Mozart Vesperae de Confessore k.339

In 1780, when he composed his Vespers K339, Mozart was becoming increasingly frustrated with life in Salzburg, indeed, itching to escape from it. This is hardly surprising, given his fraught relationships with Archbishop Colloredo. They clearly detested one another. The Archbishop called Mozart, to his face, ‘ein Fetz’ – a nonentity; he also, for good liturgical reasons, put tight restrictions on the length and nature of Mozart’s settings, which must have been frustrating. Given that he also had a very controlling father, life in Salzburg must have been irksome.

1780 was also the year Emperor Joseph II ascended the Habsburg throne. To celebrate this, there was a ceremony held in March of the following year. The ceremony was held in Vienna, and Archbishop Colloredo was of course in attendance. He summoned Mozart to Vienna, housing him along with the other servants, which offended Mozart. What is more, Mozart had the opportunity to perform for the Emperor, for a fee equivalent to half his annual salary, and the Archbishop forbade this, since he wanted Mozart to play for his own concert. Mozart attempted to resign from the Archbishop’s services, but found himself summarily dismissed. The Archbishop’s deputy forcibly ejected him with, as Mozart put it, ‘a kick up the arse’.

Antonin Dvorak

 

Antonin Dvorak

Antonin Dvorak (1841 – 1904) was born 15 miles north of Prague in Nelahozeves, a small village dominated by a large renaissance palace belonging to the Lobkowitz Family.

Dvorak’s birthplace

 

 

 

 

Nelahozeves Castle

 

Antonin’s mother, Anna, was the daughter of a steward of the Lobkowitz estate, while his father was a prominent member of the local community, being the butcher and the local inn-keeper. The steward must have had plenty of business with the local butcher! Father was also zither-player in the local dance band. As a young child Antonin played violin in the band. He also sang in the local church choir. The Kantor, Joseph Spitz, proved a good teacher, and Dvorak’s parents had ambitions that Antonin might become such an organist and choir-master. Like Haydn’s parents, they saw their son’s obvious musical ability as a means to social upward mobility. To this end it also was ensured that he learn German, this being the language of the upper echelons of society.

When he was 16 he gained entrance to the Prague Organ School. Apart from training as an organist and developing his composition skills, he played viola in the school’s orchestra. The repertoire was all Germanic, ranging from Beethoven to contemporaries such as Wagner and Liszt. He graduated from the school two years later as second-best student. He applied for a position of church organist, but his application was refused.

While at the organ school, he had also joined Karel Komzak’s Dance Band.  This may well have been economic necessity, but it must have been a natural and congenial thing to do, given his upbringing.

Karel Komzak

Having failed to get a job as church organist, he continued to play with the dance band, playing in restaurants and for balls. When, in 1862, the Czech National Theatre opened in Prague, it was Karel Komzak’s band that became the core of the theatre orchestra, with Dvorak as the principal violist.

Czech National Theatre

 

 

 

 

While he was playing in the theatre orchestra, Dvorak was privately composing, and in 1871 he left the orchestra to concentrate on his composition. He scraped a living by giving piano lessons, and was very poor for the next 7 years.

Anna and Antonin Dvorak

In 1874 he married Anna Cermakova and also became a church organist, no doubt to augment his income.

One of his best friends was Johannes Brahms. It was Brahms who, in 1877, wrote a letter to his publisher Simrock in Berlin warmly recommending Dvorak’s music and including, as an example, 10 duets for soprano and piano. Simrock accepted them and commissioned some (the) Slavonic Dances for piano duet, along with the version for orchestra. These received an enthusiastic review in the Berlin Nationalzeitung which brought about an assault on sheet-music shops. Slavonic Dances sold out in days.The unknown Czech composer suddenly became known and performed in concert halls world-wide. He ceased to be a church organist.

