Almost three years have passed since I introduced the Baroque composer Franz Xaver Richter to the readers of the blog and I am awfully sorry for not having followed up on the man and his delightful music. As I wrote in a post on Richter’s Seven Quartets (op. 5), his most remarkable contributions to music are his works for chamber music and his liturgical compositions. However, in the early phase of his career, he composed no less than 70 symphonic works, and today’s post will be about his Sinfonia in B-flat Major (VB 59), recorded by Capricornus Consort Basel.
Richter composed the piece probably around 1744, a few years before he would take up a post at the court of a German nobleman in Mannheim. The symphony shows that over time Rochter left behind the Baroque language and evolved towards the musical style that will shape the Viennese classical era. Bach and Händel were still alive, but Haydn was only 12 years old and Mozart not yet born. I think we can agree that Richter was no equal to either Bach or Mozart. However not everybody has to be a musical genius, and I think this is relevant.
One can compose excellent music without being Bach or Mozart. We tend to believe that the best-known composers are the only ones whose works are worth listening. But these composers are only on top on the pyramid. Both Bach and Mozart built on the experiments of their predecessors and they could only distinguish themselves in the highly competitive field of composing by being even better than their most distinguished competitors. Mozart’s early works were influenced by Richter which did not prevent Mozart to sneeze at Richter. Mozart was genius, but he was also a selfish, spoiled little prick.
Richter was a good composer who wrote good music; music that fulfilled the reason why he was being paid by his masters: symphonic and chamber music to entertain the German nobility, liturgical works for the services in the cathedral in Strasburg. I recently heard or read – once more – the erroneous idea that composers wrote entertaining music only from the 19th century on, implying that such music was of somewhat lesser value. Nothing could be further from the truth. Monteverdi’s opera’s were to entertain, Bach gave public concerts with is Collegium musicum in Leipzig to entertain and Mozart (him again!) wrote one piano sonata after the other to capitalize on the public’s interest in entertaining music.
Richter’s Sinfonia in B flat major is a charming, joyful work, music I like to listen to while I sit on our veranda, while I contemplate the play of sunlight on the river, while I study the texture and the warm tone of our old wooden table. Music that makes me feel comfortable. I can think of no bigger compliment.
© Charles Thibo