Friday, May 15, 2015

Polymelos - Abbé Vogler's Collections of National Airs (1791/1806)

At the moment I am trying to make myself familiar with the work of the Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814), a composer, music educator, musicologist, organ designer and organ virtuoso - "Europas 1. Orgelspieler" (see Musikalische Korrespondenz 1790, p. 122) - , in fact a very fascinating and controversial character (see Grave 1987, a good biography; still useful: Schafhäutl 1886; also helpful: Veit 1990, Fischer 1996). It seems that many were not sure if he was a genius or a charlatan. Especially his organ concerts must have been very impressive. He travelled far and wide through Europe and everywhere his performances attracted great attention (see Grave 1987, pp. 227-237). Vogler used to play a kind of Programm-Musik, or Tonmalereien ("musical paintings") with titles like "Die Hirtenwonne, vom Donnerwetter unterbrochen" or "Die Belagerung von Jericho" (see a playlist in Musikalische Korrespondenz 1790, p. 119, see also Vredblad 1927).

But what is of particular interest for me is a "project" he started around 1790: the collection and publication of so-called national airs - the tunes, not the songs - from all kind of countries. They were published under the title Polymelos, first in 1791 and then in 1806. Besides that he used to play these pieces in his concerts and also included some of them in an instruction-book for pianists. For some reason the musicologists have not shown much interest for this part of Vogler's work. There is only one important relevant article (Leopold 1998) and otherwise it is often only mentioned in passing and more as kind of oddity. 

Of course there was already at that time a certain interest for foreign and exotic music. Also collections of national airs were beginning to appear. But what was somewhat new was the idea of comparative anthologies of these kind of "national music". In fact Vogler seems to have been amongst those - and among the first - who took Herder's ideas seriously and attempted to do for the tunes what Herder had done for the lyrics of the so-called "Volkslieder". 

Vogler's first collection - with an intriguing tracklist - was announced in the Musikalische Korrespondenz in December 1790 (p. 183) and here we can see that he had adopted Herder's terminology:
"Von Hrn. Abt Vogler wird demnächst bei [...] Bossler in Speier in 2 Theilen erscheinen: Polymelos, oder karakteristische Nationalmusiken verschiedener Völkerschaften, eine originelle und sonderbare Sammlung von Volksliedern und Tänzen für das Klavier, und noch dazu, was man von ihm gar nicht erwartet, sehr leicht eingerichtet [...]"
Some months later the first part appeared:
Polymelos ou Caractères de Musique de differentes Nations, arrangés pour le Piano-forte d'une manière trés facile à executer,.avec un accompagnement de 2 Violons, Viole et Basse ad libitum, par L'Abbé Vogler, Bossler, Speyer, n. d. [1791] (online at BLB Karlsruhe, DonMusDr 272)
The inclusion of a Swedish tune should come as no surprise as he was working in Stockholm at that time but we can also find here an Italian aria, a Russian air, a Polonaise, a Danse des Cosaques and interestingly also a Scottish tune. I am not completely sure but this must have been the first time a national air from Scotland was published in Germany:

This is of course "Birks of Invermay", the tune of a very popular song written by David Mallet. It was first printed in 1734 in the second volume of William Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius (p. 98-90) and then regularly recycled in just about every collection of Scottish music during the 18th century. I made a quick survey of all variants known to me at the moment and it seems Vogler's version looks most similar to the one published by William McGibbon in his Collection of Scots Tunes (Vol. 2, 1746, here p. 16 in a later edition, at the Internet Archive).

Vogler had spent some time in London the previous year and there he could have easily become familiar with this tune, either from a book or from a performance. He also played a "Chanson Ecossaise" in one of his concerts there (see Veit, p. 411) and it may have been this one. The visit to London must have been particularly important for Vogler's project. Apparently he learned there some more tunes for his collection, including one from China that he also first performed there (dto).

