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8.572019 - SAINT-LUBIN, L. de: Violin Virtuoso Works, Vol. 1 - Grand Duo Concertant / 2 Salonstucke / Potpourri (Khitruk, Kopelman)
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Léon de Saint-Lubin (1805–1850)
Virtuoso Works for Violin

 

Léon de Saint-Lubin, originally Napoléon-Antoine-Eugène-Léon de Saint-Lubin, was born on 5 July 1805 in Turin, the son of an officer who emigrated to Italy after the French Revolution and who was active as a language teacher in Italy. Little is known about his life. No recent dictionaries of music contain his name and no music academic has researched his biography. It can be gathered from earlier literature that in 1809 the boy moved with his family to Hamburg, where his musical education began. At first he was taught to play the harp and later the violin, which became his principal instrument. He first appeared before the public at the age of nine, performing a violin concerto and winning great approval. In 1817 he made guest appearances in Berlin and Dresden. It was in Dresden that he had lessons with the violinist Giovanni Battista Polledro, the same Polledro with whom Beethoven gave a concert in the summer of 1812 in Karlsbad. In 1818 Saint-Lubin went to Frankfurt-on-Main and became a pupil of the famous violinist and composer Louis Spohr. After that he travelled around Germany and in the autumn of 1820 made his Vienna début playing a violin concerto by his teacher Spohr. For ten years the musical capital of Austria became his home; here he also received intensive lessons in composition and, at an early age, published his first works.

A remarkable episode for Saint-Lubin was a meeting with Beethoven, who dedicated a little cadenza to the violinist. The occasion was the re-opening of the Josephstadt Theatre where a festival production of Die Weihe des Hauses (The Consecration of the House) by the theatre director Carl Meisl was being given—with incidental music by Beethoven—in which Saint-Lubin had to play a violin solo. The autograph manuscript which Beethoven subsequently dedicated to him consisted of two lines of music written in pencil. Underneath Saint-Lubin noted: “In Beethoven’s hand. A cadenza which he wrote down for me, when I performed a violin solo on 3 October 1822 on the occasion of the opening of the imperial and royal private theatre in Josephstadt.” Later the sheet of music was in the possession of the Austrian National Library in Vienna and bore the shelf-mark Sm 3154. Unfortunately it went missing during the Second World War. In Willy Hess’s index of Beethoven’s works it bears the number 296. One of the few contemporaries to mention Saint-Lubin is Julius Benedict, a pupil of Carl Maria von Weber. He met Saint-Lubin in October 1823, shortly before the première of Weber’s opera Euryanthe, on a visit as a regular customer to the legendary music shop of Sigmund Anton Steiner and Tobias Haslinger at 572 Paternostergassel. Presumably he got to know Beethoven here, as well as Schubert who, likewise, was also often to be found in Steiner’s shop. Saint-Lubin also frequented the houses of the music-loving Viennese aristocracy and appeared there in private concerts. Together with Beethoven’s friend Karl Holz he was a regular visitor of the lawyer and friend of Schubert, Ignaz von Sonnleithner, in whose house string quartets, as well as orchestral works, were performed.

In 1823 Saint-Lubin became the leader and, in 1827, second director of music at the Josephstadt Theatre, but then he withdrew completely from public view. Inspired by the appearances in Vienna of the phenomenal violinist Nicolò Paganini, Saint-Lubin wanted to perfect his own skills on the instrument. During this period he lived in Hungary in the house of a patron, the Hungarian Count Ladislaus Festetics de Tolna (1785–1846). After returning to Vienna Saint-Lubin once again enjoyed much success in the capital’s musical life, gave concerts and performed several of his operas. In 1830 he was appointed concert-master of the Royal Municipal Theatre in Berlin and remained there until 1847. In his Berlin house he put on concerts and quartet evenings, at which famous musicians such as Louis Spohr, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Franz Liszt could be heard. After many years of illness he died on 13 February 1850, at the age of only 44.

Saint-Lubin left behind a wide variety of works, of which only a small number, about fifty, were published. His operas, symphonies and five violin concertos remain unpublished. He himself considered his most important work to be his Octet, Op. 33, written for the delightful combination of piano, flute, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, viola, cello and double-bass. It was published in 1835 by Anton Diabelli in Vienna. An unknown friend wrote about the piece in a short biography of Saint-Lubin which appeared on 17 February 1833 in the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. Today Saint-Lubin is almost completely forgotten, although his compositions were highly thought of in his time and were distinguished by great originality and creative power. These qualities apply especially to the works for solo violin. The great Hungarian violinist Jenő Hubay (1858–1937) re-edited some of these and also performed them, although without having been able to get them accepted with any regularity into the concert repertoire. For virtuoso violinists these works represent a welcome addition to the relatively limited repertoire of music for solo violin.

