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Antonio Rosetti. Bohemian Mutineer


Text of the booklet "Antonio Rosetti. Bohemian Mutineer / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


Antonio Rosetti (ca. 1750 – 1792), born in Bohemia, spent the best years of his life in Germany, in small principalities, far removed from the music capitals of his age. However, the English music historian Charles Burney (1726 – 1814) who undertook extensive travels in Europe, ranked him among the most outstanding musicians of his time and as the equal of Haydn and Mozart. The public loved Rosetti – and there is plenty of documentary evidence to show that his works were often played throughout Europe. By the end of the 1790s, at least half of those of Rosetti’s compositions that have come down to us had been published, some of them, moreover, by very well-established music publishers.

Throughout his comparatively short life, Rosetti wrote quite a lot of music. Today we know of the existence of over 400 works: more than 40 symphonies, about 60 concertos for different instruments (piano, violin, viola, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon), upwards of 20 works for brass band, a lot of chamber music, pieces for piano, songs and sacred choral music. The works he composed in his mature years are distinguished by their infinitely rich and colorful harmonic language, full of chromatic inflection, and by very inventive instrumentation.

Here are some contemporary views of the composer. “Rosetti’s music for wind instruments is out of this world, he makes extremely skilful use of them in the orchestra”, Ernst Ludwig Gerber, the compiler of the music dictionary, wrote in 1792. Like Burney, the music journalist Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739 – 1791) regarded Rosetti as “one of the best-loved composers” of his time and in particular appreciated the elegance and beauty of his style. And in Carl Friedrich Cramer’s Magazin der Musik, we find the following comment: “Rosetti’s symphonies contain much that is new, of interest and at times amaze the ear, they are moreover full of variety. Having become acquainted with these symphonies, we encouraged their performance in every way we could, and all connoisseurs and music lovers live in the hope that many of Rosetti’s compositions will be engraved.”

In so far as concerns the musical sources of Rosetti’s work, there are a great number. The musical traditions of his native Bohemia are evident in the exceptionally fresh and rich melodies that characterize many of his works; in his style one is also aware of traits of French music or, to be more exact, of that music which in the last third of the 18th century was dominant in Paris. It is likely that Rosetti was influenced too by the young Mannheim school. However, as noted by the latter’s contemporaries, it was the music of Joseph Haydn (whose musical authority in those years was of paramount significance for a whole generation of composers) which had the greatest impact on Rosetti’s work. From Haydn evidently Rosetti inherited an economic treatment of thematic material, a desire for experiment in form and brilliant musical humor.

Unfortunately, in so far as concerns Rosetti’s biography, there are quite a few blank pages. We know next to nothing of his childhood and youth or of his first attempts to compose music. Ernst Ludwig Gerber and Jan Bohumir Dlabac, the music lexicographers, tell us that Rosetti was born in 1750 in the north Bohemian township of Leitmeritz, and given the name of Anton Rosler (or Rossler). Since, at first, it was assumed he would become a priest, Rosetti was educated by the Jesuits who also taught him music. According to information that has recently come to light, in early 1770, he was “composer of music to the Russian Orlov’s regiment”, another source describes him as “musician to Count Orlov”. To this day, it remains unknown which member of the Orlov family is referred to here and for how long Rosetti was in his service. In the autumn of 1773 he joined the Hofkapelle of Kraft Ernst, Count (later Prince) von Oettingen-Wallerstein as double bass player. In the last quarter of the 18th century, this orchestra was very well-known. It was at this time that Rosetti’s first court compositions appeared. In March 1776 the composer in a few days wrote a Requiem on the death of Kraft Ernst’s young wife Marie Therese, born Princess von Thurn und Taxis. The requiem was soon to become known beyond the county of Oettingen-Wallerstein and in subsequent years it enjoyed great popularity. From the 1776 – 77 season onwards, Breitkopf, the famous Leipzig music publishers, began to acquire manuscript copies of Rosetti’s compositions and to distribute them via their printed catalogue. In 1779 three of the composer’s symphonies were issued (as Opus 1) by the Paris publishers, Le Menuet Boyer.

In October 1781 Prince Kraft Ernst gave Rosetti leave of absence to spend a number of months in Paris, then considered to be the music capital of Europe. Arriving in Paris in mid-December, Rosetti for several months observed Parisian musical life, arranged performances of his own works and established contacts with music publishers. By the time he returned to Oettingen-Wallerstein (in May 1782) he had acquired a mass of musical impressions as well as international recognition. Rosetti’s music began to win acclaim in Europe. By – if not before – early 1790 his symphonies and concertos had become fixtures in concert repertoires in Paris (e.g., Concert Spirituel) and London (Professional Concert, Salomon’s concert etc.).

In 1785 Prince Kraft Ernst appointed Rosetti Kapellmeister of his court Kapelle. But for all his renown, lack of means were a constant source of worry to the composer and, when he was offered the post of Kappellmeister in Ludwigslust at a much higher salary, he left Wallerstein. In the last years of his life Rosetti received a lot of commissions from highly-placed music lovers, among whom were the Elector-Archbishop of Trier, Archbishop Klemens Wenzeslaus (1739 – 1812) and King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm II. At a memorial ceremony for Mozart, held in Prague on 14 December 1791, Rosetti’s Requiem which he had composed in Wallerstein was played before an audience of 4000. Just a few months later, in March 1792 in Berlin, the Prussian king arranged for a performance of the Jesus in Gethsemane oratorio and the Alleluia cantata. The composer himself came to Berlin where he met his friend, the music publisher Heinrich Philipp Bossler. From the latter we know that Rosetti was looking extremely frail and ill: “Unfortunately, for many years now, the worthy Rosetti has been suffering from a dreadful cough which seriously undermines his health, and I am afraid that if he does not find himself a good doctor he will depart our mortal world in the wake of worthy Mozart”. Bossler was right: Antonio Rosetti passed away on 30 June 1792 in Ludwigslust. In the church register the cause of death was given as “exhaustion”.

