Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Post

As snow falls on both our US office in Rochester NY and our UK home in Woodbridge, Suffolk, we draw our chairs a little closer to the fire, cup our gloved hands around a mug of mulled wine and look back on our publishing programme for 2010:

Alexander Zemlinsky ‘leaves us in no doubt of just how complex and how crucial Zemlinsky's personal and professional relations were’, declared the Gramophone.
CHOICE claimed that there is ‘nothing quite like [Reading Mahler]’ - an essential addition to the centenary literature.
Busoni as Pianist: Svetlana Belsky’s new translation of Grigory Kogan’s classic study.
The Twelve-Tone Music of Luigi Dallapiccola reveals the great twentieth-century Italian composer's innovative handling of harmony, form and text setting.
The Music of Luigi Dallapiccola: a paperback edition of a book described as ‘an overdue landmark in Dallapiccola studies’ by the UK’s Classical Music magazine.
Richard Wagner and the Centrality of Love: a controversial book that divided Wagnerite opinion, but it was one of the Financial Times’ top music books of 2010.
Wagner’s Ring in 1848 presents an English translation Wagner's original Siegfried libretto and his early essay on the Nibelung myth.
Art and Ideology in European Opera examines the interplay between opera, art and ideology across three centuries.
Ian Woodfield’s The Vienna Don Giovanni looks at the compositional history of Mozart’s opera.
Samuel Barber Remembered: Peter Dickinson’s collection of interviews and essays shed new light on this popular - and misunderstood - composer.
Robert Riggs’ Leon Kirchner is the first biography of the great American modernist who died in 2009.
The Whistling Blackbird is the charming title of composer Robert Morris’ essays and talks on music.
‘One of the best-written books about a musician to appear for many years’ said BBC Music of Diana McVeagh’s Gerald Finzi, newly available in paperback.
BBC Music of the Glock Era and After: Leo Black’s mixture of memoir and portraits enchanted reviewers.
The fifth volume of Benjamin Britten’s Letters from a Life covers the period of his pacifist masterpiece, War Requiem.
Completely revised and updated, Imogen Holst: A Life in Music, was issued in paperback in November.
The New Aldeburgh Anthology was also reissued in paperback, bringing Benjamin Britten’s Suffolk and the Aldeburgh Festival to life as never before.
Of Poetry and Song is a truly interdisciplinary study of text-music relations in the German Lied.
Essays on the History of English Music in Honour of John Caldwell looked at music from the medieval carol to the twentieth century.
Marianna Martines ‘sets new standards [for books on women composers]’ observed the Musical Times.
Juan Esquivel: A Master of Sacred Music during the Spanish Golden Age is the first study of this master of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
New in paperback from Toccata Press, The Harmonious Musick of John Jenkins (Volume I) concentrates on the composer’s music for viols.
The Consort Music of William Lawes 1602-1645 was described as ‘vivid’ (TLS) in its portrayal of Lawes’ music at the Court of Charles I.
Peter Phillips thought the Balcarres Lute Book a ‘beautiful publication’ in the TLS. A revelation for lute players worldwide.
Peter Holman’s Life After Death: The Viola da Gamba in Britain from Purcell to Dolmetsch is a fascinating new study of the history of the viol.
The Music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is a long-overdue study of the music of the eldest of Bach’s four composer sons.
Szymanowski on Music, newly paperbacked, includes selected essays and other pieces by the most important Polish composer since Chopin.
Martinu and the Symphony is not only the first book in English but by far the most comprehensive work on the subject in any language.
At the heart of Comrades in Art is the correspondence of the composer-pianists Percy Grainger (1882-1961) and Ronald Stevenson (b. 1928).
The older composer is celebrated in The New Percy Grainger Companion, a new collection with contributions from performing musicians and Grainger scholars.
Tully Potter’s monumental Adolf Busch, thirty years in the making, was described as ‘a magnificent achievement, one to challenge all future biographers of any musician,’ by Fanfare.
Beethoven's Chamber Music in Context shows how the larger scale works relate to the chamber music and how the composer evolved an increasing freedom of form.
Bernarr Rainbow on Music includes a memoir and selected writings by the leading historian of music education.
Good Music for a Free People examines the activities of the Germania Musical Society, a group of immigrant musicians who toured the United States from 1848-1854.
A Tanner's Worth of Tune is the first book on the post-war British musical, described as ‘an instant must-have for any lover…of musical theatre’ by the Stage.

A very happy Christmas and a harmonious New Year from all at Boydell & Brewer, the University of Rochester Press, Toccata Press and Plumbago Books.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Herzliche Glückwünsche zum Geburtstag, Wilhelm Friedemann!

