About this Recording
8.550432 - REICHA: Wind Quintets, Op. 88, No. 2 and Op. 100, No. 5

Antoine Reicha (Antonin Reicha) (1770 - 1836)
Quintet in E flat major, Op. 88, No.2
Quintet in A minor, Op. 100, No.5

When Simon Reicha, Prague's town piper, died in 1771, his one-year old son Antonin was left in the care of a mother who showed neither the ability nor the inclination to look after him properly. As a result, the boy ran away to his paternal grandfather when he was only eleven years old, and from there was passed into the care of his uncle Josef, a highly respected cellist, and Konzertmeister at the celebrated court of Oettingen-Wallerstein in Schwabia. Encouraged by the prospect of a proper education and family life, Antonin set out on the journey alone, reca1ling later that the worst moment came as he tried to cross the border at Regensburg. With no documentation and speaking very little German, he waited until the customs officer had started his lunch and then feigned eye trouble, explaining that he had his papers somewhere, and wanted to visit a shrine in the hope of a miraculous cure. The ruse worked, and the bemused official allowed him to cross.

During the next three years Antonin learned to play the flute, violin and piano, and by 1785, when Josef was appointed leader of the Elector's orchestra in Bonn, his nephew was sufficiently accomplished to join him as a violinist and flautist. He can hardly have hoped for a better opportunity, for while the Elector aimed to develop Bonn as a cultural centre in the widest sense, he had a particular interest in music and also employed the young Beethoven as an organist and viola-player. The two young musicians immediately established a firm friendship, making such progress in their composition lessons with Christian Neefe that in 1792 both were offered the chance to study with Haydn in Vienna.

Beethoven took advantage of this opportunity, but Reicha remained in Bonn until 1794, when the city was occupied by Napoleon's troops and the Elector fled. Josef was too ill to travel, but fearing that his nephew would be seduced by the French army's revolutionary ideas, he insisted that Antonin should go to the relative safety of Hamburg. Reicha obeyed, but although the move gave him the opportunity to abandon orchestral playing in favour of composition, teaching and philosophy, the town's damp climate affected his health and in 1799 he moved on to Paris.

At first, Reicha enjoyed considerable popularity in the French capital, but it was not long before the city's unpredictable politics dragged him down, and in 1801 he left for the relative stability of Vienna. By now, the once close relationship between Beethoven and Haydn had soured, but during the next seven years Reicha enjoyed the friendship of both, acting as interpreter when either received French visitors, and coming to regard Haydn as something of a role model. He also continued to develop his own philosophy of music and aesthetics, however, and in 1803 published Praktische Beispiel, a set of thirty-six bizarre fugues for piano which provide a practical demonstration of his new theory of composition. This involved Reicha, an ardent champion of change, in extensive experiments with unusual rhythms, time signatures and harmonies, and led him to argue that if "old" forms such as the fugue were to reflect modern ideas composers should challenge traditions such as the need for bar-lines and the assumption that works should start and end in the same key.

The arrival of Napoleon's troops in Vienna in 1805 once again threatened to disrupt Reicha's work, and in 1808 he returned to Paris. Despite the support of his many friends there he was unable to earn a living exclusively as a composer, however, and, changing his name to Antoine Reicha, he began instead to earn a reputation as an entertaining and instructive teacher. He also continued to publish theoretical treatises on aesthetics and in 1818 was appointed to teach composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

By now, Reicha was a well-respected figure in the French musical establishment, attracting pupils such as Berlioz, Liszt, Franck and Gounod, and arousing such interest in his compositions that the promised excitement of a new wind quintet earns him a special reference in Balzac's fictional work, Les employes. Although the combination of a flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon was not entirely new, it still had the advantage of novelty when Reicha began to use it, and a performance of one of his quintets at Paris's Theatre Favart in 1817 was so well received that all twenty-four of his works in the genre were played there during the next three years. Four of the soloists, Joseph Guillou (flute), Gustav Vogt (oboe), Jacques Bouffil (clarinet) and Louis Dauprat (horn) had studied with Reicha, and with Antoine Henry on bassoon they greatly impressed a number of critics. "No description, no imagination can do justice to these compositions," wrote John Sainsbury in 1825. "The effect produced by the extraordinary combinations of apparently opposite-toned instruments, added to Reicha's vigorous style of writing and judicious arrangement, have rendered these quintets the admiration of the musical world."

