The Composer in Society: Master or Servant?
In our new programme we take a look at familiar figures from a more unusual
Starting in Beethoven's 250th anniversary year we ask, was he really the lonely revolutionary genius of the Romantic imagination, writing only for posterity? How did he and his predecessors Haydn and Mozart fit into society, and how did their successors live as society changed in the 19th century?
The Ridgeway Ensemble is joined by violinist Esther King Smith for a programme of chamber music and songs, with quotations from letters and contemporary accounts to explore the relationships between composers and their patrons.
Here we are with Esther in a concert at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, during a collaboration on a previous programme.
A few little vignettes about some of the people and places that feature in the programme:
Here is an excellent review of Haydn’s first concert in London in 1791– it must have encouraged him enormously:
“…never was there a richer musical treat…Haydn should be an object of homage and even idolatry…His new Grand Overture [the new symphony] was pronounced … to be a most wonderful composition.”
Haydn himself wrote humourously about the best way to programme his works. The concerts were very long!
"The first act was usually disturbed in various ways by the noise of latecomers. Not a few persons came from well–set tables;…they took a comfortable seat in the concert room and were so gripped by the magic of the music that they went fast to sleep."
The concerts were held at the Hanover Square Rooms, pictured here. Traffic congestion in central London is nothing new!
"The Nobility and Gentry are most humbly desired to order their Coachmen to set them down at the door in Hanover Street with their Horses Heads towards Grosvenor Square, the Door in the Square being for Ladies [Sedan] Chairs only.”
The scene changes to Vienna, where Leopold Mozart is visiting his son early in1785 and clearly finding it tiring:
"We never get to bed before 1 o’clock in the morning, never rise before 9 am and dine at 2 or 2.30pm Disgusting weather! Concerts every day…Where can I escape to?....I am quite unable to describe all the bustle and disturbance!"
In this house Mozart composed ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and many other works. However he thought audiences were often more appreciative in Prague:
"Here they talk about nothing but Figaro. Nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro. Nothing, nothing but Figaro. Certainly a great honour for me!"
(Mozart writing from Prague, Jan 1787)
Mozart’s house, Domgasse 7
Fast forward into the early 19th century, and we meet Joseph Franz Maximilian, 7th Prince Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s main patrons and the dedicatee of several major works.
He played both violin and cello and also sang, and according to Countess Thűrheim, the sister-in-law of Prince Razumovsky:
"This Prince was as kindhearted as a child and the most foolish music enthusiast. He played music from dusk to dawn and spent a fortune on musicians. Innumerable musicians gathered in his house, whom he treated regally."
The Estates Theatre, Prague, where Mozart conducted ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and the premiere of ‘Don Giovanni’
In the painting by Canaletto, about 1760 is Palais Lobkowitz (on the left) in Vienna; (Kunsthistorisches Museum)
In 1804 the Eroica symphony received its first performance here, conducted by the composer. Today the building houses the theatre museum, part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
The imposing building in the illustration below is the palace of Prince Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador, who was also a notable patron of Beethoven. He built it at his own expense in the classical style and filled it with works of art, including paintings by Raphael, Rubens and Van Dyck and sculptures by Canova. The extensive gardens were laid out in the modern English style of landscape gardening, as opposed to the formal style of French gardens. As ambassador Razumovsky was thus representing Russia as a modern, European state. He and his wife entertained the cream of Viennese society, and their residence became known as a centre of anti-Napoleonic sentiment.
Razumovsky was a talented violinist and had studied composition. His particular significance for the history of music lies in his establishment of a permanent string quartet led by the virtuoso Ignaz Schuppanzigh, which set a new standard of performance, evident in the works by Beethoven that they premiered. The Berlin composer and theorist Reichardt wrote:
"Last Thursday we heard [the Schuppanzigh Quartet] for the first time; there was not a particularly large company there; however, it consisted entirely of very keen and attentive friends of music, and that is just the right audience for this finest and most comfortable of all music societies."
On New Year’s Eve 1814, when many politicians and heads of state were present in Vienna for the Congress which reorganised Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, the Prince held a great ball here with Tsar Alexander I as the guest of honour. Beethoven was invited but did not attend. A large extension was erected for the occasion, but after the guests had left the heating system caught fire and muchof the structure and many works of art were destroyed in the ensuing blaze.
"To behold these thousand treasures and jewels, the many mirrors, smashed statues, scorched divans and furniture, and all the gold ornaments beside the collapsed ceilings, coal-black beams, burnt panelling and walls made the strangest contrast. . . . The damage is immeasurably great." (Journal fűr Literatur, Kunst, Luxus und Mode)
Razumovsky never fully recovered from the shock and lived in seclusion until his death in 1836.
Schubert’s experiences in Vienna were very different from that world of high society. His friend Eduard von Bauernfeld remembered:
"We often wandered about town until three in the morning, and accompanied each other home. As we were sometimes not in a condition to part, one of us not seldom slept the night in the rooms of another. We were not very particular about comfort in those days."
In London there was royal rather than aristocraric patronage, and we hear from Mendelssohn about his first visit to Buckingham Palace. Clara Schumann was also invited to perform for Queen Victoria, and became a frequent visitor to Britain. A Viennese critic said of her playing:
"In her creative hands, the most ordinary passage, the most routine motive acquires a significant meaning, a colour, which only those with the most consummate artistry can give."
