Pichl, and the Practice of Preluding
April 9, 2015
The start of 2015 has seen the publication of two new items: the final instalment of Christopher's series of three string quartets by Václav Pichl for Edition HH, and his article on 'The Practice of Preluding' for De Clavicordio XI, the proceedings of the 2013 conference at The International Centre for Clavichord Studies, of which Christopher was a founder and co-director.
String Quartet in E flat major
Czech-born composer Václav Pichl (1741–1805) spent much of his working life in Vienna, where the Empress Maria Theresa preferred him to Mozart. His compositions were performed at Eszterháza by Haydn, who had a set of Pichl's "new quartets" copied in 1780 (he wrote over 30 quartets in all).
Op. 13, the present set of stylish and skilfully contrasted works, were dedicated to Dittersdorf, one of his early employers. They exploit all four instruments equally (even the viola is allocated elaborate solo passages) and offer an attractive alternative to the standard Viennese works of this period.
The Practice of Preluding
The practice of improvising (or appearing to improvise) a musical introduction to a pre-composed piece has a longer documented history than the other (quasi-)extempore skills already familiar to historically-informed performers — continuo realisation, melodic ornamentation, cadenza invention — but has not yet been widely reintroduced into modern performances. This essay discusses the benefits of preluding for the player, the audience and the music, as well as the largely non-musical reasons for the decline of the practice, and provides an overview of the resources available to musicians, from the first written accounts in the 1530s to recordings by the last traditional exponents in the 1980s, with a listing of sources of notated preludes appropriate to the clavichord era and samples from the most important works.