> WEYSE Symphonies [RW]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Christoph Ernst Friedrich WEYSE (1774-1842)

CD 1: Symphonies Nos 1 –3
CD 2: Symphonies 4 & 5
CD 3: Symphonies 6 & 7
Royal Danish Orchestra/Michael Schønwandt
Rec. 1993/4, Copenhagen, Denmark
MARCO POLO/DACAPO

CD 1 DACAPO 8.224012 [66.47]
CD 2 DACAPO 8.224013 [56.32]
CD 3 DACAPO 8.224014 [54.18]


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This trio of discs is the only full recording of the symphonies and is a joint international release by DaCapo and Marco Polo from an earlier sponsored Danish release (1994).

Weyse follows the traditions of the early German school both in structure and orchestration and in listening to each work one can be forgiven thinking one is listening to Haydn. His scores confirm that he was very knowledgeable of the music of the German masters. The composer’s background, given in considerable detail in the CD booklet by Carsten E. Hatting, explains why this is so:

Christoph Weyse was born on March 5, 1774 in Altona in Holstein, Denmark where he learnt singing, keyboard, and violin in the shadow of nearby Hamburg, where C.P.E. Bach was the Municipal Director of Music. Through the goodwill of Professor C.F. Cramer of Kiel he was apprenticed to the court composer in Denmark, L.A.P. Schulz, who had himself been called from Berlin to Copenhagen a few years earlier. Weyse went to Copenhagen in 1789 as a teenager to study with Schulz ,and at first lived in Schulz's home where he studied keyboard, violin, and composition. It was not long before he began to function as a professional musician, taking up the organ, and practising in the Yor Frelsers Church where H.O.C. Zinck was organist. Then in 1792 Schulz helped the eighteen year old Weyse to get a position as assistant organist at the Calvinist Reformed Church. From this period a number of compositions are preserved in two volumes of Jugendarbeiten dated 1790-94: these are piano pieces and short songs with German text in the style of Schulz's Lieder im Volkston.

Weyse wrote his seven symphonies in rapid succession in the years 1795-99, perhaps for the Music Performing Society, but strangely enough he never returned to the genre. An unhappy love affair with Julie Tutein, daughter of a Copenhagen businessman, affected him so badly that he wrote no music in the period from 1801 to 1807. (This pause in his composing career drew him down new paths for he began to write theatre music that would appeal to a wider audience.) All the same, Weyse did not forget his symphonies. His various revisions of the scores show that they must have been revived from time to time. Fr. Kuhlau, who came to Copenhagen at the end of 1810, wrote a letter the following year to the Leipzig publisher, G.C. Härtel in which he describes the concert repertoire in Copenhagen and says that "one of the symphonies of Weyse, who is a more original composer, can be heard from time to time - some of his beautiful and effective symphonies have not yet been printed".

Two symphonies did see the light of day, for, around 1800, Weyse's patron, the wealthy merchant Constantin Brun, paid for the music engraver Sonne in Copenhagen to print the Sixth Symphony in C minor. A few years later the Seventh in E flat major was printed in Vienna by the Bureau d’Arts et d'Industrie.

Weyse later made use of his symphonies in other ways, adapting them when he needed an overture or incidental music to a production at the Royal Theatre. As early as 1800-01 he based the overture to The Sleeping Draught on the final movement of his own Second Symphony, and in 1817 the Fourth Symphony was reused for Shakespeare's Macbeth, (one of the earliest manifestations of interest in the English playwright in Denmark). Finally, the First Symphony was played in connection with an admittedly not very successful revival of Johannes Ewald's Death of Baldur in 1832. The Music Society which was founded on Weyse's birthday in 1836 and quickly evolved into a concert society, also promoted a couple of performances in 1839 of the Fifth Symphony (extensively revised for the occasion) and the Seventh was likewise revived about six months prior to the composer's death in 1842. After that time the symphonies of Weyse rarely appeared on concert programmes.

In Weyse's symphonies, the scoring would be for the typical court (chamber) orchestra, modest by comparison with the modern symphony orchestra we hear in this recording. We are told that, originally, he used one or two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and a four or five-part string ensemble. He added two trumpets and timpani from the Second Symphony onwards. This was the size of orchestra that Haydn and Mozart mainly wrote for. In the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony he introduces a single clarinet. This was still a relatively new instrument and not yet in general use, but the Royal Danish Orchestra would have had instrumentalists who could play it (or the slightly deeper basset horn) as far back as the 1770s. Weyse was able to obtain a clarinettist in 1795, but it is perhaps significant that he does not really exploit the instrument soloistically in this Largo, contenting himself with using it to intensify and give colour to the sound of the other winds. Some decades later the situation had changed, so that Weyse was able to add two clarinets and a trombone when he revised his Fifth Symphony in 1838.

