Guido Balestracci - Viola da Gamba
Guido Balestracci has chosen to record music by Schaffrath - a composer belonging to the Berlin School that grew up around Frederick II of Prussia. The gamba was still flourishing there in 1750, and Schaffrath created a paradox in writing music prefiguring the Classical style that was intended for so conservative an instrument.
The works of Christoph Schaffrath have never been recorded before. Now he is rediscovered by Guido Balestracci, who proves an ideal defender: the virtuosity and sensuality of his playing are instantly appealing.
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Christoph Schaffrath (1709-1763)
Music history is under constant revision as forgotten worthies are rediscovered by scholars and editors and brought back to life through performance. Christoph Schaffrath, a household name to music lovers in eighteenth-century Berlin, has faded from memory, given that so little of his music was published in his lifetime. But the works for concertante viol in duo, trio, and quartet settings presented here are certain to contribute to the renaissance of Schaffrath's memory. These are works of their time- melodic, tastefully embellished, charmingly expressive yet allowing for interiorized moments, and not too repetitious in the restatement of ideas-according to the vocabulary of styles and idioms that constituted the "Berlin School." The nature of Schaffrath's genius, it will be discovered, was circumscribed by the collective tastes that arose within the musical establishments of his royal patrons, thereby imprinting a certain "identity" upon all that he allowed himself to do. Nevertheless, at mid-century, musical styles were in a state of transition. The older melo-bass practice around fortified harpsichord accompaniments was increasingly diversified into the "obbligato" sonata, the galant style was all the fashion, Italian models had entirely displaced anything French, and the royal patrons of music were still making up their minds about Emanuel Bach's new hyper-sensitive or Empfindsamer style with its sometimes fluid, sometimes halting and eccentric pursuit of the more extreme musical emotions. There were choices to be made. Schaffrath's sunny compositions, with their galant inventions, fetching melodies with variations and reprises, and languorous adagios answered perfecdy and ingeniously to the reigning tastes. Each of his sonatas was an aesthetic program compiled from the current and passing forms and conventions. A bid for his immortality today can be based on no other kind of achievement.
Nearly all that can be said about Schaffrath's career is by context and inference, for not much has come down to us ol a documentary nature. Among his contemporaries, his achievements were widely recognized. Marpurg, as early as 1754, characterized him as one of the most beloved composers of his time, Gerber as "one of our worthiest contrapuntalists," and more recently, Langner as one of the richest for fantasy among the composers in the circle around Carl Philippe Emanuel Bach. Care must be taken, however. The Bach of the new sensitive style, in the eyes of music historians, has made conservatives of most of his contemporaries at the court of Frederick II ("The Great"). But that conservatism, of which Schaffrath has been accused, in fact, redounds upon Hohenzollern tastes in general, setting Berlin apart from Mannheim and Vienna. Bach, himself, suffered the narrow tastes of his employer and gave up on Berlin by 1767 - Frederick, all along, had found the great man irksome, preferred the galant to the sensitive style, and paid him poorly. Christoph Schaffrath, perhaps out of expediency, followed a different course, for his compositions display a remarkably broad yet more tempered approach to style. He was born in 1709 near Hohenstein near Chemnitz, but there is no further news of him until 1733 when he made an application for the post of organist in Dresden. Although one of the three finalists, he lost out to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and moved on to Berlin where, in the following year, he was chosen by Frederick (while still the Crown Prince of Prussia) as harpsichordist for his court in Ruppin. From there he made the move to Rheinsberg in 1736, and at the time of Frederick's coronation (1740), he joined the court in Berlin as a member of the royal chapel, only to lose his post a year later to Carl Philippe Emanuel-perhaps another reason to dissociate him from the Bach "circle," except in a generic stylistic sense. Most sources agree that in 1741 he moved on to the court of the king's youngest and only musical sister, Princess Anna Amalia, as harpsichordist and chamber musician-although at the time she was scarcely eighteen-years old, a pawn in the political marriage game, and soon to have an amorous adventure with the notorious Baron von der Trenck that would lead to temporary confinement (Frederick later imprisoned the Baron, in fact, chained him to a wall for ten years), and lifelong spinsterhood. But whether it was then or as late as 1744 that he took up his new position, Schaffrath would spend the rest of his career in Amalia's service, composing, collecting music, and performing in her musical soirees.