Despite his international success, Dvorak felt his music was never really accepted in the German-speaking world. Simrock, for instance, offered him 3,000 marks for his 7th symphony, whereas Brahms would be offered 10,000 marks for a similar work. But he was immensely successful abroad, particularly in England. He received commissions from the Philharmonic Society and the Birmingham and Leeds festivals. He also made friends with Henry and Alfred Littleton who were the owners of the publishers Novello. They offered much better terms than Simrock. Dvorak’s dealings with Simrock suddenly took a turn for the better.

Antonin Dvorak in later life

Dvorak was certainly no longer poor. In later life he returned to the country, bought himself a property 30 miles from Prague, and also a summer retreat in the forest where he could ‘enjoy the beauties of God’s nature’.

Mozart – Salzburg frustrations

Leopold Mozart

During the reign of Archbishop Schrattenbach the Mozarts had enjoyed recognition, generosity and status (father Leopold was appointed Deputy Kapellmeister).

Archbishop Colloredo

That all changed in 1772 when Schrattenbach’s successor, Archbishop Colloredo, took the reins. In order to make the church service more intelligible to the general congregation he removed any purely instrumental music, put a strict limit on the length of settings of the mass and instituted hymns to be sung in German. What with other reforms in Salzburg’s musical institutions, the Mozarts found their status compromised.  Indeed, Leopold had been expecting promotion to the position of Kapellmeister, but Colloredo preferred Italian musicians.

Leopold found he had a new Kapellmeister, one Domenico Fischietti. They do not seem to have hit it off, and there was clear mutual dislike between Colloredo and the Mozarts.

In 1776 it was hoped Wolfgang would get the job of organist at Trinity Church. Their friend Michael Haydn (Josef’s younger brother) was appointed instead. The friendship ended suddenly amidst great acrimony.

Finally in 1777 Mozart wrote a petition to the Archbishop asking to be released from his employment. Archbishop Colloredo dismissed him, and his father too.

Sparrow Mass K. 220

Mozart composed his Spatzenmesse (Sparrow Mass) K220 when he was in his early 20s – some time between 1775 and 1777. The mass gained its nickname from certain twitterings in the orchestra during the two Hosannahs. It is a charming work, beginning to show some of the intensity of his mature style, but certainly giving no signs of the frustrations of his professional life.

Johann Kuhnau (1660 – 1722)

Johann Kuhnau (1660 – 1722) was Bach’s predecessor as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, something of a renaissance man, and at the time considered to be the equal of Handel and Telemann, – certainly superior to J.S.Bach. He published an important body of keyboard music (including the first keyboard sonata published by a German composer); but his cantatas were not published and are mostly lost – just a few have been found amongst Bach’s huge collection of cantatas. Uns ist ein Kind geboren is one such. It was indeed assumed in the 19th century to be by Bach himself – Cantata 142, but Bach scholars have long been questioning this.

He was born Johann Kuhn in 1660. His parents were Czech, but being protestants, they had fled to the mountains on the border of Germany to avoid the scourge of the Counter-Reformation.

At the age of 10 Johann went to Dresden to be educated, since he was an exceptionally clever child; he also had a fine voice. Dresden was the home of the court of the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg II. In 1667, the Elector was offered the presidency of the Fruitbearing Society, which he accepted. The Fruitbearing Society’s main aim was to establish German as the official court language throughout the Holy Roman Empire (rather than French). The Elector also strove to make Dresden a major cultural centre & to this end brought distinguished artists, writers and musicians into his court. His activities as a patron left considerable debts for his descendants to deal with, but it was an environment greatly conducive to the education of young Johann Kuhn. In Dresden he received an education that included French and Italian, the languages of the court; and he sang, learned the organ and composed music much appreciated by the court Kantor, Vincenzo Albrici.

But in 1680 plague came to Dresden. Johann went home, but was soon back at school, this time in Zittau. He was head chorister in the choir of the Johanniskirche. Shortly after this, both the organist and Kantor of the church died, so at the age of 20 Johann Kuhn was asked to act in their stead for a year as organist, choir director and composer.

