Light-heartedness Bordering Mozartian Frivolity

Rosetti oboe concerto
Rosa, rosae, rosae… © Charles Thibo

He was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, but he developed his own style. You can hear some of Mozart’s sweet- and lightness and his thematic ideas are developed in way similiar to Haydn’s, especially in the symphonies. He did not become as famous as the two masters of the Vienna classic era even though he was a prolific composer. So who is he? Antonio Rosetti is his name; he was born as Anton Rösler in Litomerice in Bohemia around 1750 and opted later for the Italian form of his name, most likely for marketing reasons. As for his biography, the scholars have now dressed a precise register of what they don’t know, for what they know about him with certainty – it is not much.

It would appear that Rösler aka Rosetti was taught by the Jesuits for he was supposed to become priest. Sterling E. Murray writes in an article for Oxford Music Online that “after the abolition of the Jesuit order in Bohemia, [Rosetti] moved away and in September 1773 joined the music ensemble of a German prince, Kraft Ernst Fürst von Oettingen-Wallerstein, as a livery servant and double bass player; in July 1774 he was promoted to the official position of Hofmusikus”.

Shining in the City of Light

A trip to France proved to be a turning point in his career. In 1781 he was granted a leave of five months. In Paris he  promoted his music, had his works performed by the best ensembles and convinced publishing houses such as Le Menu et Boyer and Sieber to publish his compositions, namely a set of six of his symphonies dedicated to Prince Kraft Ernst. When Rosetti returned to Germany in May 1782, his recognition as a composer was assured, Murray writes.

To introduce you to Rosetti’s music I picked a piece that puzzles me. It’s an Oboe Concerto in C major. Rosetti has written seven of this genre, at least three in C major, and the trouble is the recording by the Hungarian Lajos Lencses (oboe) the Slovak Chamber Orchestra under Bohdan Warchal does not mention which one. The Murray and Kaul catalogues identify seven such concertos written between 1778 and 1782, but the recording specifies that the cadenzas have been written by the Lencses. So were this pieces drafts before Lencses wrote the cadenzas? Or did he merely add embellishments to a finished work? It remains an enigma to me.

“Skilful counterpoint”

The music however is no mystery, oh no, it is immediately accessible. The light-hearted mood is very much spring-like, dynamic, full of optimism, bordering frivolity at times, to sum it up, it is excellent entertainment. Murray explains that Rosetti’s music “of the early 1780s demonstrates the first signs of a stylistic maturity that is brought to full bloom in the works composed after about 1784. These are characterized by a greater reliance on chromatic inflection in melodic lines, a richer harmonic and tonal language, skilful handling of counterpoint* and imaginative.”

It is unfortunate that this composer lived at the same time as Haydn and Mozart for those two composers eclipsed anyone else in the German-speaking world of music. However, if there is a sense of justice in history, than Rosetti may have benefited from it. A week after Mozart’s death a funeral ceremony was held in Prague, and guess what was performed as a tribute to Mozart? A Requiem that Rosetti had written back in 1776.

© Charles Thibo

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