Friday, June 27, 2014

Johann Georg Albrechtsberger – Concertos for Jew’s Harp & Mandora

   Johann Georg Albrechtsberger was one of prominent composers in classical period Viennese school. He was only four years younger than his friend Joseph Haydn. Educated in philosophy and in music, he was skillful composer, using with competence almost all known techniques. Big part of his work is connected to his service as organist of Viennese court (from 1772) and Kapellmeister of St. Stephen Cathedral (from 1792). His numerous compositions for piano, organ, chamber ensembles, orchestral and vocal music was accompanied by theoretical works in subject of harmony and theory of music, treatise on composition and many others. He was also famous as a teacher of at least two generations of composers. His pupils were Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Anton Reicha, Ignaz Mosheles, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart and many more. But his best known student was Ludwig van Beethoven, who came with Haydn’s recommendation and found in Albrechtsberger competent and experienced master of composition.
   Although in perspective of popular history and its simplified facts Albrechtsberger is remembered mainly as Beethoven’s teacher, his theoretical, practical, personal and artistic impact on European culture is really difficult to overestimate. His ideas in theoretical studies and teaching directions were setting trends many years after he gone. Some of his compositions have experimental character even today, even if these pieces are now just a curiosity. Probably most famous are concerti for Jew’s harp (Maultrommel) and string orchestra. Jew’s harp is small instrument used in Europe from 14th century. It was very popular until 20th century and today in different types and names is circulating in world wide culture. Johann Georg Albrechtsberger was only famous composer of western music who wrote concerti for this folk instrument. He composed seven, but only half of them survived. Two were recorded June 29, 1981 in München.

J. G. Albrechtsberger – Concertos for Jew’s Harp & Mandora (1981)

   Survived in Hungarian National Library in Budapest, Concerti for Jew’s harp, Mandora and Orchestra E Major and F Major were composed between 1769 and 1771. Compositions written in early classical gallant style illustrate the moment of establishing classical form. Concerto E Major is constructed in traditional three part form, Concerto F Major is in four movements with Menuett as third movement, connecting this work to some construction ideas of symphonic form. Both concerti feature two small folk instruments: Jew’s harp and mandora, which is name for various instruments. From Albrechtsberger’s textbook on composition we know in 18th century it was small type of lute with 8 pairs of strings tuned according to the key of the composition. Soloists in 1981 recording were Fritz Mayr playing Jew’s harp and Dieter Kirsch playing mandora. Performances were directed by Hans Stadlmair leading Münchener Kammerorchester. The cover features painting by Dirck van Baburen, Youth Playing the Jew’s Harp (1621). This famous Utrecht painter left series of works showing young men playing various musical instruments, which are probably his self portraits. 

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