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8.553622 - DUSSEK / WAGENSEIL / KRUMPHOLTZ: Harp Concertos

Harp Concertos

Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-1777): Concerto in G major for Harp, Two Violins and Cello
Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz (1742-1790): Concerto No. 6 in F major for Harp and Orchestra, Op. 9
Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812): Sonata No. 2 for Harp in E flat major, Op. 34
Jan Ladislav Dussek: Concerto in E flat major for Harp and Orchestra, Op. 15


Georg Christoph Wagenseil was born in Vienna in 1715 and studied composition with Johann Joseph Fux, the Imperial Court Kapellmeister, before, on his teacher's recommendation, being appointed in 1735 as Court Composer. His first opera, Ariodante, was staged in Venice at S Giovanni Grisostomo in 1745 under his own direction and his many compositions found favour widely abroad, in Paris as elsewhere. He was an able keyboard-player and was employed as teacher to the daughters of the imperial family, as Hofklaviermeister, his own playing being much admired for its expressive power and inventiveness in improvisation. Towards the end of his life illness prevented his performance, but he continued to teach and to compose until his death in 1777.

In style Wagenseil began with a mastery of current Baroque techniques, proceeding, as time went on, to the stile galant of the mid-century. Earlier in his career a number of sacred works, some ninety before 1755, were followed by operas, several to libretti by the Court Poet Metastasio, an admirer of his ability as a performer. He was prolific in keyboard music, contributed significantly to the development of the classical symphony and composed a number of concertos, primarily for harpsichord, although the alternative of organ or harp is suggested. These concertos alone number as many as 75, with others at least mentioned in other sources.

The present Harp Concerto in G major opens with a lightly orchestrated introduction of thematic material, before the solo entry, proceeding with all the clarity of the pre-classical style. The slow movement turns to the minor key, with the touch of poignancy that found its true master later with Mozart, who as a child had played one of Wagenseil's concertos before the Empress Maria Theresia. The concerto ends with a cheerful finale, its mood at once established, and continued through a series of lightly contrasted episodes.

The Bohemian composer Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz was himself a harpist as well as an innovator in the form that instrument took towards the end of the eighteenth century. Born in Bohemia, the son of a bandmaster in the service of Count Kinský, he was taught by his father, an oboist, to play the horn and to this end was despatched to Vienna to perfect his technique. This he failed to do, preferring to devote his attention to the harp, the instrument played by his mother. After a period in France and in Flanders, he returned to Prague, where he had encouragement from Wagenseil's former pupil František Xaver Dušek, who recommended him to Haydn. After success in Vienna, he was engaged by the latter as harpist at Esterháza, where he also had composition lessons from Haydn. His first appearance there had been at the end of July 1773, when he was well rewarded. His contract for two years was made on 1 August. In 1776 he is recorded as having played the harp part in a performance at Esterháza of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and in the same year he left to embark on a concert tour of Europe, making a particular impression with the improved form of instrument he developed. After the death of his first wife, daughter of a harp-maker in Paris, he married Anne-Marie Steckler, his pupil and daughter of an instrument-maker in Metz with whom he himself had worked. She won an even higher reputation than her husband as a performer, appearing in London at the Salomon concerts, but this after her elopement with Jan Ladislav Dussek. Krumpholtz himself committed suicide, drowning himself in the Seine in 1790, presumably as a result of his wife's desertion.

The compositions of Krumpholtz for the harp are among the most important of the later eighteenth century. They include six concertos and two symphonies with solo harp, as well as a quantity of sonatas and shorter pieces. Classical in style, with all the expected clarity of texture, the Concerto No. 6 in F major, written about 1785, opens with an orchestral introduction that offers a statement of the thematic material that is to be developed with the entry of the soloist. The novelty of his work for the instrument lies in part in his use of the possibilities of modulation provided by the pedal instrument, and perhaps by the form of swell-pedal he introduced, an eighth pedal that could control the volume of sound by opening and closing a shutter, the harpe à renforcements. The first movement of the concerto proceeds in the expected form, the solo instrument always in the forefront in a lightly orchestrated work. The slow movement begins with the solo instrument, offering the principal theme, now in the minor, to be taken up by the orchestra, material that dominates until the major central section, after which the principal theme returns. There is a final movement of great charm, with the necessary variety between episodes that contrast with a principal theme worthy of comic opera in the idiom of the time.

Anne-Marie Krumpholtz's paramour, Jan Ladislav Dussek, was Bohemian by birth, the son a well known organist and composer, a friend of Haydn, and his wife, a harpist. Dussek's early career as a pianist took him, largely as a teacher, to the Low Countries, where he taught the children of the Dutch Stadtholder. In the 1780s he travelled further afield, meeting C.P.E. Bach in Hamburg, playing before Catherine II in St Petersburg and later entering the service of Prince Karl Radziwill, father of Chopin's later patron. A tour of Germany, performing on the piano and on the glass harmonica, was followed by concerts in Paris, where he remained until the early signs of revolution in 1789. The next eleven years were spent in London, distinguishing himself as a performer and as a teacher. In the first capacity he played at the Salomon concerts and took part in Haydn's concerts in the 1790s, eliciting from the latter praise both for his musicianship and his moral probity. Whatever his relationship with Anne-Marie Krumpholtz, in 1792 he married Sophia Corri, a singer, pianist and harpist, who also appeared in the Haydn concerts. With her father Dussek entered into a music publishing venture which, by 1799, had failed. Domenico Corri was imprisoned for debt, but Dussek took refuge from debt and from his wife and her family in Hamburg. The new century found him again in his native Bohemia, followed, from 1804 to 1806, by service as Kapellmeister to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia and then, after the latter's death, to Prince Isenburg, before moving to Paris in the employment of Talleyrand. He died in France, possibly in Paris, in 1812.

With a mother, a mistress and then a wife who were harpists, it was natural that Dussek should write music for the instrument. This included, notably in the 1790s, a number of sonatinas and sonatas, as well as a number of concertos, some offering the alternative of solo piano instead of solo harp. His chamber music also finds a place for the harp. His two- movement Sonata No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 34, written in 1797, is characteristic enough of his work, using figuration that is now a familiar element of harp technique. The attractive three-movement Concerto in E flat major, Op. 15, with its idiomatic writing for the instrument, starts its extended first movement with the expected orchestral exposition. It proceeds in the now usual pattern, with its dramatic cadenza, in due classical form and it is not difficult to detect similarities of style with a number of Dussek's contemporaries. The slow movement provides attractive material, before a final movement with a particularly cheerful principal theme that has something of a contemporary popular song about it, a reminder that Dussek was to write at the turn of the century, a harp sonata on The Lass of Richmond Hill. His principal compositions for the instrument, however, come at the time of his liaison with Anne-Marie Krumpholtz and his subsequent marriage with Sophia Corri. The Concerto in E flat major, Op. 15, was written in London in 1789, intended for Mme Krumpholtz, who performed a number of works by Dussek in the Salomon concerts that brought Haydn to London, appearing in the first of the concerts with a Concerto for pianoforte and pedal harp by Dussek, with the composer as the other soloist.

Keith Anderson


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