In fact in the announcement in the Musikalische Korrespondenz Vogler claimed that the Emperor of China had sent some music to London where he got this tune from the secretary of war. I am not sure if I should believe that story. But the second volume of his collection never appeared and the public had to do without the Chinese melody. They only could hear it occasionally in his organ concerts, for example in September 1790 in Ulm (see Beck 1894, at UB Heidelberg):
Zweyter Theil.
1) Flöten Concert. Allegro Andante
Statt Rondo eine Chinesische Arie, die der Kaiser von China
neuerdings nach London gesandt.
In the following years the Abbé kept on working for this project and expanded his repertoire. He even made a somewhat mysterious trip down south to Portugal and from there to North Africa (see Clausen, also Vogler 1806, p. 24) where he also noted some tunes that he then played in his concerts. Some of these pieces - a Romance Africaine and an Air Barbaresque from Morocco - as well as the Chinese melody can be found in a little collection that was part of an instruction book for the piano published in 1798:
Pieces de Clavecin faciles, doigtées, avec des Variations d'une difficulté graduelle pour servir d'exemple à l'ecole de Clavecin. Par L'Abbé Vogler, Stockholm, n. d. [1798] (at the Internet Archive; modern edition: Grave 1986; the complete Clavér-Schola - with notes about the tunes on pp. 34-49 - is available at the UB Greifswald)
Another song supposedly from Africa - "Terrassenlied der Afrikaner, wenn sie Kalk stampfen, um ihre Terrassen zu befestigen, wo immer wechselweis ein Chor ruht und singt, währen dessen der andere stampft" - was regularly performed at his organ concerts and at least one reviewer seems to have been very impressed (AMZ 3, No. 12, 17.12.1800, pp. 192-4). 

In 1806 Vogler staged a spectacular show in München (see: Königlich-Bairisches Intelligenzblatt 11, No. XII, 22.3.1806, pp. 189-90, at BSt-DS):

"Wenn die Musik eine der wichtigsten Zweige der National-Erziehung ist, so ist es eben auch sie, welche die Kräfte des National-Geistes zu erhalten und stets zu beleben vermag. Diese ehrenvollen Aufforderungen haben in Hrn. Vogler den Wunsch erzeugt, ein bairisches patriotisches Orgel-Konzert, und ein national-karakteristisches Konzert zu geben, wozu der Erfinder die Favorit-Melodien von allen Zonen gesammelt hat. Dieses Konzert Polymelos genannt wird [...] von einem Chor von mehr als 50 Sängern begleitet werden."
 With his organ and a great choir he performed on two nights and the program looked really interesting. But this concert seems to have been a flop, at least according to a review (see AMZ 8, No. 35, 28.5.1806 p. 554). But nonetheless he set out to make the tunes available in print and soon afterwards the sheet music appeared - in 16 parts:
Polymelos. Ein nazional-karakteristisches Orgel-Koncert, in zwei Theilen, zu 16 verschiedenen Original-Stücken, aufgeführt, mit Zustimmung eines Chores von 80 Sängern im evangelischen Hofbethaus zu München, den 29. und 31sten März 1806, für's Fortepiano, mit willkürlicher Begleitung einer Violine und Violonzell gesetzt, variiert, und Ihro Majestät der regierenden Königin b. Baiern zugeeignet vom Abt Vogler, Falter, München, [1806] (see Verzeichnis Falter, 1810, col. 43, Schafhäutl, No. 185, pp. 267-8)
Besides some Bavarian "Volkslieder", all written by himself, the Abbé included some of his old classics like the Chinese tune - now with a different story, he claimed to have deciphered it from missionaries' manuscripts -, the Air barbaresque, the African Romance, the Venetian Barcarole, a Swedish and a Finnish tune as well as a Scottish piece - that I haven't identified yet (see the incipit in: Denkmäler der Tonkunst 16/2, p. LIX) - and a Norwegian melody that he described as an "old air from the borders of Greenland"! He had as much fantasy as many later editors of "folksongs".  One reviewer (in: AMZ 9, No. 24, 11.3.1807, pp. 382-7) discussed every single piece and paid his respect to Vogler's work:
"Auch dem unmusikalischen Leser müssen die Nachrichten von einem musikalischen Werk interessieren, welches schon wegen seiner Originalität sich ein bleibendes Denkmal in der Geschichte der Kultur der Musik gestiftet hat" (p. 387).
Unfortunately his work was undeservedly forgotten and is rarely discussed today. Of course It should be clear that he was not yet systematically collecting and documenting the music of foreign countries and cultures (see Clausen, p. 35). He simply took what he liked and added it to his repertoire. But it was also more than simple musical exoticism. In fact he opened up this field and encouraged both his listeners and younger composers - like Carl Maria von Weber (see Leopold, p. 204; also Veit 1990, esp. pp. 232-241) - to broaden the perspective. 

