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8.554200 - HAGEN: Lute Sonatas / Locatelli Variations

Joachim Bernhard Hagen (1720-1787)
Solo Works for Lute

For German aristocrats of the eighteenth century, cultivation of the arts was almost a moral duty. Their education was founded upon a re-interpretation of Classical ideals, and a deep appreciation of literature, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture and music was seen to exert a degree of moderation on, and compensation for, the harshness of their responsibilities within the elaborate hierarchy of absolutism. For some noble men and women, those blessed with more than average aptitude and the means to indulge it, music became something of a preoccupation, filling their considerable hours of leisure in a productive and fulfilling way. Usually, the same persons were enthusiastic patrons and often practitioners of the other arts as well, and just as they employed the finest musicians they could afford, they surrounded themselves with talented writers, painters and architects, whose legacy forms the foundation of today's European tourist industry. The very permanence of the buildings, gardens, paintings and sculptures of the German Schlösser would give much satisfaction to the original artists' patrons, yet, with a few obvious exceptions, the music that once filled these marvellous spaces is rather little known.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the small Bavarian town of Bayreuth, a location indelibly associated with the music and royal patronage of a later period altogether – the music-dramas of Richard Wagner, and his eccentric patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Although the town is – culturally at least – dominated by the massive solidity of Wagner's Festspielhaus, its real architectural treasures are of the eighteenth century, and it is easy to forget that Wagner at first performed his operas in a much earlier Bayreuth building. This was the magnificent Markgräfliches Opernhaus (architecture by Saint-Pierre, interior by Giuseppe and Carlo Galli-Bibiena, opened 1748), one of the glories of eighteenth-century theatre design, which even in the early twentieth century was listed as having the third-biggest stage in Europe, and whose 250th anniversary has recently been celebrated in fine style. Eighteenth-century opera, of course, was a truly multimedia experience, a union of the arts in celebration of the beneficial effects of absolutism, and was the art-form towards which almost all aristocrats naturally aspired.

The driving force behind Bayreuth's first opera-house was the Margravine, Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia (1709-58), who married Friedrich, Prince of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, Margrave of Bayreuth, in 1735. The musical abilities as performer and composer of Wilhelmina's brother, Friedrich II, Crown-Prince and later King of Prussia, known to history as Frederick the Great, are well known, as is his important rôle as a musical patron, albeit a somewhat conservative one, of such luminaries as Quantz, Benda, Graun and two famous Bachs, Carl Philipp Emanuel and his father Johann Sebastian. It is perhaps less well known that his sisters, Wilhelmina and Anna Amalia, were no less talented, and both active as composers and patrons.

Wilhelmina and Frederick were exceptionally close siblings, and their mutual correspondence poignantly underlines the agonies as well as the joys of royal responsibility. Encouraged by their mother, Queen Sophia Dorothea, daughter of George I, Elector of Hanover and King of England, their youth was given over in large part to the study of music, in which they both excelled. In Frederick's case, his brutish father's opposition to such an effete, Frenchified pastime, which the King pursued with nothing less than brutality, served only to reinforce the young Prince's near-obsession with music. Whenever his father was well out of earshot, Frederick could indulge his art with freedom, and a spectacular opportunity arose when the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, August II 'Der Starke' ('August the Strong'), visited Berlin in August 1728, bringing his principal musicians with him, including the flautists Buffardin and Quantz, the violinist Pisendel and the great lutenist, Silvius Leopold Weiss. When the two Kings left Berlin together on military exercises, the young prince and princesses were in a state of musical ecstasy, organizing and playing in concerts daily. Frederick's instrument was the flute, and he immediately attempted to engage Quantz as a teacher, although it was several years before he was able to leave the Saxon court orchestra. Wilhelmina mostly played the lute at this time, an instrument on which she excelled, as she did on the harpsichord; both were instruments considered suitable for ladies to play, unlike wind instruments or the violin.

Both Frederick and Wilhelmina took lute lessons from Weiss at this time, and were clearly in awe of his almost legendary powers; in her memoirs, Wilhelmina speaks of 'the famous Weiss, who excels so strongly on the lute that he never had an equal and that those who come after him will only have the glory of imitating him.' When Wilhelmina moved to Bayreuth after her marriage in 1735, her new husband (perhaps at her suggestion) had employed in the previous year a former pupil of Weiss, Adam Falckenhagen, as court-lutenist. On her arrival she set about reviving the somewhat enfeebled musical establishment she found in her new home.

Wilhelmina's marriage had a rather inauspicious start. Her parents hoped to wed her to a cousin, the English Prince of Wales, Frederick Louis, and the diplomatic negotiations dragged on for years to no-one's credit until the English side abruptly backed out, leading to a state of anti-British feeling which remained a permanent feature of the Prussian dynasty. Yet in Friedrich, Margrave of Bayreuth, like her similarly-named brother a skilled flute-player, Wilhelmina was to find a sympathetic partner, whose cultural tastes matched her own, but who did not have the means to indulge them. She immediately called on Prussian financial and artistic resources, firing off letters to her brother in which she asked him for help above all in providing musicians. In later years Quantz was to become a frequent visitor, and he supplied both instruments and music to the Margrave at Wilhelmina's bidding.

