Notes and Editorial Reviews
SINFONIAS FROM THE ENLIGHTENMENT
moderntimes_1800 (period instruments)
CHALLENGE 72193 (2 CDs: 94:14)
Alcide de bivio:
J. G. GRAUN
Sinfonia in E?.
C. P. E. BACH
Sinfonias: in B?; in E?.
W. F. BACH
Dies ist der Tag:
Symphony No. 39.
Symphony No. 29
“The Enlightenment” and “The Age of Enlightenment” are more or less umbrella terms that cover intellectual and philosophical development in the last half of the 18th century, primarily in Europe. It began in Germany, France, and Britain, spreading across the continent to include Scandinavia and even Russia. There is no generally accepted date as to when the movement began; some historians say the mid 17th century, while others move the timeline forward to the beginning of the 18th century. Regardless of when it began, the term entered the English language in the mid 19th century.
The era was marked by political aspirations toward governmental consolidation, nation-building, greater rights for the common man, and an attempt to do away with the arbitrary authority of the aristocracy and the church. During the Enlightenment, reason was advocated as the primary source and basis of authority, and it was during this time that Frederick II, also known as Frederick the Great, came to the throne. Paramount was the light of reason, not to mention the clarity of scholarly learning and science. Emanuel Kant termed this time, “The Age of Enlightenment, or Frederick’s century.”
The finest of the finest found a welcome mat at Frederick’s court, and the court orchestra was no exception. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the king’s
; Johann Gottlieb Graun his
; his brother Carl Heinrich Frederick’s
. Additionally, the Benda brothers played in the orchestra and Joseph Joachim Quantz was the court composer. Frederick invited Sebastian Bach to his court, providing him with the so-called
that served Bach for his
. The monarch used the invasion of Dresden to acquaint himself with Johann Adolph Hasse and his wife, the famed opera singer Faustina Bordoni.
Composers of this era felt that their primary mission was to touch not only the ear, but also the heart, and the musicians and composers of Frederick’s musical establishment marked the metamorphosis from the
to the Enlightenment and
Sturm und Drang
. The most telling fingerprints of the change can be found in the music of J. G. Graun and C. P. E. Bach, where the outer movements of their symphonies are peppered with sudden and unexpected shifts in both melodic and harmonic material and stark—and occasionally violent—dynamic contrasts.
While sweeping changes were under way elsewhere, things in Vienna were—for the moment, at least—
. There was no chance for a cultural reformation while Maria Theresa sat on the throne, but even in distant and isolated Esterháza, Haydn was aware of the new movement. He later admitted that he profited from life in the artistic antipodes, for away from the seat of Imperial power he could try out new ideas—minor keys, such as in the symphony recorded here, for example—and develop his own ideas independent of the current trends and counter-trends. Mozart had also flirted with the
Sturm und Drang
and his Symphony No. 25 in G Minor—one of just two he wrote in a minor key—is a perfect example of the style, a study, if you will, for the great G Minor Symphony that was waiting in the wings. But it is Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K 201—a lightly scored, masterly study in counterpoint—that we have here, and it is worlds removed from the tension, turbulence, and raw energy that Wolferl unleashed in the earlier symphony.
This is my first encounter with moderntimes_1800. It is an Austrian period-instrument ensemble based in Tyrol and founded five years ago. Its moniker is explained in the annotations: “All composers have written and continue to write for the instruments of their particular age, and as such, all music can claim to have been ‘modern’ in its own time. The inclusion of the date ‘1800’ in the name of the orchestra refers to one of the most turbulent epochs in European history in which society, politics, and culture all underwent fundamental change, heralding the advent of European Modernity. The transition from the 18th to the 19th century marked the beginning of the collapse of an epoch, characterized by upheaval and reorientation in the most diverse spheres.” Thus the title of the set comes clearly into focus.
A fine sense of vitality and elegance runs through these works, which are presented in an effortless and sympathetic manner from first note to last. The pulse is strong, the dynamic shifts striking, and the articulation sparkling. Moderntimes_1800 exhibits a rare dedication to the music; this is in evidence
the meticulous attention paid to each detail, be it written or implied. These appealing renditions appeal to novice and
FANFARE: Michael Carter
Works on This Recording
Alcide al bivio: Sinfonia in D major by Johann Adolf Hasse
Written: 10/7/1760; Vienna, Austria
Length: 7 Minutes 54 Secs.
Symphony in E flat major by Johann Gottlieb Graun
Length: 6 Minutes 24 Secs.
Symphony no 39 in G minor, H 1 no 39 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Written: by 1770; Eszterhazá, Hungary
Length: 18 Minutes 12 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Symphony in E flat (Graun): I. Allegro
Sinfonia for 2 Oboes & 2 Bassoons in E flat (C.P.E. Bach): II. Larghetto con sordino
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