At the start of the Beethoven anniversary, why not make space in your listening for the music of some overlooked composers of his time?
The Beethoven anniversary year has barely begun, but the classical world is already awash with celebrations of the Great Composer. If you're worried it might all get a bit too much, though, we've got just the antidote to potential Beethoven overdose. We've dived into the IDAGIO catalogue and curated 'Essential' playlists for some of the composers who, active around the same time as Beethoven and even worked closely with him, have been overshadowed by him ever since.
We start with a composer who also turns 250 year. Anton Reicha (1770–1836) was born Antonín Rejcha in Bohemia. He went on to become a major figure in Parisian musical life, known especially for his woodwind chamber works. His music combines the melodiousness of Haydn and Mozart with the sinewy energy of Beethoven, along with a strong streak of the counterpoint for which he was renowned as a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire. Much loved by woodwind players, his music has nevertheless fallen from public favour, although his influence can be heard in the music of his most illustrious pupils: Berlioz, Liszt and Franck.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837) was one of the child prodigies of the age and studied with Mozart from the age of eight. Hummel's virtuosic keyboard technique and gift for melody resulted in a string of piano concertos, but it is for his Trumpet Concerto that he is best remembered today. More recently, musicians and audiences have rediscovered his chamber music and Masses. His influence can be felt in a number of works by Chopin and by Schumann, who considered studying with him; so too did Liszt, whose father found Hummel's fees too high and so sent him to Carl Czerny instead.
Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842) was born in Florence but had become a fully naturalised French citizen by the end of the century. His earliest successes were with pioneering French operas that much influenced Beethoven (the title-role of Medée remains a favourite with sopranos) before he turned to church music, including a pair of Requiem Masses. As an old man, he was director of the Paris Conservatoire and friendly with Rossini and Chopin, although Berlioz thought him a crotchety old pedant. The best of his music has a unique dramatic force, a characteristic that extends to his few orchestral and chamber works.
Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838) is best remembered today as Beethoven's pupil and secretary, and for the memoir he wrote about his teacher. Like Beethoven, he was born in Bonn, and his music includes a number of symphonies, piano concertos, violin sonatas and string quartets. Later, resident in London, he was instrumental in the commissioning of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Perhaps the most famous story about him concerns rehearsals for Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony. Ries mistakenly thought the horn player had entered too early and said as much, earning a furious rebuke from the composer. The two became close friends and colleagues nevertheless.
Mozart once called Muzio Clementi (1752–1832) "a charlatan", and engaged in a "piano duel" with him in 1781 (the Emperor, diplomatically, declared it a draw). In more than 100 sonatas, Clementi became an early pioneer of piano style – even if his music was later satirised by the likes of Satie. Born in Rome, Clementi spent much of his life in England, dying there five years after Beethoven. In a long life, his activities extended far beyond composition into publishing and piano making. Although he wrote a piano concerto and a number of symphonies, his keyboard sonatas were his most influential music.
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