Works of the early Classical period with Reinhard Goebel

04 Oct 2013

Berliner Philharmoniker
Reinhard Goebel

  • Jean-Féry Rebel
    Les Éléments, suite for orchestra (26 min.)

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Notturno for 4 orchestras in D major, K. 286 (16 min.)

  • Christian Cannabich
    Symphony for 2 orchestras in C major (21 min.)

  • Johann Christian Bach
    Amadis de Gaule, opera: Overture · Suite (26 min.)

  • free

    Reinhard Goebel in conversation with Raimar Orlovsky (15 min.)

Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven – the triumvirate of the First Viennese School! That’s what you learn in music class, and that’s what you read in repertoire guides and concert programmes. And yet, as every music lover suspects, music history cannot have proceeded in quite so straightforward a way. Reinhard Goebel, founder and director of the now legendary ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln for more than 30 years and one of the most renowned and greatest musicians in the field of historically informed performance practice, has put together a programme for his conducting debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker that highlights the music Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart grew up with.

Christian Cannabich, one year older than Haydn and one of the important representatives of the Mannheim school, which also strongly influenced Mozart’s music, is represented in this programme with one of his circa 90 symphonies. Also part of the programme: Johann Sebastian Bach’s youngest son, born in 1735. After his father died, Johann Christian Bach was first taught by his older brother Carl Philipp Emanuel, who had a position at the court of Frederick the Great in Potsdam, and later worked in Milan and London. He was a true cosmopolitan – and a composer Mozart greatly admired.

This concert includes instrumental pieces from his opera Amadis de Gaule, premiered in Paris in 1779. One cannot fail to hear the marks the music of Cannabich and Johann Christian Bach left on Mozart’s oeuvre in his Notturno K. 286, written by the young Salzburg composer at the end of the 1770’s.

On the right track!

Encounters, Influences and Parodies: Mozart on the 18th-century’s information highway

The information society of the rococo period looks antediluvian from today’s perspective, but it served its purpose admirably. Instead of a glut of data that all too quickly leads to digital dementia, there were reasonably spaced, more or less random encounters of people having something to say to one another. Obtaining the knowledge he needed was almost a game for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: it was by travelling – and it was analogue. His information highway comprised the avenues of the imperial postal service; and its postmaster general, the Prince of Thurn und Taxis, was his Bill Gates.

Mozart spent nearly a third of his life on the move. His travels are important both biographically and music-historically. In the course of his journeys he got to know the four great European musical capitals of his day – Vienna, Mannheim, Paris and London – as well as paying repeated visits to some other cities on the periphery that were also vitally interesting though admittedly of lesser significance: Munich, Frankfurt, Prague, Dresden and Berlin. He went to Italy three times, stopping in Milan, Bologna, Venice, Rome and Naples. His audiences included emperors, kings and popes, Goethe, Mme Pompadour and high society. Leopold Mozart wanted to acquaint the whole of Europe with his child prodigy, and later Amadeus, on his own initiative – but never with success – sought permanent court positions. The trips also served as sources of information: to make contacts, to be trained by other musicians and to interact with scholars. The most consequential results of these travels were Mozart’s encounters with colleagues and with the compositions of his rivals, whom he largely disparaged. Among his contemporaries we find only a few he esteemed. They included Christian Cannabich and Johann Christian Bach.

Mozart was eight in 1764 when he got to know Johann Christian Bach, barely 30, in London. Sebastian’s youngest son, nicknamed the “Milan” or “London” Bach on account of his preferred places of activity, exerted a serious influence on the Salzburg prodigy. This may have been the first time that it occurred to the boy that his future as a musician need not be limited to playing the well-dressed lackey of venerable figures. “Mr. John Bach” for example occupied a completely different role in society. He intermittently dominated the London opera scene and, together with Carl Friedrich Abel, a composer and bass viol player from Cöthen, London concert life as well. The successful, extravagantly generous and eternally good-humoured “English Bach” also made a strong personal impression on Mozart. The man and his music were inseparable and so Mozart for a while viewed the “galant style” and the untroubled and life-affirming music of the youngest Bach as his ideal.

Johann Christian Bach: Suite from the opera Amadis de Gaule

In 1778 Johann Christian Bach was preparing to add Paris to his conquests with the opera Amadis de Gaule. On this occasion, he and Mozart again crossed paths. “Mr. Bach from London has been here for the last fortnight,” he reported on 27 August 1778 to his father Leopold. “He is going to write a French opera, and has only come to hear the singers. He will then go back to London and compose the opera, after which he will return here to see it staged.” But Amadis de Gaule was not a success in December 1779 and after seven performances it disappeared from the stage for 230 years. The conventional explanation has always been the rivalry between Gluck and Piccinni, an aesthetic factional dispute in which J.C. Bach aligned himself with neither position. Mozart was even less interested in this internal French squabble. He hardly went to the opera in Paris at all and didn’t hear Bach’s Amadis de Gaule, but he later studied French opera scores, especially for their dramatic effects.

