This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Today we’re eschewing the orchestra and having music from small ensembles. I’m going from one to ten, and we’ll see where that gets us. With the lower numbers I’m overwhelmed by choice, but as the numbers increase, the tracks pretty much choose themselves as there aren’t too many options.
Okay, instead of counting down, I’m counting up, starting at one.
I don’t know if you really call one an ensemble but I’m including it nonetheless. For one, it’s either a piano sonata (sonatas for other instruments always include a piano or other keyboard instrument, so for this exercise they really count as two) or a suite for a single instrument.
I kept going back and forth between a Beethoven sonata and a Bach English suite. In the end I settled for LUDWIG BEETHOVEN.
His piano sonatas are the high point of music for this instrument; no one has done it better. He wrote a whole bunch of them and I chose one that’s not as well known as the famous ones. This is the first movement of Sonata No 9 in E major, Op. 14, No. 1, played impeccably by Gerard Willems.
WOLFGANG MOZART wrote a series of works variously called violin sonatas or sonatas for violin and piano.
As far as I can tell these are essentially the same sort of thing and I’m using one of those today. In this case it’s called the Sonata for Piano and Violin in G major, K 301, and we have the second movement. It’s played by two of the best in the business, Itzhak Perlman on violin and Daniel Barenboim on piano.
Joseph Haydn invented the piano trio, and Mozart took it up and ran with it. Initially, it sounded more like a mini-piano concerto, but by the time Schubert got to it, all the instruments (piano, violin, cello) began to receive equal billing.
Probably the finest of all, and there’s a lot of competition, is the one by FANNY MENDELSSOHN, Felix’s big sister.
Felix always contended that she was a better composer than he was, and that’s a big call, but as more of her compositions are discovered, it’s easy to see that there’s some justification for his point of view.
Here is the second movement of her Piano Trio in D minor, Op 11.
Three, four and five are where all the quality music is. As well as inventing the piano trio, JOSEPH HAYDN also invented the string quartet, and it’s appropriate we feature one of his.
That’s Jo himself instructing some others how he wants his music played. Although they weren’t his first, the six string quartets that make up his Opus 20 are the ones that gained him the reputation as father of this musical style.
One of those is the String Quartet in C Major, Op.20 No.2, the first movement.
Normally I’d put Mozart here with his clarinet quintet, but I’ve already featured him above so I thought we should have someone different, someone nearly as good as the great man, CARL MARIA VON WEBER.
Like Mozart’s, his clarinet quintet is still regularly performed and recorded to this day. Listening carefully to it, it’s obvious that he lent an ear to Wolfie’s. Learn from the best is good advice.
This is the fourth movement of his Clarinet Quintet in B flat major J 109.
IGNAZ PLEYEL was far and away the most famous composer of his time.
In retrospect, this might seem unusual as his time encompassed Boccherini, Beethoven, Hummel, the latter years of Haydn and many others. Like some other famous (at the time) composers, he quickly slid from view and only a few appreciate him these days.
He was a workaholic, writing hundreds of compositions. He was also a businessman, creating a publishing company that published just about everyone composing at the time. Besides all that, he created a company that made probably the best pianos around, and it continues to this day.
Getting back to the music, this is the first movement of his Sextet in E flat major.
Just imagine what JOHANN NEPOMUK HUMMEL’s address book was like.
He lived with the Mozarts for a couple of years and was taught by Haydn, was good friends of both Beethoven and Schubert. He taught Mendelssohn and was also good friends with Goethe. Jo also composed quite a bit of music including the Piano Septet No. 1 in D minor, Op. 74. This is the second movement.
Felix Mendelssohn deserves this spot for his extraordinary Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20 which he wrote at age 16. However, he is featured down below, so we have someone else in his place. In spite of his name, PETER WINTER was a German composer.
In terms of style and age, he fits neatly between Mozart and Weber. During his lifetime he was a wildly successful opera composer, one of which was a continuation of the story of Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. None of his operas are performed these days.
He graces our column today for his Octet for Winds and Strings, the third movement.
LOUISE FARRENC was born Louise Dumont in Paris and showed musical talent at a young age.
She began studying at the Paris Conservatoire at age 15. Later she met and married Aristide Farrenc, a flute player of some note and the two toured playing flute and piano.
Ari tired of the performing life and started a music publishing company which proved a boon for his wife. Louise initially only wrote music for the piano but after some years branched out into larger works, one of which is her Nonet for Strings and Wind in E-Flat Major, Op. 38. Here is the third movement.
There’s been a change of plans. Originally I had an arrangement of a part of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer's Night Dream for dectet. After playing it several times, I decided to throw it out as it wasn’t very good. Indeed, it was awful. Not Felix’s music, the arrangement is what was so jarring.
In its place we have JEAN FRANÇAIX with his Dixtuor for Wind Quintet and String Quintet.
He cheated a bit as it’s not quite a dectet, it’s a wind quintet and string quintet cobbled together – well, there are ten of them. This is the third movement.
Ten is pretty much as far as we go. There are a couple of works mentioned on the web for hendectet or undectet, which are both for eleven instruments but I don’t have any of those. Generally after ten, ensembles are just called orchestras or bands or something.
Since I threw out FELIX MENDELSSOHN, and up above I said that he deserved to be at the number eight spot, I thought I’d have him back in as a bonus.
As I mentioned, this is his Octet for strings in E flat major, Op. 20, the first movement. Sit back and let the music float all around and over you.