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ClassicsOnline Home » RIES: 3 Flute Quartets, Op. 145
A pupil of Beethoven in Vienna, Ferdinand Ries enjoyed a successful career as a performer and as a composer. After a period in England, he finally retired to his native Rhineland where he wrote his Flute Quartets. Written in an early Romantic style, the Quartets are notable for their diversity, the first with a Spanish finale, the second more sombre in tone, and the third providing a bright conclusion, as though it were designed to cap an evening of music-making. Quotations or near quotations from works by other composers of the period give the Quartets a humorous and unusual unpredictability.
Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Flute Quartets, Op. 145
Ferdinand Ries presented himself to Beethoven in Vienna in October 1801 with a letter of introduction from his father, Franz Ries, who had been one of Beethoven's violin teachers in Bonn. Beethoven did not forget the many kindnesses that the elder Ries had bestowed upon him, helping the family financially at the time of the death of Beethoven's mother. Beethoven agreed to take the young Ferdinand on as a piano pupil but arranged tuition in composition with one of his own former teachers, Johann Albrechtsberger. For four years Beethoven and Ries were close friends, with the latter acting on occasion as Beethoven's secretary and copyist. He was part of the inner circle who attended many of Beethoven's performances, both formal and informal. Ries was an exceptional pianist and often performed Beethoven's piano works to Beethoven's satisfaction, though not in premières. He made his first public appearance as Beethoven's pupil on 1 August 1804, when he played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, adding his own cadenzas and winning the approbation of his teacher, in spite of the latter's earlier misgivings. As was not uncommon in relationships with Beethoven, however, there was eventually a major falling out as a result of a misunderstanding. Beethoven did ultimately apologize but his temper and acid tongue had already done their damage. The relationship between the two was never quite the same thereafter but it was not over. Beethoven kept an oil portrait of Ries in his residence which was still in place at the time of his own death in 1827. Owing to reasons of circumstance rather than design the two men communicated primarily by letter after that. Unlike Beethoven, who remained principally in Vienna, Ries toured extensively, winning considerable financial success as a result of his concerts. In 1813 he visited London, where he stayed for eleven years, marrying an Englishwoman. By 1824 he had amassed a small fortune, enabling him to retire in comfort, settling in the Rhineland. He had the luxury of involving himself as he pleased with various projects, including the Lower Rhine Music Festivals.
Today Ries is probably best known for his collaboration in one of the earliest biographies of Beethoven, published in 1838. As a composer, he was clearly influenced by Beethoven or, at least, had been similarly influenced by their common mentors and the teaching of Albrechtsberger. The similarities in their styles did not go unnoticed by Beethoven who suggested that Ries imitated him too much. For Ries such criticism from Beethoven might have been taken more as a compliment than as a motive for changing his own style. Ries does, however, make his own unique mark on the early Romantic style with nuances and devices that are clearly implemented in his own manner. One such device that Ries uses in the Opus 145 Quartets is to create in one place or another a sparsely set dialogue between individual instruments without supporting the harmony in the bass line, which creates a stark contrast to the surrounding lush textures. He interjects melodic fragmentation, especially in the development of the first movements. He also borrows quotations or near quotations from other works that were undoubtedly familiar to musicians of his time, most notably in the slow movement of his C major Quartet, where he refers strikingly to Mozart's Dissonance Quartet. These devices provide a pleasing unpredictability and even occasional humour that, though not unique to Ries in concept, are used in a daring manner that creates an interesting dimension that becomes almost a signature motif in the hands of this composer.
The three quartets, Opus 145, composed during Ries's years of retirement, are notable in their diversity. It is almost as though the composer intended the entire set to be played in a single sitting. The works were dedicated to a Charles Aders, of whom I have found no reference, but it would seem that they were designed to intrigue a musically literate personality. The first quartet, in C major, is only one step away from the Classical in nature, with the earlier mentioned quotation from Mozart and a final movement that is distinctly Spanish, marked Allegro all' espagnola, one of the earliest Northern European works of the period to reflect such a strong influence of the music of Spain. The second quartet, in E minor, creates a dark contrast in mood to the surrounding works, is more Romantic in nature, and is set in the dominant minor key of the concluding A major Quartet. This third quartet is the only one of the three to have a bright conclusion to its final movement, as though it were designed to cap an evening of music-making.
I started researching chamber music repertoire for flute with strings in 1977. My search started with Franz Vester's Flute Repertoire Catalogue (Musica Rara 1967) and ended in correspondence with a variety of music shops, the Library of Congress in Washington DC, and the Gesellschaft der Freunde der Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. It was at the Library of Congress that I happened on copies of the Simrock Editions of the Quartets, Opus 145, by Ferdinand Ries that were published near the end of his life. I knew nothing of Ries except his dates, which looked promising, suggesting a style that could add a valuable dimension to a flute programme. I ordered photo-duplications of them and found the edition serviceable though filled with errors and inconsistencies. With some careful editing, the ensemble that I had assembled took these charming pieces on tour, with very favourable responses from both audiences and the press. Subsequently these works have been published in a Facsimile Edition (of the Simrock) by Falls House Press (1998) of Nashua, New Hampshire, USA, and in an edition by ACCOLADE Musikverlag, Holzkirchen (1998), edited by Jürgen Schmidt. The edition used for this recording is the Simrock Edition as corrected and edited while I prepared for performances in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
John Herrick Littlefield
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RIES: 3 Flute Quartets, Op. 145