As 2010 comes to an end, lovers of keyboard music will remember the bicentenaries observed during the year for Chopin and Schumann. Some will look forward to that of Liszt in 2011, while others will recall Mendelssohn's in 2009. Before 2011 is over, all these composers will have been the subjects of numerous symposia, festivals, and publications. Yet it would be a shame, in the midst of these celebrations, to overlook the fact that the present year has marked the three-hundredth birthday of another composer arguably of comparable merit: Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, born at Weimar on Nov. 22, 1710.

Friedemann, the oldest son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach, has often been described as the most brilliant of his father's children. No fewer than five of the latter became professional musicians; four are known to have been composers. Of these, Sebastian's second son Carl Philipp Emanuel, born in 1714, is now probably the best known, his music the most frequently performed. But Emanuel has long been rivaled by Johann Christian, the youngest of all (born 1735), thanks in part to his influence on the young Mozart. Friedemann has never been so well known or appreciated, and although a new critical edition of his works began to come out in 2009, before the appearance of my recent book he and his music had been the subject of only a single monograph, published in German in 1913.

Unlike some Bach specialists, I've always been interested in the music of the sons as well as the father, not to mention other members of the family. Virtually all of them were, of course, keyboard players, writing substantial quantities of music for harpsichord, organ, clavichord, and (in some cases) early pianos. Most, including Friedemann, also made important contributions to chamber, orchestral, and vocal repertories. A keyboard player myself, since my college days I have been fortunate enough to have had access to their music, and to good instruments on which to play it.

But even on a good clavichord or fortepiano, Friedemann's music, although often very expressive, is challenging for both player and listener. His friend J. N. Forkel (Sebastian's first biographer) even said of one piece that the difficulties of learning to play it were incommensurate with the rewards of hearing it. Nevertheless, as Friedemann's tercentenary approached, I felt that the time was ripe to test this and other perceptions of his music by subjecting it to a careful critical review. Even if some of the music is indeed not worth the challenges of learning it—a position far from certain—the question of how Friedemann's distinctive style might have emerged within the Bach household was certainly an intriguing one. Therefore, about three years ago I set out to examine and write about all of his surviving works.

Having previously done something similar for all of Sebastian's keyboard works, I knew what I was getting into. In the case of Friedemann, the task did not appear to be as difficult. True, only about half his music was available in modern editions, and some of these are quite old and not terribly reliable. But the German scholar Peter Wollny, in his Harvard dissertation of 1993 and subsequent publications, had laid the groundwork for a critical re-examination of Friedemann's music. And virtually all of the music was available at least in microfiche facsimiles of eighteenth-century manuscripts, many of these the composer's autographs. Best of all, Friedemann left only about one hundred works, making it possible to study and write about his entire surviving output much more quickly than would be the case for, say, Emanuel, whose collected music comprises perhaps ten times as many compositions.

When I began the process, I thought I knew Friedemann's music reasonably well. After all, I had performed a number of his sonatas and fantasias, and I knew his famous flute duos as well as recordings of several of his concertos and vocal works. I had examined the manuscript of his flute concerto almost as soon as it had become available in Berlin in 2002. The general impression I had from these was, as various scholars had observed previously, of a style that combined elements of his father's contrapuntal manner with the so-called galant style popular in the mid-eighteenth century, and more specifically the so-called empfindsamer version of the latter associated with Emanuel.

As I worked on the book, however, it became clear that this was an over-simplification. And although I found myself confirming some of the oft-repeated assertions about the peculiar challenges of Friedemann's music—and of his own personality—I realized that he was far more his own composer than I had realized, distinct from Emanuel and other contemporaries in certain aspects of his approach to both composition and performance. Forkel had reported that both brothers, realizing the impossibility of equalling their father, had determined to be original, musically distinct from Sebastian. Clearly they had also turned out to be distinct from one another as well.

How could two brothers, born in the same town into the same family just four years apart, have turned out so differently, in their music as well as in their careers and personalities? The biographical side of this question must remain obscure, for we simply lack the requisite documents, especially with respect to Friedemann. This is so despite the survival of unique sources such as the famous Little Keyboard Book for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, a manuscript (now at Yale University) prepared for the young Friedemann by his father, or several pages of counterpoint studies that Friedemann, now a young professional in his twenties, wrote out jointly with Sebastian. These naturally deserved close consideration in the book, and I decided to devote a chapter to Friedemann's musical upbringing.

But as intriguing as Friedemann's personal development and character may be, our questions about it are largely unanswerable except within the realm of fiction—which may be one reason why he, alone of his brothers, has been the subject of a novel, plays, and even two operas. These largely ignore historical realities, although the 1941 film Friedemann Bach is surprisingly true to life in some respects. For instance, one scene depicts him improvising for an aristocratic audience; he performs fragments of three actual works, on a real eighteenth-century harpsichord that the historical Friedemann may have known, now in Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin.

