Leopold Kozeluch


Leopold Kozeluch was born in 1747 in the town of Welwarn (now Velvary) to the north of Prague. One of sixteen children of a shoemaker, he was baptised loannes Antonius, but later adopted the name Leopold in order to differentiate himself from his cousin Johann Anton Kozeluch, who was cappellae magister at St Vitus’s Cathedral in Prague and who taught him keyboard and composition. He made such good progress that he was also given lessons with a friend of Mozart’s, Franz Xaver Dušek, After a number of early successes in Prague, he moved to Vienna in 1778 and quickly made a name for himself as a composer, keyboard virtuoso and teacher. So successful was he that his works soon became known all over Europe and for a number of years he was one of the most sought-after of all composers. In 1781, for example, he could even afford to turn down an invitation to succeed Mozart in Salzburg. Instead, he became music teacher at the imperial court in Vienna, where he built up a number of excellent contacts and connections. Among his pupils were many leading members of the Viennese aristocracy, thereby adding further to his reputation. He also organised private academies or concerts at his own house, where the performers included local composers of the stature of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf and Johann Vanhal.

Kozeluch was a highly efficient businessman and, together with his brother, founded his own music publishing house in Vienna that also sold music. Here he published not only pieces by other composers but also his own compositions, including the present Symphony in C major. One of a set of three symphonies that Kozeluch published in 1787 as his “Volume II”, it compels admiration for its splendidly festive language and, as such, represents a high point in Kozeluch’s work as a symphonist. His works were published not only by his own firm but by all of Europe’s leading publishers, who almost literally fought over his compositions. In 1786 his Symphony in D major was published by the famous Paris firm of Jean-Georges Sieber. Its opening movement derives from a ballet-pantomime first performed in Prague in 1776. His first symphony to appear in print, it reflects the French taste of the period with its three-movement structure and rondo finale. The two other symphonies included in the present release are both unpublished. Both have programmatical titles. The Symphony in A major “à la franҫaise” was written between 1779 and 1784 and once again points in the direction of French taste, but its four-movement form clearly recalls the Viennese symphonic tradition. Both its opening movement’s markedly lyrical and almost wistful second subject and the whole of its second movement are so emotional and sentimental in tone as to stand out as something special within the context of the music of this period. The Symphony in B flat major was written at a slightly later date, between 1780 and 1790. In keeping with its title, “L’irresoluto”, it is an unusual piece, in which Kozeluch is sufficiently bold as to fly in the face of convention, confronting his listeners with a deeply divided symphonic character study in irresolution, a state of indecision that remains unresolved to the very last bar of the work.

Kozeluch’s good relations with the imperial court in Vienna finally led to his appointment as imperial Kammer Kapellmeister and Hofmusik Compositor in 1792. A life appointment, this was a highly respected and powerful position, but also one that involved its incumbent in a heavy burden of responsibilities. He had to compose at least one opera or oratorio a year, and might additionally be required to write two further operas for the court. Unfortunately almost all these works have been lost in the course of the intervening centuries.

Kozeluch’s contemporaries praised his music for its “liveliness and grace, its ability to combine the noblest melodies with the purest harmonies and the most pleasing sense of order in terms of rhythm and modulation”. His oft-cited conflicts with Vienna’s three leading composers, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, are almost certainly the result of the rivalries directly bound up with this situation, rather than of his advantageous position at court, a position which, within the ancien régime of Viennese society, placed him far above other composers and musicians in the social hierarchy of the time. When one of Haydn’s works was performed in the city, Mozart is said to have told Kozeluch: “Sir, even if the two of us were put together, we still wouldn’t produce a Haydn.” When Kozeluch responded to this by remarking that he himself would not have written a particular passage in the way that Haydn has written it, Mozart retorted: “Nor would I, and do you know why? Because neither you nor I would have hit on this idea.”

Kozeluch cannot be accused of any lack of ideas. Through his keyboard trios, quartets, keyboard sonatas and songs and also, of course, through his numerous keyboard concertos and symphonies, he left his mark on the work of all the other composers who were active in Vienna. His keyboard trios and sonatas, for example, are believed to have influenced Beethoven. Writing in 1789, Charles Burney summed up his contemporaries’ admiration for Kozeluch in the final volume of his General History of Music: “His productions [ ... ] are in general excellent, abounding with solidity, good taste, correct harmony; and the imitations of Haydn are less frequent than in any other master of that school.” Was it this that so enraged Mozart? Whatever the answer to this question, Kozeluch was clearly a composer who was held in high regard in his own lifetime, but whose reputation has now been eclipsed.

Olaf Krone
Translation: Stewart Spencer