Symphony in A major/Friedrich Witt
February 28, 2015
CPO 777 208-2
Menuetto. Allegro 2nd movement
If there had not been a mistaken identity as to who wrote the ‘Jena’ symphony Friedrich Witt (1770-1836) might be deeper in obscurity than he already is. Born in 1770 in Niederstetten, Germany he was the son of a cantor and court clerk. Early training appears to be a bit vague but in 1789 he became a cellist or violinist in the court orchestra of Oettingen-Wallerstein where he also took composition with Anton Rosler. It was in 1790 that the A major symphony came into being one of his earliest works. It was in 1792 or 1793 that Haydn sent his London Symphonies to Wallerstein where Witt became aware of them. Two years later he composed his ‘Jena Symphony which was mistakened for an early work of Beethoven. Time and study have unfogged this and one can clearly hear the influence Haydn had on him. One writer goes so far to say that he became a copy master of Haydn. If this statement is true how could his ‘Jena Symphony’ be mistaken for a Beethoven work? It was while he was on tour with the clarinetist Franz Beer that he composed the ‘Jena’ Symphony along with a clarinet concerto written for Beer. Witt next took a position with Prince Wurzburg where he composed operas which are now lost. His final years were spent as court composer for Prince Carl Friedrich zu Lowenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg. Witt lived during a time where he saw the disappearing of the classical era and the entering of the romantic period with Beethoven. While none of his works appear to have been patterned after him I’m sure there had to be some sort of influence. Witt during his lifetime amassed a large body of work consisting of symphonies (23), wind serenades, church compositions,concertos, and chamber music.
Written in sonata form for a chamber size orchestra the first movement opens with an adagio which introduces us to the main theme in allegro vivace a much quicker tempo and very nicely developed. The flutes provide a simple counterpoint and harmony to the relatively short movement which ends in a recapitulation. A short (4) but very nice minuet is in store for you trio style with the bassoon providing harmony. I’ve included this as a clip to give you a good idea of what the work is all about. Being quite structured there are no real surprises in store for you. The third movement is an andante in a major key with several variations as the strings carry the melody with harmony coming from the rest of the orchestra. The finale, an allegretto, offers a quite lively opera buffa finale with the structure in a sonata film with a rather abrupt ending. Overall this is a nicely structured work well played and recorded. Hopefully this will trigger more interest in a forgotten composer. The Hoffmann material makes for a nice listening experience and the fact that Hoffmann reviewed two of Witt’s symphonies, that they were in close proximity to each other, and knew about each other makes for an interesting tie in. The Hoffmann material will be reviewed in its own review.
If your primary interest is the Witt symphony don’t buy this recording. There is a fine recording of the A major as well as the Jena and his flute concerto on Naxos 8.572089 still available. I feel that this is a brighter recording. However, if the Hoffmann material intrigues you and it should then this is the recording for you.
1…. Adagio-Allegro vivace (7:11)
2…. Menuetto. Allegro (3:58)
3…. Andante (6:02)
4…. Allegretto (5:10)