Schubert and Mendelssohn at Wilton’s Music Hall
Schubert Update: link
On the 13th December, the Kreutzers will be back at Wilton’s for two December concerts. These two concerts focus on the dramatic music which Schubert and Mendelssohn produced in the 1820’s.
However, our first concert includes an interloper, 4 Comic Ländler written in 1816, by the 19 year old Franz Schubert. These 4 tiny pieces, scored for two violins, might seem to have no place whatsoever in a concert that includes pieces like the dramatic Quartettsatz and the G Major Quartet, his last.
The 4 Comic Ländler have not, at least to my knowledge, ever been performed in the UK. There is a good reason for that. They are not really performance pieces, but functional music.
It is very easy to forget that the main demand on string players was to provide the music for dances. Dance music provided the social glue of all leisured society, from the rural ‘hop’ to a grand state ball, and this required string players. No ambassador, general, or consul, travelled without their violinists. Even the greatest of players was expected to perform this function. The most revered of all early 19th century violinists, Giovannis Battista Viotti relished this job. He was content to sit in the corner at a party, playing country dances all night at Gillwell House. Such a socially necessary activity was easier to justify, and indeed to celebrate, than ‘playing for his supper’, providing background music.
The Irish poet and folk-song lyricist, Thomas Moore (179?-1852), remembered Viotti’s apparent forbearance at an evening at Fairmead Lodge, Loughton, the country house rented by the poet and soldier William Sotheby (1757-1833). Sotheby “…Begged Viotti…to bring his violin- the latter promised he would &, on his arrival, Botherby the barbarian, exclaimed ‘I am glad you are come- you’ve brought your fiddle, I hope- now, girls- where are your partners? Stand up- here’s Mr. Viotti- what dance will you have?’- Viotti, to the immortal credit of his good-nature, played country-dances for them the whole night.”
Viotti himself would probably not have had that much of a problem being seen as merely a violinist for dancing; he happily called himself ‘le racleur’ (The scraper).
It would be impossible to imagine a musical evening at the beginning of the 19th century not turning into a dance party. Schubert produced countless examples of dances for piano, which he would sit and play, happily at the bourgeois salons which he attended in Vienna. Perhaps the 4 duos were produced for a ‘hop’ where he knew that there would be no piano. The upper line is notably more difficult than the lower-no doubt written for his brother Ferdinand, for whom he wrote two major concertante roles for violin and orchestra. The lower is very simple, perhaps designed for the composer, who was a competent violist, to play himself.
1816 marked a watershed for the young composer. On the 17th June that year he wrote:
‘An diesem Tag componirte ich das erste Mahl für Geld’ (Today, for the first time, I composed for money).