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F10086    [8595017408625]     released 4/1999

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Jaroslav Tůma - fortepiano (Walter Sohn, c. 1805 - made by Paul Mc Nulty, Divišov 1998)

One truly characteristic figure of Prague musical life in the first half of the nineteenth century is the composer and educationalist Václav Jan Křtitel Tomášek. Not only the vast amount and high quality of his oeuvre, his work as a teacher, his broad range of interests, but also is keen judgement and critical approach to the musical events of his day helped to secure him a place there. He was ironically called the music pope of Prague, and his reputation as an outstanding connoisseur of music spread far beyond the Bohemian Lands: on their first visits to Prague great musical personages such as Paganini, Wagner, and Berlioz made sure to pay him their compliments.
     The thirteenth child in the family of a weaver and burgher, Jakub Tomášek, Václav Jan Křtitel was born on 17 April 1774 in Skuteč, Bohemia. He acquired the rudiments of music (in violin and singing) under the local choirmaster in Chrudim. At the age of twelve he became a vocalist at the Minorite monastery in Jihlava, where he also studied music theory and organ. In 1790 he left for Prague, where he completed gymnasium and went on to earn a degree in law. At university he also studied mathematics, history, and aesthetics. While still at gymnasium he conscientiously studied music on his own. Obtaining both new and old books on piano and composition, he continued to work diligently at his music, so that by 1796 he was already famous in Prague as a virtuoso of the piano. In 1806, with a number of successful compositions behind him, he was taken on as a music teacher and composer by Count Georg Franz Buquoy. Tomášek was thus financially secure for the next sixteen years, and was able to concentrate on his music. The position, on the other hand, also had its disadvantages, for had he been forced to make a living as a touring virtuoso, say, he would undoubtedly have met with a number of inspirations. In 1824, Tomášek founded his own conservatory in Prague, and successfully competed in piano and composition instruction with the established Prague conservatories and organ schools. Among his important pupils were Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek, Josef Dessauer, and Alexander Dreyschock. Tomášek`s life came to a close in Prague on 3 April 1850.
     As a composer, Tomášek wrote in all forms, from song to chamber and orchestral works, choral music, cantata, opera, and church music. He started from the Classicism of Hayden and Mozart, but was influenced by Beethoven as well (and also paid personal visits to Hayden and Beethoven). Though he tended throughout his life to be of a conservative aesthetic outlook, in his own compositions he soon evolved to tones of Romanticism. This is most evident in his songs and in particular his piano compositions. At the beginning of his career he composed a number of piano sonatas and variations, but later came to believe that these favourite compositional forms were threatened by a certain mannerism. He thus began, in 1806, to write short lyrical compositions for the piano. In order to make it immediately clear that they were distinct from eighteenth-century pastoral compositions for piano, Tomášek gave them titles using classical poetic terms eclogue, rhapsody, and dithyramb. Over the years his compositions grew in length, and the technique required to play them increased in complexity. The eclogues remain closest to the original idyllic, pastoral mood; the rhapsodies and dithyrambs contain passages of greater energy and drama.
     Tomášek wrote a total of seven volumes of eclogues in the period 1806 - 23 (Opp. 35, 39, 47, 51, 63, 66, and 83), and all found publishers, mostly abroad, shortly after they were written. The individual volumes differ from each other both in musical content and in technical complexity. Eclogues Op. 35 (published in 1807) provide miniature depictions of a merry, idyllic character, where, as if in the background, one also perceives an instructive element (the etude character of some passages is, however, never merely an end in itself, but is part of a greater, emotive whole). Eclogues Op. 51 (written in 1815, published in 1818) are longer, technically more demanding, and more differentiated in mood. Both volumes of Eclogues in our recording display a number of characteristics shared by other Tomášek compositions of this name. They have the three-part form ABA: part B is either a continuation of A or introduces a new idea of a similar mood but different structure, or sometimes a strong contrast of mood and structure (Op. 51, No. 2, for instance). They contain clear elements that tend towards Romanticism. They include a fondness for structures that are of a purely tonal nature (as in Op. 35, No. 1), running, harmonically glowing passages, the miniature (based on subtle changes of small surfaces), the use of pastoral elements (the hollow octaves and fifths in Op. 35, No. 2), the inclusion of melodic and rhythmic elements of traditional folk music (such as the play of thirds in Op. 35, No. 5, or in Op. 51, No. 4), and also the employment of pronounced dance motifs (in Op. 35, No. 4, Part A, and No. 6, Pt. A).
     Tomášek paid great attention to the piano stylization of lyrical passages, and liked employing two kinds in particular: the right hand plays the melody line in octaves, the left accompanies with triplets containing the harmony in crotchets, which is determined by the bass. Or, conversely, the progression of triplets played by the right hand emphasize the simple melody line in that hand, which is accompanied by the left hand with the harmonically determining part in notes of longer duration.
     These are all new elements or at least elements used in a new context. Tomášek was the first composer to devote himself to the lyrical piano piece to such a great extent, doing so for a full forty years. His importance becomes particularly clear when we realize that he published six volumes of these compositions a number of years before the first Schubert Impromptu (1827), and four volumes before Field`s Nocturnes (1814).

Zdeňka Pilková

Further recordings by Jaroslav Tůma:

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