Steven Guy's Essay on

J.J.Fux and his works to MIDI Format

 

Fux was for a long time remembered only as a theorist. His treatise Gradus ad Parnassum was studied by many important composers in the 18th and 19th centuries and had an enormous influence on the preservation of a strict style of composition that could be traced right back to Palestrina in the 16th century (hence Fux's nickname, 'the Austrian Palestrina').

Fux was in fact the most distinguished Austrian composer of his time, and held the highest positions a musician could attain: he was Hofcompositor at the imperial court, then Vice-Hofkapellmeister, and finally, from 1715 onwards, Hofkapellmeister. He wrote a great deal of important church music, some chamber music, and a remarkable succession of operas, most of which were first performed at the Hoftheater in Vienna.He was born near Graz, of peasant stock, and studied with the Jesuits. He probably visited Italy, where he may have encountered Corelli, or at least may have been influenced by his music. While in the employ of an Austrian archbishop, he was noticed by the Emporer Leopold I, who appointed him over the heads of more likely candidates as Hofcompositor. As well as serving at the court, Fux was also involved in the provision of music for St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, becoming Kapellmeister there in 1712. His fame spread far afield: when J. S.Bach's first biographer, Forkel, asked Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel which composers his father admired, Fux came first on the list (and there is possibly a more direct homage in the fact that the ascending canons of Bach's Goldberg Variations directly echo those of Fux's remarkable Missa prolationum).

Fux's contemporary J. A. Scheibe wrote that 'Fux, although he was the most profound contrapuntalist, nevertheless possessed the skill of writing lightly, appealingly and naturally, as his theatrical works show.' His operas are often grand in design, making use of traditional instruments and quasi-ecclesiastical textures, but they are magnificent works, which, in their original productions, must have made a fine impression.

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K. numbers refer to the Köchel thematic catalogue; see BIBLIOGRAPHY.

Julio Ascanio, Re d'Alba
(Julius Ascanius, King of Alba)


Poemetto drammatico in one act, K. 304
Libretto by Pier Antonio Bernardoni, after Livy's story of
Ascanius and Ovid's story of Euander in Fasti

Premiere 19 March 1708, Vienna

Written for the name day of Emporer Joseph I, the opera's plot concerns the marriage of Ascanius to Emilia, sister of the king he conquers, bringing peace and reconciliation. The score includes such unusual features as two violas da gamba and two bassoons; in style the opera combines features of French and Neapolitan opera.

EDITION f.s., Hellmut Federhofer (ed.),
J. J. Fux Samtliche Werke, 5/1,
Bärenreiter, 1961

Costanza e Fortezza
Constancy and Fortitude


Festa teatrale in three acts, K. 315 (5 hours, 30 minutes)
Libretto by Pietro Pariati

Premieres 28 August 1723, Hradschin, Prague;
U.S. 7 May 1938 Northampton, Massachusetts

Fux's most famous opera, presented with unparalleled magnificence to celebrate not only the empress's birthday but also the Coronation festivities of Charles VI. An open-air theatre holding 4000 spectators was specially built for the occasion on the Hradschin next to the Royal Palace in Prague. On the day of the performance, "Everybody appeared in full court dress at the royal palace to offer the usual compliments. Towards 11 o'clock all went to Mass and afterwards back to the palace, where dinner was served. In the afternoon the emporer, the empress and all their guests went to hear the opera." (Wiener Diarium, 28 August 1723.) The title was the emperor's motto, and the libretto celebrates his achievements with episodes of Roman constancy and fortitude. The music, which includes parts for eight trumpets and four timpani, is on a very large scale. Among the many visitors to this performance were the composers Johann Quantz and C. H. Graun, with the lutenist Sylvius Weiss. Quantz described the opera in detail, noting that its slightly ecclesiastical, bold and simple style, "which on paper may have looked stiff and dry, sounded well in the opera, much better even than melodies with many quick notes would have done".

EDITION f.s., Egon Wellesz (ed.), D.T.Ö, Jg XVII, vols 34-35, 1910; reprinted, 1959

Other operas: Pulcheria, 1708;Il mese di Marzo, 1709; Gli ossequi della
notte, 1709; La decima fatica d'Ercole, 1710; Dafne in Lauro, 1714;
Orfeo ed Euridice, 1715 (EDITION facsimile, Garland, 1978); Diana
placata, 1717; Elisa, 1719; Psiche, 1720 (collaboration with Caldara),
1722 (alone); Le nozze di Aurora, 1722; Giunone placata, 1725; La corona
d'Arianna, 1726; Enea degli Elisi, 1731; 4 other operas, music lost.

