About this Recording
8.570320 - PLEYEL, I.: Symphonies Concertantes / Violin Concerto in D Major (Perry, V. Chiang, Lippi, Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Thakar)
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Ignaz Pleyel (1757–1831)
Symphonie Concertante in B flat (Benton 112)
Symphonie Concertante in A (Benton 114)
Violin Concerto in D (Benton 103/103A)

 

Ignaz Pleyel was not a prolific composer of concertos by the standards of the age. His cultivation of the genre was sporadic and connected directly with his professional activities. The majority of the nine authentic works were composed between about 1787 and 1790 when Pleyel was working in Strasbourg, initially as deputy to Franz Xaver Richter, the Cathedral Maître de Chapelle, and after Richter’s death in 1789 as his successor. One further concerto was published in 1797. The two latest datable works—the Concertos in D (Benton 105) and C (Benton 106) were conceived in parallel versions. This is a late development in Pleyel’s thinking and in the case of Benton 106, which was issued in three versions, one undoubtedly influenced by his own activities as a publisher. The absence of concertos from the earliest years of Pleyel’s professional career probably indicates more a lack of opportunity to write in the medium than a lack of interest in it. Nonetheless, it is possible that the relatively minor rôle that the concerto played in Haydn’s professional life, particularly in the 1770s, also exerted an influence on Pleyel during his formative years as Haydn’s pupil.

The symphonies concertantes present a similar picture. The earliest of them dates from 1786 and was presumably composed for Pleyel’s concerts in Strasbourg. Benton 112 (1791)—a double concerto for violin and viola in all but name—is the first of the post-Revolutionary symphonies concertantes and the occasion for which it was written is uncertain. We do know from several English editions, however, that the work was performed in London “with the greatest Applause at the Nobility’s Concerts”. Two works—Benton 113 and 114 —were composed in 1792 for the Professional Concerts in London and their performances there and reception are well documented. The origins of the Symphonie Concertante in F for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon and Horn (Benton 115), however, are rather less certain although the evidence points to a composition date ca 1802. Once again, there are no early works in the genre. The symphonie concertante was not cultivated by Viennese composers although Leopold Hofmann wrote several fine double concertos and some rather novel concertinos with two, three and four solo instruments that may have been known to Pleyel. His own works belong to the Mannheim and French traditions which is hardly surprising given the course of his professional life. As with the solo concertos, two of the symphonies concertantes were issued in parallel versions. Benton 112, originally written for violin and viola, was published in a transcription for keyboard and viola; Benton 114, the Symphonie Concertante in A (for two violins), was also issued in an authentic version for keyboard and violin.

Pleyel adopted two structural and stylistic types in his symphonies concertantes. The first of these is symphonic in orientation but differs from the conventional symphony in including prominent solo parts for a distinct concertato group. First movements are light in thematic development preferring instead to exploit the textural and timbral possibilities afforded by the unusual scoring of the works. All three of the symphonies concertantes of this type include a theme and variations movement. The second type—which is represented by the two symphonies concertantes on this recording—is more closely related to the concerto. The first movements of these works are indistinguishable structurally from those of a solo concerto although they are more expansive in their presentation and exploration of thematic material owing to the need to give both solo instruments equal prominence. It is in their larger cyclic structures that these symphonies concertantes differ from Pleyel’s solo concertos with their typical three-movement form. The Symphonie Concertante in B flat (Benton 112) is cast in two movements—an opening Allegro and a Rondo (which has a brief final section in a new tempo and metre) without the customary central slow movement—and the Symphonie Concertante in A (Benton 114) follows a similar pattern but for the addition of a multi-partite / multi-tempo central movement of a kind not encountered in Pleyel’s solo concertos. The two-movement structure of Benton 112 is common in this type of work and is encountered frequently in the works of French composers and those, such as Pleyel, writing principally for the French market.

Pleyel’s symphonies concertantes are characteristic expressions of his idiosyncratic style. They are expansive, leisurely-paced works, texturally transparent in their solo sections and rich in melodic invention. Their emphasis on melody rather than on complex thematic manipulation and development, a by-product of Pleyel’s fascination with the Italianate style, marks a significant stylistic departure from the works of Haydn and no doubt contributed to the phenomenal contemporary popularity of the works. Although Pleyel courted popularity in that he respected current fashions and local tastes, he approached the composition of works such as the symphonies concertantes with great care and professionalism, aiming always to please his performers as much as his public. That he succeeded in the case of the Symphonie Concertante in A is evident from the review of its première printed in The Oracle the following day (13 March 1792):

PLEYEL had written a Concertante for two Violins, to usher into public the young CRAMER, who sustained with great skill the responsive part to his Father, and often when his timidity subsided, evinced his hereditary value. The second movement was highly applauded and had abundant merit.

