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How the Oboe Trio came about


While the word Harmonie became a pervasive term describing wind music in general, in the Classical period it is too simplistic to interpret Harmoniemusik to mean both wind band and military band. Harmoniemusik was a cultural phenomenon separate from the military band. In its most specific sense, it refers to a particular body of music written from c.1760-1837 whose primary function was to provide social entertainment. Early Harmoniemusik was scored for six instruments, even as few as four on some occasions, as indicated by the clarinet and horn bands of England and France. The clarinet was the preferred treble instrument in the west, while the Germans and Austrians generally preferred oboes.


As Harmonie provided "dinner" and "after dinner" music for the emperor in Vienna, it was also popular among the lower aristocracy and wealthy middle class who clamored to have their own "in house" Harmonie. Major composers who wrote original harmoniemusik included Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, while quality works also came from lesser-known composers such as J.C. Bach, W.F.E. Bach, Hummel, Rosetti, Druschetzky, Krommer, Dittersdorf, Went, Triebensee and Hoffmeister. The common practice during this time was for every noble household to provide its own music. For those financially unable to sustain a full orchestra, one could at least retain a small band of competent wind players.


On April 1, 1782 Emperor Joseph II formed his own Harmonie, thus ensuring Harmonie a healthy existence, albeit for a relatively short period. The selected musicians were wind players from the Burgtheater opera orchestra (Went was 2nd Oboe and his son-in-law - Josef's - father Georg Triebensee was 1st Oboe). The players were the best to be found in Vienna at that time, Went was chief arranger, and the repertoire emphasizing opera transcriptions appeared to be new. Went, who joined the Burgtheater orchestra on January 1 1777, remained as director of this Harmonie until his death, possibly in 1801. Although Went wrote some original works for the Kaiser's Harmonie, it is through his transcriptions that he is best known.


In Vienna, which rapidly became the center of Harmonie, Johan Went was the most famous arranger, having transcribed numerous operas, including works of Salieri and Mozart. Went’s success no doubt influenced his employer, Emperor Josef II, as the court library holds few original compositions from this period, even lacking Mozart's Serenades. Johan Went is credited with writing the very first Oboe Trio - Petite Serenade Concertante in F major which was premiered by the Teimer brothers In December 1793.  Beethoven attended this benefit concert prompting him to write his Oboe Trios: op 87 in C major and Variations on 'Là ci dare la mano' by Mozart which were commissioned by Prince Schwarzenberg.  Johan Went has four Oboe Trios that are recognised and published. It is believed there is another Oboe Trio 'Pas de Deux in C major del Signore e Signora Vigiano' still to be discovered and published.* In Went's trios he makes use of bagpipe style drones and pibroch twiddles - so again I am presuming that the Schewarzenberg Harmonie Wind Band included a bagpiper - a fact Joe and I shall try to confirm when we visit the Schwarzenberg administrative archives in Trébon. 

Prince Josef Schwarzenberg's Woodwind Harmonie (1771-1802) used cor anglais instead of clarinets--an unusual practice in Vienna but it seems a more natural one for the Bohemians.*I believe that this is because the Schwarzenberg's were keen boar hunters and probably had oboe de caccia and corne de caccia instrumentalists in their employ - so the transition to the new cor anglais of c 1730 was the more obvious choice The first cor anglais players employed in 1771 were Johan Went and Ignaz Teimer.  When Johan Went joined the Imperial Harmonie in 1782 along with Georg Triebensee (who had also been employed as 1st oboe in the Schwarzenberg Harmonie in 1771)  these two vacancies were then filled by the brothers Philipp Teimer in 1782 on 1st cor anglais and Johan Teimer in 1785 on 1st oboe. Franz Teimer joined the Schwarzenberg Wind Harmonie  in 1788  as 2nd oboe when Ludwig Partl left.  A considerable part of the repertoire used by the Schwarzenberg Harmonie was written with the Teimer brothers virtuosic playing in mind, including no fewer than fifteen oboe trios (for two oboes and cor anglais). *So were these 15 oboe trios composed 1785-96 or just within an 8 year period 1788-96. I believe that Franz was playing with his brothers from 1785 when Johan was in the vicinity, despite not taking up his position in the Harmonie until 1788 and that as Went wrote the first trios they probably date from the mid 1780's if not a bit before. Still it is remarkable that this early body of work was written in such a short period. Also it poses the question that should Beethoven's Oboe Trio in C major op87 in fact be more correctly listed as his op1 if it was composed before his 1795 piano trio which is the official op1, as the oboe trio was commissioned by the Schwarzenberg's for the Teimer brothers and as Franz and Johan died in 1796 and Beethoven heard his first oboe trio December 1793 - it can be supposed that he wrote the C major Trio in 1794-5. Joe and I plan to go to the Schwarzenberg administrative archives in Trébon to verify when the Schwarzemberg's paid Beethoven for the C major Trio to get it  more correctly dated. 


Prince Aloys von Liechtenstein formed what would become a long-standing Harmonie, as is evident by the presence of Joseph Triebensee, a prolific transcriber, composer, and publisher who headed the prince's Harmoniemusik until its demise in 1809. Josef, like his father Georg, was a solo oboist in Vienna, who upon being accepted as the director for the prince's Harmonie proceeded to play an active role as director, principal oboe, and transcriber of a vast number of operas and ballets, in addition to composing a number of original works. Indeed, there is circumstantial evidence that he even produced a collection of Harmoniemusik for the Kaiser. Triebensee made a particular effort at selling his work by means of an advertisement in the Allgemeine Muskalische Zeitung for 1804. This was the music journal with perhaps the most widely held circulation. The advertisement listed a collection of the newest and best operas, ballets, as well as original partitas for 2222. Upon release from the prince, Triebensee did a second publication, also in installments, presumably between 1809-1812. It is not known who exactly bought these arrangements, since the Kaiser's Harmoniemusik was rapidly becoming the last surviving Harmonie.


Josef Triebensee wrote 5 oboe trios. 


Apparently as an art form, Harmonie was still much in demand, perhaps by amateur players or the military.


Excerpts from text copyright © 2007, Stephen L. Rhodes.                          with additions * by Judy Proctor.

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