About this Recording
8.554447 - STAMITZ, J.: Symphonies, Vol. 2

Johann Stamitz (1717-1757)
Symphony in F major Op. 4, No. 1
Symphony in E flat major Op. 4, No. 4
Sinfonia Pastorale in D major, Op. 4, No. 2
Symphony in E flat major, Op. 4, No. 6

It would be fair to say that the name Johann Stamitz is a good deal better known than any of his compositions. The reason for this can be traced back to the early years of this century when the pioneering musicologist Hugo Riemann 'discovered' the works of Stamitz and his colleagues at the electoral court at Mannheim and announced to the world that he had established the missing link between the Baroque and Classical periods. Riemann's work did much to focus scholarly attention on the vexed question of the evolution of the symphony – although later scholars concluded quite rightly that the origins of the classical Viennese symphony were to be found in Vienna in the works of Dittersdorf, Hofmann, Vanhal, Ordonez and Haydn rather than in Mannheim – and he published many examples of the Mannheim symphony in major historical surveys. Riemann's work was done well before the great early music revival which perhaps explains why it has taken so long for the music of Stamitz and his Mannheim colleagues to gain wider fame through modern performances and recordings.

Johann Wenzel Anton Stamitz was born in Nčmecký Brod, in Bohemia, in June 1717. His father, Antonín Ignác, was organist at the Dean's Church and later became a merchant, landowner and town councilor. Johann probably received his early musical training from his father before entering the Jesuit Gymnasium in Jihlava in 1728. He is known to have been a student in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Prague during the academic year 1734-35 and is thought to have left the University in order to establish a career as a violin virtuoso. Stamitz was probably engaged as a violinist by the Mannheim Court from 1741 to 42. The earliest known reference to a concert appearance by him occurs in an advertisement for a concert in Frankfurt am Main on 29th June, 1742 at which he was to perform alternately on the violin, viola d'amore, cello and double bass as well as furnishing a concerto for two orchestras of his own composition. Stamitz's professional career took off in Mannheim. In 1743 he was named First Court-Violinist; in 1745 or 1746 (the date is uncertain) he was awarded the title Konzertmeister and in 1750, was named to the newly-created post of Instrumental-Music Director.

Under the Elector Carl Theodor (1724-99), an enlightened ruler with strong interests in philosophy, science and the arts, the court at Mannheim became one of the most glittering in Europe. Although an important patron of art and literature, Carl Theodor's central interest was music and he spared neither effort nor expense in building his court into one of the leading musical centres in Europe. In addition to presenting regular productions of new operas and ballets, the Mannheim Court engaged a number of exceptional musicians, among them Franz Xaver Richter, the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, Ignaz Holzbauer and the cellists Innocenz Danzi and Anton Fils (Filtz), all of whom played in the incomparable orchestra led by Johann Stamitz.

The Mannheim orchestra presented weekly academies in the Rittersaal (the Knight's Hall) at the Electoral Palace. These academies were relatively informal social gatherings and visitors were often given standing room to hear the performance. The academies were the primary responsibility of the Concertmeister and Stamitz was required to prepare and conduct the performance, perform occasional concertos and provide orchestral compositions of his own. While the orchestra achieved its greatest fame in the two decades following Stamitz's death, there can be little doubt that he provided the original impetus toward the development of its new style of accurate, precise performance. Dr Charles Burney, the English music historian, observed: "indeed, there are more solo players, and good composers in this, than perhaps in any other orchestra in Europe; it is an army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle, as to fight it”.

In the late summer of 1754, Stamitz undertook a year-long journey to Paris, appearing there for the first time in a Concert spirituel on the 8th September, 1754. While in Paris he lived at Passy in the palace of the fermier général A.J.J. Le Riche de la Pouplinière, a wealthy amateur whose private orchestra he conducted, and was also active in public concerts in the French capital, appearing with particular success at the Concerts italiens.>

Stamitz probably returned to Mannheim in the autumn of 1755, dying there less than two years later at the age of thirty-nine. The official record of his death reads:

"March 30, 1757. Buried, Jo'es Stainmiz, director of court music, so expert in his art that his equal will hardly he found. Rite provided".

