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Antonín Rejcha: 36 fugues
Jaroslav Tůma - fortepiano Anton Walter, 1790


F10146  *2CD*  [8595017414626]   released 5/2006   mp3 download

World premiere recording of the exceptional cycle of fugues on period hammer-clavier by Anton Walter from Wien. (see bellow the instrument info)

Volume I – CD I

Fugue Nr
1 Allegro   3:15
2 Allegro   2:49
3 Théme de J. Haydn
   – Molto moderato   4:24
4 a deux sujets - Allegro moderato   3:13
5 Théme de J.S.Bach – Allegretto   4:49
6 Allegro moderato   2:59
7 Théme de W.A.Mozart – Allegro   2:36
8 Cercle harmonique – Allegretto   3:46
9 Théme de D. Scarlatti 
   - Allegro moderato   4:15
10 Allegro maestoso   2:05
11 Allegro moderato   4:16
12 Allegretto   1:47
13 a deux sujets - Allegro moderato   1:44
14 Fugue-Fantaisie (Théme de G.Frescobaldi)
    - Ferme et avec Majesté-Presto    6:53
15 a 6 sujets (Théme de G.Fr.Händel)
    – Adagio   2:57
16 Andante un poco allegretto   4:36

Volume II – CD II

Fugue Nr.
17 Allegro   2:42
18 a deux sujets – Adagio   5:29
19 Allegro   4:46
20 1ére mesure composée – Allegretto   4:20
21 Allegro   3:21
22 Allegretto   3:46
23 Allegro   3:34
24 2éme mesure composée
    - Allegro moderato   2:09
25 Allegro   3:00
26 Allegro   3:30
27 Introduction-Fuga
    - Allegro-meme mouvement   3:44
28 3éme mesure composée – Allegro   5:35
29 Allegro moderato   4:47
30 a trois sujets - Allegro moderato   4:11
31 a deux sujets - Allegro moderato   4:41
32 a deux sujets - Poco lento  ; 5:32
33 Allegro   2:29
34 a deux sujets - Un poco presto     1:34
35 Allegro   3:35
36 Allegro moderato   3:40