Two years later Johann became a Law student at Leipzig University. But he impressed the City Council with his musical talent and he became very active as a performer (presumably as a singer and organist?) and as a composer. Rather fashionably, he had at this time italianised his name to Cuno, but it was not long before that turned back into the German-sounding Kuhnau. At the age of 24 he was appointed organist at the Thomaskirche.

Alongside his musical employment, he studied law. By the time he was 29 he had married, was practising law, and was still organist at the Thomaskirche. During the next 10 years over and above his fame as an organist, he became proficient in Maths, Greek and Hebrew, translated French and Italian books into German, wrote a satiric novel, published his substantial and significant body of keyboard music and composed music for the church. In addition he had 8 children and a thriving legal practise.

When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill. One Georg Telemann enroled at the university, also to study Law, but he, like Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.

Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years, and although he became very dissatisfied with conditions at the Thomaskirche, he attracted many students who would become distinguished musicians themselves, such was the esteem he was held in by his fellow musicians. He was the last of the Thomaskantors who had something of the ‘renaissance man’ about him. It is easy to see that, at the time, Bach was seen as a less distinguished man – indeed he was in broader terms – he just happened to be one of the greatest musicians ever.

Kuhnau died in June 1722.

Click here to find out about the next Kantor at the Thomaskirche.

Britten in America

In early 1939 England war was clearly brewing with rampant fascism across Europe, the UK included. As a homosexual Jewish pacifist with distinct leftist leanings, Britten had every reason to feel vulnerable. Also he was being pilloried by some critics – and he was always
hypersensitive to criticism.
He had also just met Peter Pears, who would become his life-time’s partner, and he had urgent need to disentangle himself from an assortment of ‘romantic attachments’. So in April Britten and Pears left for Canada.


They soon moved on to Woodstock where Aaron Copland was living, spending the summer there; but they settled more permanently at Pears’ friend Elizabeth Mayer’s house.

Mrs. Mayer became something of a mother to Britten, and he dedicated A Ceremony of Carols to her.

Towards the end of his time in USA,
Britten was planning to write a harp concerto. He had therefore been studying the instrument in depth and was now fully primed for composing A Ceremony of Carols. At this time he also composed A Hymn to St.Cecilia.

In March 1942 Britten and Pears set sail from New York, in the Swedish merchant ship Axel Johnson. Passing through emigration the officials confiscated the scores for the Harp Concerto and Hymn to St. Cecilia, thinking they contained subversive messages in code. On the first leg of the voyage, Britten rewrote Hymn to St. Cecilia.

Since America had joined the war after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the eastern seaboard of USA was heavily targeted by German U-boats and many allied vessels were torpedoed during the course of the war. They must have undertaken the crossing with much trepidation.

So the Axel Johnson sailed first to Halifax, Nova Scotia to join its convoy. While waiting in Halifax Britten found an anthology of medieval verse, The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems. During the Atlantic crossing he set 7 of these for boys’ voices and harp. These he expanded to give us ‘A Ceremony of Carols’, completed in 1943.

Jean Baptiste Lully

Jean Baptiste Lully was court composer to Louis XIV (who ascended the throne when he was only 5).

He used his influence on the boy king to secure for himself a monopoly for the composing of operas in France; he blocked the advancement of rivals, such as the much more gifted composers Charpentier and Lalande. Fortunately both flourished well in the immediate perifery of the royal court. Both had strong associations with the Church, and of course Charpentier had the benefit of employment by the Guise court which culturally was rival to that of the royal household.

 

Charpentier

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was born in or near Paris into a family of lawyers.

His father was a master scribe, which was perhaps an influence on the beautiful clarity and almost decorativeness of the composer’s manuscripts. Marc-Antoine did study law at university, but left after a term.

