As the seasons change and spring arrives, the Society’s principal bassist Rob Nairn travels back in time. The concert hall and its inhabitants are transported to the intimate salon atmosphere of Boston in the 1820s.
Rob Nairn, leader and bass
Amanda Forsythe, soprano
Christopher Krueger, flute
Christina Day Martinson, violin
Susanna Ogata, violin
David Miller, viola
Guy Fishman, cello
Ian Watson, fortepiano
- Handel: "Sweet Bird" from Il Penseroso
- Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade
- Taylor: Sonata No. 2 from Six Solos
- Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 5, Ghost
- Graupner: Governor Brooks' Grand March
- Carr: Shakespeare's Willow
- Sperger: Romanze per il Contraviolone
- Reinagle: Allegro con brio from Philadelphia Sonata No. 1
- Mozart: Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major
One hour before the start of each performance from the stage in both Jordan Hall and Sanders Theatre.
From most contemporary accounts and newspaper advertisements, we might think that the only music-making in the early 1800s occurred in churches, theaters, and public concert halls. Although rarely publicized, music was part of home entertainment and everyday life. The selection of vocal and instrumental music on today’s concert recreates the variety of compositions played in a home performance or salon in the early 19th century.
After the American Revolution, cities like Boston grew rapidly, and interest in music grew as well. The demand for music teachers increased and instrument making was also becoming more common. The piano became the pillar of home performances as manufacturing techniques helped to decrease the cost and increase the availability of the instrument. Some 2,500 instruments were built in the United States in 1829; by mid-century that number more than tripled. One family of Boston piano makers, the Chickerings, who produced some of America’s finest pianos, also became prominent members of the Handel and Haydn Society during this time.
Music publishing was a booming industry with some 15,000 separate pieces published in America between 1770 and 1820. One collection, published in the 1790s, titled Evening Amusement, included a selection of songs and dances for home entertainment. Some of the works, such as “Yankee Doodle” and “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” are still familiar today. Other publications included works by European composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, or the latest works by American composers such as Reinagle, Taylor, and Carr.
“Sweet Bird,” featuring beautiful text painting in the flute and voice, comes from George Frideric Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (HWV55). Using a text by John Milton, Charles Jennens, one of Handel’s librettists, interwove poems of L’Allegro (Joyful Man) and il Penseroso (Contemplative Man), resulting in the Moderate Man. Premiered in London on February 27, 1740, this pastoral ode was one of Handel’s favorite compositions.
Franz Schubert (1797–1828) composed his lied (song) Gretchen am Spinnrade when he was 17. Setting a text from Goethe’s Faust, Schubert uses the piano and voice to enact a dramatic scene describing Gretchen’s love for Faust, a man she has recently met. However, Schubert’s setting suggests something beyond this simple scene. He uses the first stanza of the poem like a refrain, underscoring Gretchen’s inner emotional turmoil.
Raynor Taylor (ca. 1747–1825) moved to the United States in 1792, perhaps because of his student Alexander Reinagle. Taylor was born in London and, as a young member of the Chapel Royal, sang at Handel’s funeral in 1759; one story claims that his hat fell into Handel’s grave. In Philadelphia, he taught and was a vital part of church and theater music; and he was one of the founders of the Musical Fund Society in 1820. His Sonata No. 2 for solo cello and bass, from an unpublished collection of six sonatas composed about 1780, fits a contemporary description of his compositions: “he stands upon the highest ground both as to science and originality, as well as to knowledge of effect.”
Born into a family that had served as court musicians in Bonn for two generations, Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770–1827) career path seemed certain. By the age of 11, he showed talent as a pianist and composer; his “youthful genius” was compared with that of Mozart. In 1787, Beethoven traveled to Vienna where he probably met and maybe even studied with Mozart. Beethoven did not return to Vienna until 1792, when studies with Haydn were arranged. There, Beethoven began to build a reputation as a virtuoso pianist and composer, taking up permanent residence in the Austrian capital.
Beethoven premiered his Piano Trio
No. 5 in D Major, Op. 70, No. 1 at a private performance in the home of Countess Erdödy, to whom the piece is dedicated.
