I am sure music lovers immensely enjoyed both concerts organised by Opus Gala as part of their Indo-German Confluence IV Music Festival. I certainly did.
Given the rarity of a woodwind and brass quintet actually pitching up to Goa for a recital, I’d like to dwell a little on this.
Both the works played by the quintet (Max Vogler & Annika Smith, oboe; Thomia Ehrhardt, bassoon; and Felix Hüttel & Constantin Glaner, French horn) were termed Parthie (Parthia in English), also sometimes spelled as Partie in German. These are variants of the term Partita, which in the seventeenth century was a term used for a collection of dance tunes which were played consecutively, and which afterwards were taken to form suites. We know the term better in the context that Johann Sebastian Bach used it, as synonymous with “suite” in the Six Partitas for clavier and the three Partitas for solo violin, and for three sets of variations on chorales for organ.
By the 1750s, the term partita for a multi-movement work was replaced by the term ‘divertimento’, and after around 1760, the term Parthie in particular usually referred to a work for winds, often titled Feldparthie (partita for the ‘field’, or for outdoor performance, as the sound produced by wind instruments carries well in open spaces). Alternative terms included harmoniemusik or cassatio (cassation). Although it had its origins in dance, movements could have abstract titles as well, as is true in the case of both the works we heard at the concert.
Such music served purely as background to outdoor dinners, garden fêtes, hunting parties and military occasions.
And for a representation of this specific genre, a composer from the Besozzi family could not be more appropriate. The Besozzis were an extensive family of oboists from eighteenth-century Naples. Carlo Besozzi (1738- 1791) was an oboist composer, much like his father and uncles; other family members were proficient at bassoon and flute as well. There are at least eleven oboist composers of note in the Besozzi family. And Carlo Besozzi was the most highly regarded among them; we know this from the testimonies of his contemporaries (including English music historian Charles Burney and Leopold Mozart), the higher salary he received in comparison to his colleagues in the Dresden Kapelle in which he played, and the fact that he was given much leeway to play concerts as soloist in other cities, a privilege not accorded to his peers.
We heard Besozzi’s Parthia in D major (sonata no. 11) and Franz Josef Haydn’s Feldparthie in D major. Both are four-movement works, and both have contrasting slow-fast-slow-fast movements, with almost identical names: Allegretto-Adagio-Tempo di Minuetto-Presto in the Besozzi, and Allegro-Adaagio-Minuetto-Presto in the Haydn.
The forces for which these works were written might point to a pre-clarinet era, or possibly an indication of the instrumentalists available to the composers at the time of writing. Also, the Germans and Austrians generally preferred oboes to clarinets, compared to England or France.
Such ensembles of wind musicians were called Harmonien (Harmonie in the singular), with about five to eight players, employed by an aristocratic patron. If they played indoors at banquets, the music was designated Tafelmusik. The Austrian Emperor had his own Harmonie for his dinner and after-dinner entertainment, and so it fuelled a copycat tradition among the lower aristocracy and wealthy middle class to have their own in-house Harmonie as well. In the finale of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni during the banquet scene, his private Harmonie performs popular operatic excerpts for the Don’s pleasure. Not to be outdone, the working class began to hire Harmonie for special occasions such as weddings. Before long, musicians were forming impromptu similarly-comprised bands and wandering the streets of Vienna as they played. Mozart was pleasantly surprised to hear his own E-flat serenade playing below his window. He writes to his father (3 November 1781): “At eleven o’clock at night I was treated to a serenade performed by two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons–and that of my own composition . . . These musicians asked that the street door might be opened and, placing themselves in the centre of the courtyard, surprised me, just as I was about to undress, in the most pleasant fashion imaginable with the first chord in E-flat.”
The Haydn Feldparthie would have been written either for his first full-time employer Count Morzin around 1760, or shortly after 1761, in which year Haydn became Vice-Kapellmeister for the Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, and when the Prince also established a six-member Harmonie.
The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) dealt a heavy blow to the finances and therefore the lifestyles of the aristocratic set, and by the mid-1830s, the tradition of such performances had been abandoned. One could say the Parthie was over.
But one hopes that the party will start for us in India. We lag behind not just the world but even in the South-East Asian arena (one has only to look across at border at China, to say nothing of South Korea, Japan, Malaysia) in the pedagogy of all orchestral instruments, and the gap yawns widest when it comes to woodwind and brass. This is often hard to comprehend in the rest of the world; they assume that a country as big as ours certainly ought to have this. When I pointed this out to my counterparts in the US at a music conference, one of them suggested the idea of an instrument ‘petting zoo’, i.e. letting young children hear woodwinds play, and touching and literally getting a ‘feel’ of the instrument to inspire them to take it up. But then I had to re-emphasise that there just aren’t any teachers for these children, even if they did get inspired by splendid concerts such as the one we enjoyed recently. Concerts are wonderful for exposure and creating awareness and broadening horizons, but education has to be available as well. As the German dignitary described in detail in his speech before the concert, his country sets great store upon education, and at an extremely early age. India has to do this as well, urgently. We have to create a whole cohort of teachers that can begin to teach children. Education is a much harder sell for sponsorship, and a much longer haul.
(An edited version of this article was published on 17 January 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)