Johann Wilhelm HÄSSLER(1747 - 1822) Harpsichord Music Fantasia in c minor (Leipzig, 1776) [6:41] Sonata in D (Leipzig, 1776) [11:51] Fantasia in A (Leipzig, 1779) [1:34] Sonata in A (Leipzig, 1779) [11:17] Fantasia in D (Leipzig, 1786) [1:09] Sonata in d minor (Leipzig, 1779) [5:58] Fantasia in C (Erfurt, 1782) [1:46] Rondeau in C (Leipzig, 1779) [2:07] Ariette mit einigen Verä[n]derungen (Leipzig, 1786)
[6:04] Fantasia in e minor (Moscow, 1803) [5:31] Sonata in a minor (Leipzig, 1776) [13:26]
Michele Benuzzi (harpsichord)
rec. 2-3, 6-7 March 2011, St Cecilia's Hall, Edinburgh
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94293 [67:43]
Johann Wilhelm Hässler is one of the many little-known
composers from the second half of the 18th century. They are
overshadowed by either the sons of Bach or the classical masters
Haydn and Mozart. At least one composition from Hässler's
pen is relatively well-known: a Fantasia in c minor was
long attributed to Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, and is still recorded
now and then as being from his pen. The fact that it is relatively
well-known could have been the reason that Michele Benuzzi didn't
include it in his selection, even though it was this very piece
which raised his interest in Hässler's oeuvre.
Hässler studied with Johann Christian Kittel, one of Germany's
great organists of the mid-18th century and one of the last
pupils of Johann Sebastian Bach. He started his career as organist
of the Barfüsserkirche in Erfurt, where he was appointed
in 1762. In the 1770s he travelled across Germany as a keyboard
player. He also visited Hamburg where he became acquainted with
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In 1789 he met Mozart who in a letter
was less than complimentary about Hässler as an organist.
From 1790-92 he worked in London as a keyboard player and teacher,
and then went to Russia, where he first lived in Riga and St
Petersburg and in 1794 moved to Moscow. He enjoyed much success
as a performer and teacher, and also acted as music publisher.
He stayed there for the rest of his life.
Almost the entire Hässler oeuvre comprises music for keyboard.
He composed a large number of sonatas, and also made use of
various other then popular forms, such as the fantasia, the
capriccio and variations. One of the main issues in regard to
performance practice is which instrument to choose. Apart from
the organ he played both the harpsichord and the clavichord.
In his later years in Russia he would certainly have played
the fortepiano. Paul Simmonds believes that the music written
after 1790 is clearly intended for that instrument - in the
liner-notes of his disc 'German music for clavichord', Ars Musici,
1995. Benuzzi plays just one piece which dates from the last
period of Hässler's life, the Fantasia in e minor
(1803). I tend to agree that this piece comes off best on a
fortepiano, even though Benuzzi's performance is admirable.
Benuzzi has chosen the harpsichord for all these pieces. He
plays an instrument from the Russell Collection in Edinburgh,
which was built by Robert Falkener in 1773. It has the sound
of instruments by Jacob Kirckman, and Falkener even used Kirckman's
reputation to his advantage by affixing a nameplate with his
name on it. It has two manuals and two pedals which allows some
dynamic shading. Even so, it is hard to realise all the dynamic
indications which one finds in these scores. These seem to point
into the direction of the clavichord which is able to master
the whole range of Hässler's dynamic requirements.
That said, Benuzzi makes the most of it on the harpsichord.
Many pieces have a capricious character, and it is not hard
to understand that some of these pieces were attributed to Wilhelm
Friedemann Bach. There is a clear congeniality between the styles
of the two composers. Hässler was also influenced by Friedemann's
brother Carl Philipp Emanuel. In a letter in which Mozart wrote
about his meeting with Hässler he stated that "he has done
no more than commit to memory the harmony and modulations of
old Sebastian Bach". One piece bears witness to the old Bach's
influence: the Fantasia in C from 1782 which displays
a remarkable similarity with the first prelude from the first
set of The Welltempered Clavier. The Rondeau in C
was printed in 1779 but is also a reminiscence of times gone
Michele Benuzzi has done us a great favour by recording this
selection from Hässler’s oeuvre. He turns out to
be a most intriguing composer. This disc is an excellent introduction
to his music, and it has made me very curious about the rest
of his oeuvre. Wouldn't it be a good idea to record another
disc, this time on a clavichord? The Russell Collection has
some fine instruments of this kind. For the time being let's
be happy with his disc which is one of the most interesting
I have heard of late.
Johan van Veen
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