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Early Music

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Johann Melchior MOLTER (1696-1765)
Overture in c minor (MWV III/9) [12:58]
Sonata for transverse flute and bc in g minor (MWV XI/13) [14:13]
Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in E flat (MWV VI/21) [09:01]
Sonata for violin and bc in f minor, op. 1,6 (MWV XI/6) [13:52]
Overture in F (MWV III/13) [15:05]
Nova Stravaganza/Siegbert Rampe
Recorded in January 2004 at the Fürstliche Reitbahn in Bad Arolsen, Germany DDD
MDG 341 1279-2 [65:51]

 

In many ways the life of Johann Melchior Molter was characteristic of a German composer of the 17th or 18th century. Like many of his colleagues he received his first musical education from his father, Valentin Molter, who was church music director and schoolmaster at the village of Tiefenort an der Werra in what is now Thuringia. He then went to Eisenach, where he attended the Gymnasium and was a member of the local choir. In 1717 he entered the service of the Margrave Carl Wilhelm of Baden-Durlach in Karlsruhe. In 1722, just returned from a journey to Italy, Molter was appointed Kapellmeister at the young age of 26. It was often politics which could make or break a composer's career. In 1733 August the Strong, Polish King and Prince Elector of Saxony, died. This led to the outbreak of the Polish War of Succession. Margrave Carl Wilhelm, expecting an attack by the French army, disbanded his court and fled to Basle. As a result Molter lost his job, although he held the title of Kapellmeister.

This could easily have been the end of a promising career. But Molter was lucky. The next year he was appointed Kapellmeister at Eisenach, where his duties were about the same as those in Karlsruhe. But it was a political event again, which brought his activities in Eisenach to an end. In 1741 Duke Wilhelm Heinrich died, and since he had no children Saxe-Eisenach passed to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, who dissolved the chapel of Eisenach. Molter returned to Karlsruhe again, where the Margrave had returned in 1735, and regained his old position as Kapellmeister in 1743.

Like many German composers at the time Molter was influenced by both the Italian and the French styles. He had become acquainted with the French taste during his time at the Gymnasium at Eisenach. The court orchestra contained several players from France, and it was directed by Georg Philipp Telemann, well-known for his admiration of the French style. In order to be educated in the newest developments in Italian music Molter travelled to Italy twice: first from 1719 to 1721, when he was a member of the court orchestra in Karlsruhe, and then, after being appointed in Eisenach, in 1738.

One could say that Molter was lucky: not only was he able to find appropriate positions, but the conditions under which he worked were ideal. In his first period in Karlsruhe he had an ensemble of 25 singers and instrumentalists at his disposal, with which he was able to perform the many kinds of music he was expected to compose: vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular. In Eisenach, the next stage in his career, the conditions were hardly less favourable. Only the first years of his second period in Karlsruhe were an exception: the financial conditions were such that Molter had only a small number of players to work with. As a result he mainly composed chamber music. Things changed for the better in 1747, when the grandson of Carl Wilhelm, Carl Friedrich, came of age. He asked Molter to develop a plan to reorganize the chapel. This resulted in an ensemble of about 25 singers and players with additional forces if necessary. A number of players were virtuosos on their instruments and some played more than one instrument, including then less common ones like the clarinet and the viola da gamba.

But Molter wasn't just lucky: he was held in high esteem and rated highly as a composer. A contemporary writer put him on one level with the likes of Fux, Telemann and Mattheson. The fact that he was sent to Italy twice - at the cost of his employers - is another indication of his standing, as is the fact that he was appointed Kapellmeister in Karlsruhe at a relatively young age.

Molter composed in almost any genre then in vogue. Unfortunately most of his vocal music has been lost. Therefore this disc only contains instrumental works. Compositions from all stages of his career are represented here. The two Overtures are written in French style - scored for two oboes, bassoon, strings and b.c., with two additional horns in the Overture in F; they date from the period in Eisenach. It is interesting to note that both overtures contain only one French dance movement, whereas all other movements are either Italian (allegro) or character pieces. The oboe concerto is an entirely Italian piece, which reminds me of the concertos by Albinoni.

The solo sonatas date from the first and last stages of Molter's career. The violin sonata is the last of six, which were published before 1723 in Amsterdam as opus 1, and dedicated to the Margrave Carl Wilhelm. Molter was a virtuosic violin player himself, whose skills were even praised in Italy. One may assume these sonatas, which are technically very demanding and show a mixture of the Italian style and German polyphonic writing, were written to be played by himself.

The flute sonata, on the other hand, shows a strong affinity with the sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It starts with an expressive adagio, which is followed by an allegro and a minuet with variations. Originally is was written also for the violin, but arranged for the flute, probably for Margrave Carl Wilhelm, who was an avid flute player.

Molter is generally considered a 'minor master'. One may ask whether this does justice to his role in German music history. It is interesting that, whereas most writers tend to think Molter was influenced by the Mannheim school in his later period, Siegbert Rampe, in the liner notes to this recording, suggests it was just the other way round: "It is considerably more probable, however, that Johann Stamitz (1717-57), who was almost one generation younger and also a virtuoso violinist, in fact made borrowings from his Karlsruhe colleague".

Whoever is right, this recording gives ample evidence that Molter is more than a 'minor master'. After paying attention to the music of Graupner with two discs and a third in prospect, Siegbert Rampe has again put a German composer on the map, which so far has only been represented in the catalogue with some of his clarinet and trumpet concertos. It is a shame most of his vocal compositions have been lost. This disc suggests that at least his remaining instrumental music is well worth exploring.

The performances are excellent: the orchestral playing is energetic and lively, and the wind parts - oboes and horns - in the solo concerto and the two overtures are brilliantly executed. Ildikó Kertész and Siegbert Rampe give a particularly fine performance of the flute sonata, which is of high quality and should be part of the repertoire of any flute player. Rampe adds an improvised prelude to this sonata - "as was then the custom, in order to prepare the soloists and listeners for the particular key", as Rampe states in the booklet - as well as to the violin sonata, the only piece on the disc whose performance I am not entirely happy with. Franc Polman produces a sound which is a little thin and lacks colour and depth. The qualities of this piece are not fully expressed here. This one sonata makes eager to hear the whole set, though.

Johan van Veen



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