Concerning Schaffraths experiences at the Amalien court, there is no record. By definition, he was an extension of the Princess' musical will, one which was conservative in nature and strongly expressed to those who came under her sway. Amalia, herself, composed, performed on several instruments, and held musical evenings resembling those of her illustrious brother, to which she invited not only the local elite of Berlin (she lived for a time on the Linden), but also distinguished visiting artists and scholars. That she respected Emanuel Bach but preferred the music of Johann Adolph Hasse and Johann Gottlieb Graun (from 1740 the director of the Berlin opera) is a most revealing fact. At the same time, Schaffrath musical sensibilities cannot have been defined entirely by the Princess. He had been for seven years a member of Frederick's elite musical establishment, and his compositions from later periods demonstrate his continuing familiarity with the musical ideas and creations of his contemporaries at the royal court and chapel, as well as the Berlin opera, among them Franz Benda, the Graun brothers, Emanuel Bach, and Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, all of whom composed for the viol (and notably for Hesse), as well as Johann Joachim Quantz, Johann Friedrich Fasch, and Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg. Schaffrath was a prolific composer, even though his works are limited to harpsichord sonatas, chamber music for instruments, and orchestral settings, including overtures, symphonies, and concertos for a variety of instruments. For numbers, his keyboard creations are second only to Emanuel Bach's. Much of that music survives uniquely today in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, which includes, under separate administration, Princess Amalia's own very fine music library with its more than 600 volumes. She had been a passionate collector throughout her lifetime, encouraged in the enterprise by her first teacher Hayne, and later by her Master of the Chapel, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, whom she appointed in 1758. Schaffrath must have had at least a working affiliation with this rather testy man, for at the time of his death in 1763 he willed to Kirnberger his own extensive personal collection. From the Princess to a local school, and eventually to the German state in 1914-followed by a division of the collection between East and West Germany in 1945 and its reunification-Amalia's library managed to survive, with its sixteen works by Schaffrath for concertante viol.
The identities of the performers for whom these works were written remain uncertain. Berlin could boast the presence of one of the finest virtuosos still active in the sunset years of the viola da gamba in the person of Ludwig Christian Hesse. The partiality shown to him as a member of the King's music is a striking fact, for besides Andreas Lidl, Carl Friedrich Abel, and Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, few such masters of the instrument remained. Hesse was appointed to the Prussian royal chapel in 1742 and stayed on in Frederick Us service, rarely if ever leaving the city, until 1763. Nek known to have composed for himself (as most of the other virtuosi did), he relied upon the resident composers to supply him with new music for an active concertizing career that included not only royal venues but the many private concerts held throughout the city. For these reasons, Hesse is the fron-trunner violist for whom Schaffrath's compositions for the instrument were written-compositions this protige' of the Prussian king would have performed with the "adroitness, skill, and fire" for which he was celebrated. That Hesse at least knew Schaffrath's pieces for the viol is beyond doubt, however, if the
reports are reliable of editors working with the manuscripts in the Amalien collection, for they have detected the presence of his idiomatic fingerings in the music.
All of the works performed here reflect the three-movement design favoured by the Berlin School, whether in the fast-slow-fast pattern, or, as in the quartet, beginning with the slow movement. Together they represent a surprising degree of stylistic variety within their homogenous forms, from the short thematic phrases in the classical mode to the fluid, compounding lines of the "sentimental" style. Prominently featured in the fast movements are the tell-tale triplet motifs and "scotch snaps"-dotted figures with the short notes coming first-and ornamental trills, even on consecutive notes, and rapid, almost nervous dialogue among the instruments. In all the movements there is a cultivation of the appoggiatura so entirely typical of the Berlin composers, a figure for which Emanuel Bach, in his Inquiry into the Art of Playing the Harpsichord (1753), provided 118 varieties of execution. This rising and "dying" figure was central to all that such compositions could achieve by way of "affect." The sonata form is still securely in place, showcasing short opening melodic figures with their repetitions, variations, and movement through the voices, followed by modulations or contrasting sections that anticipate a return to the opening materials. In general, the faster movements are optimistic and transparent, taking the instruments through a program of melodic material gracefully ornamented, and calling for further embellishments according to the performance practices of that age. The spirit is transparently galant. The slow movements are in contrasting modes, and rather more influenced by the Empfindsamer Stil than has been formerly thought-especially by those historians concerned largely with his sonatas for harpsichord. For Schaffrath there was to be no Sturm und Drang, particularly where the less demonstrative viol is concerned. Nervous asymmetry, extreme chromaticism, halting forms of speech replicated in musical figures, minds glutted with such emotion that conventions must cede to fragmentation-these effects were marginal to his art. But alluring melodies have their own transporting properties, extended in the slow movements into flowing and plangent recitations. Although there can be no despair, there are touches of melancholy reverie, moments of interiority, and flights of imagination within the confines of established convention.
