About this Recording
8.573787 - KOŽELUCH, L.: Cantata for the Coronation of Leopold II, "Hail to the Monarch" (Vylíčilová, Kořínek, Moravec, Martinů Voices, Prague Symphony, Štilec)
English 

Leopold Koželuch (1747–1818)
Cantata for the Coronation of Leopold II, ‘Hail to the Monarch’

 

The coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia on 6 September 1791 was the third and final ceremony to mark his accession as the reigning Habsburg monarch. This ancient and solemn ceremony had been preceded first by Leopold’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Frankfurt on 9 October 1790, and on 15 November, in Pressburg (now Bratislava), as King of Hungary.

Leopold ascended the throne at a particularly difficult time in European history. Even before the outbreak of revolution in France, the lands he now ruled were in a state of unrest as a result of the unpopular war against the Ottoman Empire (1788–91) and the best part of a decade of radical reforms imposed by his predecessor, Joseph II, which had alienated many traditional supporters of the crown. Leopold himself, however, enjoyed a reputation as an enlightened ruler as a result of his benevolent and farsighted rule as Grand Duke of Tuscany. Inheriting the Grand Duchy upon the death of his father, Francis Stephen in 1765, Leopold exercised largely nominal authority under the supervision of counsellors appointed by his mother, Empress Maria Theresa, for the first five years, but from 1770, he began to promulgate a series of important reforms which transformed his pocket state. Among these were the introduction of a rational system of taxation, the removal of restrictions on industry and personal freedoms that had been imposed by Tuscany’s former rulers, the Medici, and a reform of the penal code that abolished the death penalty and banned torture. In 1774 Leopold introduced a law concerning the treatment of the insane (Legge sui pazzi), the first of its kind anywhere in Europe. By any measure of his time, these were progressive acts and Tuscany flourished. By the late 1780s, however, he began to be concerned about growing unrest in parts of his brother’s far-flung empire and Leopold’s reforming zeal ground to a halt. With the outbreak of the French Revolution, which directly threatened his sister Marie Antoinette’s life, Leopold’s political outlook changed. The death of Joseph II on 20 January 1790 also brought with it the recognition that Leopold now found himself in a position where his actions could either protect his dynasty or destroy it and this made him understandably cautious. Nonetheless, if he was not quite the idealistic young man that had so dramatically reformed the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, there were good grounds to believe he would prove a benevolent and just King-Emperor and these sentiments found expression in the major musical works commissioned for the coronation ceremonies in Prague: Mozart’s opera seria La clemenza di Tito and Leopold Koželuch’s cantata Heil dem Monarchen.

The coronation festivities were an elaborately choreographed exercise in political manoeuvring and had been planned by the Bohemian Estates as the backdrop to ratifying a political agreement between Leopold and the nobility of Bohemia to rescind one of Joseph II’s most important reforms, the abolition of serfdom in Bohemia with its attendant increase in tax on aristocratic landowners. It was a grubby, sordid deal and Leopold must have been well aware of it, yet he believed it was vital to pacify the Bohemian nobility in order to reduce the risk of revolt and strengthen his empire in face of growing demands for political reform sparked by the French Revolution.

Both the coronation opera and cantata were commissioned by the Estates but Mozart was not the first choice of composer for the opera: the impresario Guardasoni first approached Antonio Salieri, who declined the commission owing to pressure of work, and then offered it to Mozart, whose operas Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni had been sensational successes in Prague. There seems not to have been any argument about the composer of the cantata. Indeed, Koželuch had already composed two ‘imperial’ cantatas: the first in 1781, to a libretto by Denis, to commemorate the death of the Empress Maria Theresa (Klage auf den Todt Marien Theresien) and in 1783, to a libretto by Föderl, in homage to Joseph II (Joseph, der Menschheit Segen).

Koželuch, born in Velvary, a small town northwest of Prague, received his advanced musical training in Prague where he studied counterpoint and vocal writing with his cousin, Jan Antonín Koželuch (1738–1814) and piano and instrumental composition with F.X. Dussek (1731–1799). Dussek, a former pupil of Georg Christoph Wagenseil in Vienna, was the leading keyboard teacher in Prague and a highly accomplished composer of instrumental music. Under his guidance, Koželuch (who changed his name to Leopold to avoid confusion with his cousin) developed into an exceptional pianist and a composer of great promise. A flirtation with studying law was abandoned after the successful performance of his first ballets and pantomimes in Prague, and in 1778 he moved to Vienna to pursue a career as a professional musician. Koželuch’s reputation as a pianist, teacher and composer was sufficiently well established by 1781 for him to decline the position as court organist to the Archbishop of Salzburg made vacant by Mozart’s dismissal. He began publishing his own works by 1784 and in 1785 he founded a music publishing house (the Musikaliches Magazin) which was later managed by his younger brother, Antonín Tomáš Koželuch (1752–1805). Koželuch also cultivated publishers elsewhere in Europe and his works seem to have been particularly popular in London.

