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8.554765 - ROMBERG: Flute Quintets, Op. 41, Nos. 1- 3

Andreas Jakob Romberg (1767-1821)

Flute Quintets, Op. 41

Andreas Jakob Romberg was born at Vechta in 1767, a member of a large family of musicians from nearby Münster. He studied with his father, the violinist Gerhard Heinrich Romberg, and as a child, together with his cousin, the cellist and composer Bernhard Heinrich Romberg, accompanied their fathers on concert tours in Germany and France. In 1790, again with his cousin, he joined the orchestra of the Archbishop-Elector in Bonn, where they were colleagues of the young Beethoven. When the French army crossed the Rhine in 1793, they escaped to Hamburg, where they joined the opera orchestra of the Ackermann Theatre. By then Andreas Jakob had already won a reputation as a composer and, above all, as a violinist.

In 1795 the Rombergs embarked on an extended concert tour of Italy, returning, in 1796, to Vienna, as Italy was threatened by the French. In Vienna they met Beethoven again and he, after some apparent difference, collaborated with them in a concert, while Bernard Heinrich joined with Beethoven in the first performance in Vienna of the latter's Opus 5 Cello Sonatas. Haydn showed considerable interest in Andreas Jakob's music, in particular his string quartets that seemed in many ways a reflection of Haydn' s own style. On one occasion Haydn is reported to have helped distribute the parts for a performance of a new string quartet which he allowed the audience to think was his, eventually, after due praise, revealing Andreas Jakob as the composer. The latter dedicated three string quartets to Haydn. The cultural bond with Vienna was crucial for Romberg's development as a composer and brought association with musicians of importance.

The Rombergs returned to Hamburg at the beginning of the new century and in 1801 visited Paris again. There the opera Don Mendoza, a collaboration between the cousins, failed and Andreas Jakob now returned to Hamburg, while Bernhard Heinrich set out on a concert tour of Spain, before joining the staff of the Paris Conservatoire. In the following year he moved to Berlin, before resuming his career as a virtuoso. Andreas Jakob remained in Hamburg during the difficult years of the French occupation of the city, eventually moving to Gotha, where he succeeded Louis Spohr as Hofkapellmeister. Suffering from ill health and later poverty, he died in Gotha in 1821.

Romberg was prolific enough as a composer. In addition to eight operas and ten symphonies, he wrote dozens of chamber pieces, characteristic of a combination of early romantic and late classical style. In many ways he may be considered representative of the virtuoso style of his day, with lyrical melodies, reflections of Sturm und Drang, the 'storm and stress' element in music of the later eighteenth century, showing the influence of his great contemporaries.

Outstanding among Romberg's eight quintets is Opus 41, a set of three brilliantly elaborated and expressively condensed four-movement compositions, a reminder of Romberg's contemporary reputation as a remarkable violinist, although his friend Spohr, who referred to him as a cultivated and subtle artist, also found his actual playing cold and dry. Romberg's flute quintets, scored for flute, violin, two violas and cello, illustrate the freshness of his musical language, with its use of dance movements and variations on well-known melodies. The Flute Quintets, Opus 41, are superb music, created as the classical style began to turn towards the romantic.

The Quintet in E minor starts with a movement in tripartite classical form, in which the first subject assumes considerable importance. A stately Minuet follows, with the flute offering a sinuous melody in the first of the two contrasting Trios. The strings open the slow movement, before the flute joins in the principal theme, leading to the well-known strains of the English national anthem, a melody that enjoyed similar use in a number of German states. The last movement finds room for a traditional display of counterpoint.

The second work here included, the Quintet in D major follows a similar pattern, a repeated exposition in the first movement leading to a central development, before the expected recapitulation. The second movement Minuet has corresponding Trios in contrast, and the slow movement Romanza is again introduced by the strings, the theme varied on the entry of the flute with the melody, against a running accompaniment. The quintet ends with a lively Rondo.

In the Quintet in F major the flute introduces an operatic melody in the style of the period, admitting, as it is developed, a measure of counterpoint and passage-work for the flute. The slow movement, placed second, offers a singing melody in a finely crafted texture, to be followed by a third movement Minuet with something of Haydn about it. This is capped by a short Vivace in conclusion.

Keith Anderson

based on notes by Egon Krák

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