Such praise, however, was by no means unanimous. Berlioz, who held negative views on most of the older Parisian musicians but had a soft spot for his old teacher, found the quintets "a little cold", and after hearing one at a Philharmonic Society Concert in 1825 a London critic described it as "one of the most intolerable pieces that we were ever condemned to hear." This view did not prevail, however, and the quintets so inspired other composers that the combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon was soon established as a standard chamber ensemble.

Reicha had written his first wind quintet in 1811, but was not entirely happy with it and after a careful study of the instruments involved wrote a further pair of "incomparably superior" works which he subsequently published as Opus 88, Nos. 1 and 2. It is likely that it was one of these which Guillou, Vogt and Henry played at a student concert at the Conservatoire on 14th April 1814 with the clarinettist Gabriel Pechignier and the horn-player Louis Colin. The remaining four quintets in Opus 88 were composed and published in 1817, and these were then followed by three further sets of six: Opus 91 in 1818, Opus 99 in 1819 and Opus 100 in 1820.

The quintet Opus 88, No.2, in E flat is a long-standing favourite with wind-players but is usually played in a cut version which also omits the traditional repeat at the end of the first movement exposition. The manuscript is lost, but the cut passages have been restored for this recording by reference to an early printed edition, and the repeats are played, as their omission is probably a printer's error. Other features of the first movement include a quotation from Beethoven's horn sonata - a work which was well known among the many fine players of the instrument in Paris - and Reicha's free interpretation of traditional sonata form: the ideas from the exposition play very little part in the development, and are then played in a different order in the recapitulation. A graceful minuet with two trios is followed by a slow theme with four variations, and the quintet ends with an irrepressible finale.

Opus 100, No. 5, in A Minor dates from September 1820. A spacious slow introduction sets the scene for an expansive first movement, which, like the same movement in Opus 88, No.2, recapitulates irregularly. This is followed by a second movement whose simple and attractive theme is treated to three frenetic variations for virtuoso horn, bassoon and oboe, and then to a fourth in which it is simply rescored. It is then the turn of the clarinet and flute, and the movement ends with a coda which returns to the mood of the opening. The third movement, a Minuet, is accompanied by a trio based on a strange fanfare-like motif, and the work ends with a movement which at first suggests sonata-form but then goes very much its own way.

John Humphries

The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet
Michael Thompson, French Horn
Jonathan Snowden, Flute
Derek Wickens, Oboe
Robert Hill, Clarinet
John Price, Bassoon

The Michael Thompson Wind Quintet came into existence under its present name in 1992, when Barry Tuckwell announced that he was leaving the Wind Quintet that bore his name. Michael Thompson, who was appointed Principal Horn in the Philharmonia Orchestra by Riccardo Muti at the age of 21, resigned from the orchestra in 1985 to pursue a solo career, which he has subsequently done with wide acclaim. Other members of the Quintet include the flautist Jonathan Snowden, appointed Principal Flute in the Orchestra of Opera North at the age of 21 and soon after to a similar position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1985 he became Principal Flute in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The oboist Derek Wickens was Principal Oboe of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for eighteen years and since 1981 has been Principal Oboe of the Opera Nationale at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels, a position that allows him more time for solo work and chamber music. He was a founder member of the Barry Tuckwell Wind Quintet. After two years as Co-Principal Clarinet in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Robert Hill joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal. He has performed widely with the Nash Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta, of which he was a founder member. John Price began his orchestral career in 1967 as Principal Bassoon in the Ulster Orchestra, moving a year later to a similar position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1977hejoined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal Bassoon, a position he still holds. He has made solo appearances with the orchestra and a number of chamber music recordings, notably with the London Sinfonietta and the London Philharmonic Wind Ensemble.

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