The librettist for the coronation cantata, August Gottlieb Meissner (1753–1807), was appointed Professor of Aesthetics and Classical Literature at the University of Prague in the mid-1780s although he is better remembered today as the father of the German detective novel. His cantata libretto is naturally celebratory in tone and exalts the personal qualities of the new king among which are his sense of justice, his incorruptibility and his protection of widows and orphans. These qualities stand in stark contrast to those found in lesser men who seek glory and immortality in war and are insensible to the suffering of others. But the libretto also strikes a cautionary note, warning of the difficulties that lie ahead and reminding Leopold of a darker, turbulent past when ‘poverty wrung her wizened hands (and) desperation came ever closer’. Leopold is described in Christlike terms—‘then he appeared our redeemer’—and the cantata finishes with the chorus ‘Long live our nation’s protecting deity’ which might have caused more than a few clerical lips to be pursed in displeasure.

The structure and content of the libretto lends itself well to varied musical treatment and Koželuch approaches the task with his customary skill, writing attractively for the three vocal soloists and handling the orchestra with considerable flair. It is no surprise that Joseph Haydn described Koželuch as ‘an elegant composer’, an attribute he also accorded to his favourite pupil, Ignaz Pleyel. The Introduzione opens Poco Adagio with a powerful, dotted figure that for a century or more had been used by composers from the court of Louis XIV at Versailles to the opera houses of Italy to signify power and majesty. It might have been an obvious gesture on Koželuch’s part and one invested with little originality, but it serves an important purpose: the affirmation of kingship. The succeeding Allegro con fuoco bustles with energy and purpose, reminding us that Koželuch was an accomplished composer of symphonies. The handling of the orchestra is deft and contains some colourful writing for the wind instruments. The Introduzione ends on a dominant chord that finds resolution in the opening chorus that follows (II. Heil dem Monarchen). The homophonic writing for the chorus, which is accompanied vigorously by the orchestra, once again strikes a symbolic note: by singing together, the chorus—cognate with ‘the people’—shows unanimity, in this case their joy in greeting the new monarch. This technique can also be heard in the solo passages that link the blocks of choral writing as the pairs of voices move in parallel thirds.

As is the case with many cantatas of the period, Heil dem Monarchen unfolds in a series of contrasting recitatives, arias and ensembles. Like the Introduzione and opening chorus, these numbers frequently make use of musical signifiers that reflect the meaning of Meissner’s text. Koželuch’s choice of keys is also important in considering the overall structure of the work. Numbers III to V, for example, are closely related by key: each is a fifth lower than the preceding number and the first of these is a fifth lower than the Introduzione and opening chorus. These three numbers largely concern the attributes of the bad prince who is consumed by dreams of military glory, and the most dramatic and warlike of these, IV, is in C major, a key that is frequently associated with power and majesty in the works of 18th-century composers and particularly those working in the lands of the Habsburg monarchy. VI, however, disrupts this pattern of keys (D–G–C–F) by introducing E flat major. This beautiful, serene soprano aria is a thinly disguised prayer to the Virgin (‘O most beautiful of heaven’s daughters’) to ‘Mould the heart of the Anointed in the image of the Godhead’. This aria was sung by Mozart’s friend Josefa Dussek, the wife of Koželuch’s former keyboard teacher and in whose house, the Villa Bertramka, he completed the composition of Don Giovanni. For the first time in the work, Koželuch introduces a pair of clarinets in place of either the flutes or oboes. He makes no use of the dark, expressive low register of the instrument, but its timbre, combined with a pair of bassoons and horns, adds a new colour to the score and subtly underlines the dramatic importance of this movement in the overall structure of the work. Following this prayer, a sequence of musical numbers (VII–IX) dwell on an ideal prince who upholds justice and the law. Leopold is not referred to by name at this point, but when he is finally unmasked and moved into the foreground (XIII), Koželuch stresses how beloved he is (XIV) and then, in XV, writes a complex movement that ranges from E flat (a fifth lower than the preceding number) through C major to G minor that refers to the dark and turbulent past. It is unclear whether this is intended to refer to the Austro-Turkish War or a more distant past, but it serves an important dramatic purpose in preparing the way for the following number. In XVI, Leopold (though unnamed) is described in Christlike terms (‘Then he appeared, our redeemer’) and to underline this, Koželuch not only casts the movement in E flat major, a key traditionally associated with the Trinity, but also in triple metre and includes all three soloists. The return of E flat major (it had previously appeared only briefly at the beginning of XV) and the clarinets implies that Leopold is the answer to the prayer offered in VI. After a brief flirtation with C major at the beginning of XVII, the cantata ends in a D major blaze of celebration, complete with trumpets and timpani, with the chorus singing ‘Long live our nation’s protecting deity!’.

It was not to be. On 1 March 1792, just under six months after his coronation, Leopold II was dead and his reign, which had promised so much, had proved a disaster for the poorest and most vulnerable of his Bohemian subjects. Mozart had also died several months earlier, but Koželuch’s star continued to rise and the success of his coronation cantata almost certainly played a part in his appointment in June 1792 as Kammer Kapellmeister and Hofmusik Compositor at the court of Leopold’s son and successor, Emperor Franz II.

Allan Badley


Close the window