Franz Krommer



Franz Krommer was born (as František Vincenc Kramář) at Kamenice u Třebíče in Moravia on 27 November 1759 (not quite four years after Mozart); he was the son of an innkeeper, Jiří Kramář, who later became Mayor of Kamenice. Between 1773 and 1776 he studied the violin and the organ with his uncle, Antonín Matthias Kramář in Turán (near Brno), and became organist there about 1777. In 1785 he went to Vienna, and a year later joined the orchestra of the Duke of Styrum at Simontornya in Western Hungary, as a violinist. In 1790 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the cathedral at Pécs, also in Western Hungary, and two or three years later entered the musical establishment of Prince Grassalkovich de Gyarak. Krommer returned to Vienna in 1795, and became Kapellmeister to Duke Ignaz Fuchs in 1798. In 1808 he applied, unsuccessfully, for a position as a violinist in the Hofkapelle, but some time after 1810 he was given the post of Kammertürhüter (Chamberlain) to the Emperor Franz I, and in this capacity accompanied him to Paris, Milan, Verona, Padua and Venice. Three years later he succeeded his compatriot Leopold Kozeluch as the last official director of chamber music and court composer to the Habsburg emperors, and retained the position until his death in Vienna on 8 January 1831 (just over three years after Schubert’s death).

Krommer was one of the most successful and influential of the many Czech composers active in Vienna at the turn of the eighteenth century. The extent of his reputation is indicated by the rapid spread of his published compositions in reprints and arrangements, by German, French, Italian, Danish and even American publishers, and by his honorary membership of musical institutions in Vienna, Innsbruck, Paris, Milan, Venice and Ljubljana. His three-hundred-odd works include half-a-dozen symphonies, a score of concertos (mainly for wind instruments), over seventy string quartets, and a large quantity of other chamber music for strings and for winds.

Krommer composed at least nine symphonies, of which five were published by the firm of Jean/Johann André in Offenbach (near Frankfurt am Main) between 1798 and about 1820; two others (‘No. 6’, dated 1823, and ‘No. 9’, dated 1830) exist in manuscript, and a further two (‘No. 7’ and ‘No. 8’) are lost.

Symphony in D major, Op. 40

1. Adagio – Allegro vivace
2. Adagio
3. Allegretto
4. Allegro

The Symphony ‘No.2’ in D, Op.40, was published in 1803, with a dedication to a ‘Monsieur P. Bernard’, and is scored for strings, flute and pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani. It opens with an impressive slow introduction in D minor and very reminiscent of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The most salient feature of the first subject of the main Allegro vivace into which this leads is a rising octave scale (initially in D major, the movement’s main key), which has two distinct off-shoots: a succession of staccato chords on the full orchestra, and a gentler, legato idea on the strings. A discussion of these three elements in combination leads to an attractive second subject (in A) presented in dialogue between woodwinds and strings. A substantial development section, which brings into play the two subsidiary elements of the first subject and the second subject, is followed by a recapitulation that is fairly regular except for the fact that it does not begin with a formal re-statement of the opening flourish. The Adagio (in A) begins with an elegant, Mozartian theme on the strings, that sounds as if it is going to form the basis of a set of variations. But a contrasting, un-melodic episode, in A minor and for full orchestra (less, for the time being, trumpets and timpani), intervenes, and from this point on these two contrasting factors are alternated and combined in free, rhapsodic style, perhaps with some ‘programmatic’ significance of which we are not aware.

The third movement is a rather Beethovenish scherzo (masquerading as a Minuet), full of pounding triplet fanfares, but not without a sense of humour; it frames a wistful, waltz-like Trio (in G), mostly lightly scored, for flute, bassoon and strings, The festive finale begins with a vivacious theme on the strings, balanced, after a vigorous tutti, by a catchy second subject, shared, as is its counterpart in the first movement, between woodwinds and strings, The four-note (two long, two short) motif which propels the first tutti and persists throughout the second subject figures prominently in the development.

Symphony in C minor, Op. 102

1. Largo – Allegro vivace
2. Adagio
3. Allegretto
4. Allegro

The Symphony ‘No.4’ in C minor, Op. 102 is not dated, but was probably composed towards the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century; it is dedicated to Count Rudolph Wrbna, Councillor and Grand-Chamberlain to the Emperor of Austria, and is scored for an orchestra similar to that used in ‘No. 2’, but with the addition of a second pair of horns and three trombones. The slow introduction is longer and more substantial than that of ‘No.2’ and it establishes the predominantly serious mood of the Allegro vivace, which is cast in C minor, even though the light-hearted air of the second subject, a bubbling tune in the relative major, E flat, is in sharp contrast with the sombre main theme, with its Schubertian tremolo patterns in the accompaniment, and the movement ends in an unequivocal C major. The Adagio (in A flat major) is in ternary form, with a substantially varied reprise. The outer sections are based on a mellow, expansive theme entrusted predominantly to the strings, while the (thematically related) central episode is a dramatic interlude beginning in F minor, which leaves its mark on the last part of the movement.

The Allegretto (in C minor) is again a true scherzo, although not so designated. It is more solid than its counterpart in ‘No. 2’, and notable for its perceptive wind writing: its ‘trio’ (in C major) is also symphonic in stature. Although the finale – which is in sonata form, with a brief but busy development, though only one real theme – is cast in C major, it contains passages to which the trombones impart an air of undeniable majesty; yet the perky, Rossinian theme on which it is based keeps on turning up, as though refusing to allow the symphony to end on a solemn note.

Robin Golding (1994)