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Hyperion Records

CDA67109 - Gyrowetz: String Quartets Op 44
CDA67109
Recording details: March 1999
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: November 2000
Total duration: 65 minutes 59 seconds

'The performances are superb, with neat, exciting playing … this disc cannot be recommended too highly' (Early Music Review)

'I enjoyed this release: it is quite a treat for the curious listener' (International Record Review)

‘Sheer delight. Anyone who enjoys Haydn should find himself happily at home in these works’ (Crisis, USA)

String Quartets Op 44
Allegro  [7'17]
Adagio  [4'27]
Presto  [4'23]
Allegro moderato  [10'27]
Adagio non tanto  [6'04]
Allegretto  [5'38]
Adagio  [5'46]
Menuetto  [3'41]
Allegro  [7'18]

Since the early 18th century, music has been encouraged in all children in the Czech lands and so it is not surprising to find, by the end of the eighteenth century, Bohemian and Moravian musicians holding leading positions in courts and orchestras all over Europe. When looking at the beginnings of these men, especially the composers who were significant figures in Dresden, Mannheim, Vienna, London and Paris, many of them came from humble families in remote towns and villages. Most of them had to find employment abroad, as there was not sufficient at home. This was also the pattern of the life and career of Vojtech Jírovec—or Adalbert Gyrowetz, as he was known in German-speaking and wider European circles. A great scholar who was encouraged in music, Gyrowetz travelled through many of the great cities of the time and along the way met and befriended composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Of these three, it was the style of Haydn to which he adhered.

Gyrowetz's devotion to the style, as well as the person, of his friend Haydn is nowhere more clear than in his string quartets, and some early publications wrongly attributed some of his works to Haydn. Gyrowetz himself made no secret of Haydn's influence on him, writing about this in his autobiography. By the end of his life in 1850 he had written more than 50 string quartets.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The often attributed description of the Czech lands (Bohemia and Moravia) by Charles Burney on his famous European journeys in 1772 as ‘The Conservatoire of Europe’ is not without foundation. Certainly by early in the eighteenth century it was true that you could find highly accomplished musicianship from school years, not just in Prague and Brno but in every small town and village. From the start of the Habsburg rule in 1526 the emperors and most of the leading aristocracy maintained fine musical establishments, with orchestras and wind bands, as well as some with opera theatres, plus employment for resident composers. The Jesuit colleges trained church musicians and influenced education generally, including music as a main subject to be taught in all schools throughout the country, with local choirmasters and organists taking any particularly talented youngsters under their wings. From the earlier teachings of Jan Ámos Komenský (Comenius) in the seventeenth century, the Czech lands had enjoyed perhaps the highest standard of general education of everybody to be found throughout Europe. The Jesuits sustained this, and its legacy it still to be felt to this day. Singing and instrumental proficiency were encouraged in all children and so it is not surprising to find, by the end of the eighteenth century, Bohemian and Moravian musicians holding leading positions in courts and orchestras all over Europe, from Dublin to St Petersburg, from Riga to Rome. When we look at the beginnings of these men, especially the composers who were significant figures in Dresden, Mannheim, Vienna, London and Paris, many of them came from humble families in remote towns and villages. Most of them had to find employment abroad, as there was not sufficient at home. This was also the pattern of the life and career of Vojtech Jírovec – or Adalbert Gyrowetz, as he was known in German-speaking and wider European circles.

Gyrowetz was born in the south Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice on 20 February 1763 and was lucky enough to have a father who was the local choirmaster and so able to give him a head start in his studies of keyboard, violin and composition. Such was the nature of his early talent that his first compositions were written while still at school. Like many Bohemian musicians, then and later, who were lucky enough to go to Prague to further their education, his studies there placed music second to law and philosophy, but music eventually won the day as his chosen career. By the time he was twenty he held an administrative position with Count Franz von Fünfkirchen, but even here he found time to play in the Count’s orchestra, his master also being the dedicatee of Gyrowetz’s first symphonies. Yet such an intelligent, well educated young man – he was also an accomplished linguist – was not satisfied with parochial appointments. By 1784 he visited Vienna and came to the attention of Mozart, who included a symphony by Gyrowetz in a concert in the following year. Then followed a period in the service of Prince Ruspoli which gave him the opportunity to broaden his horizons with a period of travel in Italy. At this time, 1786/7, he wrote his first set of six string quartets, the first of what were to be more than fifty in total. In 1789 he was in Paris, but the revolutionary climate caused him to join many other visiting foreign artists leaving for other lands. He chose to come to London.

Rare for a Bohemian at this time, English was one of the languages in which Gyrowetz was proficient, and his personality seems to have been such that he was soon made welcome in the drawing-rooms of high society. Among those from whom he received invitations were the Duke of Cumberland, and he included the Prince of Wales among his patrons, dedicating a set of three quartets to him in 1795. He knew Haydn from his days in Vienna and was able to give him an entrée into London society on his first London visit. Salomon also invited Gyrowetz to take part in his famous concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms. After the success of London, Gyrowetz continued his European travels through the Low Countries, France and Germany before arriving back in Prague. However, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and centre of musical activity was Vienna, and he was soon drawn back there and, except for a short period in service in Germany, remained there for the rest of his long life, counting Beethoven also among his friends. In 1804 he was appointed composer and conductor of the Vienna Court Theatre, achieving considerable success and popularity with his operas and other works there until his retirement in 1831. Although he was to live for another nineteen years, his adherence to the style of Haydn, rather than embracing the newer musical trends of Beethoven and the early Romantics, meant that he fell from popularity in the concert hall, although as a person he remained a much loved senior figure right up to his death in Vienna on 19 March 1850.

Gyrowetz’s devotion to the style, as well as the person, of his friend Haydn is nowhere more clear than in his string quartets, and some early publications wrongly attributed some of his works to Haydn. Gyrowetz himself made no secret of Haydn’s influence on him, writing about this in his autobiography. The three quartets that make up his Opus 44 were published in 1804 at the time of his appointment to the Court Theatre in Vienna. The first has an opening movement whose simple four-bar figure reappears throughout. The following Adagio in D major is conversation-like with its dotted rhythms and triplet passages. This quartet is marked by a minuet which could easily be mistaken for Haydn and the echoes of the finale of Haydn’s Quartet in G major (Op 77 No 1) of 1799 in relation to the concluding Allegro has been remarked upon.

In the second of the Opus 44 quartets, in three movements, Gyrowetz is closer to Schubert than Haydn, especially in the first movement, indulging more in his tendency for unusual key changes and harmonic shifts, closer textures and more lyrical thematic material. The peace of the F major central slow movement is broken by the more dramatic mood of the central section in F minor. Gyrowetz returns to Classical roots for the jolly finale with its occasional attempt at Haydnesque humour.

The third quartet of the set is in the relatively unusual key of A flat and opens again with thematic invention worthy of Haydn, but which departs after some thirteen bars along less related paths, a feature of his music which brought him some criticism at the time. The lyrical opening melody of the Adagio introduces a movement whose gentle mood is well sustained throughout while, following the Menuetto, the work is rounded off by a busy, rhythmically lolloping equestrian finale.

Graham Melville-Mason © 2000

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