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Josef Mysliveček (1737 - 1781)
String Quintets


F10071    [8595017407123]
TT- 63:52    released 4/1997

      • Quintetto I (in G)    7:27
      • Quintetto II (in E flat)    9:13
      • Quintetto III (in C)    8:32
      • Quintetto IV (in A)    7:37
      • Quintetto V (in F)    10:51
      • Quintetto VI (in B flat)    9:06
      • Sinfonia a quatro voci (in E flat)    10:36

Pro arte antiqua Praha
Václav Návrat - violin, Franz Anton Wild, Brno 1792
Jan Šimon - violin, francouzský mistr, 2. polovina 18. století
Ivo Anýž - viola, německý mistr, Orfönburg 1808
Jaromír Páviček - viola, David Tecchler, Rome 1723
Petr Hejný - cello, Peregrino Zanetto, Bresciae 1581

Josef Mysliveček was an important representative of Czech music abroad during the 18th century and he was also one of those emigrés who maintained permanent contact with his native country. His works were well liked at home; several of his operas and oratorios were performed in Prague and his successful opera arias echoed through cathedral choirs.
     He was born on 9th March 1737 in Prague, the son of a miller who owned Dubový mlýn (Oak Mill) in Horní Šárka. He attended the Dominican school at the church of St Giles and then a Jesuit secondary school. After completing his studies Mysliveček was accepted as a miller's apprentice on Kampa island and in 1761 he became master of the mill. He did not devote much time to running the mill and later handed it over to his younger brother since music was becoming the focal point in his life. He had become involved in music from an early age when he was a pupil at the Dominican and Jesuit schools and later when he was a member of the choir at St Michael's church whose choirmaster was Felix Benda, a member of the famous family of musicians. He began to study counterpoint in 1760 under František Václav Habermann and subsequently under Josef Seger. It was during this time that he anonymously published his six symphonies, named after the first six months of the year.
     After a short period as church violinist, Mysliveček left for Venice in 1763 where he studied opera composition with Giovanni Battista Pescetti. His first opera, Il Parnaso confuso was performed in Parma in 1765, probably with great success since the performance was followed by several commissions. The Neapolitan premiere (1767) of his opera Il Bellerofonte , composed at the request of impressario of the Naples theatre S Carlo, ensured him a place as one of the most successful composers of Italian opera seria , and his music wassubsequently greatly to influence Italian opera. Other operas were equally well received in Turin, Milan, Florence, Pavia, Rome and Naples. Mysliveček's success was so phenomenal that in Venice he received sonnets dedicated to "Il Venatorini" (a translation of his surname). In Naples, as a sign of respect, he was dubbed "Il divino Boemo".
     In July 1770 Mysliveček was introduced to W. A. Mozart for the first time in Bologna and a firm friendship was struck. The strength of this friendship is also testified by the fact that Mozart even visited Mysliveček when the latter was gravely ill. Even so, they continued to talk of their future music plans. Mozart greatly respected Mysliveček and his father Leopold endeavoured to promote the latter's chamber works.
     On the invitation of the elector Maxmilián in 1776, Mysliveček left for Munich where, a year later, he met Mozart once more during a performance of his greatest and most successful opera Abramo ed Isacco (written to the libretto of Pietro Metastasio). Mysliveček returned to Naples in 1778 and managed to write the opera L`Olimpiade before the year was up; this opera also enjoyed great public acclaim. From 1779, however, beginning with the disappointment of the opera Armida in La Scala, there then followed one failure after another, which broke him physically and spiritually. After serious illness, he died in Rome on the 4th of February 1781, alone and in penury.
     Only part of Mysliveček's prolific production has survived. These include vocal (more than 25 operas), instrumental, chamber and orchestral works. The vast popularity of his instrumental works is documented by the fact that a great number of them were published while he was still alive ? harpsichord sonatas, divertimenti and concertos, trio sonatas, string quartets and quintets, wind octets, overtures anda number of symphonies.
     Josef Mysliveček was a musician who brought fame to the Czechs abroad. His works, which betray typically Czech melodic features, create an important developmental link in European music oriented towards high Classicism.

