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Czech Chamber Music - FDS57927

19th Century Chamber Music for Guitar

Grand Duos for Two Guitars - FDS 57922

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Two recent releases by the enterprising US label Fleur de Son Classics help to illuminate the guitar's place in small-scale chamber music at the start of the 19th century. On one disc are two original works for flute, viola and guitar by Wenceslaus (or Wenzel) Thomas Matiegka (1773 - 1830), while the other contains arrangements by François de Fossa (1775 - 1849) of three Haydn string quartets for guitar duo.

Before commenting on any reaction to the performances on these records, it is worth reading about why these pieces were written in the first place, and how it was that, for a while, Schubert was thought to have been the composer of one of them. After 1780, the six-string instrument was becoming universally accepted as a model for instrument makers (previously, our modern-day low 'E'-string was omitted), and the composer-guitarists such as Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani were spreading its fame outside Spain, most notably in Paris and Vienna. Just as it does today, the instrument responded well to both elementary and advanced performance technique, and found popularity in song accompaniment, ensemble music, and solo works. Berlioz included the guitar in his Grande traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes op.10 (1843), and pianists Hummel and Moscheles are known to have performed in Vienna with Giuliani. The publication of a large number of guitar tutors in the early 1800s could only have enhanced the instrument's appeal to a wide tranche of both amateur and professional music-makers across Europe.

Although Matiegka was born a Czech, and trained as a lawyer and keyboardist in Prague, the fertile musical environment of Vienna attracted him to move there around 1800, and by 1809 his accomplishments on both the piano and the guitar had caused his publishers to label him a "piano and guitar master". Indeed, with the great pool of piano-playing talent in the city at this time, perhaps it was wise of Matiegka to focus his considerable talent on the less famed of his instruments.

Matiegka: Nocturne op. 21 (Real Audio extract)His Nocturne op.21 for flute, viola and guitar was printed in 1807, and might have remained unknown to modern audiences had the 17-year-old Franz Schubert not arranged it, in 1814, to add a cello part for his father. For some years, it became famous as 'Schubert's Guitar Quartet' but is clearly listed in Deutsch's catalog as 'D.96, Wenzel Matiekga's Notturno'. The young composer made other additions, but this recording reverts to the original score, of which only a single copy remains. It is a Nocturne only in name, being a chamber work for evening performance, and not a descriptive piece in the style of later piano works. Perhaps its most distinctive features are the undeniable good humour that pervades all but one of its five movements (a Lento e patetico middle movement is its one exercise in other emotions) and Matiekga: Zingara (Real Audio extract)the Zingara, which is full of Hungarian gipsy colours. A three-movement Serenade op.26, in which the guitar introduces the main themes in both of the outer movements (a measure of its importance), forms the opening to this disc.

In the recording of both of these works, the performers (Jan Boland, flute, David Miller, viola, and John Dowdall, guitar) have placed considerable and appropriate emphasis on historically informed techniques. They use authentic instruments, not modern copies, and have carefully researched the musical texts which have not survived well in the hands of the 20th century publisher they name in their sleeve notes. Their playing (notwithstanding very slight limitations caused by the instruments' construction) leads to an entirely satisfying balance and causes me to recommend this record to a collector seeking to enjoy undemanding but unusual late-Classical repertoire. Sound quality is first class, too.

Upon investigating the Haydn/de Fossa record, it seemed to me that de Fossa's life story has not yet given up all its secrets. New Grove does not mention him, but research reproduced in the fascinating sleeve notes (written by the editor of this music's modern-day edition) shows that most of the arranger's career was spent in the militias of Spain and France. When the army documents and his letters are finally combed thoroughly, perhaps an exciting paper will be written about this man. A tantalising amount is already known; he sailed to Mexico in 1796, was thrown into jail by the French, but later joined their army and served with distinction until 1844. He died in Paris in 1849. The disc's notes inform us that, until now, his greatest claim to fame was that he aided the survival of several of Boccherini's works, and translated from Spanish to French a guitar method by the famed player Dionisio Aguado. We are told, however, that his work as an arranger led to his being called 'The Haydn of the guitar'.

The scope and history of de Fossa's output again reveal much about the musical practices of Europe at the start of the 19th century. His transcriptions for guitar, which include operatic works as well as instrumental pieces, were made from many sources of music. Not all were as authentic as he might have wanted; some symphonies were available to him only as string quartet arrangements and not orchestral scores. It is clear, however, that his publications were intended mainly for advanced performers; the technique required for the transcriptions recorded here makes no concessions to players with elementary training only.

On this disc are selections from Haydn's early groups of quartets, op.2 and op.9. As with all of Haydn's first compositions, uncertainty surrounds the circumstances of their writing. Though the op.2 quartets were published around 1762-3, they may have been composed up to five years earlier, before he became the Esterházy Kapellmeister. Op.9 may date from 1768-70 and, though it is entered in the catalogue Haydn kept for his employers, the scholar Jens Peter Larsen suggests the quartets may either have been written for amateurs or even for an Austrian monastery.

Haydn/de Fossa: Grand Duo Op.9 No.5, Hob.III:23, 3rd movt., menuetto allegretto  (Real Audio extract)While none of the works ranks among the greatest quartets, each is written with consistent invention and shares a style of arrangement that fits well the capabilities of the guitar. The performance by Joanne Castellani and Michael Andriaccio (a premiere recording) is as flawless as any can be, and I share the published wishes of Haydn/de Fossa: Grand Duo Op.2 no.1 Hob.III:7, 1st movt., allegro  (Real Audio extract)the performers, that these arrangements will be more widely played as legitimate chamber works for guitar duo. The last piece on the disc, the five-movement op.2 no.1, has the boldest nature, and perhaps should have been sequenced first.

For newcomers to the guitar duo as a chamber ensemble, the recorded sound presents a hurdle. Although the closeness of the instruments to the microphone does not cause the guitars to boom, the music does not appear to come from a room beyond the loudspeakers but from the speakers themselves. 'Too many strings, not enough music.' This is a pity, for the performances are worth enjoying, even if one must sit in the next room to hear them without distraction.

 Matiegka: Czech Chamber Music

Wenceslaus Matiegka, Serenade op.26 and Nocturne op.21:
Jan Boland, flute, David Miller, viola, John Dowdall, guitar (period instruments)
total time: 67'00", no producer credited, Peter Nothnagle, engineer/editor
FDS 57927

Grand Duos for Two Guitars: The Castellani-Andriaccio Duo

Haydn / de Fossa, Grand Duos op.9, no.5 (Hob III:23), op.2 no.2 (Hob III:8), op.2 no.1 (Hob III:7)
Joanne Castellani, Michael Andriaccio, guitars
total time: 71'12", produced by the artists
FDS 57922

I am The Author of this Book...

If you look up this book [Berlioz' Grande traité d'instrumentation et d'orchestration modernes op.10 (1843)] on, you might be amused by the link that reads:

  • I am the Author, and I want to comment on my book.

There is no comment here, at present. Not even from "Richard Strauss (contributor)". Meanwhile, here's a Fan Page about Berlioz.

 Copyright © John Hayward-Warburton, April 22nd 1999

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