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Götz, Grand Harmonie, and the Viola d’Amore


Celebrating his recent discovery in the Czech Musical Instrument Museum in Prague, soloist and historian Paul Miller will join Maureen Murchie in the world premiere of a concerto for two violas d’amore by Franz Götz (1755–1815). Also including a pair of galant pieces from brothers Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach, this program explores the concerto at the end of the Holy Roman Empire with soloists Leon Schelhase, harpsichord, and Grand Harmonie’s own Sarah Paysnick, flute, at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge on Friday. More HERE. Miller asks us to:

Imagine playing your compositions for Mozart and Salieri, two of the greatest composers of their day, and hearing them enthusiastically commend you for your excellent musicianship.

Now regret that your best works somehow got lost for 100 years after you died. Then, what if your manuscripts spent another hundred years sitting in a library before anybody attempted to play them publicly? Have a listen [HERE] to Götz’s Galanterie No. 26, which is similar in style to the 2nd movement of the new concerto .

Such was the unlucky fortune of the Moravian composer Franz Götz (1755 — 1815), Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Olomouc in the present-day Czech Republic. Götz spent most of his time in Kromeriz, a small town about 45 minutes south of the city of Olomouc. Here, the Archbishop had a beautiful residence, school, and an enormous garden which was featured in the movie “Amadeus”.

Götz’s ecclesiastical compositions are run-of-the-mill, but his viola d’amore music sparkles and shines, showing an uncanny understanding not only of the idiomatic possibilities of the instrument, but also a mastery of the cosmopolitan style of Haydn and Mozart. The viola d’amore is an instrument that usually has seven playing strings and seven resonating, or sympathetic strings. The resonating strings are not played with the bow, and simply vibrate along with the playing strings. Held on the shoulder like a violin, the instrument has the range of a violin and a viola together. It is tuned in an unusual way, somewhat like a guitar. Its tone is quiet and but rich with harmonics and overtones.

A few scholars have known Götz’s concerto for two violas d’amore and orchestra since it was given to the Czech National Library in 1913, but nobody has yet tried to play it or even to make a modern score from the manuscripts. Carefully and clearly written out, its orchestral parts are in pristine condition and might never have been used.

The concerto could have been neglected because it is written in a difficult notation that resembles more of a guitar tablature than a regular musical part. Also, the viola d’amore is notorious for presenting difficult technical problems. It does, after all, have seven playing strings — and Götz used them all.

Relatively straightforward compared to Mozart’s late piano concertos or Beethoven’s stormy pieces, Götz’s concerto is written in a clear, logical manner. The first movement is a lengthy sonata-form piece on a grand scale, with a few unusual harmonic twists. The second movement is slow, but quite short. The finale is a theme and variations on a simple Czech tune that almost sounds like a nursery rhyme. Mozart was not beneath using such simple themes in his music — his piano variations “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” K. 265 is best known as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.

What is extremely unusual about Götz’s concerto is the use of harmonics, or flageolet tones. The entire second movement consists exclusively of these shimmering, high-pitched notes for the two violas d’amore. There are no other concertos from the time that make such extensive use of harmonics for stringed instruments. The unusual tuning of the violas d’amore make such lengthy passages possible, even though they are still quite difficult to execute.

Soloists Paul Miller and Maureen Murchie have collaborated  before on projects involving two violas d’amore. First heard together performing the famous viola d’amore arias in J. S. Bach’s “St. John Passion,” they recently organized a concert which featured all five arias for viola d’amore by J. S. Bach, along with other works by Heinichen and Telemann for the instruments. As longtime veterans of the instrument, the virtuoso writing and extensive harmonic passages took them aback at first, but after working carefully through the score it became more clear that the work was not as technically unapproachable as it first seemed.                                        -Paul Miller

Period-instrument-musician-collective Grand Harmonie can appear in many guises. One of the ensembles triumphs came in its performance of Mozart’s Grand Partita.

This Just In: A World Premiere from Prague

Friday, November 3, 2017, 7:30pm 9:30pm
Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church
838 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge

CPE Bach: Flute Concerto in A Major, Wq 168
JC Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in F Minor
F Götz: Concerto for 2 violas d’amore in A Major


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  1. The place at that time was called Oelmutz or Olmuetz, as in Humiliation of O. There has unfortunately been lately an annoying trend to use non-German names for towns in the Austrian Empire when that wasn’t done 50 years ago; I suspect anti-German animus is at work. Similarly for part of his career Gustav Mahler was at Pressburg and was often reviewed in the Pressburger Zeitung newspaper and it is misleading to refer to the city as Bratislava; Mahler and much of the world knew it as Pressburg. (Persons interested in the Humiliation of Olmuetz should do their own research. No, it has nothing to do with BDSM.) My mother’s mother, born a subject of Franz Josef but of Slavic extraction, always used the German names.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — November 2, 2017 at 10:16 pm

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