John Collins - Organist, Harpsichordist Iberian Musicologist, Translator

Leopold Koželuch Complete sonatas for keyboard volumes I-III

Title:Leopold Koželuch Complete sonatas for keyboard volumes I-III

Editor: Christopher Hogwood. .

Publisher: Bärenreiter BA9511-13. Vols I-II 39.95 Euros each, vol III 44.95 Euros.

Reviewed by John Collins

Christopher Hogwood is preparing the first modern collected edition of the keyboard sonatas by Leopold Koželuch (1747-1818), whose works form an important bridge between Haydn and Beethoven; it will run to four volumes, the first three under review here being arranged in date of publication of the original prints, the final volume being dedicated to MSS copies only, so that the development of his style and transition from clavecin to piano forte may be the more readily appreciated. His sonatas were published in Vienna, Paris and London, and copies were to be found not only in the best libraries throughout Europe but also in the USA and Benares. Although William Newman mentions some 100 sonatas for keyboard solo in his History of the Sonata vol 2, Christopher Hogwood has revised the figure substantially downwards to 50, discarding pieces described as sonatas but which are in fact reductions of his symphonic or ballet music as well as pieces proven to be by other composers. It should be noted that Koželuch himself preferred the forte piano to the harpsichord “with its monotony and muddled sound” Furnished with a relatively sparing use of dynamics, these sonatas will sound equally well on the clavichord.

Volume I contains twelve sonatas from op 1 to op. 10, volume II a further twelve from op. 13 to op 20, and volume III contains 13 from op.26 to op.38 plus a sonata in G which was published in 1807 without an opus number. Most are in three movements in the traditional order of fast-slow-fast or medium, (although allegro is sometimes qualified by moderato, and allegretto warns about too fast a tempo; other qualifiers include molto and maestoso). Nos. 7, 10 and 37 are the only sonatas which include a Menuetto, in each case as the middle movement. No. 18 in Ab opens with a pastorale-like andante con variazioni, followed by an allegro molto, no. 19 opens with a largo that leads into an allegro agitato, closing with a Finale- allegretto (each movement in F minor). No. 21 is in two fast movements only. The Rondeau as a closing movement is very popular occurring in no fewer than 22 sonatas, frequently marked presto or even, in no. 7, prestissimo – frequently a central section is specifically marked minore to indicate the treatment in the minor. Alternative final movements are given for sonatas 9 and 10 – the former has a different Rondo (note spelling!) and the latter an Aria con Variatione in place of the Menuetto & Trio. Other sonatas which include variations are nos. 8 (middle movement) and 26 (final movement).

Only nine of the 37 published in these three volumes are in minor keys, no.6 in volume I, three in volume II (nos. 15, 16, 19 and 24) and four (nos. 26, 30. 33 and 36) in volume III, and of the major key sonatas only in nos. 5 and 27 is the middle movement in the minor. Keys used include those most commonly associated with Sturm und Drang, ie. C minor, in nos. 6 and 30 and F minor in nos. 19 and 36,with nos. 16 and 33 in G minor, 15 in E minor, 24 in D minor and 26 in A minor, which is in two movements, an allegro followed by an andantino with eight variations, which concludes with a lengthy coda. No. 6 opens with a largo that leads into a poco presto, finishing with an allegretto in C major, Sonata 16 in G minor opens with a largo that leads into an allegro molto before a recapitulation of the opening of the largo, followed by a rondeau in the tonic major with a written-out cadenza, which pattern is followed by no. 30 in C minor. No. 33 in G minor and 36 in F minor both open with a short largo which leads into an allegro agitato, followed in no. 33 by a rondeau in the minor and in no. 36 by an allegretto which switches between major and minor. These sonatas do have a greater sense of “Sturm und Drang” in their tragic lines, substantially anticipating both Beethoven and Schubert in the slow opening movements while the faster movements contain fiery passages, although these tend to lack the deep sense of surprise and drama found in C.P.E Bach.

The sonatas are generally spacious in each movement with much apparent graceful and natural ease of composition, the slow movements in particular being full of beautiful long-spun lyrical tender melodic lines. Texture ranges from thin two-part to full chordal writing. Throughout the sonatas there are few merely showy passages that seem to be written to illustrate technical requirements from the player in the manner of the later étude. Also interesting is the use of quintuplets, either as semiquaver groups in sonata 11, first movement, or as a demisemiquaver motif that pervades the opening movement of sonata 12. Overall they reflect an individual approach that is not dependent on previous models, and cover a wide range of approach from fiery passagework to expressive charm and the player today must convey the subtlety contained within the writing. There is an extensive use of the murky bass, but Alberti patterns occur only rarely.

A few of these attractive sonatas will require a well-developed technique to do them justice, especially the frequent passages in octaves for the LH (for example the semiquaver alternations of thirds in the first movement of no. 12), and there are examples in the LH of final variation of the Aria that concludes sonata 11 of the figure using the thumb as a pivot and crossing the 1st finger over up to a fifth, which will sorely test small hands, but as the composer himself wrote, the majority are “pas difficiles” and do indeed require only a relatively modest attainment with much of the fast passagework sounding most impressive to the listener but falling very happily and naturally beneath the fingers without the considerably more formidable demands of Dussek or Cramer; all will handsomely reward the player for the time spent on them, and fully deserve to be regarded as more than just lesser examples of the Classical period and to be heard in recitals.

The first two volumes contain some 180 pages of music and volume III runs to 220, making them excellent value for money in these straightened times. The printing is clear and well laid-out and there is a full critical commentary collating the textual variants from both printed and MSS copies, which makes for interesting reading and shows how complex the editing and presentation must have been, explaining why the versions in this edition are composite. A thematic index to each of the four volumes is also included. The introduction contains an appraisal of Koželuch’s sonatas as seen by his contemporaries and later commentators, a detailed discussion of the original printed sources (no MSS appear to have survived) and the criteria for inclusion, and helpful information on the interpretation of the ornaments as well as the inconsistency between dot and dash in the engravings. An impressively long list of libraries and institutions whose holdings were consulted, and also of individuals who assisted in this project, are also included. All of Koželuch’s 44 published sonatas appeared in London during his lifetime, attesting to their well-deserved popularity and success in the UK; Christopher Hogwood has done the composer a real service in making these gems available in such a scholarly edition today so that we can make our contribution by playing them and raising these pleasing and practical pieces above the judgement of some critics as being merely “music for the lady dilettantes on the piano”. I await the final volume with the keenest anticipation.

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© John Collins 2015