Different Zappa, Different Time, Different Place, Same Excitement
The New Dutch Academy, under Simon Murphy, has produced Crowning Glory: Zappa Symphonies, touted as a “world première” recording despite the fact that the pieces are nearly 300 years old. The project is as much archaeological as anything. A team of musicological researchers managed to uncover a collection of compositions with the help of Murphy and the New Dutch Academy. The result is a fascinating insight into the creativity and entertainment available at court under Willem V. The excitement of the compositions mirrors that of the time, one rife with intrigue as he assisted Britian against America’s war of indepedence.
Even the savage beast of realpolitik can be soothed. In this case it was in Willem’s felicitous marriage to Wilhelmina of Prussia (who was equally passionate about music, according to the liner notes) which reinforced the couple’s potency in Europe (Frederick the Great was Wilhelmina’s uncle). Making the most of their common love of music, they adorned their court with some of the most talented and vibrant musicians and composers of the period. Amongst these recordings are works by musicians who were at court during this time, including Francesco Zappa (no relation), Kappelmeister Christian Ernst Graaf, and violin/violist Carl Stamitz.
It is Murphy and the New Dutch Academy’s, well, academic enthsuiasm which gives the listener an engaging and well-recorded set (for those wanting another SACD to play in their white elephant machine, this would be perfect). Played with authentic instruments and with a tuning ten cents flat to today’s standard, this is at best only secondary to the magic of the disc. Rather, the wonder lies somewhere in the sense of familiarity and ambitious cross-pollination amongst the symphonies represented. In the days before “intellectual property” was so carefully and litigiously codified, melodic and harmonic ideas were shared amongst composers to work further a motif, a pattern, a progression. Listen to the beginning of the “Presto” movement of Schwindl’s Symphony in D, and you hear the same six notes as the beginning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. With Graaf, however, these six notes, harmonized identically to Beethoven’s, are like a bee dancing the pollen onto his legs. Beethoven’s is the shock of being told one has three week to get one’s affairs in order. That is a potency of melodic and harmonic ideas which stretch a good half century past the refuge of the Hague. So exciting, in fact, are Zappa and Graaf’s pieces that Mozart’s Hague Symphony comes off as almost turgid in comparison.
Amongst the composers, optimism permeates their work in a way which can only reflect the new-found sense of centrality in Willem’s dealings with his princely brothers. The “Presto” movement of Graaf’s Symphony in D careens through the listener’s sensibilities, Murphy conducting the orchestra through with just enough self-discipline to keep the mainspring from escaping in disaster.
The set concludes with Carl Stamitz, whose father was widely recgognized as having developed the symphonic form, bringing a climax highly evocative of the period, and demonstrating that in the Hague, the classical apex of Haydn, Beethoven, et. al. was produced in the atmosphere of a couple who were not so seduced by the centrality of their waning monarchical influence to keep composers like Schwindl, Zappa, and Graaf in their employ. This rediscovery invigorates not only the listener, but the historian. The electricity of the politics of this time is reflected so marvellously in this collection that this reviewer was encouraged to reread an account of the Dutch stadtholder’s troubled reign, his flight to England, and the pre-revolutionary troubles soon to afflict all of the monarchy. With a brilliant recording, led by a committed conductor and researcher, such cross-disciplinary joys are possible. Would that more be forthcoming from similiarly passionate souls.