Thursday, October 22, 2009

Doesn't this make you curious?

I admit that my original interest in this CD was because of the composer's name, but I also was intrigued by the idea of this person, who lived from 1742 until 1810, being a composer for the Imperial Court of St. Petersburg. Up until this morning I thought that "western classical" music in Russia began with Glinka. Knowing about Anton Ferdinand Titz changes everything completely, especially since the music is terrific. This is definitely not the milquetoast Viennese Classical music that people come across from time to time when doing research for dissertations. This is forward-thinking music in the spirit of Haydn and Boccherini, but with a completely original compositional voice. Although Titz was not Russian by birth, he was the first Viennese Classical composer to write in Russia. That he used Russian folk material in his quartets is just a little more icing on the cake of historical re-thinking.

Here's his biography from Grove:
(b Nuremberg, c1742; d St Petersburg, 25 Dec 1810/6 Jan 1811). German violinist and composer, active in Russia. He was orphaned at an early age and was taught painting in Nuremberg by Johann C. and Barbara R. Dietzsch, his uncle and aunt. By the age of 16 he was a violinist at St Sebaldus’s church there. After an unhappy love affair a few years later he went to Vienna, where he played in the opera orchestra and may have studied with Haydn. In 1771 he became a member of the Hofkapelle in St Petersburg; Catherine the Great paid him the highest salary of any of her court musicians. He also taught at the theatre school, gave the future Tsar Aleksandr I violin lessons, directed a court chamber orchestra (which included the clarinettist Joseph Beer and other outstanding musicians), and performed publicly, for instance in 1782, but most of his performances were at court, as a violinist and viola d'amore player. Later in life he suffered a mental disorder that sometimes prevented him from working, but he was encouraged and protected by Senator A.G. Teplov, a St Petersburg amateur musician. He dedicated three string quartets to Teplov and three more to Aleksandr I.

Titz was particularly admired for his sensitive playing of adagio passages, but by the time Spohr met him in St Petersburg in 1803 his technical assurance had gone. His compositions are mainly chamber works in the Viennese Classical style; his string quartets strive for a large dramatic compass and the three upper parts have considerable independence. He also wrote some small vocal works (now lost), including Le pigeon bleu et noir gémit, a romance that was popular in Russian salons until the mid-19th century. He has often been confused with the Dresden violinist Ludwig Tietz.

The liner notes for this CD also include a quotation from the 60-year-old Ludwig Spohr.
"I also saw and listened to Titz, the famous mad violinist. We found a man of about forty with a glowing face and pleasant appearance. You could not tell he suffered from mental confusion. So we were all the more surprised when he asked each of us: 'My most gracious monarch, how are you feeling?' He then proceeded to relate to us a tall tale, containing very little common sense, and complained bitterly about an evil wizard, who was jealous of his violin playing and cursed his middle finger on his left hand so that he could no longer play, but he then said he thought he might be able to reverse the curse."
The music for the 12 quartets recorded by the Hoffmeister Quartet was discovered in the Academic Regional Library in Ulyanovsk by Andrey Reshetin. A modern edition has been made of the first quartet, and it was published in 2000. I hope that all the music will be made available for other quartets to play, perhaps through the Petrucci Library. I also wonder if Titz wrote anything for the viola d'amore?

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