Author Topic: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)  (Read 7413 times)

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Offline James

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Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« on: April 23, 2011, 08:20:22 AM »
Sylvius Leopold Weiss was the last great star in the story of the lute. He was not only the greatest player of the eighteenth century - possibly the greatest ever - but also the most gifted and prolific composer for the instrument, leaving behind him a remarkable corpus of around 650 exquisite pieces. Though he is relatively little-known today, in his lifetime Weiss was greatly revered by musicians and the aristocracy alike, and was ranked with outstanding contemporaries like Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

Born in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland), Weiss was introduced to music by his lutenist father and gained his first position as a performer in 1706. From 1708 to 1714 he worked in Rome in the service of Prince Alexandre Sobieski, learning a great deal about Italian music and almost certainly meeting Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti. When his employer died in 1714, Weiss headed north again, visiting Prague, London and various other cities before landing the prestigious post of chamber musician in the court of Dresden in 1718. He remained based there for the rest of his life, though made numerous trips to other cities, building a widespread reputation as a matchless performer, improviser and composer on both the lute and theorbo (a large cousin of the lute, often used for orchestral playing).

In 1728 he visited Berlin, impressing the future king Frederick the Great and giving lessons to Frederick's lutenist sister. She was greatly impressed, writing in her memoirs that Weiss "has never had an equal, and those who come after him will only have the glory of imitating him". In 1739 he met J.S. Bach in Leipzig, though it is probable that these two masters were acquainted already. Some of Bach's lute works are said have been written for Weiss, and Bach transcribed one of Weiss's lute pieces for harpsichord and violin. According to one commentator the two masters even engaged in a competition, performing and improvising fugues and fantasies - Bach on the keyboard, Weiss on the lute.

Weiss's time at Dresden must have been relatively comfortable. By 1744 he was the highest-paid instrumentalist in the court, and he was also a much sought-after teacher, with lutenists flocking from far and wide to try and master the famous "Weissian method". His life wasn't without upsets, however: in 1722 an enraged French violinist bit Weiss's thumb so hard that is was almost severed, making playing impossible for much of that year, and in 1738 he was arrested and imprisoned for "offensive" behaviour towards a senior court functionary. He was also released only when the music-loving Count Keyserling, commissioner of Bach's Goldberg Variations, stepped in with a character reference.

In the second half of the eighteenth century the lute disappeared from the European musical scene and Weiss's work, written down in a format that was incomprehensible until relatively recently, remained ignored from the time of his death until the late twentieth century. The 1980s and 1990s saw an increased interest in his music, but as it's written entirely for an archaic instrument it seems unlikely that Weiss will ever receive his due as one of the most significant composers of Baroque Germany.

WORKS FOR LUTE
Apart from the accompaniments of a handful of lost ensemble works, Weiss's surviving output consists of entirely of pieces for solo lute. Like Bach in his instrumental music, Weiss combined elements of French and Italian styles, but the approaches of the two composers are markedly different. Weiss's pieces tend to be more rhapsodic and lyrical than Bach's, and less contrapuntally dense. His style is highly recognizable, making frequent use of unusual harmonic progressions and daring modulations, and integrating melodic passages, arpeggiated figures and subtle counterpoint to great effect.

The majority of Weiss's pieces are sonatas, written in the form of the suite. Most have six movements, and feature a sombre allemande, sprightly courante and a lyrical sarabande. The early sonatas are generally bright in spirit and possess a virtuosic flair, while later examples are characterized by emotional gravity and lengthy developmental movements. Weiss also wrote many single-movement works, the most famous of which is the Tombeau sur al mort de M. Comte de Logy. Written as a tribute to a count who was one of the best lutenists of his time (and an influence on the young Weiss), the Tombeau is a stately and profoundly melancholic work, full of funeral march motifs and sombre melodies.


Featuring 3 sonatas, each from a different period, the third volume in Naxo's Weiss survey makes an ideal introduction to the composer. The 35-minute Sonata in D minor is especially impressive, encompassing an enormous range of musical ideas. Barto's performances are natural, fresh and idiomatic throughout, his subtle rubato and sensitive dynamics ideally suite to Weiss's music.


Released in 1992, this lute recital disc from Nigel North features compelling, subtly expressive accounts of the Tombeau and one of the best Weiss sonatas. With such outstanding playing, and impressive accounts of Bach's D minor Chaconne and transcriptions of Vivaldi concertos, this would be a great place to start for lute music in general.
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canninator

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2011, 08:44:07 AM »
Nice to see a thread on Weiss. My own pet theory, for which I have absolutely no evidence, is that Bach (even though he owned a lute) didn't write more extensively for the instrument because of Weiss.

I saw Nigel North do an all Weiss program recently. It was okay but he only played the easy stuff and even then some parts ran away from him (you could see it on his face in the D minor prelude [I think it was]). His latest recording, The Heart Trembles with Pleasure, is all Weiss but is all pre-Dresden manuscript material and not nearly as challenging or interesting as the material in the Dresden manuscript. Still, it got good reviews, but I don't rate it much.

