Michael Woldemar-Rêves 1 & 5

Posted on October 20th, 2011 by

Michael Woldemar-Rêve 1
Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Stradivari ‘Betts’
Library of Congress Washington (Coolidge Auditorium)
‘Objet de mon amour
Je te demande un jour
Avant l’aurore’ (Gluck)

Michael Woldemar-Rêve 5
Peter Sheppard Skaervved-Richard Duke ca. 1750, ‘Tartini’ bow by Antonino Airenti 2011

Michel Woldemar was never able to embed himself in the post-Revolutionary musical establishment. He took every opportunity for self-promotion, as this carefully re-touched portrait plate, stamped on a set of parts for his quartet, reveals.

The Conservatoire ‘troika’ was not alone in writing a Méthode.  At the same moment, the strange Michel Woldemar (1750-1815) was producing his own. He faced up to the problem past by appropriating it, rewriting Leopold Mozart’s (1719-1787) Versuch, adding his own readings of material from German, Italian, and Spanish schools, own contrapuntal scale exercises, and innovatory explanations of the relative merits of various types of violin. His violin duos reveal his pedagogical interests, written to be played à 1re position.

In 1800, Woldemar published four Sonates Fantômagiques, each of them an ‘Ombre’. These  are in effect musical séances. Each one calls forth the spirit of a deceased virtuoso; forbears whoWoldemar regarded as important.  The four violinists are Lolli, Mestrino, Pugnani and Tartini. L’Ombre de Tartini is the most disturbing; Tartini’s ‘shade’, once revenant, promptly calls forth his inspiration, the Devil, who naturally enough plays ‘trill’, from the sonata which Tartini heard him play in a dream, il trillo de Diabolo. Woldemar is playing with a literary convention; at the beginning of Colonna’s Hypnertomachia Polyphiliae , written three centuries earlier, the writer dreams of going to sleep under a tree; once asleep, he dreams.  Once asleep in his dream, he dreams.

Woldemar’s mysticism stood was in stark contrast to the literalism of the idealists around him, and prefigured Berlioz’s more dramatic occultism, which put paid to Rousseau-ean musical humanism for good.

Woldemar was another figure seeking to reanimate the past, using whatever means available. He was the first composer to write instrumental music clearly influenced by Edward Young’s (1685-1765) Night Thoughts. The first of his 6 Rêves (Dreams) for solo violin reaches back to Orpheus, the creator of instrumental music. Woldemar uses ‘ideal simplification’ of the ‘Chevalier’ Gluck, the German composer who, as François-Henri-Joseph Castil-Blaze(1784-1857) noted, “Créa chez nous la Musique dramatique”.

Violin by Richard Duke with original neck, Airenti 'Tartini model' Bow, with Woldemar 'Reves' & Edward Young's Night Thoughts' (1785 edition)

Woldemar’s solitary string quartet, which he published himself in Paris, indicates his interest in the new science of acoustics, just flowering at the time of the violinist’s death in 1816.  It bears the title ‘Dialogué, compose d’après le principe physique des corps sonores’.

Woldemar was never integrated himself into the post-revolutionary establishment. He spent at least part of his career as a street musician.  Initially there seemed to be no room for his vaudeville felicities in this new and very serious world.  It would take Niccolò Paganini’s arrival in 1831 to propel French violinists back towards the boulevard theatres once more.