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ClassicsOnline Home » MUFFAT: Concerti Grossi Nos. 1 - 6
By Gaétan Naulleau
Georg Muffat (1653-1704)
Ausserlesene Instrumental-Music: Twelve Concerti Grossi, Vol.1
The father of nine sons who won musical distinction, Georg Muffat himself was born in 1653 in Mégève, in Savoy, a descendant of Scottish immigrants who had left their country during the anti-Catholic persecutions under Queen Elizabeth in England and the religious persecutions in Scotland in the same period. While his father, Andreas Muffat, appears to have been a Scot, his mother was French, but he regarded himself as German. In childhood he moved to Alsace and thence to Paris for study under Lully, returning from there to Alsace once more, until wars forced him to move, first to Vienna, then to Prague, to Salzburg and finally to Passau. His period of study with Lully seems to have continued from the age of ten to the age of sixteen, when he returned to Séléstadt and then to Molsheim to study at the Jesuit schools there. It was in 1674 that he moved to Ingolstadt, where he continued his studies, before moving to Vienna, where he received encouragement but not appointment from the Emperor Leopold I. In 1677 he was in Prague and by 1678 he was at the court of Archbishop Max Gandolf, Count von Künburg, in Salzburg, where he was employed as organist, despatched from there for study in Rome with Bernardo Pasquini and returning to Salzburg in 1682. In Rome he had met Corelli and heard his concerti grossi, while some of his own music had been played in Corellis house. On the death of the Archbishop in 1687, he found less favour from his successor and in 1690 appeared at the coronation of Archduke Joseph as King of Rome in Augsburg. In the same year he entered the service of the Bishop of Passau, Johann Philipp von Lamberg, as Court Kapellmeister and Master of the Court Pages. He remained there until his sudden death in 1704 after the surrender of Passau to Bavarian troops.
The first collection of music published by Georg Muffat was his Armonico Tributo cioè Sonate di camera commodissime a pocchi ò a molti stromenti (Harmonic Tribute that is Chamber Sonatas most suitable for small or large numbers of instruments). This appeared in 1682 and was dedicated to Archbishop Max Gandolf von Künburg and represented the result of his study in Rome in a series of sonatas or concerti grossi that reflected the influence of Corelli. The Apparatus musico-organisticus followed in 1690, with a dedication to the Emperor on the occasion of the coronation of his son as King of Rome. In his dedication Muffat can still describe himself as organædus and cubicularius (organist and chamber musician) to the new Archbishop of Salzburg. In 1695 Muffat published in Augsburg his Suavioris harmoniæ instrumentalis hyporchematicæ florilegium primum, followed three years later by a second Florilegium. These two collections are of great importance in the development of the later Baroque synthesis of Italian and French styles, learned, in Muffats case, directly from Lully and from Corelli, stiffened in an alloy with the German, inherited perhaps, from Pachelbels teacher Johann Kaspar Kerll, organist at the Cathedral in Vienna and Court Organist in Munich. Muffats introduction to the first anthology of orchestral suites provides valuable evidence of the then state of musical theory and practice, further amplified in the introduction to the second Florilegium.
Muffats last publication was derived from the first, the Armonico tributo and from compositions written during his time in Salzburg. This was the Exquisitioris harmoniae instrumentalis gravi-jucundae Selectus or Ausserlesene mit Ernst und Lust gemengte Instrumental Music of 1701, a collection of concerti grossi suitable for court entertainment but not for church or for dancing. The movement titles, Bona nova (Good news), Cor vigilans (Watchful heart), Convalescentia (Convalescence), Dulce somnium (Sweet sleep), Saeculum (The World) and Quis hic? (Who is this?), are said to refer to the occasions of first performance and to have no bearing on the music itself.
The culmination of Muffats work is represented by his last published collection, Ausserlesene mit Ernst und Lust gemengte Instrumental Music (Selected Instrumental Music mingling Seriousness and Pleasure), published in Passau in 1701. This contains twelve Concerti Grossi and is in fact an extended and revised edition of the earlier Armonico tributo of 1682. From the five sonatas in the first publication he devises six concertos, Nos.5, 4, 2, 11, 10 and 12. The second version involves various changes in the organization and length of movements and the inclusion of the continuo in the concertino group of solo instruments. Muffat later completed the work with a further six compositions dating from the period in Salzburg between 1683 and 1689, Nos 1, 3, 7, 8 and 9. Here he combines the French and Italian elements of his composite style and mixes the da camera (chamber) movements with da chiesa (church), elements that had generally been kept distinct, while warning that French dances were not suitable for church use nor Italian movements for dance. Muffat, in fact, as he indicates in his title, follows the principles laid down by Cardinal Pietro Bembo, champion of the Italian vernacular in the early sixteenth century, with his contrast of gravitá and piacevolezza, inspired by the ancient Greek rhetorician Dionysus of Halikarnassus. All Muffats concertos are essentially divided into two parts, introduced by two movements in Italian style. The first of these is an introductory Sonata, with a slow section, marked Grave, proceeding to a faster, and sometimes followed again by a slow section. A Grave also precedes the second half of each concerto. The movements that follow these equivalents of the rhetorical exordium are dances, with a distinction between solo and orchestral sections. In general Muffat keeps his full five-part writing for the slow introductory movements, while employing alternation between solo and tutti in the faster movements or parts of movements.
Based on notes by Vladimír Godár