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ClassicsOnline Home » STAMITZ, C.: Oboe Quartets, Op. 8, Nos. 1, 3, 4 / HAYDN, M.: Divertimento in C Major (Baccini)
Michael Haydn spent much of his career in Salzburg and won a considerable contemporary reputation as a composer, since overshadowed by the achievement of his elder brother, Joseph Haydn. Carl Stamitz had his early training in Mannheim, home then of one of the most famous orchestras in Europe, before establishing his reputation as a composer and performer in Paris, in London and elsewhere. He is valued in particular for his chamber music. The Opus 8 Quartets are notable for the virtuoso demands made of all four instrumentalists.
Michael Haydn (1737–1806)
Divertimento in C major, P. 115
Carl Stamitz (1745–1801)
Oboe Quartets, Op. 8, Nos. 1, 3, 4
By the middle of the eighteenth century the oboe and cor anglais were developing as clearly differentiated instruments. This, in conjunction with a number of changes in performance practice and musical customs at the time, led to the establishment of a new genre, one that made optimum use of the tonal and technical potential of each of the instruments concerned, as the trios and quartets with continuo so characteristic of the Baroque period became transformed into trios, quartets and quintets in which each individual “voice” had its part to play, as in that quintessential chamber grouping, the string quartet.
The combination most favoured by composers and performers in the second half of the 1700s seems to have been the quartet for oboe (or, sometimes, cor anglais) and strings. Here the oboe/cor anglais and the violin play the two higher lines, mirroring the rôles of first and second violin in a string quartet, with support from harmonising viola and cello.
This chamber formation became popular with composers, who would vary it in terms of the instruments used alongside the “solo” oboe/cor anglais, viola or cello in the middle register, cello or double bass in the lower. Few of the pieces written at this time, however, are as extraordinarily sophisticated in their tonal refinement and virtuosity as Michael Haydn’s Divertimento in C major for cor anglais, violin, cello and double bass, its writing for each of the four instruments not only thoroughly idiomatic but highly demanding. Haydn’s choice of instruments is most original and the balance of timbres and registers is somewhat unusual: the middle and lower registers prevail, given that the only “soprano voice” here is the violin, the cor anglais playing in the “viola register”, and the cello and double bass providing two “bass voices”.
Michael Haydn was born in the Austrian village of Rohrau in 1737 and died in Salzburg in 1806. He was the younger brother of the better-known Joseph and wrote a number of such mixed wind/string chamber pieces in the years between 1785 and 1790, probably composing more of them than he did string quartets. He composed the C major Divertimento in 1790, while working at the court of the Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo in Salzburg, where he succeeded Mozart in the post of court organist. The work is cast in classical form, with two fast movements, the second a rondo finale, framing a slower movement. The writing is highly virtuosic and, as far as the cor anglais is concerned, comparable in contemporary terms to that of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F major, K370, with many passages that are extremely technically demanding in terms of fingering and range.
While Mozart dedicated his quartet to his friend Friedrich Ramm, a famous oboist of the day, it is a fair guess that the dedicatee of Haydn’s work was another highly esteemed and renowned virtuoso of the day, Giuseppe Ferlendis (b. Bergamo 1755, d. Lisbon 1810). Ferlendis was an authority on the oboe family and was himself a composer. In April 1777 he had entered Colloredo’s Salzburg orchestra, where he became friends with Michael Haydn as well as with Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who composed his Oboe Concerto in C major for Ferlendis that summer. A superb exponent of the cor anglais, Ferlendis is thought by many to be responsible for the modifications and improvements made over the years to that instrument. A number of composers wrote solo parts and entire works for him, music which demonstrates just how good a performer he must have been. Two of Ferlendis’s own oboe concertos survive, their solo writing revealing a profound knowledge of the instrument and a sophisticated, sensitive taste as a performer. For evidence of his compositional skill, one need only remember that, until a few decades ago, some academics, including Georges de Saint-Foix, had hypothesised that the F major Concerto might in fact have been written by Mozart.
Predating Haydn’s quartet, but following it on this recording, are the Opus 8 quartets for oboe, violin, viola and cello of Karel Filip Stamic, more usually known as Carl Philipp Stamitz. Stamitz was born in Mannheim in 1745 and died in Jena in 1801. He was the son of the great Mannheim School symphonist Jan Václav Antonín Stamic, director of instrumental music at the Elector Palatine’s court. Carl studied the violin with his father and soon joined the Mannheim court orchestra, renowned as the home of great symphonic performances and musical innovation in the second half of the eighteenth century. Having been a member of the second violins for around eight years, and having become a brilliant performer on both the violin and viola d’amore, Stamitz left Mannheim in 1770 for Paris. There, as well as being appointed court composer and conductor to Duke Louis of Noailles, he made many very well-received appearances, along with his brother Antonín, at the Concert Spirituel, performing some of his own compositions. It was while in Paris that he wrote his Quartets, Op. 8.
According to various sources, these virtuosic quartets were not necessarily designed for specific forces (they have something in common with the sonatas of slightly earlier times which were intended “for every kind of instrument”, the flute often interchangeable with the violin or the oboe). It is impossible, therefore, to point to a probable dedicatee, but we can hazard a few guesses as to the identity of the oboists who may have performed them, in all likelihood alongside Carl and Antonín Stamitz. We know from contemporary reviews that the two brothers, both of them violinists and violists, frequently played at the Concert Spirituel, and there is a clear connection between Carl’s exceptional skills as a performer and the unusually demanding writing not only of the higher parts in the quartets but also, and notably, that of the viola. Who, then, might have joined the Stamitz brothers to play the oboe part? One name that comes to mind is that of Gaetano Besozzi, member of a famous Italian family of oboists and bassoonists, another regular performer at the Concert Spirituel, and highly praised by the Mercure de France on many occasions. Another is that of Auguste Lebrun, an extraordinary virtuoso and composer with a Europe-wide reputation. He too grew up within the Mannheim School, during the same period as Stamitz. A third possibility is German oboist Johann Christian Fischer, a pupil of Alessandro Besozzi in Turin, and at the time one of the most lauded artists in the French capital.
Stamitz’s Opus 8 Quartets can be seen as straddling the Baroque and the new Classical style, with their standard instrumentation and tonal palette, and simple, tripartite structure, not particularly innovative with regard to the compositional style of the period. For this recording, therefore, only some of the repetitions of the ritornellos are ornamented and varied in a way that harks back to earlier musical practice, with diminutions and the addition of pauses where there are imperfect cadences.
Chiara and Alessandro Baccini
Translated by Susannah Howe
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