artistry beyond the notes…

Behind the Scenes of ‘Classics By Arrangement’

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Writing in 1829, Goethe compared chamber music of the late 18th / early 19th centuries to an erudite conversation among intelligent people. The ‘language’ of classical chamber music by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is ideally suited to the expression of his idea. Meanings are created through conversational engagement in intimate settings. Conversations are not lectures. The scale of a conversation is quite intimate, with subtle inflections of the voice. It involves active listening. The listening is as important as the speaking in the creating of a narrative. Meaning arises as a relationship among the speakers in real time.

 

This is this inspiration for DeNOTE’s work. DeNOTE’s performances of classical chamber music explore this environment through education workshops and concert performances. For us, the musical scores are scripts through which musical meaning is created conversationally (speaking – listening – responding) in real time: the Performance of MEANING, not just the (re)reciting of a text.

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Not surprisingly, then, we often look at musical texts afresh in our performances. And that has led us quite often in the direction of late 18th/ early 19th-century arrangements of works by Mozart and Beethoven in particular. And that was the starting point for…

 

 

Classics By Arrangement – the title of Ensemble DeNOTE’s three concerts this spring/ summer at St John’s, Smith Square in London. In these concerts, we explore celebrated chamber music by Mozart and Beethoven in unfamiliar arrangements made by the composers themselves, their pupils and contemporaries. DeNOTE’s founder. John Irving introduces some of these arrangements below.

 

We began our exploration of historic chamber music arrangements in early April with two familiar Mozart works in unfamiliar guises: his Quintet for Piano and Winds, K.452 arranged as a Piano Quartet – just possibly by his one-time composition pupil, Josef Freyatädtler. This version was actually the first published edition of the work to appear, some 6 years before the original scoring. We partnered this with Mozart’s extraordinary ‘Gran’ Partita’, K.361 arranged as a ‘Grand Quintetto’ for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano by C.F.G. Schwencke (1805).

 

 

Piano Quartet in E flat (an arrangement the Quintet for Piano & Winds, K.452).

 

Mozart’s Piano and Winds Quintet, K.452, completed at the end of March 1784, has long been famed as the work Mozart himself regarded as ‘the best I have ever composed.’ There were at least two performances in spring and early summer that year, though the work is never mentioned again in Mozart’s surviving correspondence, and it did not appear in print until after his death. The autograph manuscript had been lost at least as early as 1800 (according to Constanze Mozart, it was appropriated by a Polish nobleman), though happily, it was later rediscovered and eventually reunited with its dismembered final leaf containing the delightfully nonchalant conclusion (the final leaf was perhaps separately given away as a keepsake by Mozart’s widow – a not-infrequent habit of hers). Today, it is to be found in the Bibliothèque du Conservatoire, Paris.

Possibly because of the circumstances surrounding the location of the autograph, the work’s early publication history is somewhat confused. A print of the piano and winds version appeared in Augsburg in 1799, though it had been preceded six years earlier by the piano quartet arrangement with strings (just possibly by Mozart’s pupil Josef Freystädtler), published in Vienna by Artaria. Various prints of the quartet (and sometimes original quintet) appeared – all copied from the Artaria version. What they all share is a curtailed ending of the finale; clearly the arrangement was made before the lost final leaf of Mozart’s autograph – the piano and winds version, of course – was rediscovered.

 

Gran’ Quintetto (arranged by C.F.G Schwencke, c.1805 from the Gran’ Partita, K.361 aka the Serenade for 13 Winds)

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No-one really knows for sure what prompted Mozart to compose his extraordinary serenade for 13 instruments, K361 – the so-called ‘Gran’ Partita’. It may have been written for fellow-Freemason, Anton Stadler, the clarinetist for whom Mozart also wrote the ‘Kegelstatt’ Trio, along with the Clarinet Quintet and the Clarinet Concerto. Part of the Gran’ Partita was premiered at a concert in Vienna’s Hoftheater in March 1784; further performances of the work from Mozart’s lifetime are undocumented, perhaps because of its unusual scoring for pairs of oboes, clarinets, basset horns, bassoons, four horns and double bass. Nevertheless, it must have gained considerable popularity, for it was arranged for numerous different combinations. One of these, completed in about 1805 was as a ‘Grand Quintetto’ by the Hamburg Stadtkantor, Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwencke for clarinet (or oboe), violin, viola, cello and piano – exactly the core combination of Ensemble DeNOTE!

Does it work as a Quintet? According to The Birmingham Post, reviewing a recent concert performance:

 

Disbelief had to be suspended, initially unwillingly, when faced with the prospect of Mozart’s sublime Gran Partita for 13 wind instruments, one of the greatest works in the entire canon, being given in a version for a motley quintet of keyboard, strings and clarinet.

But in this performance for Bromsgrove Concerts of Schwencke’s transcription, Ensemble DeNOTE delivered it with a grateful awareness of its radiance.

The keyboard, John Irving’s beautiful fortepiano, sustains many of the textures (repeated woodwind chords are convincingly transferred to the instrument’s tactilely responsive articulation), violin, viola and cello stand in for horns, bassoons and whatever else with great success, with only the rare halting phrasing making us regret the absence of suave winds, and the clarinettist (here the heroic Jane Booth) sweetly reminds us of the work’s provenance.

 

You can judge for yourself soon: the Grand Quintetto is included in Vol.2 of our Mozart Chamber Music series, which will be released on Devine Music (DMCD008) in early May.

 

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Author: ensembledenote

Period-instrument chamber music group specialising in music from the era of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

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