89. Anton Reicha, Symphony for Band (1815)

I. Adagio-Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Maestoso un poco adagio
IV. Poco presto

I have never been interested in writing for the popular demand. To enlighten the public has been my aim; not to amuse it … Many of my works have never been heard because of my aversion to seeking performances … I counted the time spent in such efforts as lost, and preferred to remain at my desk.

I have become indifferent to all praise and criticism, being sufficiently rewarded when I instinctively feel I have achieved something worthwhile. If a good work is a failure, it is not the composer’s fault, but the public’s. It often happens that today a work is damned, tomorrow it is acclaimed. Was it not so with the works of Mozart? At first they were not understood, they were bitterly criticized, publishers refused them. But all of this has not prevented Mozart from reaching immortality.

It is impossible to discuss my complete works here. More than a hundred have been published; about sixty are still in manuscript. Among the latter will be found my finest efforts.

Anton Reicha, Autobiography

In 1815 Anton Reicha, while living in Paris, produced an extraordinary Symphony for wind band, with the actual title in his own handwriting reading, “Music to Celebrate the Memory of Great Men and Great Events.” In a Foreword in his hand he amplifies this,

This work is composed to commemorate: 1st, the memory of great exploits; 2nd, the death of heroes and great men; 3rd, to celebrate any important future event.

Most likely his intent was to have music ready which might be used in one of the famous Parisian festivals which had been so popular with the public during the Revolution and continued on an irregular basis. But in addition it seems clear that Reicha was inspired by this very historic year in French history. First, in January there was a great special ceremony for the reburial of the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who had been beheaded and hastily buried during the French Revolution. France having always had a father figure leading the government now, after the Napoleonic Wars which had killed a generation of young Frenchmen, looked back and thought, “Well, old Louis XVI wasn’t so bad after all!” For this ceremony another great band work was composed and performed, the Bochsa Requiem for Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette for large wind band and chorus. And then there was Napoleon himself who had been defeated and banished to the Island of Elba, and who escaped in February, 1815 in an historic return to power.

Finally, there was occurring at this time the famous Congress of Vienna, a series of international diplomatic meetings to discuss and agree upon a possible new layout of the European political and constitutional order after the downfall of Napoleon. This was a kind of first “United Nations,” and I have always had the thought that Reicha, in making music available for celebrations, had this event in mind, for he created a distinctly international quality in this music, making portions of it perhaps attractive for various national performances. The first movement has a distinctly Beethovian/German character (Beethoven was a childhood friend of Reicha), the second movement a technique-oriented set of variations with a French quality, the third movement a Handelian/English character and the final movement very much in the style of the music of Rossini.

In summary, this is the first large-scale symphony in the history of the band. There were some large works for band and chorus during the French Revolution, but the Revolutionary symphonies for band are musically insignificant and cannot be compared in any way with the Reicha. The style is of the period of Mozart through early Beethoven which makes it important in programming as the large band works which follow this one are distinctly Romantic in style. I recommend the composition very highly.

This score, which now is found in the Music Division of the National Library in Paris, is in the form of a manuscript “presentation copy.” The work is clearly composed for one band, but has, in the form of a numerical code in the margins, the possibility of performance by multiple additional bands. These additional bands, no doubt intended for performance in large outdoor sites, come and go in the style of Baroque Concerto grossi performances.

In addition, this very unique score contains, again in Reicha’s own hand, a fascinating manuscript Foreword in both French and Gothic German. In this extraordinary feature the reader will immediately notice the considerable thought Reicha has given to the acoustics of the wind band, in particular in its outdoor placement, and even an interesting reference to the needed quality of the conductor.

The performance of this work must be assigned to a good conductor only, one who would be well advised to study the work thoroughly before having it performed.

The place selected for the performance must be large and open (uncovered) and the orchestra must be at a distance of 50 steps from the audience.

One must employ exactly the number of instruments indicated in the score for without them the piece will not produce a good effect. These instruments are: 3 piccolos, 6 oboes, 6 clarinets, 6 horns, 6 bassoons, 6 trumpets, 3 double-basses, 6 army drums and 4 small field-guns.

The musicians must not be too close to each other, so that the sound gets more widely spread.

The double-basses must not be replaced by other instruments as they are absolutely necessary (no other instrument can go so low), neither must the above mentioned number of instruments be increased, unless one more double basse or double bassoons are added.

The drums must be located at about 100 steps behind the orchestra [in outdoor performances] and there must be only 3 drums beating at a time in order to be able to take turns. The beating of the drums must be a muffled rolling, even when the orchestra is playing forte.

