St Basil’s Cathedral, by Aristarkh Nebozvon, 1913 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
Brahms and Clara Schumann
A long time ago, I featured, at the bottom of a post, an exquisite rendition, by Sviatoslav Richter (20 March 1915 – 1 August 1997), of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Händel(op. 24). Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a close friend of Robert Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) and his virtuoso wife, pianist Clara Wieck (13 September 1819 – 20 May 1896). Clara Schumann premièred works by Brahms, including his Variations on a Theme and Fugue by Händel (op. 24). After Schumann’s mental breakdown and early death, in a mental institution where he asked to be sent, Brahms remained close to Clara, a best friend, a faithful admirer, and a soulmate. (See Clara Schumann, Wikipedia)
Strickly speaking, Brahms is considered a Romantic composer (1815–1910), but this piece is on a theme by Händel (23 February 1685, Halle – 14 April 1759, London), a composer of the Baroque era (1600-1750). It is a delightful mélange and deserves a post of its own. Brahms also composed variations on a theme by Haydn. It was the last piece Clara Schumann played in public.
YouTube has many interpretations of the Variations on a Theme by Händel. The quality of the sound might be better in Murray Perahia (click to hear) but there is something definitive in Richter’s rendition of Brahms, one of the Three Bs: Bach, Beethoven & Brahms. However, Berlioz sometimes stands for Brahms.
Sviatoslav Richter was born in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. His father, a German expatriate, was a pianist and organist. His mother, Anna Pavlovna, was Russian and a member of a landowning family. Richter’s first teachers were his father and one of his father’s students. However, Richter is basically self-taught.
After his first recital, on March 19, 1934, in Odessa, he took lessons from Heinrich Neuhaus (12 April 1888 – 10 October 1964), also of German extraction. Neuhaus claims he never taught Richter anything. He considered his student a genius. Richter is one of the finest pianists of the twentieth century, a legend in his own time who gave his last recital at a private gathering in Lübeck, Germany, on March 30, 1995. After he last played in public, he became depressed and, in 1997, he died of a heart attack
Richter’s career would take him everywhere, but war separated him from his parents. He did not see his family during the Russian Civil War (7 November 1917 – October 1922). More tragically, however, unable to flee Russia because his wife had fallen in love with another man, Teofil Richter, Sviatoslav’s father, was arrested in August 1941 and on 6 October 1941, he was shot by the Soviets as a spy. After his father’s death, Richter did not speak to his mother for about twenty years and because he had to. Neuhaus was also arrested but was spared an execution because of pressure from students and former students.
Richter lived a very private life. From 1945 until his death, he and singer Nina Dorliak were companions, but they never married. She died a year after his death, in 1998.
This post is one of two posts about an unfortunate connection. More than a century after the Esterházy family had been patrons to Joseph Haydn‘s (31 March 1732 – 31 May 1809), an Esterházy, but of a different branch than Haydn’s generous patrons, would commit treason against France, but was protected by the French army. He retired in 1898 and escaped punishment by feeing to England.
So, although this post is mostly about Haydn and the Esterházy family, I am not focussing on the Joseph Haydn who, with Mozart and Beethoven, is the foremost composer of the Classical period (1730–1820)[i] in the history of western music and the composer best known as the person who “helped establish the forms and styles for the string quartet and the symphony.”[ii]
Let us look at Haydn’s early life. Haydn was born to a humble family in Rohrau, Austria, a village near the border with Hungary). He was the son of a wheelwright and his wife Maria, née Koller, who had worked as a cook at the palace of Aloys Thomas Raimund, Count Harrach (7 March, 1669, Vienna – 7 November, 1742, an Austrian politician and diplomat.
It was not possible for Haydn to develop his talent for music in Rohrau. At the age of six, he was therefore sent to apprentice as a musician at the home of Johann Matthias Frankh, a relative of the Haydn family who lived in Hainburg. As Frankh’s student, Haydn learned to play the harpsichord and the violin. But it was as a singer that he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter. At the age of eight, in 1740, Haydn auditioned for Reutter, the director of music at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, who convinced Joseph’ family to let him take young Joseph and his brother Michael as choirboys at St. Stephen’s. Haydn was eight years old. However, at the age of seventeen, he was expelled from the choir. His voice had changed and he had played a practical joke on another chorister.
Haydn was taken in by Johann Michael Spangler, a musician whose garret he shared, and supported himself with odd musical jobs. Fortunately, he met Nicola Porpora who gave him a position as accompanist for voice lessons and corrected his compositions. As a chorister, Haydn had not acquired sufficient knowledge of the theory of music to become a composer. Matters would change.
We have already seen that Haydn first came to the attention of Austrian nobleman Karl Joseph von Fürnberg. He was a member of Fürnberg’s small orchestra and, during his tenure as Fürnberg’s employee, he wrote his first quartets. We also know that, in 1758, he was recommended to Bohemian Count Morzin. (See Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin, Britannica.) During the three years Haydn was Kapellmeister to count Morzin, his patron put him in charge of an orchestra of about 16 musicians. At this point, Haydn composed his first symphonies.
Later, in c. 1761, when Count Morzin dismissed his musicians, a relatively unknown Haydn was hired by prince Paul II Anton Esterházy de Galántha(22 April 1711 – 18 March 1762), a member of the extremely wealthy Esterházy family. He worked first at Eisenstadt, earning a yearly salary of 400 florins and, after Prince Anton or Pál Antal passed away, in 1762, his patron would be Nikolaus Esterházy or Miklós József Esterházy, Pál Antal’s brother, in whose employ he would remain for nearly 30 years and whom he followed when the princely family moved to Esterháza (now Fertöd), their Hungarian palace, built in 1762-1766.
