About this Recording
8.570500 - RITTER, G.W.: Bassoon Quartets, Op. 1

Georg Wenzel Ritter (1748–1808)
Six Quartets for Bassoon and Strings, Op. 1


The Ritter family had a close connection with Mannheim and its famous court orchestra. Heinrich Ritter, who was born in Bayreuth in 1716, held the position of bassoonist in the Mannheim orchestra, and was followed by his son Georg Wenzel, who was playing in the orchestra by 1763. When the court moved to Munich in 1778, Ritter became a member there of the orchestra of the new Elector Palatine, playing second bassoon, it seems, to the virtuoso Antonio Conti. He moved in 1788 to join the Prussian court orchestra of King Friedrich Wilhelm II, the cellist nephew of Frederick the Great, a position which brought him the significant salary of 1,600 thalers or 6,000 French francs. He remained there until his death in 1808. Other members of the family included his uncle, Georg Wilhelm, an oboist and later a violinist in the Mannheim orchestra, and his two sons, the cellist and composer Peter and the violinist Heinrich, who also enjoyed successful careers, with the former winning respect as a composer of operas and theatre music for Mannheim and as a Kapellmeister there, in Baden and at Karlsruhe.

Georg Wenzel Ritter was a gifted player and wrote principally for his own instrument, leaving two Bassoon Concertos in addition to the present Six Quartets for Basson and Strings, Op. 1, dating from about 1779 and dedicated to the Marquis de Turpin, as the Paris edition of the work by Sieber indicates. Ritter had a reputation also as a teacher, while his ability as a player is reflected not only in his own compositions, but also in the part intended for him by Mozart in his Sinfonia concertante, K. 297b, and obbligato parts in the opera Idomeneo, which was staged in Munich in 1781. Johann Christian Bach also wrote obbligato parts for him in two of his operas first staged in Mannheim.Other evidence of Ritter's prowess as a performer may be seen in the concert tours he undertook during his Mannheim years, with appearances at the court of Oettingen-Wallerstein, in London and in Paris.

The Mozarts had had some acquaintance with Ritter in 1763 in Schwetzingen, during the course of their extended tour of Europe.In September 1777 Mozart had secured his release from employment in Salzburg and set out to visit important musical centres in South Germany, in the hope of finding a better position for himself. He spent some months in Mannheim, from where, in a letter to his father in December 1777, he writes of 'Herr Ritter, a fine bassoon-player', who was planning to leave for Paris and had suggested that Mozart travel with him, a prospect that appealed strongly to Mozart. Later in Paris Mozart's friendship with Ritter continued, as in 1780 in Munich.

The Quartet No. 1 in C major declares its key in the unison opening bars, before the first subject is announced by the bassoon, followed by secondary material in the dominant. The opening figure, now in the dominant, introduces the central development, leading to a brief passage of canonic writing before the final return of the first subject. The Rondeau that forms the second movement duly introduces contrasting episodes, including one in the tonic minor key.

The Quartet No. 2 in F major introduces more rapid figuration in its second theme. The middle section of the movement starts, as expected, with the brief opening figure, now in the dominant, and first and second subject duly return in final recapitulation. The Tempo di minuetto that forms the second of the two movements follows a characteristic pattern of tonalities, with an excursion into D minor and brief passages of imitative writing.

In Quartet No. 3 in B flat major the strings provide an accompaniment to the bassoon's principal theme, which is followed by a secondary melody in the dominant, given to the violin. There is decorative material for the bassoon, before the violin introduces a further theme, echoed by the bassoon. A passage in the minor leads to the return of the original themes. The Rondeau provides the expected contrasting episodes, including material in E flat major.

Quartet No. 4 in E flat major allows the violin to introduce the first theme, although the bassoon soon takes the lead. The secondary thematic material makes its due appearance in the dominant and the movement goes on to provide opportunities for virtuoso display. The Rondeau entrusts its principal theme to the bassoon, echoed by the violin. A contrasting episode in G major is linked to the returning principal theme by a modulatory passage.

The fifth of the set, the Quartet No. 5 in G major, allows the violin the statement of the main theme, accompanied by the repeated notes of the bassoon, viola and cello, and there is dialogue between the violin and bassoon, leading to the second subject in the dominant, the key in which the first figure introduces the development. The first theme duly returns to complete the movement. The Minuetto is here contrasted with a C major Trio, which it frames.

In the final Quartet No. 6 in F major the instruments enter in unison, before the bassoon takes up the theme. The transition to a secondary theme is marked by ascending scales from violin, bassoon and viola, the new melody to be followed by passage-work for the bassoon. The second movement, a Tempo di minuetto, includes an F minor trio section, before the bassoon returns in final triumph with the principal theme.

Keith Anderson


The edition used (with occasional modifications) for this recording was the one recently prepared by Franco Perfetti ( Padua : Armelin, 2003). This is based on the copy of the 1777 Sieber Paris edition held by the Biblioteca dell'Opera Pia "Greggiati" di Ostiglia (Mantua), issued as Ritter's Opus One, with a dedication to the Marquis de Turpin. The original title-page inscription read as follows: Six / QUATUORS / A un Basson Violon Alto Et Basse / Dédiés / À Monsieur / LE MARQUIS DE TURPIN / Composés / Par M.r Ritter / Musicien de S.A.S. Electorale Palatine, / OEuvre 1.e / Prix 9. / A PARIS Chez le S.r Sieber […].The Ostiglia Library also has among its holdings a manuscript version of the quartets for cor anglais rather than bassoon.


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