The Grand Duo Concertant in the form of a Sonata, Op. 49, for violin and piano, is a four-movement work that is an important contribution to the genre of the violin sonata. It was published in 1847 by the publishing house Schuberth, which had its headquarters in Hamburg and Leipzig. It shows Saint-Lubin to be an extremely experienced composer who knew not only how to write for the violin, but for the piano as well. The melodic structure, especially in the first movement, is very memorable and attains at times a Schubert-like quality. Special mention should be made of the masterly Scherzo, which is the second movement and takes Beethoven as its model.

Saint-Lubin’s Fantasy on a theme from Lucia di Lammermoor, Op. 46, for violin solo, is based on Gaetano Donizetti’s tragic opera Lucia di Lammermoor, which had its première on 26 September 1835 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and today is considered to be the pinnacle of bel canto opera. Lucia’s mad scene “Il dolce suono—spargi d’amaro pianto” (“The sweet sound—shed your bitter tears”) is particularly well-known to every opera-lover. The sextet “Chi mi frena in tal momento” (“What restrains me at this moment?”), which Saint-Lubin chose as the theme for his Fantasy, is the climax of the second act. Here Edgardo, Lucia’s lover, curses her for her supposed infidelity, after he has learned that she will marry someone else. He does not know that she has been forced into doing so. Saint-Lubin’s work appeared in 1844 and in its mere 64 bars exploits all the possibilities of the violin: complicated multiple-stopping, harmonics, various tremolo effects, dashing arpeggios across all four strings and the simultaneous use of arco (bowed) and pizzicato (plucked) playing. It is clear that Saint-Lubin wrote the piece for himself to play. It is an impressive demonstration of his enormous ability as a violinist. The Original Theme and Study by S. Thalberg, transcribed for solo violin, Op. 45(a), is simply an arrangement for solo violin of a piano study by Sigismund Thalberg, one of the most successful pianists and composers of his time. The great skill with which Saint-Lubin sympathetically turns the piano work into a piece for solo violin and in the process, as in the previous piece, uses every possible device of violin technique, makes it ultimately a genuine work for solo violin. Of the works of this forgotten composer included here it is surely one of the most impressive and, what is more, is a showpiece for the violin virtuoso who is a match for its enormous technical difficulties. The first edition of the work, published by Pietro Mechetti in Vienna, is dedicated to two slight acquaintances, Antonio Bazzini and Camillo Sivori.

Adagio religioso, Op. 44, for violin and piano, which was published in 1842, concentrates completely on the singing quality of the violin. The piano, on the other hand, seems generally to be reduced to a simple accompanying rôle.

Saint-Lubin’s Pot-pourri on Different Themes from Auber’s opera La Fiancée, Op. 35, for violin and piano, is based on an opera by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber with a libretto by Eugène Scribe which had its première at the Salle Feydeau in Paris on 10 January 1829, just ten months after the huge triumph of the same composer’s La Muette de Portici. The opera is light and sits within the characteristic French tradition of the opéra-comique. The piece was set not in Paris, but in Vienna. On the strength of the melodic elegance of the music it is not surprising that several extracts became very popular, especially the Tyrolean Montagnard ou berger (Montagnard or shepherd) “Is der Bua frisch und g’sund” (“Is Bua happy and healthy”) and the canonic trio “Où trouver le bonheur” (“Where to find happiness”). Soon afterwards, when Auber celebrated his greatest success with the robber-opera Fra Diavolo (1830), La Fiancée fell into obscurity—unjustly so, as Saint-Lubin’s inventive paraphrase demonstrates. The pot-pourri on themes from favourite operas was a completely respectable genre in the nineteenth century and reached its peak in the highly virtuosic operatic paraphrases of Franz Liszt.

Two Salon Pieces. Two Nocturnes in Andante form, No. 1 followed by a Rondino. No. 2 followed by a Polonaise, Op. 47, for violin and piano, with its somewhat complicated title, really consists of four separate pieces which Saint-Lubin brought together into two discrete numbers. The closing Polonaise is particularly effective and direct and is attractive on account of its concise melodic characteristics. Saint-Lubin dedicated the pieces to the Count of Westmoreland, British ambassador to the Prussian court in Berlin.


Klaus Martin Kopitz
English translation: David Stevens


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