Mitzi Meyerson’s insight into (and experience with) the harpsichord literature of the Baroque is such that when she makes a visit to the recording studio, one knows that something rare, fascinating and illuminating will emerge. This has been the case in recent years with both the Claviersuiten by Georg Böhm and the Musique de Salon of Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (which have also appeared on Glossa); the latest exploration beyond the mainstream undertaken by Mitzi Meyerson – Muffat’s Componimenti Musicali – is charged with the same character and sense of expectation. This is not the Georg Muffat who studied in Paris with Lully but his son, Gottlieb (also known as Theofilo), who spent much of his career in Vienna and whose set of six harpsichord suites Componimenti Musicali appeared towards the end of the 1730s.
In the accompanying booklet Meyerson discusses the contrasting moods running through the entire collection of suites, wherein are to be found a diverse selection of Courantes, Sarabandes, Menuets, Allemandes and Gigues as well as Fantaisies and Fugues. Meyerson comments that “It is exactly this eclectic and whimsical quality in all the suites that I find so special. One is carried along, but cannot figure where and why.” The final Chaconne of the Componimenti Musicali bears a theme which shows that Muffat’s music was much appreciated by composers of his own time – the theme reappears in one of Handel’s harpsichord suites. Meyerson is less troubled, indeed more intrigued by such Baroque “borrowings”, welcoming the different treatment given by different composers to the same themes.
Mitzi Meyerson currently teaches harpsichord at the Universität der Künste in Berlin but her roots in her native Chicago run very deep and the City Council there have seen fit to honour her recently – as she describes in the interview here. In addition, Chicago looks set to have a street named after Mitzi Meyerson as well!
How would you describe the musical world of Gottlieb Muffat and his father Georg?
The story of Gottlieb (or, as I like to think of him, Theofilo) really begins with his famous father, Georg. Georg was born in 1653 in Savoy of Scottish parents. He had an incredibly international upbringing, being sent to Paris to study with Lully, returned to Alsace, and then finished his law education in Bavaria. After this he moved to Vienna where he had the patronage of Leopold I, and was promoted to the post of First Organist in the Viennese Court. He was allowed to travel to Italy and was there influenced by the music of Corelli. The compositions of Georg Muffat combined the flavours of French, German and Italian idioms in a unique way. He was enormously respected as a player and composer, and his children were heirs to many opportunities. Theofilo went to live with his musician brother in Vienna, after their father’s death. He had the good fortune to become the protégé of Johann Joseph Fux, and assisted in the very important opera by Fux, Costanza e Fortezza for the 1717 première in Prague. Theofilo was himself later appointed First Organist in the Viennese Court, where his duties included teaching the royal children. He also was considered one of the greatest organists and composers of his time, but he stopped composing after he achieved his position in the court. Unfortunately there are very few pieces left to us, but they are wonderfully creative, challenging all the previously existing boundaries of harmony and character. The Componenti Musicali on this recording represents his entire legacy of harpsichord music.
What made you want to record Gottlieb Muffat’s works, given their obscurity?
I chose to record this music for the same reason I recorded all my other solo CDs: very few people are interested in it! By this I do not mean that these projects have no merit – on the contrary, every one is particularly fascinating. Unfortunately they have been overlooked in the mainstream repertoire. I felt myself on a crusade to hunt out these neglected works and bring them into the limelight, at least for a moment. It is a wonderful privilege to be given the opportunity to do this.
What in Muffat’s music made it so tempting for a composer such as Handel for the latter’s “borrowings”?
I think it was quite accepted for all composers to borrow themes or tricks of writing. If we are straight-laced, we call it stealing; if we are generous, we call it an homage. There are endless examples of this, from the smallest whiff of reminiscence right down to the direct repetition of entire themes. There are some who say JS Bach borrowed the idea for the Goldberg Variations from Buxtehude’s La Capricciosa, a set of 32 variations in the same key which has many striking similarities. As we know Bach to have been a great admirer of Buxtehude, it would be a natural thing for him to take musical advice from one whom he so revered. And what of it? We are the beneficiaries, having received both sets of marvellous variations.
You concentrate on music of the Baroque time in your work, but do other musical styles interest or influence you as well?
I have spent a lot of time in Indonesia over the last dozen years (working also as a doula in a clinic) and am extremely fond of Javanese suling and gamelan music. In fact, it is my favourite thing to listen to, and headed up my “10 CDs for a Desert Island” list for Goldberg magazine in 2007. I have recently become somewhat obsessed with salsa music, and dance around to this while cooking. Does that count?!
You were recently honoured by your native Chicago. How did that come about?
This was a very unexpected honour! I received an e-mail one day saying that April 5 would be declared “Mitzi Meyerson Day” in Chicago and its environs. I thought it was a delightful joke, but then I was sent the official letter stating that in fact this had been passed as a resolution in the mayor’s office. I had a concert in Chicago that day; at the end of it I was presented with the certificate, and the entire audience was invited onto the stage for champagne and cake. I live rather quietly, doing my work as best I can. It was a charming surprise to get a public notice for this. I always thought there were around eleven people in the world who were interested in my little projects! I know that harpsichord music is not a best-selling venture, and that my particular projects appeal to an even smaller subdivision of the tiny interest that exists commercially. For this reason I am especially grateful to Glossa for providing the opportunity to bring these long-gone works back into the world. Without this support, Theofilo Muffat might have remained silent forever.
by Mark Wiggins© 2009 Glossa Music / MusiContact