Johann Stamitz: The Periodical Overture in 8 Parts – No. III

This is the 3rd of the Periodical Overtures in 8 Parts which are being published in conjunction with Musikproduktion Höflich.

Listen here before heading over to musikproduktion höflich to obtain the score and parts.

In Periodical Overture No. 3, Bremner made his first major structural change to a pre-existing work: he completely eliminated the third movement—a minuet and trio—that had appeared in both the (earlier) Parisian and Amsterdam prints. In fact, Stamitz had been in the first wave of composers to add that dance to their symphonic works. Nevertheless, English audiences seem to have been slower than their continental counterparts to embrace the expansion of symphonies into the four-movement “sonata cycle” model, so Bremner arbitrarily trimmed Stamitz’s symphony by 25%, apparently to bring it more in line with British taste. Since Stamitz had died even before Huberty’s print appeared, Bremner would have been unable to seek the composer’s consent to the change, but since international copyright laws did not yet exist, it is doubtful that Bremner would have felt any need to obtain permission.

Bremner’s three-movement version of the symphony had a wide reach. In 1768, five years after its publication, records show that it was performed twice during concerts of the Edinburgh Musical Society (on 4 March and 15 July). It was played again the next year, on 17 February and 8 December; twice in 1770; again on 27 November 1778; thrice in 1781; two times in 1782; three times each in 1783 and in 1784; and once again in 1785.[1] Also in 1785, when the Moravians founded a community in Fairfield, England, Stamitz’s Periodical Overture No. 3 was among the works in their music library.[2] It may have been the unnumbered “Periodical Symphony” by Stamitz that closed the second act of a 1771 concert in Boston, Massachusetts, although Bremner had issued five other works by Stamitz before that point, any of which could have been the symphony in the concert listing.[3] The simple fact that Bremner rapidly published six Stamitz symphonies within the first year of his series also suggests that the initial issue had enjoyed strong sales. Moreover, a sticker on the British Library’s copy of the overture indicates that it had been sold at Welcker’s Musick Shop on Gerrard Street, St. Ann’s, in Soho.[4] It seems unlikely that a music retailer would carry a rival printer’s publication unless it was in high demand.

An interesting feature of Periodical Overture No. 3 is that it is a very early example of a cyclic symphony. All three of its movements incorporate a motif drawn from a Czech Christmas carol, “Nesem vám noviny,” sung in German as “Kommet, ihr Hirten” and adapted in English as “Bells Ringing in the Tower” and “Come, All Ye Shepherds.”[5] A repeated motif in the last phrase of the carol …  lends its contour to various moments in the overture: in the woodwinds in ms. 10, 12, 14, and elsewhere in the first movement; in ms. 24, 25, and so forth in the “Larghetto”; and in augmentation at the start of the finale (ms. 2-3 and 6-7). Moreover, Stamitz designated the first movement as a “Pastorale Presto,” thus linking his symphony to a popular Nativity custom of writing “pastorella” works for performance in the Christmas season, often in church.[6]

Stamitz structured the quadruple-meter first movement in the pattern that James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy call a “Type II Sonata.”[7] The movement begins with a conventional exposition in D major; it transitions to the dominant A major and introduces a second theme at ms. 35 and a closing theme at ms. 47. However, when the first theme, filled with soft “drum 8ths” and a series of imitative descents, reappears in ms. 66, it is also in A major. The return to the tonic key (ms. 104) coincides with the recapitulation of the closing theme. That third theme is followed by the second theme (ms. 120) as well as an additional statement of the closing theme at ms. 132. The first theme does not return in the tonic key at all, and the movement ends at a pianissimo, reflecting its unconventionally quiet opening.[8]

Although the triple-meter “Larghetto” (in the subdominant key of G major) also starts quietly, it features numerous sudden piano—forte contrasts (and vice versa), reflecting the Mannheim taste for distinctive dynamic variety. Like the opening movement, it employs a Type II sonata pattern, this time with repeated sections in a ||: 1st theme/I – 2nd theme/V :||: 1st theme/V– 2nd theme/I :|| progression.

In contrast to the quiet openings of the first two movements, the “Vivace” in D Major begins at a vigorous forte and with a unison premier coup d’archet.[9] The finale conforms to a model sonata-form in a bouncy 6/8 meter. Richard Will suggests that this lively gigue-like conclusion supports the “glorifying and praising God” that concludes the St. Luke account of the Nativity story.[10] Even without a religious connotation, Periodical Overture No. 3 presents a well-unified yet varied listening journey.

Alyson McLamore

[1] Jenny Burchell, Polite or Commercial Concerts?: Concert Management and Orchestral Repertoire in Edinburgh, Bath, Oxford, Manchester, and Newcastle, 1730–1799, Outstanding Dissertations in Music from British Universities, ed. by John Caldwell (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), 310–344 passim.

[2] Karl Kroeger, “An Unknown Collection of Eighteenth-Century Instrumental Music,” Fontes Artis Musicae 35, no. 4 (October–December 1988): 277, 280.

[3] O. G. Sonneck, Early Concert-Life in America (1731–1800) (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1907), 262.

[4] British Library, g.474.n.(3).

[5]; Eugene K. Wolf, The Symphonies of Johann Stamitz: A Study in the Formation of the Classic Style (Utrecht: Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema, 1981), 303.

[6] Richard Will, The Characteristic Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Beethoven, New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 86.

[7] James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 353–4.

[8] Wolf, The Symphonies of Johann Stamitz, 303.

[9] David D. Boyden and Peter Walls, “Coup d’archet,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 2001), Vol. 6: 579.

[10] Will, The Characteristic Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Beethoven, 90.


Coming soon…..

The Periodical Overture in 8 Parts – Number IV: Anton Filtz