Caprice: A kind of free music, in which the composer, without subjecting himself to any theme, gives loose rein to his genius, and submits himself to the fire of composition.
'Playing these pieces on a modern instrument is difficult enough. Hearing them performed with this much panache on an unvalved horn built in 1823 is astonishing. Anneke Scott’s playing is bold and dramatic, Gallay’s theatrical background reflected in the music’s swagger.'
The Arts Desk
CD and download available from www.resonusclassics.com
Concerts Cachés, Préludes, Caprices, Fantasies.
During the eighteenth century the horn evolved from a simple hunting instrument sounding signals redolent of the sports field to become an integral member of the orchestra and a versatile solo and chamber instrument. When composers such as Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi began to incorporate the horn into their compositions, the instrument was restricted to the notes of the harmonic series; this led composers to exploit the highest regions of the instrument’s range, where there was a greater possibility of fashioning melodies. As the century progressed a technique known as hand technique was developed, whereby the performer modifies the notes of the harmonic series by movements of the hand inside the bell of the instrument – this made a larger range of notes and colours available to performers and composers.
While the advent of the valve in the early nineteenth century was readily embraced by some, France remained a bastion of hand technique and boasted a number of virtuosi on the instrument, including Jacques-François Gallay. Gallay was born in Perpignan in 1795. His earliest musical training was with a local musician, Artus, with whom the ten year old Gallay studied solfège. Two years later he began to learn the horn with his father, an amateur horn player; his early progress is thought to have been due more to the student’s disposition than to the teacher’s talent. Gallay first came to public attention when, at the precocious age of fourteen, he stepped into the shoes of the indisposed cor solo (principal horn) of the local theatre orchestra. This was all the more remarkable as the work in question was Devienne’s Les Visitandines, which contains a demanding obligato horn solo in the aria ‘O toi dont ma mémoire’.
For a time Perpignan offered Gallay sufficient musical opportunities both as a horn player and as a composer, but eventually, encouraged by visiting musical dignitaries, Gallay made the decision to travel to Paris with a view to enrolling at the Conservatoire. From its early days the Paris Conservatoire placed the training of wind and brass students at the centre of its curriculum, thereby attracting several important teachers. The calibre of hand-horn players in France helped to prevent the new valve-horn gaining acceptance during the nineteenth century, and led instead to the development of a hand technique that pushed the instrument almost to its limits. Gallay was to epitomise this level of musicality and virtuosity. His career was however almost thwarted from the start as, despite being accepted as a student by Louis Dauprat, horn professor of the conservatoire, Gallay, now aged twenty-four, was technically too old to enrol. But dispensation was eventually granted and Gallay was accepted on both the horn and the composition courses.
Upon graduation Gallay quickly established himself in the Parisian musical scene. He initially joined the orchestra of the Odéon, but this position was soon superseded by his appointment as cor solo of the Théâtre-Italien, a position that would bring him into contact with a number of important musicians such as Giovanni Rossini, to whom Gallay dedicated his Op. 26 Grand Quatuor. Rossini repaid the honour by dedicating his Introduction, Andante et Allegro to Gallay. Whilst this was not the only position Gallay was to hold – he was a member of the Société des Concerts au Conservatoire, the Chapelle Royale, the Musique de Roi, the Cercle Musicale (also known as the Société Musical) and a professor at the Paris Conservatoire – this was a role that greatly influenced his compositions, which are highly dramatic works, redolent of Italian Grand Opera. In recognition of the high regard in which he was held, Gallay was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur.
In accounts of Parisian musical life we often see Gallay identified as one of the leading performers of the time. An 1832 review commented:
M. Gallay, M. Tulou, M. Labarre, here are three names who provide the idea of perfection for their three instruments. Each of these artists seem to be born for his instrument: I cannot conceive of the harp without M. Labarre, the horn without M. Gallay, or the flute without M. Tulou.
Anonymous, Revue Musicale, 28 January 1832
In 1845 Berlioz despaired at the standard of wind playing in the orchestra formed for the Beethoven anniversary celebrations in Vienna, asking why they could not have asked a musician of Gallay’s calibre for the role of principal horn.
It is in these contemporary commentaries that we learn how different the concert life of this time was to that of our own. Solo instrumentalists were by default composers as well and charged with creating much of their own repertoire. This was especially the case with wind and brass instrumentalists who saw rapid development of their instruments during the century. This made them best placed to understand the risks and the potential of emerging designs and techniques. Solo performances often took place in private soirées and salons in which spontaneity was encouraged.
