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And this hour has come.
The ReachSound.Art label presents the world release of the English composer - astronomer William Herschel: XXIV Violin Capricci (1763) performed by the Soloists of Catherine the Great - Andrey Penyugin.
Andrey Reshetin: Musical Producer
Anton Yakovlev: Executive Producer
Vladimir Ryabenko: Sound producer
Pavel Timofeev: Sound Engineer
Violin: Domenico dall’Oglio, 1748
Bow: Ralph Ashmead, 2012
Pitch A: 415 Hz
Recorded: in the Finnish Church of St. Mary (St. Petersburg) May 6-8, 2019.
William Herschel as a composer first fell into the sphere of interests of Andrey Penyugin in connection with his viola concertos. A raregenrein the mid-18th century and a unique persona of Herschel prompted the search for scores. Most of Herschel’s music archive was purchased in 1958 at Sotheby’s auction for the University of California at Berkeley. Thanks to the help of a remarkable American musicologist, Professor Michael Pesenson, it was possible to obtain photocopies of not only the Viola Concerto in D minor, but also a collection of sonatas and capricci.
In addition to traditional forms of audio recording, a unique release will be presented to listeners in high definition formats (DsD 256) - binaural and surround.
The 24 capriccios for solo violin by the British astronomer and composer William Herschel are among the most amazing compositions in the history of music. Herschel was an extraordinary man, but for a long time his musical achievements have been overshadowed by his contribution to science. He wrote a substantial amount of music, but his 24 capriccios are without doubt his most original work. It is hard to believe that such bold harmonies and psychedelic images could have been written as long ago as 1763.This recording of Herschel’s 24 capriccios is the latest world premiere of the EARLYMUSIC Festival and the ‘Soloists of Catherine the Great’. The capriccios were found and recorded by one of the group’s violinists Andrey Penyugin, a specialist in rare baroque music.These violin miniatures will help to dispel the myth that there were no great British composers between Handel and Britten.
William Herschel’s life changed dramatically on 13 March 1781, when the 42- year-old musical director of the English spa city of Bath suddenly became world-famous. It was not his wonderful music that brought the experimental composer renown, but astronomy, to which he devoted all his spare time. Patient work over many years had enabled the provincial amateur astronomer to discover a then unknown planet in the solar system. What is admirable is that this event was not the peak of Herschel’s scientific activities, but only the beginning of forty years of work full of discoveries and experiments.
Felix Ravdonikas, the founding father of early music in Russia, made a hammer for making trumpets before concentrating on the organ. William Herschel became fascinated by astronomy through the manufacture of telescopes. His selection of the very best construction and his fantastic devotion to work (his sister Caroline related that he had once polished a lens for sixteen hours nonstop) enabled Herschel to make astronomical instruments that were significantly superior in quality to all those in existence at the time.
The amazing career of Herschel in science totally eclipsed his musical achievements, but at the time of his discovery of Uranus he had already composed numerous works and had been in charge of the musical life of Bath, the main aristocratic spa in England, for fourteen years. Familiarization with the wonderful legacy of Herschel the composer inspires the hope that in time his musical experiments and discoveries will be just as well known as his scientific achievements.
Herschel’s music is characterized by the same inquisitiveness and meticulousness as his scientific work. In fact, his astronomy was, in a certain sense, a consequence of his passion for music. His practice in performing (Herschel played the violin, the viola, the oboe, the harpsichord and the organ) could not but lead to theoretical matters (there is an unfinished manuscript of a treatise by Herschel on musical theory). One of the books he purchased was Robert Smith’s Harmonics, or the Philosophy of Musical Sounds. The same author’s A Compleat System of Opticks, which he bought later, led Herschel to the manufacture of telescopes.
His appointment as musical director of the city of Bath helped Herschel to obtain a regular income, a permanent home and sufficient spare time to devote to serious astronomy. Many scientists, not only in the 18th century, have spent their leisure hours making music. Herschel was the opposite: he worked as a musician during the day but headed straight for his telescope in the evening.‘
My father, who was a musician’, wrote Herschel, ‘destined me to the same profession, hence I was instructed betimes in his art. That I might acquire a perfect knowledge of the theory as well as of the practice of music, I was set at an early age to study mathematics in all its branches—algebra, conic sections, infinitesimal analysis, and the rest. The insatiable desire for knowledge thus awakened resulted next in a course of languages; I learned French, English, and Latin, and steadfastly resolved henceforth to devote myself wholly to those sciences from the pursuit of which I alone looked for all my future happiness and enjoyment. I have never been either necessitated or disposed to alter this resolve. My father, whose means were limited, and who consequently could not be as liberal to his children as he would have desired, was compelled to dispose of them in one way or another at an early age; consequently in my fifteenth year I enlisted in military service, only remaining in the army, however, until I reached my nineteenth year, when I resigned and went over to England’.
Herschel was a little dissembling in his autobiography – his resignation and departure to England were, in fact, desertion from an active army (the Seven Years War was under way). However, his escape to England was a rare slice of good fortune for the regimental oboist Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel. His paradoxical thinking, industry and inclination for solitude were ideal qualities for Britain, whose culture has always differed greatly from that on the continent.
Herschel’s way of working as a musician was similar to his method of working in science. He always made do with the modest performing abilities at his disposal, concentrating on a particular musical genre and striving to systematize his compositions. Moreover, one gets the sense that Herschel’s composing developed according to a previously conceived plan.
As far as can be judged from Herschel’s surviving and partly dated compositions, his most prolific period was from his arrival in England in 1757 to his appointment in Bath in 1766. It was then that all his symphonies, most of his concertos and works for violin were composed. In Bath his productivity declined sharply – in the main, he wrote works for amateurs (sonatas for harpsichord accompanied by violin and cello and compositions for vocal groups).
Herschel’s set of violin capriccios is his most amazing musical achievement, no less important than the acknowledged masterpieces of music for the violin. Like his viola concertos, they are unusual both in the fact that they feature a genre that was rare in those days and in their composition.
In 1763, three decades had passed since the publication of Pietro Locatelli’s twelve violin concertos, which, including the cadenzas for each of them, made up the first cycle of 24 capriccios. However, few composers wrote in that genre in the years that followed (of published works perhaps only Guillemain’s twelve capriccios spring to mind). The genre became popular nearer to the end of the 18th century. Herschel’s capriccios have little in common with Locatelli’s music – virtuosity and performing technique do not play such a prominent role. Rather they are closer to the pieces for solo violin by Telemann, Roman and, in particular, Carl Höckh, a German composer who wrote a cycle of 24 capriccios for violin in every key that have never been published. Apart from their artistic value, the instructive purpose of these pieces was the development of fantasy, ear and taste.
Many of Herschel’s violin capriccios are no more than about thirty bars in length and are more like preludes (his later organ preludes, for instance). Some pieces in the cycle are deliberately mechanistic. On the whole, the impression one gets from these capriccios is that they are descriptions of experiments in physics and chemistry. The use of difficult keys (E flat minor, G sharp minor, B minor) is an acoustic experiment of sorts. The composer’s intellectual approach, even to vivid emotional effects, manifests itself most powerfully. Some of the pieces are similar to travel notes (Herschel gave many concerts in the English provinces in those years). The musical resources he uses are astonishingly bold: the dissonant harmonic progressions, enharmonic modulations and melodic lines were unusual for his time. These capriccios mean that to his title of ‘father of modern astronomy’ can be added that of ‘grandfather of English psychedelia’.
The cycle as a whole was a breakthrough in the violin repertoire – a breakthrough of which nobody was aware.
Andrey Penyugin(translation David Hicks)