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There is an amusing limerick (by one Andrew Robinson) that succinctly sums up the unusual musical instrument that graced the Art Chamber Calangute on 26 April:

The Baryton looks like a riddle

Bass offspring of zither and fiddle.

It won some support

In the Esterhaz’ court,

With the music of Haydn and Lidl.

Both Haydn and Lidl were on the programme of the Haydn Barytontrio Budapest (featuring Balázs Kakuk, baryton, József Spengler, viola and András Kaszanyitzky, cello). Josef Haydn wrote close to 200 works for such an ensemble, largely to please his patron Prince Miklos Est erházy (Niklaus I) ‘The Magnificent’, who was passionately fond of the exotic instrument.

The first work on the programme was Haydn’s Barytontrio in D major, Hob. XI/45 in three movements (Adagio, Menuetto, Finale:Allegro). We probably never heard a more ‘authentic’ performance than this before. History was being made in so many different ways: we were hearing an actual baryton, played upon by a world-renowned exponent of this instrument, and a Hungarian to boot. Did it really matter that we were not in Eszteráza or Eisenstadt or in the 16th century? One had to merely close one’s eyes to travel through space and time.

Luigi Tomasini (1741-1808) was an Italian composer also at the court of Esterházy, and during Haydn’s tenure there, he played first violin in the court orchestra. It is perhaps not so surprising therefore that his barytontrio (in G major, Korcak 27, in three movements Maestoso, Adagio and Allegro ma non troppo) should be scored for violin, baryton and cello. The identity of the violinist at the concert was a surprise, however, and a heartwarming one, in the person of our very own violin master Pheroze Mistri. Mistri and Kakuk have a long-standing friendship spanning decades and continents, and the happiness they felt at playing together again was very palpable, right from its joyful opening. The last movement had an earthy, rustic Ongarese quality about it, of which the violin melody was played with true-blooded verve by Mistri. I could be mistaken, but it seemed to me that Tomasini in this composition had decided not to exploit the plucked strings of the baryton.

Anton Neumann (1740-1776, a tragically short lifespan for this composer) was up next, with violist Spengler reclaiming his seat in the sedate, stately Barytondivertimento no. 16 (Allegro moderato, Adagio, Menuet). The Menuet was particularly graceful.

Then it was back to Papa Haydn (Barytontrio in D major, Hob. XI/106, Moderato con varizioni, Menuet, Finale- Presto Assai).

It was interesting to note that all the compositions on the programme were in G major or D major. Did the fixed tuning of the plucked strings necessitate this? Perhaps works in other keys were not that common for this reason, or might the plucked strings then need to be tuned differently (scordatura)?

The remaining works featured Barytondivertimenti (light-hearted works for entertainment) by two more composers from the “Esterházy circle”. Joseph Burgksteiner (1730-1797) and Andreas Lidl (1740-1789).

Burgksteiner worked under Tomasini (whose composition featured earlier in the programme) as a string player in the court ensemble. His Barytondivertimento in D major (Andantino, Menuet, Allegro). The top line is given largely to the baryton in this composition by Burgksteiner, who was a violinist, and perhaps also so that his employer Prince Esterházy could get the prominent part in the ensemble.

Lidl’s Barytondivertimento in G major, no. 3 (Moderato, Andante, Presto) ended the concert. The last movement contained the first four notes that open the last movement of Mozart’s Symphony no. 41, the ‘Jupiter’. Lidl’s composition almost certainly predates the ‘Jupiter’ which was written in 1788. The question is, is the similarity merely a coincidence or could this have been the inspiration for Mozart? Perhaps we shall never know.

The applause that followed led to an encore, with Mistri joining the trio in a rousing performance of an Austrian country dance. \

 

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 2 April 2013)

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