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Philipp Jakob Riotte
Opera and lyrical music
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- Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in B flat Major, Op.28
- Concerto for Flute and Orchestra in G Major, Op. 4
- Sinfonie No. 1 in C Major, Op. 25
Philipp Jakob Riotte (1776-1856) unknown to even many classical music specialists, the number of recordings featuring his chamber works can be counted on the fingers of one hand. It is surprising to learn that he was one of the most frequently performed composers at the Theater an der Wien which was one of the leading opera houses in Vienna during the 1820’s. Only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried were performed more often.
He was born in St. Wendel in Saarland on August 16, 1776 descended from a family of weavers and hosiers from the Italian Savoy and Vosges Mountains. His first lessons were on the violin and cello, and as a choirboy and student organist he was closely tied to the new pilgrimage church dedicated to St. Wendelin. His travels as an organist in Trier and Blieskastel was short-lived due to the political upheaval of the French Revolution. The eminent cellist Johann Gottfried Arnold accepted Riotte as a composition student at Frankfurt am Main in 1800. After Gottfried Arnold’s death Riotte continued his studies with Kapellmeister, composer and publisher Johann Anton André in Offenbach. Riotte learned not only the compositional principles and techniques behind the most demanding types of the time with André, but also profitted immensely from the stimulating environment at the Andre publishing house. Andre published Riotte’s first compositions. They are noteworthly not only for their musical significance, but also because of the special dedications to notable political figures such as the Empress of Russia who Riotte’s 1st piano concerto is devoted. To canon Friedrich Hugo von Dalberg Riotte dedicated two piano sonatas, and wrote piano variations for both Clemens and Bettina Brentano’s sister Melino.
Riotte’s compositions were more frequently staged than those of Gioacchino Rossini, the king of opera at the time. It is difficult to account for the discrepancy between the recognition and popularity that Riotte enjoyed during his lifetime and the fact that later generations have almost completely forgotten his name. Some argue that the composer left no descendents to oversee his legacy or that his music fell out of fashion during his lifetime. In order to remain in favor with the changing tastes of Viennese audiences, Riotte composed for nearly every fashion that came into being between 1820 and 1840. He included children’s ballets, stage music, enchanted pantomimes, comic plays and parodies. The last of these forms was a farce on the opera repertory of the court theater and enjoyed particular popularity.
A number of Riotte’s observations in his correspondence indicate that he had participated in this decline in Viennese musical life only with great reluctance. Although a contemporary of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, he did not regard himself to be their equals. Between 1805 and 1808 Riotte held a number of different positions as Kapellmeister and music director in Gotha, Rudolstadt, Altenburg, Danzig and Mageburg. He also was a member of a travelling theater ensemble for a period of time. And at the Royal Congress in Erfurt he conducted the stage music for the French Theater.
In 1808 Riotte settled in Vienna permanently where he died at the age of 80. Before devoting his energies completely to opera and stage music, he enjoyed initial success among the Viennese nobility as piano and voice teacher, as a composer of chamber music and as an arranger of popular contemporary operas and oratorios. He contributed significantly to the success of opera and oratorio in general. He also continued to win notice with new compositions and their dedications. He dedicated his Mass to Prince Esterhazy, and the septet to archduke Rudolf von Östereich. Most noteworthy was his dedication of the second piano concerto Op 15 to Beethoven for whom he had the greatest respect. Also worthy of mention is his contribution to the second section of the Diabelli Variations in which the leading composers and virtuosos joined together for one of the most interesting co-productions in the history of music only to be surpassed by Beethoven’s 33 Variations, Op 120.
With his Clarinet Concerto in B flat Major, Op. 28, Riotte made his debut as a composer at the “Rothen Haus” in Frankfurt on March 14, 1804. He also made his debut as a pianist at this concert performing his 1st piano concerto. The clarinet soloist at the premier deceived Riotte by selling the concerto to a publisher in Bonn who published it in 1809. Riotte changed the dedication to Antoine de Krosigk when he published the work with Breitkopf. Riotte’s compositions for the clarinet are an interesting and curious chapter in his work. The orchestral themes in the clarinet concerto in B flat major employ the structures used by Mozart and Haydn. Its melodies are beautiful and the harmonic progressions often turn to the romantic.
The Flute Concerto in G Major, Op. 4 was written with André’s surpervision and was Riotte’s first orchestral composition published in 1804. The wind ensemble uses two oboes, bassoons and horns and is typical of the Mannheim school. The solo part is predominantly virtuosic in the Allegro and Rondo movements. The Adagio is amazing not only for its unique harmonic turns but also for the choice of the C minor key.
The Symphony in C Major, Op. 25 for large orchestra was dedicated to Jerome Napoleon, King of Westphalia. The symphony was first performed at the Spring Fair in Leipzig in 1812 receiving rave reviews. The Leipziger Allgemeine Musikzeitung on May 13, 1812 noted, “This is a very admirable work, characterized by joviality and life, filled with diverse, interesting ideas that always are grouped together advantageously and well orchestrated. Moreover, it is an easily accessible work that is not difficult to perform. It is, on the whole, a pleasing composition.” Haydn’s symphonies 101 and 104 may have served as inspiration for Riotte.