January 27, 2004
Musical Anniversaries

January 27th is not only the 102nd anniversary of the death of Verdi, it is also the 248th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the 198th of Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga. Never heard of Arriaga? Though he died before his twentieth birthday, he left some very pleasing compositions. After I finish compiling my first semester grades, due later today, I plan to listen to his complete recorded works, which fit easily on two compact discs. The three string quartets have been recorded several times: I have the Claves recording by the Quartet Sine Nomine, with a luscious still-life of a canteloupe on the cover. The other disc is by Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations, playing the Symphony in D, the Overture, Op. 1 "Nonetto", and the 'pastoral overture' to Los Esclavos Felices. The title of the opera translates as 'The Happy Slaves', which I hope is either metaphorical, referring to the slavery of love, or ironic. Only bits and pieces of the work survive, so it's possible that no one knows. Three idle questions:

  1. Is Austria already gearing up for the big 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart?
  2. Will Arriaga's 200th, on the same day, be noticed at all?
  3. Would Spain have had a much larger role in early Romantic music if Arriaga had not died so young? Perhaps not. Other Spanish composers of the time are nearly forgotten, at least outside Spain. There is a single recording of Martin y Soler's opera Una Cosa Rara, quoted with approval in Don Giovanni, but the only other Spanish composer I can think of anywhere near Arriaga's time is Fernando Sor. Other than a single disc of songs, his recorded works seem to be confined to the solo guitar repertoire.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at January 27, 2004 12:21 AM

I second the recommendation (if that's what it was) of the Sine Nomine disc — beautiful playing and extremely interesting music. To Dr. Weevil's (3), I suppose it depends what you mean by "Spanish composer." Boccherini, for example, was born in Lucca IIRC, but spent the bulk of his career in Spain.

But it's true that Spain ca. 1800 was pretty isolated from the rest of Europe musically, and stayed that way for many decades. (More than that, if you concentrate on particular genres; look at zarzuela, for one thing.) I think Arriaga, had he lived, might have made a major difference — except that, had he lived, he would probably have taken himself off to Paris or Vienna, where the money was.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 28, 2004 05:17 PM

Arriaga died in Paris, so he had already gone where the money was. Whether he got any of it before he died, I do not know.

Martín y Soler is an interesting case. To my untutored ear, Una Cosa Rara (written in St. Petersburg, of all places) sounds deliciously Mozartean, but no one ever performs it. Is it really inferior, or is it just that we have enough Mozart not to have to worry about any of his contemporaries? I haven't had a chance to sit down and listen carefully with lyrics in hand and figure out the plot, but even a silly plot is hardly a major obstacle in opera. Of course, an actual viewing would help a lot. I really wish there were more DVDs of such obscure repertoire, though there are already a few examples: Falstaff's Salieri and Johann Strauss' Simplicius have both come out on DVD, and the latter at least seems to have gotten excellent reviews, though I haven't seen either.

The advantage of filming out-of-the-way repertoire is that it doesn't risk cutting into demand for live performances. A new DVD of Tosca or Don Giovanni may increase ticket sales by attracting new fans who will want to experience the same opera again live, or it may decrease them by convincing some fans they needn't bother leaving home to experience it. But with such composers as Martín y Soler and such works as Simplicius, there's not much chance of the latter happening. If we don't see them on DVD, the vast majority of us will never see them at all. As with out-of-the-way non-operatic repertoire, there should be opportunities for adventurous recording companies and second-string opera companies.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 28, 2004 06:10 PM

I should very much like to see (and hear) Falstaff's Salieri, but I fear you meant Salieri's Falstaff ;-)

St. Petersburg was a major center of opera around that time. IIRC Paisiello spent the bulk of his career there.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 29, 2004 02:36 PM

Sorry if I was unclear. I didn't find St. Petersburg odd in itself, just a long way from Spain. I would have thought the Russians would have imported their composers from Germany or Austria or Italy.

As for Falstaff's Salieri, I could claim I was just checking whether I have any alert readers, but in fact I was in the throes of calculating final semester grades. I now have 14 minutes to finish them on time, so it looks like they won't be on time.

Posted by: Dr. Weevil on January 29, 2004 03:47 PM

Ah, but Martin y Soler had been resident in Vienna for three years before he went to St. Petersburg. As a matter of fact the "old" New Grove says that Una cosa rara was written in Vienna in 1786, and that Martin y Soler first went to St. Petersburg in 1788. I haven't checked the "new" New Grove, but that sounds plausible to me.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on January 29, 2004 06:47 PM