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Often when I sit down to the fortepiano, I recall the embarrassment I felt about the introductory bars of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata when as a schoolboy I used to try and play it at least roughly, imperfectly, for the sheer joy of making music and primitive sight-reading. Though I was struck by its beauty, the sense of the repeated introductory C-major chord escaped me. It seemed too harsh, colourless, wishy-washy. How could such a superb composer write it in such an impossible fingering? Of course I was sitting at a normal piano back then, knowing nothing about the pianos of Beethoven’s day. I had no idea even that a few years later, as a student of organ at the Prague Conservatoire, I would hear about this sonata introduction from students of piano, who told me that for the interpreter this was a hard nut to crack, that the pianist simply had to master it with perfect touch, and thus surmount the acoustic difficulties stemming from the unpleasant aggregate of overtones emanating from the piano. Not till many years later, during my first encounter with a copy of an early-nineteenth-century instrument, did I suddenly see it from a different angle: on a period instrument this problematic C-major chord sounds absolutely natural, not at all problematic! Moreover, it has a richer timbre.
And it became clear to me: many other places in the countless compositions of the composers of that period, which had up till then tended to bore me or leave me unsatisfied, would therefore sound just as natural and rich. The composers, masters of piano-playing always wrote, after all, for instruments they were intimately familiar with, and not for the big twentieth-century monsters with steel frames and perfect actions. I stress that point today even in the knowledge that Beethoven, say, definitely longed for a more promising, more powerful sound than he could get out of the pianos of his day. Perhaps that is even why on today’s pianos his compositions definitely sound more interesting and grander than the works of many of his contemporaries.
Beethoven’s friend and colleague in the Bonn orchestra Anton (Antonín or Antoine) Rejcha (Reicha) – both young men were fifteen years old at the time – became a flautist in the court orchestra of Maximilian Francis of Austria, Elector of Cologne, after Anton’s uncle, Joseph Rejcha, had been made Director of the orchestra in 1785. Beethoven played viola, and both he and the young Rejcha received musical training with the organist and, later, music director Christian Gottlob Neefe. In 1789 they also enrolled together to read philosophy at Bonn.
In comparison with the stellar “career” of Beethoven the composer (particularly after his death), Rejcha looks like a less-successful tagalong. Certainly, at the very least his works for piano are not at the centre of interest of today’s interpreters. It is actually amazing just how rarely one hears Rejcha’s fugues, and when one finally does then only the few allegedly choice morsels. A fundamental question is whether all 36 fugues, which one can reasonably call Rejcha’s key opus for piano, were intended as an important work of theory or whether they might not conceivably be performed publicly as a whole. I have searched in vain for information about whether they were ever performed as a whole, apart from my own performance at the Prague Spring Festival in 2003. What is certain is that the individual fugues were frequently performed in Rejcha’s day and they did not meet with critical acclaim.
Even back in 1799 twelve of the fugues were published in Paris, and then Rejcha published all twelve in Vienna in 1805, albeit in a different order, together with the other 24 later ones. The new Vienna edition – now of all 36 fugues – is dedicated to Joseph Haydn, and even includes an ode to him in French and German. At the same time Rejcha published a theoretical work as well, Über das neue Fugensystem, which was intended to counter potential objections of the critics.
And just as some works of famous painters in the past have been called “eccentric” or indeed even “mad” by the experts, something similar might be said about Rejcha’s fugues, not only back then, but today as well.
Rejcha was a sought-after and beloved professor of composition and counterpoint at the Paris Conservatoire. (From the time he was appointed in 1818 he trained a whole generation of musicians, including Berlioz, Gounod, Franck, and, beginning in 1823, Liszt.) He was aware of all the limitations that the strict rules of form imposed on a freedom-loving composer’s spirit. He considered the historical form of the fugue, however, to be viable, and he tried to achieve the apparently impossible. He invented and tested in practice all possible innovative approaches, which would surmount the strict rules of the fugue. The fugue in his hands remains a fugue; it is still that polyphonic form whose basis is a fabric built upon itself, but with inexhaustible imagination he developed other features such as the sequence in which the voices come in, tonal connections and development, and musical form.
His purpose was not to go against the grain. Rejcha was well aware that the listener must on the one hand must be provided with what his ear and intellect knows and he has already made his own. The listener does not demand the new at any price. Rejcha prepared feasts for the connoisseur and aesthete and with something else he suggested possible roads of development for aspiring composers. His highly sophisticated work provides a little bit of both almost at every moment, for example, the trivially presented traditional sequence – in the form, say, of a simple figure shifted a step up or down, and he also surprises us with something or even shocks us in some places.
Lots of surprises take place at the level of form, where the fugue brings to mind now a free fantasy, now a toccata or perhaps a rondo. At other times Rejcha inserts an almost frivolous tune into the strict polyphonic structure. In a number of places we find influences of the Style Gallant. Rejcha often provokes by means of harmony. On the one hand with the frequent entry of themes in utterly unexpected keys, on the other with surprising approaches in the sequences. He uses a rich scale of possibilities, which are on the one hand rooted in the conventional style of the period, but on the other are somehow already in the distant future, for example, in the quaintest deceptive endings.
