About this Recording
8.570585 - KRAUS, J.M.: Aeneas in Carthage - Overtures / Ballet Music / Marches (Sinfonia Finlandia, Gallois)

Joseph Martin Kraus (1756–1792)
Aeneas in Carthage – Overtures, Ballet Music and Marches


Joseph Martin Kraus, one of the most talented composers of the eighteenth century, was born in the central German town of Miltenburg am Main, the son of a local official. 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 additional schooling at the universities in Mainz and Erfurt, Kraus spent a year at home in Buchen 1775–1776 while his father was undergoing indictment for misuse of office, a charge later dropped, before resuming his studies in law at Göttingen University. There he came under the influence of the remnants of the Göttinger Hainbund, a Sturm und Drang literary circle. In 1778 he published his treatise Etwas von 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, Kraus decided to dedicate his life to music and to seek employment in Sweden at the court of Gustav III. Although promised a position, for the next two years he faced dire economic circumstances as he attempted to break in to the musical establishment. In 1780 he was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and commissioned to compose a trial opera, Proserpin, whose text had been drafted by the king himself and versified by poet Johan Kellgren. 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 observe the latest in musical and theatrical trends. This took him throughout Germany, Austria, Italy, England, and France where he met major figures of the period such as Gluck and Haydn, gaining their respect and admiration. Kraus returned to Stockholm in 1787 and the following year was appointed as 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 compositions, 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 centers of Europe. Nine months after the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Kraus himself died at the age of 36.

As a composer, Kraus can be seen as one of the most innovative of the eighteenth century. His earliest training brought him the Italian style of the Mannheim composers, the contrapuntal rigor of F. X. Richter and J. S. Bach, as well as the dramatic style of C.P.E. Bach, Gluck, and Grétry. A polymath, the composer was also theorist, pedagogue and author (a book of poetry and a tragedy). His compositional style features the unexpected as well as the dramatic, and it is not surprising therefore to find many forward-looking stylistic devices that anticipate music of the next century. His talent for thematic development, his unusual forms, his colourful orchestration, and his penchant for a theatrical flair in his works caused Haydn to proclaim him one of only two ‘geniuses’ he knew (Mozart being the other one) and Johann Baptist Cramer named him one of the five greatest composers of the period, placing him on a level with Mozart, Haydn, Gluck, and C.P.E. Bach.

Although adept at composing in virtually all genres, Kraus’s main interest lay in music for the stage, much like Mozart. His early work, Azire, was written as a Nordic fairy-tale with exotic elements, while his trial opera Proserpin attempted to give life to a more static Classical story. His magnum opus, however, was a monumental six-act opera (five acts and prologue) based on Virgil’s Aeneid entitled Æneas i Cartago, eller Dido och Æneas. The commission for this work, based upon an outline by King Gustav III expanded by Kellgren, was initially given in 1781 and intended to be the work with which the new opera house in Stockholm, the largest and most modern in Europe, was to be inaugurated. After composing the Prologue and first two acts, Kraus saw the prospective production plans evaporate when the prima donna, Caroline Müller, fled Sweden along with her concertmaster husband to avoid debtor’s prison. Over the next decade Kraus was able to revise the work to incorporate new stylistic ideas and trends absorbed from his own travels. By 1791 the work was complete and tentative plans made for its long-delayed première, only to see them dashed, first by the King’s preoccupation with his war with Russia and, after the Peace of Värälä, with his untimely assassination (and Kraus’s own premature death later on in that year). The première was not given until the autumn of 1799, when the work was used as the key piece in the revival of the Royal Opera. Over the next two years it was given eight performances, but it failed to become part of the standard repertory, owing mainly to its tremendous length and the weaknesses of the performers themselves; the cast members were all aging and no understudies were available.

Æneas is a titanic composition by the standards of any period in music history. The story itself transcends the Virgilian tale by incorporating intensely human emotions, imparting them to both gods and mortals. The sets and stage machinery required are numerous and technically challenging, with displays of pageantry alternating with storms, an earthquake followed by a battle in which no fewer than three armies/choruses are to appear on stage simultaneously. To find an equivalent, one must look ahead to the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner’s Ring or Berlioz’s Les Troyens, all composed in the next century. All of this kaleidoscopic visual imagery is set to music by Kraus, integrating recitative, aria, chorus, and instrumental numbers (ballet and interludes) into a seamless whole. Given that this is the case, it has presented considerable logistical problems in producing a complete recording. This disc represents the instrumental portions, presenting them in a sequential order, but often without the context of either the scene or the vocal music into which they are integrated. The result is less dramatic than one might hear when they are inserted into their proper places in between arias/choruses, as brief interludes between scenes, or as material that is required by specific stage action. With the exception of a hunting sequence in Act II (here presented in its entirety but without the large flanking choruses), these movements are presented piecemeal.

Æneas requires two overtures, one for the prologue and one for the opera proper. The first, in C minor, has the tempo Andante con moto brusco and represents the roiling waves of the sea caused by wayward winds. In two-part form, it alternates the non-thematic action of the waves in the orchestra with calmer textures and short melodies, stentorian unison fanfares with thin-voiced suspensions that reflect their Gluckian models. Originally, this led directly into a chorus of the winds, but in this recording Kraus’s own concert ending, a single unison note, is used. The main overture to the opera itself, in E flat, begins with a restless, if lyrical introduction by the strings, leading directly into majestic unisons and a majestic series of contrasting themes that seem to grow out from each other, including a plaintive oboe solo. Kraus increases the tension through changeable rhythms in almost each part, and at the end of sections of this overture, the orchestra combines in sweeping waves of majestic sound, indicative of the epic story about to unfold.

