3 JULY, WEDNESDAY 5 pm
Compositions for wind harmony from the Schwarzenberg collection
Harmonia Mozartiana Pragensis
Jan Vent (1745–1801)
Partita in F
Antonio Salieri (1750–1825) / Jan Vent
Arrangement of the opera La Grotta di Trofonio (selection)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) / Jan Vent
Arrangement of the opera Die Zauberflöte (selection)
Harmonia Mozartiana Pragensis has mainly performed the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarta and his Czech contemporaries. In the 2000/01 season, the ensemble held the Bohemia–Austria cycle, within which, under the auspices of the Czech Commission for UNESCO, they gave 10 concerts featuring their works. Since 2001, Harmonia Mozartiana Pragensis, made up of members of distinguished Prague orchestras, has been led by the conductor Richard Hein. Their wind harmony repertoire particularly includes pieces dating from the Classical period, scored for variable instrumental configurations, mostly pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, which were largely performed at aristocrats’ residences, as well as at the Imperial court in Vienna. The music is enthralling, also having the potential of reaching out to the present-day audience.
In addition to their own projects, the ensemble have performed at a number of other major events, including at Visit Czech 2000 (a promotional event held by the Czech Tourism organisation), the seeing out of the Czech athletes before their departure for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, the Toujours MOZART festival at the Rudolfinum in Prague (organised by the Munich-based International Foundation for the Promotion of Culture and Civilisation in Salzburg, Prague and Vienna), the Chamber Music Festival in Český Krumlov, the Musica Ecumenica festival and the annual openings of the European Comenium Foundation’s academic summer school. In 2006, the ensemble performed a Mozart programme within the Prague Spring International Music Festival. Harmonia Mozartiana Pragensis have also embraced contemporary, particularly Czech, music. They have commissioned and premiered numerous new compositions.
The musical activities at the Schwarzenberg court were most extensive and most flourishing in the last third of the 18th century. At the time, its wind Harmonie enjoyed great acclaim and popularity, serving as a model for similar orchestras, which were maintained by other Central European aristocratic families.
In the middle of the 18th century, the term “Harmonie” also began to be used as a designation for ensembles made up of pairs of horns and woodwind instruments. Initially, they were mainly associated with army units, yet in the second half of the 18th century such wind bands became part of noblemen’s musical staff, particularly in France and Austria. Harmonies experienced their heyday in the 1780s and 1790s, when they thrived in Vienna and when they commonly included eight members – pairs of oboists, clarinettists, bassoonists and horn players.
The Schwarzenberg Harmonie was extraordinary in several respects. The first of them was the date of its formation – whereas the majority of the other Viennese aristocrats (including Emperor Joseph II) only established their ensembles in the 1780s, it took shape in the early 1770s. Another specific trait of the Schwarzenberg Harmonie was its instrumental configuration – until the time of its dissolution, at the turn of the 19th century, the octet encompassed cors anglais instead of the far more customary clarinets (the same instruments are therefore used within today’s concert). Yet the Schwarzenberg Harmonie was primarily exceptional due to the high qualities of its members, who would later on perform in the Emperor’s Harmonie and at the court theatres in Vienna. Bearing witness to the Schwarzenberg Harmonie’s reputation is an article, dating from the mid-1790s and pointing out that the ensemble included “outstanding virtuosos”.
In 1771, the newly formed Schwarzenberg Harmonie was joined by the cor anglais player Jan Vent (Johann Wendt, 1745–1801), who was previously employed as an oboist in the orchestra of Count Pachta in his native Divice, North Bohemia. In addition to being a highly skilful instrumentalist, he was an excellent arranger and composer of music for wind harmony, but also string quartet and full orchestra. From 1777, he also played with the Burgtheater orchestra in Vienna, and in 1782 he left the Schwarzenberg ensemble so as to become a member of the Imperial chamber orchestra. While working and living in Vienna, Vent continued to supply the Schwarzenberg family with his own works and arrangements of other composer’s pieces, from among which we have selected the repertoire of today’s concert.
The easy-to-carry, sonorous and intonation-steady wind harmony instruments were befitting for pursuing the mission of such ensembles, whose main task was to perform recreational music at outdoor concerts and festivities, banquets and garden parties. The repertoire was thus accommodated to these purposes. The compositions written for wind harmonies mainly included pieces of the divertimento and serenade style, which at the time were often referred to as “partita” (also “partie“, “partia”, “parthia”, or “parthie”). Partitas constitute the bulk of Vent’s oeuvre. The Partita in F, which opens today’s concert, has been located in the Schwarzenberg music collection.
Highly popular too were instrumental versions of melodies from contemporary operas, which Vent arranged for the needs of the Imperial and the Schwarzenberg wind harmonies alike. The programme of our concert features his arrangements of music by Antonio Salieri (1750–1825) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). When it comes to Salieri, notwithstanding the findings of music historians, his reputation is marred as a result of the myth about his alleged grudge against his more gifted colleague, which appeared relatively soon after Mozart’s death, perhaps as a manifestation of the romanticising desire to portray Mozart as a neglected genius. As there is no space here for explaining the facts, let us now focus on the two operas included in the programme and their arrangements by Jan Vent.
Both operas were premiered at the Burgtheater, and both met with enthusiasm. Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a piece so widely known that it is not necessary to write about it in detail. Mozart’s buffa was first performed on 1 May 1786, and it is likely that Vent created his arrangement shortly afterwards, in line with his habit to respond to new works in this way just a few months following their premieres. His arrangement of Die Zauberflöte for wind harmony encompasses 15 musical numbers, including the overture.
Salieri’s opera comica La grotta di Trofonio received its premiere on 12 October 1785, half a year before the first performance of Mozart’s masterpiece. The libretto depicts a story of two amorous couples with contrasting personalities. The sorcerer Trofonio invites them to his magic cave, where he reverses their characters, yet eventually everything is sorted out and there is a happy ending. Salieri’s opera garnered success throughout Europe, and would be arranged for a variety of instruments and ensembles. Vent’s arrangement for Harmonie was first performed in February 1786 at the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna by the Imperial orchestra. Over the next few decades and centuries, interest in the work would fade away, as would also be the case of the majority of the contemporary operas. In this regard, the unceasing popularity of Mozart’s operas may be deemed a rare exception indeed. Yet even his works did not enjoy continuous favour on the part of the audience: in November 1786, the Burgtheater hosted the premiere of Vincente Martín y Soler’s dramma giocoso Una cosa rara, o sia Bellezza ed onestà, whose triumph was so enormous that for a short time it even surpassed that of Die Zauberflöte ...