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Antonín Rejcha (1770 - 1836)
Sonatas for Flute and Fortepiano, Four Fugues

F10096  [8595017409622]   released 10/1999

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Yoshimi Oshima: flute (Muramatsu & Sankyo)
Jaroslav Tůma: fortepiano (Paul McNulty, Divišov 1999, after Walter Sohn c. 1805)

Is the Century of the Flute Really Over?
     In the eighteenth century the flute was a highly popular solo instrument in chamber music and concertos. In fact, for a long time it was without competition in this respect, and the period truly was the Golden Age of the Flute. The more the flute gained ground as an instrument in the orchestra, eventually acquiring a firm position as the arrangement of instruments became increasingly standardized, it seemed to be lose its attraction as a solo and chamber instrument.
      Certainly one reason for this was that the flute had not quite been perfected as an instrument ─ the strength of its tone as the instrument was constructed in those days was not particularly suited to the new demands being made on solo instruments. A more influential factor in shaping the flute repertoire, however, was that the flute was a favourite instrument of amateurs. The best known non-professional flautist of the eighteenth century was probably Friedrich II, for whom virtuoso concertos and sonatas were written. In Paris at that time compositions played by the foremost musicians in the royal chambers were published. By contrast, in the nineteenth century the needs of amateur flautists were met by music for the salon, arrangements of opera pieces, and variations on widely known melodies. To a large extent even difficult compositions by virtuosos on the flute, written mostly for their own concerts, were similarly intended.
      At the turning point between these two periods there lived and worked Antonín Rejcha, a composer, flautist, and important music theoretician and educationalist. He was born in Prague in 1770, but lived most of his life abroad, as one of a number of Czech composers who had emigrated and worked in Europe?s centres of music. Unlike most of them, however, Rejcha had left his homeland as a little boy. The adventurous ups and downs of his departure from Bohemia are known to us from his autobiography, which he dictated to his daughter Antoinette, in Paris, and whose manuscript has survived to this day.
      Particularly responsible for Antonín Rejcha?s career in music was his uncle, Josef Rejcha, a cellist, composer, and Kapellmeister, with whom the young Antonín grew up and studied music. In 1785 Josef Rejcha became Kapellmeister at the court in Bonn, and Antonín played flute and violin there. His friendship with his fellow-musician and contemporary, Ludwig van Beethoven, was particularly fruitful for him. Both men also studied with the organist Christian Gottlob Neefe at the recently established University of Bonn. After his successful beginning as a composer in Bonn, Rejcha?s career took him, by way of Hamburg and Paris, to Vienna. There he became acquainted with Joseph Haydn and a number of other prominent composers. In Vienna Rejcha continued to discover new possibilities in composition, which he had already begun to contemplate in Hamburg. A particular subject of interest to him was the fugue. He summarized his innovative principles in a collection of pieces for piano titled 36 Fugues Based on a New System. It contains uncommon time-signatures and rhythms, motifs, and modulations unusual for the fugue, breaking perhaps all the formal rules and conventions that had been handed down from the Late Baroque. Rejcha also demonstrated in this period a strong desire to write about music, presenting his views on theory and various other opinions in book form. He explained his new principles of the fugue in a short work which was the precursor to his later large theoretical works. It was probably back then that the Sonata in G Minor for Piano and Flute was written (later published in Leipzig as Op. 54, 1804/5).
      In Vienna, which was then occupied by Napoleon?s troops, there were few opportunities for artists, and Rejcha moved on, first to Leipzig, and then suddenly to Paris by way of Prague. In Paris, where he spent the rest of his life, Rejcha established himself as an outstanding educator, particularly after 1818, when he was appointed teacher of counterpoint and the fugue at the Paris Conservatory. Many of his students went on to make their mark as great composers, for instance, Liszt, Berlioz, Flotow, Gounod, and Franck. Rejcha?s theoretical writing also had a great influence.
      As a composer of opera, the leading genre of his day, Rejcha was, however, unsuccessful. His chamber works were far more important. With his natural tendency to experiment and discover new paths, it was in chamber music that Rejcha found fertile ground. Of the many possible instrument combinations he tried in his music, perhaps the most successful was the wind quintet. Actually, with his 24 wind quintets Rejcha is the founder of this kind of music, and himself thought highly of these works of his. The Grand Duo in D Major, Op. 103, for flute and piano was also written in Paris, probably in c. 1820 (and published in Paris in 1824).
      "Once while playing a symphony we came to the fermata, and I used it for a twenty or thirty-bar improvisation. When we next performed that symphony the orchestra refused to continue unless I played the new improvisation. I had to do this each and every time we played, which was very often", said Rejcha in his autobiography, recalling his youth in Bonn. Although he later ceased to play as a professional flautist, he wrote a number of chamber works for the instrument.
      Antonín Rejcha died in Paris in 1836. The flute had to wait for more than half a century before it was again noticed, this time by the French impressionists. It is somehow symbolic that the first among them was Debussy, a pupil of Franck, who had studied under Rejcha at the age of thirteen.

Václav Kapsa

Further recordings by Yoshimi Oshima & Jaroslav Tůma:

Further recordings by Jaroslav Tůma:

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