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Figaro Has Nuptials

The MHS Review 376 Vol. 10, No. 16 • 1986

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David M. Greene

"Went's no-nonsense arrangements are hardly subtle, and conductor Rudel has tidied them up a bit. Undemanding fun!"


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You had to be almost as rich as Homer Capehart to afford a harmonie, even with wages what they were in the 18th century. It consisted of a body of wind players -- six or eight was the norm-- and was the ancestor of our modern bands (as in "band festival"). The harmonie enabled you to hear the latest hits (which were usually opera tunes or dances) even if you lived a day's journey (20 miles) from a metropolis. Being rather loud, the harmonie functioned chiefly at summer parties, placed dis­creetly in an arbor at the bottom of the garden, where it could be chattered over, like the modern stereo, which my guests always insist on having played for them to drown out.

Although Emperor Joseph suspected that it was seditious and although it flop­ped in Vienna, Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro ("Figaro Has Nuptials" as the New York Times would put it) was full of hits, as Jan Nepomuk Went ( or Johann Wendt) recognized. Went (1754-1801) was a Bohemian of the upper-case vari­ety who played oboe and cor anglais. He began his career as musician to a Count Pachta in Prague, went to Vienna with Prince Schwarzenberg, and in 1782 joined the emperor's harmonie as number-two oboe and arranger. The emperor, be it noted, paid him 900 gul­den per annum, which was 800 more than he paid Mozart. Though Went specialized in wind music, he wrote a symphony and a good deal of chamber music, of which virtually nothing survives.

Went must have admired Mozart (he could afford to!) for of his 40 transcriptions of stage works, five come that composer. From Figaro he arranged the overture (quite successful in this guise) and 14 numbers, most of the familiar ones. You won't hear Non so piu or Bartolo's aria, or the usually omitted ones of the comprimarii in the last act, but in recompense you get pieces like the wedding march and the great recognition-ensemble in Act III. The sequence is generally that of the opera, though two or three numbers are, for whatever reason, out of place.

Went's no-nonsense arrangements are hardly subtle, and conductor Rudel has tidied them up a bit. Undemanding fun!

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