An essential skill for instrumentalists was the ability to improvise, to extemporise on popular themes of the day and to prelude before and between works. The art of preluding was widely discussed in treatises of the day. This practice had several roles. Primarily it signalled to the audience that the performance was beginning, either by a commanding, acrobatic prelude that demanded their attention, or by something more surreptitious, that slowly attracted the audience’s ear and seamlessly segued into the main work. It also gave the performer the opportunity to gauge the acoustic of the room, the responsiveness and tuning of his or her instrument, and, importantly, the chance to impress the assembled company with his or her powers of improvisation.
Many performers resented the pressure put on them by audiences to improvise, often on suggested themes. Mendelssohn found it deeply unpleasant and after a performance in Munich was:
annoyed, for I was far from being satisfied with myself, and I am resolved never to do it in public again – it is both an abuse and an absurdity. Felix Mendelssohn in a letter to his father, 18 October 1831.
Gallay, as principal horn of the Théâtre Italien, would have found himself performing many of the most popular works of the time. The vogue for Italian grand opera created an audience with a thirst for the well known themes from these works. Berlioz, though an admirer of Gallay, found this craze tiresome:
M. Gallay came next to play to us a pot- pourri on themes by Bellini, for solo horn. The talent of this virtuoso has been known and appreciated for a long time; the opinion of artists and amateurs is unanimous on this subject. Excellent embouchure, surety of intonation, accuracy, purity of sound, good taste in ornaments, he has all that constitutes a horn player of the first order. We would have liked much more, however, to hear him in a piece genuinely composed for him, rather than this collection of cavatines, the principal fault of which is being unavoidable at the present time. Singers and instrumentalists of all kinds, live only on the themes of Bellini. In the salons, at concerts great and small, and even in the streets, thanks to military bands, one hears only the duo from I Puritani, or the cavatine from La Straniera; despite all this, the horn solo by M. Gallay was no less vigorously applauded and this was only fair... Hector Berlioz, La Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, 14th of February, 1836
The title of Douze Grands Caprices (1838) inevitably brings to mind the 24 Capricci of Paganini. The Italian virtuoso had visited Paris in 1831 and in 1832 both Paganini and Gallay are pictured together in a group portrait by Lemercier of the leading musicians in Paris. During the nineteenth century many composer-musicians, including the pianists Herz and Thalburg, the violinists Rode, Kreutzer, David and Gasse), the cellists Franchomme and Piatti, the flautist Seydler, the oboist Braun, and the bassoonist Ozi, published collections of caprices. Caprices are in effect extended preludes; often written on a grander scale, they are more developed compositions offering greater expressive breadth and a higher level of virtuosity. The Gallay compositions impose many technical demands on the performer and, like the Paganini works, appear not to have been performed as a complete set. However, the expressive range of the pieces, from the contemplative onzième and the acrobatic dixième to the heroic deuxième, gives the impression of a larger work full of possibilities. Moreover, Gallay does not specify the key, or crook, of the instrument; this offers further interpretative possibilities for the performer, who can exploit the various colours of the different crooks and marry them to the atmosphere of each individual Caprice while creating a harmonic framework that gives structure to the complete set. In this recording a selection of Gallay’s 1835 Quarante préludes mesurés et nonmesurés have been used to set the scene for each Caprice, and each Caprice is in turn is followed by one of the more melodic Fantaisies dating from the early 1850s.
After Gallay’s death in 1864 his daughter donated one of his instruments, a Lucien-Joseph Raoux cor-solo built in 1821 to the Paris Conservatoire (the term ‘cor-solo’ in this context refers to a design of hand-horn which used only internal crooks in the solo keys of D, E flat, E, F and G; the cor d’orchestre had a full set of terminal crooks, better designed for orchestral performance). This instrument may well have been Gallay’s prize when Gallay was awarded the Paris Conservatoire’s premier prix in 1821 and it is now housed in the Cité de la Musique, Paris. The Raoux family were the leading makers of horns in France for many years and their surviving instruments are now housed in many important museums. Lucien-Joseph’s son, Marcel-Auguste, took on the family business alongside his work as a horn player, he was second horn to Gallay in the Théâtre-Italien and eventually replaced Gallay on his retirement. I am greatly indebted to the Bate Collection, Oxford who kindly loaned to me their 1823 Marcel-Auguste Raoux cor solo for this recording.
The creation of this programme is thanks to the Gerard Finzi Trust who, in 2010, awarded Anneke Scott a scholarship which funded research in preparation for her recording of these works.