This weekend's concert with the Enso Quartet may be overshadowed by the weather forecast (if not the weather) but since the program opens with the 1st Quartet by the Argentine composer, Alberto Ginastera, let's remember that, in Buenos Aires, it is summer...
The program is scheduled for Saturday night at 8:00 in Harrisburg's Whitaker Center – preceded by a pre-concert talk I'll be offering in the hall at 7:15. In addition to the Ginastera will be an “evocation of the night” by French composer, Henri Dutilleux, called Ainsi la nuit; and then, more familiar turf on the second half of the concert with the third of Beethoven's “Razumovsky” Quartets, Op. 59 No. 3 in C Major.
Nick Barnard, reviewing the disc in 2009 for MusicWeb International, wrote:
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"I have enjoyed the music of Ginastera greatly before I heard this
disc but I consider this a revelation—showing as it does a range and
compositional technique of which, in my ignorance, I was previously
unaware. I find it hard to believe that these magnificent pieces could
be performed better than they are here by the Enso Quartet—seek out this
group, they are clearly bound for greatness. One little foot-note; a
particular quality of the ensemble that struck me as I listened was
their tonal unanimity so how interesting to read that they play on a set
of matched modern instruments made by London-based maker Nigel Harris:
clearly magnificent instruments played to within an inch of their
lives by superb musicians. If I could give this disc a standing ovation
of one in my front room after listening to it I would!
"String quartet playing of jaw-dropping prowess revealing masterpieces of the 20th century quartet literature."
In this and in a future post, it's an introduction to the two 20th Century works on the program, written by composers whose centennial anniversaries are being observed this year – Alberto Ginastera born in Buenos Aires on April 11th, 1916; and Henri Dutilleux, born in Angers, France, on January 22nd, 1916.
Though Ginastera died in 1983, only three years ago I could classify Dutilleux as “one of my favorite living composers” – he died on May 22nd, 2013, at the age of 97.
It's true Dutilleux's quartet-piece may be older than some people in the audience, composed 40 years ago, but it is probably still a new piece to most of those attending (or planning on attending) this concert – in the sense it “hasn't been heard before” or is, probably like the composer, unfamiliar. Even Ginastera, regarded as a major composer of the 20th Century, may not be that familiar to American listeners except to those in the major cities.
Writing or talking about music in the context of the composer's “catalogue,” those works he or she's produced in a lifetime, is easier with Beethoven: when I say “the Razumovsky Quartets were written in the same year he was working on the 4th and 5th Symphonies, the 4th Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto,” chances are the average concert-goer has heard these pieces – and so you get an idea of what this particular piece is within the scope of his creative life, perhaps even his biography.
With Ginastera and Dutilleux, I should give you detailed biographies of both composers and play representative works from various stages in their careers so you'd get an idea where these particular pieces fit in. And while neither would fill a biography like Jan Swafford's recently published Beethoven: Anguish & Triumph which, at 1,054 pages, weighs in around four pounds, it's more than a blog post or two and a half-hour talk can realistically provide.
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Alberto Ginastera's cat reacts to a particularly spicy chord
How many Argentine composers other than Alberto Ginastera can you name? Surely, he didn't spring up, like Minerva, fully formed from the beginning of musical time in that Latin American nation?
Born to a Catalan father and an Italian mother, Ginastera was already studying piano, theory and composition at the age of 12 in the “Williams Conservatory,” founded by the Argentine-born composer Alberto Williams in 1893 (he had studied with Cesar Franck in Paris). While a senior in 1937, Ginastera composed a ballet, Panambí (which one reviewer in 1998 described as “a seductive work that sounds like Ravel on growth hormones”) that, after a suite was premiered at Argentina's major concert hall, Teatro Colón, established his national reputation. When the full ballet was staged for the first time in 1940, Ginastera won several national and local prizes for music.
The next year, the young composer met Aaron Copland, then on a Latin American tour with the American Ballet Caravan (they'd produced Copland's ballet, Billy the Kid). On the strength of Panambí, the company's director, Lincoln Kirstein, commissioned Ginastera to compose a ballet for them which would become Estancia. A suite of four dances from the ballet – about the life of the gauchos on a ranch in the Pampas (basically) – remains one of his most frequently performed works, and the “Danza final” (a malambo) remains his greatest hit.
