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8.554777 - KRAUS: Symphonies, Vol. 3

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792): Symphonies, Volume 3

Joseph Martin Kraus can be considered one of the most talented and unusual composers of the eighteenth century. Born in the central German town of Miltenburg am Main, he received his earliest formal education in nearby Buchen and at the Jesuit Gymnasium and Music Seminar in Mannheim, where he studied German literature and music. Following studies in law at the universities in Mainz and Erfurt, Kraus spent a year at home in Buchen in 1775-1776 while his father was undergoing indictment for misuse of office, a charge later dropped. In 1776 he resumed his studies in law at Göttingen University, coming under the influence of the remnants of the Göttinger Hainbund, a Sturm und Drang literary circle. In 1778 he published his treatise Etwas van und über Musik, which is one of the few actual theoretical works devoted to the adaptation of Sturm und Drang literary philosophy to music.

In 1778 with the encouragement of fellow student Carl Stridsberg, the composer decided to dedicate his life to music and to seek employment in Sweden at the court of Gustav III. Although promised a position, he found it difficult to break into the cultural establishment of Stockholm, and for the next two years he faced dire economic circumstances as he attempted to overcome the political obstacles. His opera Azire was rejected by the Royal Academy of Music, but in 1780 he was commissioned to compose a trial work, Proserpin, whose text had been conceived by the king himself. Its successful private performance at Ulriksdal in 1781 brought an appointment as deputy Kapellmästare and in 1782 a grand tour of Europe at Gustav's expense to view the latest in musical and theatrical trends. This took him throughout Germany, Vienna, Italy, England, and France where he met major figures of the period such as Gluck and Haydn.

Kraus returned to Stockholm in 1787 and the following year was appointed as First Kapellmästare and director of curriculum at the Royal Academy of Music. For the next several years he achieved a reputation in Stockholm for his disciplined conducting, his activities as a composer, and his rigorous pedagogical standards. He was a participant in the Palmstedt literary circle and contributed much to the establishment of Stockholm as one the leading cultural centres of Europe. Following the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Kraus succumbed to tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty-six.

As a composer, Kraus can be seen as one of the most innovative of the entire century. His earliest training instilled in him the Italian style of the Mannheim composers, the contrapuntal rigour of Franz Xaver Richter and J. S. Bach, as well as the dramatic style of C.P.E. Bach, Gluck, and Grétry. A man of many talents, the composer was also theorist, pedagogue and author (a book of poetry and a tragedy). His compositional style features the unexpected, the dramatic, and it is not surprising, therefore, to find many forward looking stylistic devices that anticipate music of the next century.

Kraus began composing symphonies during his youth, and completed his last only a few months before his death. In total, some fourteen works in this genre survive, although there are indications that this is only a fraction of the total. For example, six symphonies written in Göttingen and described in his correspondence have been lost, as have groups of works from Buchen, Mannheim, and, possibly, Paris. What has survived, though, indicates that a strong dramatic element infuses the works, making them more theatrical than simply mass-produced concert works. The trend towards more occasional, dramatic music intensified during his last years, when symphonies began to be used for specialised purposes, often involving state affairs.

With his close personal connections to literary Sturm und Drang figures, Kraus can be slid to be one of the few composers whose music reflects the tenets of this style. One of the particular trademarks is an abundant use of minor keys, which have resulted in remarkably dramatic and emotional instrumental works from the pens of figures such as Mozart and Haydn. The resulting dark colour, when coupled with shifting dynamics, tremolo strings and insistent rhythmic patterns, foreshadows the world of the Romantics, presenting sometimes sinister and disquieting pieces that are restless, filled with dramatic passion, and offer an emotional content that contrasts with the more sedate Viennese Classicism. While it would be an error to state that all or even a majority of Kraus's music was written entirely within this style, this recording concentrates upon minor key symphonies that exemplify his Sturm und Drang roots, demonstrating his penchant for emotion and passion over lightness and predictability.

The Symphony in E minor (VB 141) was probably begun in Amorbach in December 1782 and completed in Regensburg in March of the following year. It is known that Kraus was impressed by symphonic works of both Rosetti and Haydn, which may have influenced him to begin the composition of this work. But in Regensburg, he was treated royally as an official guest of the Thurn und Taxis court, with daily concerts in his honour, and the impetus for finishing it as a special gift to the Regensburg Kapelle seems likely.

