Ferdinand Ries, Piano Concerto No.5 in D. op.120

Update: I’ve had an idle few evenings, and have spent them listening to the various items on the hard disk of my notebook computer. I wholly agree with what I said three years ago about Ferdinand Ries. His PC in D op 120 is both grand and lyrical. I now know a great deal more than I did about the contemporaries of LvB, and am glad of my greater knowledge. SIG

PS – The YouTube video to which I linked has been removed. Here instead is a sample. Worth buying, I suggest.

Until recently, one of the shortcomings of the market in recorded music was that a buyer could be led into believing that the great composers were the only composers of their age. Of course, Beethoven wasn’t the only composer in Vienna during the first twenty years of the nineteenth symphony. He was the head of one school among several, and his own students were often men of reputation. Until recently, though, men like Ferdinand Ries were often just names. This is a pity. He’s no Beethoven, but his works are generally graceful and well-constructed. Here is the first movement of his Piano Concerto No.5 in D, op.120.

13 thoughts on “Ferdinand Ries, Piano Concerto No.5 in D. op.120

  1. I should be revising a book I finished yesterday morning, but have instead listened to this half a dozen times. I think “graceful and well-constructed” is an understatement. It could almost have been written by the Master himself.

    • “Beethovenian pastiche. Why listen to Ries, when the master wrote so much fine music which was entirely original?”

      Because Ries is rather good in himself, and because it helps to appreciate the full extent of LvB’s genius to hear what others could do in his style.

  2. Poor Ries. It was his tragedy to be overshadowed by Beethoven, but I do not think it is fair to describe his music as mere pastiche. To simplify things, there were two divergent schools of composition which can be traced back to the ‘galant’ melodic style of J.C. Bach vs the harmonic compositional style of C.P.E. Bach. The most famous exponent of the J. C. Bach school is of course the vastly over-rated tunesmith W.A.Mozart, whereas the tradition of C.P.E.Bach leads directly to Josef Haydn and from there (although he would never have admitted it) to Beethoven himself. In essence, the ‘galant’ J.C. school wrote melodic music (‘tunes’), whereas the C.P.E. school constructed magnificent musical structures from fragments which in themselves are meaningless. Haydn built an entire string quartet from nothing more than a semi-tonal interval (can’t remember which quartet off the top of my head). And of course there is the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth, constructed entirely from the two notes with which it opens. Incidentally, the opening two notes are tonally entirely ambiguous. Having heard the piece, we all know it is a C minor chord (in first inversion), but on first hearing it is certainly more likely to sound like Eb major in root position, until the next two notes shatter that illusion. That is where the real skill lies. With Beethoven every note is hewn out of solid rock, whereas Mozart is reputed to have said he could write tunes as easily as other men piss.
    Going back to Ries, he is one of dozens, hundreds perhaps, of little-known composers who wrote extremely good music, and are to be found today lurking in the depths of internet radio. Just off the top of my head in approximate chronological order; Arriaga (the ‘Spanish Mozart’, who died before his 21st birthday), Franz Berwald, Joachim Raff, (who was so poor that when he was locked up in a debtors prison he said it represented an improvement in his living conditons, and who once walked through a rainstorm to hear Liszt play, only to find the concert sold out. Liszt kindly allowed him on stage where he sat amid a growing puddle of water); Friedrich Gernsheim, friend of Brahms and Bruckner, Hans Rott, friend of Mahler but definitely not of Brahms. He was committed to an asylum after holding a pistol to the head of a fellow passenger on a train, claiming (falsely, one presumes) that Brahms had packed the train with explosives in order to kill him. Then there is the Swede Kurt Atterberg who wrote nine wonderful symphonies and who shares my birthday. Finally, unfashionable rather than unknown, there is the most under-rated composer of all time, Anton Bruckner ‘half simpleton, half God’ as Mahler described him. There must be many more whom I cannot recall right now, and that’s before we even start on the Russians; Myaskovsky, Kallinikov, Anton Rubinstein, Alfred Schnittke (my wife once phoned him up & spoke to his wife!) the list goes on and on. And we must not forget Alexander Scriabin, whose music I do not really understand, but who had a magnificent vision of a work entitled ‘Mysterium’ which would embrace all of the senses, sight, hearing, smell and God knows what else, and which was to be performed at the foothills to the Himalayas and which would bring about a kind of spiritual Armageddon and usher in a New Age for mankind. The performance called for a ‘colour organ’ (which he actually built), and for a stone temple with a sliding roof which would reveal, and this is probably where the construction team got cold feet, ‘bells suspended from clouds’. Unfortunately poor Mr Scriabin cut himself shaving and died of blood poisoning so it never happened. One day, perhaps?

    • Interesting post, tracing everything back to the Bach Family. Re WAM – he was good at tunes, of course, but was also a great architect – look at his development sections. Or look at PC in B flat major, K . 595.

      It’s *so* early c20, to put WAM behind LvB, rather than treat them as co-ordinate masters.

  3. I am not interested in passing fashions. True, Mozart was a ‘master’ at effortlessly plucking tunes out of the air, but Beethoven put a super-human effort into every note of his music – not least because of his deafness of course. You won’t find much in the way of melody in Beethoven compared to Mozart – which is why I describe Mozart as a tunesmith. Beethoven’s music tends to be constructed from simple scales and arpeggios and other fragments, from which he conjures works of genius. You can compare Beethoven with Haydn if you like, but not with Mozart. And of course Beethoven was so much more than just a composer – his spirit will yet avenge the EU for nicking his music for their ‘anthem’. As a point of technical interest, that melody is almost unique in that it consists entirely of stepwise movements i.e. all adjacent notes with no ‘leaps’. Going off at a slight tangent, there is a wonderful arrangement of ‘that tune’ for banjo etc featured in the brilliant Cohen brothers’ ‘Raising Arizona’. I’m sure Beethoven would have loved it.

  4. And then there’s Fanny Mendelsohn, Clara Schuman, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Josef Suk and Alan Hovhaness, both of whose music I adore. Incidentally, the original ‘split’ between the two schools can, I think, be defined as whether you believe harmony exists to underpin melody, or that melody is just one facet of the underlying harmony. I am really getting into this even though I seem to be talking to myself!

  5. Sean who on earth would make a “third-party notification of copyright infringement” to Youtube? It seems some ordinary listeners to Youtube take great glee in getting things taken down from the site. It’s time the whole copyright scam were seriously reined in.

    • On the other hand, it must be annoying for Naxos to spend a fortune on getting an orchestra to learn and perform a work, and then see the result splashed for free all over YouTube. I think copyright would be more defensible if we went back to the 1956 Act. Patents would also be more defensible if they were cut back to seven years, and there were a stiff test of reasonableness in registering them.

      • It might annoy Naxos – but then they need to get a different business model. CDs cost pennies to produce and the price is often over £20. Companies like Naxos deserve everything they get in terms of lost revenue.

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