Notes and Editorial Reviews
Le Portrait musical de la nature. The Village Mayor
: 3 Arias.
Engagement Cantata for Princess Catherine
King’ s Birthday Cantata
The Aeloian Harp
Sarah Wegener (sop); Frieder Bernius,cond; Hofkapelle Stuttgart (period instruments)
CARUS 83.228 (
Once in a great while something so interesting crosses my desk that I can’ t wait to get it into the CD player and give it a listen. Such was the case with this disc of music by Justin Heinrich Knecht (1752–1817). Four years Mozart’s senior, Knecht spent most of his life in Biberach, the city of his birth. Biberach had a rich cultural life, and it was chiefly due to Knecht that the music in church and concert hall reached such a high standard. Besides pursuing his activities in liturgical music, Knecht organized subscription concerts, wrote many works for the theater, and offered courses in music theory, acoustics, aesthetics, and composition as well as normal instrumental teaching in the Gymnasium. In December 1806 Knecht went to Stuttgart, hoping to obtain an appointment at court. The following spring, specifically in April 1807, the King of Württemberg did appoint him
Direktor beim Orchester
, but Knecht resigned the post at the end of 1808 and returned to his former position in Biberach, which he held until his death.
This wasn’t my first meeting with Herr Knecht; I was responsible for a feature review of a disc of three of his psalm settings in
27:1 and my radio station has a copy of his opera
The Aeloian Harp
on its shelves, but I have yet to hear any more than the overture. As for the recording of Knecht’s cantatas (MDG 614 1174) I gave it high marks, to wit, “This is one of those discs that was worth the wait. It speaks of major talent, talent that was—to use a Biblical term—hidden under a bushel for the better part of two centuries, and it brings belated credit to the creator of these settings.”
The New Grove
indicates that Knecht wrote several symphonies of a programmatic nature, including one based on Cervantes’s
, but it and an unknown number of others are irretrievably lost, so this pastoral symphony is Knecht’s sole work in the genre. It is, as the notes put it, “a child of its time, at the height of its time.” It falls into queue behind a number of pastoral works by composers such as Cannabich, Holzbauer, Rosetti, and others, including the dedicatee of the Knecht work, Abbé Joseph Vogler. Noticeable similarities between the Knecht and Beethoven’ s “Pastoral” Symphony are based on a shared tradition and perhaps even Beethoven’ s familiarity with Knecht’s work.
At first glance the similarities are striking. Both Knecht and Beethoven use a five-movement structure, and the layout of Knecht’s movements adumbrates those of Beethoven! Here are the descriptions included by Knecht for each movement:
1. A beautiful area with the sun shining, gentle zephyrs wafting, the little brook is tumbling through the valley, the birds twittering as the wild stream falls murmuring on high, the sheep leap and the shepherdess calls with her sweet voice.
2. The sky darkens in May, all nature draws a heavy and fearful breath, black clouds arise, the winds begin to howl, the thunder rolls in from the distance, and the thunderstorm slowly draws closer.
3. The thunderstorm breaks forth in complete violence, accompanied by roaring wind and driving rain, the tops of the trees sway, and the waters of the wild stream swell mightily.
4. The thunderstorm calms gradually, the clouds dissipate, and the sky becomes clear.
5. Nature is full of joy and raises its voice to the heavens to thank the Creator most fervently through sweet and pleasant song.
Beethoven noted that his “Pastoral” Symphony was “more the expression of feeling than painting,” but a comparison with the Knecht brings out similarities that are far too numerous and obvious to overlook.
The Village Mayor
was composed in 1788 on the heels of the symphony and was performed to raise funds for the improvement and renovation of the theater in Biberach;
The Aeolian Harp
—with its obvious references to Mozart’ s
The Marriage of Figaro
The Abduction from the Seraglio—
was composed during Knecht’s brief period in Stuttgart, and the excerpts from the
pièces d’ occasion
, while neither great nor profound, offer pleasant listening.
This is not my first encounter with Frieder Bernius and Hofkapelle Stuttgart, either. I reviewed their disc of Kalliwoda symphonies in
30:3, observing that Bernius and his charges offer “confident and convincing performances that are expressively adept and that command respect for Kalliwoda, even though his syntax was somewhat passé.” Much the same can be said for the performances of the Knecht symphony. Bernius succeeds in eliciting an exciting and successfully descriptive sound in the symphony and a well-managed accompaniment for the lovely singing of Sarah Wegener in the arias. We don’t know how well the symphony stacks up against similar pre-Beethoven works, but can certainly draw comparisons with the music of the master from Bonn.
This is a pleasing and satisfying effort from all concerned that—while it breaks no new ground stylistically—is beautifully crafted, well recorded, and easy to listen to.
FANFARE: Michael Carter
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