Among the musicians supplied from Berlin resources was the brilliant violinist, Johann Pfeiffer (1697-1761), who was set to work recruiting players for the orchestra from all over Germany. Although the Kapelle established by Pfeiffer at Bayreuth was not quite the equal of the constellations of talent to be found at Berlin or Dresden, it was of a very high calibre, and provided a firm basis on which the Margrave and Margravine were to build, a process culminating in the building of the opera-house in the following decade.

Pfeiffer engaged as his deputy a very young violinist from Hamburg, Bernhard Joachim Hagen (1720-87), who joined the Bayreuth pay-roll in 1737. The Margrave also seems to have funded Hagen's education, and it is clear that he was at least partially trained as violinist and composer by Pfeiffer. However, the Rotterdam organist, Peter Albert van Hagen, who has recently been shown to be Bernhard Joachim's brother, studied the violin in his youth with the great Francesco Geminiani, and it is not impossible that the Bayreuth Hagen also benefited directly from the Italian tradition from the same teacher. Adam Falckenhagen (1697-1754) was employed at Bayreuth from 1734 and was succeeded as lutenist and chamber musician on his death by Paul Charles Durant, not by Hagen, as has sometimes been supposed; Hagen's post was exclusively as a violinist. In 1745 he married a girl from Bayreuth, Anna Fikentscher, who was to survive him by two years, and he moved to Ansbach along with most of the other musicians in 1769 when the Bayreuth court was dissolved.

Although he was principally a violinist, Hagen must have studied the lute from an early age. No doubt he took some lessons from Falckenhagen, and it is evident from the fine and technically challenging lute music he has left to us (only a single violin sonata attributed to him survives), which includes chamber music and concertos as well as the solos recorded here, that he was a highly gifted performer. Yet we have no documentary record of his lute-playing in Bayreuth or Ansbach. Possibly professional or court protocol prevented him from thus usurping the position held by Falckenhagen and Durant. Yet he must have performed there in private, and it is known that he performed on the lute with his brother on a visit during 1760 and 1761 to Rotterdam. In a series of newspaper advertisements he is mentioned as 'the famous lutenist and chamber musician of his Highness the Margrave of Brandenburg-Bayreuth', and he played not only solos, but lute duets with his brother, violin concertos and a 'Concert en Trio on the lute'. A number of his lute sonatas were advertised for sale by the Leipzig publisher Breitkopf in a catalogue of 1769 together with lute music by Weiss and Durant, so we can be sure that he had some considerable reputation as a lutenist outside Bayreuth, at a time when the lute itself was becoming a rarity.

The lute music of Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750) was in some senses a culmination of an old tradition. To the French-derived German suite-style in which he was clearly well-schooled by his father, Weiss, like other composers of his generation, added new Italianate ingredients: motor-rhythms and instrumental virtuosity, a structural use of sequence and harmonic progressions to build and relax tension, and, as was noted by his contemporary, Ernst Gottlieb Baron, an affective use of the cantabile style adapted with great skill from the operatic style to the special character of his instrument. While his pupils, such as Falckenhagen and Johann Kropfgans, were the inheritors of this Weissische Art, their musical priorities required them to follow the changes in musical fashion that in some ways had left Weiss behind in much the same way as they did his great contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach. In the music of these later lutenists, the cantabile style predominates, with an increased polarisation between tune and bass-line and an infrequent use of any inner parts in the texture.

Hagen' s music for lute is found in a single source, a large manuscript now in the Stadtbibliothek in Augsburg. In addition to the solo and chamber works of Hagen, the collection contains many arrangements, including songs, chamber works and even concertos by Haydn, Pfeiffer, Geminiani, Giardini, Arne and Royce among many others. It is remarkable how Hagen's command of the instrument, just as in Weiss's music, manifests itself in some fleeting effect that is unique to the lute, and it seems certain that his solo sonatas, at least, were originally conceived for the instrument. This is mid-eighteenth-century 'pre-classical' music of technical brilliance and melodic grace Performed on the lute it assumes a whole new dimension of sensibility and resonance, and it must have been a delight to Princess Wilhelmina in her later years of illness when she had more-or-less abandoned the lute in favour of the harpsichord.

Indeed, one has the uneasy feeling that in fact Hagen was a better composer than either Falckenhagen or Durant, and that he had to tread a somewhat delicate path in promoting his own skills in Bayreuth. He must have been a fine performer, too; just an inkling of his ability as an improviser can be gained from the numerous short written-out cadenzas that are provided at suitable points in his sonatas and ensemble music. Among the many versions of music by other composers in the Augsburg collection (which seems likely to have been compiled by Hagen himself) the variations by Locatelli are a good example of how the German violin-playing lutenist adapted music by the Italian violinist-composer (who had settled in Amsterdam, and may have been known to Bernard Joachim's brother). To a selection of Locatelli's original variations on a minuet-like theme from the Violin Sonata Op. 8, No. 6 (also found in a version in concerto grosso scoring, Op. 4, No. 10), Hagen adds a final one, apparently of his own composition.

In the music of Bernhard Joachim Hagen we find a unique voice in the waning days of the lute's long history. His pieces are the last major contribution to the lute repertoire, and present us with a fascinating glimpse of the period's changing musical tastes as captured on the lute. In a time when the lute had virtually disappeared from the European musical scene, Hagen's masterful use of the instrument and melodic gift ensure his place as the last great lute virtuoso.

Tim Crawford would like to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance and new information given by Per Kjetil Farstad (Kristiansand, Norway) in the preparation of these notes.

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