Vogler's work also reflected a general interest in these kind of comparative anthologies. At around this time Welsh composer and harpist Edward Jones (1752-1824) attempted something similar. In 1804 he published his Lyric Airs. Consisting of Specimens of Greek, Albanian, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Chinese and Moorish National Songs and Melodies (available at the Internet Archive) and he claimed on the title page that it was the "first selection of this kind ever yet offered to the public". A second collection, Terpsichore's banquet, or, Select Beauties of Various National Melodies with for example Spanish, Maltese, Russian, Armenian and Hindostan melodies came out a couple of years later (c. 1813, see the tracklist in the catalog of the NYPL; see now in this blog: Edward Jones & His Collections of National Airs (1784-1821) - What Is Available Online?)

The next step would be collections of songs - including words and music - from around the world and in fact in 1818 Thomas Moore published the first volume of his Popular National Airs. Other similar publications followed soon: in England the Melodies of Various Nations (T. H. Bayly, c. 1822-30), in France 100 Chants Populaires des diverses nations du monde (by G. Fulgence, c. 1829) and in Germany Zuccalmaglio's und Baumstark's Bardale (1829), Wolff's Braga (1835) and Silcher's Ausländische Volksmelodien (1835-1841). At least the latter may have been familiar with Vogler's work (see Bopp, p. 101) and used two tunes that can also be found in his collections.

  • Paul Beck, Abbé Vogler in Ulm (dessen Orgelkonzert im Münster) – eine Säkularerinnerung, in: Diöcesan-Archiv von Schwaben 12, 1894, Heft 18, p. 72 (at UB Heidelberg)
  • August Bopp, Friedrich Silcher, Stuttgart 1916
  • Bernd Clausen, Warum reisen unsere musikalischen Gesetzgeber nicht in fremde Länder? Das Voglersche Choral-System und sein biografisches Umfeld, in: Bernd Clausen & Robert Lang (ed.), Abt Voglers Choralsystem, Hildesheim, Zürich & New York, 2004, pp. 31-58
  • Denkmäler Deutscher Tonkunst. Zweite Folge. Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Bayern 16. Mannheimer Kammermusik des 18. Jahrhunderts, 2. Teil, eingel. und hg. v. Hugo Riemann, Leipzig 1915 (at BStB-DS)
  • Georg-Helmut Fischer, Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler : ein "barockes" Musikgenie, in: Musik in Bayern. Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Bayerische Musikgeschichte 52, 1996, pp. 25 - 54
  • Floyd K. Grave & Margaret K. Grave, In Praise of Harmony. The Teachings of Abbé Georg Joseph Vogler, Lincoln, 1987
  • Floyd K. Grave (ed.), Georg Joseph Vogler. Pièces de Clavecin (1798) and Zwei und dreisig Präludien (1806), Madison, 1986 (= Recent Researches in the Music of the classical Era XXIV)
  • Silke Leopold, Grönland in Mannheim. Abbé Voglers Polymelos und die Idee der "nazional-karakteristischen" Musik, in: Kreutziger-Herr, Annette (Hrsg.), Das Andere. Eine Spurensuche in der Musikgeschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts (= Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft. Bd. 15), Frankfurt/M., 1998, pp. 203-224
  • Musikalische Korrespondenz der teutschen Filarmonischen Gesellschaft für das Jahr 1790. Julius bis Dezember, Speyer, n. d. [1790] (at Google Books & The Internet Archive)
  • Karl Emil von Schafhäutl, Abt Georg Joseph Vogler. Sein Leben, Charakter und musikalisches System. Seine Werke, seine Schule, Bildnisse &c., Augsburg, 1888 (also as a reprint: Hildesheim & New York, 1979)
  • Joachim Veit, Der junge Carl Maria von Weber. Untersuchungen zum Einfluß Franz Danzis und Abbé Georg Joseph Voglers, Mainz 1990 (online at Universität Paderborn, Digitale Sammlungen, urn:nbn:de:hbz:466:2-6908 )
  • Georg Joseph Vogler, Über die harmonische Akustik (Tonlehre) und ihren Einfluß auf alle musikalischen Bildungsanstalten. Rede gehalten in Verbindung mit den öffentlichen Vorlesungen im Saale der deutschen Schulanstalt in München vom wirklichen und ordentlichen Mitgliede der Königl. bairischen Akademie der Wissenschaften A. Vogler den 1. Juni 1806, Johann André, Offenbach, n. d. [1806] (at Google Books & the Internet Archive)
  • Patrick Vretblad, Abbé Vogler som Programmusiker, in: Svensk Tidskrift for Musikforskning 9, 1927, pp. 79-98

 [23.11.2016] See now (with some additions and corrections):

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