The really interesting things in the life of a musician, however, are his or her works. I therefore chose to focus my book on Friedemann's compositions, which fall into three categories: keyboard works, music for instrumental ensemble, and vocal music. The last category was the most difficult to write about, for relatively few of the compositions are published. At first I intended to consider only representative examples—mostly sacred cantatas—especially as they were more or less dismissed by most commentators. Yet as I studied them, often in Friedemann's own barely legible manuscripts, I realized that—like the equally underestimated vocal music of Emanuel—they too deserve careful consideration. Particularly notable was a large secular cantata or serenata in honor of King Frederick the Great of Prussia—a musical monarch more frequently associated with Emanuel, yet important at least indirectly in the life of Friedemann, who, after starting his career in Saxon territory, eventually followed Emanuel (and Christian) to Prussia and its capital Berlin. Indeed, the journey of this son of Bach from Dresden, with its musical culture dominated by Italian opera, to a more northerly region where subtle chamber music reigned supreme, became an important theme of my book.

One challenge that I had to overcome in writing the book was the absence of legible or accurate scores for many of Friedemann's major works. Without such scores, it was simply impossible to evaluate works such as the serenata for Frederick or a keyboard concerto in G minor whose attribution to Friedemann had been dismissed by previous scholars. Nor could readers get a good idea of what these works are like. For this reason I found it necessary to create my own scores of many unpublished works, some of which I have put online. Some other works can be found in passably accurate editions at the International Music Score Library Project website, and all will eventually appear in the ongoing collected edition.

Nevertheless, in view of the difficulty of accessing this music, I determined to place far more musical examples within the book than is customary. I am grateful that my editors at the University of Rochester Press were able to accommodate me, and even secured a subvention from the American Musicological Society, for which I am grateful, to facilitate publication of what turned out to be a somewhat larger book than they originally bargained for. Of course, such examples create an additional challenge for many readers: lacking recordings of many of these works, how can they evaluate what they read about them or adequately judge what the music sounds like?

My solution to this problem has been to include on my website audio versions of all the music examples in the book. These audio versions are no substitute for recordings of actual performances; they're synthesized versions of the scores, generated automatically by my music notation software. But I hope they will help make the examples more usable for readers.

When I perform my own recitals of Friedemann's music, I am always asked two things: Was he really a drunk (as was alleged), and who was the better composer, he or Emanuel? I don't know the answer to the first question, and I don't think the second can have a simple answer. Friedemann is a more rigorous composer than his younger brother, maintaining three- or four-part imitative counterpoint and intensively developing a few memorable motives throughout many compositions. Emanuel's textures are lighter and his decorative approach to composition, which I've called “composition as variation,” can be more facile. Many of Emanuel's simpler pieces are frankly trivial, something that cannot be said of anything by Friedemann, who never wrote pedagogic pieces, strophic songs, and the like.

I think that Emanuel, at his best, is more imaginative and more capable of moving the listener. But Friedemann is capable of amazing, almost Beethovenian strokes in works like his F-major keyboard concerto (as yet unrecorded and unpublished in a modern edition). Even more extraordinary is the G-minor concerto, which remains almost completely unknown, although in my book I restore it to Friedemann's list of works. Here again one hears pre-echoes of Beethoven, particularly in its alternatingly meditative and rhetorical slow movement. Friedemann's famous flute duets, probably completed in his Berlin years, surpass anything else written for the instrument in the eighteenth century in their florid melodic writing and the density of their two-part counterpoint, not to mention their technical challenges.

Friedemann himself will remain an enigma. Even his personal appearance before his last years is mysterious. A widely reproduced portrait showing a lively figure perhaps forty or so of age actually depicts his pupil Johann Christian Bach of Halle—not to be confused with his brother of the same name. Yet Friedemann's music is invaluable. If his adherence to his father's tradition restricted him to some degree, it is also a continuing reason for interest in his music, which contains a fascinating and always original combination of stylistic elements belonging to both his father's generation and his own. More important, however, is Friedemann's uncompromising commitment to writing music that is at once rigorous and free, enlivened by wit as well as passion, challenging to both listener and performer and never satisfied with being merely pleasing.

We don’t usually run two posts on the same subject over two weeks but couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish this ‘enigmatic Bach’ a happy birthday. In addition to writing The Music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, David Schulenberg is author of The Keyboard Music of J. S. Bach and Music of the Baroque, both now in their second editions. He also has edited several volumes of sonatas and concertos by C. P. E. Bach. He plays clavichord, harpsichord, and fortepiano and is professor and chair of the music department at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y.