The conductor must make sure that the drums are exactly starting and finishing in accordance with the time.

It is advisable not to display the field-guns to the sight of the audience, in order to get more of an effect of surprise.

The four parts for the small cannons are specifically and individually written with regard to the time of their sounding. In my own indoor performances I have substituted four timpani and players with one in each corner of the inside of the hall, thus surrounding the audience in a stereo experience. This has invariably been very successful.

On the Life of Anton Reicha

Anton Reicha (1770–1836) was the son of a civic wind player in Prague who died when Anton was ten months old and a mother who offered no encouragement. As a result he ran away to live with his uncle Josef Reicha, who had composed some fine wind ensemble music, and moved with him to Bonn in 1785. There, sitting in the small string section of the court orchestra belonging to the Elector Max, Anton became friends with another fifteen-year-old boy, Ludwig van Beethoven.

When the French armies of Napoleon captured Bonn in 1794 Anton fled to Hamburg, Paris, and eventually, to Vienna while trying to support himself by composition, teaching and playing. He arrived in Vienna in 1801 and apart from renewing his friendship with Beethoven, who arrived in Vienna in 1792, he did what every other aspiring young composer did upon arrival at this great center of music, he made an acquaintance with Haydn and took some lessons with Salieri and Albrechtsberger. One can imagine how inspired the now 24-year-old young composer was and years later he reflected in his autobiography.

The number of works I finished in Vienna is astonishing. Once started, my verve and imagination were indefatigable. Ideas came to me so rapidly it was often difficult to set them down without losing some of them. I always had a great penchant for doing the unusual in composition. When writing in an original vein, my creative faculties and spirit seemed keener than when following the precepts of my predecessors.

Once again, in 1805, the armies of Napoleon interrupted his life and so Anton elected to return to try his luck in Paris. Here finally he made his permanent residence and by 1818 he was established as a professor at the conservatory. His students there included Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, Chopin and Cesar Franck. He became a naturalized citizen in 1829, won a Legion d’honneur in 1835 and achieved the peak of Parisian recognition by being elected a member of the “Academie francaise.”

In addition, we are fortunate to have a little-known and lengthy eulogy of Reicha written by Hector Berlioz and published in the Journal des Débats, 3 July 1836, the most important newspaper in Paris.

The death of Reicha … could hardly be foreseen. Although he had already arrived at his sixty-sixth year, he had conserved a robust health, a juvenile vigor that an existence consecrated to tranquil works could not alter, totally exempt of the ambition and cares that even the most just brings in his wake. Of a naturally cold temperament, and given to observation rather than to action, Reicha quickly had recognized that the difficulties, chagrins, disappointments of all kinds that the composer must necessarily encounter at each step, above all in France, before arriving at the exhibition of his works, were too great in number for the perseverance with which he felt himself gifted. Making his choice philosophically, he determined, therefore, early on, to profit by the occasion when it was presented, but not to lose his time nor his labor to cause it to happen, and above all never to be painfully attached to its pursuit. He wrote tranquilly what he pleased, accumulated work on top of work, masses, oratorios, quartets, quintets, piano fugues, symphonies, operas, treatises; causing some to be heard when his resources permitted; trusting to his star for the fate of the rest, and always tranquil in his pace, deaf to the voice of criticism, very little sensitive to praise.

He attached great value to his knowledge of mathematics. “It is to this study,” he said to us one day during one of his lessons, “that I owe having been able to succeed in making myself completely the master of my ideas; it tamed and cooled my imagination that earlier dragged me about madly, and by subjecting it to reason and to reflection, it doubled its strengths.” I do not know if this idea of Reicha is as correct as he believed and if his imagination gained much by this study of the exact sciences; perhaps the love of abstract combinations and mental games in music, the real charm that he found in solving certain thorny propositions which only served to make him deviate from his straight road by making him lose sight of the result for which he was continually reaching; to the contrary, did they damage a good deal of the success of his work, and did they make them lose something in melodic or harmonic expression, in purely musical effect, what they gained (if to be sure, it was gaining) in arduous combinations, in conquered difficulties, in curious works made rather for the eye than for the ear? However that may be, his first attempts that he had performed at Bonn received the most encouraging reception. Dating from that moment he abandoned himself more specially to the study of composition, with his colleague and childhood friend Beethoven. Still, the intimacy does not seem to have lasted long between the two great musicians, and probably the complete divergence of their ideas on certain important points of the art’s poetics, must have been the cause. What makes me think so is that I often have heard Reicha express himself quite coldly regarding Beethoven’s works, and to speak with a badly disguised irony about the enthusiasm which these created …