Rejcha does not conceive of the fugue as a whole determined by form and content. Even in compositions on a single theme he often changes the mood, sometimes with a radical cut, at other times inconspicuously. He begins in one key and ends in another, remote one. His themes are often like periods. All of that would have been inconceivable in earlier fugues. In the Baroque, moreover it was almost always a matter of a fugue in which the mood of the whole depended on the first introductory theme. In Rejcha’s cycle we experience something completely different. The course of Fugue No. 30 with two themes, for instance, is a prime example of several radical changes of mood. Moreover, here he uses the interesting principle of alternating bars of double and triple time, in which the measure of both (a half note) takes the same amount of time. This, however, is not Rejcha’s innovation, but a reference to the rhythmical subtleties of Renaissance polyphony. What Rejcha did become famous for and what made him avant-garde, however, was his frequent use of composite time signatures: for example, 3/8+2/8, C+3/4, and 3/8+3/8+2/8.
Many fugues are highly chromatic, with frequent enharmonic changes. In the area of chromatic innovation even Max Reger would be proud of, say, Fugue No. 34. A real curiosity here is not only the frequent use of the double sharp, but also, in one case, even a triple sharp. I have never seen a c-triple sharp anywhere else. Fugue No. 29, as well, is amazing with its strikingly chromatic theme, and also unexpected tonal turnarounds. Another unusual place comes just before the conclusion. It involves the sudden use of the most banal Baroque-like sequences with the subsequent coda, in which Rejcha introduces a short harmonic model, which with its continuous literal repetition – particularly in connection with the preceding action – is reminiscent more of Arvo Pärt or even Phillip Glass. There are other such places too.
The perception of Rejcha’s masterpiece is, in my opinion, correct only in the aggregate in which it was intended – namely, as the cycle invented and written down by the composer. I believe that although one can make a selection and arrangement of the fugues to perform, one can hardly come up with a more meaningful arrangement than what Rejcha himself came up with. His huge fugue anthology reminds me of other cycles of the past, for example Georg Muffat’s Apparatus musico-organisticus (Vienna, 1690), which in its day constituted a great record of the sum of well-known and used musical approaches and conventions. Or, another example, both Books of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. With such cycles one can always highlight certain parts rather than others, but only the whole leaves a true, lasting impression.
Rejcha openly declares that he is following in Bach’s footsteps. After all, Fugue No. 5, for example, is based on the theme of the Fugue in G major from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Similarly, some of the other fugues also use themes by well-known composers. Fugue No. 3 is an elaboration of a theme by Haydn, Fugue No. 7 is on a theme by Mozart, and Fugue No. 9 is on Scarlatti’s “Fuga del gatto” (Cat Fugue). Rejcha, however, does not distort or parody his forms, tending instead to base his music on them, taking it elsewhere. The greatest strengths and richness, I believe, reside in the fact that Rejcha creates in each composition an unmistakable expression and mood. His great imagination is for me a link to the worlds of earlier masters on the one hand and Berlioz and other Romantics of the coming century on the other. It is a surprising but coherent and musically persuasive symbiosis.
For this recording I have chosen one of the few surviving instruments made by Anton Walter in Vienna. Dating from c. 1790 it is part of a private collection of historic instruments. The piano has a range of more than five octaves (FF-g´´´). It has smaller keys than today’s pianos. It is equipped with two knee levers, which perform the function of today’s right and left pedals, though in the opposite order.
For the interpreter it is particularly exciting to move in unexplored or forgotten areas. It is a great adventure, say, to search for individual musical pictures of the correct, working tempo, the dynamic ratios, or the development of accenting in the phrases. Keyboard music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries still frequently employs all the interpretational attributes of the preceding periods, which were completely blown away by the Romantic and the Modern periods. I mean in particular the structure, detail in the dynamics, and the use of principles of rhetoric in relation to agogics (departure from strict rhythm) or the influence of Affektenlehre.
In particular, piano interpretation of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century music today often remains under the influence of later prejudices. One of them relates to the fugue – namely, the nearly codified notion that the theme is paramount. The continuous bringing out of the theme, however, leads precisely to a situation in which, after it has died away, nothing new appears in the given musical form! And that is not true of Bach or indeed of many other composers. Only with a fabric of voices, played with invention and plastically articulated, can one build a fugue that is truly interesting and able to compete with other musical forms like the sonata and variations. That is probably the kind of fugue Rejcha was concerned with. In that respect he was not only a provocateur and brilliant composer. He was also, indeed chiefly, a most humble servant of the art of music.

Jaroslav Tuma

About the instrument:
Anton Walter (1752 – 1826) was the most famous maker of pianos in Vienna in his day and was granted the title of Imperial Royal Chamber Instrument Maker in 1790. Of the total production of his firm between about 1780 and 1825, only about 3% survive comprising some 20 pianos built before 1800. Anton Walter's best instruments were indeed the most expensive in Vienna, and, as concert instruments, they were also apparently superior to all others. Mozart acquired a piano by Walter around 1782 and, according to his son Karl, this was the instrument on which he played all his concerts. Contemporary sources, including a Beethoven letter, attest to the mechanical and musical qualities of Walter’s pianos. According to leading British expert, Michael Latcham, the fortepiano you will hear in this Recital is certainly an authentic Walter, signed Anton Walter in Wien and built in about 1790. It is one of the best preserved instruments of the period.

Further recordings by Jaroslav Tůma:

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