Clara Schumann in 1853
And here is Brahms, phographed with his friend Johann Strauss II. Brahms admired Strauss’s music: autographing a fan belonging to Strauss’s wife he wrote out a few notes of the Blue Danube waltz and added ‘unfortunately not by Johannes Brahms’. Music by both of them can be heard in our programme.
Queen Victoria’s Bicentenary Celebration
Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday falls on May 24th this year, and Prince Albert’s on August 26th. As part of their festival to celebrate this double bicentenary the Ridgeway Ensemble present ‘Victoria and Albert – a musical romance’.
The programme brings to life the musical world of the royal couple, through readings from their letters and diaries, contemporary accounts and music by composers such as Mendelssohn, Elgar and Sullivan. At the heart of the programme are three songs by Prince Albert himself for voice, cello and piano, which have remained unpublished and unperformed until now. Noteworthy is also the inclusion of works by three women composers – Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann (whose bicentenary also falls this year) and Pauline Viardot.
The Ensemble (Judith Sheridan, voice, Margaret Richards, cello, Daniel King Smith, piano, and William Winfield, reader,) performs regularly for music clubs, churches and other organisations throughout the country and abroad. Join us as we celebrate the tastes and musical achievements of Victoria and Albert, opening a window onto the musical life of Victorian England.
‘The Ridgeway Ensemble, three first class musicians with an excellent narrator, crafted a moving and emotional experience’
Roseland Music Society, Cornwall
‘Performed to perfection…an unforgettable concert’
Château du Poët-Célard, Drôme, France
Sunday May 12th at 4pm
Old Bluecoat School, Thatcham, nr Newbury, Berks
Friday May 24th at 7.30pm
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ivinghoe
Saturday September 28th at 11.30am
Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes
Saturday October 5th at 7.30pm
Holy Trinity, Potten End
Monday October 21st at 1.10pm
All Saints Church, High Wycombe
The Ridgeway Ensemble spent a lovely late summer's weekend in Cornwall, performing in the fishing village of Portscatho. The hall was packed, and the audience very appreciative. The following review appeared in Roseland Monthly Magazine.
"The Ridgeway Ensemble, three first class musicians with an excellent Narrator, crafted a moving and emotional experience tracing the relationships between Robert Schumann, his wife Clara and Johannes Brahsm, long a subject of speculation. compositions by all three, performed with descriptive combinations of piano, song and cello, provided an inspirational background to the narrative."
What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than in the elegant surroundings of the Stanley Library, Girton College, Cambridge.
Following their successful tour of France in July 2017, the Ridgeway Ensemble received the following from Johannes Melsen, the promoter off the final concert at Chateau du Poët Célard:
"Ce mardi 25 juillet 2017 avait lieu la "Sérénade pour une soirée d'été" par l'Ensemble Ridgeway de Londres, dans la belle salle des cérémonies du château du Poet Cëlard dans la Drôme.
L'ensemble formé par Judith Sheridan à la voix, Margaret Richards au violoncelle et Daniel King Smith au piano était présenté par William Winfield.
C'étaient aussi les compétences et le sens de la pédagogie de William Winfield qui ont fait de chaque introduction des oeuvres un moment léger, sympathique et instructif, même pour les plus mélomanes d'entre nous.
Le programme nous proposait ensuite une randonnée musicale à travers une partie du répertoire de la musique française et espagnole.
Parfaitement exécutés, tant au niveau musical qu'émotionnel, des mélodies bien connues de Carmen, des opérettes d'Offenbach mais aussi la musique
de Faure et d'Albeniz ainsi que des chansons passionnées de Manuel de Falla furent interprétées. Un concert inoubliable pour tous les auditeurs.
Les Applaudissements soutenus du public ont donné lieu à un bis composé de quelques oeuvres du répertoire des grandes figures de la chanson française. Un beau clin d'oeil offert au public français par ces musiciens tout à la fois doués et généreux."
"The ensemble formed by Judith Sheridan (voice), Margaret Richards (cello) and Daniel King Smith (piano) was introduced by William winfield. William's knowledge and learning gave his introductions to the works performed a pleasing as well as informative touch, even for the most musical amongst the audience.
The programme offered a musical journey through a part of the repertoire of French and Spanish Music.
Performed to perfection, music by Faure and Albeniz followed well-known melodies from "Carmen" and the operettas of Offenach together with passionate songs by Manuel de Falla.
This was an unforgettable concert for everyone present. The sustained applause at the end was rewarded by more works as encores from the most important names in modern French chansons. This was a token of affection towards the audience offered by musicians who displayed talent and reciprocal generosity".
JOHANNES MELSEN - CHATEAU DU POET CELARD
Photo: Chris Christoudoulou
As a result of her work editing three songs by Prince Albert, Margaret was privileged to meet HRH the Prince of Wales on March 7th 2017 at the Royal College of Music, where he was presenting awards in his role as President of the College. The Prince’s interest in music is well known, and he was fascinated to hear how the Ridgeway Ensemble found and edited the original versions of the songs from the manuscripts in the British Library, agreeing that the music of his illustrious ancestor is well worth hearing. Partly because of his interest these songs have now been orchestrated by Richard Miller, a student at the RCM, and the first one had already been performed for him in this version by students at a private gala.