Music Publishing in the 18th Century

I found some interesting perspectives on the history of music publishing in a book available online: Music Publishing in Europe 1600-1900, by Rudolf Rasch. Mechanical printing techniques for music were first developed in the 15th century, and by the 18th century engraving was the dominant process. This century saw quite a difference in the way that composers earned their living – instead of being supported by patrons and being tied to a particular Royal court, they started to rely on publishing for their income and became more independent (though now at the mercy of publishers who would ultimately decide what was worthy of being printed). Publishing houses became bigger and started to collaborate with growing numbers of shops across Europe to disseminate printed music.

There seems to be evidence that the availability of published music encouraged the development of musical literacy in the general public, leading to more domestic music making. On the negative side, it’s possible that it contributed to a decline in aural ability as people no longer needed to learn music aurally. Perhaps most importantly, composers’ works were able to be played and heard within a much wider radius than before, and musical styles began to cross borders. It would be interesting to research how the performances of works changed when the composer was no longer on hand to instruct how they should be interpreted – I think this led to a need for more explicit notations rather than relying on conventions.

Mozart and Krommer

Mozart: Serenade No. 10 (Gran Partita)

Richard Edlinger | German Wind Soloists | Naxos 2000

Mozart’s serenade is written for 12 wind instruments and double bass. I have played an arrangement for strings in the past but I think it works best with the original scoring as the different timbres of the instruments add so much colour. The Adagio movement I think is particularly beautiful.  This movement has a steady, walking bass line throughout, over which the harmony is played on a characteristic slurred semiquaver upbeat. The first melody appears in the oboe line – a long note high above the harmony. I love the way the melodies are passed between the oboes and clarinets in a very natural way – one starting as the other finishes. There are some fairly large leaps in the melody lines, which works as the harmony parts are very bounded. The crescendos and diminuendos occur in all the parts at the same time, giving the sense that the instruments are almost a single entity, breathing as one.

Krommer Partita Op. 45 No. 1

Amphion Wind Octet | Accent 2008

The first movement contains some fairly fast triplet and semiquaver passages built on scales and arpeggios as well as some syncopation – it has a real feeling of energy about it. The last movement is similar, also containing accented off beats. The whole piece has lots of the Classical characteristics such as appoggiaturas, symmetrical phrases and firm establishment of the tonic chord at the ends of sections. I did slightly lose interest towards the end because of the constant use of tonic and dominant chords.

Mozart: Harmoniemusic zu le Nozze Di Figaro

Oktavian Ensemble | Preiser Records 2010

It’s interesting to hear the famous overture to this opera played by a wind ensemble – to me the strings are such a key part of the sound when the forte section kicks in, and this scoring can’t create the same power. Also when the fast string accompaniment sections are translated for wind instruments, it does give me a slightly comical sense of breathlessness! I thought the slower, lyrical parts worked better, such as Porgi Amor. There are so many famous tunes in this opera – I’ve never seen a performance of it but I recognised a lot of the music.

The Mannheim School

Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 1

Roderick Shaw | Swedish Chamber Orchestra | Patrick Gallois | Naxos 2003

This exercise asks us to listen to the first movement of the concerto whilst following the score.  Although it’s an Allegro movement, thankfully it isn’t so fast that it is too difficult to follow, and the limited number of parts helps too! I found following the score quite enjoyable – it made me more aware of the texture at any point in the music and more likely to notice some fine details. It also meant that it was possible to identify any differences between the performance and the written score; for example in this case the flautist plays several additional ornaments that are not written down.

Several Mannheim School characteristics are evident in this concerto. In the first  and last movements there are sudden dynamic contrasts from to p. The harmony changes are also generally quite slow, sometimes changing up to twice a bar but other times remaining static for several bars in a row.  The texture is mostly of a melody and accompaniment style, but the second movement does contain sections of homophony where all the sections move together.  The flute naturally has most of the solo lines, and there are just a few short phrases where the oboes and horn play by themselves, e.g. bar four of the first movement.

Period Instruments

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 26

I listened to two performances of this piano concerto:

  1. Christopher Hogwood | Robert Levin | Academy of Ancient Music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBprBP9We0s)
  2. Sándor Végh | András Schiff | Camerata Academica des Mozarteums Salzburg | Decca Music Group 2016

One noticeable difference between performances by the Academy of Ancient Music and more modern performances is the layout of the orchestra – the cellos and basses are placed towards the centre with second violins and violas to their right, and the piano is embedded within the orchestra instead of at the front of the stage.

The main difference in the sound between the two performances of this particular piece comes from the piano which has changed radically since Mozart’s time; the early instrument created a much quieter, thinner tone which decayed very quickly, as a result sounding considerably more percussive to my ears. The woodwind instruments also look very different to modern instruments – the flute for example has a conical bore.  I think the difference in sound in these instruments is less pronounced than with the piano, but it seems to me that the wind section can be heard more clearly over the strings in the modern performance.

Another major difference between the performances is the pitch – the Academy of Ancient Music play the concerto at a lower pitch than today’s standard A440.  The style of playing is also quite different, the strings use much less vibrato than they do in the modern performance. The dynamic range used in the piece is significantly larger in the modern orchestra, and overall the sound is more resonant. It’s interesting to hear it played in a historically informed way but generally I think I prefer the full sound and expressive potential of the modern piano and orchestra for this work.

Haydn: Symphony No.79

Ottavio Dantone | Accademia Bizantina | Decca Music Group 2016

The Accademia Bizantina is an Italian early music ensemble. I really liked their performance of this Haydn symphony – it has a real clarity about it.  Style wise it has a lot in common with the Academy of Ancient Music’s performance of the Mozart, for example minimum vibrato on the strings. In this particular symphony the woodwind are often doubling the melodies on the strings, and I think the tones of the instruments blend well –  it definitely creates subtly different sound colours to a modern orchestra.