Giovanni Battista Sammartini occupied a key position in the development of the symphony. Born in 1701, 31 years before Joseph Haydn, he, like his younger Austrian colleague, has been described as ‘the father of the symphony’, although his name and compositions will be less familiar to listeners. Sammartini’s pioneering sympho- nies exerted a powerful influence over the emerging Mannheim School; here, young composers like Joseph Stamitz and J.C. Bach were to compose avant-garde works that evolved to become the standard four- movement model of the Classical symphony.
Much of Sammartini’s output was mislaid during the French occupation of Milan; scores ended up in Paris and Vienna, and a substantial quantity were destroyedRead more during the Second World War. However, some sets of parts survived, which allow us to appreciate fully why Sammartini was admired by the young Mozart and, that most perceptive of music commentators, Charles Burney.
The last word is best left to Sammartini’s great Bohemian rival Josef Myslivecek, who, after hearing one of Sammartini’s symphonies, remarked, ‘I have now found the father of Haydn’s style’. Praise indeed.
• Historically-informed recordings.
• Comprehensive booklet included.
R E V I E W: 3623770.az_SAMMARTINI_Symphonies_JC_63.html
SAMMARTINI Symphonies: in A, JC 63; in D, JC 22; in E, JC 31; in A, JC 60; in D, JC 11; in E?, JC 28; in D, JC 17; in G, JC 40, in E?, JC 26. String Quintet No. 5 in E? • Alessandra Rossi Lürig, cond; Accademia d’Arcadia (period instruments) • BRILLIANT 94356 (2 CDs: 112:32)
To no small degree, Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1701–75) may have as much claim to being the father of the classical symphony as Haydn—perhaps more, considering that he was 31 years Haydn’s senior. All nine of these Sammartini symphonies are among the composer’s late works, dating from between 1759 and 1775. As such, they overlap Haydn’s early efforts in the medium dating from exactly the same period. The symphonies composed by both men during the decade of the 1760s have much in common. In terms of musical style—melodic contour, harmonic process, application of evolving sonata form, and orchestration—there are many similarities between them. Only in the matter of formal layout does one note that all of the Sammartini symphonies presented here are in the three-movement, fast-slow-fast configuration that recalls the Italian sinfonia or opera overture, whereas among Haydn’s first nine symphonies, five of them already exhibit a preference for the about-to-become standard four-movement classical model.
On the matter of scoring, it should be noted that a photo of the Accademia d’Arcadia at the back of the enclosed booklet shows a contingent of strings only, plus a harpsichord and what appears to be a Baroque guitar. However, the wind instruments Sammartini calls for—oboes and horns—are included in these performances.
Noted too is that all of the works on these two discs, except for the Symphony in E?, JC 28, are unpublished and, apart from the Symphony in D, JC 17, the manuscripts all reside in the Bibliothèque Natonale in Paris. This appears to be borne out by the fact that I find no other recorded listings for these specific symphonies or for the quintet. The current two-CD set, however, is not the first release of this material. It was issued on two separate Brilliant Classics CDs in 2010, and Volume 2 of the set was reviewed by the late Ron Salemi in Fanfare 34:2. I concur fully with Salemi’s opinion that these works are thoroughly delightful and tuneful, and that they give evidence of a more accomplished hand than the symphonies Sammartini composed earlier.
With four violins—two each of firsts and seconds—two violas, two cellos, and double bass, with harpsichord and the aforementioned guitar-appearing instrument playing continuo, at least the Accademia d’Arcadia hasn’t succumbed to the one-to-a-part epidemic; supplemented by the scored-for oboes and horns, the ensemble sounds reasonably well filled-out. Equally important is that playing is on a very high level of technical proficiency, making these performances a real pleasure to listen to. Easily recommended to anyone who enjoys proto-Classical symphonies in the style of early Haydn and the baby Mozart.