- 5 April, 2013
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Even the most prominent names in classical music grew from initial obscurity, with a combination of circumstances, opportunities and single-mindedness eventually releasing an artist’s light from under the bushel. Somewhere in all their life stories, however, is usually a person responsible for significantly promoting that individual’s genius, but whose contribution to the cause inevitably gets forgotten.
Closer to our time, history is kinder: to mention the name of manager George Martin in the same breath as The Beatles, for example, would raise few puzzled looks; Lang Lang and his dad are also a well-documented management casebook. Further back in time, memories get misty.
Among this month’s new releases, however, is the intriguing and illuminating story of how Gioachino Rossini got a leg-up into the Hall of Fame from a surprising source. Rossini’s refined world of bel canto opera might not have spawned such an extensive personal catalogue without the unlikely help of a roguish gambler called Domenico Barbaja. A casino mogul, an illiterate loudmouth and a cantankerous bully, he was also the most influential opera impresario of the 19th century. It was he who lured Rossini to the all-important opera scene in Naples in 1814, launching him onto the stellar path he was to follow for the rest of his creative life.
You can hear examples of the works both he and other significant opera composers wrote for Barbaja on this month’s new release Bel Canto Bully (Naxos 8.578237). Better still, you can put the music into the context provided by Philip Eisenbeiss’ new biography of Barbaja (Haus Publishing, ISBN 978-1-908323-25-5), for which this is the companion disc.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-86) could hardly be thought of as an impresario in the manner of Barbaja, but the influence he had on Richard Wagner was similar, his patronage providing him with the comfort zone in which creativity could blossom. Wagner’s most significant legacy from that arrangement came in Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), the 4-opera mythical saga which would have had a difficult birth without the financial and physical security that Ludwig’s support provided.
If you’ve never managed to fully grasp the narrative and musical complexity of The Ring, rest easy, because Naxos will be coming to your rescue next month with a handy aid to its appreciation, so watch this space… Meanwhile, if you’re new to the masterpieces, why not ease yourself into the experience by listening to the operas’ preludes and opening scenes?
Tchaikovsky similarly benefited from the patronage of Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy widow of a Russian railway magnate, whose financial support carried him through a number of his creative years. One of this month’s new releases is a recital of Tchaikovsky’s piano works (Naxos 8.573086) performed by Andrey Yaroshinsky in the Naxos Artist Laureate Series. As the winner of numerous international competitions, Yaroshinsky also reminds us of the extent to which performers’ careers continue to be managed in their early stages by the exposure arising from such competitive opportunities.
The 19th century also has interesting examples of composers promoting each other in a sort of pay-it-forward fashion. Robert Schumann played a significant part in encouraging the genius he recognised in the young Johannes Brahms, inviting him to co-write a work for the famous violinist, Joseph Joachim: Schumann asked Brahms (then only 20) and Albert Dietrich (a student of Schumann) to provide a movement each for the four-movement work, which has become known as the F-A-E Sonata. Fast forward to the three violin sonatas from Brahms’ mature years (Naxos 8.554828) and one can’t help thinking how different things might have been without that initial act of support on Schumann’s part.
Antonín Dvořák subsequently found himself on the receiving end of Brahms’ generosity, who both recommended the young Czech talent to the publisher, Simrock, and even undertook the menial task of proof-reading Dvořák’s scores later in life when he was away in America during the last years of the 19th century.
From that same era of Czech music, we can recommend another of this month’s new releases of orchestral music by Zdenĕk Fibich (Naxos 8.572985). Although Fibich never enjoyed the same celebrity status as compatriots Smetana and Dvořák, following his death in 1900 a group of his appreciative students made a concerted effort to redress the balance for audiences of the 20th century and beyond, right up to this disc. An example, in this case, of pay-it-back.