About this Recording
8.572188 - SERVAIS, A.F. / GHYS, J. / LEONARD, H. / VIEUXTEMPS, H.: Grand Duos (Eichhorn, Hulshoff)
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Adrien François Servais (1807–1866) • Hubert Léonard (1819–1890)
Joseph Ghys (1801–1848) • Henry Vieuxtemps (1820–1881)
Violin and Cello Duos

 

Adrien François Servais, known as the Paganini of the cello, was born on 6 June 1807 in Halle (Hal), near Brussels, where his father was a church musician. Servais first studied the violin, but after hearing the cellist Nicolas-Joseph Platel (1777–1835), he switched his allegiance to the cello. Servais was admitted to Platel’s class in the Royal School of Music (which became the Brussels Conservatoire in 1832) at the age of twelve and soon won a premier prix. By 1829 he had become Platel’s assistant. In 1833, at the suggestion of the Belgian composer and critic François Joseph Fétis (1784–1871), he travelled to Paris, where he gave several successful concerts. This success was repeated in an 1835 Philharmonic concert in London during which Servais played his own cello concerto. It was probably during this time that he became acquainted with the music of Nicolò Paganini (1782–1840), and the great Italian became one of the great influences on him. He returned to Brussels and was soon giving very successful concerts of his own compositions. In Brussels he met the violinists Henry Vieuxtemps and Hubert Léonard, and later collaborated with them in several works, some of which are included here. All three were associated with the Brussels Conservatoire. In 1836 Servais again took to the road, going back to Paris and also appearing in Holland, Germany, France, Russia, Austria, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. On one occasion he performed Beethoven’s Trio in B flat major, Op. 97, with Felix Mendelssohn and Ferdinand David as pianist and violinist respectively. Of particular interest are his four separate trips to Russia, one of which took him as far as Siberia. He married in St Petersburg in 1849, and his last Russian tour was in 1866, shortly before his death. One Russian reviewer wrote that “there is not a single artistic quality that this unsurpassed musician does not possess”. His concert tours of Russia did much to inspire Russian cellists such as Karl Davïdov. In 1848 Servais was appointed first cellist of the Royal Chapel and a professor of cello at the Conservatoire, and while the frequency of his tours now diminished, he nevertheless continued to travel until the year of his death. He died at Hals on 26 November 1866.

The violinist Joseph Ghys was born in the Belgian city of Ghent in 1801. A pupil of Charles Lafont (1781–1839), he was among the leading players of his generation and taught in Amiens and Nantes. His concert career began in earnest in 1832 with tours of Europe. Among his compositions are a violin concerto, a string quartet, and various other works for violin. He died in St Petersburg on 22 August 1848.

Henry Vieuxtemps is one of the great names in the history of the violin. Born on 17 February 1820, in the Belgian town of Verviers, he first appeared in concert at the age of six. In 1828 he attracted the attention of Charles de Bériot (1802–1870), and he remained a pupil of the latter until 1833. In the 1830s he performed the then neglected Beethoven Violin Concerto with great success. For many years he was an itinerant virtuoso, travelling through Europe to Russia (where he was idolised), and touring the United States on three separate occasions. Vieuxtemps lived for several years in Russia (1846–1851) and Frankfurt (1855–1866), and settled in Paris in 1866. He was appointed professor of violin at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1871, a post he had to resign in 1879 owing to ill health that began with a stroke he suffered in 1873. He went to Algeria for his health and died there in 1881. His compositions include seven violin concertos and many other works for violin.

Hubert Léonard was born on 7 April 1819, at Bellaire, near Liège. He first studied the violin with his father, making his début in 1832. In the same year he entered the Brussels Conservatoire, and later studied under François-Antoine Habeneck (1781–1849) at the Paris Conservatoire. His career as a touring virtuoso began in 1845. In 1853 he succeeded Bériot as violin professor at the Brussels Conservatoire and remained there until 1866. He then went back to Paris, where he taught, composed, and performed. He returned to Belgium briefly during the Franco-Prussian War, but soon went back to Paris. He died on 6 May 1890. His compositions include five violin concertos, fantasias and other assorted works for the violin, including a cadenza to Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

The music in which Servais collaborated with Ghys, Léonard and Vieuxtemps is very much influenced by the shadow of Paganini and the extraordinary technical demands that now became normal for any virtuoso. Servais loved the fantasy form and composed sixteen such works but only three works in the more traditional concerto form. Such fantasies, sometimes called airs variés or paraphrases, enjoyed considerable popularity in the nineteenth century, based on well-known tunes, often drawn from opera. Franz Liszt wrote numerous such works for the piano, and composers for the violin or cello were no less prolific. Servais wrote fantasies based on melodies from Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Auber and Schubert, as well as works based on popular melodies or folk-tunes. These fantasies often featured free variations on a melody and were designed to show off the skill of the soloist. During Servais’ lifetime a reaction set in against such works of showmanship, and one Russian critic, for example, wrote in 1866 of Servais’ “antediluvian…fantasias on meaningless themes from Italian and French operas”. Surely this is too harsh a judgement, for, rightly considered, virtuosic fantasies are part of the great sweep of nineteenth-century romanticism, providing not only a platform for display but, in the right hands, a moving emotional experience.

An amazing aspect of the six duets included here is the fullness of sound, partly owing to the heavy use of double stops (often in both instruments at the same time) and also to the very full accompaniment of one instrument for the other, whichever is not leading with the melody (the cello is truly an equal partner), a veritable avalanche of notes that “fill in” the sound and almost give an orchestral flavour to the music. Sometimes passage-work and accompaniment have the character of tremolo, but are always effectively written. Difficulties abound: double stops, simultaneous cadenzas, alternating pizzicato and arco bowing, and numerous use of harmonics.

The Variations brillantes et concertantes sur l’air “God Save the King”, by Servais and Ghys, is a set of variations based on the British national anthem. The introduction begins fortissimo with a section marked Grave maestoso. The main theme enters simply in double stops, which soon gives way to a set of five variations.

Grand Duo de Concert No. 4 sur des motifs de l’opéra L’Africaine de Meyerbeer, by Servais and Léonard, uses melodies from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera about Vasco da Gama. The piece begins pizzicato, which ushers in a beautiful Andante con moto motif. Embedded among the operatic melodies are a theme and two variations.

The Grand Duo de Concert No. 3, by Servais and Léonard, begins with an Adagio introduction. The beautiful Moderato theme is introduced by the cello and accompanied by alternate arco and pizzicato notes in the violin and, when the violin takes up the theme, pizzicato in the cello. Two variations with ritornello follow, then an Andante and the Finale.

By Servais and Vieuxtemps, the Grand Duo sur des motifs de l’opéra Les Huguenots de Meyerbeer is based on another historical opera. The piece begins with a quiet Andante in double stops in both instruments; after a short Allegro the theme enters in the violin. Two variations follow, the second featuring a cadenza. An Andante cantabile follows with a new theme from the opera, and then a vigorous and lengthy finale.

The Grand Duo de Concert No. 2 sur des thèmes de Beethoven, by Servais and Léonard, features themes from Beethoven’s works, including the Storm and Shepherd’s Song from the Pastoral Symphony.

The Grand Duo de Concert No. 1 sur deux airs nationaux anglais, by Servais and Léonard, features God Save the King once more; its companion tune is Yankee Doodle (marked in the score as London is Out of Sorrow.) The two themes receive full virtuosic treatment and make a fitting close to the concert.


Bruce R. Schueneman


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