The precocious gifts of the child Mozart are well-established, but the remarkable compositional talents of young Elizabeth Weichsell have remained undocumented -- until the release of Hester Parks Classical Prodigies. Replete with world premiere recordings, this disc pairs the works of Weichsell with those of Mozart at ages eight and eleven. What emerges is a remarkable testament to the youthful energy, impressive talents, and prodigious grasp of musical composition of both composers. Recorded by critically-acclaimed harpsichordist Barbara Harbach, this CD simultaneously increases awareness of a brilliant new Classical prodigy while broadening apprecation of young Mozarts gifts.
Elizabeth Weichsell Billington (c. 1768-1818) was born into a musically-talented German family. Her father, Carl Weichsell, was a clarinetist and oboist and her mother was a singer. Her brother played the violin and Elizabeth often accompanied him in her early years. Elizabeth took voice lessons with J.C. Bach and keyboard with J.S. Schroeter. After composing Three Sonatas for Harpsichord or Piano, Op. 1 at age eight and Six Sonatas for Harpsichord or Piano, Op. 2 at age eleven, Weichsell went on to become one of the leading soprano soloist in England, performing under her married name of Billington. Both sets of sonatas, her only known compositions, were published during her lifetime. They demonstrate an impressive understanding of musical intricacies, a judgment later reflected in Haydns calling her a "great genius." Her first set of sonatas, featuring complex rhythms and melodies, often exhibit a bouyant, musicbox quality. Weichsells later set of sonatas have a strong Classical feel, varying in mood from the youthful exhilaration of perpetual sixteenth notes to graceful lyricism to the dramatic spirit and Turkish flavor of Sonata III in B-flat Major.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is, unlike Weichsell, well-documented as a composer. He, too, was born into an exceptionally musical family, and his compositions reflect his travels and extensive musical education. His early sonatas offer a striking comparison when juxtaposed with the sonatas of Weichsell. The set of Allegros, written when Mozart was eight, are energized by constant sixteenth-note motion, rhythmic variety, grace notes, and turns. The two sets of his variations from age eleven can be considered improvisations that have been written down. They feature bravura thirty-second note flourishes, snappy dotted rhythms, a driving Alberti bass, and highly-ornamented melodies.
This harpsichord disc showcases the musical talents of Barbara Harbach, performer on over a dozen solo compact discs and several chamber discs with such labels as Gasparo Records, Kingdom Records, Albany Records, Northeastern Records, and Hester Park. Professor of Music at Washington State University and Editor of Women of Note Quarterly, Harbach is recognized as a pioneer in research on women composers, beginning with her 1986 edition Women Composers for the Harpsichord with Elkan-Vogel (Theodore Presser). She is also known as host of the weekly television music series Palouse Performance seen on Northwest Public Television. Musical America has called her "nothing short of brilliant" and Gramophone has cited her as an "acknowledged interpreter -- and, indeed, muse -- of modern harpsichord music."
Classical Prodigies, a direct-to-disk, pure digital recording is available for $15.98. The compact disc documents the striking comparison of the two impressively gifted young composers Mozart and Weichsell at the early stages of their musical careers. The disc is sure to delight harpsichord aficionados and novice listeners alike. To order this disc or for more information, call 800-543-5429 or write Hester Park, PO Box 157, Readfield, WI 54969.