Bibliography Ludwig von Köchel, Johann Joseph Fux (includes thematic
catalogue and list of works), A. Holder, 1872; reprinted, 1974; Egon Wellesz, Fux, OUP, 1965`

THE MUSIC FILES

The Sinfonia to Costanza e Fortezza is features a large ensemble and was especially heavily
scored by Fux (as was the entire opera) because the work was originally performed at an
open air concert. The featured instrumental line up appears thus:

Coro 1:

Clarino (trumpet) 1
Clarino 2
Trombe (trumpet) 1
Trombe 2
Timpani

Coro 2:

Clarino 1
Clarino 2
Trombe 1
Trombe 2
Timpani

Coro 3 (Orchestra 1):

Flauto 1 & 2
Oboe 1 & 2
Violin 1
Violin 2
Viola
Bassi

Coro 4 (Orchestra 2):

Flauto 1 & 2
Oboe 1 & 2
Violin 1
Violin 2
Viola
Bassi

Continuo & Bassi:

Violoncelli
Violoni
Fagotti
Tiorbe
Arciliuti
Organi
Cembali

(2 keyboard players are mentioned)

The Sinfonia is in three parts -

1 Allegro (tutti)
2 Andante (strings, oboes & continuo)
3 Allegro (tutti).

The Sonata a Quattro is scored for four instruments - violin, cornetto, trombone and fagotto (possibly a 'curtal' or 'dulcian' in this case) and Organ continuo. The work is a typical church sonata and might have provided church musicians with a challenging recreational piece. Even though the cornetto was no longer a very common instrument in the early 18th century, from the cornett writing in Fux' Sonata a Quattro and the cornett and mute cornett writing in his many, many sacred vocal works - it is clear that expert players still existed!

Although many may find the combination of instruments in this piece a little odd, it is a very traditional instrumentation. From the ensemble sonatas of Castello, Valentini, Picchi and Gabrieli at the start of the 17th century to the later works of Schmelzer, Weckmann, Kindermann, Horn and Cazzati - the sounds of the violin, cornetto, trombone and dulcian have been put together in ensembles by many composers. Perhaps it is because these instruments were normally played by professional and/or church musicians that these combinations exist? The standards of writing in these works is particularly high and amateur or domestic performances were not envisaged when these works were written? Interestingly, the 'church sonata' lived on into Mozart's time (the Epistle Sonatas for strings and organ continuo) - distant echoes of the sounds of Gabrieli, Priuli, Cazzati, Castello, Rosenmüller and Corelli?




By the end of the seventeenth century, Vienna boasted a court opera rivalled by few others north of the Alps or, indeed, in Italy itself. The Hapsburg Emperors Leopold I (reigned 1658 - 1705), Josef I (reigned 1705 - 1711) and especially Charles VI (reigned 1711 - 1740) all had a passion for Italian opera, which they indulged by gathering at their court some of the most brilliant poets, stage designers and musicians of their time. Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Metastasio both served as poet laureates at the Imperial court, Giuseppe Galli Bibiena became Charles VI's principal theatrical engineer and architect, and Antonio Draghi, Marc'Antonio Ziani, Giovanni Bononcini, Antonio Caldara and Johann Joseph Fux (1660/1661 - 1741) all composed operas for the pleasure of the Emperors. Thus, by the time Fux was appointed Imperial Kapellmeister by Charles VI in 1715 - he had already served at court for a number of years in addition to working at the cathedral of St. Stephan in Vienna and for the Dowager Empress Wilhelmine Amalie - the position had become one of the most prestigious in all of Europe. Fux was worthy of the honour, for he is doubtless the most distinguished native Austrian composer of the Baroque era, justly famous as well for his treatise, Gradus ad Parnassum, still one of the most widely used textbooks for teaching modal counterpoint. Fux demonstrated his mastery of counterpoint and expressed his admiration for the composers of the late Renaissance most clearly in his church music - Masses, vespers, psalms, motets and so on - although even in those works, as in his oratorios, he also revealed his openness to newer Italian styles. His operas, needless to say, have little of the stile antico about them. But though he followed the Italian operatic fashions in depicting affects and portraying his characters vividly, he accomplished those ends in characteristic fashion by working out careful and often contrapuntal string accompaniments, by using concerto grosso textures, and by devising unusual obbligato groupings (chalumeau and transverse flute, for example, in Orfeo's aria on page 60 of the manuscript and two bassoons for Pluto's aria on page 53). Far from being old fashioned, the choral scene complex that opens Orfeo ed Euridice (another choral scene complex closes the work) resembles in some ways music by one of the "reform" composers of the 1760's and 1770's. In it, Fux writes homophonic choruses, he slows down the harmonic motion, and he integrates the chorus with the first aria. Orfeo ed Euridice, on a libretto by Apostolo Zeno's assistant in Vienna, Pietro Pariati, is a festa teatrale rather than an opera seria (although it is called a "componimento da camera" on the title page). That is, it is a theatrical work written expressly for a festive occasion, in this case the birthday of the Emporer Charles VI in 1715. Like most such works, Orfeo ed Euridice consists of a single act (although some have two), it is based on a mythological subject, it gives the chorus more to sing than in a typical opera seria, and it ends with a licenza, explicitly drawing the parallel between the events portrayed and the occasion being celebrated.

