1. Definition and description.
The symphonie concertante flourished from about 1770 to 1830, during the high Classical and early Romantic eras. Symphonies concertantes were primarily intended for performance in public concert halls by virtuoso soloists. Solo instrumentation varied: during the early years of the genre’s popularity, two principal violins was the most frequent, then other pairs (wind or mixed strings); later, three or four instruments became common, with steadily increasing wind participation. Unusual combinations abound, for example keyboard, four hands (Theodor von Schacht); harpsichord, violin and piano (J.-F. Tapray); piano, mandolin, trumpet and bass (Leopold Kozeluch); harp, basset horn and cello (J.G.H. Backofen); violin, solo voices, choruses and large orchestra (C. Wagner); flute, oboe, clarinet, two bassoons, horn and cello (J.C.M. Widerkehr); and two violins, two violas, two oboes, two horns and cello (J.C. Bach).
The symphonie concertante is a genre of the Classical period in style and structure, but has a character of its own. It has often been likened to the Baroque concerto grosso, but the resemblance is superficial; each calls for a solo instrumental group and an orchestra, but there the similarity ends. The symphonie concertante places the solo group at the forefront, assigning to it most of the important thematic material, and often extended cadenzas, while usually relegating the orchestra to a primarily accompanying function except during the initial statement. The number and variety of solo instruments is often greater in the symphonie concertante than in the concerto grosso and the number of tutti-solo alternations fewer; and the solo instruments are assigned more themes unrelated to the orchestral material. Further, the major mode heavily predominates: about 50% of concerti grossi are in the minor as against 0·5% of symphonies concertantes (there are only two or three known symphonies concertantes in minor keys). This extreme difference exceeds considerably the fundamental Baroque-Classical ratio; about 2·5% of Classical symphonies, for example, are in minor keys. The almost total absence of minor-key symphonies concertantes is a reflection of their special mood and function.
The symphonie concertante resembles the lighter Classical genres, such as the serenade and divertimento, in character. Melodic variety is its hallmark. Although a symphonie concertante may include a poignant Andante, the prevailing mood is usually relaxed, gracious and happy, rarely dramatic, never sombre or intense. Although similar in length and form to the symphony, which it often replaced on concert programmes, the symphonie concertante did not develop into a vehicle for the expression of intense or profound emotion. There are occasional traces in the earlier works (notably those of J.C. Bach) of the Baroque ritornello form, but the structure of the first movement is generally similar to that of the Classical concerto with its orchestral statement followed by an exposition for soloists and orchestra, though there tends to be less motivic development or bold modulation in the symphonie concertante. About half the works are in two movements, lacking a slow movement; virtually all the rest have three, and there are almost never four or five. Even the three-movement works contain nothing slower than an Andante; an Adagio is virtually unknown. The last movement in both two- and three-movement works is most often a rondo, or occasionally a theme and variations (these two forms provide maximum opportunity for solo display) or a minuet and trio.
In the period from about 1767 to 1830, some 570 works specifically entitled ‘symphonie concertante’, ‘sinfonia concertante’ or simply ‘concertante’ were written by about 210 composers. About half of these were written by some 70 French composers (including a few foreigners settled in France); the remainder were produced by about 140 composers from the rest of Europe. The French emphasis is even greater than the figures indicate. Some of the most prolific non-French composers of symphonies concertantes wrote their works in the 1770s and 80s while in Paris. Thus in the first two decades of its existence the genre was primarily a French and specifically a Parisian one, though significantly influenced by second-generation Mannheim composers. Its popularity spread fairly quickly to other large cities in western Europe, more gradually to German towns and courts. The French preferred two- rather than three-movement form by more than two to one; in other centres the three-movement form was favoured.
The significance of the term ‘symphonie concertante’ as the name for a specific genre is demonstrated by the fact that it was used about three times more frequently than titles like ‘Concerto for two [three, four etc.] instruments’ during the period cited. As is suggested below (§5), the new name became established because the genre it represented was fulfilling a specific function in a specific locale and thus needed to be differentiated from the old-fashioned concerto terminology. In 1771 Nicolas Framery urged that the ‘insipid sonata’ and the ‘overlong concerto’ should be replaced by the ‘innovation of the symphonies concertantes’, a genre ideal for the Concert Spirituel which had the most gifted virtuosos available (Journal de musique, March 1771).
