Court composers - or those with connections at court that might just be good enough - must have been at least as excited about the prospect of a royal wedding as the gossip columnists of the tabloids, or the editor of Hello, are in our own day. They hoped a rewarding commission was in the offing - for a celebratory opera or cantata, some ceremonial music to accompany the service, or some dances or ‘party music’ to show off the cultural splendour of the host court. There was also the chance to make a good impression on other potential patrons. While the court poets polished their flattering epithalamia, in the vernacular and/or Latin, the court composer(s) prepared the musical offerings. Such was the scenario at one Italian or French court or another right though the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and beyond). And, for that matter, at the Swedish court in the eighteenth century.
In August of 1744 the marriage of Crown Prince Adolf Fredrik of Sweden to Louisa Ulrika of Prussia was the occasion for multifarious celebrations at the palace of Drottningholm. The court composer who wrote the music for these celebrations was Johan Helmich Roman, approaching his fiftieth birthday and perhaps already affected by the deafness that would occasion his retirement soon afterwards. But there are no signs of such difficulties in the witty, vigorous and melodic music which he wrote for the wedding. The twenty five movements which make up the so-called Drottningholmsmusiken can hardly have been intended to be performed as a single sequence from I-XXV, any more than they were designed to be listened to in a modern living room or on an iPod. Doubtless different movements were performed at different points in the several days of celebration. But in the suite as we have it, Roman - it was presumably the composer who was responsible - has disposed the music in a coherent succession, contrasts and connections of rhythm and tempo adding a larger grace to the elegance of individual movements.
The forces of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Manze, give an attractively characterised performance of the suite. There are moments when the sound - this is, by the way, a modern-instrument orchestra - is perhaps a little bigger than it might be, but for the most part there is an attractive fluency to things, an avoidance of the extremes of pomposity on the one hand or excessive informality on the other, so that an accommodating dignity emerges, respectful but welcoming. It is, perhaps ultimately futile, to speculate as to the occasions on which particular movements were to be played - some are clearly processional, some are evidently for dancing. With others - such as the graceful first andante - it is harder to know. Best, perhaps, to simply listen and enjoy.
This suite has now been recorded several times. The first recording was, I think, that by Claude Génetay and the Chamber Orchestra of the National Museum, made in 1982; a 1993 version by Nils Erik Sparf and the Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble has a rhythmic vivacity not always evident in this new version, though Manze’s reading of the slower movements is perhaps preferable; they sound very Handelian - and Roman was, as we know, an admirer of Handel. I haven’t heard the version on Naxos by Anthony Halstead and the Uppsala Chamber Orchestra.
The recorded sound is excellent - but then it is rarely anything else from BIS. This isn’t so special a performance as to supersede all earlier recordings - but it has charm and delicacy enough to be very listenable.
Allegro assai [3:10]
Non troppo allegro [5:27]
Poco allegro [1:38]
Allegro assai [2:25]
Tempo di Menuetto [1:29]
[Trio - Menuetto da capo] [2:37]
Allegro molto [0:57]
Vivace [da capo] [1:20]