Thursday, January 05, 2017

How My Brain Works 2

It's been a while since I shared my thought processes and how it's helped me explore classical music (see 2013's How My Brain Works). And my purpose isn't to so much talk about classical music, but to offer an example of how anyone can expand their knowledge and experience by simply not taking something at face value.

In this case, it was a tweet.

In a #BeethovenaDay conversation (see: The Value of Twitter (cont.)), one of the participants shared this quote:

Hungarian critic: "Who is this Bethover? His name is not known to us. Of course, Punto is very well known."

Taken at face value, it's a very amusing quote, showing the short-sightedness of Beethoven's contemporaries. And especially those of music critics because, of course, in 2017 no one's ever heard of Punto (or so I thought).

I was curious, though. Who was this Punto, anyway? I was surprised at what I found.

Giovanni Punto (1746-1803) was born in Bohemia Jan Václav Stich. Punto changed his name when he moved to Italy. He was a virtuoso horn player and extended the possibilities of the instrument. He developed the technique of inserting the left hand into the horn to shape the sound. Hand-stopping lets the horn play notes outside the natural harmonic series, in essence making all 12 notes within an octave available.

He was well-known throughout Europe as a performer and a composer. At the time, it was common for touring virtuosos to compose music for their concerts (like Mozart's piano concertos). Virtually all of Punto's surviving music is for the horn. His catalog includes 16 horn concerti, a concerto for two horns, 47 horn trios, and 21 horn quartets.

And about that quote. It was published in the Ofener und Pester Theateraschenbuch. "On this day (May 7) an Akademie of Herr Bethover and Herr Punto... Who is this Bethover? the history of German music is not acquainted with such a name. Punto is of course very well known." The review was for a performance of Beethoven's Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17, composed for Punto. And that performance featured Punto and Beethoven performing together.

At the time, Beethoven's greatest works were still ahead of him. In 1800 he finished his first symphony. His first 10 piano sonatas were available, but his first six string quartets wouldn't be published until the following year. Punto, on the other hand, was at the height of his career, Beethoven just starting his. The critic's remarks I think were perfectly reasonable.

Thanks to this one tweet, I learned more about the history of the horn, the origin of an unusual Beethoven composition, and found a new composer to explore. Like the horn concerto below:

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