The French name ‘symphonie concertante’ was used with sufficient frequency and consistency in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to warrant its being accepted as a genre in its own right rather than as a hybrid form. Attempts to replace the name with terms that were never or rarely used at the time can only create confusion. Among the terms that have been suggested are ‘Koncert-Sinfonie’, used by Scheibe (Critischer Musicus, 1745, p.629, meaning a symphony with obbligato rather than ‘filler’ wind); ‘sinfonia concertata’, used by Koch and Schilling in their music dictionaries but hardly ever found elsewhere; ‘concerted symphony’ or ‘ensemble concerto’, used by a few writers seeking to anglicize the term; teutonizations such as ‘Gruppenkonzert’ (Blume, Syntagma musicologicum, 1973, p. 694), ‘Concertantes’ or ‘Konzertierendes Quartett’ (the work attributed to Mozart, kAnh.9/297b/Anh.C.14.01, Breitkopf & Härtel edition), or even the legitimate 18th-century term ‘Concertierende Sinfonien für verschiedene Instrumente’ (used by André in Offenbach in his edition of the A major work of J.C. Bach first published by Sieber in Paris as Simphonie concertante à plusieurs instruments). ‘Symphonie concertante’ is historically as valid as the terms ‘concerto grosso’ or ‘divertimento’, about which some terminological confusion also exists; on the other hand, it would be adding anachronism to misnomer to apply the name either to Baroque works which originally bore the title ‘concerto grosso’ or ‘concerto a più stromenti’ (as has been done with compositions by Handel, G.B. Sammartini and others) or to later works for a single solo instrument and orchestra (as has been done by various 20th-century composers), or which have no fully-fledged soloists at all.
The French form of the name is clearly favoured over the Italian by both contemporary usage and historical considerations. The French name was used all over Europe (sometimes with different French spellings, such as ‘simphonie concertante’, or ‘sinfonie concertante’, a standard French form although ‘sinfonie’ is also a German spelling), infinitely more often than the Italian. Mozart, writing from Paris, preferred the French spelling, a fact obscured by current practice (e.g. Emily Anderson’s translation of his letters). He used the common French form ‘sinfonie concertante’ in five of six separate references in his letters to the work for four wind instruments (flute, oboe, bassoon and horn, k297B) written in Paris in 1778, and Leopold’s response also uses a French form, ‘synfonie concertante’ (the sixth edition of Köchel’s catalogue retains the Italian spelling for the lost autograph). There are no references in the letters to the violin and viola work, k364/320d, of which the autograph is also missing. The autograph of the fragment Anh.104/320e, written in the Italianate atmosphere of Salzburg in 1779, is headed ‘Sinfonia concertante a tre stromenti violino, viola e violoncello’.
Related terms of the time include ‘concertino’ and ‘concertone’, meaning, roughly, small and large concerto respectively. The first was quite common, being applied to the most diverse kinds of piece; the second is very rare and closely approximates to the symphonie concertante. Composers who have used ‘concertone’ include Sarti, Gherardeschi and Mozart. Other terms used by composers and publishers include: Duet concertino (P.J. Lindpaintner), Duetto concerto (Anton Stamitz), Trio concertante (G.S. Mayr), Fantasie concertante (C.H. Meyer), Divertimento concertante (Adalbert Gyrowetz), Quartet Concerto (Spohr), Concerto concertant (H.-J. Rigel) and Konzertant Konzert and Grand Concerto Concertant (Beethoven, Triple Concerto: autograph of the piano part and first edition of the instrumental parts respectively). All these special titles taken together represent a very small proportion of the works for soloists and orchestra, especially before about 1810.
Attempts at explicating the term ‘symphonie concertante’ have foundered on two counts: first, on the confusion between the adjective ‘concertante’, loosely employed in the 18th century, and the noun-complex ‘symphonie concertante’, which refers to a specific genre; and secondly, on the difference between works called ‘symphonie concertante’ and those, also with more than one solo instrument, called ‘concerto for two [three, four] instruments’.
