Recorded in 1990
Anner Bylsma - Tafelmusik Orchestra
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Today's solo and chamber cellist can rejoice in a surfeit of concertos, sonatas, trios and quartets, to which some 8,000 additions have been made just in the past two decades. Not all of this music has been published (and heaven forbid that it all should be), but there is not the slightest doubt that the repertoire is widening wantonly. Much of the newly rediscovered music dates from the early 18th century and began in Italy, whence Venetian publishing houses sent it northwards to Vienna, and indeed much farther, for what could not escape in print found its way across frontiers in handwritten copies purchased by connoisseurs. How else could the manuscript of Domenico della Bella's prodigiously virtuosic cello sonata have reached Berlin?
The music historian Charles Burney, for instance, kept copyists constantly at work during his European tour of 1772. In the course of those travels he heard a concert in Berlin at the house of Baron Seidlitz, one of the king's ministers. The principal cellist of the baron's private orchestra, Herr Grauel (marvelous name for a cellist!), made so bold as to perform one of his own concertos. "It was but ordinary music," reports Dr. Burney; "however, it was well executed, though in the old manner with the hand under the bow."
Several years before Burney's visit Haydn had written the first of the two C major concertos here recorded. Did Joseph Weigl (for whom 1 believe it was probably intended) bow it in the Grauel manner? Unfortunately we do not know.
Grauel left Esterhazy in 1769 to join the Vienna court orchestra, where although the pay was not quite as good he did fairly well for himself, supplementing his income by playing at the Italian opera. One of the three colleagues he left behind, who continued to work under Haydn and add lustre to the band, was Anton Kraft.
Kraft (1749-1820) came from a small town called Rokycany near Plzen (Pilsen). That city was known, then as now, for its excellent beer, and Kraft pere was in fact a brewer; he was also fond of music and taught his young son to play the cello. Anton went on to study philosophy at Prague University, concurrently benefiting from advanced tuition given him by Werner, cellist at the Kreuzherren Church. Music finally triumphed, and in 1778 the young virtuoso secured an appointment in Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy's orchestra.
Two years later he sought and obtained lessons in composition from Haydn, who was so inspired by Kraft's resourceful technique that he returned the compliment by asking for advice in writing for the cello. This led to the composition of the Cello Concerto in D, which because of a misleading encyclopedia entry came to be attributed to Kraft. The confusion was sorted out only after World War 11, when Haydn's autograph score signed and dated 1763 turned up in the cellars of the Austrian National Library.Kraft's son, named Nikolaus after the prince, also became a cellist and between about 1810 and 1820 wrote four concertos for his instrument. He went on tour with his father in 1789, and on meeting Mozart in Dresden they gave a concert which included the Divertimento in E-Flat, K. 563. Nor did the dynasty peter out at this point, for Nikolaus too had a son, Friedrich Anton, who studied cello with his father and played for many years in the Stuttgart court orchestra.
On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790 Anton Kraft had entered the service of Prince Grassalkowicz de Gyarak in Bratislava (Pressburg); there he stayed for only five years, and in 1795 he was recommended to Prince Franz Josef Lobkowitz, an ardent music-lover of Bohemian extraction and a patron of Beethoven. It was in the closing years of the 18th century that Kraft polished and perfected his Cello Concerto, Op. 4, which he had often played from the manuscript copy while on tour. Beethoven probably heard it in Vienna, for he mentions Kraft in a letter of 1807 to Herr Bigot on the subject of the Triple Concerto, Op. 56, which received its first performance in the following year.
Kraft made a great impression on all who heard him, thanks to the purity of his intonation and the power of his expression. His concerto, with, its finely proportioned Allegro aperto, its delightful Romance, and especially its vigorous and energetic Rondo alia Cosacca (music of Polish rebels guarding the Bohemian border), makes for a brilliant and attractive work, recorded now for the first time.
Anner Bylsma, who edited this and the Haydn concertos for the recording, reminds us that Kraft counseled Haydn in his cello writing in the same way that the violinists Ferdinand David and Joseph Joachim later advised Mendelssohn and Brahms respectively. Kraft made significant contributions to cello playing, in particular through his advocacy of overhand bowing and his advanced left-hand technique. His tone was of great power (his name means "force" in German), and he never disappointed his audiences in this respect.
Of the three concertos on this recording one is by Haydn, one by Kraft, and one 1 can't but think by both.
The first C major concerto on the recording, which is undoubtedly the earliest of the three (ca. 1765), is typical of Haydn's early style and very much like the violin concertos and symphonies of the time. A novel feature is the frequent use of the then recently invented thumb-position technique. It is very easy to imagine how this new technique was explained by one of the cellists in the Esterhazy orchestra (Weigl? Hammer [Marteau]?): "Now, look here, Mr. Haydn, when 1 put my thumb squarely on the fingerboard 1 can cover more than two octaves over the four strings, in any key, in any register and at any speed." (No wonder many of the concertos written and played by the virtuosos of the second half of the 18th century give the modern cellist the same feeling that the trumpet parts of Bach and his contemporaries give the modern trumpet player: a feeling of awe!).
Although there were many fine cello concertos before the invention of the thumb position like those by Leonardo Leo, C.P.E. Bach and Vivaldi the last movement of the Haydn C Major Concerto would be absolutely impossible to play without using the new technique to go up and down on one string at great speed and the same is true of many passages in the other concertos here.
The D acajou Concerto designated as Haydn's Op. 101 was long thought to be the work of Anton Kraft: not primarily because of the attribution in an early-19th-century dictionary, but for musical reasons. The first themes of all three movements are utterly un-Haydn-like in the regularity of their 4+4-bar phrasing; yet the second subjects are all very much Haydn. The masterful orchestration can hardly be by anyone else; but what about the wonderfully effective technical passages could Haydn have done that? And while Kraft was a great player (not only respected by famous Viennese composers but also by Bernhard Romberg, acknowledged the best cellist of the time), he was after all also Haydn's composition pupil for a time.
When 1 hear or play this D Major Concerto my imagination starts working again, and 1 see Haydn hugely impressed by Kraft's vision of cello playing and sympathetic to the naturalness of his themes lovingly making a wonderful concerto and a lesson in instrumentation out of an impossible piece, thinking out the perfect counterparts to Kraft's melodies by sheer hard work, and proudly publishing the result under his own famous name an edition of which Kraft would be equally proud.
Dear listener, 1 put the question before you. Do we have here a work by the young Haydn (ca. 1765), one by Kraft (ca. 1790), and maybe one by the masterful Haydn (ca. 1780) in collaboration with the young Kraft? Please decide for yourself. My opinion you will find in the cadenza to the third movement of the D major Concerto.
-Anner Bylsma, Amsterdam