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Here's Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra in the Final Dance at a British Proms concert:
It doesn't get much “faster and louder” – how can you not have a standing ovation after that?! (For a somewhat cheesier performance, here's another video with the same ensemble but you can forgive them their enthusiasm when you listen to the excitement and see how much fun they're having in the process: remember, most of these performers came through “The System” in Venezuela and many were destined for lives on crime- and drug-ridden streets).
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Unfortunately, the American dance company folded and was unable to produce Estancia, so a collection of four dances from the ballet was premiered in 1943 (the ballet itself wasn't staged at the Teatro Colón until 1953!) but the composer received a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to study in America, a trip that had to be postponed because of the war. In 1941, he had already been appointed a professor of composition at the National Conservatory in Buenos Aires and also the “chair of music” at the General San Martín Military School, a post he was dismissed from when Juan Perón came to power. That December (1945), he and his family moved to the United States where he studied with Copland and heard some of his music performed by the League of American Composers in New York City and by the Pan-American Union in Washington, DC.
Returning to Argentina as his international reputation grew, he helped establish a local league of composers that became the Argentine division of the International Society for Contemporary Music (known as ISCM) in 1948. He also became the director of the Conservatory in La Plata (just outside Buenos Aires), and from this year on, he would make frequent trips to Europe as a representative of Argentine music.
I mention these events in detail because it was in 1948 that he composed the 1st String Quartet on the program.
It's important to realize that, looking back on his career, Ginastera himself would later say this quartet marked the dividing line between his early style and his “second” period. He was now 32 – think of Beethoven who, at 30, was moving into what is universally called his “Middle Period” following his first set of quartets and the 1st Symphony – and what Ginastera called his “objective nationalism” with its strong influence of “creole music” like Estancia, with its overt use of gaucho folk-songs and dance rhythms.
This new 2nd Period he called his “subjective nationalism,” where, while elements of folk music are still in evidence, it's not nearly so explicit and often more like what other composers might be doing internationally but with an Argentine accent.
For one thing, this reflects what Bela Bartók had done in his own musical development, after he started quoting elements of folk music and then absorbing it into his more abstract style, what he often called “imaginary folksong.” The fingerprints of the folk style were present but the melodic and rhythmic materials were original, significant building-blocks of many of his major works, especially the 3rd, 4th, and 5th String Quartets.
Other aspects of the international style were absorbed into Ginastera's evolving language: he would use serialism (which most composers were using in one way or another in the 1950s) but not in any especially doctrinaire manner, influenced more by Berg and the expressionist atonality of Schoenberg than the rigorous approach of Webern and, particularly, Boulez (who even worked with serializing rhythms and dynamics as well as pitch). He would use polytonality – the presence of different layers of tonality but each strand in a different key – and “micro-tonality” (the use of quarter-tones) as well as elements of chance (the “aleatoric” music of John Cage, for instance). Above all, even though he was still disposed to “traditional forms” like the sonata or variations, he would “revitalize” them in his own, often different ways.
His music always had a rhythmic drive – often ferocious as you can hear in the Final Dance from Estancia – and he was above all fascinated by instrumental color, preferring to find new colors from combinations of standard instruments rather than using electronics. It was not unusual for his music to move along like a kaleidoscope of "sound-images" though with an underlying core of what constituted Ginastera's own “voice” so a casual listener might not notice the diversity. In other words, subjectivity aside, despite its technical variety, it would sound entirely consistent.
Keeping in mind that “dissonance” is technically a sound that implies the need for resolution – as a Dominant 7th Chord in Haydn is still technically a dissonance needing to resolve to a tonic chord – Ginastera's use of dissonance is often more a matter of color or rhythm (in a sense) than just the idea of creating harsh sounds. You can hear this in the aggressive opening of the 1st Quartet - which in the process generates a lot of the music's drive.
Here is the Cuarteto Latinoamericano with Ginastera's String Quartet No. 1, complete in one audio-clip:
Just listening to the first few minutes of the opening, this is not your grandfather's collection of folksy dance tunes! Even the tempo indication – Allegro violento ed agitato (Violently Fast and Agitated) – lets you know he's aiming right between the eyes.
