The return of Adalbert Gyrowetz
Recently and at long last I acquired a recording of a symphony by Adalbert Gyrowetz. Listening to it, I had to agree with music authorities: Gyrowetz does sound like his contemporary, Haydn. That's not unusual. Back then, composers sounded alike. It was the thing to do.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In his lifetime Gyrowetz was highly regarded, his works widely played. He was received with honor in Vienna, Paris, and London. Few composers of his time could match him in sheer volume of production in practically every musical form.
In his lifetime his popularity vanished. He faded into obscurity, his works were neglected, and only through the kindness of friends was he spared extreme want in his old age. They could help him, but not restore his works.
I thought I might: At least I tried. That was 30 years ago. For reasons that don't seem very cogent to me now, I decided posterity owed another hearing to this composer, although I had never heard so much as a bar of his music.
Only by chance had I stumbled across his entry, barely one page, in Grove's ''Dictionary of Music and Musicians.'' Gyrowetz was an unfamiliar name, but even his mother might not have recognized it. He was born Vojtech Jirovec in Bohemia, which is approximately the equivalent of Adalbert Gyrowetz in Austria, even if it doesn't look it.
As related in Grove, Gyrowetz's up-and-down career fascinated me. I could find very little additional information about him. The consensus was that he was facile and competent but not original. He was a follower, doing what others were doing, but not always as well. He leveled off while others went on to new peaks.
This is a common experience in the arts. The plateaus are crowded, the peaks are lonely. I wondered if a boost would put Gyrowetz up there where he belonged. What he needed, obviously, was a booster.
No doubt, I was naive. I believed only what I wanted to. With a little help I thought I could persuade the music establishment to reconsider Gyrowetz.
Little was what I got. I wrote to several orchestra conductors and music critics, soliciting their opinion on whether Gyrowetz deserved another hearing. Only a few replied. Maybe the rest are still thinking it over.
Those who did answer cautiously acknowledged that a fresh evaluation of Gyrowetz's work might be interesting. A ''perhaps'' or two and a ''possibly'' were as good as I could do. I don't know how Virginia managed: She did much better with Santa Claus.
I wrote a couple of brief articles anyway, bolstering my argument with whatever support I could find. Mozart not only befriended Gyrowetz but performed one of his works: At the concert he insisted the composer take a bow. Through confusion, deliberate or otherwise, several of Gyrowetz's symphonies were published and performed as Haydn's. Gyrowetz was selected in preference to Beethoven to write music for a new production of Schiller's play ''William Tell.'' To me all this said Gyrowetz could hold his own with the best of them.
The articles appeared in a couple of music journals. Although these were as obscure as my subject, I was counting on a few influential readers to take up the cause. I couldn't hope to do what Schumann and Mendelssohn had done for Bach in illuminating his works after many years of eclipse, but I thought someone might see the light.
My readers, if any, apparently took a dim view of the whole idea. If they saw merit in my proposal, or any reason to listen to Gyrowetz's works - dozens of symphonies, 30 operas, quartets and trios, ballets, sonatas, cantatas, masses - they never told me so.
The indifference was disappointing, but I didn't forget Gyrowetz. I scanned the music columns for hints of a Gyrowetz revival. Announcements of record releases, especially listings of bargain-price records offered by mail order companies, were favorite hunting grounds. It was in one of these that I found, after 30 years, the Gyrowetz symphony.
The record made me wonder. When I heard the same release broadcast not long ago by the premier concert music radio station in our region, my hopes soared. And when I saw that the editors of the new edition of Grove had expanded Gyrowetz's entry from one page to one and a half, I triumphed. Gyrowetz was on his way up.
Others who know more about such things than I do may dismiss what I've heard and seen as trivial coincidence, but I have an advantage over them. When it comes to Adalbert Gyrowetz, I'm still naive, and I believe only what I want to. That's the way it's been for 30 years. It's too late to change now.