If Mozart missed Johann Christian’s opera in Paris, he did hear Anton Stamitz. His verdict on the composer and violin virtuoso was scathing. To his puritanical father Wolfgang reported in July 1778 that “of the 2 Stamitz brothers only the younger one is here, the elder ... is in London. They indeed are 2 wretched scribblers, gamblers, swillers and adulterers – not the kind of people for me.” Carl and Anton’s father, Johann Stamitz, was born in Bohemia, was engaged as a violinist by the Mannheim court in 1741 and, after advancing to become director of instrumental music, he made its orchestra the most modern in Europe. As a composer, he revolutionized orchestral writing with novel effects and can be credited with creating the classical four-movement symphony. Mozart visited the Mannheim court in Schwetzingen in 1763 during European travels that eventually took him to London, and he spent several months in Mannheim in 1777 before going on to Paris. The electoral court historically had musical connections with both of those major capitals. This network, Europe’s musical map, though no worldwide web, nonetheless provided Mozart with all essential information. After his last stays in Mannheim, he was finally on the right track. He emancipated himself from his father’s guardianship and came to realize that his calling was as a composer, not just a pianist – which makes his denigration of the Stamitz family even harder to comprehend. Mozart met none of them personally: Johann had died in 1757, while Carl and Anton had already turned their back on Mannheim. He did, however, become a close friend of Christian Cannabich – Johann Stamitz’s successor as Mannheim Konzertmeister and court Kapellmeister – whom he esteemed highly as an orchestral trainer and composer, not to mention as the host of musical and social occasions at his home.

Cannabich and Mozart: Works for double and quadruple orchestras

Cannabich’s Symphony in C major for two orchestras dates from that time and is one of his last Mannheim works (in autumn of 1778 the entire court moved to Munich). It differs markedly from the composer’s other contributions to the genre with its Largo introduction and the use of a “double” orchestra. Mozart’s Nocturne in D major, K. 286 could seem a parody, but it outdoes Cannabich’s symphony with its four orchestras (each comprising a string quartet and two horns). But Mozart’s work, reminiscent of Salzburg open-air music, dates from before his Mannheim trip of 1777. The brilliant joke of the Nocturne lies in the provocative use of a triple echo – the echo of the echo of the echo.

Jean-Féry Rebel: Les Elémens – a “Simphonie nouvelle”

During Mozart’s time in Paris, not only were Gluck and Piccinni – tragédie lyrique, opera seria and opéra comique – pitted against one another. There was also the ballet-pantomime. Its great exponent was Jean-Georges Noverre, choreographer and author of the epoch-making Lettres sur la danse et sur les ballets (1760). The outstanding composer of the genre was Jean-Féry Rebel, immortalized by his last work, the ballet-pantomime Les Elémens (1737-38). The subject was hardly new, but what Rebel did with it proved sensationally novel. The work, subtitled “Simphonie nouvelle” by its composer, begins with the wildest imaginable depiction of chaos. Rebel achieved the effect by means of chaotic harmonies, the first tone clusters in Western music. The other movements also imitate natural phenomena or elements, each of which is assigned its own instrument: the basses symbolize the earth, the flutes water, the piccolos air and the strings fire. Choreographed allegorical scenes accompany each movement. Rebel’s masterpiece enjoyed enormous fame for decades and contributed to the hardening of French classicism’s musical aesthetic into dogma, in spite of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s protestations. As late as 1771 Denis Diderot decreed: “Any music that neither paints nor speaks is bad”, an opinion that under no circumstances could have been espoused by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But then he had never heard Rebel’s Elémens

Volker Tarnow

Translation: Richard Evidon

Reinhard Goebel, founder and for 33 years director of the ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln, is today a sought-after conductor and mediator of his knowledge of what is known as historically informed performance. Born in 1952 in Siegen, Reinhard Goebel studied violin with Franzjosef Maier, Eduard Melkus, Marie Leonhardt and Saschko Gawriloff. He furthered his interest in philology and the history of music with a musicology course at the University of Cologne. Since January 2009, he has been principal guest conductor of the Bavarian Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra in Augsburg. He also performs the repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries with “modern” orchestras such as the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. At the National Theatre of Mannheim, he headed new productions of Amadis de Gaule and Temistocle by Johann Christian Bach. In 2008, 2010 and 2012, he presented works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann and Antonio Vivaldi respectively, with the students of the Orchestra Academy of the Berliner Philharmoniker in the Chamber Music Hall. Since the autumn of 2010, Reinhard Goebel has also been professor of Baroque violin at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. His recordings with the ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln set standards in the history of the interpretation of early music. Reinhard Goebel’s multifaceted work has won many awards: In 1997, for example, he was awarded the State Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia for his exemplary interpretations and his work as a musicologist, and in 2002, the city of Magdeburg awarded him the Telemann Prize. With these concerts, he makes his debut at the conductor’s stand of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

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