While the contrasts are between different types of violence and agitation in the first movement, mostly in the sense of rhythmic propulsion with a savage folkloric theme of limited scope over hammered, crunching chords, the second movement, beginning at 4:25, brings in an aspect of “magic” with its element of the supernatural (that old black magic), more than a Disney-style sense of fantasy, but with contrasts between the colors of playing close to the bridge (the glassy sounds at 4:35 and again at 7:00), the plucked strings against the hypnotically repeated perpetual motion on a single tone that expands at 6:00, which itself contrasts with the odd scurrying passages, not to forget the col legno passage at 7:18 where the players tap on the strings with the wooden backs of the bow rather than the bow-hairs! So much color and so much variety in just a few minutes.
The long slow movement, beginning at 8:00 – a contrast in length as well as tempo after two brief and concentrated fast movements (one violent, one eerily mysterious) – again brings Bartók to mind, his famous brand of “night music” where, rather than the romantic moonlit nocturnes of Chopin, we hear the sounds of nature complete with insects and other strange noises we're not sure of and, on occasion, even frogs (Bartók's son Peter, in his memoir, My Father, describes how the composer was fascinated by the sounds of the night at his uncle's farm, especially the frogs). The music slowly unfolds in simple intervals creating long sustained chords, full of silences and anticipation with fragments of melodies slow to evolve. These chords are based on (or comparable to) the tunings one might expect from a guitar. And the expansiveness is something one might experience alone under the stars of the great Pampas of rural Argentina.
The final movement – a dance – begins at 16:25 and is marked allegramente rustico or “cheerfully rustic,” the closest thing Ginastera has created to an overt folk-dance in this quartet, especially in its contrasting 5/8 sections. And while four string players might “kill” to be able to create the kind of “louder/faster” frenzy a huge orchestra can bring to, say, the conclusion of Estancia, there are ways of building to a sonorous and rhythmically exciting end.
In the end, Ginastera has created a string quartet – something so associated with European cuklture and its history of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms (and Bartók) – that is at home on any world stage and brings with it echoes of his homeland, letting everyone else know that, yes, there is music in Argentina – and it sounds like this.
There is much more to Ginastera's music in the 35 years he continued to compose – interestingly, in the last years of his life, he talked about how his music was becoming less aggressive, returning not so much to the folk music of his past but to the folk music before his past.
“This change is taking the form of a kind of reversion, a going back to the primitive America of the Mayas, the Aztecs, and the Incas. This influence in my music I feel as not folkloric, but – how to say it? – as a kind of metaphysical inspiration. In a way, what I have done is a reconstitution of the transcendental aspect of the ancient pre-Columbian world.”
So with his first quartet, we hear a composer, now in his 30s, reaching out to create a style that synthesizes the national and the personal – that will, by the time he is in his late-60s, return to find deeper roots to inspire him but to continue evolving an individual voice.
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If you are not familiar with the music of Alberto Ginastera, a Centennial Year is a good opportunity (if not just an excuse) to explore some of the other pieces he's composed. One of the first works of his I'd heard, back when it was still quite new, was a recording of his opera Bomarzo,written for the Washington National Opera but which, if you read most of the reviews about it, seemed to be only about sex (and what college student wouldn't find that an attention-grabber?). I used to listen to it so often, I soon had the music memorized even if the sexual aspects of the production (which, of course, I couldn't see) had little impact on me, so fascinating was the music and its psychological impact on the story. And even though I hadn't heard it in the last 20 years or so, finding it on-line recently, I was amazed how much of it came back to me like an old familiar friend who hadn't aged at all.
Read the synopsis first and if you can find a recording somewhere with the libretto (it is sung in Spanish and the only performance I can find on-line has subtitles in Italian with a very distracting film superimposed on the recording though much of it seems to follow the action), that would be even better. But speaking of “black magic,” that opening is one of the creepiest sounds I've ever heard...!
Also in college, back in the late-60s, I found a recording of his 1st Piano Concerto in the music library. By the time I'd gotten to the last movement, I was sitting there under the headsets, my eyes wide open and my head bobbing to its furious rhythms when someone tapped me on the shoulder to make sure I wasn't having a fit or something. “No,” I said, handing him the headset, “listen to this!”