Joseph Haydn conducting a string quartet in Vienna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Esterházy Family as Patrons
Prince Nikolaus I was Haydn’s patron until his death in 1790. His successor dismissed Nikolaus’ court musicians but continued to pay Haydn 400 florins a year, which had been his salary in 1761. Moreover, Count Nikolaus had left Haydn a pension of 1000 florins. As well, given that his services were no longer needed, Haydn’s new patron allowed him to travel, which led to an apotheosis in Haydn’s career.
Haydn Duties at Esterháza
At Esterháza, Haydn had onerous duties. According to Britannica, “while the music director [who was still alive] oversaw church music, Haydn conducted the orchestra and coached the singers in almost daily rehearsals, composed most of the music required, and served as chief of the musical personnel.”
However, he could choose the musicians who would be members of his chamber orchestra. Moreover, he was free to invite fine guest musicians, if such was Prince Nikolaus’ wish, which was usually the case. Mozart, who became Haydn’s protégé, was undoubtedly the most remarkable musician ever to perform at Esterháza. Finally, distinguished visitors flocked to Esterháza and, every year, Haydn spent up to two months in Vienna, the city that was home to Mozart and would soon be home to Beethoven, who would be Haydn’s student, albeit briefly.
So, even though he lived at a distance from Vienna, Esterháza offered Haydn a stable life and he was not only a respected member of Nicolaus’ court, but also the prince’s personal music teacher, Nikolaus played the baryton, now a mostly obsolete instrument. Joseph Haydn wrote approximately 170 pieces for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, in the earlier part of his career. (See Haydn, Wikipedia.)
London: an “Apotheosis”
As we know, when Nikolaus I died, Haydn was financially secure. Yet he let German impresario Johann Peter Salomon convince him to visit England and conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra. It would lead to unprecedented and totally unsuspected success. Haydn’s “Paris Symphonies” were excellent compositions, but his “London Symphonies” are a summit. Moreover, it is in London, between 1796 and 1798, that Haydn composed The Creation(Die Schöpfung), an oratorio. (See Haydn, Wikipedia.)
I will pause at this point and post a second article focussing on another member of the Esterházy family, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, the man who sold information to Germany, a crime imputed to Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer of Jewish background. The Dreyfus Affair would divide France into Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards and reveal considerable contempt against Jews, particularly in the military.
Allow me to begin this post by speaking of the two Mozarts: the white Mozart or Amadeus, and the black Mozart, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George.
When Mozart, the white Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), was in Paris, in 1777-1778, he was influenced by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George. One would expect the white Mozart to have influenced the black Mozart, but that was not the case. However, the two differ in that the career of the black Mozart (December 25, 1745 – June 10, 1799) was affected by his ethnicity and the French Revolution. Three divas opposed his appointment as director of the Royal Opera because he was a mulatto.
However, by then, Joseph had commissioned and premièred Haydn six “Paris Symphonies” and he had met the white Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus during his 1777-1778 visit to Paris. It is during his stay in Paris that the former Wolfgang Theophilus, the white Mozart, lost his mother. She had accompanied him on this tour, but was taken ill and died on 3 July 1778. Wolfgang was 22 at that time and Joseph, 33.
However the French Revolution all but destroyed Joseph whose patrons were Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. As we know, he was Marie-Antoinette’s music teacher. Marie-Antoinette composed “C’est mon ami,” a lovely pastoral song.
Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges: L’amant anonyme (1780),
Ballet Nº 1
There is a great deal of unnecessary confusion regarding the word “Classical” in music, but the matter can be simplified.
Broadly speaking, the eras of music listed below are called collectively “Classical music.” In other words, for practical reasons, music composed during these periods can be called Classical, whether or not it is music of the Classical period.
Strictly speaking, Classical music is music composed between 1730 and 1820. The three main figures associated with the Classical period are Joseph Haydn (31 March 1732 – 31 May 1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791), and Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827). But Beethoven is also considered a composer of the Romantic era, early Romanticism. So there is overlapping between periods. To obtain the names of musicians associated with Classical music, simply click on Classical period.
Louis XIII (27 September 1601 – 14 May 1643), King of France from 1610, when his father Henri IV was assassinated, until his death in 1643, was very fond of music and therefore composed lovely pieces. Contrary to Frederick the Great (Friedrich II) of Prussia, Louis XIII never truly reigned. Louis’s life therefore allowed him to indulge his interests, such as music.
In other words, from the late 1610s until 1661, France was governed first by Henri IV’s widow, Marie de’ Medici, who was not up to the task. As a result, Prime Ministers started to govern, the first of whom was Richelieu. They may be called éminencesgrises, except that they were too visible to be referred to as “grey.” The better term would be that of Prime Minister. For instance, le Père Joseph (Father Joseph), the man behind le Cardinal Richelieu, was a genuine éminencegrise.
When his father died, Louis XIV of France would not tolerate ministers. He was an advocate of the divine right of kings. He reigned between 1661 and 1715. Absolutism was achieved when the Edict of Nantes, an Edict of tolerance issued on 13 April 1598, was revoked in October 1685, by Louis XIV. In 1685, France lost some of its finest citizens: French Calvinist Protestants called Huguenots.
But let us listen to Louis XIII the composer. The French ballet de cour, the Masque, became a favourite divertissement in the late sixteenth century. However, it is associated with the reign of both Louis the XIII and Louis XIV. Louis XIII wrote the Ballet de la Merlaison, all of which, i.e. the music, is on YouTube.