C.E.F. Weyse – A Danish Treasure Rediscovered

The premise of “Gamut” is that the program is a continual survey of the rich repertoire of classical music. By never repeating a work, I’m forced to continually seek out both lesser-known works by famous composers and lesser-known composers of merit.

This lead me recently to Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse (1774-1842), a Danish composer I had never heard of before. Given his life story, that’s not surprising. But I was pleasantly surprised by his music, and for the next two months, I’ll be airing works by this interesting figure.

Weyse was born in Altona, originally part of Denmark, but now in Germany. At the age of 15 he moved to Copenhagen to with prominent Danish composer J.A.P. Schultz and remained in the city for the rest of his life.

Weyse was deeply influenced by the music of Mozart and Haydn and was inspired in the 1790s to compose seven symphonies in the then-prevalent early classical style of his heroes. It was to remain his musical language throughout his career.

The New Groves Dictionary calls his symphonies “not of real importance as independent concert works.” Ouch. I disagree — which is why we’ll be airing all seven symphonies over the course of the next seven weeks, so you can judge for yourself.

Weyse made his mark in the realm of vocal music, particularly operas (mostly singspiel), cantatas, and smaller choral and songs for solo voice. He was also an excellent pianist, and his compositions for that instrument are quite fine, if somewhat conservative by nature.

Below is a sample from his Easter Cantata. As you can hear, the choral writing is on par with that of Haydn or Mozart. The work was completed in 1821. At the time it might have sounded old-fashioned. Today? Not so much.

As his fame grew (at least within Denmark), Wesye became the center of musical activity in Copenhagen. But he was also recognized outside his native country as well. Carl Maria von Weber, Ignaz Molchese, and Franz Liszt all paid visits to Wesye, considering him a colleague of equal standing.

This leads us back to “Gamut.” Although Weyse is an unfamiliar figure outside of Denmark, he was respected by the major composers of his day. And if Franz Liszt thinks you’re a pretty good pianist, well, that has to mean something!

We’ll be airing a good sampling of Weyse’s music, and you can judge for yourself. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard — I hope you will be, too.

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