João-Carlos Martins, piano; Boston Symphony/Erich Leinsdorf – still the most hair-razing performance I've ever heard of it!
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We'll save Henri Dutilleux and his nocturne, Ainsi la nuit, for another post.
Okay, let's not think about the weather forecasts – let's concentrate on the music the Enso Quartet will be playing Saturday night at 8:00 at Harrisburg's Whitaker Center with Market Square Concerts' January program.
The concert, dedicated to the memory of long-time board member and area arts activist Dorothy Anderson, will open with two 20th Century works – the first quartet by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (written in 1948) and a “study of the night” written in 1976 by French composer Henri Dutilleux he called “Ainsi la nuit” (which roughly translates as “Thus, the night”). This year marks the centennial anniversary of both their births. Then, on the second half of the program, there's one of the most popular of Beethoven's quartets, the third of the set of three “Razumovsky” Quartets completed over the summer of 1806.
I'll be doing a pre-concert talk in the hall starting at 7:15 focusing primarily about the “newness” of all these pieces – though these days, no one's probably “afraid” of one of Beethoven's masterpieces. If anything, this and the B-flat Quartet (with the “Grosse Fuge”) are probably the most frequently experienced of his quartets, and compared to Op. 130, the C Major Quartet, Op.59 No. 3 is like falling off the proverbial log.
Here's a performance of the complete quartet (in one clip) with the Orion Quartet recorded at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2008.
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Beethoven in 1806
In Mozart and Haydn's day, it was typical for composers to produce sets of quartets (and other works: think of Vivaldi's concertos published by the dozen) usually six or three in a group and each one designed to be a different “solution” to the question “how does one write a string quartet?” Sometime in 1805, Beethoven was asked to provide one of the great arts patrons of his day, the Russian ambassador, Count Razumovsky, with a set of three - hence the quartets' nickname (for those of you wondering what a “Razumovsky” is, see below).
We don't know exactly when this request was made or if, as Beethoven wrote to his publish in July of 1806, he'd already finished one of the three by then, but Jan Swafford, in his recent (and excellent) biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, mentions specifically he began work on them the day after his brother Carl's wedding to Johanna Reiss, a prophetic event considering how much time would be spent while he was writing the Late Quartets dealing with legal issues over the guardianship of his nephew following his brother's death.
If that's true, it means Beethoven composed all three of the Op. 59 quartets between May 26th and September 6th, 1806, when he again wrote to his publishers and said they were done.
While three months might seem sufficient time to write three string quartets, remember Beethoven was also composing the 4th Symphony, the 4th Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto during that same summer vacation, not to mention revisions on his opera Leonore (not yet called Fidelio) complete with two new overtures for it (the 2nd & 3rd Leonore Overtures) and other works that same year! Any composer would be delighted to have produced such masterpieces during a lifetime – but in one year?
Part of the “premise” for the quartets was Razumovsky's request to include in each of them “a Russian theme.” Some say Beethoven suggested this as a tribute to his patron but it doesn't seem typical of Beethoven to offer such a “musical device.” And, anyway, there is no outwardly Russian theme in the 3rd Quartet, the C Major. In the 2nd, Beethoven made use of an old folksong called “Slava!” (“Rejoice”) which has become more famous to Western ears through Mussorgsky's using it in the Coronation Scene of his opera Boris Godunov, first composed in the late-1860s, where it doesn't stand out as a quotation. By that, I mean Mussorgsky's music is so authentically Russian, no Westerner would notice this is an old folk-song. With Beethoven, so (if anything) authentically German, the sound of its incorporation within his style sticks out like a sore thumb and in fact the way he uses it, it almost sounds like he's deliberately having fun with it or even making fun of it, turning it into that most academic of formats and so antithetical to folk-song, the fugue – then especially when the tonic/dominant cadence gets so carried away, it sounds like its beating up on it and chasing it out the door. Perhaps by the time he got to the 3rd Quartet, he'd thought, “enough.”
The expansive opening movement, following a very enigmatic introduction – harking back, most likely, to Mozart's “Dissonant” Quartet, also in C Major – is more compact than the other quartets' but on the whole more approachable, too, as if he's letting listeners baffled by the first two off the hook with this one (or so it might seem).
