THOMAS BALTZAR - Complete Works for Unaccompanied Violin
PATRICK WOOD, violin
World Premiere Recordings
"...[recorded in] a realistic and intimate acoustic. This is one of the most fascinating releases that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. An accomplished early music performer, Wood is an expert guide through this repertoire, exhibiting exceptionally high standards of scholarship, performance and production."
American String Teacher - May 2010
"Thomas Baltzar is a little-known German violinist and composer who is getting a well-deserved airing in this new premiere recording...This CD represents his complete output of unaccompanied violin music, and is also the first-ever recording of this once-innovative music. What’s so striking about the pieces is their early use of polyphony. One immediately thinks of Bach when hearing the pieces; though composed around 1660, 25 years before Bach’s birth, it’s almost as if they are primitive strains of his writing. Baltzar’s compositions stand out for their early use of double-stops and scordatura... British-Mexican violinist Patrick Wood thoughtfully plays the works. His tone is even, pure, and warm, and his intonation is spot-on. His light, gentle playing adds just the right shimmer to the simple beauty of each short piece."
Strings - July 2008
"[Baltzar's] complete music for solo violin, excellently played by Patrick Wood, is impressive as well as historically important."
Turok's Choice - June 2008
"Bach [raised] the art to its peak in his iconic Sonatas and Partitas, but Baltzar appears to have helped set the scene...preludes, allemandes and courantes are early models of compositional concision and elegance. The pieces are...endowed with sophisticated turns of phrase and harmonic personality. Certainly the discernment and imagination Baltzar invested in his unaccompanied works were destined to provide curious violinists with ample technical challenges, as well as musical rewards. Patrick Wood is one of those violinists. [He] makes a splendid case for Baltzar, playing the collection with graceful and fervent assurance. His sound is rich and nuanced, his command of the difficulties complete."
Gramophone - May 2008
"Patrick Wood plays with precision and appropriate gravity, elucidating the polyphonic textures of Baltzar’s music with admirable clarity and he benefits from a good recorded sound. His performances have an air of conviction and certainty that put the case for Baltzar very effectively... All with an interest in the history of the violin repertoire, or in the ‘English’ music of the seventeenth century should hear this CD."
MusicWeb International - May 2008
"English-born violinist Patrick wood deserves much credit for his re-discovery of this important lost composer. The present MSR release by Wood of Baltzar’s Complete Works for Unaccompanied Violin marks their world premiere recording. These performances are distinguished by their purity of tone and their austere sound. The latter is particularly notable in the four last pieces on the disc. In Wood’s performances, the haunting sound of Baltzar’s Preludes, Allemandes and Sarabandes comes to life once more. These pieces, infinite treasures in a small space, sound well upon repeated audition, too."
Atlanta Audio Society - May 2008
"It should not be surprising if the name of German-born violinist and composer Thomas Baltzar is unfamiliar to listeners, for his name and most of his compositions have been all but lost to oblivion. Thanks to violinist Patrick Wood, however, we have this short set of recovered works for solo violin. Written some 65 years before Bach would write his Solo Sonatas & Partitas, Baltzar's compositions already show him to be an unrecognized innovator in his extensive use of polyphony throughout his works. The final four tracks on the album also show Baltzar's use of scordatura — a procedure by which an instrument is tuned to different open strings than usual to produce a different color to its sound — which was an unknown technique in Germany at the time. Wood's playing does great justice to Baltzar's works and speaks well of his exhaustive efforts to unearth them. His playing is very strong and muscular, much like Nathan Milstein's playing of Bach. Intonation is quite precise, and his voicing of the polyphonic texture of the music allows listeners to follow the melody easily as it wends its way through the range of the violin. ...this album is a welcome discovery of unheard solo violin music performed convincingly."
All Music Guide - March 2008
In England, Baltzar later came to be known as "the Swede," not because he was Swedish, but because he had recently been employed at the court of Queen Christina in Sweden. Records from the year 1653 suggest that he may not have stayed very long. He certainly did not stay beyond the end of 1654, as the Lübeck archives list him as a town musician in early 1655.
By March of 1656, Baltzar had arrived in England, where he was to spend the rest of his life. During the period of the English Commonwealth there was no Royal Court at which musicians could be regularly employed, so it is primarily through accounts of music-making in private houses that we can see the stir Baltzar caused. John Evelyn describes Baltzar’s playing in his diary, and writes "though a very young man, yet so perfect and skillfull as there was nothing so crosse and perplext, which being by our Artists, brought to him, which he did not at first sight, with ravishing sweetenesse, and improvements, play off..." It is clear that Baltzar’s playing produced only wonderment. Evelyn continues, "I stand to this houre amaz’d that God should give so greate perfection to so young a person... nor can I any longer question, the effects we read of in Davids harp, to charme maligne spirits, and what is said some particular notes produc’d in the Passions of Alexander..." The accounts of the extraordinary power of music in the stories of David and Alexander the Great (and the Greek myths of Arion and Orpheus) were often cited as examples of the potential effects of great music or great musical performance.