He seems to have been educated by the Jesuits, with whom he had a life-long association. So apart from his prestigious position as Mademoiselle de Guise’s court composer, he was also Director of Music at the principal Jesuit church in Paris, St. Paul-St. Louis. He was in constant demand to compose music for numerous churches, colleges and abbeys around Paris. Towards the end of his life he was appointed Director of Music at the Sainte Chapelle. Therefore, while he was never a member of the Chapel Royal, he was the foremost composer working in Paris at the time.

Very little of Charpentier’s music was published in his lifetime, but he took care over its storage. He bequeathed his manuscripts to a nephew, Jacques Edouard, who tried to publish them, but there was by then little interest in his music. So Edouard sold them, bound in 28 large volumes. Some found their way into the king’s library. His music was not rediscovered until the 20th century.

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Michael Haydn

Michael Haydn was five years younger than his more famous brother Joseph.

Both brothers were stars of the Vienna Boys’ Choir in their time, and both went on to spend most of their professional lives working for one employer.

Michael had the better start: while Joseph was still trying to scrape a living teaching the piano and doing free-lance work, Michael landed the job of Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Grosswardein (now Oradea in Romania). Then in 1762 he was offered a position with better prospects, in the court of Archbishop Schrattenbach of Salzburg. He remained in Salzburg for the rest of his life. He soon was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister in which capacity he was called upon to write dramatic music for the Benedictine University Theatre. This included at one point a collaboration with the 11-year-old W.A.Mozart. When Archbishop Schrattenbach died nine years later, his successor, Heironymus Colloredo, did not support the theatre and it closed. From now on, his output would be mainly for the Church.

He thrived under the rule of Archbishop Colloredo, producing much of his best work, and it appeared he might become Kapellmeister. This stirred jealousies and suddenly there were vicious rumours about his weakness for alcohol and so he was given the position of organist at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche instead.  His colleague Leopold Mozart’s nose was instantly put out of joint, because he had hoped his 21-year-old son Wolfgang would get the job at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche – and spiteful things were  said.

By the 1790s he was highly regarded both as a composer and teacher – his pupils including one Carl Maria von Weber. His music was in demand in Vienna including at least one commission from his brother’s personal friend the Empress Maria Theresia. Indeed he was much drawn towards Vienna, particularly since Napoleon’s troops had over-run Salzburg exiling the Archbishop. But in 1803 the Archduke Ferdinand stepped in, and on the Archbishop’s behalf gave him a rise in salary which kept him securely in Salzburg until his death on August 10th 1806.

Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637 – 1707)

Although he saw himself as Danish, Buxtehude is known as a German composer – the giant of the mid-baroque’.  He was known primarily – and employed – as an organist. His first job was in Helsingborg (now Sweden) when he was 10 or 11 years old.

Twenty years later he applied successfully for the post of Organist at the Marienkirche in the centre of Lübeck. He immediately married a daughter of his predecessor, Franz Tunder; he was also automatically appointed Werkmeister of the church.  This meant Buxtehude was secretary, treasurer and business manager of the church.  Something to keep him busy between the Sundays!

As organist he was responsible for providing music for the main services every Sunday, composing music where necessary. He was greatly revered for his improvisations on the organ. In addition to this and his administrative Werkmeister activities, he became famous for his Abendmusike, ‘Evening-musics’, which had been initiated by Tunder, his predecessor. When Buxtehude took over he assigned them to Sundays in Advent and Trinity.

These Abendmusike would now often take the form of oratorios which were the church equivalent of operas. They were highly dramatic, and clearly were a huge influence on Bach in his settings of the Passion.

In old age he was something of a celebrity. He stayed rooted in Lübeck, but people came from far and wide to hear him play the organ. Handel visited from nearby Hamburg, also Bach from distant Arnheim. Bach’s obituary stated he ‘took Buxtehude as his model in the art of the organ’; it may well have been that seeing Buxtehude as the director of music in the city of Lübeck gave him the idea of pursuing something similar himself – in Leipzig, as it turned out.