The desire to perfect his art and to profit by the counsel of J. Haydn caused Reicha to make the resolution of spending some years in Vienna near that great artist. Upon his arrival in Austria, towards the end of 1802, Reicha received, from Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia, an amateur as zealous as he was distinguished, the same who perished some years later in the Battle of Jena, a flattering letter in which the Prince made the most brilliant offers to Reicha to entice him to come stay with him, and to teach him counterpoint. But Reicha preferred to sacrifice all these advantages to the one more precious to him, the society of Haydn …

From 1809 he accepted a professorial chair, and, in the doubly difficult art of teaching music, which is, at one and the same time, both an art and a science, he proved to be so superior that to fill his shoes seems to us today, if not impossible, at least terribly difficult. The most famous among his disciples, the one whose name, by its very celebrity, came the least naturally under my pen when I was speaking of students, is our great instrumental composer, an author besides of two dramatic compositions, where beauties of the first order shine forth, M. Georges Onslow. It is to be noted that, despite the apparent severity of Reicha’s precepts, none of the living professors has been more prompt than he to recognize an innovation, even if contrary to all admitted rules, if a happy effect resulted from it, and he saw there the germ of progress. In considering how tight the diapers still are in which they would like, in the schools, to keep musical art, one must confess that this merit reveals, in one so gifted, a great honesty of talent and a reasoning ability of the highest order.”

On the famous 24 Wind Quintets of Reicha

You should come to our place to hear a concert next Tuesday. We will play a quintetto by Reicha.

“Les Employees,” Balzac, 1838

The well-known woodwind quintets were composed by Reicha between 1811 and 1820 for five professors at the conservatory: Joseph Guilou, flute; Gustave Vogt, oboe; Jacques Bouffil, clarinet; Louis Dauprat, horn and Antoine Henry, bassoon. Perhaps because such virtuoso wind playing was yet new to Paris, the concerts which featured these works became very popular in Paris and the mention of them by Balzac in one of his novels, given above, as ‘local color’ is a reflection of this.

An encyclopedia of music by John Sainsbury published in 1825 gives an early review of these works, including a curious substitution of the English horn for the oboe,

Reicha’s skill has been shown in a variety of compositions, but especially in some admirable quintets, composed expressly for the flute, clarinet, cor Anglois, French horn and bassoon; these are performed frequently at L’Ecole des Fils d’Apollon, and, indeed, on all occasions when first-rate performers on the appropriate instruments assemble together.”

No description, no imagination, can do justice to these compositions. The effect produced by the extraordinary combinations of apparently opposite-toned instruments, added to Reicha’s vigorous style of writing and judicious scoring, have rendered these quintets the admiration of the musical world.

Here we also find a rare contemporary portrait of Reicha,

Reicha is still in the vigor of life, of middle stature, and most urbane manners, his general courtesy greatly endearing him to strangers, to whom he is uniformly obliging. He has often expressed to this writer his wish to write an oratorio for the English in the style of their favorite Handel.

In private life he is cheerful and amiable; his favorite amusement is a game of tric-trac. His rooms are decorated with a profusion of elegant and curious articles, which have been presented to him by numerous individuals in public and private life, as testimonies of friendship and of the respect and admiration due to his genius and perseverance.

The well-known German composer, Ludwig Spohr, also mentions in his autobiography hearing a rehearsal of these quintets while he was in Paris.

Two days ago I heard two more quite new quintets of Reicha, which he wrote for the morning-concerts … They were played at a rehearsal, which appears to me to have been given solely for the purpose of fishing for more subscribers to the morning-concerts, among the numerous persons who were invited … It is sad to see what means artists here are obliged to resort to, in order to procure support for their undertakings. While the Parisians press eagerly forward to every sensual enjoyment, they must be almost dragged to intellectual ones …

I found the composition of these two new quintets, like those I had previously heard at Kreutzer’s, rich in interesting sequences of harmony, correct throughout in the management of the voices and full of effect in the use made of the tone and character of the different wind instruments, but on the other hand, frequently defective in the form. Mr. Reicha is not economical enough of his ideas, and at the very commencement of his pieces he frequently gives from four to five themes, each of which concludes in the tonic. Were he less rich, he would be richer. His formal sections also are frequently badly connected and sound as though he had written one yesterday and the other today. Yet the minuets and scherzo, as short pieces, are less open to this objection, and some of them are real masterpieces in form and content. A German soundness of science and capacity are the greatest ornaments of this master.

My edition is available through the amazing catalog by Maxime’s Music at concertbandmusicstore.com.