomson, a man with an insatiable appetite for Scottish, Irish and Welsh folk-song arrangements (other contributors included Pleyel, Haydn, Beethoven and Hummel). This lucrative work and his court duties kept him busy for the remainder of his working life.
Milan Poštolka, who produced the first major study of Koželuch’s works with a thematic catalogue (Milan Poštolka. Leopold Koželuh, Zivot a dilo. Prague: 1964) divided Koželuch’s output into three stylistic genres: (1) Traits of the Viennese Rococo, characterized by the vocal compositions of the 1780s. (2) The development of the Viennese Classical style in the form of the symphonies and piano concertos. (3) Those compositions (notably piano and chamber music) that pave the way for ‘Beethovenesque expression’ and foreshadowing ‘the musical language’ of the Romantic period. Most of these latter compositions date from the last decade of the eighteenth century.
Koželuch’s decision to move to Vienna in the late 1770s was a good one. He found himself in the right place at the right time. He also knew how to make the very most of his opportunities, cultivating advantageous connections and acquiring influential pupils. By the last two decades of the eighteenth century, music-making was a popular social activity held in the palaces and houses of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Here the ladies of the house would perform fashionable keyboard compositions to friends and family. The music they played needed to be appealing and not too technically challenging; precisely the kind of compositions the Magazine der Music championed in 1783: ‘Herr Koželuch is an excellent composer. In his sonatas there is much invention, good melody and a style of progression all his own. The fast movements are very brilliant and naïve, the slow ones very tuneful. Therefore we can certainly recommend them to amateurs of the Clavier’.¹ Koželuch was singularly adept at producing what was considered to be the ideal fortepiano sonata of the time. And fortepiano sonatas they were; by 1780 the harpsichord was being superseded by this more expressive instrument and Koželuch was a strong supporter: ‘The vogue of the fortepiano is due to him [Koželuch]. The monotony and muddled sound of the harpsichord could not accommodate the clarity, the delicacy, the light and shade he demanded in music; he therefore took no students who did not want to understand the fortepiano as well, and it seems that he has no small share in the reformation of taste in keyboard music.’²
Koželuch’s keyboard sonatas span a period of nearly four decades, from the earliest work of 1773 to the last three sonatas, unpublished in his lifetime, dating from sometime after 1810. William Newman (The Sonata in the Classic Era) found ‘little difference between Koželuch’s late and his early sonatas’, which is puzzling. There is a world of difference between the first and the last. Perhaps for Newman the constant juxtaposition of lighter, more Italianate works, with darker, dramatic sonatas camouflaged any sense of true development—but development and a changing style is clearly discernible. Part of this chopping and changing was undoubtedly market driven. Koželuch wanted to appeal to as many different tastes as possible. In the course of a group of three sonatas (they were generally published this way) he often included a ‘lighter’ work, with sparing dynamic markings, which would satisfy the harpsichord aficionados (for example Nos 7, 10, 14, 22); a technically brilliant work for the exhibitionists (for example Nos 8, 9, 15, 17); and finally a more dramatic work, ideal for the budding Romantic (for example Nos 6, 16, 19, 24). These ‘Romantic’ works contain startling foretastes of Beethoven’s tragic-pathetic style. With three exceptions (Nos 15, 24, and 26) all the minor key sonatas begin with a slow introduction, the first from 1780 pre-dating Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata by nineteen years. None of the sonatas by Haydn and Mozart contain such dramatic introductions. Koželuch was obviously Beethoven’s inspiration elsewhere too: the allegro agitato of Sonata No 36 thunders away like the Appassionata and yet it was written twelve years earlier. Additionally, Koželuch conjures up foretastes of Schubert’s music: Sonata No 20, for example, contains such the kind of lyrical melodies, sparkling passagework and typically Schubertian harmonic shifts to the flattened submediant that became a hallmark of his keyboard writing (as, for example, Op 120 in A major). All in all, these Koželuch sonatas are a very impressive cycle of works that are destined to stand alongside those by Clementi, Dussek, Haydn and Mozart.
Kemp English plays two reproduction fortepianos after the foremost Viennese builder Anton Walter c. 1795. One crafted by New Zealander Paul Downie (Sonatas Nos 20, 21, 25–36), the other by the American team of Thomas and Barbara Wolf (Sonatas Nos 1–19, 22–24). For the pre 1780 sonatas English uses an original harpsichord by Longman and Broderip (built by Thomas Culliford) dating from 1785 (Sonatas Nos 37 and 44–47). As many of Koželuch’s sonatas were published in London by Longman and Broderip this seemed an ideal choice. The other two instruments used are a pianoforte by Joseph Kirkmann (c. 1798) (Sonatas Nos 48, 49) and a Viennese fortepiano by Johann Fritz (c. 1815) (Sonatas Nos 38–43, 50).
Thanks to the Universities of Auckland (Downie) and Otago (Wolf) for the use of their fine reproduction instruments. The other instruments are in the performer’s own private collection (Mobbs) and can be viewed at www.earlykeyboards.co.nz.
The ordering of the works in this complete cycle of recordings follows the new complete edition edited by Christopher Hogwood and published by Bärenreiter.
¹ Magazin de Musik, i (Hamburg), 1783), 71. Quoted and translated in Katalin Komlós. Fortepianos and their Music: Germany, Austria and England, 1760–1800. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 110.
² Johann Ferdinand Ritter von Schönfeld. Jahrbuch der Tonkunst von Wien und Prag (Wien, 1796), 34–5. Komlós. Fortepianos and their Music. 59–60.
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