Rodolphe Kreutzer and the singing violin

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by

Rodolphe Kreutzer-Concerto No 15

Rodolphe Kreutzer by Riedel


Kreutzer 15th Concerto (dedicated to Pierre Baillot-Adagio)

Violin : Peter Sheppard Skærved
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Mogrelia


Angelican Catalani by Alfred Edward Chalon, pen and ink, 1814

Kreutzer 14th Concerto (dedicated to Angelica Catalani) Adagio

Violin : Peter Sheppard Skærved
Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Mogrelia


           The popularity of concertante works in France ensured that concertos were published immediately upon their completion and premiere.  If anything, the revolution sped up the process of publication.  This situation provided tremendous opportunities to curry social and political advantage through prominent title page dedications.  Rodolphe Kreutzer took great advantage of the opportunities offered by this situation; his concerti are dedicated to a wide range of influential figures, ranging from influential fellow-citoyens  to musicians. A number offer various types musical portraiture. These included a premature in memoriam for Haydn (no. 16), and a depication of the artistry of the soprano Angelica Catalani (No. 14).  He dedicated his fifteenth concerto to Pierre Baillot. It alludes to their work together on the Méthode; the thematic material of the first and second movements consists of little more that rising and falling scales!  Pierre Baillot’s Trio Op.1 was dedicated to his mother, signalling that times were changing. Dedications began to move away from mere opportunities for advancement, toadying, or flattering portraiture.

           The building of large-scale concerto cycles acquired insitia with the post-revolutionary revisions of dates and hagiographical tables.  The new revolutionary calendar was decimal, with three ten-day weeks or ‘decades’ in each month, each named after their ‘natural’ qualities.  A number of musicians responded to this trend by replacing numbers with letters following the July 27th 1794 coup, or 9 Thermidori, which marked the end of the ‘Terror’ and the downfall of Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794).  Perhaps this change a desire to use every letter in the alphabet, encouraging a tendency to build cycles of works.  The ‘revolutionary’ numbering system was also used to list other works.  Johann Michael Haydn’s (1737-1806) Quintet Op Posth was published by Pleyel in Paris as ‘lettre A’

Viotti’s concerti 21-26, including the extraordinary No 22 (dedicated to Cherubini), were from now on labelled from A to F.  ; the quartet transcription of his Duos Op 19 appeared as lettre A. He seems to have made the change as a direct result of his reunion with Rode, Cherubini and Kreutzer in Paris, following the Peace of Amiens.

           Viotti’s Duos had set new standards of democracy in chamber music. This ideal had been never actively sought in composition or performance until their appearance.  It is generally agreed that great Viennese chamber works, set the standards for a democratic notion of composition.  This is very far from the truth, as any performance of a Beethoven quartet will reveal. It has taken composers such as Michael Finnissy (1946- ) and John Cage (1912-1992) to restore Viotti’s standards of egalité to the medium.

Viotti’s Concerto No 22, dedicated to Cherubini, was first performed in 1794. It was not published for nine years, “as Concerto de Violon B by the Magasin de Musique of which Cherubini, Méhul, Kreutzer, Rode, Isouard and Boildieu were proprietors.”

Viotti, Rode and Kreutzer’s concerti redefined the medium.  Beethoven’s approach to the concertante violin can be traced back to Viotti’s early concerti; the elegant tread of his Violin Concerto, the classical lyricism of his two Romances, and the military feel of much of his Triple Concerto would have been inconceivable without the idealised air of these works.

The concerto cycles composed by Rodolphe Kreutzer and Viotti resulted from periods of enforced inactivity or permanent residence in one city.  The production of major works is not easy when an artist is constantly touring.  Nicolo Paganini began his international career in 1828, after which his compositional output petered out.

Kreutzer’s concertos laid the foundations for an entire tradition of the virtuoso concerti which followed, most notably Concertante works of Nicolo Paganini, which are clearly based on his works. Paganini seems to have been keen to demonstrate the seriousness of his approach by playing the works of the French ‘revolutionary’ generation in the German speaking countries. He often played concerti by Rode and Kreutzer, albeit with his own slow movements inserted.  He was cautious about performing the Viotti, but made a particular effort to obtain and play his extraordinary Violin Duos.   However, under the right circumstances, perhaps when challenged, he was willing to take up the challenge of Viotti’s concerti.  He made an effort to contact Viotti, through Hérold, in 1820, but the two never met. 

Paganini’s last concert in Vienna on the 30th June 1828, consisted of the Bunte of Weber and Mozart overtures which often fleshed out up his concerts, plusthe work that had probably gained him the appellation KammerVirtuos SrMajestät des Kaiser von Oesterreich, his Variations on Gott Erhalte Franz der Kaiser. In addition, the playbill announced, “Erster Satz eines Concerts von Viotti, zum erste Mahle vorgetragen vom Concertgeber.”  (First movement of a Concerto by Viotti, played for the first time by the Concertgiver). Apparently, Paganini wanted his audience to know that this was the first time that he had played this Viotti concerto. This was a very public ommagio to the père créateur

On his deathbed, Paganini whispered to Cammillo Sivori, his only pupil: “Go to Paris, Study there-there all great artists beget their reputations.  Go to Paris.  After Paris there is nothing.”