As a substitute for the two-word grouping, the word ‘concertante’ has been used as a noun, especially in England and Germany. After 1790, Pleyel’s Sinfonie concertante à neuf instruments (Paris, 1788) was published by Preston in London as A Favorite Concertante in E flat. The Arnold edition of Handel’s works of 1787–93 used ‘Concertante’ as the title of the C major Concerto Grosso (Händel-Gesellschalt, xxi, p.63). Haydn called the work he wrote in London for solo violin, cello, oboe, bassoon and orchestra ‘Concertante’ (h I:105). A German example is Simrock’s publication (Bonn, c1795) of Josef Reicha’s Concertante pour violin et violoncelle avec toutes les parties d’orchestre, op.1. As an adjective applied to an instrument, the word ‘concertante’ cannot easily be distinguished from related and overlapping terms, such as ‘solo’, ‘obbligato’, ‘récitant’ and ‘principale’.
There seems to be little or no difference between a symphonie concertante and a concerto for two or more instruments; indeed, the terms were often interchanged. Most multiple concertos, whatever title they may have been given by their composers or publishers, were almost inevitably called ‘symphonie concertante’ by the French, even well into the 19th century (Fétis did so consistently). In Germany and England, the terms ‘concertante’ or ‘concerto’ (for two or more instruments) became increasingly prevalent. 166 works from 1767 to 1830 have been identified with such titles as ‘Concerto for two instruments’; almost all were written outside France. An analytical and historical comparison between this corpus of ‘multiple concertos’ and the 570 known ‘symphonies concertantes’ would be necessary to clarify any stylistic and national differences. Mendel and Reissmann (Conversations-Lexikon, 1870–79, vols.ii and ix) attempted to define both terms but without shedding much light on the distinctions between them (see McCredie, 1975). Mozart, however, made a distinction when he called the two works of this type that he completed in Paris in 1778 by different names: the one for four visiting Mannheim wind virtuosos, designed for public performance at the Concert Spirituel, was called ‘sinfonie Concertante’, the salon piece for the Count of Guines and his daughter, both amateurs, and intended for private performance, was referred to as a concerto for flute and harp (k299/297c). The distinction did not take hold, but it has intriguing sociological implications.
3. Early history.
The concertato principle – the opposition of contrasting and not too unequal forces – had been observed throughout the Baroque period, back to the time of its greatest practitioner, Giovanni Gabrieli. By 1750 its main vehicle, the concerto grosso, had become outmoded, and the developing Classical symphony with its different stylistic objectives could not provide the proper context for the concept; more appropriate were the lighter orchestral forms (serenade, cassation), the multiple concerto and, around 1770, the symphonie concertante.
The use of the adjectives ‘concertante’ and ‘concertata’ is common throughout this period; the specific term ‘symphonie concertante’ is not met until the late 1760s, though there is a French periodical reference to an otherwise unidentified ‘Symphonie-concert del Signor Wagenseil’ performed at the Concert Spirituel in February 1759. Haydn anticipated the symphonie concertante in his triptych ‘Le matin’, ‘Le midi’ and ‘Le soir’, Symphonies nos.6, 7 and 8 (1761), which abound in extended and difficult solo passages that detach themselves from the orchestral fabric. ‘Le soir’ is sub-titled ‘a più stromenti concertandi’. But these are symphonies with solo parts, in which the relationship of solos to tutti is flexible and unformalized, unlike that of the later true symphonie concertante. Several recent descriptions of the genre, like Blume’s – ‘the new form of the three-movement orchestral symphony that projected occasional solo sections from within itself and thus produced a cross between the symphony and the solo concerto’ (in D. Mitchell and H.C.R. Landon, ed.: The Mozart Companion, 1956, p.209) – apply in some contexts, for example to these Haydn works.