Significantly, the two "solo" sonatas performed here are actually trios, the upper two voices of which are shared equally between the viol and the keyboard. This promotion of the accompanist to soloist was a recent invention, indicated by the word "obbligato" (obligatory), for now without the harpsichord the music would be incomplete and entirely unsatisfactory. (These sonatas are a variation of the accompanied keyboard sonata in which a melody instrument, typically a flute or violin, played a secondary role. Compositions of this nature number into the thousands, but are rarely edited or performed today, given the slight felt by the violinists or flutists in thinking they should be the soloists!) In the "obbligato" sonata, the keyboard has basso figures only in those few limited passages in which it plays an accompaniment role, for otherwise the right hand parts are entirely written out, allowing the harpsichord to shine in full dialogue with the viol. The practice was not entirely new to the 1740s, for J.S. Bach's famous "solo" sonatas for viol are of precisely this nature, scored "down" from trio sonatas by placing the top line in the right hand of the keyboard-if they were not originally written as viol sonatas with cembalo obbligato and later converted to trio sonatas. (The practice is equally clear in Bach's Sei suonate a cembalo cetato e violino solo, col basso per viola da gamba accompagnato se piace.) This transitional gesture of modifying the basso continuo practice in order to enhance the keyboard participation in the ensemble is an important feature of these works and something to be calibrated into the listening experience.
The quartet is the production of a musical moment in which the viol could still participate as an equal in company with the violin and cello, the latter with parts largely independent of the bass line of the keyboard continuo. Although in the French musical world the viol and the violoncello were deemed rivals to the bitter end, there was a fleeting attempt in the German world to maintain a collaboration. The imbalance between them was partially modulated by the use of gut strings on all the instruments, and by writing for the viol in its higher registers with occasional multiple stops. Similar groupings of instruments, late in the history of the viol, are seen in the quartets of Abel for flute, violin, viola da gamba, and violoncello, and the string trios of Andreas Lidl of the Esterhazy court, who wrote for his instrument in a high tessitura with multiple stopping in a pronounced rococo style. That Schaffrath maintained the basso continuo is nevertheless a reminder that the viol had long enjoyed a role as a con-certante instrument in a variety of trio and quartet settings over a figured bass. Among the works in that wide-spread practice are the suites and concertos for flute, violin and viola da gamba over a thorough bass by Telemann, the sonatas of J.A. Reinken and Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber for the same configuration but with two violins, and the demanding chamber sonatas by the Berlin composer Johann Gottlieb Janitsch for flute, oboe, viola da gamba and basso continuo, undoubtedly composed with Ludwig Christian Hesse in mind.
There is an elegant disposition of movements in Schaffraths quartets (at least two are known using this instrumentation). The Adagio of the A Major sonata is richly dialogic and searching, while the closing triple-time ethos wraps up the work in pure charm. Apart from the Duetto, this quartet may be the only example of Schairrath's chamber music currently recorded. If there is to be more, there is research and editing yet to be done. But this is a cheering prospect for both scholars and performers. Little more of an archival nature may come to light about the life and activities of Princess Amalia's harpsichordist-composer, but his compositions remain in significant numbers, and continue to hold for us the dimensions of his immortality that matter the most.
- Donald Beecher, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada