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Symphony in D minor

Bryan d1

Johann Baptist Vanhal (or Wanhal, as he himself spelt it) was born in Nechanice, Bohemia on 12 May 1739 and died in Vienna on 20 August 1813. Despite his humble background he showed early promise on the violin and the organ, and in 1760 or 1761 the Countess Schaffgotsch took him to Vienna as a musician within her personal retinue. Here he studied with his exact contemporary Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf and established himself as a teacher to the high nobility, as a result of which he was invited to perform his symphonies to such patrons as Count Erdődy and Baron von Riesch of Dresden. In 1769 the latter sponsored Vanhal to travel to Italy, where he spent a year in Venice before visiting Bologna (where he met the celebrated teacher Padre Martini), Florence and Rome among other cities. While in Italy he met Gluck and Gassmann, two of his fellow Bohemian composers, but he only wrote (or contributed towards) two operas, both of which are lost.

On his return to Vienna in September 1770 Vanhal was to have moved to Dresden to become Kapellmeister to Baron von Riesch, but in the event mental illness seems to have prevented him from taking up the appointment, and he remained in the Habsburg capital instead. Later in the 1770s he spent time in Hungary and Croatia, where he visited the estates of Count Erdődy, but in about 1780 he moved back to Vienna, remaining there for the rest of his life. The colourful memoirs of the Irish tenor Michael Kelly famously describe a gathering in the mid-1780s at which Vanhal, Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf played string quartets together.

Vanhal was one of the most prolific and respected symphonists of the eighteenth century. His earliest works spread throughout Europe in manuscript and printed copies, and by 1800 their popularity had reached the USA. Contemporary accounts of his output list over seven hundred works, including a hundred symphonies, and manuscript sources are even more numerous, although authorship is often difficult to prove. As a result we will probably never know the exact number of symphonies that he composed, and accurate dating of composition is no less problematic. The musicologist Paul Bryan has done valuable work in this regard, and he has suggested that the first of Vanhal’s two D minor symphonies was 'probably composed a few years before 1771', the year in which it was cited in the supplement to the catalogue of the celebrated publishing house Breitkopf.

Vanhal composed more minor-key symphonies than any other eighteenth-century composer, and he was evidently influenced by Haydn long before they spent the evening playing string quartets together. His G minor symphony (g2) in particular owes a clear debt to the Haydn G minor symphony featured on this recording, while the fact that his D minor symphony (d1) was subsequently (and illicitly) printed by leading publishers in Paris, London and Amsterdam following its publication by Breitkopf is testament to its quality and popularity. Its first movement launches headlong into the dramatic, visceral style of the ‘Sturm und Drang’, and there is virtually no let-up to the music’s forward thrust and momentum. As in Haydn’s G minor symphony the orchestra is augmented to include four horns, two of which are tuned to play in the home minor key and two in its relative major, and this adds to the pungent intensity and power of the music.

The tranquil second movement, by contrast, is like a serene opera aria, with bucolic flutes replacing the oboes, an effect which is repeated in the trio of the ensuing movement, while the finale returns to the wild and tempestuous energy of the opening, with dashing string figurations propelling the work to a dizzying climax.

from notes by Ian Page © 2020


Sturm und Drang, Vol. 2
Studio Master: SIGCD636Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Andante arioso
Movement 3: Menuetto e Trio
Movement 4: Presto

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