Johan Helmich Roman is the first Swedish-born composer in history.
When he was appointed as violinist in the court orchestra in
Stockholm he was just seven years old. From 1715 to 1721 he
stayed in London, where he came under the influence of Handel.
He also met some of the leading Italian composers including
Giovanni Bononcini, Francesco Geminiani and Francesco Maria
Veracini. After his return he was appointed deputy master of
the chapel and in 1727 leader of the court orchestra.
He played a crucial role in Swedish music history in that he
improved the standard of the court orchestra and initiated public
concerts in 1731. The 1740s brought considerable changes. He
had health problems, his second wife died and his patroness,
Queen Ulrike Eleonora, also passed away. In 1743 Adolf Fredrik
inherited the throne, and in 1744 he married Lovisa Ulrika,
who was a sister of the Prussian King, Frederick the Great.
She was highly educated, but also a rather unpleasant character.
Apparently she didn't appreciate Roman's music very much as
in a letter to her brother she referred to him as "a deaf
Indeed, Roman struggled with deafness, and in 1745 retired from
his position. The Drottningholmsmusiken is probably the last
major work he wrote. It was composed for the wedding of Adolf
Fredrik and Lovisa Ulrika. It consists of 25 movements which
were certainly not played in a sequence. It is not known what
Lovisa Ulrika thought of this music, but it was probably too
conservative for her taste.
The scoring of the various movements - not given in the track-list
- is different. The strings are the core of the ensemble, and
they are joined by wind instruments: a recorder, a transverse
flute, two oboes or oboi d'amore, two trumpets, two horns and
a bassoon. The opening allegro - in fact a menuet - is a typical
piece for a royal wedding, with trumpets, strings and basso
continuo. In the next movement a pair of oboes play colla
parte with the strings. This is a feature of most movements:
the wind having no independent parts. There are some exceptions:
in track 20 - an allegro in form of a menuet - the two horns
play solo in the trio section. In the next track, another allegro,
the two trumpets and the two horns are involved in a dialogue.
That happens again in one episode of track 22: it opens with
oboes and strings, then follows an episode with a dialogue of
trumpets and horns, first without accompaniment, then supported
by the strings. The last six movements have the largest scoring,
with oboes, trumpets and horns in various combinations.
Track 24 has the tempo indication of allegro, but is in fact
a sequence of fast and slow episodes. As one would expect with
wedding music, there are few really slow movements. There are
just three: two lentos (tracks 8 and 17) and a grave (track
15). In particular the lento of track 8 is a remarkably expressive
piece. Tracks 13 and 14 contain a tempo di minuetto with
a trio section. In the menuet the strings are joined by the
oboi d'amore, which lend a beautiful dark colour to the ensemble,
and in the trio the transverse flute plays the key role. Lastly,
several movements are played with solo strings, like track 3
(two violins and viola) and track 18 (violin and viola).
The whole Drottningholmsmusiken is played with a relatively
small ensemble. Only recently Glyn Pursglove reviewed
a recording by the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra. Here we hear
just seven violins, two violas, two cellos and double-bass,
plus wind and basso continuo. There is a reason for this relatively
small scoring, as the oboist Per Bengtsson - one of the founders
of the Ensemble 1700 Lund - explains in the booklet. He went
to Drottningholm Castle to experience the place at which music
was originally performed. It was played in the foyer; the musicians
were standing behind the statues, and some were hidden high
up on the stairs. "It became clear to one that there could
not have been too many musicians (the places behind the statues
are limited), percussion would have been too loud in the stone
foyer. It is doubtful whether a harpsichord would have been
used. For this reason, our lutenist took over the sole continuo
role in some movements, and these considerations influenced
the size of our orchestra".
That makes a lot of sense. It would have been preferable if
the lutenist had played the continuo part in even more movements
than he does here. But that is only a minor point of criticism
to a highly enjoyable and entertaining recording. This music
was not written to be consumed at a single stretch, but that’s
how I have tackled this disc. In fact there wasn’t a dull moment.
That is very much down to Roman's music which is really good
to hear and offers plenty of variety, also because of the various
scorings. I also enjoyed the playing of this group which I hadn't
heard before, and which I rate highly. They are technically
immaculate and the players of the natural trumpets and horns
are particularly impressive. The vividness and the rhythmic
suppleness and flexibility are admirable. This recording could
be pretty close to the way the Drottningholmsmusiken were played
under the direction of the composer himself.
Johan van Veen