Aside from being a contemporary of Beethoven, relatively little is known about Antonio Casimir Cartellieri (1772-1807). A few sources identify him as quite well regarded in his time, but I read this sort of thing about many classical era composers who have long since been forgotten or ignored. Even clarinetist Dieter Klöcker's erudite but rather speculative notes refuse to go into any extended history of the man, concentrating instead on the similarities of his music to Beethoven and his possible relationship to the noted virtuoso Heinrich Baermann. But the notes also give us a tribute from Cartellieri 's son Joseph, who tells us that he studied with Albrechtsberger and was a favorite of Prince Joseph von Lobkowitz, who went out of his way to secure Cartellieri 's services after hearing his C-minor Symphony in Vienna. His son says that his father's health was in decline in the last of his short 34 years and blames it on his father's hectic work pace and the stress over disharmony with an unnamed colleague.
But we care little for what the 18th Century thought about him, and what is important is our response to his music today. I have never heard him until now, though Mr Carter gave a favorable review of Klöcker playing some concertos back in September/October 2000, while noting that they were not the work of a genius. I was fully prepared to agree with that assessment while listening to the second quartet, which comes first here. But Cartellieri slowly began to grow on me when I settled in on the larghetto movement of the first quartet, after relishing the way the Consortium (Andreas Krecher, v; Niklas Schwarz, va; Armin Fromm, vc) so dashingly executed the exciting first movement. Genius? Well, that may be a bit hard to say after hearing only three works; but I can say that my response to Cartellieri 's music is wholeheartedly affirmative. It is progressive but firmly classical, finely wrought, carefully considered, and refreshingly invigorating. What strikes me the most, aside from the flashing brilliance of the clarinet part (yet in no way merely antiseptic or for effect only), is the way the composer gives important, interesting music to the cello and viola, and the varied combinations of strings he uses. The adagio of the Fourth Quartet in E-flat is a wonderful example, where the viola and cello have a ravishing section in thirds--something you wouldn't find even in Beethoven. A thoughtful sense of craft marks all of these pieces. I only wish 3 had been included; it must be too long to fit.
The sound is great, the notes informative but overblown, and the playing beyond reproach. I am now going to have to seek out more of this composer. But even if I were less enthusiastic about the music, Klöcker's playing alone is a marvel.
It seems as though Klöcker is not going to be dissuaded from pursuing his goal of reviving the works of many classical era composers, even if he has to cross labels to do it. The new CPO release contains music by a more forward thinking--and to my mind, better--composer than Cartellieri , one Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812). Destined for law school at the tender age of 14 (now, isn't that a scary thought), he became so entranced with the musical life of Vienna that he fought any further ideas of the bar, and forged ahead as a composer. Later he began a publishing firm that was to produce some of the finest works of the day, including pieces by Mozart and Beethoven. Thus began a rather Charles Ives-ish quandary that would dog him the rest of his life. He loved to compose and desired a full-time position in music, but at the same time found the amenities that a publishing business supplied too good to ignore. But about the time of Mozart's death, Hoffmeister hit the road with a flutist and let the Vienna publishing endeavor slide (it kept going for another five or six years).
But once a publisher, always one I suppose, and no sooner had the chamber pair landed in Leipzig than Hoffmeister had hooked up with another partner and started another firm. That one took off like wildfire and eventually became what we know today as CF Peters. He kept composing and was fortunate enough to have all of his operas produced in his lifetime. He was a busy man, as his 8 operas, 50 symphonies, numerous concertos for (predominantly) flute, songs, lots of chamber music (including the four of a total of 12 clarinet quartets included here), and piano music testify. How he was regarded at the time of his repose is indicated in this entry from a lexicon: ''If you were to take a glance at his many and varied works, then you would have to admire the diligence and the cleverness of this composer.... He earned for himself a well-deserved and widespread reputation through the original content of his works, which are not only rich in emotional expression but also distinguished by the interesting and suitable use of instruments and through good practability (sic). For this last trait we have to thank his knowledge of instruments, which is so evident that you might think that he was a virtuoso on all of the instruments for which he wrote.''
Steven E Ritter
American Record Guide