That is the name of an educational project in which the unpublished folios from the manuscript archives of the Russian State Library (Moscow) and the Russian National Library (St. Petersburg) were recorded. Almost all musical compositions are presented on this album.
Russia has joined the keyboard instruments musical scene later than other European countries, but very quickly caught up with the European level and soon surpassed it. Many foreign musicians wanted to work in Russia. A whole army of students was waiting for them there – especially, the children of aristocrats. Even the serfs were taught to play musical instruments as home orchestras and theaters, which were the latest trend, required a large number of musicians. Although, in general, playing the harpsichord/clavier/piano has remained the passion of the aristocracy and music lessons were considered to be “prestigious pastime” (V.G. Kartsovnik).
What did the Russian music lovers play on the harpsichord / clavier / piano three and four-handed in the last third of the 18th – early 19th centuries? At first, amateur musicians had to use handwritten sheet music, which in itself demonstrates the great attention that was paid to this genre, since the copying sheet music by hand was quite a task.
One of the earliest handwritten sheet music albums for a four-hand duet is dated January 1, 1786. The album belonged to the noblewoman Avdotya Ivanova. This manuscript consists of two parts. In its second part there are plays by anonymous authors, among them is the four-hand composition “Duo, à quatres mains” F-dur. The play was meant to be played by a student and a teacher: the first part is named in Italian – Scolaro, the second one – Maestro. Interestingly, judging by its complexity, the student’s part, filled with triplets, repetitions, sixteenth thirds, and polymetric parts, is not in any way inferior to the teacher’s part. Duo consists of three parts. First: Allegro ma non tanto / C / F-dur - Adagio / 3/4 / C-dur - Allegro / 3/8 / F-dur. There are a lot of typical duet tricks used in the composition: transferring the endings of phrases from one part to another and roll calls of melodically similar phrases using the “question-answer” pattern, leading to joint chords. The duet score is full of grace notes, but none of the twelve pages contain dynamic pointers. This may indicate that the hostess of the Musical Album – Avdotya Ivanova – has played not piano, but harpsichord or clavichord.
Today the name of the German composer Ernst Wilhelm Wolf (1735–1792) is almost unknown in Russia and Europe. He was a wunderkind: as early as at the age of nine he was considered to be a gifted harpsichordist. Although he had a law degree from the University of Jena, Wolf has devoted his life to music. His clavier performances were considered to be the forerunners of the performance forms of Mozart. Wolf was admired by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and cherished his friendship with him. A very prolific composer, Wolf left a rich artistic heritage: twenty singspieces, thirty-five symphonies, sixty clavier sonatas, twenty-five concertos for harpsichord or piano and orchestra, many string quartets, piano quintets, piano duets, etc.
For a long time, he served at the court of the Duchess Anna Amalia Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel as a court accompanist, organist, and conductor. It brought fame to Wolf: the duchess had gathered all of the artistic elite of the time around herself. The library that Anna Amalia created in 1761 was used by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and K. M. Wieland. The library of the Duchess Anna Amalia, with more than 850 thousand books, is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Wolf was married to Maria Caroline Benda, daughter of Czech violinist and composer F. Benda. When the position of the court musician at the court of the King of Prussia, previously occupied by Bach, became vacant, Frederick II of Prussia has invited Wolf to work for him. But Wolf had to reject the offer, most likely because of the pressure from the Duchess Anna Amalia.
The grand duchess Maria Pavlovna, the daughter of Paul I, who married the grandson of Anna Amalia, Saxe-Weimar crown prince Karl Friedrich, has continued the noble cultural mission of Anna Amalia and lived in Weimar for almost half a century. Under the rule of Maria Pavlovna, the famous library got some new books, including Russian ones. Frequent guests of the Duchess Maria Pavlovna were Russian scientists, writers, and historians. It is possible that the three-hand sonatas for piano were brought to Russia from Weimar by one of the Russian guests of Maria Pavlovna.
Wolf began his work with the Duchess Anna Amalia as a music teacher. It is most likely that he composed the three-hand piano sonatas to practice with her sons.
