Notes and Editorial Reviews
Partitas a 3:
K 319–23, 326, 331; E 64
Gunar Letzbor (vn); Ars Antiqua Austria (period instruments)
CHALLENGE 72381 (68:12)
Johann Joseph Fux’s partitas share roughly the textures of trio sonatas—two violins suspended over figured bass—and in the case of violinist Gunar Letzbor and the Ars Antiqua Austria, they’re realized by two violins (Letzbor and Ilia Korol, with Korol playing the first part in the partitas K 322, E 64, K 326, while Letzbor takes the lead in the
others), violone, organ, cembalo, lute, and percussion. The partitas vary in number of movements from four to six, ranging from dances to contrapuntal pieces—as well as, in the Partita K 323, some movements that are graphically descriptive (“Les Cambattans,” “Les Vainqueurs”). The first partita, K 319, displays this range (without the pictorialism) in its five movements, which comprise a sprightly leaping introduction, a
, and a concluding group of movements: a Minuet and Trio, a Bourrée, and a Gigue. If the writing isn’t brilliant instrumentally, it’s nevertheless bright and demanding (as in the Passacaglia from the Partita K 320); the booklet notes stress that Fux wrote for the cognoscenti but didn’t disregard those who knew little about music, and that he considered simplicity one of the most difficult challenges. Letzbor and the ensemble play this music with a rhythmic freshness and tonal crunch that should make it as highly accessible to today’s listeners as Fux hoped would be for his. The Partita K 320 begins with two movements, a Sonata and an Allegro, cast perhaps in the
mold, and follows them with a Sarabande and a relatively virtuosic—at least in Letzbor’s conception—Passacaglia.
The Partita K 321 bears a sort of title,
Intrada in canone
, in the booklet, and while the first movement, Allegro, bears the weight of this contrapuntal learning (although lightly), the flowing Largo provides some relief before the polyphony resumes in the following Allegro. A collection of minuets and a Rondeau bring the work to a close. Perhaps these performances make the counterpoint by the author of
Gradus ad Parnassum
especially digestible, and reading between the staves, the music itself seems highly ingratiating. The Partita K 322 begins with a crisp Ouverture and follows with a set of dances, the first of which, “Entrée,” continues with the same energetic bustle, but the performers introduce a sweetly flowing lyricism into the Siciliana. The two descriptive movements of the Partita K 323 consist of rushing and slashing passages (provided in these performances with accompanying percussion) and a sort of triumphal march, followed by a
that, unlike similar movements in works by Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi, bears an explicit title.
The Partita E 64 opens with the longest of the movements in the collection, a Capriccio that lasts more than four and a half minutes and that at its outset pits rushing notes against longer-held ones (a disguised exercise in fifth-species counterpoint?) at the outset but contains at its center a solemn Grave. The Partita K 326 mixes three movements with tempo-like titles with three dances and some almost succulent eloquence in the Adagio. The program’s last Partita, K 331, consists of four movements with titles (among them “Turcaria,” “Janitshara,” and “Posta turcica”), the first of which opens with strong percussion strokes, and the second being a triple-time “Passa Gallia” (a pun?).
For those wishing to explore Fux’s chamber music, Letzbor’s exploratory collection will make an ingratiating introduction. For the subtlety and balance of the performances, as well as for the subtlety and balance of Challenge’s recorded sound, this introduction should make the collection of greater than academic interest. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
When I received this disc I checked how many recordings are devoted to the music of Johann Joseph Fux. My search identified little more than ten, most of which contain vocal rather than instrumental music. That is understandable in that the largest part of his oeuvre consists of music for voices, and in particular religious, music. Fux also composed a number of operas, but as far as I know only one of these has been recorded. Fux is not that well represented on disc, especially considering his historical importance.
It is mainly thanks to his treatise
Gradus ad Parnassum which appeared in 1725 that he figures in history books. This book is referred to especially because of its extensive treatment of counterpoint, even though it has much more to offer. But there can be little doubt that it was this particular subject which made Johann Sebastian Bach greatly appreciate the
Gradus. In his own music Fux also made extensive use of counterpoint. That was not only because of his own preference, but also that of his employers, the Habsburg emperors whom he served at the court in Vienna.
Fux was born into a family of peasants, and was sent to the seminary in Graz on the advice of the parish priest. Rather than following a vocation as a priest he aimed at being a musician. His first position was that of organist in Ingolstadt, but soon he moved to Vienna where he married in 1696. Apparently his capabilities attracted attention, as it seems emperor Leopold I himself wanted Fux to become court composer in 1698. This is all the more remarkable as since the early 17th century musical life at the court was dominated by musicians from Italy. In 1711, after the death of Leopold, Fux was appointed
vice-Hofkapellmeister, and in 1715 Charles VI made him
Hofkapellmeister, a position he held until his death.
This position was one of the most prestigious in Europe, and it brought Fux considerable fame. He even earned praise from the German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson, who was no advocate of counterpoint and much more a representative of the new aesthetics emphasizing the importance of melody. He stated that in Fux's music "no part is without a function". The editor of the catalogue of Mozart's oeuvre, Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, has done Fux a great favour by writing a book about him and cataloguing his compositions. The K in the track-list refers to his catalogue, the E (for
Ergänzung) to the appendix.
A part of Fux's instrumental music comprises pieces which are most likely meant to be played by an orchestra with several instruments per part. That is especially the case with compositions written for liturgical use. He also composed a number of trio sonatas - of which some have been recorded by the Capella Agostino Steffani, directed by Lajos Rovatkay (EMI Classics, 1991). The
Partite Ars Antiqua Austria have recorded have the same scoring - namely two violins and bass. These were likely meant to be played with one instrument per part. The bass part is here played on the violone rather than the cello. This was common practice in southern Germany and Austria in the late 17th and the 18th century.
The Partitas are in four or five movements, with the exception of the
Partita ex D (K 326) which has six. The form is varied, and doesn't follow the model of the Italian
sonata da chiesa or
sonata da camera. The
Partita ex b (K 319), for instance, begins with an 'introduzzione, allegro', which is followed by 'contraffatrice, un poco allegro', a menuet and trio, a bourrée and a gigue. There are some theatrical elements as well: the
Partita ex C (K 323) opens with 'Les Cambattans' (the combatants), goes on with 'Les Vainqueurs' (the conquerors) which is followed by a 'perpetuum mobile'. Especially interesting is the
Partita ex C (K 331) which is an early example of what was to become fashionable in the second half of the 18th century: janissary-style music. The first movement is called 'Turcaria', the third 'Janitshara' and the piece closes with 'Post turcica'. In the first and last movement percussion is used. I don't know whether this was prescribed by Fux. The first movement has been recorded by Armonico Tributo Austria, directed by Lorenz Duftschmid (Arcana, 1998), in a larger scoring. Here the percussion is a bit too dominant. Another question mark in regard to the scoring concerns the
Partita (E 64) (no key given): according to
New Grove this piece is written for flute (probably meaning: recorder) and oboe. It isn't mentioned in the liner-notes, and I don't know why it is played with violins instead.
I have very much enjoyed this disc. Fux's music is of fine quality, and contains much variety in content. Ars Antiqua Austria have done an excellent job here: I liked especially the relaxed style of playing, without any attempt to make it more dramatic than it is or excessive exploration of the theatrical effects.
The track-list in the booklet is sloppy: track-number 15 is followed by 18 to 30. The next page then begins with 29.
In his notes Letzbor writes about 'our first CD with music by Fux'. This suggests more is to come. Let's hope so.
-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Partita a 3, K 319 by Johann Joseph Fux
Ars Antiqua Austria
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