Anton Reicha (1770-1834)-Grand Duo Concertant (dedicated to Pierre Baillot)
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin (Stradivari 1699), Aaron Shorr-Piano
Finale-Allegro poco vivace
The most influential musician in post-Revolutionary Paris was the Bohemian-born Antoine Reicha (1770-1836), Beethoven’s exact contemporary and close friend. As teenagers, the two had been colleagues in the Bonn Electoral Orchestra, co-conspirators in the forging of new chamber and contrapuntal languages in Vienna from 1801-1808. After an unsuccessful first visit to Paris in 1799, Reicha settled there permamently after leaving Vienna in 1808. Reicha came to be a close colleague of Pierre Baillot, and intimate of many French intellectuals. He was professor of counterpoint and fugue at he Conservatoire from 1818; in Paris, his students included Baillot, Habeneck, Rode, Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, and Franck.
Reicha’s long-term collaboration with Beethoven has received scant attention, resulting in Reicha’s belittlement as the dogmatic theorist or, as Mendelssohn put it, one of the ‘dried up chrysalises’ that he found on his second visit to Paris in 1826. However, his music flies in the face of this prejudice, whether one considers the bravado of the 3 Quintets Op 2 , written for the ‘Boccherini’ combination so popular with Baillot circle, the inventiveness of 12 Duos for violin and cello, which Baillot and Lamarre premiered, or the sheer innovation of the set of 6 Quartets Op 48 & Op 49 written as a real-time response and stimulus for Beethoven’s Quartets Op 18.
Reicha’s quartets are the equal of Beethoven’s in inventiveness. They are replete with the easy sonority and good humour, that would be the benchmark of much of the chamber music by the post-revolutionary generation Parisian performers and players. His 3 Quartets Op 94, were dedicated to Baillot, and the Op 95, to Pierre Rode.
Perhaps Reicha’s most distinctive chamber work is his sonata for piano and violin, a Duo Concertant, dedicated to Pierre Baillot in 1826. This pokes fun at Beethoven, using the opening of the Kreutzer Sonata Op 47, but presto, all the awkward double-stopping in place, as a high-speed fanfare in a Haydn-esque finale. Such challenging writing would have suited Baillot’s athletic playing ideally. Alone amongst the original three writers of the Méthode, his playing preserved its freshness and brilliance till the end of his career. Even in later years, according to Ferdinand Hiller, “He still played with all the energy and poetry of youth of youth…” Baillot was the first major violinist outside Vienna to take up Beethoven’s Violin Concerto Op. 61. He was scheduled to play it at a concert with Mendelssohn in 1832. This concert was cancelled due to the arrival of cholera in Paris.
There was increasing awareness in post-revolutionary Paris of the importance of baroque chamber works. Antoine Reicha (1770-1836) wrote of the solo violin works of Bach and various other baroque composers in the treatise that prefaces his brilliant and innovatory 12 Duos for violin and cello. These duos provide an inventory of the chamber techniques and musical styles current in Paris in 1814, the year of its publication, and certainly stray far beyond the ‘sight-readable’.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)came to study with Pierre Baillot in 1816; perhaps his enthusiasm for Bach, was in some way stimulated by the seriousness with which pedagogues and contrapuntalists treated his music in the French capital. Returning as a 16 year old nine years later, he appalled his sister Fanny (1805-1847) by suggesting that he was “trying to teach Onslow and Reicha to love Beethoven and Sebastian Bach.”