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ClassicsOnline Home » ROMAN, J.H.: 12 Flute Sonatas (V. Fischer)
Foremost among Swedish Baroque composers, Johan Helmich Roman travelled to England (1716-21) then to France, Italy, Austria and Germany (1735-37), gaining valuable firsthand knowledge of European music. At home in Stockholm he conducted the court orchestra, introduced Handel’s music, and was active in developing public concert life. His rich output includes these twelve charming and highly accomplished Flute Sonatas, the first such published in Sweden, whose galant character combines the baroque and emerging pre-classical styles.
By David Denton
Though now almost totally forgotten, Johan Helmich Roman, was the father figure from which all of Swedish music was to evolve. Born in 1694, the son of a court musician, it was with royal financial support that the young man was to spend many years touring around Europe as a student and observer of the latest music. On his return to Sweden he was to create and conduct a symphony orchestra of international quality, but his life was to change with the death of the Queen, his main supporter, and later years were spent in obscurity. Fortunately his ideas were continued after his death, and many of his compositions were preserved in manuscript at the Music Library of Sweden. Only his collection of Twelve Flute Sonatas was published during his lifetime, Roman intending them for the gifted amateur musicians that he hoped to encourage in Sweden. He described them as from his ‘youth’ though the 1727 dedication to his patron, Queen Ulrica Eleonora, would place them much later. In content they are each in four or six movements alternating between slow and fast. As a sampling point go to the virile opening vivace of the Second Sonata (disc 1 track 6), or the gentle andante of the Eighth (disc 2 track 7) to hear Roman at his most inspired. They are here performed on transverse flute, baroque cello and harpsichord, and led by the German-born flautist, Verena Fischer. Starting life as an orchestral musician, it was some years later before she began studying baroque flute, and has since performed in many major period instrument ensembles. She shows the required nimbleness when called upon, but the sonatas were never intended to present the performers with technical difficulties. My small reservation comes in the slow movements which I feel need more variant in tempo. As here recorded, the music emerges as a duet between Fischer and Klaus-Dieter Brandt’s adroit cello playing, the balance given to Leon Berben consigning him to a rather reticent harpsichordist. It is a drawback, but the sound is pleasing on the ear.
Johan Helmich Roman (1694–1758)
Twelve Flute Sonatas (1727)
In Swedish music history, the importance of Johan Helmich Roman cannot be overestimated. Being the first native Swedish composer of international importance, conductor of the royal orchestra, violinist and oboist, concert organizer, music teacher, theorist and linguist, he was the man who, by thirty years of hard work (1721–1751), laid the foundation of modern music life in Sweden. The son of a royal violinist he was trained at an early age in music. Seven years old, he performed at court, playing the violin, and was probably an unpaid member of the royal orchestra before his official employment in 1711. In 1712 King Charles XII decided that ‘the musician Rohman Jr. for some years may go abroad to perfect himself in music’. Roman stayed in England for almost five years, from November 1715 to summer 1721, played second violin in Handel’s orchestra, The Academy of Music, and made himself known as ‘the Swedish Virtuoso’. The composers he encountered, including Bononcini, Geminiani and Veracini, were of decisive importance for his artistic development.
Shortly after his return to Sweden, Roman was appointed vice-conductor of the royal orchestra. In the 1720s the quality of the orchestra was raised by his work, or in his own words: ‘the orchestra here was received in the condition that war, starvation and plague had left it but is now (1734) trained from a state of decay to become useful’. His appointment to ordinary conductor (1727) made possible a change of system from the French taste that had dominated the court since the late seventeenth century to the Italian. The period from 1727 to 1735 saw, through Roman, the beginning of public concerts in Sweden (1731), of which the purpose was ‘always to keep the orchestra trained’. Many of his compositions were written for them and many arrangements of choral music, primarily by Handel, equally devised for them.
In the years 1735–1737 Roman made a ‘grand tour’ through Europe, officially for his health and to try to regain his failing hearing. He went to London to meet Handel again, continued through France (Paris) to Italy (Naples) and back (Padua, Florence, Bologna, Venice, Dresden). His Assaggi for unaccompanied violin, written during these years abroad, are of international importance. The experience of new music styles, especially the Neapolitan school, again changed the musical taste at court, as presented at the funeral of Queen Ulrica Eleonora (1742). With her, Roman lost the strong support she had given since the 1710s. With his health broken, Roman passed over the direction of the royal orchestra to his concert-master Per Brant, who succeeded him as conductor (1745), although he still composed for it (sinfonias). After being responsible for the music at the royal wedding in Drottningholm (1744) Roman was permitted to settle at the manor of Lilla Haraldsmåla. He returned to the capital to resume his court duties only twice.
