Delicate Trios and Revolutionary Hymns

Pleyel easily colors a dull autumn day. © Charles Thibo

Here is what it takes: a violin, a cello and a harpsichord. Furthermore an Austrian composer, music publisher and founder of a piano factory. Add some teaching by Joseph Haydn, an internship under Franz Xaver Richter (see an earlier post of mine) at the Cathedral of Strasbourg. Ignaz Joseph Pleyel has done it all. In 1791 he wrote a beautiful trio for keyboard in C, Ben. 441. In 2011, the Trio 1790 and Jennifer Morsches released an album with this works and it is worth listening to it.

Why? It’s beautiful! It’s elegant, playful, delicate, very much in the line of Haydn and yet different from Pleyel’s master. The first movement (adagio, allegro molto) reminds me of a Baroque dance. Light-hearted, dynamic, melodious.The second movement (allegro ma non troppo) is a little more lyrical and of quite elegant. The third movement (rondo presto) takes up the mood and a theme of the first. In 1791 Pleyel wrote two more trios, one in B flat major and one in A minor. This said, the keyboard trios occupy a central place in his oeuvre. He wrote a grand total of 50 of them.

Playel was born and raised in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and seems to have studied under Haydn from 1772 on in Eisenstadt. Around 1784 he moved to Strasbourg, first to assist Richter, than – after Richter’s death – to take over his post as Kapellmeister. The trio saw the light in a turbulent time. After the French Revolution in 1789 the religious function of the Strasbourg Cathedral was abolished along with secular concerts. Too bourgeois, too reminiscent of the Ancien Régime. Away with it! While public performances were out of question, chamber music remained an option. Hence the trio.

In late 1791 Pleyel accepted an invitation to London as a conductor and stayed there until 1792 before returning to France and buying – a castle in Alsace, not too far from Strasbourg! The trio is dedicated to Madame de Marclésy, belonging to the local aristocracy. Because of his Austrian origin and his acquaintances, Pleyel was arrested several times by the authorities who suspected him of supporting counter-revolutionary ideas. When the dust of the revolution had settled, he  became a French citizen and proved his loyalty to the new state by composing a few choral works and a pantomime-ballet centered on revolutionary themes.

However he was not only an accomplished musician, he was also a tenacious and dynamic businessman. ” In 1795 he settled in Paris, opened a music shop and founded a publishing house, which edited some 4000 works during the 39 years it existed, including many pieces by Boccherini, Beethoven, Clementi, Cramer, J. L. Dussek, Haydn and other friends of Pleyel and his son”, notes Oxford Music Online. In 1803, he founded the piano factory that still exists today.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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