All three sonatas – C-dur, F-dur and G-dur – are wonderful examples of the baroque clavier art. The musical material is organized in such a way that the sound always remains consistent and clean – there is no place for improvisation, everything follows the ensemble rules. The first parts of the sonatas are recorded in the soprano key. In the C-dur Sonata, for example, there are some elements of a symphonic score: energetic moves between the sounds of the tonic triad in basso continuo, flute legato and staccato passages in the second-third octaves, full-sounding loud “tutti” of the final chords in both parts. These splendor and liveliness are beautifully combined with the laconic musical expression. The composer has included all the elements that has contributed to the development of the right-hand technique (primo) into the score: passages, chords, straight arpeggios, tremolo. In terms of complexity, this Sonata can be compared to the Great Sonata C-dur op. 12 for piano by I. V. Gessler, since the Wolf’s creation requires a lot of skill and precise finger movement technique. Sonata by Wolf is attractive with its “rainbow colors”, which, probably, painted the everyday life of the noble students of Wolf. Its bright and sincere sound seems to disprove the injustice of the characteristic given by the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who called Wolf a vain man and a trivial composer.
The Catalogue de musique of the publisher J. D. Gerstenberg et Comp. (1795) includes the four-hand Sonata by Ernst Wilhelm Wolf, but not the three-hand sonatas for the piano, which belonged to him and were intended for home schooling.
By the end of the Pushkin era in both of the Russian capitals, amateur music-making has reached a significant level. The drive for collaborative music making was often combined with a burning desire to establish themselves in the artistic society through creative writing. Almost every musical salon owner had a music library, which was regularly replenished with novelties acquired from stores and their own creations. Stored in the manuscripts department of the Russian State Library, the Venevitinov-Vielgorsky Music Archive, which includes the Album of I. Baryatinsky, contains some of the typical examples of the salon repertoire of the 1840-50s. There also are manuscripts of compositions for piano duets: three-hand Pas redouble for piano by an unknown author. In the middle part of this duet miniature – Trio – the Russian anthem “God Save the Tsar” sounds, the sound imitates a brass band, and four-hand Sonatine for piano P. B. (P. B. is an alias of I. Baryatinsky). The title of the play, Sonatine, is placed in the center of the orange-colored cover with a brown background and decorated with gold paint. The music in Sonatine itself is much simpler and more modest: the parts are easy and comfortable to perform.
Andrei Ivanovich Pashkov, Major General, participant of the Patriotic War of 1812, and author of the charming Mazurka for a piano duet, has lived for 57 years (March 21, 1792 – February 5, 1850, St. Petersburg). Andrei Ivanovich was an unusually musically talented man – the only one from the Pashkov family. Endless lawsuits against his close relatives, complaints about his superiors has coexisted in the life of this honorary member of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society with music lessons and concerts. The three-hand Mazurka for piano by Pashkov, handwritten in the album by his daughter, Yevdokia Andreevna’s, is only 14 bars long — same as the number of military battles he took part in. All the genre signs of mazurka are there: the 3/8 time signature, accents on the second beat, and syncopated “tracks” ... But this is not ballroom music – we can hear the military rhythm and rich polonaise texture, which is so tempting to make into a score for a military band. Imagine modern officers playing the piano in four hands ... I would love to see that! If not at the piano, then in a philharmonic hall, listening to a “civilian” piano ensemble...
A lot of four-hand plays, mainly military marches, were presented to the delegates of the Romanov dynasty: for example, the Grand Russian military four-hand march for piano by Anton Preuss (Grosser Russischer Militair-Marsch für Piano zu vier Händen von A. Preuss, 1902). Preuss taught gymnastics in the St. Petersburg Petrishule at the Lutheran parish of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and composed music. He dedicated the march to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, whose children learned music from him. In his letter, he asked the Grand Duchess to grant him an award for his many years of dedicated service. This award could have helped Preuss to significantly improve his social and financial situation. But in 1914, immediately after the outbreak of the First World War, Preuss, who did not have a Russian citizenship, was expelled from St. Petersburg.
Honored Cultural Figure of the Russian Federation,
Ph.D. of Arts,
musical journalist of the "Radio Russia",
author of the "Unknown Russia" project