The Trio opens with a bold statement that is offset by imitative gestures. The ethereal atmosphere Beethoven evokes in the second movement ultimately led to the work being called Ghost. It is interesting, however, that Beethoven’s sketches show musical material used in this movement alongside ideas for an uncompleted project, the Witches’ scene from Macbeth. The pensive mood of the Largo is dispersed in the last movement, in which the instruments engage in a sort of friendly competition.
Gottlieb Graupner (1767–1836) was one of the founders of the Handel and Haydn Society. Born near Hanover, Germany, Graupner played oboe in the Hanover military band until 1788, when he moved to London. There he played oboe in the orchestra that premiered Haydn’s first set of London symphonies. In the late 1790s, Graupner moved to Boston, where he became an important figure in the city’s musical life as a performer, teacher, and publisher. He founded, led, and played bass in the Philharmonic Society, a group dedicated to playing orchestral music. He composed Governor Brooks’ Grand March in honor of John Brooks (1752–1825), who served as the 11th governor of Massachusetts from 1816–1823. Brooks was also a captain in the Continental Army; he fought at Concord, Bunker Hill, and Valley Forge.
Along with Reinagle and Taylor, Benjamin Carr (1768–1831) was a fixture of musical life in Federalist Philadelphia. He published and composed in America after having studied with some of the leading church musicians in his birthplace of London. He established successful publishing businesses in
New York (later sold to James Hewitt
in 1797) and in Philadelphia (at that
time the nation’s capital). Called the
“father of Philadelphia music,” he was a founder of the Musical Fund Society. In Shakespeare’s Willow, Carr uses a minor key and has no introduction or closing for the piano, both unusual in Carr’s songs. These features plus the rhythmic emphasis of the word “willow” capture the resigned hopelessness of Desdemona in Act IV, Scene 3 of Othello.
Romanze per il Contraviolone by Johannes Sperger (1750–1812) combines two favorite sounds of the late 18th century: the bass and the string quartet. Composed between 1789 and 1793, Romanze highlights the expressive qualities of the bass in a fascinating interplay with the quartet. Sperger, a composer and bass virtuoso, studied in Vienna and held positions at several courts; his longest appointment was for the Duke of Mecklenburg at Ludwigslust from 1789 until his death in 1812.
Alexander Reinagle (1756–1809) was born in Portsmouth, England. He moved to America and died in Baltimore in 1809. His musical training began in Edinburgh with his father, who was a trumpeter, and Raynor Taylor. While traveling in Europe, he met and later corresponded with C.P.E. Bach. Reinagle came to America in 1786; he presented a concert in New York, which he found
“a rather uninviting place for musicians,” and moved to Philadelphia shortly after. There he restored the City Concerts season, programming a mix of orchestral works by European composers and some of his own compositions. He gave music lessons; one of his students was Nellie Custis, George Washington’s adopted daughter. In addition to concertizing and teaching, for 15 years Reinagle conducted and created arrangements for Thomas Wignell’s theater company called the New Company. His Philadelphia Sonata No. 1 was one of four sonatas composed around 1790. The first sonata contains brilliant writing for the piano, with changing rhythmic figures throughout the first movement.
Wolfgang Amadé Mozart’s (1756–1791 Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K. 285, is a work that entertains and entices audiences today as much as it did in Mozart’s day. The light-hearted outer movements of this three-movement work offset the serene slow movement, which features a lyrical flute melody accompanied by pizzicato strings. This quartet, along with other works for flute, may have been part of a commission from the Dutch amateur flute player Ferdinand Dejean, composed in 1777. In that same year, Mozart initiated a new plan of composition and teaching in Mannheim after being denied a position at that court. Mozart wrote that he wasn’t at his best when composing for the flute, an instrument that did not appeal to him personally; this quartet might cause us to wonder about that sentiment.
Although many of the works we hear on this program are not as familiar as they were in the early 19th century, the idea of the salon—time spent with music and friends—is perhaps not so different from today.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, PhD
2011–2012 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.