About this Recording
8.555305 - KRAUS: Symphonies, Vol. 4
English  French 

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792)
Sinfonia per la chiesa • Symphonies in F major and in D major
Symphony in E flat major (alternative slow movement) • Riksdagsmarsch


Born in the central German town of Miltenburg am Main, Joseph Martin Kraus had his earliest formal education in nearby Buchen and at the Jesuit Gymnasium and Music Seminar in Mannheim, where he studied German literature and music. Following studies in law at the universities in Mainz and Erfurt, he spent a year at home in Buchen from 1775 to 1776, while his father was under indictment for misuse of office, a charge later dropped. In 1776 he resumed his studies in law at Göttingen University, coming under the influence of the remnants of the Göttinger Hainbund, a Sturm und Drang literary circle. In 1778 he published his treatise Etwas von und über Musik fürs Jahr 1777, one of the few theoretical works devoted to the adaptation of Sturm und Drang literary philosophy to music.

In 1778, with the encouragement of his fellow student Carl Stridsberg, Kraus decided to dedicate his life to music and to seek employment in Sweden at the court of Gustav III. At first he found it difficult to break into the cultural establishment of Stockholm, and for two years struggled, in some poverty, to overcome the political obstacles. In 1780 he was commissioned to compose a trial work, Proserpina, on a text drafted by the King himself and versified by Johan Kellgren. Its successful private performance at Ulriksdal in 1781 brought an appointment as deputy Kapellmästare and in 1782 a grand tour of Europe at Gustav’s expense to observe the latest musical and theatrical trends. This took him throughout Germany, Austria, Italy, England, and France, meeting major figures of the period such as Gluck and Haydn. He returned to Stockholm in 1787 and the following year was appointed First Kapellmästare and director of curriculum at the Royal Academy of Music. In the following years he achieved a reputation in Stockholm as a conductor, composer and teacher. He was involved with the Palmstedt literary circle and contributed much to the establishment of Stockholm as one the leading cultural centres of Europe. Nine months after the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Kraus succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of 36.

Kraus was one of the most innovative composers of the entire century. His earliest training brought familiarity with the Italian style of the Mannheim composers, the contrapuntal rigour of Franz Xaver Richter and J. S. Bach, and the dramatic style of

C. P. E. Bach, Gluck, and Grétry. A man with many talents, he was also a theorist, pedagogue, and the author of a book of poetry and a tragedy. His compositional style features the unexpected and the dramatic, with many forward-looking stylistic devices that anticipate the music of the next century.

In all, some fourteen symphonies survive from a much larger number, a form of composition on which Kraus had embarked early in his career, completing the last a few months before his death. For example, six symphonies, written in Göttingen and described in detail in his voluminous correspondence, have been lost, as have groups of works from Buchen, Mannheim, and, possibly, Paris. What has survived, though, reveals works with an increasingly strong dramatic element. His close personal connections to literary Sturm und Drang figures, is reflected in an abundant use of minor keys, shifting dynamics, tremolo strings, and insistent rhythmic patterns. As a member of the Palmstedt circle, he was a favourite guest at gatherings and soirées, and his pupil Johan Wikmanson recorded his lively participation in festive occasions. The present release offers works that demonstrate his skill at dramatic compositions in major keys.

The Symphony in E flat major (VB 144), previously released (Naxos 8.553734), has an alternative slow movement, now given. The symphony was written, according to watermark evidence, in Rome in January 1784, and the alternative movement was probably written for the Viennese copy house of Johann Traeg, who had agreed to market Kraus’s music in Vienna and required something more modern, to suit Viennese taste. The result is this well-crafted bi-partite movement characterized by solo lines for the woodwind, Italianate sextuplets, and a thoroughly Viennese sound that is reminiscent of mature Mozart.

The Symphony in D major (VB 143) is one of three symphonies where the question of authorship has, until recently, been unclear. Multiple sources all attribute it to Joseph Haydn, including the earliest edition, published in late 1786 or early 1787 in Paris. This edition was pirated by two other publishers, including one in London. Kraus’s autograph of the symphony, however, was extant in Stockholm up to 1825, when it was destroyed in the great fire of the Royal Dramatic Theatre. A few years later the Kraus biographer Fredrik Silverstolpe noted on the back page of the autograph of another work the gist of a discussion with the Director of the Royal Opera, Carl Westerstrand, concerning the fate of this symphony, including the themes of the movements. This is clear evidence for Kraus’s authorship, and Silverstolpe closes by hoping that some private copy might survive, unaware that the symphony had already been published. A conjectural date for the work, an apparent companion piece to the Symphony in E flat major of early 1784, would be as early as August or September 1783. In his later years, Haydn mentioned to Silverstolpe that Kraus had composed a symphony especially for him and the Esterháza orchestra. Some have identified this as the Symphony in C minor, but the early connection with Haydn suggests that the Symphony in D major was the work meant. The symphony is in a three-movement form and has unusual harmonic surprises, extreme textural contrasts, and careful orchestration, with reflections of an almost Haydnesque sense of humour. The slow movement is particularly effective. Like the companion piece in E flat, the orchestra is reduced to a minimum, only a single flute and strings (including bassoon). The result is a chain of variations that begins slowly with a smooth, lyrical main theme. The flute dominates the movement with its elaborate solo line, which is imitated by the first violins in a subsequent variation. The final movement is a quick march derived from the first theme of the opening movement with decisive rhythms and sudden shifts, as if for a parade-ground about turn. This is contrasted in the second section with a running figure, and then a parallel minor alla Turca, an unusual and rather Viennese twist that lends a touch of the exotic, before the final return of the main theme.