Two earlier works, published in France, the music of which is lost, may indicate a significant intermediary phase between concerto grosso and symphonie concertante. The first is a set of pieces by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705–70) advertised in the Annonces, affiches et avis divers of 17 January 1753 as Simphonies d’un goût nouveau en forme de concerto, pour les musettes, vielles, flûtes ou hautbois avec accompagnement de deux violons et basse op. 16. The second, announced in the Mercure de France of March 1757, p.182, by Papavoine (c1720-?1793), is entitled Grandes symphonies en concerto pour deux violons, alto et violoncelle obligés et deux autres violons et basse, que l’on peut supprimer. Known contemporary works by Guillemain (e.g. 6 Concertinos op.7, 1740) and Papavoine (e.g. 6 Symphonies op. 1, 1752) are conventional three-movement symphonic pieces for orchestra in early Classical style. G.B. Sammartini provided an example of an intermediary phase in his Concerto in E (London, 1756): it called for ‘two violins & two hautboys obbligato’ with two horns and strings. The lineage of this work may be traced back to Tartini (Blume: Syntagma musicologicum, 1973, p.694), but it is more Classically orientated.
In Vienna, Wagenseil and Dittersdorf (see the Breitkopf Catalogue, 1766, p.34) were among the earliest composers of pieces, called concertos, which resembled the symphonie concertante in character while not using the term itself. The two-word complex may first have been used in print in May 1767 for works published in Paris by Venier: Sei sinfonie concertanti o sia quintetti per due violini, due viole, e basso dell Sig. Misliwecek detto il Boemo, op.2. These are quintets rather than symphonies concertantes since they have no orchestral accompaniment. Similarly titled sets of works by Cannabich (op.7), announced by Venier in November 1768, and by Schiesser, published by La Chevardière in 1772, demonstrate a terminological vagueness which was soon clarified. Appearing in December 1767 and listed in the Venier catalogue as no.37 in the category Sinfonies periodiques is a ‘Sinf concertante’ by Ricci. No copy is known, but if it is one of the works in Ricci’s Trois simphonies concertantes op.9 published by Van Laack (The Hague, c1773), it may be the first published symphonie concertante in both name and fact.
Around 1770 the symphonie concertante began, with extraordinary rapidity, to enjoy enormous popularity. Its success reflected profound social changes: the advent of bourgeois audiences, public concert halls, larger orchestras. Musically, it embodied the tastes of these audiences: an increasing fascination with virtuoso display, a fondness for big sonorities, and particularly an all-pervading enthusiasm for the pleasing melodic line. Not only were large numbers of symphonies concertantes written, performed and published, some in many editions and in arrangements from other genres or popular airs, but in Paris at least this output soon exceeded that of the solo concerto and of the conventional symphony.
With a few exceptions, such as J.C. Bach, F.P. Ricci and Gaetano Brunetti, the earliest composers were Mannheimers and Parisians, and the first symphonie concertante publishers were almost all French. A perusal of French publishers’ catalogues provides striking proof of its rapid rise: the new rubric appeared suddenly and the number of listings under it increased steadily (see Johansson, 1955, facsimiles 104–17). Waldkirch’s claims for Mannheim composers’ primacy do not stand up to examination: in any case, many of the Mannheim works he referred to were composed in Paris; this is certainly true of the two symphonies concertantes of Cannabich.
Significant French symphonie concertante composers include François Devienne (7), F.J. Gossec (5), I. J. Pleyel (6), J.B. Bréval (10), the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (10), J.C.M. Widerkehr (14), J.-B. Davaux (13) and G.M. Cambini (82). Other composers of smaller output but of equal or greater talent include Isidore Bertheaume, N.-J. Chartrain and Simon Leduc. To judge by the number of performances recorded in the contemporary press and by their favourable critical reception, Davaux, though second to Cambini in output, was easily first in popularity. Of greater intrinsic merit are the works of Bréval and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, whose symphonies concertantes are among the most charming in the repertory. Cambini, an Italian who spent half a century in Paris, and a shrewd judge of popular taste, established a monthly subscription for the sale of his assembly-line production of symphonies concertantes. Mozart suspected that Cambini was responsible for the suppression of his own symphonie concertante for four wind instruments intended for the Concert Spirituel.
