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UNSUSPECTED TREASURES OF THE AUTRIAN BAROQUE
The listener of the present recording surely knows Kitzbühel as one of the most famous mountain resorts in Austria and site of international ski competitions. But should you be struck by a sudden urge to consult the telephone directory, you would doubtless be surprised to find several listings for the patronymic Aufschnaiter. I like to think that they are, across the centuries, related to the young Benedikt Anton Aufschnaiter, who was baptised in this village on 21 February 1665. After studies in Vienna, he would become Georg Muffat’s successor in service to the prince-bishop of Passau, as Kapellmeister to the court and cathedral. The relative isolation of the villages of the high mountains, especially in the past, justifies such a hypothesis.
There has long been uncertainty regarding the Germanic precursors of Bach’s violin music. There as elsewhere, the Italian influence is undeniable, but it was only at a relatively recent date that the importance of the vast Austrian movement has been taken into consideration. This developed in the latter half of the 17th century and at the dawn of the 18th, with Biber now being its best-known but not the sole representative. Admittedly, the masters of this proto-Vienna school were equally under the sway of Italy’s ascendancy, and some were even pure Italians living in Vienna in service to the court or princes. But they developed a fantasy and virtuosity within the framework of organically structured forms that are thoroughly exceptional and to be found nowhere else, the sign of an original culture and an involvement well rooted in the historical and local fabric. It is this highly particular character that, at the end of the 19th century, led Austrian musicologists to publish the Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich in order to make known the incomparable beauties of this heritage.
Curiously, the attention of the Denkmäler was not drawn to Aufschnaiter, and it would be necessary to wait until the early 1980s before an impassioned musicologist from Passau undertook research that would lead to the discovery – in no way completed – of more than 300 compositions. The least forewarned listener will be astounded by the richness and emotional density of the eight Sonatas that make up the DULCIS FIDIUMHARMONIA. Not for a minute does one’s attention stray as this music in constant renewal unfolds. One wonders about the kind of universe in which the composer might live and develop his art and which would be conducive to conceiving such a masterpiece.
If ever there was an artist predestined to reveal such music, it is indeed GUNAR LETZBOR, the violinist having created and directing his ARS ANTIQUA AUSTRIA in order to restore ‘the Austrian sound’ to the Baroque era. Henceforth devoted to the defence of causes that are atypical yet fascinating, here this ensemble forms a sort of consort combining the power of the orchestra with the intimacy of chamber music. And the most unsuspecting listener will be able to perceive instinctively that this is a discovery of the first order.
Will he answer the question asked by GUNAR LETZBOR in concluding his enthusiastic presentation : Might Aufschnaiter be a Catholic Bach ?
MICHEL BERNSTEIN Translated by John Tyler Tuttle