As one of the early reviews said, "Three new, very long and difficult Beethoven string quartets, dedicated to the Russian ambassador Count Razumovsky, are also attracting the attention of all connoisseurs. The conception is profound and the construction excellent, but they are not easily comprehended." Perhaps the comparative tunefulness of the Third's opening brought a sigh of relief?
The second movement (beginning c.8:45), however, could have something Slavic about it – again, more likely Beethoven's impression of something Slavic – in the mood of the theme though its most memorable feature is the cello's steady pizzicato, almost like a tolling bell – and Russians did love their bells. That hasn't kept other writers from hearing something Spanish or even more exotic in it.
The third movement (beginning c.18:38), rather than being a typical scherzo, is more of a throwback to the graceful days of Mozart and Haydn, the previous generation, a minuet marked “grazioso.” But this sets up the finale more perfectly than a typical Beethoven scherzo possibly could.
And yet, this was even more of a throw-back, this time to the highly contrapuntal days of Bach and Handel of the 1740s or so when Fugue was king. (In Beethoven's day, Bach was little known, at least to the general public; Beethoven admitted more than once Handel was one of his favorite composers). The finale starts off with a vigorous (!) fugue and this dense and busy texture – a perpetual motion, at that – dominates the movement to the point it no longer sounds like an academic and old-fashioned dry-as-dust fugue, the kind of thing all students learn to compose but then probably shouldn't. While it's very different from the Great Fugue that originally ended the Op. 130 Quartet, it's still a marvelous show-case of compositional craft combined with musical ingenuity.
These quartets were composed with specific players in mind: the members of a string quartet led by Ignaz Schuppanzigh, perhaps the best or at least the best known violinist in Vienna at the time. And this is an important distinction.
Before, Mozart or Haydn – or any number of those other composers the typical American audience is unaware of who were their contemporaries – wrote for what is called “the amateur market.” In the days before ipods and CD-players turning us into passive listeners, people were actively involved in making their own music and it was typical to assume the intended audience for a new string quartet was essentially the four people who played it and maybe their friends and family who sat in the parlor listening to them. (Think Schubert growing up in a household where his older brother played 1st Violin, he would play 2nd Violin and then Viola when another brother became proficient enough to play 2nd, and their father played Cello.)
Even given the level of playing available at a time before “amateur” became a pejorative term, how Beethoven wrote these new string quartets was something new. Not only was the playing level above the average amateur string-player, it required dedicated practice and rehearsal time and also expected more of its listeners. These were, essentially, the first professional string quartets on a “symphonic” scale – and intended for public performance.
And the level of technical challenge for the players led Schuppanzigh, on at least one occasion, to complain about a particular passage: “how do you expect me to play that?!”
While Beethoven's response is famous (and translated variously), we don't know what specific passage, much less piece, it was Schuppanzigh was referring to.
“What do I care for you and your damned fiddle when the spirit moves me?”
No aristocratically employed composer in Haydn's time would have gotten away with that...
The idea of “chamber music concerts” was also something new at the time. Before, an aristocrat might have some “house musicians” who would perform for their guests. Some even had “house orchestras” though now an orchestra like the one Haydn conducted at Prince Esterhazy's was a rare luxury: given the early-19th Century economy, it was more likely the musicians would double as house-servants and staff.
(Imagine the downstairs world of Downton Abbey doubling as a small orchestra to entertain at the Granthams' dinner-parties – what instruments, exactly, do you think Carson, Mrs. Padmore or Thomas might play?)
But Schuppanzigh had created a professional quartet in 1804 (the cellist had once been Haydn's principal cellist back in the day of Prince Esterhazy's employment) and though their public concert-series only lasted through 1808 – it is assumed (and it's odd no one knows this for sure) Beethoven's Op. 59 Quartets where first heard during their 1807-1808 Season – it was an important ground-breaking event in the evolution of “modern music.”
These works were not conceived as amateur music-making but for professional musicians to play for a preferably paying audience. We have begun making the bridge between aristocratic patronage and the free-lance, professional musician.
Count Razumovsky hired Schuppanzigh to form a “house quartet” for him in 1808, intending it to be “the finest quartet in Europe.” It was then that the Count's new quartet played his new Quartets rather frequently at his palace, one imagines.
