We as music-lovers admire the great masters of the 17th and 18th
centuries. They were often admired by their contemporaries as
well, including their employers. But we should not forget that
this appreciation was not reflected by their social status. They
moved in the highest circles, it's true, but they were not part
of them. They were outsiders and from time to time they were reminded
of their low social status. It is therefore not surprising that
members of the social elite didn't want to be known as composers.
In addition, composers were working to earn money, and members
of the aristocracy never did that.
It is therefore an exception when one finds an aristocrat in the ranks
of the composers. Wenzel Ludwig Edler von Radolt, who was
born and died in Vienna, was such an aristocrat. Both his
parents belonged to aristocratic families and he had the title
of 'baron'. Being "so allured by the beguiling countenance
of most pleasurable music", he said that he was able
"to dedicate the course of my life to her''.
His favourite instrument was the lute, and he must have been a very
accomplished player. His only publication, called 'Die Aller
Treüeste Freindin' of 1701, contains a preface in which he
explains the French lute tablature. In his compositions he
meticulously adds the fingerings, giving a good insight into
the way the lute was played in Vienna.
The full title of this publication is (in translation): "To my
most true and confiding friend, inclined both to the merry
and to the sad humours, herewith in the company of other faithful
vassals of our innermost sensibility". It contains twelve
lute concertos, usually scored for strings, lute and bass.
There is some variety in the scoring, going from three lutes
(in three different tunings), two violins, descant viol and
bass (Concerto in e minor) to lute, one violin, one viola
da gamba and bass. In the Aria in C the addition of a wind
instrument is suggested - here the transverse flute is used.
The 'concertos' have little to do with the concerto in the style of
Vivaldi with its three movements (fast - slow - fast) or the
older four-movement form. They have much more in common with
the overture-suite, very popular in Germany and Austria at
the end of the 17th and the first half of the 18th centuries.
The Concerto in e minor, for instance, begins with an overture,
which is followed by a series of dance movements: allemande,
courente, sarabande, menuette, gigue, menuette and bourée,
and closes with a 'retirada'. The 'retirada' often appears
in Austrian music of the late 17th century (Biber is an example).
The Aria in C and the Concerto in c minor follow the same
structure. The Concerto in F begins with an overture and contains
some dances, but it also sports a character piece - especially
popular in France - called 'La Querelle des Amantes', and
an aria with the addition 'Pastorale'. There are also two
movements in the form of a canon.
A remarkable piece is the Concerto in G. It contains four movements,
all of them with two different dance rhythms played simultaneously:
allemande and gigue, courente and menuette, sarabande and
aria, gavotte and bourée. The two single pieces on this disc,
the Toccata in F and the Symphonia in g minor, reflect the
Italian style of Frescobaldi, which had considerable influence
in Vienna in the late 17th century.
The history of this recording is just as remarkable as the music itself.
Hubert Hoffmann was aware of this collection, and for years
tried to bring all the part-books together. It seemed that
this would never happen: the first violin part just couldn't
be found. One of the concertos had been published before World
War II, so the missing part must have been available at the
time. On the basis of this concerto Hubert Hoffmann started
to make reconstructions of the first violin parts of the other
concertos. By the time he had almost finished the job the
missing parts were rediscovered.
Gunar Letzbor and his colleagues were very impressed by the quality
of these works, and that is easy to understand. As the description
of these concertos show there is a lot of variety in both
scoring and musical forms. And the different 'humours' the
title of the publication refers to are certainly reflected
in this recording, the more so as here unequal temperament
Hubert Hoffmann, Sven Schwannberger, Klaus Köb and the members of Ars
Antiqua Austria give wonderful performances of great sensitivity,
showing a thorough understanding of the Radolt’s particular
musical language. The rhythmic pulse is given much attention
through clear articulation and strong dynamic accents. And
the fight of the lovers (Querelle des Amantes) - a quite funny
piece - is brilliantly depicted by the two violinists which
each represent one of the participants.
This is a most enjoyable recording and considering the quality of the
music will be attractive … and not only to lute aficionados.
Johan van Veen