The work was published in 1787 in Paris and until recently was attributed to the popular composer Giuseppe Cambini. Recent research, however, has shown that this symphony bears no resemblance to any authentic work by Cambini, and that furthermore the existence of authentic parts in Regensburg attributed to Kraus supersedes the printed edition. An explanation for this mystery is that Kraus probably left the work (along with one or two others) to be published in the French capital, but the publisher Boyer, knowing that the unknown Kraus would not sell well, simply substituted the more popular Cambini's name. In a time without copyright protection, such things were endemic, and thus this work probably belongs to the "beautiful and brilliant symphonies" written in Paris noted by Roman Hoffstetter, which have formerly been thought lost. The work is in three movements. The first is a fast-paced display of orchestral virtuosity, with distinctive French dotted rhythms, textural changes, and surprising emotion-filled themes. The second is a lilting, lyrical episode reminiscent of Haydn, with string themes layered between the violins, violas, and bass, and the end of each section is a prominent oboe or horn solo. The third movement adds a flute to the scoring of oboes, horns (one in the principal key, the second in the relative major), and strings. The finale is likewise fast paced, with skirling strings and rushing scales, giving it an almost perpetual motion feeling. Hints of Beethoven can be found in the careful orchestration and abruptly shifting harmonies.

The Symphonie funébre in C minor (VB 148) is perhaps Kraus's most dramatic and least typical symphonic work. Written in April of 1792, it is more incidental than concert hall music. In March Gustav III was shot at a masked ball (an incident which served both Auber and Verdi as an opera plot), succumbing to his wounds three weeks later. Kraus, an ardent supporter of his patron, wrote both a funeral symphony and cantata; this work was performed during the actual burial ceremonies on 13th April. In keeping with the solemn occasion, all four movements are in slow, lugubrious tempos, with careful orchestration that maintains the gravity of the ceremonies. While it is in four movements, the expected symphonic form and structure gives way to two impressive outer movements that flank two very brief interludes. The character of the symphonies is immediately evident in the opening timpani line in which the kettledrums are muffled, answered by muted brass chords. This gives way to a mourning main theme that rises and falls dynamically in an explosion of grief. The movement ends with a sudden major chord, like a ray of hope. The second movement is a brief interlude, sentimental and quiet, in the key of F minor. The third movement is simply the accompaniment to the main chorale Lätt oss then kropp begrafven (‘Let us bury this body’) which was sung by the audience. The finale consists of several sections that range in emotion, from the opening flowing graceful theme of the muted strings, to the chant-like solo horn passage to the chorale variations in the winds accompanied by a solo cello, to a final double fugue worthy of J. S. Bach. The piece ends with the muted timpani and brass of the opening, the closing of the musical sepulchre.

The Overture in D minor (VB 147) dates from about 1790. According to Fredrik Silverstolpe, it was a popular programme piece for Good Friday services in Stockholm for over a decade, although over the course of this time, the original orchestration of bassoons and strings was augmented so that, in Silverstolpe's words, "the delicate, emotional original was destroyed." This recording is based upon Kraus's autograph without any of the supplements. The work consists of two movements, a solemn Largo followed by an extensive allo cappella fugue. It is a typical example of the Sinfonia da chiesa genre appropriate for both the church and time of year, even though Kraus was a Catholic writing for Lutheran services. The opening contrast of powerful unison and soft chordal responses lends the work a sense of solemnity, while the soaring bassoon solo is a tranquil interlude. Kraus re-used this opening for the Funeral Cantata for Gustav III two years later. The broad fugue is actually a revision of the second part of the overture to Johann Georg Albrechtsberger's 1782 oratorio Die Pilger auf Golgotha, which was given as a gift to Kraus by the composer in Vienna. Kraus's alterations consist of some internal line shifts, the broadening of the metre, and an extended conclusion which allows the work to close on a plagal or Amen cadence.

The Symphony in C sharp minor (VB 140) is one of only two symphonies in this key written during the eighteenth century. It is also one of only two in a four movement format written by Kraus The work was composed as a companion piece to the Symphony in C major (VB 139) in 1782. It is a sinfonia da camera, meant only for single players on a part, including a figured bass, probably performed by Kraus himself. Much of this work was later used wholesale in the more famous Symphony in C minor (VB 142), including the slow introduction homage to Gluck's opera Iphigénie en Aulide. The first movement is characterized by rapid thematic and textural changes, from the wild tremolo strings and flutes at the opening allegro to the ethereal suspensions, all above a relentless ostinato that keeps the forward motion of the movement going like a perpetual motion machine. The second movement is scored for strings alone, and yet the intertwining lines seem to lend it a fuller texture. Kraus's rhythmic complexity is also evident here. The third movement is a curious al roverso minuet, where the second section is simply the first played backwards. This is contrasted in the ghostly trio, whose hesitant main theme is a cross between a stately basse danse and a minuet that never quite gets started. The work concludes with a powerful, driving allegro based upon a single motif that keeps reappearing in all voices like an insistent comment. Far from being simply a "practice" work for the later C minor symphony, this wilder and less formally-structured piece is a unique example of the unpredictable Sturm und Drang.

Bertil van Boer

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