CD1

The first three symphonies are generally characterised by a sedateness and robustness in mechanical composition, but which seems to suppress the free-flow of romantic ideas.

Symphony No. 1 in G minor, DF 117 (1795, revd. 1805)

Unusually, this first symphony was written in a minor key. Most symphonies from the late eighteenth century were written in major keys. Major tonality certainly dominates the symphonic output of Haydn and Mozart. As long as symphonies were only used as introductions and conclusions to the various sections of a concert - i.e. as a kind of framework surrounding a performance by soloists - a cheerful and lightweight type of music was thought most suitable. Yet minor keys provide better opportunities for delicate and expressive harmony. Therefore his feeling for tonality here may have come from a familiarity with the style of C.P.E. Bach.

The first movement, Allegro con spirito, opens with a tripping rhythmic principal theme that at once establishes the serious minor-key mood. There is alternation between energetic rhythms and more relaxed figures as the music undergoes a series of quite violent modulations before the winds bring us back to a reprise.

The second movement, an engaging Minuetto, provides examples of Weyse's feeling for tonal and melodic tension and includes a touch of drama. The trio, in which the winds play a singable melody to string accompaniment, is elegant and relaxed.

A slow and dreamy third movement, Andante, contains an early instance of the 'romance tone' which we are told was to become a hallmark of Weyse's songs with piano some years later, and includes four variations on the theme, before the movement is rounded off by a coda.

An energetic finale, Vivace, begins in lighthearted vein, but the minor-key atmosphere is not entirely lost. There seems to be a lack of purpose and the initial theme is over-worked. Before the end of the reprise, contact is re-established with the serious mood of the first movement.

Weyse revised this symphony in 1805, presumably for a concert performance and it is the latter version heard on this CD. He used it again in 1832 as a substitute for Hartmann's original music from 1779 for the play The Death of Baldur by Johannes Ewald, the first and last movements being exploited as overtures to the first and third Acts, with the third movement as interlude music.

 

Symphony No. 2 in C major, DF 118 (1795, revd. 1797)

The orchestra here is larger than that used in the First Symphony only three months earlier. An extra flute has been added, as well as two trumpets (clarini) and timpani. Weyse's early style is audible in the solid scoring and dynamic contrasts.

The first movement is a traditional Allegro con brio in 3/4 time, opening with a prominent fanfare theme that establishes the basic key of C major. A secondary charming theme is introduced which is more melodic. Lively modulations occur, but we never move far from C major so that the restoration of tonal balance seems effortless.

A slow and relaxing Adagio movement uses a theme reminiscent of Gluckian tranquillity which undergoes a series of variations. In one of the variations the theme is embellished by imitations of a little figure tossed from instrument to instrument before a final variation (in F minor) uses the full orchestra. A bridge passage brings us back to F major and the horns now provide the main theme to carry us to the coda.

A stately and dignified Minuetto with accompanying trio shows Weyse defying convention. (He almost outdoes Haydn in metrical and rhythmic irregularities.)

The lively Finale hints at Weyse's knowledge of the Viennese classical masters and provides a freshness of mood to the symphony with rapid modulations and plenty of polyphony. A short coda provides an opportunity to restate the main theme for a final time. Try tk 8 to get a flavour of Weyse’s most inventive style. Weyse revised the finale as an overture to his opera, The Sleeping Draught to which, in character, it is ideally suited.

 

Symphony No. 3 in D major, DF 119 (1795, rev. 1800)

The orchestra here is almost the same as in the previous symphony, though Weyse apparently again had only one flute at his disposal.

The first movement, Allegro con brio, in a sonorous D major and quadruple time is full of ardour, with a contrast provided between the principal and secondary themes. The former is energetic and powerful, the latter gentle and characterized by a clear division between winds and strings. In two places, Weyse surprises us with ingenious rhythmic effects. These, like the carefully calculated modulation patterns throughout the movement make one think of Haydn.

An Andante maestoso follows in a quite different mood. The key changes from D major to D minor and the full orchestra sets in with majestic rhythms, strongly underlined by prominent, serious figures in the bass. In a middle section Weyse reverts to the major key and creates an effective contrast of sound by letting the woodwinds lead off in a five-part texture, while the strings and brass outline the contours of the form.

The Minuetto likewise alternates between major and minor, with D minor again being chosen for the trio section. In this movement one is conscious of some metrical cleverness which again hints at Haydn. In the trio, Weyse uses his inventiveness where the winds begin playing the melody in double unison with pizzicato accompaniment in the strings. This melody begins with the same striking intervals as the bass theme of the slow movement, which is Weyse's unusual way of linking the Minuet to the majestic Andante and preventing the strong contrast between the first two movements from being weakened.

The festive atmosphere flows through the Allegretto finale which begins with a fresh theme, full of witty surprises –rhythmic, metrical, harmonic and melodic. A light and cheerful start makes one expect a rondo, but the movement turns out to be in clearly structured sonata form.

