by Emily Worthington
A chance discovery
Boxwood & Brass’s Tausch odyssey started innocently enough, with a concert in September 2015 at the lovely St Peter’s Church in Streatham where we were ensemble-in-residence. We were fielding a slightly smaller team than normal, and needed to find repertoire for 2 clarinets, horn and bassoon. A bit of research led us to a Kunzelmann edition of ‘5 Stücke’ by Franz Tausch, which we duly included in the concert (you can read Andrew Benson-Wilson’s review here).
We play a lot of obscure c.1800 wind chamber music, and we immediately recognised that these pieces were something out of the ordinary. You can hear how high-quality the composition is by listening to the CD samples here. The pieces are intricate, harmonically rich, sophisticated in texture and form, and very satisfying to play. Which begged the question: who was the composer, why wasn’t he better known, and what else had he written?
A neglected figure
So began Project Tausch. For Robert, our librarian, editor and all-round repertoire specialist, this meant obtaining an original source for the complete set of 13 Pièces en Quatuor from the library Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland, and making a performing edition. To our excitement, the movements excluded from the Kunzelmann edition were just as good as the five we'd played.
It tunrs out that very few of Tausch’s compositions exist either in modern prints or recordings: the exceptions are the Duos Op. 21 for Clarinet and bassoon (one of which was recorded by Dieter Klocker) and some of the concertos (recorded by Thea Kind and Nick Bucknall, and by Karl Schlechta). The duos and a solo concerto were published by Musica Rara. Over the last year, we’ve tracked down early-19th-century prints of a number of other works for wind, and wind-with-strings: I’ve recently given the probable modern premiere of Tausch’s Quartet in Bb, and hopefully we’ll be playing more pieces in the coming months and years!
For me as (one of) the ensemble’s resident musicologists, there was research to be done too. I’m working on filling some gaps in Tausch’s biography, and the construction of a comprehensive work list. I was aware of Tausch as a leading clarinettist and teacher of Heinrich Baermann and Bernhard Henrik Crusell, but not much more: over the past year or so, I’ve been using a variety of primary sources to build a fuller picture of Tausch’s life, trying to go beyond the very limited existing scholarship.
The bare bones of Tausch’s biography are collected in Gerber’s Neues historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler of 1814, in an article that Gerber claims is based on first-hand information. Tausch’s father Jacob was a clarinettist in the Mannheim court orchestra, one of the most important musical centres of 18th-century Europe. Young Franz was a prodigy, performing at court at 8, and becoming a full member of the orchestra at 14.
The family travelled with the court to Munich in 1778, and from there Franz toured to Vienna and the Rhineland - though not Paris, as is sometimes said. The ‘Konzerts in der Stadt Paris’ that Gerber refers to took place at a Gasthof on Berlin’s Brüderstraße called Der Stadt Paris, which was used as a concert venue. Finally, in 1789 Franz Tausch was invited to Berlin to serve first in the orchestra of Dowager Queen Elizabeth, widow of Frederick the Great; and later in the Hofkapelle of her nephew, the Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm II. Tausch spent the rest of his life in Berlin, living a typical musician’s life as a player, teacher, occasional concert impresario and composer. We can see his high status by the fact that in 1812, his apartment was in a grand palace on Wilhelmstraße.
Concerts for friends and musical connoisseurs
There are many fascinating elements to Tausch’s biography and and his importance to Berlin musical life is still revealing itself. I’ll write a little more about his teaching and playing activities on another occasion, but when reading the Gerber article, one detail leaped out at me:
“In 1799, he held a so-called quartet every week at his home among friends and musical connoisseurs [ein sogenanntes Quartett unter Freunden und Musikkennern], but which was subsequently expanded into a fortnightly grand concert, to be given at the expense of both the players and the audience – the latter being required to be themselves thoroughly musical, and only to be admitted in restricted numbers.”
Tausch’s gatherings for ‘Freunden und Musikennern’ are characteristic of Berlin musical culture at this time: the phrase is reminiscent of C.P.E. Bach’s Sonatas für Kenner und Liebhaber published between 1779–1787, and there were several established concert series with similar titles, all reflecting the culture of the Enlightenment intellectual salon that brought professional musicians and knowledgeable amateur music-lovers together.
Music history hasn’t been so quick to associate wind players with such intellectual pursuits, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Tausch shared his contemporaries’ cultural ambitions. In fact, I think there’s an argument that his the 13 Pièces en Quatuor were composed for his own concerts for ‘Freunden und Musikkennern’. Though they were published later, in 1812, it is quite possible that the pièces were written over the 1790s and early 1800s. This would also explain why the two suites have no overall form, while the rich complexity of the music seems to fit the notion of intimate, concentrated listening.
This idea was the basis of the title for our CD: Music for a Prussian Salon. We like to think that this music offers a glimpse into a culture best encapsulated by Carl Friedrich Zelter in his description of the Berlin Singakademie, another institution that originated at this time: