Meet Mr Koželuh

Today Mr Koželuh's home town, Velvary, boasts a population of about 3,000 people -- and some lovely Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The town is located about 25 km from Prague.

Today Mr Koželuh’s home town, Velvary, boasts a population of about 3,000 people — and some lovely Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The town is located about 25 km from Prague.

He was another of many Czech composers highly respected throughout Europe – and whom almost no one has heard of today. But you can hear Leopold Koželuh’s music live in a rare September concert.

Leopold Koželuh (1747-1818) was such an accomplished musician that he was able to turn down the job Mozart had held, court organist to the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg. In 1792 Koželuh took a better job, as Imperial Chamber Conductor and Court Composer.

Not bad for a shoemaker’s son from Velvary. Nor for someone who had to change his original name (Jan) to Leopold, to avoid confusion with his better-known cousin Jan Antonín Koželuh, also a musician. (Also virtually unknown today.)

One of Leopold Koželuh’s most interesting abilities was straddling the ″popular″ and serious music of his day. From 1771 to 1778 he provided Prague theatres with popular ballets and pantomimes, and enjoyed enough success to turn away from his law studies.

Leopold Kozeluh

“The other” Koželuh musician, Leopold

But by the time his career ended he had produced more than 400 serious works – among them about 30 symphonies, two oratorios, nine cantatas, dozens of piano concertos, violin sonatas, and piano trios, and six operas – intriguingly, five now lost. And back in the ″pop″ vein, he also made many successful arrangements of Scottish, English, and Welsh songs for the common folk.

So why did this prolific and successful composer, pianist, and teacher of leading royalty of the day fall into dusty obscurity?

The answer may be hinted at in a 1789 review by Dr. Charles Burley, which stated that his works ″are in general excellent, abounding with solidity, good taste, correct harmony,″ and, he continued with faint praise, ″the imitations of Haydn are less frequent than in any other master of that school.″

Yet Koželuh is also credited with foreshadowing the Romantic movement in music, and with turning popular taste away from the harpsichord towards the instrument destined to take over the family living room as well as the most prestigious world stages – the piano.

Collegium 1704

Collegium 1704 performs Koželuh’s symphony Sept 20

You can hear Leopold Koželuh’s Symphony in G Minor, Opus 22, No 3 performed by the greatly-respected Collegium 1704.

The concert, on Sun, Sept 20 at 11 am at The Rudolfinum, is part of the 15th Dvorákova Praha International Music Festival.

The concert features two other works by Czech Baroque composers, Overture to L’Olimpiade by Josef Mysliveček, who is slowly making a strong come-back for today’s audiences; and Symphony in D Major, Opus 24 by the lesser-known Jan Václav Voříšek.

– Mary Matz, Opus Osm editor

Photo Credits: Top: Jan Racek; center, Wikipedia; bottom, Collegium 1704 website

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