by Mitzi Meyerson
Georg Friedrich Händel completely dominated the musical scene in 18th century London. A rich musical life continued in concert halls, theatres, and churches, but many of the excellent composers of that time were simply wiped out by the overwhelming presence of Händel. I have long been interested in discovering some of these lost artists, bringing them back into their rightful position as the great musicians of their time.
My previous find had been the solo works of Richard Jones (d.1744), who wrote one volume of superb harpsichord pieces and two books of delightful and innovative violin sonatas. I recorded a two-disc set of the solo works, and one CD of the violin music with my Finnish colleagues, Kreeta Maria Kentala and Lauri Pulakka. (Both of these productions are available on Glossa.) This trio was founded in order to bring out the Richard Jones violin sonatas, and we call ourselves “The Jones Band” as a tribute to him. Since then we recorded the complete Opus 1 of Giovanni Battista Somis sonatas (also on Glossa), and we are currently working on a new project.
The most recent venture has been this new recording of John Jones. He is apparently in no relation to Richard; I looked through both of their wills and there is no mention of either as a possible relation. John Jones is another brilliant musician who disappeared completely, although he was revered in his own time by members of the aristocracy, as well as his famous colleagues, Charles Burney, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Avison and William Boyce. John Jones’ book of harpsichord music was produced by subscription, so we have the actual list of his admirers. He held the positions of organist concurrently at Temple Church, Charterhouse London, and St Paul’s Cathedral, right up until his death in 1796. As we know from our own times, the competition for such elevated positions must have been extremely fierce. John Jones was able to hold on to the post at St Paul’s Cathedral for forty years. This fact alone speaks very highly of his capabilities.
The compositions of John Jones have been lost for some 250 years until the present recording. There is no modern or facsimile edition of these works. This music presents many interesting challenges. It seemed to me almost immediately that the text in his books were sometimes a sketch, to be filled out and realized by the performer. No directions are given, but if one studies the music of this time carefully it becomes apparent that one must contribute quite a bit of fantasy. The opening movement, for example, is a potpourri of toccata, recitative, dance, cadenza and rhetoric. One cannot play it by merely repeating the text without a personal investment. (See figures below).
“Spiritoso” is the announcement of the Eighth Sett; one hears an orchestra angrily beating out an abrasive figure, and then a solo part – I think an oboe – playing a mournful melody. This is accompanied by the sound of the plucked strings, which I tried to capture by the unusual registration of a stabbing staccato touch on the buff stop of the harpsichord. (See figure below).
When I play a piece like this, I really hear it as an orchestration – I know what instrument is playing the solo part, when it is tutti, and when it is an improvised cadenza. It is the only way to make musical sense of a text like this.
John Jones wrote some charming games for the player. There are several pieces written in a precise canon, so that the left hand line repeats the right hand line one bar later. In one of these canons I have taken the game a step further by the use of unorthodox registrations, so that the lines weave around each other in the same octave. This creates a unique blend of sound. (See figure below).
The fascinating part of working on these pieces is to discover the kernel of meaning for each movement. Is it a dance? A burst of virtuosity as in Scarlatti sonatas? A slow and thoughtful moment? A bagpipe? I feel that meeting the centre of each piece is like finding a new friend.
I spend a lot of time in libraries, always hoping to find a marvellous unknown composer. Many of these projects are world premieres, as is this recording of John Jones. It is a kind of mission for me to search these things out, and it makes each production more personal and more special than re-doing the standard repertoire. There are dozens of reputable Goldberg Variations and many complete sets of Rameau, Louis Couperin, etc. I know that my time and strength is limited, and so I have chosen to present music that is new and fresh, with the hope that this effort will eventually make it mainstream repertoire. Everyone has his/her reasons for making recordings. For some, it is a musical calling card, to hand around to sponsors in order to win concerts. My wish for making a recording is to revitalize music that has been sleeping for hundreds of years. I believe strongly in each production I make, even though I understand that the general CD market is iffy about untried music.
I am unceasingly grateful to Glossa and Note 1, for believing in this path also, and for taking a chance on my adventures. At the moment I have several new CD ideas bubbling in my mind. I hope that these too will materialize and emerge in the world. I am delighted that I have the chance to shine a new light on these lost colleagues.
Berlin, May 2016