The Symphony in F major (VB 145), the second of the three symphonies with unclear authorship, survives first in a set of parts for three symphonies issued in 1787 by the Parisian publisher Boyer, questionably attributed to Giuseppe Cambini in all cases, in spite of other attributions elsewhere. The name on the title-page, "J. Cambini", is a substitution, although the original engraved name cannot now be read, and in any case Boyer had no known association with the popular composer Cambini. The work corresponds in style to Kraus’s other symphonies and other evidence suggests Kraus’s authorship. Pater Roman Hoffstetter reported in 1800 that Kraus had presented "several pretty and brilliant symphonies" composed in Paris for publication, so that this French-style work probably dates from 1784-1786, when the composer was there. For commercial reasons Boyer substituted the better-known Cambini as composer, as by 1787 Kraus had already left Paris and Cambini was not otherwise known to object to false attributions of this kind. The symphony is in the normal Parisian/Italian three-movement form. The first opens with a slow introduction leading to a 3/4 Allegro section. Unexpected harmonic turns and sudden tremolos abound, giving a sense of drama. Structurally the second movement is a cross between a gavotte and a French rondeau. The lyrical principal theme returns three times throughout, each time with added counter-melodies in the flutes and oboes, while intervening episodes bring sharp dynamic and thematic contrasts. The finale has a fast-paced perpetual motion main theme that alternates with motivic fragments dramatically exchanged between the strings.

The Riksdagsmusiken that begins and ends this recording consists of an extended Sinfonia per la chiesa (VB146) and a March (VB 154), composed as part of the incidental music for the convening of the Swedish parliament in March 1789. Gustav III had embarked on a controversial war with Denmark and Russia a year earlier, and, despite some early victories, the conflict had stagnated. The King was in dire need of further finances to continue the war but was keenly aware that opposition to his plans had developed among the restive landed nobility and clergy. In order to further his aims, he intended to secure parliamentary approval of the Act of Union and Security that would give him broad powers over the administration of the government, the exchequer, official appointments, and legislative initiative. The war was popular with the Swedish public, whose support he sought to rally by a display of power and spectacle. Kraus was commissioned to compose music for the opening ceremonies in St Nicolai Church on 9th March, 1789, consisting of a grand procession followed by an extensive church symphony. The Riksdagsmarsch is a revision of a march composed in 1781 by Mozart, his near neighbour in Vienna in 1783, for his opera Idomeneo. In the opera, King Idomeneo returns triumphantly to Crete after a long and ultimately victorious war with Troy, to the jubilation of his people. Gustav’s own propaganda about his military victories over Russia, his support from the local populace, and the patriotic paternalistic sentiment fit the march well. Kraus’s reworking strengthens the power of the piece, with a more powerful emphasis upon the French dotted rhythms and the extended fanfare-style coda. In his revision, Kraus has not only altered substantial portions of the work, but has extended it by over twenty bars and provided for a larger orchestra through the addition of an extra pair of horns.

The second work is a sinfonia da chiesa, the sacred equivalent of the French overture. It consists of a single, large-scale movement, a lengthy introduction in a slower tempo followed by a powerful sonata-form fugue. Kraus minimized the expected dotted rhythms of the French overture, choosing a more fluid lyrical opening. The fugue itself is a rare example of complex contrapuntal writing shaped into a sonata form, replete with internal thematic development and majestic fanfares. Towards the end of the recapitulation a dominant pedal in the basses and timpani prepares the work for a dramatic conclusion, with woodwind writing that anticipates Beethoven. The effect must have contributed to the display of royal power, since the legislation was approved without delay, setting the stage for a successful conclusion to the war. For Kraus, it was the ultimate dramatic symphony; an instrumental work composed for a staged event demonstrating his skill at creating an appropriate, powerful musical underpinning of royal propaganda.

Bertil van Boer


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