Weyse notes in the score that this symphony was written in September 1795 and was revised in November 1800, presumably for a new performance. It is this revised form that we hear.

In these first three symphonies, the scoring is light and although soundly written generally tends to lack any strong feeling of expression.

CD 2

Symphonies 4 & 5 are characterised by a more relaxed, lighter approach to composition where a certain inventiveness and flow makes them particularly appealing.

Symphony no. 4 in E minor, DF 120 (1795)

Weyse begins his opening movement with a majestic Grave, which prepares for the quick main section of the movement, an energetic Allegro full of rhythmic energy. Though all the thematic ideas are exploited in the succeeding, tonally more varied, sections of the movement, the main theme is always present. In the reprise the minor key tonality momentarily gives way to a statement of the subsidiary theme in E major, but otherwise a feeling of intense seriousness prevails throughout the movement.

The Largo is in sonata form, with an elegiac beginning that sounds Mozartian. A subsidiary theme is far more dramatic in character. The orchestral tutti and the rapid figures in the strings bring to mind the slow introduction to the symphony. At the peaceful conclusion of the movement the winds have almost entirely taken the lead.

A Minuetto, begins gravely, with emphasis on the minor key tonality; here Weyse employs an introductory figure that is suitable for later polyphonic treatment. In contrast the trio in E major is gracious and elegant. Here, for just a moment, the music lightens. (Try the haunting theme tk 3 at 2’36" with unusual paralleling of string/wind sections with elegant bridges provided by the brass.)

In the finale, Allegro moderato con energia, Weyse displays his contrapuntal mastery. An initial theme with a downward-moving melody followed by orchestral tutti provides only a brief introduction; then an energetic upward-moving melody gives way to a longer downward melody introduced by the cellos. Weyse works with three themes, incorporating the initial theme into a monumental triple fugue, while constantly shifting key. In the manner of Haydn the reprise insists on going its own way with new combinations.

 

Symphony no. 5 in E flat major, DF 121 (1796, revd. 1838)

Of the seven symphonies this, to me, stands out as being the most special since it is written with true feeling, inventiveness and colourful orchestration. His mechanical approach to composition is gone and the work flows freely. Weyse refers to this symphony as ‘completely refurbished’ for it was extensively revised after forty years. It is the later revised version that we hear on this recording. For his revised edition we are told that Weyse reinforced the instrumentation by adding two clarinets and a trombone, and also making major alterations to the music of all movements. The original third movement, Minuetto, had been rejected altogether and replaced by the Minuet from the First Symphony, also in the same key. In fact, the first movement has been lengthened, the second shortened, and the final movement bears little resemblance to the original. (Try tk 5.)

The Maestoso - Allegro con brio opens in an atmosphere of majestic dignity, with powerful orchestral chord tutti and stately dotted rhythms. This leads into an energetic, triad-based theme in sweeping 3/4 time that begins an Allegro section. A basic E flat tonality is established, and after a third tutti entry moves towards a contrasting key of B flat major. After a reprise Weyse adds a coda again based on the main theme, thus bringing this impressive movement to rest.

Dignity is also characteristic of the second movement, Andante in B flat major, which like the first movement is in sonata. A solo violin adds, through its dialogue with the orchestra, a dramatic element. The music does not evolve into a concertante movement in the strict sense, much less into a violin concerto, but the soloist plays an increasingly prominent role.

Weyse made a good choice in transferring his First Symphony’s Minuet to this new context; one almost senses his pleasure in re-scoring it for a larger orchestra. The gentle tones of the clarinets in the trio section underline the change in ideals of sound that had taken place over the four decades before its revision. (The brisk pace suits the symphony’s character and one wonders whether the Minuets in some of the other symphonies would have been better taken faster.)

The finale, Allegro con spirito, is also full of polyphonic fireworks and nice invention. It begins with powerful chords and a triad motif. This introduction then gives way to a fully-fledged fugue on a new theme, still in E flat major (but a rapid transition to B flat major shows that the movement is actually in sonata form). Weyse combines two themes and new motifs emerge, adding extra zest to the music, until the exposition reaches an unexpectedly subdued conclusion. This provides a brief respite before exploding into a storm of modulations break out. The coda then provides a secure conclusion to this marvellous symphony.

CD 3

In these, Weyse’s last symphonies he seems to revert to the staid style of his early symphonies although inventive ideas do creep in from time to time. Could it be that inspiration was on the wane because his love life was by now starting to show cracks?