But Baltzar’s playing went beyond expectations not only because he played "with that wonderfull dexteritie," but because he produced something no one had heard before. Evelyn writes "In Summ, he played on that single Instrument a full Consort, so as the rest, flung-downe their Instruments, as acknowledging a victory..." The idea of several voices being produced simultaneously by one instrument is, of course, familiar to us from the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin by Bach, written about 65 years later in the 1720s, and there was a tradition before Bach of many-voiced (polyphonic) writing for solo violin, in the music of Biber and J. J. Walther. For some time it was supposed that Baltzar had merely brought this tradition to England from Germany, but the dates make that theory implausible: at the time of Baltzar’s playing, Biber and Walther were eleven and six years old respectively, and the earliest of their violin works date from well after Baltzar’s early death in 1663.
In 1658, Baltzar was "entertained by Sir Anthony Cope of Hanwell House, Banbury," as a private musician to the house, and his performances in nearby Oxford are documented in the historian Anthony à Wood’s _Life and Times_. Baltzar continued to amaze. At the house of William Ellis, à Wood "did then and there, to his very great astonishment, heare him play upon the violin. He then saw him run his fingers to the end of the finger board of the violin and run them back insensibly, and all with alacrity and in very good tune." At another performance, one of the audience "did, after his humoursome way, stoop downe to Baltzar’s feet, to see whether he had a huff on, that is to say to see whether he was a devill or not, because he acted beyond the parts of a man." It seems that even before Paganini, Tartini and Corelli, the Devil had already claimed his instrument.
In 1660, when the royal court was reestablished, Baltzar was employed first in the King’s Music and a year later in the much smaller King’s Private Music with only two other violinists. The appointment was not to last long. The burial register of Westminster Abbey in London records: "July 27 1663 Mr. Thomas Balsart, one of the Violins in the King’s service." He is buried in the Cloisters, although the grave itself cannot be identified. Anthony à Wood wrote: "This person being much admired by all lovers of musick, his company was therefore desired; and company, especially musicall company, delighting in drinking, made him drink more than ordinary which brought him to his grave."
Baltzar’s solo violin music presents two extraordinary innovations. The last four pieces on this recording are examples of scordatura, the technique of tuning the violin’s strings to unusual pitches for a particular sonority. Baltzar’s use of scordatura is among the very first outside of Italy. The second innovation is polyphonic music for solo violin, a style which he either created on his own, or at the very least an idea he raised to an unprecedented level of complexity and sophistication. There is evidence to suggest that he transferred some of the English viol idiom (which was more chordal) to the violin, but this evidence dates from the latter part of his life, and doesn’t account for the singular impact of Baltzar’s playing immediately upon his arrival in England.
This recording gathers all of Baltzar’s existing solo violin works from several sources, some printed and others in manuscript; it is a step towards making the music of this exceptional and innovative musician better known. Let us hope there is more.
* * *
British-Mexican violinist Patrick Wood studied as a postgraduate at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and holds a BA and MA with honors in Modern Languages from Oxford University. He began to play the violin in Mexico City as a pupil of Icilio Bredo, later studying at the Royal Academy and with Erick Friedman and Eugene Drucker in the United States. As a soloist and chamber musician, he has performed widely throughout Europe and the US, at venues such as St. John's Smith Square (London), the Lausanne Academy (Switzerland), Sala Radio Television España (Madrid), the Saalbau in Neustadt-an-der-Weinstrasse (Germany), the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (Troy, NY), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), the Art Museum (Philadelphia), the Corcoran Gallery (Washington, D.C.), and Merkin Hall (New York City). Mr. Wood has performed under the direction of Mstislav Rostropovich, Sir Colin Davis, and Christopher Hogwood, among others. He has performed in public masterclasses with Ruggiero Ricci, Erick Friedman, Igor Oistrakh and Pierre Amoyal. He is a regular performer with the Berkshire Bach Society, appearing as soloist alongside artists such as Eugene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet, Carol Wincenc, Aldo Abreu and Kenneth Cooper. His chamber concerts in the Musica Viva Festival of New Jersey have been broadcast across the United States on WWFM the Classical Network, and his performance of Saint-Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso has been heard in the UK on BBC Radio. Mr. Wood has served as concertmaster of New York Philomusica, is a soloist and Concertmaster for the Vermont Mozart Festival, and performs with the New York Chamber Soloists. From 1989 to 1997, Mr. Wood was a member of The English Mozart Players, as both soloist and Concertmaster with the group in the UK and throughout Europe.
Click HERE for an interview with Patrick Wood on WWFM Radio
PRELUDE in G major
ALLEMANDE and VARIATION in G minor
COURANTE in G minor
SARABANDE in G minor
PRELUDE in C minor
ALLEMANDE in C minor
ALLEMANDE in B-flat major
SARABANDE in B-flat major
ALLEMANDE in C major
SARABANDE in C major
PRELUDE in G major (2)
ALLEMANDE in B minor by John Jenkins, with Variation by Baltzar
A SET OF TUNINGS (scordatura)
I. ALLEMANDE in A major
II. ALLEMANDE in A major (2)
III. COURANTE in A major
IV. SARABANDE in A major