The most important Mannheim composers of symphonies concertantes are Cannabich (one from c1766–7, one from 1771–2, both possibly written in Paris; also the quintets referred to above), Franz Danzi (4, including one for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon in E with interesting resemblances to the work for the same combination ascribed to Mozart as kAnh.9/297b/C.14.01; see Stoltie, 1962), Anton Stamitz (4) and Carl Stamitz (over 30, second only to Cambini). Carl Stamitz’s works, written in the French manner, mainly in two movements, were issued regularly in the 1770s by French publishers. His third symphonie concertante is unusual in being in a minor key (D minor). His solo group is generally made up of two string instruments (violin and cello, violin and viola or two violins).
In London the scene is dominated by J.C. Bach. His 15 concerted symphonies (not 31, as listed by Terry), written for his own Bach-Abel concerts and for the Concert Spirituel in Paris, expansively composed, are among the finest works in the genre. Ten are in three movements, five in two. The solo group is usually made up of three or more instruments, varied in composition: e.g. oboe, violin, cello and piano (
, flute, oboe, violin and cello (C), and once a unique grouping of nine instruments: two violins, two violas, two oboes, two horns and cello (in E, with orchestra of two violins and bass). This solo group approaches the size of an orchestra, suggesting a possible relationship between Bach’s symphonies for double orchestra (op. 18) and the symphonie concertante. In the Hummel edition of the Concert ou symphonie à deux violons obligés (Amsterdam, c1775) the curious title is doubtless the publisher’s; the work was first issued by Sieber (Paris, 1773) as Simphonie concertante no. 2 à plusieurs instruments.
The Italian contribution to the genre was very limited. The number of works actually written or published in Italy is extremely small and few manuscripts are to be found in Italian libraries; Italian composers using the form mostly worked outside their homeland. The leading ones (excluding Cambini, considered with the French group) are F.P. Ricci (3), Ignazio Fiorillo (5), Prospero Cauciello (3), G.B. Viotti (2) and especially Boccherini and Brunetti (5 each). All but one of Brunetti’s, dated between 1769 and 1794, were for two ‘violons principaux’; they remained unpublished in his lifetime. Boccherini’s works were published for the most part in Paris and Lyons in the 1770s and 1780s under such headings as: Simphonie concertante à 8 instruments obligés, Serenade, Concertino a più stromenti concertanti and Grande symphonie.
Composers in Habsburg lands who produced a modest number of variously titled but significant works included the Bohemians Myslive?ek, Kozeluch, Wranitzky and Gyrowetz. The Viennese composer G.C. Wagenseil wrote seven concertos for two keyboards and small orchestra; some date from the 1760s and are among the first examples of early Classical multiple concertos. Other Austrians include Vanhal, Dittersdorf, Pichl and Hoffmeister with three or four works each. Haydn’s role in the development of the concertante principle in Classical music can hardly be over-estimated; his originality is everywhere apparent, for example in his Six divertissements à 8 parties concertantes op.31 (Vienna, 1781; h X:1–5, 12) and in more than a third of his symphonies. He wrote only a single fully-fledged symphonie concertante, his op.84 in B for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon, written in 1792 for the Salomon concerts in London (h I:105).
Mozart’s first concertante piece was written in 1773 and called Concertone, k190/186E. It is a scintillating galant work in C with solos for two violins, oboe and cello. Both Leopold Mozart and the flautist Wendling referred to it as ‘just the thing for Paris’. During his 1778 stay in Paris and in the year immediately following, Mozart was spurred to attempt no fewer than six symphonies concertantes. In addition to the one for four wind instruments k297B (see Levin, 1986), he wrote two others in E: the masterwork for violin and viola, k364/320d, and another for two pianos, k365, as well as the Concerto for flute and harp in C. Two other works of magnificent promise remain only as fragments: one in D for piano and violin, kAnh.56/315f and one in A for violin, viola and cello, kAnh.104/320e.