The absolute top draw Weiss CD that should be in any music lovers library is this beauty.



This is played on a 1590 (restored) lute with original soundboard. The tone is out of this world and the playing is magnificent. This is what a lute should sound like, not that tinny twang you hear so often (cough, O'Dette).

Anyway, a new edition of Weiss transcriptions for guitar is coming out soon with some of the big sonatas, the first time they have been published as transcriptions for guitar, so hopefully his work will see new life in the guitar community.

Offline Josquin des Prez

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2011, 12:40:19 AM »
Nice to see a thread on Weiss. My own pet theory, for which I have absolutely no evidence, is that Bach (even though he owned a lute) didn't write more extensively for the instrument because of Weiss.

Most likely, he just didn't want to enter in competition with a personal friend, particularly considering the BWV 997 suite in c is greater then anything Weiss ever wrote (that i have found so far). Besides, there was nobody else BUT Weiss to write lute music for. I can see why that would have been an awkward situation.

Either way, Weiss is the greatest lutenist that ever lived, at least as far as i'm concerned, and at the moment my favored composer of classical guitar music. I have the complete London Manuscript performed by Micheal Cardin (which includes 26 suites, 35 individual pieces and 6 concertos) and i'm waiting for somebody to record the Dresden Manuscript, which was compiled later in his life and wisdom dictates it might be even greater.

canninator

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #3 on: April 24, 2011, 01:31:00 AM »
Most likely, he just didn't want to enter in competition with a personal friend, particularly considering the BWV 997 suite in c is greater then anything Weiss ever wrote (that i have found so far). Besides, there was nobody else BUT Weiss to write lute music for. I can see why that would have been an awkward situation.

It's an interesting idea, I guess we'll never know. There will have been other lutenists around but I don't know Bach's exposure to them. Count Losy was purported to be pretty good and was known to Weiss (but probably not Bach), well enough that Weiss dedicated a Tombeau to him on his death. Johann Kropfgans, whose music is heavily Weiss influenced, is purported to have been known to Bach.

Interestingly, for BWV 997, there is no monograph to suggest it was written for lute. In the earliest version known, prepared by a Bach student, C.P.E. later added a front page "For Klavier"!

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2014, 02:03:33 AM »
I love the music of Weiss and have done so for over 25 years, since first buying the Naxos Weiss disk played by Franklin Lei (this was before the Robert Barto series).

I like him so much that my wife and I even called our first son after him (Sylvius).

The two qualities that stand out for me are:
1. He has the most amazing sense for noble and beautiful melodies, all the more amazing when you remember he is writing for a plucked instrument incapable of legato. When I listen to familiar sonata of his often my spine tingles and my eye fill with tears when one of his great melodies for one of his allemandes begins to unwind. His melodic gift is demonstrated whatever the mood, and paradoxically he appear most noble and great hearted in his writing when he is most melancholy in mood.
2. He shares with Bach the ability to unify a baroque suite in some mysterious way. When you consider that baroque composers had to work with five or six quite disparate movement types, and were not able, as romantic artists were, to unify their works by dramatic use of tonality, or obvious thematic references, this ability is even more remarkable. Weiss has an unerring sense in his music of exactly when to end a movement, the end is never predictable, but once it occurs, it seems absolutely right, and his movements are never too long.

All the great lutenists have had a go at Weiss, and I pretty much like all of them, except where the music is obviously too difficult for them (shhh, no names).

However, amongst my favourite interpreters is Michel Cardin, who began an ambitious attempt to record all the suites from the Dresden MS. I think he made 12 disks before the project ended and recently some of these have been uploaded to You Tube, so you can have a listen (I think the disks are unavailable now).

Offline Leo K.

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2014, 03:16:29 PM »
I love the music of Weiss and have done so for over 25 years, since first buying the Naxos Weiss disk played by Franklin Lei (this was before the Robert Barto series).

I like him so much that my wife and I even called our first son after him (Sylvius).

The two qualities that stand out for me are:
1. He has the most amazing sense for noble and beautiful melodies, all the more amazing when you remember he is writing for a plucked instrument incapable of legato. When I listen to familiar sonata of his often my spine tingles and my eye fill with tears when one of his great melodies for one of his allemandes begins to unwind. His melodic gift is demonstrated whatever the mood, and paradoxically he appear most noble and great hearted in his writing when he is most melancholy in mood.
2. He shares with Bach the ability to unify a baroque suite in some mysterious way. When you consider that baroque composers had to work with five or six quite disparate movement types, and were not able, as romantic artists were, to unify their works by dramatic use of tonality, or obvious thematic references, this ability is even more remarkable. Weiss has an unerring sense in his music of exactly when to end a movement, the end is never predictable, but once it occurs, it seems absolutely right, and his movements are never too long.

