March 09, 2009

Was (Not Was)

My lovely wife had a psychic reading over the weekend, which revealed this interesting factoid: according to the psychic, yours truly was, in a former life, a composer in a German court around the turn of the 18th century—not a particularly famous one, but apparently, someone who was held in some esteem by his colleagues.

After a bit of hunting around, I've narrowed it to four suspects:

Ernst Christian Hesse (1676-1762)

Composer and viol virtuoso (who, on a Parisian sojourn, managed to simultaneously study the instrument with Forqueray and Marais, who hated each other), attached to the court at Giessen and, later, Darmstadt. He scored one of the all-time great musician day jobs, as well: secretary of war for the Darmstadt court. His second wife was a singer, and the resultant general singer cattiness prompted his resignation as Kapelldirektor. Travelled much; knew everybody. Cause-and-effect, from his Grove entry: "In 1726 he was promoted to the war council; besides this, he devoted himself to his lucrative wine business and to his property. Later he withdrew still further from musical life, suffering acutely from gout."

Reinhard Keiser (1674-1739)

Employed at the Brunswick court until he took over the Hamburg Opera in 1703; in his day, one of the most highly regarded composers of opera. (His Croesus has seen recent revival.) Handel admired his music enough to steal it wholesale (friction resulting from the two composers' competing settings of Almira forced Handel to leave for Italy and, ultimately, England). Frequently beset by financial and administrative misfortune; ended up taking on a church gig as well (Kantor of the Hamburg cathedral). World-class indolence, from his Grove entry: "Following the final collapse of his administration in 1707, Keiser appears to have absented himself from the opera house for more than a year, passing much of his time visiting the estates of noble friends."

Johann Christoph Pez (1664-1716)

Choir-school brat made good, he became choirmaster of the Peterskirche in Munich, but musical old-fogyness on the part of his superiors led him to the Munich court; later Kapellmeister for the Württemburg court in Stuttgart. Spent time in Rome picking up the Italian style; his choral writing is compact and, according to Grove, "largely homophonic" (which may explain my Brian Wilson fixation). Out-of-the-frying-pan career move, from his Grove entry: "In 1701 the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession caused him to return to Munich, where, however, music was almost non-existent."

Agostino Steffani (1654-1728)

Venetian-born composer and organist at the Munich and, later, Hanover courts. In his mid-30s he embarked on a second career as a diplomat, first on behalf of the Hanoverian court, then for the Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm of Düsseldorf. Made general president of the Palatine government and a curator of Heidelberg University. Oh, and he managed to get himself appointed a bishop, too—first the titular Bishop of Spiga, then Apostolic Vicar of northern Germany. Composed a few works during his diplomatic career, published (for propriety's sake) under the name of his copyist; late in life, in financial difficulty, he was elected president of the Academy of Vocal Arts (later the Academy of Ancient Music), for which he wrote a handful of works in return, including a superb Stabat Mater setting. They'll-get-you-coming-and-going, from his Grove entry: "Apart from [his appointment as Abbot of] Löpsingen, he had three sources of income—a stipend from the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide in Rome, the abbacy of San Stefano in Carrara, near Padua, and a provostship in the Rhenish town of Seltz. The stipend was small, his agent in Padua was a swindler, and most of the revenue from Seltz was seized by French Jesuits at Strasbourg."

So there's our past-life police lineup, as it were. Let's throw it open to the mob!


Dan Johnson said...

There are really only three options here, since right away we can dispense with Pez.

Elaine Fine said...

So far my vote is (or was) unanimous.


[still laughing from comment #1.... Ok..]
Question for the Line-up: We've just found this manuscript of cartoons depicting Monteverdi and Artusi acting out great scenes from the Commedia dell'Arte. Are any of you responsible for this?

Matthew said...

Dan: You're making me glad that William Crotch was born to late for the criteria. (I had a great photo of an Elvis Pez dispenser for Johann, but I couldn't find a good enough joke image for Hesse, so I left out pictures altogether.)

Big Cheefski said...

Thanks for the namecheck, Hombre! Would love to hear your music!

David Was