- 9 August, 2013
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Travellers on London’s public transport are a forgetful lot. Each year, some 160,000 items are left behind by careless commuters. Most are mundane (umbrellas and backpacks); some bizarre (a case full of dentures and a stuffed puffer fish). Occasionally, such a temporary loss of concentration packs a more serious punch, as in the case of South Korean-born violinist Min-Jin Kym who lost her Stradivarius instrument, valued at £1.2 million, at London’s Euston Station three years ago. Last week’s good news was that it’s now been returned to its overjoyed owner.
I guess the reaction of many will be disbelief that such a musical treasure could be so carelessly parted from its guardian. The truth is that inherited musical treasures have quite a long history of falling off the radar, and it’s often more of a societal problem than that of an individual.
One of this month’s new Naxos releases is of Marcel Tyberg‘s Second Symphony (Naxos 8.572822), performed by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; his Third Symphony (Naxos 8.572236) was released on Naxos by the same performers in 2010. Tyberg was Croatia’s pre-eminent national composer, born in 1893 and murdered during the Second World War at Auschwitz. Tyberg had the foresight to entrust his manuscripts to a friend, Enrico Mihich, who himself subsequently fled to the safety of the United States. The scores stayed under Mihich’s care for 60 years before he decided to show them to Falletta.
Whereas Mihich applied protective custody to his friend’s manuscripts, many others simply get abandoned and have to wait for serendipity to come to their rescue. The manuscript of a forgotten piece by Elgar, for example, written in 1923 for carillon and intended for a civic ceremony, turned up last year during a clear-out of local council offices in central England; around the same time, an earlier, 1714 version of Vivaldi‘s 1727 opera Orlando Furioso turned up in a Turin library; in 2005, the manuscript of a version for piano and four hands of Beethoven‘s Grosse Fuge for string quartet (Naxos 8.554593) was found by a librarian in Philadelphia which, being in the composer’s original, irascible hand, revealed as much about his temperament as the music.
One step on from original manuscripts are first and early editions that inevitably get overshadowed by subsequent reprints. As with the game of Chinese Whispers, details and accuracy of originals can get lost in the process, so it was a pleasure for Mozart scholars to find a rare second edition from 1765 (only one other copy survives) of some of his earliest clavecin sonatas, that nonchalantly turned up recently in one of the UK’s Oxfam charity shops: “Six keyboard sonatas, suitable for performance with violin or traverse flute accompaniment, humbly dedicated to Her Majesty, Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain, composed by Wolfgang Mozart, aged 8 years old.”
When these sonatas were published, JS Bach has been dead for only 15 years, yet his enormous stature as one of history’s greatest composers was already vulnerable, a victim of musical society’s fickleness for new styles. In today’s stores where racks of CDs still exist, it’s likely that the largest section will be devoted to recordings of his music. Who gave him the kiss of life to restore his rightful place in the collective memory? We have Mendelssohn to thank for that.
The young Felix was well placed to be the one that fate appointed to the task. Members of his wider family had established connections with Bach’s music through sponsoring performances and as instrumental students of Bach’s sons, from whom they commissioned new works. Mendelssohn thus became acquainted with JS Bach’s masterpieces from authoritative sources. Receiving a copy of the St Matthew Passion (Naxos 8.557617-19) as a teenager from his great aunt both opened his eyes to its genius and fired his enthusiasm to mount a performance which, in turn, whetted the public’s appetite and kick-started Bach’s rehabilitation into the concert circuit.
There’s no doubt, however, that Mendelssohn’s performance would have fallen short on authenticity, a lost-and-found issue that was left to generations of musicians nearer to our own time to sort out. The resurrection of period instruments, styles and practices has since shone the light on an Aladdin’s cave of works that have received the ultimate makeover of being restored to their original performance condition. Tapping a seemingly inexhaustible supply, examples will no doubt continue to grace the lists of the monthly new releases from Naxos for some time to come.