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Announcing the world premiere of ‘the world’s largest collection of ringtones’

In September this year, the town of Erfurt in Germany will stage the belated world premiere of J.W. Hässler’s 360 preludes in all keys, which the soloist generously describes as “the world’s largest collection of ringtones.”

Hässler (1747-1822), born in Erfurt, wrote the set in 1817 but, since cellphones had yet to be invented, the scores have languished for the better part of two centuries in a Moscow archive where the scholar and clavichord player Dmitry Feofanov retrieved them.

Dr Feofanov has written a note for the performance, exclusively for Slipped Disc:

Johann Wilhelm Hässler (1747-1822), was a German composer and a klavier player, perhaps most remembered for his contest with Mozart.
Hässler, who studied with one of Bach’s last students, Johann Christian Kittel, preferred clavichord to a fortepiano, and, apparently, did not surpass Mozart in organ playing.  But then, who would?

He was born in Erfurt, and, after a period of touring around Europe (including London), ended up in Russia, first in St. Petersburg, and then–for over a quarter of a century–in Moscow.  Apparently, he considered his coming to Moscow something of a being “born again,” because his works there begin with Op. 1 for the second time.  Or, perhaps, he was just re-cycling some material for a new market, one cannot be sure.

It is from the Moscow period that one of the most bizarre works of Hässler comes–a cycle of 360 preludes in all keys.  Its world premiere will take place on September 23, 2012, in–naturally–Erfurt.  Arranged in the circle of fifths (C-major followed by c-minor, then G and g, etc.), each set contains fifteen miniature preludes, some lasting as little as four seconds.  To call this “the world largest collection of ringtones” would not be far  off.  Because of sheer numbers, the complete cycle runs to over 95 minutes, and ends with a sadly profound chorale prelude in f-minor.

Hässler’s chief claim to fame is a very big gigue for piano, not necessarily his best piece.  He wrote a substantial amount of sonatas, mostly for amateur musicians, and some of these are quite lovely.  His style is a curious mixture of backward-looking early classicism interspersed with proto-romantic touches.  After his move to Russia, he would occasionally throw in a Russian folk song–either real or fake–in the mix, with truly incongruous results.  The best English-language writing on Hässler is by Christopher Hogwood.

Much of Hässler’s output is kept in the special collection of the Moscow Conservatory.  When a fellow musician, acting on my behalf , came to copy the score, the librarian responded to her request with “Why do you need it?”

Here is one of the 360 prelude-ringtones (very short)

And here’s an unrelated Capriccio from youtube:

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  1. The curiosity is not the fact that a composer has written 360 preludes, but that a 21st century pianist is performing them as a cycle on a concert. They are certainly not mend for this purpose and the pieces where not written as a cycle. These preludes are likely used for didactic purpose. In this period it was common for composers to write short preludes as introduction to pieces.
    Method books by Hummel, Czerny, Kalkbrenner provided guidelines for constructing preludes, and of collections of preludes were offered as models or to be memorized. Preluding gave the pianist an opportunity to try out the piano, warm up the fingers, and focus before the performance began.
    Czerny’s stated that “the performer should become accustomed to improvising a prelude each time and before each piece that he studies or plays”.
    Preludes of these kind where written by Giordani (1789), Clementi(1887), Corri(1813), Cramer (1818), Herz(1921) among many others. A composer who wrote very short preludes, similar to those by Hassler, was Charles Chaulieu: vingt-quatre petite preludes op 9.
    That the preludes have been published in 1817 doesn’t mean that they were written in the same year. Likely Hassler has collected over years and published them all together.

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