Although Stamitz's music was well-known in Paris before his visit there in 1754-1755 his presence in the French capital stimulated an intense level of interest in his work. One manifestation of this was the rapid publication of many of his symphonies in the late 1750s and, perhaps, the composition of works like the famous Orchestral Trios Op. 1 which were surely intended for his new public.

The six Symphonies Op. 4 were published in Paris by Huberty in 1758, a year after the composer's death, and include among their number two of Stamitz's fascinating Orchestral Trios (Wolf Cm-1 and Gm-1) which may be played either as trios or by a small string orchestra. The remaining works appear to have been composed over a period of approximately seven years, which argues against the likelihood of them having been conceived as a set. It is possible, however, that Stamitz sanctioned the grouping for the purposes of publication prior to his death, since the Op. 4 set is a good deal more convincing than, for example, the Op. 8 set which includes three works in the same key. According to Eugene K. Wolf, the authority on Stamitz's symphonies, the earliest work in the group is probably Op. 4, No. 4 (ca.1750-1753) while the second, styled Sinfonia Pastorale, may be among the last symphonies Stamitz wrote. The two trios also appear to be late works and may have been written after the composer's return to Mannheim.

The first symphony on this recording, Op 4, No. 1, was written some time between 1752 and 1754. Like the majority of Stamitz's mature symphonies the work is cast in four movements and scored for the archetypal early classical orchestra of oboes, horns and strings. The first movement is a fine example of Stamitz's mature structural planning. The distinctive triadic opening theme delineates the beginning of the central 'development' phase of the movement and is employed at the very end of the movement to bring it to a strong close rather than in its more typical position at the start of the recapitulation section. The brief crescendo passage – a hallmark of the composer's later works – also serves an important structural rôle in the movement and is not there merely for effect. After the drive of the opening Allegro molto, the Andante strikes a more languid and relaxed tone with its frequent appoggiatura 'sighs'. The wind instruments, omitted in the Andante, make a welcome return in Minuetto and Stamitz uses them with great flair in the succeeding Trio. The energetic finale is as skillfully crafted as the first movement and makes use of many of the same structural techniques. Whereas many composers of the period were writing light, vapid finales Stamitz took care that his retained a comparable level of intensity to first movements, while being generally lighter in character, as can be heard immediately in the finale of Op. 4, No. 1.

The Symphony in E flat major, Op. 4, No. 4, is probably the earliest work in the set, composed during the period between 1750-1753. Much of what was written about Op. 4 No. 1 applies to this work and the remaining symphonies in the set. Stamitz's deft handling of his orchestral forces is evident not only in his use of the oboes to carry material of thematic importance, but in the way in which he deploys the wind instruments to strengthen the overall orchestral texture. This is most evident in the outer movements of the symphony but is also apparent in the beautifully-­written pair of minuets which follow the beguiling Andante which is, curiously, also in E flat major.

The Sinfonia Pastorale in D, Op. 4, No. 2, one of the last symphonies Stamitz composed, belongs to one of the most popular 'characteristic' genres of the eighteenth century: the pastoral symphony. Although many works of this type were intended for performance in church for the Feast of the Nativity, a great many more were doubtless composed for purely secular occasions. Most rely heavily on stock devices such as drone basses and 'yodelling' themes although some composers took care to introduce rather more sophisticated allusions to the Nativity. In Stamitz's case he quotes the old Bohemian carol Nesem vám noviny in the finale, a melody which would have been instantly recognisable to contemporary audiences.

The final work on this recording, the Symphony in E flat major Op. 4, No. 6, was probably composed around 1753-1755, and doubtless intended for performance in Paris. Like the other symphonies in the set, Op. 4, No. 6 is remarkable for the sophistication of its musical structures and the brilliance of its orchestration. Its emotional centre of gravity is the marvellous C minor Adagio second movement with its sudden and dramatic changes of dynamics and tautly constructed melodic lines which look forward to the fully-fledged classical style.

Close the window