Happy birthday, Wilhelm Friedemann.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Enigmatic Bach

You might be forgiven for imagining that Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is another invention of “Professor” Peter Schickele. However in a superb new study of the music of the eldest of J S Bach’s composer sons, David Schulenberg argues that we should afford his music more respect. In this extract from the book, we see how Wilhelm Friedemann differed from his more famous brothers:

In 1774, one of the most accomplished living European composers arrived in Berlin, the prosperous capital of the powerful Kingdom of Prussia. The composer’s works included a dozen or so extraordinary keyboard sonatas, a half dozen startlingly original concertos for one or two keyboards and orchestra, and perhaps two dozen or more vocal works for virtuoso soloists and ensemble. The list of compositions is small for a musician of his time and stature, but the surviving works are remarkably original, and we do not know how many have been lost. By any measure, it is a notable oeuvre.

Nevertheless, it was unusual for a musician of his age—he was in his sixties—to be traveling in search of a position, if indeed that was his purpose. By this point in their lives, most German musicians of his abilities had been long ensconced in lifetime court appointments, or, like Johann Sebastian Bach, as municipal employees in a church or school. Why Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach’s oldest and by many accounts most talented son, was seeking a position is just one of the many enigmas that surround this peculiar yet extraordinary figure.

Other questions also loom: Where was he and what was he doing during the decade before his arrival in Berlin? Why did he leave his two previous positions, as organist first in the bustling musical capital Dresden, then in the university town Halle? Why, despite his great gifts, did his career diverge so radically from those of his younger brothers Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, who went on to fame if not fortune as royal court musicians in Berlin and London (and later, in Emanuel’s case, to a prestigious cantorship at Hamburg)? Distinct too was the life of the less well known Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, who spent his entire career working quietly but apparently happily at the minor ducal court of Bückeburg.

No less puzzling than these biographical enigmas are those raised by the music itself. How did this son of Bach, who presumably received more or less the same training as his younger brothers, come to write compositions so very different from theirs? For whom did he write his often extravagantly difficult music? Where and by whom was it heard? How are we to make sense of it today?

Although never completely forgotten, especially in the German cities where he lived, the music of Friedemann Bach was never widely distributed. It remains little performed or published by comparison with that of Emanuel and Christian, and writings devoted to it have been few and far between. Hence, even for those that know something of him—flutists and violists fascinated by his challenging and rare duets for their instruments, adventurous keyboard players seeking things to complement the better-known sonatas and fantasias of Emanuel Bach—Friedemann has been something of a footnote in music history.

Yet 300 years after his birth, there are good reasons for taking a closer look at his music. Recent years have seen renewed interest among performers as well as musicologists in the music of his brothers Emanuel and Christian, and more generally in works of the so-called galant age. Musically speaking, this is the period that lies between the Baroque and the Classical; in terms of social history it corresponds to the last decades of monarchial absolutism, preceding the French Revolution. This was the period during which the foundations were laid for the European musical structures and institutions of the nineteenth century, many of which—the star performer, the composer as popular icon, the public concert hall—are still with us. Friedemann played at least a minor role in creating that world, not only as (perhaps) an early touring virtuoso but also as teacher of Sara Levy, great-aunt of Felix Mendelssohn and an important figure in her own right in Berlin concert life of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Still, had Friedemann not been born into the most famous musical family in European history, he probably would be remembered merely as one of many honorable but obscure musicians from a particularly busy period of music history. Like his younger contemporaries Johann Friedrich Kleinknecht and Johann Gottfried Müthel, he would be known for a few unusual compositions—in their cases, a couple of extraordinary flute sonatas and several astonishing keyboard sonatas and concertos—that command respect but perhaps not a great deal of affection, if only because they are so difficult to perform and to interpret.

Problematic, too, would be the seemingly narrow character of his output, which, although encompassing most of the familiar eighteenth-century genres, centers on music for keyboard. Stylistically, Friedemann’s best-known works seem limited to what is known today as the empfindsamer style. The German term, translatable as “sensitive” or “hyperexpressive,” implies a rhapsodic, proto-Romantic manner now associated especially with his brother Emanuel Bach. In fact, Friedemann’s music shows greater range than has just been suggested. But it is indeed less diverse than that of other major composers of his time, either because he actually wrote less or because less has survived.

Therein lies another enigma: Was Friedemann truly reluctant to write his music down, preferring to improvise at the harpsichord or organ, as was already reported by his contemporaries? Or was he such a perfectionist that he allowed only a small number of highly refined, carefully worked-over compositions to leave his studio? At a time when social conditions for musicians (and audiences) were changing significantly, did he fail to understand the need to produce more popular types of music—and more of it—if he was to attain the good repute and material well-being enjoyed by both his father and his younger brothers, who better recognized the need to adapt?

The Music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach by David Schulenberg has just been published by the University of Rochester Press, and is available now from your favourite bookseller. A piece from the author and a further extract will follow over the coming weeks.