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8.553570 - DANZI: Wind Quintets, Op. 67, Nos. 1-3
Franz Danzi (1763-1826)
In the mid-eighteenth century the city of Mannheim enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for its music. Described by the German writer Schubert as "the musical Athens of the German-speaking world," the city owed much of its fame to its court, "whose rays," according to Leopold Mozart, "illumine the whole of Germany, nay even the whole of Europe, like those of the sun." Central to the musical success of the court was its orchestra, which Leopold described as "undeniably the best in Europe", and which, according to Charles Burney, could boast "more solo players and good composers than any other orchestra in Europe." Under the direction of Johann Stamitz, this "army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle as to fight in it," was responsible for a number of developments in orchestral writing, but it is remembered in particular for establishing the crescendos and diminuendos which were to become an integral part of symphonic music during the remainder of the century.
Among Stamitz's "army of generals" was Innocenz Danzi, a cellist who joined the orchestra in 1754 and subsequently married the daughter of the composer Carlo Giuseppe Toeschi. Franz, the eldest of their three children, was born on 15th May 1763, and showed early promise as a singer and as a cellist, singing in the Elector's chapel choir as a boy and joining the Mannheim Orchestra in 1778 when he was just fifteen years old. Despite this success he stayed behind to play with the orchestra of the National Theatre when the court moved to Munich later in the year, and rejoined the orchestra only in 1783 when he succeeded his father as its principal cellist. By now, however, his heart lay in composition and after his opera Die Mittemachtstunde scored a considerable success in 1788, the cello was increasingly relegated to the sidelines.
Danzi's appointment as Vice Kapellmeister to the Munich court in May 1798 was not entirely successful, partly because of a personality clash with the Kapellmeister and partly because his wife Margarete's death from consumption left him emotionally unable to direct operas in which she had previously sung. He must therefore have been pleased to move to Stuttgart as conductor of the Württemberg Orchestra in 1807 even though the city could not rival Munich in musical terms. It was also dominated by intrigue and debauchery and its attraction wore off so quickly that within a year Danzi was on the lookout for another job. This proved elusive, until he was offered the post of Kapellmeister at the Baden court in Karlsruhe in 1812. He derived great solace from his blossoming friendship with Carl Maria von Weber, who was 23 years his junior but with whom he shared a correspondence, sometimes in verse or musical recitative, until his death.
To a musician whose background was with the Mannheim Orchestra, standards at Karlsruhe must have seemed abysmal. The 26-man orchestra was even worse than at Stuttgart, and despite Danzi's attempts to improve their playing, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported that even in 1817 he was having to "stamp out the beat with his foot in an attempt to hold the orchestra together, especially at important entries." His efforts took a toll on both his health and enthusiasm but did have some effect; by the time of his death on 13th April 1826 the orchestra boasted 44 members and a repertoire which included works by Mozart, Cherubini, Beethoven and Weber as well as Danzi himself. He also seems to have maintained a sense of proportion about his situation, earning the respect of Ludwig Spohr as "a most amiable artiste" and of Max Maria von Weber as a "plump little man with a rounded head and sharp, clever eyes which always seemed good- humoured."
Although Danzi did not live in any of Europe's main musical centres after 1812, the publication of his Op.56 Quintets for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon in 1821 indicates that he kept abreast of the latest developments, for this combination of instruments had hardly been used until Anton Reicha published six quintets in Paris in 1817. Reicha then published a further set of six annually for the next three years, and Danzi was clearly trying to cash in on their popularity, giving his set not to his usual publisher but to the Parisian Maurice Schlesinger, and allowing the dedication to Reicha to appear in larger letters than his own name. His sales figures were also helped by his concise style, technically undemanding and formally conventional, which contrasted with Reicha's expansive and often virtuoso approach.
Danzi must have been encouraged by the response to the Opus 56 Quintets for soon afterwards he composed a further six works for the same combination of instruments. This time, however, they were published by Johann Andre of Offenbach, who was famous for his pioneering editions of Mozart's works and under whose imprint a few of Danzi's works already appeared. The new sets, which again demonstrate the composer's facility with attractive melodies and gently chromatic harmonies, appeared around the end of 1823 or early in 1824 as Opus 67 and 68 with consecutive publisher's plate numbers but no dedications.
When Breitkopf and Härtel advertised Danzi's Sonata for Horn and Piano in E flat, Op.28 in the November 1804 edition of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, they also offered a cello part as an alternative to the horn line. This canny sales pitch was probably adopted because of the sheer novelty of the medium; although the horn was well established as a concerto soloist, there was no tradition of it being accompanied by piano. Franz Süssmayr had abandoned a work for the two instruments, but Beethoven had found their contrasting characteristics easier to cope with and it is likely that his sonata for horn and piano which had been published in 1801 was the model for Danzi's own work in the genre.
Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung was greatly impressed by the result, publishing a lengthy review of Danzi's "distinguished" sonata in May 1805 and praising in particular the "uncommonly pretty" sound of the two instruments playing together. The critic also enjoyed the work's "agreeable and flowing melodies", and appreciated the composer's achievement in keeping the score "tree from artificial airs and graces." The piano line obviously required a "first-rate player who can produce a beautiful tone on the instrument", but "lay well for the hand" and was "agreeably free from hocus pocus". It was, he concluded, a work in which "every page cries out to become well-known".
Michael Thompson Wind Quintet
The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet came into existence under its present name in 1992, when Barry Tuckwell announced that he was leaving the Wind Quintet that bore his name and the other instrumentalists unanimously turned to the finest horn soloist they knew to take his place. When approached, Michael Thompson had no hesitation in accepting the invitation to head the illustrious group. The original Quintet, which brought together five of London's leading wind-players, was formed in 1969 and in the course of the next two decades performed in Russia, Australia, the Far East, Europe and the United States. The Quintet today is of impeccable pedigree, each player a soloist in his own right. In addition to concert engagements in Europe, America and the Middle East the group is currently engaged in major projects to record the wind music of Anton Reicha, Franz Danzi and Franz Krommer. The discs released to date have met with unqualified critical acclaim. The Quintet is able to draw on a number of outstanding players to augment its forces as necessary, such as on the present recording.
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