Monday 18 December 2017

A truly great composer . . . whatever his name was

'What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," says Shakespeare's Juliet. Well, not, it would appear, if you were an 18th-century German trying to make your way in the world of music.

Anton Rösler was one such. In an act of floral extravagance, he retitled himself Antonio Rosetti. He was a direct contemporary of Mozart, another who preferred a swankier version of a teutonic moniker. Mozart called himself Amadé, the French version of Gottlieb, one of his middle names, which is where the familiar 'Wolfgang Amadeus' comes from.

Unfortunately, Rosetti wasn't a great choice, for it's a common enough Italian surname, and the German musician was forever getting confused with other people.

His career began as a double bass player. He got a job with a small orchestra in one of the big houses, the seat of a south German prince, and it was while he was there he started writing music. When the princess died suddenly, Rosetti composed the Requiem.

Later, in Paris, his material found a wider audience, and he was to become a most prolific composer, with around 50 symphonies to his name, as well as piano works, chamber music, and concertos for a whole variety of instruments, mostly wind, which reflected the quality of that section of the orchestra back in Germany.

It's a quirk of musical fashion that Rosetti isn't better known today, for in his time he was as highly thought of as Mozart himself, and the other towering presence of those years, Franz Joseph Haydn. The parallels with Haydn can be found in Rosetti's symphonies. It's been suggested, too, that it was his concertos for horn that were the model for the four that Mozart wrote for the instrument.

When Mozart died in 1791, it was the Requiem that Rosetti had written on the death of his employer's wife some 15 years before that was played at the composer's memorial service in Prague Cathedral. The church held 4,000 and huge crowds gathered outside too to hear the music, a measure of the stature of both men. The first complete recording of this little-heard masterpiece -- Rosetti: Ein Requiem für Mozart -- was released this month by ARS Produktion (ARS38095).

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning.

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