The existing score, in Fux's highly legible handwriting, exists in the Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 17231.
These notes are adapted from those in the Garland facsimile edition of the entire opera.


Synopsis of Orfeo ed Euridice

Orfeo laments the loss of Euridice and announces his intention of visiting the underworld. Meanwhile, Euridice, in Hades, rejects the advances of Aristeo (a suitor who had killed himself so that he might remain with Euridice). In response to Euridice's assertions of fidelity to Orfeo, Aristeo asks her why Orfeo did not also follow her in death. Amore seeks out Proserpina in Hades. Proserpina voices her fear that her husband Plutone is in love with Euridice, but Amore reassures her that Orfeo and Euridice remain true to each other. Plutone asks Amore for advice on how to begin his conquest of Euridice; Proserpina responds that he has no real love for Euridice at all. Orfeo and Euridice are reunited, but Euridice laments, believing that Orfeo must be dead. Orfeo reassures her and relates how, by playing his lyre, he persuaded the boatman of the Lethe to allow him to enter the underworld. With Amore'shelp, he hopes to persuade Plutone to restore Euridice to him. Orfeo and Euridice ask Amore and Proserpina for their assistance. Orfeo begs Plutone for the return of his bride. Aristeo intervenes and maintains that for Plutone to accede to this demand would undermine his prestige. Amore argues that Plutone's acquiescence would honour Zeus on his birthday. Plutone seeks advice from his underworld spirits.

They reply that he should free Euridice. Plutone assents. In the licenza, Amore draws the
obvious analogy between the birthday of Zeus and that of the Emperor

The Ouverture

The Ouverture to Orfeo ed Euridice is simply marked "Ouverture" next to the bass stave. The piece is for four unspecified instrumental lines, between the two treble lines is the word "Tutti". The first 12 bars are somewhat reminiscent of a Lullian Overture - Grave - with dotted rhythms. The following 17 bars are in a semi fugal style. Next is a short Adagio which features the word "violini" between the two treblestaves and "senza fagotti" on the bass line. The final part of the
Ouverture is in 3/4 and has the word "Menuette" written between the treble (violino) and C alto clef (viola?) lines. The 'Menuette' collapses the the work down three lines - treble, alto and bass. (see Handel's minuet in the overture to his opera Rodelinda - which is also in three parts) I have chosen to divide the work into the following parts:

Oboe I
Oboe II
Violin I
Violin II
Viola
Violoncello
Bassoon
Contrabass
Harpsichord

The two oboes play in unison with the two violin parts except in the Adagio - where the bassoon is silent as well. The violoncello, bassoon, contrabass and harpsichord (the manuscript does not feature a figured bass in the Ouverture) play in unison or octave unison - in the case of the contrabass. I figured that all the violins and the oboes should play on the treble line of the Minuet. The Sibelius score features all the repeats - first and second time bars - but the midi file doesn't repeat the movements and both 1st & 2nd time bars are heard after each other.

As far as I know, Orfeo ed Euridice has not been recorded or performed in modern times and there is certainly no modern printed edition of this work as yet. Although hearing it through midi is inadequate at least we can hear the opening sinfonia to this work. I am preparing four other Fux 'Ouvertures' at the moment - which range in style from the Corellian Concerto Grosso style (with solo and tutti string "choirs") to a more 17th Century style of composition - complete with antiphonal trumpet choirs - reminiscent of Biber, Hofer and Buxtehude.

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