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Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE RUSSIAN ALBUM


Text of the booklet "Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE RUSSIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"

In the spring of 1779, a 28-year-old Dmitry Stepanovich Bortnyansky (1751-1825) was on his way back to Russia from Italy. Many years ago, an adolescent singer of the Royal Court Cappella, born in the remote town of Glukhov, attracted attention of the then renowned maestro Baldassare Galuppi who served at the court of Empress Catherine II. Bortnyansky continued his musical studies that he had embarked on in St. Petersburg in Venice where the talented youth was dispatched, upon his mentor's recommendation, as a "pensioner" by Catherine II. "The Italian apprenticeship" extended for a period of ten years and triumphantly concluded in the creation of a number of (today, we know but three) operas. "Creonte", "Alcide" and "Quinto Fabio" were staged by major theatres in Venice and Modena and gained the approval of the connoisseurs and the general public.
Bortnyansky's return was both pleasant and alarming one. Now and again, he would reread a letter from I. Yelagin, "the director of the court theatres and music": "My dear Bortnyansky, As you have spent ten years in Italy, now is the time for your return to the homeland bringing all your compositions along. Once again, I humbly ask of you to come back without delay; firstly, you are in great need here; secondly, it will contribute to your permanent and inevitable happiness and to the establishment of your honour forever".
What was awaiting him in St. Petersburg? What "great need" and what "inevitable happiness" Yelagin was referring to? What are the tastes of the imperial court those days, what kind of composers are in vogue, how to display his gifts in the best of ways, and which of his compositions to present the Empress with?
Despite his worries, Catherine II received Bortnyansky quite favourably, as she enjoyed his musical compositions. However, he could cherish no hopes to either get a high position or to be hired to compose an opera: the imperial musical scene was then dominated by an Italian G. Paisiello who produced magnificent operas one after another for the court company. Bortnyansky was appointed to the position of "the Kapellmeister of the court choir", quite a promising job for the starters. From then on, his life and works were destined to be closely related to the Cappella's choir, and it was this very choir that he created all his outstanding sacred concertos for.
Four years later, Bortnyansky was also made the official Kapellmeister of the "minor court" of the Great Crown-Prince Paul Petrovich and his wife, Great Princess Maria Fyodorovna who would become the composer's veritable patron saint.
Dmitry Bortnyansky was obliged to compose "occasional" music, including that for the Great Prince's military fun exercises, as well as to arrange concerts and teach the Great Princess to play clavier. At the same time, he did not retire from his post in the Cappella and continued to compose choir music. As his contemporaries recalled, the composer regularly commuted between St. Petersburg and Pavlovsk and Gatchina, the far-away suburban residences of the Great Prince's family, often hastily finishing a new score while in a carriage.
The "minor court"'s primary hobby were amateur stage performances - "fashion funs" and musical events promoted by both the Europeanized Great Prince and his wife. Maria Fyodorovna herself played the harpsichord and the harp, and many court dames were good musical performers, too, like, for instance, the graduates of the Smolny Institute Catherine Nelidova and Eugenia Smirnaya. High-society amateurs would stage interludes, pastorals, and "rhapsodies with couplets". Here, in Pavlovsk and Gatchina, Bortnyansky wrote three comic operas ("La Fete du signeur", "La Faucon" and "Le Fils-Rival ou la Moderne Stratonice"), which by their musical quality and melodic charm surpassed many popular French opuses. According to one of many celebrated actors who participated in those performances, Prince I. Dolgoruky, they "caused a special response in our theatre: the grandeur of the sets, the rich costumes, the splendid music, the enticingly intriguing plot of the operas, everything enchanted both the eye and the ear of the audience". Bortnyansky's enchanting music was beyond doubt the key artistic value of those performances. As the music critic B. Dobrokhotov remarked, "On the surface, his music is as if made to garnish "the refreshing hours of leisure, pleasure and peace". But in this music, like in the prose of Karamzin, a new, <…> fine, laconic and clear native musical dialect was being formed".
For music performances by the "minor court", Bortnyansky created the Quintet for piano, harp, violin, viola da gamba and cello (1787) and Sinfonie concertante ("Symphony in the concerto mode", 1790) that he dedicated to the Princess. We can guess without a mistake, judging by the sets of those ensembles, which instruments the musicians played. Remarkable in their music and well-fitted for an ensemble performance, these compositions were performed in Pavlovsk and Gatchina on summer evenings. For Maria Fyodorovna, Bortnyansky wrote a collection of cembalo pieces that included eight sonatas, a concerto and a quartet, and yet anther quintet with a harpsichord.
