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ClassicsOnline Home » WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 2 (Barto) - Nos. 5, 25, 50
By Michael Oliver
"The Maggini Quartet and Garfield Jackson clearly love this music deeply; they play it with great beauty of tone and variety of color and with passionate expressiveness. The ample recording allows both grand gestures and quiet intimacy. A coupling to confirm, if you ever doubted, that Vaughan Williams was a great composer."
By Geoffrey Norris
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
"All three works are perfectly conceived for the intimacy of the medium, inviting a delicacy and serenity of utterance that the Maggini interprets with engaging fluency and sensitive inflection.
The First Quartet and the Phantasy Quintet, with extra viola, are both early works, attesting to the tuition that Vaughan Williams received from Ravel in Paris.
His personal voice, however, is already in evidence, and is even more clearly defined in the later Second Quartet in A minor, a work that, for all its incisiveness in the opening movement and scherzo, radiates a tranquil beauty.
The Maggini has made a particular contribution to the performance of English music, and here its sense of style is acute, beautifully realising the refinement of Vaughan Williams's translucent string textures and his intuitive response to the instruments' expressive potential."
Silvius Leopold Weiss
Sonatas for Lute
No. 5 in G major; No.
25 in G minor; No. 50 in B flat major
Silvius Leopold Weiss was the most important lutenist of the eighteenth
century. He is mentioned by his contemporaries along with Bach and Telemann as
one of Germany’s most accomplished musicians. Born in Breslau or Grotkau, in
what is now Poland, Weiss probably had his first lute lessons with his father.
His younger brother, Johann Sigisimund, was also a lutenist, and although he
achieved fame as a child prodigy, his stature as a composer never rivalled that
of his brother. A sister of the two was also an excellent lutenist.
Like many young musicians, Weiss began his career touring the European
royal courts in search of a lucrative position. In 1708, he accompanied the
Polish Prince Alexander Sobieski to Rome, where he stayed until the Prince's
death, six years later. Although we know very little of his activities in Rome,
he surely had close contact with Italian composers, as can be heard in his Suonatas
(from the Italian suonare – to sound).
In 1718, Weiss was appointed court lutenist in Dresden by August the
Strong, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. Weiss would keep this position
until his death thirty-two years later, even turning down an extraordinary
offer of two thousand Rheintaler yearly from the court in Vienna. As to why
Weiss chose to stay in Dresden, we can assume that the musical life there
offered him possibilities not available elsewhere. An elite group of well-known
composers, singers and instrumentalists had been gathered under August the
Strong and his successor, Friedrich August II These included Johann David
Heinichen, Francesco Maria Veracini, Johann Georg Pisendel, Johann Joachim
Quantz, Pantaleon Hebenstreit and later Johann Adolf Hasse and his wife, the
soprano Faustina Bordoni. Famous castrati, such as Senesino and Berselli, gave
exciting guest appearances.
The court life in Dresden at this time was certainly not free of
intrigues and jealousies. In 1738, Weiss was arrested, perhaps because of a
disparaging remark about his superiors. Only through the intervention of Count
Keyserlingk, a music-lover and friend of the Weiss family, was he finally
released Another incident, which had occurred in 1722, was much more serious
for Weiss and threatened to end his musical career. A violinist called Petit
wanted Weiss to support him in his bid for a position at the court Perhaps
because Weiss was not helpful enough in this matter, Petit bit him on the thumb
so badly that it was feared he would never play again. Fortunately, the injury
was not so serious and Weiss was able to perform again several months later.
Contemporary reports portray Weiss as a brilliant performer and
improviser. He is said to have competed with Johann Sebastian Bach (Weiss on
the lute, Bach on the harpsichord) at improvising fantasies and fugues. We know
of at least one visit in 1739 to the house of the Thomaskantor in Leipzig
documented by Johann Elias Bach. Weiss and his circle of friends in Dresden
would apparently go to great lengths to hear good music. In 1723, Weiss
travelled together with Carl Heinrich Graun and Johann Joachim Quantz to Prague
to hear the opera Costanza e Fortezza by Johann Joseph Fux. Upon
learning that no more seats were available, they volunteered to play in the
opera orchestra. One can imagine that the conductor, Caldara, substituting for
Fux, who was ill, was more than happy to have such illustrious instrumentalists
for the performance.
Silvius Weiss died on 16th October, 1750, in Dresden. At the time of his
death there was little left of the relative comfort in which he had lived. He
left his family with virtually nothing. His widow eventually found a position
as a nursery-maid at the court to a princess of the royal family.
Silvius Weiss left over six hundred pieces for solo lute. The best of
these can be found in two manuscripts; one in the British Library in London,
and one in the Sachsisches Landesbibliothek in Dresden. Taken from these
sources, the three Suonatas on this recording can be roughly grouped
into early, middle and late works.
The Suonata in G major can be considered an early, mature
work. Found in the London manuscript, this piece is a showcase for Weiss's
legendary virtuosity, as well as his melodic gift. The individual movements are
tied together through the recurring use of similar melodic material. For
example, the opening phrases of the Allemande and the Bourrée use
virtually the same melody, rhythmically altered to fit the needs of the dance.
The same is true with the arpeggiated Courante and the contrapuntal Menuet.
Even in the Gigue, Weiss reaches back to the opening phrases, now
rhythmically much more complex, of the Prélude.
The Suonata in G minor is found in both major collections and is
a somewhat later work. In this recording it is played from the Dresden version.
The Prélude (added later and not in the London manuscript) serves to
capture the attention of the listener and introduce the mood and harmonic
foundation of the following pieces. A graceful Allemande andante leads
to a Passepied, which, according to Quantz, is similar to a Menuet, but
played more lightly and quickly. After a rollicking Bourrée, with a
hornpipe-like opening motif, Weiss sets a reflective, serene Siarabande in
the relative major key of B flat. In the London version of this piece, the Menuet
is titled La Babilieuse. This could be translated as 'the babbler',
and reaches back to the practice of giving pieces descriptive title, in
seventeenth century French. This work closes with a spirited French Gigue, reminiscent
of J.S. Bach.
The Suonata in B flat major has all the majesty
characteristic of the late works of Weiss. It begins with a sweeping Introduzzione
on a grand scale, combining the rhythmically free feel of a Prelude, with
the repeated structure of the more usual Allemande. The following Courante
is a complex, arpeggiated work that has little to do with the actual dance.
Between the Bourrée and the Menuet, both on a very large scale
here, with inventive melodic development, we find the deeply moving,
introverted Sarabande in G minor, one of Weiss's most beautiful pieces.
The Presto, a concerto movement in the style of Arcangelo Corelli, is
again conceived in epic proportions and is a dazzling display of Weiss's skill
both as a player and composer. Indeed, in its technical and expressive scope
this Suonata confirms the words of Ernst Gottlieb Baron, that Silvius
Leopold Weiss "was the first to have shown that one could do more on the
lute, than anyone could imagine".
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