Speaking of amateur, the Count was a talented violinist himself – being an aristocrat, he was, technically, an amateur, no matter how well he played – and he enjoyed “sitting in” with his quartet to play 2nd Violin. On those occasions he preferred to sit back and listen (and one wonders if he was capable of playing the 2nd Violin parts in Beethoven's newest works), a fellow named Louis Sina played instead (talk about playing 2nd fiddle...). You might wonder if the Count could hold his own in “the finest quartet in Europe,” but then would his employees say, “excuse me, your lordship, but maybe you should sit this one out and let Mr. Sina play?”
It's quite possible if Ignatz Schuppanzigh hadn't existed, the quartets Beethoven wrote for the Count might have been very different. In a way, the violinist is almost as responsible as the patron was in bringing these three masterpieces about. Something to consider...
By the way, there were only two musicians in Vienna who played in the premiere of every Beethoven symphony between 1800 and 1825 – one was Ignaz Schuppanzigh.
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So who was this guy named Razumovsky?
Andrei Razumovsky, 1776
Count Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky was the Russian ambassador to the Imperial court in Vienna, beginning in 1792 after serving in lesser diplomatic posts in Naples, Copenhagen and Stockholm. His father had been Hetman in the Ukraine and had amassed a fortune, building splendid palaces in his country estate in Baturyn and in the capital, St. Petersburg (more about him and his brother, below).
Officially the ambassador only until 1807 when he retired, Razumovsky served as Chief Negotiator for the Russian Empire during the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), recreating Europe after the defeat of Napoleon, ending a generation of constant warfare that ranged across Europe from Spain to Moscow. For his services in this last diplomatic role, Tsar Alexander I gave him the title of Prince.
Today, he is best known as a friend and patron of Beethoven's who commissioned him to write three string quartets. The count was, as I mentioned, a capable amateur violinist and frequently played 2nd Violin in his own ensemble. After all, he'd played quartets under Haydn's tutoring in the 1790s but when Razumovsky asked Beethoven about lessons in composing string quartets in 1800, Beethoven, who'd just completed his Op. 18 quartets, declined and sent him to Aloys Förster who had been Beethoven's own mentor in the craft.
Called “an enemy of the [French] Revolution but a good friend of the fair sex,” Razumovsky had, as one person described it, the “pinched and malevolent face of a Russian police interrogator.” His manners were impeccable and he “radiated pride in all things: his birth, his rank and his honor, in his bearing [and] in his speech.”
Along with two other of Beethoven's aristocratic patrons – Prince Lichnowsky and Prince Lobkowitz – Count (and later Prince) Razumovsky was one of the most extravagant princes “in a city full of the breed” (as Jan Swafford puts it so delightfully in his recent biography). The palace he built on an imposing hill overlooking a Viennese suburb – finished in 1808 – had a roof garden, a vast library, an art gallery as well as a hall just for the sculptures of Canova, one of the leading artists of the day, to say nothing of a fine music room.
Here, Beethoven was “cock-of-the-walk,” walking confidently through its halls and lording it over Viennese musical society as performer and seeming composer-in-residence. Unlike he relationships with Lichnowsky and Lobkowitz, Beethoven seemed to get on almost placidly with Razumovsky.In addition to these quartets, Beethoven also dedicated his 5th and 6th Symphonies to the count.
But on New Year's Eve, the last day of 1814 when the Congress of Vienna was in full swing (in so many ways), the Count was holding a lavish dinner with both the Austrian and the Russian emperors in attendance along with some 700 guests when, as Swafford describes it:
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“...a baking oven overheated unnoticed and fire got into the heating system. As the guests were eating, the palace erupted in flames... By the time all the fire engines of Vienna arrived along with thousands of Viennese, who enjoyed a good fire, there was nothing to be done. Gone were three blocks of mansion, the great stables and riding school, the chapel, the carpets and tapestries, the old-master paintings, the hall of sculptures by Canova. Razumovsky was found sitting stunned on a bench on his grounds, wrapped in sables and wearing a velvet cap.”
