Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Rudolph in question is the Archduke of Beethoven's mighty Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano, op. 97. The sixteenth and last child of the Duke of Tuscany, late Emperor Leopold II of Austria, Rudolph was born in the Pitti Palace in Florence. Eventually he became a Cardinal-Archbishop of the Catholic Church—not, one suspects, because of any deep religious convictions (except for a few fragments he wrote no church music) but rather because he was a physically weak, neurasthenic man, unfit for diplomacy or war, the occupations of his male siblings. At any rate, his music teacher, Ludwig van Beethoven, took the occasion of his elevation to the archbishopric of Olmutz, in the present day Czech Republic, seriously enough to compose for it the
grandest and most solemn mass in the Western tradition, the Missa Solemnis in D. The mass was not completed until 1823, three years after Rudolph's crowning (if that's what happens to archbishops).
Archduke Rudolph was Beethoven's most faithful and longest-lasting patron, the only one with whom he never had a serious quarrel. A kindly, retiring gentleman (and, I suspect, a closet case), Rudolph dabbled in painting, book collecting, music manuscript collection (his huge collection of music is now housed in the library of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna), and above all, composition. “Dabbled“ is perhaps an unfair characterization of his composing activities. He was passionately committed to writing music worthy of his teacher's approval, if not admiration. He was Beethoven's only forma! composition student (as opposed to piano pupils, of whom the master had quite a few in his pre-deaf years). Beethoven detested teaching composition to anyone, even the Archduke; it took up too much of his time and distracted him from his own work. His correspondence with Rudolph is filled with excuses for not being able to make the next lesson. Anything he could dream up to weasel out of his obligation he would make use of. The mild Archduke never complained, at least not loudly, and when Beethoven did give him lessons, they were thoroughgoing ones, full of Fux counterpoint and Salieri vocal setting. Beethoven's corrections of the Archbishop's compositions are still to be seen, in fading pencil or ink, on the manuscripts. Susan Kagan, who knows more about the Beethoven-Rudolph connection than any other scholar in the world, having written her doctoral thesis on the subject and turned it into a book (Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's Patron, Pupil and Friend, Pendragon Press, 1988), has done some fascinating work examining Beethoven's corrections of Rudolph's compositions. She points out that they are never substantive but mostly matters of correcting Rudolph's musical grammar, such as forbidden parallel fifths, about which the great revolutionary was surprisingly finicky. Beethoven did not tamper with the substance of Rudolph's music; he did not try to suppress Rudolph's musical personality or to reshape his melodies.
He did not have to. From the moment Rudolph began to study with Beethoven (around 1803, the year of “Eroica“), he was under the master's spell. His compositions—of which there are some twenty-seven finished works and a much larger mass of incomplete ones—are not exactly Beethoven clones. After all, Rudolph also admired Mozart tremendously, and probably had a wider acquaintance with the history of music and musical styles, beginning with the Renaissance masters, than Beethoven did. But one is constantly surprised and (at least on my part) delighted by similarities in the work of the master and his pupil. That is what makes listening to Rudolph's music such great fun. It is a kind of supplement, or commentary, or timid meditation on the achievement of the master.
Even without those similarities, the two works on this disc would be worth knowing, as were two further compositions by the Archduke previously issued by Koch (3-7082-2 HI), again featuring Susan Kagan as pianist, partnering the violinist Josef Suk. Rudolph writes strongly profiled, melodically memorable, rhythmically compelling music. It is music that holds its own against much that was being written in and around Vienna in the first two decades of the nineteenth century—not by Beethoven and Schubert, perhaps, but by Hüttenbrenner, Leidesdorf, Pixis, Moscheles and others of the second and third echelons. I do not damn it with faint praise: these were very competent composers, writing in one of the richest moments of musical history, so far as instrumental composition is concerned. Archduke Rudolph can hold his own in that company, which is saying quite a lot.
The previous Koch release offered a Violin Sonata and a set of Variations for Violin and Piano, neither previously recorded. The new offering gives us a superb Clarinet Trio that has appeared at least twice before on discs, in deleted performances by the Nash Ensemble and the Consortium Classicum. But this is the first time that its three movements are played in the order of the manuscript. Rudolph began to write a fourth movement but abandoned the effort after a few sketches; the unfinished Trio has been published with its second and third movements reversed, in order to give it a theme-and-variations conclusion, a scheme the Archduke favored in a number of his works (including the Clarinet Sonata on this disc). But Susan Kagan, familiar with and working from the manuscript source, prefers to leave the movements unreversed. This means that the Trio ends with a Scherzo in G Minor, far from the Eb home key but, nevertheless, an invigorating and memorable movement to end on. You can program your own order, in any event.
I have never heard the Nash Ensemble in this Trio but I know the version by the Consortium Classicum and find it a more brilliant, hard-edged rendition than this new one, which, nonetheless, has a poetry lacking from the German musicians. Susan Kagan—who is, of course, a reviewer for this journal as well as a musicologist, lecturer in music history at Hunter College, and concertizing pianist—is here joined by her husband, Gerald Kagan, assistant principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet in the same orchestra. Morales produces a sweetly sensuous sound that is perhaps more appropriate to the music of the gentle Archduke than Dieter Klöcker's extrovert (but thrilling) account with the Consortium Classicum.
I am not aware of previous recordings of the Clarinet Sonata but would be surprised if this were a first; the work has been available in a modern print since 1973 and is one of Rudolph's most impressive compositions. Its Finale is a superb sets of variations on a theme by Prince Louis Ferdinand. It was one of only two works that the Archduke published, the other being a set of forty variations on a Beethoven theme for piano solo. Susan Kagan devotes an entire chapter of her book to an analysis of this substantial composition. Rereading that chapter makes me all the more eager to hear the work itself. When will she and producer Michael Fine of Koch International get together and record it? If it doesn't fill an entire compact disc there are numerous Ländler and German Dances by Archduke Rudolph, looking absolutely delicious on the page, to fill up the vacuum.
-- David Johnson, FANFARE [5/1997] Read less
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