Eventually, however, gloomy clouds were gathering over Pavlovsk: political disagreements between "the major" and "the minor" courts became more evident. Musical entertainment now was left behind, the company of high-society amateur actors dissolved, as many of them were ostracized from the royal court. The composer was no longer hired to write new operas and symphonies.
But in 1796, Dmitry Bortnyansky's luck drastically changed again. Once Paul I ascended on the Russian throne, on the fifth day of his imperial tenure, he appointed the composer to the post of the director of the Court Cappella, thus elevating him to head Russia's main singing institution. From then on, to the end of his days, Bortnyansky concentrated exclusively on sacred choir music. Contemporaries called him "the River Neva's Orpheus" and compared Bortnyansky's choir concertos to the angels' singing rising from the earth heavenward. He almost stopped writing secular works.
The high administrative position allowed Bortnyansky to materialize his ideas of a perfect management of the artistic entity that the Court Cappella was. While solving financial and even daily routine problems, Bortnyansky sought to reasonably provide general education for his singers in order that after "losing their voices" they could easily find new jobs.
His principal professional care, of course, was the singers' skill. "In faith, for a long time I have not heard such sweet harmony: what tender voices, what music!" I. Dolgoruky wrote in his memoirs. At their public appearances, the Cappella performed major works of the vocal-symphonic genre, from Joseph Haydn's "Die Schopfung (Creation)" to Luigi Cherubini's "Requiem". In 1816, Dmitry Bortnyansky took a new responsibility of the official censor of sacred music.
Dmitry Bortnyansky had lived a long life enjoying his contemporaries' respect and honour. The high-society salons of old noble families welcomed him as a honourable guest. The sophisticated connoisseur of the fine arts, the owner of a fascinating picture collection, the non-official arts advisor to the royal family, Bortnyansky was nominated the honourable member of the Academy of the Arts without passing the formal procedure. He died in 1825 at the age of 74, in full glory of not only the acknowledged master of the Orthodox music, but also the enlightener and the public figure.
However, the destiny of Bortnyansky's musical heritage was rather dramatic.
After the composer's death, his widow Anna Ivanovna passed the Cappella his belongings - the engraved boards of his sacred concertos and the autographic scores of his secular works. According to the inventory, the latter were quite numerous: "Italian operas - 5, Russian, French and Italian arias and duets - 30, overtures, concertos, sonatas, marches and miscellaneous pieces of sacred music, pieces for pianoforte, harp and other instruments - 61". All the works were accepted and "stored in the place prepared for them". Unfortunately, no particular titles of the works were mentioned.
Bortnyansky's choir works were often performed and published posthumously while being recognized a true gem of Russian sacred music, whereas his secular compositions - both operatic and instrumental - were soon forgotten after his death.
Only in the beginning of the 20th century, during the jubilee festivities in Bortnyansky's memory (1901), these works were recovered from oblivion. At the time, the manuscripts of the composer's early works were discovered in the Cappella's archive and publicly exhibited. Among them were the operas "Alcide" and "Quinto Fabio", "La Faucon" and " Le Fils-Rival", and a collection of clavier pieces dedicated to Maria Fyodorovna. The well-known music historian N. Findeizen wrote of the sensational discovery in his essay "The Works of Young Bortnyansky", which ended in this way: "Bortnyansky's talent was in easy command of the style of both the church choir, the contemporary opera, and the chamber music of his time. Bortnyansky's secular works <…> have remained unknown not only to the public, but also to music scholars. The majority of the composer's works exists only in the form of autographed manuscripts kept in the Court Singing Cappella's Library, with the exception of the Quintet and the Symphony (kept in the Public Library)". The scholar asked the Court Cappella to get all those materials published, but of no avail.
Half a century later, Bortnyansky's secular works were once again made a much-discussed topic. By that time, a considerable portion of his manuscripts had been missing. The Cappella's archive was disintegrated after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and its materials were sent to various funds. Fortunately, some of Bortnyansky's compositions were found, yet the major bulk of them has been lost without a trace, including the collection dedicated to Great Princess. The search is still on.

