Amanda MAIER (1853-1894)
Piano Trio in E flat major (1873) [26.55]
Three Preludes (1869) [3:14]
String Quartet in A major (1877) [11:32]
Prelude No 5 in E major (1869) [1:03]
St. Nicholas-Schwank (1880) [12:08]
Seven Preludes (1869) [4:46]
Cecilia Zilliacus, Julia Maria Kretz (violin)
Kati Raitinen (cello)
Bengt Forsberg, David Huang (piano)
Johanna Persson (viola)
rec. 2017/18, Västerås Konserthus (Lille Salen), Västerås; Palladium, Malmö; Kulturhuset i Ytterjäna, Sweden
World Premiere Recordings. Maier Edition Volume 3
DB PRODUCTIONS DBCD188 [63:45]
Amanda Maier was born into a musical home in Landskrona, a late-medieval town in Sweden’s Scania province, located on the shore of Øresund, where Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, can be seen across the sound in the distance. Her musical talent was discovered at an early age, and she first learned violin and piano with her father. At sixteen she began studying at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, adding organ, cello, composition and harmony to her musical portfolio. She continued to study composition with Reinecke and Richter in Leipzig, as well as violin, and, during this time, she composed a violin sonata, the piano trio, and a violin concerto. While in the German city, she met the German-Dutch pianist and composer Julius Röntgen, her current violin teacher’s son, and, following their marriage, relocated to Amsterdam. In 1887, Amanda Röntgen-Maier, as she was now known, became ill with tuberculosis, and despite recuperative stays in Nice and Davos, she died some years later back in the Netherlands.
The present CD is Volume 3, of a series from Sweden’s dB Productions, and, even before listening to a single note of her music, it is most clear from the outstanding sleeve-notes, that the composer is held in the highest esteem, as great care has been lavished on its sixteen or so pages in English only, and more than ten black and white prints – and it bears the dedication “… to the beautiful memory of Amanda Maier”.
The CD opens with Klavierstück, a little miniature in C sharp minor that Klas Gagge – one of the sleeve-note’s co-authors – apparently ran across when doing some research in Leipzig about another Swedish composer. It has great charm and originality and fits the instrument like a glove. The Piano Trio in E flat is the most substantial work on Volume 3, and is cast in four movements, although it was kept, alongside other works by the composer, on bookshelves and in cartons, until the end of 2016, when it was rediscovered by Gagge, nearly 150 years later. The opening Allegro is a model of concise, tuneful and inventive writing, where evident thematic development is the order of the day. The ensuing Scherzo in the relative minor is another charming invention, as is its gentler-paced Trio in the major key. The Andante is the heart of the trio, a touching lament initially in the minor key, leading to a similarly poignant section in the major, which eventually builds to a passionate climax, before subsiding once again. The last movement, marked Allegro con fuoco, initially harks back to happier times, though, perhaps to give the trio greater overall thematic cohesion, the moving first theme of the slow movement makes two reappearances here in the finale. But despite a brief return to the sentiment of the slow movement on each occasion, Maier ensures that her final build up ends the movement – and the trio itself – in joyful high spirits. How incredibly lucky that Gagge happened upon this remarkably-effective trio, which deserves to be part of any self-respecting ensemble’s repertoire, whether Swedish, or not.
Maier’s 25 Preludes from 1869 were apparently a student task, and have never been published before, although each one did receive either ‘Good’, or ‘Excellent’ from her teacher at the time! They all consist of twelve bars and are written in all major and minor keys – with one additional one in F minor. Apparently, some of the preludes are quite similar to each other, so on this occasion Volume 3 presents a selection, rather than the complete collection, beginning with Nos 22 in C minor, 4 in G major, and 7 in E minor.
After this brief piano-music interlude, the String Quartet in A is next on the agenda, but only two movements survive intact, the Andante slow movement, and the Scherzo, marked Allegro non troppo. Here, Gagge’s sleeve-notes are especially informative about the work, which was originally planned as a conventional quartet in four movements. Both the serene slow movement and the essentially dark-hued Scherzo – with its sunnier Trio – are fine examples of their respective genres and go a long way to emphasize what might have been, had it been possible to present the Quartet here as it was initially intended.
A single Prelude from the 1869 set – No 5 in E major, with its Mendelssohnian overtones – is followed by four movements from the St. Nicholas-Schwank. The newly-wed Maier-Röntgens held a ‘Sinterklaas’, or St Nicholas party at their new Amsterdam home, shortly before Christmas, and entertained their guests with the full set of ten pieces. ‘Allt under Himmelens Fäste’ (Everyone under the Firmament) is a very famous, traditional Swedish folk song. The lyrics, in fact, are quite sad, which might make it seem a slightly odd choice for a newly-wed couple, though the German word ‘Schwank’ can mean ‘prank’, as well as ‘story’. Here, this somewhat doleful melody is heard in an arrangement for cello and piano, assumed to be by Maier. As was their wont, the couple often liked to confuse their audiences by not specifying which of them had actually written a piece. In the present work they ostensibly use ‘St Nicolina’, or ‘St Nicolas’ accordingly, but this time it is Erik Nilsson who clarifies everything in the sleeve-note. ‘Romanze’, for violin and piano, follows, and again this is full of tear-jerking emotion, rather than something you would expect from Maier, who was already four months’ pregnant with their first son, Julius Jr. ‘Schwedisches Intermezzo’, again for violin and piano, is yet again in the same vein and a minor key, although Nilsson does point out that it’s actually the same piece as ‘Zweigespräche No 2’, already released on dBCD185, and known, on that occasion, to have been written by Julius. The final offering from the set – ‘Nach-Mittag’s Potpourri’ – is for piano four-hands, and at last shows signs of real fun and gaiety, with its simple rustic charm which includes fragments of Swedish Christmas songs and folk melodies – all eminently suited to its position as the original opening piece of St Nicholas-Schwank. There’s also a definite nod in the direction of Beethoven, just before the final return of the main theme.
Seven more Preludes from 1869 follow – Nos 16 in A minor, 19 in F sharp major, 20 in D sharp minor, 12 in A flat major, 6 in F major, 17 in A major, and 18 in F sharp minor. This then just leaves Maier’s own handwritten version of her arrangement of Schumann’s Abendlied, originally a piece for piano four-hands from his Suite, Op 85, entitled ‘Twelve Pieces for Small and Big Children’, to round things off As Nilsson suggests, this quiet, contemplative conclusion “feels like a suitable and soft goodbye to Amanda Maier” on what will, in fact, be the final CD of this three-part survey of her complete, preserved works.
Volumes 1 and 2 have already been the subject of reviews at MusicWeb International by David Barker, and Jonathan Woolf respectively, and Volume 3, which is equally well-played and recorded, certainly maintains the high standards of its predecessors, while also providing a most appropriate conclusion to what clearly has been a fascinating biopic on the music of the hitherto-neglected Swedish female composer.
Philip R Buttall