Jan Šimon

To interpret the music of the pre-Classical and Classical era is an exceedingly difficult task for us today. In the simplicity and transparency of its structure, it leaves little room for stirring surprise elements. Furthermore, the ordinary performance of the notes in the mere score on a modern instrument rather underlines the weary impression of the familiarity and transparency of each subsequent musical progression.
     The concept of interpretative commitment where the composer is the legislator and the performer does not have the right to interweave any of his own ornaments into the sturdy arches of his sacred temple of music, is an almost post-Beethovenesque ideal. Josef Mysliveček, a generation older and, moreover, a successful composer of opera in Italy, is the bearer of the very opposite tradition.
     Until his time, Italian music was famous for the virtuoso mastery of its performers. Skilful was the composer whose music managed to survive under the weight of glittering cadences, trills and improvised passages, but which would also still be possible without them when performed by noble amateurs who were often important sponsors publishing the works themselves. It is, therefore, important to be aware that, on special occasions - when performed by professionals - Italian music never sounded as it is written in the scores which are familiar to us. For its interpretation it is essential to usedifferent, hidden skills, acquired from elsewhere, rather than those which are common for today's purist approach.
     In these works by Mysliveček, we have endeavoured to break the barriers of the metal?like and symmetrical modern style and to widen somewhat the stagnant waters of simple and trusted practices. We have based our work on two principles: to maintain all written information contained in the manuscript (notation, rhythmical values, dynamics, articulation, bowing and so on) and to enhance the parts with ornamentation, variation and expressional changes using the method closest to the improvisation practices applied by the most accomplished performers at that time. References to them have survived in various theoretical reflections and instructions and guidelines adopted for playing various instruments. In the case of Mysliveček's compositions, we chiefly drew from these period sources: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (1762), Francesco Geminiani - The Art of Playing on the Violin (1751), Vincenzo Manfredini - Regole armoniche, o sieno precetti ragionati per appredere i prinipi della musica (1775), Leopold Mozart - Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756), Johann Joachim Quantz - Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (1752)
     In order to be able to improvise, the players should have a thorough knowledge of the principles of counterpoint in so?called "Classical" harmony so that they are able, whilst performing, to distinguish undesirable clashes of dissonance, to anticipate them and to avoid them.
We have tried to enrich the short, repetitive sections, i.e. the melodic passages which often appear twice, one after the other - a characteristic trait of this music. During repetitions, it is the custom to play the passages more softly the second time around, like an echo; however, in view of the great number of times they appear, this solution tends to deter, rather then stimulate the audience to listen to the passage again.
     Another task involved the use of important musical phrasing: markings which link the notes into groups signifying words in speech, articulation and breathing for singing and performance on wind instruments, andbowing divisions for string instruments. The majority of publishers apply legato and phrasing in a symmetrical manner for all introductions and modulations of a given theme or melody. However, we found pure licence and carelessness in the notation of the original manuscripts, which at times seems like a mistake, at other times like a call to the performer to try to find other solutions.
     We tried to make use of these inconsistencies so that the same passages would never sound the same, perhaps with the following quotation by Salvator Dali in mind: "Mistakes almost always have a sacred character. Do not ever try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalise them, understand them integrally. Then you will be able to sublimate them". He goes on: "Geometric considerations tend towards utopia..."
     Since the notation of Mysliveček's music is oriented towards simplicity, we believe that its interpretation, in accordance with period trends, should be oriented towards complexity. However, the extent of this complexity is merely an expression of our current dissatisfaction with what was possible to perceive up until that time. Our efforts will certainly result in something which J. J. Quantz described in 1752 thus: "The older musicians criticise the melodic extravagance of the young and the young musicians mock the tedious expression of the old." Our only current and temporary alibi is this: When performing Mysliveček's music, we wanted to hear ravishing and virtuoso performances, namely, music which has a great deal to say, even to the modern audience.

Václav Návrat

© 2HP Production, October 2017
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