This album features Bortnyansky's secular works composed in the 1780s for "the minor court" of Great Prince Paul Petrovich and his wife Great Princess Maria Fyodorovna. This is but a small fraction of Bortnyansky's instrumental heritage. Even these works - the Concerto-Symphony, the Quintet, three clavier sonatas, the March - give us an opportunity to evaluate Bortnyansky's exceptional talent and craftsmanship. "In Bortnyansky's music is embodied the self-assured, hedonistic and dandyish age of Catherine", a Bortnyansky scholar remarked.
"Marche composee pour S.A.I. Monseigneur le Grand Duc de Russie… a Gatchina. 1787"
"The Gatchina March" was apparently meant to accompany military exercises of Great Prince Paul Petrovich in Gatchina. It was composed for winds - an ensemble of two clarinets, two natural horns and bassoon. This is the first recording of the piece that is performed in the historically adequate transcription for two oboes, two French horns and bassoon, according to the manuscript kept in the Russian National Library.
"Sinfonie concertante… composee pour Son Altesse imperiale Madame La Grande Duchesse de Russie. 1790"
One of the best pieces of Russian instrumental music of the pre-Glinka period, marked with glitter, festive splendor of sound and innovative timbre. The very name "Sinfonie concertante" emphasizes the work's originality, as in the then common terminology the word "symphony" described an overture to an opera. The Symphony was written for seven instruments - two violins, viola da gamba, cello, bassoon, harp and piano organise (a special version of a piano equipped with an organ's registers and the bellows for pumping air into them). The composer ingeniously exploited the opportunities of his ensemble. The Symphony consists of three movements. The first, Allegro maestoso, is a fast-moving allegro in the typical sonata manner. The second, Larghetto, is a melodic Siciliana, and the third, Allegretto, is a vivacious rondo.
Three clavier sonatas from the collection "Varie Sonate di cembalo Scritte per Sua Altezza Imperiale Gran Duchessa di Russia..."
Three survived pieces from the lost collection of sonatas composed for Great Princess Maria Fyodorovna. While creating those, Bortnyansky had to take into account the technical limits of his pupil. The sonatas are marked with lightness and elegance of style and easy melodic structure. To some extent they resemble the sonatas of young Mozart or the youngest of Bach's sons Johann Christian. The Sonata in C major (published in 1903) consists of three movements. The other two, of one movement.
"Quintetto … Composto per Sua Altezza imperiale Gran Duchessa di Russia… St Petersburg, l'anno 1787"
This is the first of Bortnyansky's chamber ensembles we know of. The Quintet for pianoforte, harp, violin, viola da gamba and cello enchants one with the richness of its thematic structure and the ingenuity of the ensemble writing. By its nature, this is the most "Mozartian" opus of Bortnyansky. The Quintet's composition is exciting like an intrigue of a good play, and the competition and interaction of instruments furnish the music with concerto-like features. The leading part here is that of a piano. The Quintet has three movements: Allegro moderato - a sonata allegro without elaboration, Larghetto - a tender and melodic duet of violin and piano supported by other instruments; Allegro - a brilliant tarantella.
"Concerto di Cembalo Per Sua Altezza imperiale Gran Duchesse di Russie" - is the first movement (Allegro) of the lost Concerto in D-dur for harpsichord. The manuscript was discovered in the France National Library (Bibliotheque Nationale de France) by a Ukrainian scholar M. Stepanenko and published in his orchestration. The new orchestration was written by P. Serbin in 2003, according to the author's original clavier transcription for the typical cast of musicians of Bortnyansky's orchestral works.

N. Rhyzhkova

Text of the booklet "Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) THE RUSSIAN ALBUM / PRATUM INTEGRUM ORCHESTRA"


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