Symphony no. 6 in C minor, DF 122 (1798, rev. ca. 1800)

Weyse wanted to hear what his former teacher, Schulz, thought of the new work. Schulz had retired in 1795 from his position as royal chapelmaster and was now living in Northern Germany. But he saw the Sixth Symphony, and his evaluation of it is extant in a letter to Weyse. Here the older man carefully apportioned praise and criticism, pointing out with precision those passages where he found the instrumentation too heavy. Weyse accepted the advice and lightened the texture, as we can see from his corrections in the autograph score at the Royal Library in Copenhagen and from the printed orchestral parts.

In this work Weyse again chooses a minor key as his tonal centre. In his musical idiom this implies gravity of expression and ample opportunities for modulation, as is heard already in the majestic introduction to the first movement, Maestoso - Allegro con brio. It opens with upward-moving scales, after which a number of short motifs in dotted rhythms are introduced in the bass. The violins carry an energetic main theme forward to a subsidiary theme with dialogue between oboes/strings and flutes/bassoons. Later, the same themes and formal elements appear, but with motifs in new combinations giving an even greater emphasis to the dotted rhythms.

The Largo begins with a horn solo accompanied by low strings. The rest of the instruments enter gradually, and in the melody played by the violins one senses a new flexibility implying the influence of Mozart - an impression strengthened by the melodic chromaticism of the strongly contrasting section that rounds off the exposition. The reprise brings back the introductory horn solo.

The third movement, Minuetto, is stately and dignified. The dotted rhythms of the first movement now return, alternating with downward-moving melodies in the strings and concise marking of the cadences. In the trio the winds take the lead with colourful sounds above the gentle accompanying figures in the strings. The pace, unless metronomically marked as such, is pedantic and makes the movement lack vitality.

The finale, Vivace, in C major displays a rich variety of musical ideas. Its lively main theme with rapidly moving accompaniment in the deep strings already demonstrates Weyse's mastery of the special kind of classical polyphony that depends for its effect on the combination of motifs in different rhythms. To this he adds dynamic contrasts and harmonic surprises (leaps to unexpected keys). The weight and fullness of this finale provide a fine balance with the opening movement and furnish an imposing conclusion to this great symphony.

 

Symphony no. 7 in E flat major, DF 123 (1799)

In this work Weyse continues to experiment with orchestral effects, particularly in the second movement. The energetic finale confirms that Weyse has not only mastery of compositional skills but also the inspirational flow to complete the work. Weyse's last symphony is strikingly simple and assured as compared with its predecessors. There are no signs of a desire to experiment with form or to struggle with complex counterpoint. Gone are the external signs of the composer battling with his material. By this time, we are told, Weyse's fame had reached Vienna where the symphony was printed, probably in 1803.

An Allegro begins with a lyrical and singable theme in 3/4 time for the string section. A contrasting section for full orchestra leads into the dominant key of B flat major, the strings introducing a secondary theme every bit as tranquil and amiable as the first, and for a while the woodwinds take over and round off this theme. Then a string postlude almost brings the music to a standstill, until a sudden entry for the full orchestra gets it under way again and the exposition ends with a marked cadence. The secondary theme is introduced by the horn, emphasizing the contrast between the principal theme in the strings and a secondary theme in the winds.

The second movement, Andante, provides a set of variations in B flat major on a stately opening theme. A lovely oboe solo runs through the fourth variation before the movement is rounded off by a double variation and a coda where the flute and bassoon momentarily have the stage almost to themselves. This is an effective movement, full of ‘modern’ orchestral colour.

A lilting third movement, Minuetto, reveals a study of the orchestration of Haydn's and Mozart's symphonies. He shifts effortlessly from tutti effects to smaller combinations of strings and wind instruments, and varies the transitions from the one to the other in a charmingly natural way, but in the composition Weyse holds to an earlier style.

An inventive and lively dance theme introduces the finale, Allegro, which provides a sense of constant motion to the movement as a whole. Like many of Haydn's finales it combines sonata and rondo features, and Weyse makes room for learned polyphony as well as playful humour before he brings it to a conclusion. Sample this enjoyable movement (tk 8). It is the only symphony the composer never revised.

The splendid Royal Danish Orchestra has some 75 players, a force considerably stronger than the court and chamber orchestras for which Weyse would have composed. However, I should have welcomed more gusto to emphasise certain phrases to add more colour whether or not accurate dynamics are shown in the score. The acoustics are ideally suited to this period and the playing superbly executed by the large orchestra. Schønwandt has clearly made a good study of the material which he is likely to have known well for he made his debut at Tivoli, Denmark in 1977. He has a reputation as a touring international conductor who has a close relationship with Danish music. In 1992 he became chief conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and became associated with Wiener Staatsoper.

All praise to DaCapo for bringing out a sequence of recordings of rarely heard works of Weyse in 1995, and for recognising the importance of their heritage in past composers. One would have welcomed at least a generous second’s pause between tracks: the finales often come in somewhat hastily. Each CD carries a good booklet, which includes very detailed notes in English by Carsten Hatting.

The discs are sold separately.


Raymond Walker


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