It is always tricky to compare situations or people from different
eras. The programme notes in the booklet of this disc are headed
"Georg Muffat, a European without borders". And the
writer, the Dutch musicologist Gerard van der Leeuw, ends thus:
"Let the complete assurance with which Muffat moved from
country to country within Europe be an example to us all".
We should not forget, though, that Muffat's movements were not
entirely voluntary; often circumstances forced him to move. And
the travelling of musicians and composers throughout Europe was
not really that uncommon in the 17th century. Many composers were
sent to Italy by their employers to broaden their horizons and
become acquainted with the latest trends in music. Others preferred
the French style and went to France to learn from the great masters
in Paris, in particular Jean-Baptiste Lully. Although Muffat deliberately
mixed national styles and was himself a kind of European - born
in the Alsace to a family with Scottish roots - he considered
himself German. To label him a 'European' is bit anachronistic.
One of the most striking aspects of Muffat's music is the mixture of
French and Italian influences. This 'mixed taste' was to become
a common feature of music in Germany in the first half of the
18th century. Even in France composers began to incorporate
Italian elements in their compositions. One could however argue
that Muffat was the very first to mix French and Italian elements.
He also went a bit further than others in this respect. He studied
with Lully and Corelli, and held both composers in high esteem.
The number of his compositions is small - at least as far as
we know - but of consistently high quality. What makes his collections
of music especially interesting are the prefaces which contain
remarks in regard to interpretation.
The present disc contains seven of the twelve concertos of the collection
'Auserlesene Instrumental-Music' which was published in Passau
in 1701. Five of these are reworkings of the sonatas which were
published as 'Armonico Tributo' in Salzburg in 1682. It is relevant
to quote the full title of the 1701 print here: "Auserlesene
mit Ernst und Lust gemengte Instrumental Music". The words
"Ernst" (seriousness) and "Lust" (pleasure)
are particularly interesting, as in his preface Muffat explains
why he has mixed French and Italian elements: "I strove
so to balance profound Italian feeling with French gaiety and
charm that neither the one should colour the music too darkly,
nor the other make it too frivolous". This explains the
general structure of these concertos, which contain two halves,
each beginning with a movement called 'grave', mostly followed
by dance movements in a fast tempo. But Muffat doesn't slavishly
follow this structure: the Concerto IV begins with a 'sonata'
(like all first movements) with a grave character, but this
is followed by a sarabande, which is again labelled 'grave'.
The Concerto VII also has a second slow movement, an 'aria'
with the indication 'largo'. On the other hand, the Concerto
VI begins with two fast movements: a sonata in two sections,
allegro and presto, followed by an 'aria' which is again an
In his concertos Muffat deliberately avoided all the extremes often
associated with the Italian style: he wanted his music to be
"natural and flowing", and therefore avoided "extravagant
runs" and "frequent and awkward leaps". This
probably also explains the lack of strong dissonance; the strongest
are to be found in the second grave of the Concerto V. The influence
of Corelli, who provided Muffat with "many useful observations
touching his style", is also present in the sequence of
short slow and fast sections within a single movement, as here
in the second movement (aria) of the Concerto III.
Before the era of historical performance practice Muffat's music was
completely ignored. The British musicologist Arthur Hutchings
was among the first to pay tribute to Muffat's art: "He
avoided the formulae of his times unless he could invest them
with life (...) He seems to have been incapable of slovenly
or even mediocre work". Among the first recordings of Muffat's
music was the one by Nikolaus Harnoncourt's Concentus musicus
Wien for Archive Production. Since then a number of recordings
have appeared, but it would be an exaggeration to say that Muffat's
orchestral works belong to the standard repertoire of today's
baroque orchestras. Over a period of about thirty years of attending
concerts I can't remember having heard more than a handful of
these pieces. Whereas his 'Armonico Tributo' has been recorded
a number of times, the other collections have hardly enjoyed
the attention they deserve.
That makes this recording very welcome. The more so as the interpretations
do full justice to this splendid music. The Holland Baroque
Society consists mainly of rather young musicians, most of whom
are members of established Dutch and international baroque orchestras.
Under the direction of Matthew Halls, also director of The King's
Consort, the playing is of a consistently high level. The ensemble
produces a very beautiful sound, and I very much like its relaxed
way of playing. The slower movements are accorded the full weight
of their 'gravitas' as intended by the composer, but the lighter
movements displaying French taste are equally well played. The
performances make one not just hear, but even feel the dance
rhythms, thanks to clear but never exaggerated dynamic accents
and articulation. The mixture of Italian and French style, which
Muffat aimed at, has been very well realised in this recording.
If you don't know Muffat's music, this is your chance to get to know
it. The Holland Baroque Society delivers an eloquent and passionate
plea for this splendid repertoire.
Johan van Veen