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an older Andrei Razumovsky
Despite the offer of a loan of 700,000 florins from the tsar (remember Mozart, in 1787, considered 2,000 florins a good year's income), Razumovsky never rebuilt his palace and he became something of a recluse, living in near-seclusion until his death in 1836, almost nine years after Beethoven died. Shortly after the fire, he was forced to disband Schuppanzigh's quartet.
It's interesting to note that Countess Lulu von Thürheim, Razumovsky's sister-in-law, kept a kind of tell-all diary about life in Vienna at the time, giving us much daily information about life with the Count and his friends without ever making reference to his musical interests. The name of Beethoven is hardly mentioned.
And yet, if it weren't for these three quartets, Count Razumovsky would probably be forgotten except to historical experts: he certainly got more than he bargained for when he asked Beethoven to write them for him!
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For all his wealth, however, Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky was a descendant of Ukrainian cossacks – his uncle Alexei was born to a peasant family named Rozum in 1709 and he was a shepherd boy who had a pleasant singing voice. He sang bass in the local church choir where the local sexton taught him to read and write. Then, in 1731, a colonel named Vishnevsky was traveling through the area on his way back to the court of the Empress Anna (niece of the late tsar, Peter I, known as “Peter the Great”) and, impressed by the young man's vocal abilities, took him back to the imperial capital to become a member of the palace chapel choir.
So, how did the nephew of a former Cossack shepherd become the wealthiest man in Vienna who commissioned Beethoven to compose three string quartets for him?
In 1732, Alexei Razumovsky's musical abilities caught the ear of Princess Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), the daughter of Peter the Great and cousin of Empress Anna, who would become Empress herself in 1741. When Alexei lost his voice, he was made an official court bandura player and later a manager of one of Elizabeth's mansions. During the brief reign of the infant Ivan VI, he became a favorite of Elizabeth's and named a knight (Kammerjunker in the old Prussian ranks copied by the Russian court). He was also instrumental in the palace coup that overthrew the child-tsar's regent to proclaim Elizabeth the official ruler. After her accession, he became a chamberlain and “general-lieutenant” and, after her coronation, a “court marshal” (different than what it sounds like in English...) meaning he was in charge of, among other things, organizing and supervising the imperial household. If there was any doubt as to his courtly authority, let's just say his bedrooms were adjacent to the unmarried Empress'. (He was, consequently, nicknamed “The Emperor of the Night.”) Several sources indicated she had secretly married him - morganatically, however, meaning he was not officially her consort nor would any children they might have be legal heirs to the Russian throne.
Kiril Razumovsky, 1758
Even though he was not politically involved in the Empress' court, he had influence. When he was made a Count in 1744 – and the Empress even went on a holiday with him which took them back to his native village where she met his family (imagine that homecoming!) – Alexei suggested restoring the old position of “hetman,” leader of Ukraine's Cossacks, a title which dated back to the 16th Century and which had previously been discredited and discontinued by the Empress' father.
To this position, then, the Empress later named Count Alexei's younger brother, Kiril, born in 1728, shortly before Alexei went off to pursue a career as a singer in the court chapel. Still in his teens and attending a German university, Kiril was named President of the Russian Academy of Sciences and, in 1750, Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossack's autonomous region known as the “Zaporozhian Host” which he continued to hold until 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great dissolved the post (and the Host's autonomy), making Razumovsky a Field-Marshall instead. He would die in January, 1803, in his palace at Baturyn, the old Zaporozhian capital, at the age of 74.
Kiril Razumovsky's Palace, Baturyn
Count Andrei Kirilovich Razumovsky, Beethoven's patron, was born in 1752, when his father was Hetman, the second of five sons. When his father died, Count Razumovsky became one of the wealthiest men in Europe and lived the opulent lifestyle in Vienna, building his own grand palace there – at least until that disastrous New Year's Eve party in 1814. Little is known about the remaining 21 years of his life.
It intrigues me, though, considering how conscious the aristocracy usually is of family lineage and heritage, that Count Razumovsky, for all his wealth and charm, was accepted by the aristocratic families of Vienna who must have known, after all, his father had been born a peasant who achieved his social position all because his uncle had a pleasant bass voice and became Empress Elizabeth's “Emperor of the Night.”
Well, never underestimate the possibilities of a good musical education, I guess...