All the great lutenists have had a go at Weiss, and I pretty much like all of them, except where the music is obviously too difficult for them (shhh, no names).

However, amongst my favourite interpreters is Michel Cardin, who began an ambitious attempt to record all the suites from the Dresden MS. I think he made 12 disks before the project ended and recently some of these have been uploaded to You Tube, so you can have a listen (I think the disks are unavailable now).

A wonderful post, and I totally agree. Michel Cardin's set is my favorite too.

Offline Que

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2014, 11:26:23 PM »
A wonderful post, and I totally agree. Michel Cardin's set is my favorite too.

Wow, same here!  :) :) Although, set, I have unfortunately only one disc...

But when will the series be reissued? Should I email Brilliant? ::)

Q
« Last Edit: February 05, 2014, 11:32:54 PM by Que »
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Offline Moonfish

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2014, 06:28:19 PM »
Wow, same here!  :) :) Although, set, I have unfortunately only one disc...

But when will the series be reissued? Should I email Brilliant? ::)

Q

Please do!    :)
The more Weiss the better!!

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Ken B

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #8 on: April 19, 2014, 08:38:22 PM »
Please do!    :)
The more Weiss the better!!
You should also check out Kapsberger. I am assuming you have all of Dowland.

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #9 on: April 19, 2014, 08:46:45 PM »
You should also check out Kapsberger. I am assuming you have all of Dowland.

How did you know!!?   ::)   Kapsberger is indeed wonderful, but I do not have too many recordings with his music. My favorite is one with Paul O'Dette. Do you happen to have any Kapsberger you could recommend?

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Ken B

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2014, 08:56:55 PM »
How did you know!!?   ::)   Kapsberger is indeed wonderful, but I do not have too many recordings with his music. My favorite is one with Paul O'Dette. Do you happen to have any Kapsberger you could recommend?


Yes.

 >:D





O'Dette. That's the only full CD I have. Otherwise a stray bit here or there.

Offline Que

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2014, 10:19:43 PM »
Yes.

 >:D

O'Dette. That's the only full CD I have. Otherwise a stray bit here or there.

Me too. But it is a great disc. Every time Weiss comes up, I can't get the Michel Cardin recording out of my head.
Michel Cardin has a new website on which he offers the whole set for $Ca 160..... Which is about €105 - single discs go for almost half that price elsewhere.I am tempted...this might be one of those special occassions to bend the rules.  ::) Have to check however if these are not in CD-R format.

Kapsberger. I have only the disc by O'Dette, which is superb. I have this set:



Q
« Last Edit: April 20, 2014, 11:48:30 AM by Que »
À chacun son goût.

Offline Moonfish

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #12 on: April 20, 2014, 10:13:45 AM »
Me too. But it is a great disc. Every time Weiss comes up, I can't get the Michel Cardin recording out of my head.
Michel Cardin has a new website in which he offers the whole set for $Ca 160..... Which is about €105 - single discs go for almost half that price elsewhere.I am tempted...this might be one of those special occassions to bend the rules.  ::) Have to check however if these are not in CD-R format.

Kapsberger. I have only the disc by O'Dette, which is superb. I have this set:



Q



Q

Had no idea about Cardin's site and that he sells his cds there. Hmm. A bit expensive with Can $160 plus $25 for shipping, but it is definitely cheaper than individual cds in the MP.  I wish (like you suggested) that Brilliant Classics would pick them up and bring back Weiss' amazing music. Perhaps they are waiting for the Barto phase to pass?   

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Offline Moonfish

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2014, 03:53:48 PM »
I'm patiently waiting for the Naxos Barto box. Fingers crossed.

Yes, that would be a golden egg. Perhaps they are intending to continue the series although it has been a while (2 yrs) at this point in time. One day....
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Offline Que

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #14 on: April 21, 2014, 08:47:48 PM »
Is that Weiss?

Here is Sylvius Leopold Weiss:



Q
« Last Edit: April 22, 2014, 08:49:10 AM by Que »
À chacun son goût.

Offline PaulSC

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2014, 08:57:09 AM »
Musik ist ein unerschöpfliches Meer. — Joseph Riepel

Offline Moonfish

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #16 on: January 30, 2015, 06:29:46 PM »
*bump*

(in the light of the recent release of Cardin's recordings [Weiss: The Complete London Manuscript]...)




Booklet

http://www.michelcardin.com/en/home-2/
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Offline Moonfish

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Re: Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)
« Reply #17 on: June 07, 2018, 09:53:15 PM »
Ah, I see I was the last poster on this thread. No love for Weiss? Three years!!!  :'( :'( :'( :'(

His works for lute are amazing!   Baroque in all its glory (at least from the perspective of a lute)!!

Does anybody know what is going on with Robert Barto? He was recording a series for Naxos and the last volume was issued in 2012 (volume 11).  Has he simply stopped recording? I cannot find anything linked to him more recent than 2012.
"Every time you spend money you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want...."
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