The first opus on this CD is a work that was written on Rosetti’s return from Paris. In November 1782 when still wholly under the impression of his success in the French capital, Rosetti wrote his Symphony in D major for flute, two oboes, two horns, bassoon and strings. Such a collection of instruments of which he had made use in a whole series of symphonic works in the 1780s, including in his G minor Symphony of 1787, is almost entirely in keeping with orchestral practice of the time of Haydn (true, Haydn has two bassoons in his symphonies). Already in the effective, slow introduction the melody of the following Allegro assai appears. It leads in the development, wandering into distant keys and forming tense counterpoints; but, unexpectedly for the listener, this movement ends on piano. In the next movement (Andante scherzante) an elegant theme in the major key alternates with a dramatic theme in the parallel minor. Each time they appear, they are subject to change. Of particular interest in the Minuet is the Trio with its amusing rhythmic gimmicks and comic pizzicato strings. In the final Allegro moderato movement, Rosetti turns once more to the full sonata form. Underlying the main subject is a simple triad motif which, subsequently, undergoes a variety of transformations. The second subject, just as in the first movement, virtually does not participate in the thematic elaboration. The work as a whole is both elegant and noble. In the 3rd volume of his opus, Introductory Essay on Composition (Versuch einer Anleitung zur Composition, 1893), the music theorist, Heinrich Christoph Koch (1749 – 1816), quotes this last movement as an example of supreme skill. A note on the title page of the Paris edition of the symphony reads: “From the Concert Spirituel repertoire”, in other words, it was written in answer to a commission from one of the leading Parisian orchestras of the time.

Rosetti is the author of at least seven violin concertos. The D minor Concerto evidently appeared, as did the Symphony in D major, soon after Rosetti’s return from Paris. The similarity between this work and the Mannheim Violin Concerto of Ignaz Franzl (1736 – 1811), a composer who had also made his name in Paris, is obvious. Franzl’s concertos, though, which were intended for performance by their author, demand a more sophisticated technique, than does Rosetti’s Concerto, indicating that the latter was composed not for the Wallerstein first violin, Anton Janitsch (ca. 1752 – 1812), a pupil of the famous Gaetano Pugnani but most probably for a less virtuoso violinist. The two extant manuscripts point to the court orchestras of Prince-Bishop Colloredo-Waldsee and Prince von Bentheim-Tecklenburg.
This Rosetti score is permeated by the most candid humor. Tragic, to start off with, the Violin Concerto has a very real element of fun in it. This is evident in the final rondo, the key element in which is a rousing leitmotif in folk vein. Moreover, in manner of composition, elegant, with a dash of coquetry, Rosetti reminds us of Parisian tastes of the period.

The Violin and Horn Concertos were written at roughly the same time which maybe why they are alike in many ways (for instance, they have a similar structure and key plan). Rosetti wrote altogether about twenty concertos for solo and double horn. They were nearly all composed for the musicians of the Wallerstein orchestra, Joseph Nagel (1751 – 1802) and Franz Zwierzina (1751 – 1825), who joined the court orchestra in 1780 and who evidently were really brilliant horn players.
The Horn Concerto (Murray C38) has an unusual beginning: several introductory phrases of the strings in D minor are answered by the soloist in parallel F major. And after this ‘motto’, the entire orchestra appears to come in again from the beginning. The unexpected changes from major to minor mode here, just as in the D minor Violin Concerto, is usual and also define the overall character of the concerto. The result is a variability in mood which appears to anticipate the music of the romantics. The slow movement, a melodious Adagio, revealing in full measure the ‘vocal’ potential of the solo instrument, is followed by a spirited and strikingly distinctive rondo-finale, in which hunting motifs, instead of cantilena melodies, are interwoven in the horn part.

The G minor Symphony written in March 1787 in Wallerstein is Rosetti’s only symphony in a minor key and it represents the summit of his achievement in the genre. But for all its musical merit, this Symphony, unlike many other of Rosetti’s works, was not published in the composer’s lifetime. In the former Augsburg Court Library (today the Augsburg University Library), the autograph score for this work is preserved; and, in addition, the parts for several instruments, copied by Rosetti’s contemporaries, have come down to us, thanks to which it has been possible to establish that, in the early 1790s, the G minor Symphony was played in Berlin and London.
The dramatic impetus of the First movement gives it an affinity with the Mozart G minor Symphony. But it is of interest to note that the Mozart Symphony was written about one year after Rosetti’s work. The basic motif, at first played piano, becomes the main theme for the whole form. A dramatic tone is also audible in the Minuet, however the humorous Trio is devoid of all tension. The Third movement (Andante ma Allegretto) written in the parallel major key is one of those subtle pieces, with a shade of roguish humor, that are so very characteristic of Rosetti. In the Finale, an energetic capriccio, echoes of the First movement melodies are heard. It would seem that Rosetti wrote this work easily, playing with traditional forms and deploying themes in carefree, picturesque disorder. The harmonic language is at times quite complex but, in the Finale, it is skillfully sparse: one can but marvel when one sees how storm and stress, whim and joke are created from a few chords, and how a splendid rondo, with all its modulations and climaxes, never strays beyond two-three keys.


Gunther Grunsteudel,
Head of the Music Collection
of the University Library of Augsburg
Translated by Amanda Calvert


Text of the booklet "Antonio Rosetti. Bohemian Mutineer / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


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