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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Franz POENITZ (1850-1912)
Works for Harp
Todestanz der Willys Op.24 (1892) [8:20] Italienische Romanze Op.27 (1892) [4:34] Drei leichte Stücke Op.29 (1892) [5:07]
Romanze [1:59]
Romanze for violin and harp [4:20]
Klänge aus der Alhambra, Fantasy Op.68 (1902) [10:43]
Gebet Op.67 (1902) [2:32]
Zwei Salonstücke, for violin and harp Op.26 [6:11]
Nordische Ballade Op.33 (1892) [14:37]
Capriccio, for clarinet and harp Op.73 (1905) [8:59]
Alfred HOLƯ (1866-1948)
Elegy for Franz Poenitz Op.17 [5:37]
Laura Vinciguerra (harp); Paolo Franceschini (violin); Roberto Petrocchi (clarinet)
San Francesco, Arrone (Italy). Date not given. DDD.

Experience Classicsonline

Though the main body of this CD is given over to the work of Franz Poenitz - and is surely the first CD to be devoted to Poenitz? - it is rounded off by Alfred Holư’s Elegy for Poenitz, heard in the version for solo harp, rather than that for harp and organ. It is a fine piece, harmonically rich and with some attractive melodies. Holư, a great harpist much admired by Mahler - who finally tempted him to the Vienna Philharmonic in 1902 after several unsuccessful attempts to acquire his services - knew his fellow harpist/composer Poenitz well. The two (along with William Posse) spent some years as co-principals in the Royal Orchestra in Berlin. Holư remembered his friend in words as well as in music and, since Poenitz is now so little known, it is worth quoting what Holư had to say about him in his Memoirs, when remembering his days in the Royal Orchestra:

“Relations were especially cordial in the harp section. My two colleagues were among the most famous harpists of their time. They had been brought into the Royal Orchestra (Poenitz at 14, Posse at 18) by their teacher Grimm, who had been a pupil of Parish-Alvars. Since then the two had been united in a close friendship and I was proud to have become the third in their league. “Three such excellent harpists in one orchestra aren’t to be found anywhere else in the world,” said the old retired conductor Sucher. Poenitz was a mortal kissed by all possible muses: harp artist, harmonium virtuoso, composer, very talented pastel painter, and skilled in many sports - hunting, fishing, bicycling, skiing, and skating. He lived a good life, pampered by his family in a cosy home in the west end of Berlin, he loved his tobacco and his beer (he called it his ‘cool blond’ or, coloured with raspberry, his ‘painted Laura’), but passed away when he was only 61.”

That description of the amiable and multi-talented Poenitz doesn’t perhaps suggest that composing was central to his life, or that we should expect his compositions to be particularly innovative. And that proves to be the case. He is a craftsman-artist who writes out of a profound technical knowledge of instrumental possibility, but without great emotional or intellectual profundity. Approached with the right expectations, Laura Vinciguerra’s recital of a selection of his solo harp pieces, with the addition of three works written for harp with violin or clarinet, makes for largely undemanding, but pleasant and satisfying listening.

The Nordische Ballade is perhaps the best single piece, full of graceful runs and pleasantly accented phrases; Klang aus der Alhambra is an agreeable piece of exotica, its use of the lower end of the harp’s range particularly interesting; while the Todestanz der Willys (which has its source in Heine) may not have much about it that suggests the presence of dead dancing-girls, it does have some subtle rhythmic touches. Of the duet pieces, the Capriccio for clarinet and harp is perhaps the most attractive, elegant and evocative. The two ‘Salonstücke’ for violin and harp are entitled Im Frühling and Venetianisches Gondelied: the fact that their titles/subjects are shared with so many other pieces of nineteenth century music is symptomatic of how far Poenitz deals (very charmingly) in the musical ‘commonplaces’ of his age. In truth pretty well all of his works on this CD might be categorised as ‘Salonstücke’. Those for whom ‘salon music’ is an inherently pejorative term will know to look elsewhere; those who can find room for the occasional salon morsel in their musical diet will find some nicely-flavoured samples here.

In the booklet notes harpist Laura Vinciguerra tells us that her love of Poenitz’s music began as a student, and that her quest to know more of the man and his music led her to Andreas Fischer, the composer’s last descendant. Her commitment to - and love for - the compositions of Poenitz is evident in the way she plays them, technically assured and expressive, though without undue sentimentality. She and her colleagues make a good case for this mostly forgotten figure, a minor composer worth the occasional hearing. The CD is well recorded; documentation might have been improved, however. There is no comment on any of the individual pieces; no dates are provided for any of the pieces; where I have been able to, I have supplied dates above, making use of a website devoted to Poenitz, which appears to be the work of the said Andreas Fischer.

Glyn Pursglove

Andreas Fischer has sent us these notes

Franz Poenitz, “Romance for Harp”, 1862 (unnumbered)

At the age of 12 Poenitz’s first concert tour took him via Kiel to Copenhagen, accompanied by his uncle and foster-father Heinrich Poenitz, the violinist. The “Wunderkind” gave eighteen performances in the Copenhagen Casino, playing this composition among other pieces. The Ilustreret Tidende described him as “a true master on his instrument, and at the same time the most lovable, skilful and alert boy imaginable” (30 October 1862).