As a fellow of the Royal Academy of Science (1739), Roman acted to preserve the purity of the Swedish language. From the 1720s he used his mother tongue in his own choral works, songs and arrangements of music by others, which earned him the epithet ‘the father of the Swedish music’. In 1747, after the birth of the future Gustavus III, Roman conducted Leo’s Dixit as a proof of ‘the flexibility of the Swedish language to church music’. The last occasion in Stockholm was the funeral of King Fredrik I and the musically splendid coronation of King Adolf Fredrik and Queen Louise Ulrike of Prussia (1751).
In his last years in Haraldsmåla Roman composed mostly religious songs and translated theoretical works which were intended to be printed as part of his programme of creating a collection of music literature in Swedish for the education of young people. Nine years after his death a memorial concert of his music was given. Four years later the Royal Academy of Music was founded, another result of pedagogical ambition that he had had since the 1730s of creating a music school for professional musicians in the spirit of the enlightenment.
The greater part of Roman’s compositions is preserved in manuscripts, now in the ‘Roman collection’ in the Music Library of Sweden. Only one work was printed, the Twelve Flute Sonatas (1727). The matter of sources is thus complicated with autographs and many copies by different hands from different periods and a general uncertainty as to what was lost of his music donation to Turku University in the town fire of 1827 and the fire at Haraldsmåla in 1828.
In the preface to the flute sonatas, dedicated to the younger Queen Ulrica Eleonora, Roman calls them ‘youthful compositions’, indicating that they may have been written already during his stay in England, where he studied composition with Johann Christoph Pepusch, or shortly after his return to Stockholm. A quotation from Handel’s Recorder Sonata in F, Op. 1, in the last movement (Allegro) of Roman’s Flute Sonata XII, confirms his admiration of Handel who was always his hero. His style of writing, far distant from the heavier ideals of the baroque, brings the flute sonatas closer to North German aesthetics. Although Roman could write in all styles, there was an external reason as to why he did so. King Fredrik I came from Kassel, the composer Conrad Friedrich Hurlebusch was in Stockholm in 1723–1725, but, above all, Roman had a deep knowledge and curiosity of style, while important German composers and theorists were part of his international network. His library contained works of music theory by Mattheson and he introduced music by Telemann to the royal orchestra.
The twelve sonatas are not a contribution to a ‘well-tempered’ collection but remain in keys with few accidentals, owing to the development of the flute. Each sonata consists of four to six movements, all beginning with a slow one followed by a quick one. More than half of the movements have a dance rhythm pattern, sometimes also alluding to popular music (eg. the Piva). The slow movements, often written as a sarabande or siciliano, invite re-use as songs. Since his music was generally esteemed and in demand, movements of almost all his flute sonatas were used again by him and others for different purposes, mainly at the end of the 1720s and the 1730s. Thus, some are found in birthday cantatas to the Queen (1726, 1727), some in his orchestral suite the Golowin Music (1728), one in a partita from c. 1730 and some in arias with Italian texts. Some reappear as songs by him with Swedish texts, of which many were widely known outside the court, also in the sacred song-book the Sions sånger (Songs of Sion). Many of his flute sonatas lent their melodies to texts in arrangements by others. One of these was his relative Christian Roman, who, in his manuscript Flora Sätherensis, used more than twenty melodies from the flute sonatas. Among these he gave the fifth movement of the Sixth Sonata in B minor a new text, Ach tysta enslighet (O, silent solitude), of which the melodic frame of the opening phrase was passed on in many variants by oral tradition and still lives as a folk-song.
Roman published his flute sonatas as a part of his programme of creating a Swedish repertoire for good amateur musicians. The title page of the sonatas bears a quotation from the second book of Cicero’s De oratore demonstrating his aim in fulfilling this huge task: ‘Neque ab indoctissimis neque a doctissimis legi vellem’ (I do not wish to be read either by unlearned or by learned people). Reaching amateur musicians between the stage of beginners and advanced players was his way of educating as many as possible. The sonatas, for sale in so many bookstores over the country, were an important tool in his general work of raising the standard of music in eighteenth-century Sweden.
Eva Helenius Öberg
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ROMAN, J.H.: 12 Flute Sonatas (V. Fischer)