After I had graduated from the Royal Academy of Music I spent two years studying part-time in France where I was introduced to many fascinating compositions that emerged during a golden age of natural horn playing in that country during the nineteenth century. One of the many composer/musicians I was introduced to was Jacques Francois Gallay and, in particular, his Douze Caprices for solo horn. Immediately I was grabbed by these compositions, they are wonderfully versatile yet technically demanding works. The goal of making music out of something so virtuosic is challenging, but the central operatic heartbeat that drives these works creates engaging, dramatic music. The Caprices share elements with other major works for solo unaccompanied instrument in that the performer has to infer the accompaniment. Each work seemed to me to have a different character, a different scene – maybe a solo aria, maybe a Terzetto – in a larger work. You can smell the opera house in each bar. What intrigued me was how I could present these works to an audience? Would the set work on their own? Cellists have their Bach and violinists their Paganini, both works which seem to have no “historic” precedent for being performed in their entirety, yet both have become central to the canon of modern programming.
Questions surrounding the Gallay works persisted for years and in 2010 I applied for a Finzi Travel Scholarship to realise the potential of these works. The initial proposal was simple. A month in Paris, improving my French, translating Gallay’s method into English, visiting the Bibliotheque Nationale, and working the Caprices into a managable recital programme. The Finzi Trust, in addition to their essential financial support, posed pertinent questions at various stages of their selection process encouraging me to think long and hard about what I was proposing and therefore helped the success of the project. The Bate Collection of Oxford was incredibly generous in lending me their Raoux cor solo – the double of the instrument Gallay himself owned, which is now housed in the Cite de la Musique in Paris, an institution which also kindly granted me access to their instrument. The (initial) culmination of the project was to be a recording of the complete caprices, with associated preludes and fantasias, the repertoire which makes up the Douze Grand Caprices programme (photos by John Croft of the sessions can be seen left). The recording was produced by Claude Mauray, the original instigator of all of this, engineered by Hannelore Guittent of Tisiris and documented by John Croft. Gallay was a prodigious composer and this project was followed by recording in April 2011 of the Grand Quatour with Les Chevaliers du Saint Hubert (myself, Joseph Walters, Jorge Renteria-Campos and Martin Lawrence all on day release from performing Le Freischutz at the Opera Comique in Pairs) followed by the Grand Trios in October of the same year. The first disc is due for release on the Resonus label later this year.
Gallay’s compositions are passionate, evocative, thrilling works. Not mere “salon music” lollipops, they represent a small sample of a vibrant, improvised tradition from the early nineteenth century. A time when much important music making was going undocumented. His unaccompanied works give us a glimpse as to what was happening “between the lines”. Wind musicians at this time were famed for their ability to extemporise on famous themes or to build improvised bridges between or before movements, welcoming the audience in to a tonality, a character or an atmosphere. These form an almost hidden genre of music, one which has vanished from many performances of early nineteenth century works. Whilst the Douze Grands Caprices do not represent the type of concert one may have heard in 1830 Paris, no more than one would have heard Paganini performing his 24 Caprices in their entirety, they introduce the audience to a sound world many will not have heard before in which the operatic world of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti shines bright.
The Finzi Scholarship was absolutely invaluable in realising this project. The backing of the Scholarship, both in terms of financial funding but also in helping to shape the eventual project, gave me the amazing opportunity to take time out from a busy peripatetic work schedule and focus in great detail on something important to me. It was an incredible few weeks which I will never forget!
For more information about Anneke, visit her website.