The ballet movements are varied according to their function in the opera. The first Ballet of Zephyrs presents the calm waves and gentle breezes following the violent storm that threatens the Trojan fleet. The gentle gavotte features a solo flute, with the violas in their upper registers providing a brief dissonance and the sections divided by a brief pizzicato cadence. A two-note hammer stroke initiates the Dance of the Naiad and Tritons, where the susurration of the waves as the sea creatures play is represented by the flowing melody that changes rhythm, with the depths portrayed by ornamentation and changing instrumental textures. Act I originally contained no instrumental music whatsoever, but as preparations were underway for the unrealised 1791 première, Kraus found that a period of dramatic time needed to be inserted to allow for the entrance of the Carthaginians after Dido’s emotional outburst at the beginning. For this the composer transposed a March from Act IV from D major to E major, reducing the orchestration to a softer texture by inserting clarinets and omitting the trumpets. This is followed by a chorus lauding the Queen and then a brief Gavotte in C major was inserted to set up the entrance of Barcé reporting the arrival of Aeneas and his Trojan exiles. While both pieces are perfunctory, they allow for the drama to proceed at a more real life pace, as well as foreshadow the dream sequence of Act IV in which gentle Carthage is replaced by militaristic Rome.

The centrepiece of Act II is the royal hunt, beginning with a brief opening call in the strings in echo, followed by a flowing staccato dance in which the hunters sprint off in all directions (Kappränning). The third movement is Brotta’s Air, a solemn call featuring dotted rhythms and thickened textures where the hunters sight and pursue their quarry, and concludes with an archery contest, featuring a solo flute and setting up the following chorus which celebrates the holiday. This merriment is interrupted by a storm which scatters the hunters and forces Dido and Aeneas into a cave for their tryst. It opens with a layered crescendo with strings running up and down scales over ostinato basses and tremolo inner strings; every so often the triplet hunting calls are heard, as if signaling the dispersed party. It is not a violent storm, but rather one that serves the goddess Juno’s purpose to betray her supplicant.

In Act III, the mood of the opera changes as Dido is wooed by Jarbas, King of the Numidians. In two brief contrasting marches, Dido’s retainers enter her throne room to a solemn procession in G major, after which the Numidians appear accompanied by exotic percussion instruments, piccolos and silvery trumpets. The wildness of this is a contrast between homophonic civilization and barbarity, between eighteenth-century Europe and the socalled Turkish musics. Later, the marriage of Dido and Aeneas is celebrated by a three-part dance of Carthaginian maidens, which Kraus interpolated into the score, probably at the request of his balletmaster, Anton Bournonville. Scored for strings alone, the first and last parts are gentle pastorals, whose rustic nature is underscored by the drone basses; in the more active central section sounding eerily close to dance music of nineteenth century Italy, the staccato strings weave a varied pattern of roulades. Finally, a brief march for strings alone announces the entrance of the priests with solemn trills and soft suspensions, a brief interlude before the marriage ceremony is interrupted by an earthquake chorus.

Act IV has but one instrumental movement, a march that begins a dream sequence in which a doubting Aeneas is shown his future as progenitor of the Roman Empire. In a strict militaristic march, visions of Roman legions march across the stage (this march was revised and inserted into Act I as well). The dotted winds and brass against the tremolo strings outline an active and powerful army on the march. In this recording the short afterpiece is also included. This interlude has a technical reason for its existence; it allowed for the stage director to get his chorus of Romans onto the stage and into position, the gentle string suspensions thus setting up the next scene consisting of two choruses of the Roman soldiers and people.

The final act begins with an instrumental introduction, with a low layered tremolo crescendo beginning with the contrabasses, and adding instruments in ascending order. Initially in D major, by the time it reaches its first climax it turns to the minor mode to indicate the approach of the Numidian army, much as Prokofiev was to do a century and a half later in the famed Battle on the Ice in his Alexander Nevsky. The restless nature of the accompaniment indicates the impending fray, with their arrival heralded by an upward series of arpeggios. Thereupon follows an Alteramente in heavily dotted rhythms and an almost Spanish accompaniment in the strings which allows for the siege to begin. The following portions of the last act include the final battle (with three choruses/armies on stage all at once), Aeneas’s victory and sudden departure, and Dido’s final madness, immolation, and apotheosis. Here too, Kraus found it necessary to provide music that would set the scene by inserting a ballet movement, as there is no time between Dido’s request of Barcé to hurry and bring Aeneas to her and her discovery that he has sailed off. The F major dance is in two sections, a restrained Adagio introduction and a light round dance. As befits the situation, however, it ends suddenly with a rising triad pianissimo as Dido sees the Trojan fleet from the battlements. As with most grand Classical Swedish operas, the work concludes with a ballet divertissement ending in a grand Chaconne. Given that there exists so much integrated ballet music, Kraus truncated this to include only three movements. A brief round dance (not included here) is followed by a pair of minuets, the trio of the second which features the winds above pizzicato string ostinati and a flowing accompaniment figure in the violins. For Kraus, the long (over 430 bars) finale Chaconne allows for a magnificent compositional structure to be built in ever-increasing layers. The initial dance variations are based upon a recurring rhythmic motive that first appears in the violas. The first climax comes in the modulation towards A major, with its ethereal high flutes and horns, thereafter it retreats back to the opening dance, only to move onward into a thinner textured minore section. The final portion is a grand crescendo based upon the underlying motive, now in every section of the orchestra and intermixed with scales, tremolos, and contrasting figures, rising in intensity until the final coda, a grand and majestic conclusion to a magnum opus.

Bertil van Boer

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