String Quartet in B flat Major, Op.16 No.1
Writing about Wranitzky's chamber music in the last part of the 19th century, the famous French critic and musicologist Fetis recalled:
“The music of Wranitzky was in fashion when it was new because of his natural melodies and brilliant style…I recall that, in my youth, his works held up very well in comparison with those of Haydn. Their premature abandonment of today has been for me a source of astonishment.”
Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808 Pavel Vranický in the Czech form) was born in the town Nová Ríše (then Neureisch) in Moravia. At age 20, like so many other Czech composers of that period, he moved to Vienna to seek out opportunities within the Austrian imperial capital. Wranitzky played a prominent role in the musical life of Vienna. He was on friendly terms and highly respected by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven who preferred him as the conductor of their new works. Wranitzky was, as so many of his contemporaries, a prolific composer. His chamber works number over 100. Although some scholars believe that Wranitzky studied with Haydn, there is no proof of this. But there can be no question that he studied and was influenced by Haydn’s quartets. Like Haydn, Wranitzky’s quartet writing went through many stages of development beginning with the pre-classical and evolving to the finished sonata form of the late Vienna Classics. The majority of Wranitzky’s quartets are set in the three-movement format of the Parisian quatour concertant. In these works he explored the emerging Romantic style with (for the time) daring harmonic progressions, theatrical gestures, and virtuoso display.
Op.16 No.1 is the first of a set of six published in 1790. It can be argued that they were in advance of the works of any other composer from this period, including Haydn, with the exception of Mozart. Of particular interest is the fine use Wranitzky makes of the cello. This is somewhat surprising since unlike his Op.23 quartets, he was not commissioned to do so by the cello-playing King of Prussia. Right from the opening bars of the peppy main theme to the Allegro Moderato, the cello is given a chance to shine. The music moves forth effortlessly, sailing along with running passage work and singing melodies. The second movement, an Adagio, is played muted. The main theme begins in stately fashion. Then, the first violin is given an aria to a very unusual accompaniment which gives the work its original feel and is the sort of writing for which Wrantizky was well-known. Then a little peasant dance is inserted when least expected. An archetypical Viennese Menuetto with lovely trio section follows. The fourth movement is simply marked Finale without any tempo marking, however, it is clearly a lively affair best played Presto. The themes are quite catchy and of the toe-tapping variety. Always one to surprise, Wranitzky suddenly interposes a short baroque style oratorio section in the middle of things. It does not last long but it adds additional flavor to an already saucy dish.
We have reprinted the original 1790 edition and obviously it does not read like a modern edition. However, we have added rehearsal letters and have cleaned up the parts, darkening certain faded areas and in so doing have created a perfectly acceptable performance edition. Out of print for at leat 150 years, we are pleased to reintroduce this work which is not only historically important but can serve as a fresh alternative to the inevitable Haydn or Mozart where a work from the classical era is desired.