Václav Pichl



Václav (Wenzel) Pichl was born on 25 September 1741, of humble parentage, at Bechyňe (near the Hussite town Tábor in Bohemia, some sixty-five miles due south of Prague). He began his musical studies with Jan Pokorný, the local choir-master and school-teacher; in 1753 he became a chorister at the Jesuit College in Březnice (between Tábor and Plzeň) and attended the Latin School there; and in 1758 he went to Prague, where he entered the St Wenceslaus Seminary as a violinist, while studying philosophy, theology and law at the University. In 1762 he was engaged as a violinist in the Church of Our Lady before Týn in Prague, and studied with its famous organist Josef Seger (‘a sensible man, as well as an excellent performer’, in the words of Dr Charles Burney, who met him in Prague in September 1772). In 1765 Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, who had succeeded Michael Haydn as Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein in southern Hungary (now Oradea, Romania), went to Prague in search of players for his orchestra and engaged Pichl as a violinist and as his assistant director (Pichl later became a close friend and is mentioned frequently in Dittersdorf’s autobiography, published posthumously in 1801). After the dissolution of the Bishop’s orchestra, in 1769, Pichl returned to Prague and was appointed Kapellmeister to Count Ludwig Hartig, but a year or so later was recommended by Dittersdorf for a position as violinist at the Kärntnerthor-theater in Vienna. In 1775 Empress Maria Theresa appointed Pichl (in preference to Mozart, it is sometimes said, though with no evidence) as Kapellmeister to her son Archduke Ferdinand, the Austrian Governor of Lombardy. He lived in or near Milan for some twenty years, travelling widely in Italy and meeting eminent musicians such as Padre Martini, Pietro Nardini and Luigi Cherubini, and in 1790 he was Director of opera buffa at Monza, north of Milan. He translated the libretto of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte into Czech; was a contributor to Bohumír Dlabač’s Allgemeines historisches Künstler-Lexicon für Böhmen; and he wrote a history of Bohemian musicians in Italy, the manuscript of which, sadly, has not survived. The French invasion of Lombardy in 1796 forced him to return to Vienna, where, apart from a brief visit to Prague in 1802, with his daughter, a singer, he spent the rest of his life. He died there on 23 January 1805, as the result of a stroke while playing a violin concerto in the Palais Lobkowitz.

Pichl’s own list of his works includes twenty operas (four of them with his own Latin libretti!), thirty masses, eighty-nine symphonies, thirty concertos, and a huge body of chamber music, including 148 pieces which he wrote for Joseph Haydn’s employer, Prince Nicolaus I Esterházy, to play on the baryton, an obscure viol-like instrument with ‘sympathetic’ strings. Several of his symphonies were ascribed to other composers, notably Haydn and Dittersdorf, and, conversely, several ascribed to Pichl may be by other hands. A thematic catalogue was compiled in 1984 by Anita Zakin, in conjunction with The Symphony, 1720–1840 (Editor-in-Chief Barry S. Brook, Garland Publishing Inc., New York and London, 1986), which lists thirty-six surviving authentic symphonies composed between about 1764 and 1803 (and thirteen others, either thought or known to be spurious) in chronological order, so far as this is possible. A dozen of the earlier ones have evocative nicknames, such as Terpsichore, Saturn, Flora, Pallas, Polyhymnia and Mars, presumably bestowed on them by the classically educated composer himself. The five recorded here all date from 1769–70, and three of them come from a set of five published as Pichl’s Op. 1 in Leipzig by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1779.

Symphony in B flat major, Z23

1. Grave – Allegro assai
2. Andante arioso
3. Rondo: Allegretto

The Symphony in B flat, Z23 (Op. 1 No. 5) is scored for strings, two oboes and two horns (in B flat alto). A solemn and substantial introductory Grave prefaces a vivacious sonata-form Allegro assai with two contrasting themes, a taut development section, and a condensed recapitulation. The second movement is a tender Andante arioso in F, elaborately laid out for the strings alone; it is followed by a Rondo with a rather square, but engaging, refrain, and three spirited episodes.

Symphony in E flat major, Z24

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Allegro assai

The Symphony in E flat, Z24 is scored for strings, two oboes and two horns. The first movement is a trim Allegro with a rhythmic first subject, closely followed by a gentle second subject on oboes and violins. Next comes an Andante in B flat, in the style of a Gavotte and in the form of a slow rondo with two episodes, the first in G minor and the second (with the horns prominent) in E flat major, and then a brisk finale in condensed sonata form and enlivened by syncopations.

Symphony in G major, Z22

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Allegro

The Symphony in G, Z22 (Op. 1 No. 4) is scored for strings, two flutes and two horns. It begins with an Allegro full of trills and flourishes, and with distinct first and second subjects. The central Larghetto, in E minor, is, in effect, an eloquent and dignified concerto slow movement for flute and strings. The spirited, jaunty mood of the concluding Allegro is set off by the more serious, sometimes contrapuntal, character of the central episode in B and E minor.

Symphony in C major, Z21

1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante
3. Allegro assai

The Symphony in C, Z21 (Op. 1 No. 3) is scored for strings, two oboes, two horns and timpani. It begins with a very grand, ceremonial Allegro con brio in sonata form and with a development; the music is dominated by the rhetorical gestures of the main theme, which occasionally give way to gentler interludes (some of them with minorkey tendencies), although there is no second subject as such. The second movement, in F and for strings only, is an attractive, withdrawn, thoughtful Andante that could almost be by Haydn; and the third a vivacious Allegro assai in 3/8 and compact sonata form.

Symphony in D major ‘Diana’, Z16

1. Allegro
2. Andante arioso
3. Menuetto poco vivace
4. Finale: Presto

The Symphony in D, Z16 (one of two entitled ‘Diana’) is scored for strings, two oboes and two horns. The first movement is a festive, monothematic Allegro, in sonata form but with an unexpectedly dramatic central episode rather than a true development section. Next come a ravishing Andante arioso in A, for the strings only; a sprightly Minuet with an almost tuneless Trio (in A), in which the horns are silent, and a busy sonata-form finale.

Robin Golding (1999)