“The print of the “Romance” for piano originally came from the music periodical “Musikalske Nyheder” [Musical News], vol. 2, no. 12 which was published in December 1862 by the publisher Chr. E. Horneman. The piano version was made by Ernst Haberbier. In 1875 Wilhelm Hansen bought Horneman’s company; sometimes Hansen published the old pieces without changing the printing plates. This seems to be the case here, and therefore it is almost impossible to say when Hansen published the piece. We can find it in Wilhelm Hansen’s catalogue with the edition no. 4916.” (Royal Library, Copenhagen, Music and Theatre Dep., 7 July 2009)

Unnumbered Romance for Violin and Harp

In 2008 a library search for compositions by Franz Poenitz turned up a 21-page manuscript in the Stadtbibliothek, Mainz, titled “Romance for Harp and Violin, Voices”. It had formerly belonged to the collections of the city’s Stadttheater. One page was signed by the copyist: “Simon Mander, Berlin, 31 August 81”. In the Berlin address book for 1881, S. S. Mander is at Kurstr. 29: an outlet for “Mander Brothers Varnish and Paint Factory in Wolverhampton (England)”. If, as seems likely, this rediscovered work was played by Franz and Heinrich Poenitz, it will have been composed before the latter’s death, thought to be 1879. The notation, transcribed by Laura Vinciguerra and first played by her and Paolo Franceschini, is to be published by Salvi.

Death Dance of the Willys, Opus 24 (1892)

A note on the print claims “After a Scottish legend”, but the legend of the Willys, Willis, or Wilis is by Heinrich Heine. Théophile Gautier used it for his ballet “Giselle ou les Wilis” (1841). Heine said the story came from Slavic folklore, writing in his “Elementary Spirits”: “The Willis are brides who died before their wedding days. The poor young creatures cannot rest in peace: in their dead hearts, in their dead feet that passion for dancing which they could not satisfy when living brings them out of their graves at midnight to gather in hordes on the highways – and woe to any young man who encounters them there. He must dance with them […] until he drops down dead. In their wedding dresses, with flower-garlands and fluttering ribbons around their heads, sparkling rings on their fingers, the Willis dance in the moonlight like the elves. Their faces, though snowy white, are youthful and lovely, their laughter is so terrifyingly gay, so wickedly loveable […] these dead Bacchae are irresistible.”

The work is also extant as Opus 24b, with harmonium accompaniment.

Opus 26. “Two Salon Pieces”, 1892

No. 1 “Venetian Gondola Song”

No. 2 “In Spring”

Salon pieces were small-scale works for a few solo instruments, originally designed for virtuoso performance in the salons of the aristocracy and the grande bourgeoisie from the early 19th century. In a brief, concentrated span this form of chamber music swiftly alternates between diverse emotions, at its best. At its worst, salon music for piano around 1900 is sentimental and formulaic, featuring a succession of meaningless arpeggios and scarcely bearable sweet sixths. These two pieces, dedicated to the composer’s friend Fritz Struß, royal concert master and chamber virtuoso, draw on the latter tradition.

Opus 27, Italian Romance, 1892

Forming a pair with Opus 33, “Nordic Ballad”, also 1892, this “Romance” belongs with the “Salon pieces”. Poenitz never visited Italy.

Opus 29, “Three Easy Pieces”, 1892

Dedicated to his “Lottchen”, his first daughter Charlotte (1878-1919). Poenitz probably played these children’s songs to her and her younger sister Eva before they were published. One piece, “The Musical Box”, was frequently performed and recorded, and Alfred Holy mentions it in a letter to Artiss de Volt (18 February 1936).

Opus 33, “Nordic Ballad” 1892

“The landscape and legends of the North were Poenitz’s main inspiration. He spent much time in Scandinavia, and being a true Romantic, was thrilled by the Nordic world.” (Hans J Zingel)

In 1908 Alfred Kastner wrote “Poenitz […] is more prominent as a composer for the instrument, and I consider that his works have the greatest musical value of all the modern harp literature written by harpists. This refers particularly to his " Nordische Ballade," as it requires the highest artistic standard”.

Ex: Alfred Kastner: "The Harp" in "Journal of Royal Musical Association", 1908, Vol. 35, Number 1, Page 9

Hans. J. Zingel: "Franz Poenitz, Virtuose und Komponist, Musiker und Maler" in "Vereinigung deutscher Harfenisten" Nr. 17, Mai 1972, S. 17

Opus 68 “Sounds of the Alhambra” (1902)

Poenizt never visited the Alhambra, but he read widely. This work may have been inspired by Washington Irving’s renowned and influential “Tales of the Alhambra”.

Opus 73 “Capriccio for Clarinet and Harp” 1905

Poenizt’s only work for woodwind and harp is found in many music academy libraries, but seldom played, probably because this combination is so rare. There is no dedication, but it may have been written for the first clarinettist of the Berlin Royal Orchestra.

Alfred Holy (1866-1948)

Opus 17 “Elegy for Harp and Organ”, 1912, in memoriam Franz Poenitz

Holy met Franz Poenitz and Wilhelm Posse when he was one of the three harpists at the Berlin Royal Opera, from 1896 to 1902, before going to Vienna to work with Gustav Mahler. Holy wrote in his memoirs of the period in Berlin:

(p. 27) Relations were especially cordial in the harp section. My two colleagues were among the most famous harpists of their time. They had been brought into the Royal Orchestra (Poenitz at 14, Posse at 18) by their teacher Grimm, who had been a pupil of Parish-Alvars. Since then the two had been united in a close friendship and I was proud to have become the third in their league. “Three such excellent harpists in one orchestra aren’t to be found anywhere else in the world,” said the old retired conductor Sucher.
Poenitz was a mortal kissed by all possible muses: harp artist, harmonium virtuoso, composer, very talented pastel painter, and skilled in many sports – hunting, fishing, bicycling, skiing, and skating. […] My “Elegy for Harp and Organ” is dedicated to him.

Alfred Holý: "Memoirs" edited by Artiss de Volt, Lyra Music Comany, New York, 1985































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