The Violin Concerto in D (Benton 103/103A) is unique among Pleyel’s concertos and symphonies concertantes in being preserved in two versions. The chronological sequence of the two versions appears to be clear enough from the bibliographic record but precise composition dates are not. The earliest known reference to the work is its appearance in Supplement XVI (1785–87) of the Breitkopf Catalogue. From the catalogue entry it seems likely that Breitkopf had acquired the work in manuscript and as there was generally a delay of a year or two between a work’s composition and its appearance in the catalogue the Violin Concerto may have been composed in the early 1780s. A number of conservative features in Benton 103—both of a structural and stylistic kind—lend support to the idea that the work was composed relatively early in Pleyel’s professional career. All of the earliest printed editions of the work, including those of Artaria, Bossler, Boyer and Longman, are of Benton 103 and were issued before mid-July 1788. Longman and Broderip’s title page styles the work “A Favorite Concerto for a Violino Principale”: this may be mere publishers’ puff but it does suggest that the work may have been known in London as early as April 1788. This edition appears to predate those printed on the continent.

The earliest prints of Benton 103A, however, also appeared in 1788. The first of these was issued by Boyer, who made no mention in his advertisement dated 17 October that he had already issued Benton 103 several months earlier. The reasons for not doing so are perhaps implicit in the wording of the advertisement:

Mr Pleyel asks us to announce that he repudiates this same Concerto as it was printed in London; he has completely revised it, added a new Rondo, and has had it engraved in this form by Mr Boyer.

Longman & Broderip’s “Favorite Concerto” was anything but Pleyel’s it seems.

To repudiate the work thus in print is an unusual step and also indicates that Bossler’s dedication of the selfsame version of the concerto to “Mr. de St George, Docteur en Droits” may not have originated with the composer. Even without Boyer’s advertisement there is ample bibliographical evidence that Benton 103A represents the officially-sanctioned version of the work. Thirteen prints appeared in Pleyel’s lifetime compared with just four of Benton 103; critically, this version was also issued by Imbault in 1793 and by Pleyel’s own company several years later.

The revisions to Benton 103 fall into three broad categories: revision of structure, revision of substance and revision of detail. While all three elements, if believed by the composer to be unsatisfactory, would certainly demand a substantial revision of the work, it is equally true that a simpler and more practical course of action might be to write an entirely new work. And this poses the most fundamental question in relation to Benton 103: why did Pleyel choose to revise the work and not compose a new concerto? Critical to understanding Pleyel’s decision-making process is to establish the sequence in which the work was undertaken. Did he begin by revising the first two movements and then, upon reaching the finale, throw up his hands in despair and set about writing a new movement? Or did he first compose the Rondo, possibly intending to write an entirely new concerto, but, pressed for time, resorted to revising the first two movements of Benton 103 in order to repackage the whole as a new work? The first scenario implies a critical response to the earlier work; the second, an expedient one. Both, it may be assumed, were connected in some way with the need for Pleyel to furnish a new concerto but the two alternatives cast a radically different light on the nature of the revision.

The keys to unravelling the mystery lie, I believe, in the composition of the new finale, its impact on the cycle as a whole, and Pleyel’s attitude to the original closing movement. Finding himself in need of a violin concerto for his concerts in Strasbourg and aware that the finale of Benton 103 (a lengthy movement written in the hybrid sonata-ritornello form typically encountered in Viennese concertos) was not to local taste, he composed a new movement, a Rondeau, and then, possibly because time was lacking to compose a further two movements, set about revising an older concerto which he clearly thought was not without merit. The first movement perhaps seemed too long for the new finale and Pleyel shortened it drastically, retaining much of the original thematic material and solo work but introducing some new material and refining other sections. The second movement was halved in length but with such an emphasis on the recomposition of the solo part that Pleyel effectively created an entirely new movement. Precisely when this work was undertaken is uncertain but it may have been sometime in the early part of 1788 when Pleyel first was made aware of the publication of the concerto in London.

The relationship between the two versions of the Violin Concerto is a fascinating one and provides a unique insight into Pleyel’s creative thinking. In spite of his disavowal of the earlier version of the work, all three movements are fine examples of their kind and a good deal of material was sacrificed in the revision which was of great musical interest. This recording presents the first two movements of the original together with the new finale which may have prompted the revision of the entire work. The original finale is offered as a bonus track: instructions for accessing it are printed on the tray card.


Allan Badley


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