Germany, aside from Mannheim, presents no unified picture. Composers were dispersed in many different cities (Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, Darmstadt) and courts (Ludwigslust, Württemberg, Regensburg, Donaueschingen, Harburg), each a separate unit. Few wrote more than one or two works, and these usually bear the title ‘concerto’ rather than ‘symphonie concertante’ or ‘concertante’, terms which were not used until the late 1780s and 1790s. The numerous concertos for two keyboards (W.F. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, C.H. Graun) or two flutes (J.J. Quantz, J.F. Kleinknecht etc.) seem designed for the private salon rather than the public concert hall. In Beethoven’s generation and later, the situation changed considerably. Many large-scale virtuoso concertante pieces were written, e.g. by J.B. Moralt, G.A. Schneider, C.H. Meyer, J.J.B. Martinn, F. Westenholz, P.J. Lindpaintner, H.A. Hoffmann, Franz Weiss etc. (see McCredie, 1975). Isolated examples of the concertante genre may be found elsewhere in Europe, for example in Sweden by Bernard Crusell and in Denmark by Schall.
5. Social basis.
The symphonie concertante came into being in response to external social forces rather than to internal musical imperatives. It is only from a sociological vantage point that one can explain why, for example, the symphonie concertante came into fashion so precipitously around 1770, why it flourished so brilliantly and why it virtually burnt itself out in a few decades: the answers relate to the genre’s function in the musical life of the time, to the changing social status of the musician and to the changing natures of concert life, concert audiences and means of music dissemination.
At the onset of the high Classical era, around 1770, there was a notable expansion in public concert life and with it an increase in the dissemination of music. Instrumental virtuosity came to be more and more prized. The symphonie concertante provided a vehicle for the instrumental composer and performer to display his wares and profit from his talent.
It was no accident that the focal point for the development of the genre was Paris, which provided a hospitable climate for the composer-performer of instrumental works pleasing to the large concert-going public. The symphonie concertante was designed for this milieu. Musicians were able to improve their status and augment their income by performing their own and each other’s works, dazzling the public with melodious, scintillating and instrumentally varied pieces. These men were not for the most part travelling virtuosos but first-rate local musicians, some of whom had no aspirations to a soloist’s career. Their participation as symphonie concertante principals, however, sufficed to place their names before the public, helping them to secure additional pupils, wider sales of their printed works and better contracts with publishers. Composers who wanted to build their careers in the commercial world found that the new appeal of the symphonie concertante helped them. Similarly, extra-musical factors in the early 19th century help explain the decline of the genre. The symphonie concertante no longer had a valid function in concert life, especially after the Napoleonic wars when the cult of the individual became a guiding consideration. The glamour of the travelling virtuoso replaced the concept of ‘concerted’ action by local composers and performers working together.
6. Later developments.
The popularity of ‘symphonie concertante’ as the name of a piece declined considerably in the second and third decades of the 19th century. The word ‘concertante’ used as a noun persisted, as did the title ‘concerto for two [three etc.] instruments’. But the symphonie concertante as a genre virtually disappeared. Multiple concertos came to be called fantasy, rondo, potpourri, variation or Konzertstück as well as concerto, concertino and concertante. Such works were extremely varied in character and appeared sporadically, often as pièces d’occasion or for specific soloists. Among the most important works for several soloists and orchestra written after Beethoven’s Triple Concerto are Mendelssohn’s two youthful concertos for two pianos, Spohr’s five concertantes and one quartet concerto, Schumann’s Konzertstück for four horns, Brahms’s Double Concerto and Bruch’s concertos for clarinet and viola and for two pianos.
20th-century composers have occasionally used the term ‘symphonie concertante’ or its cognates usually more as an exotic title or for works of a symphonic rather than concerto-like character with a single solo instrument, rather than as a reincarnation of the 18th-century genre. Examples include Szymanowski’s Symphonie concertante for piano and orchestra (1932), Jongen’s Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra (1926), Enescu’s Symphonie concertante for cello and orchestra (1901), Rubbra’s Sinfonia concertante for piano and orchestra (1934) and Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto op. 125 for cello and orchestra (1950–52). A more legitimate use of the title was made by Hilding Rosenberg who wrote a Symphonie concertante for violin, viola, oboe, bassoon and orchestra (1935) and by Frank Martin with his Petite symphonie concertante for piano, harpsichord, harp and strings (1945).
MGG1 (‘Concerto grosso’, H. Engel; ‘Davaux’, A. Sorel-Nitzberg)
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Barry S. Brook and Jean Gribenski