It all really started on that (as usual) rainy Monday morning. Paolo and I were just having fun playing through some pieces we had never seen (what else do you do on a rainy Monday morning?). One of them was a Sonata in e minor by someone named Jacques Widerkehr. Publisher Musica Rara. Never heard of the guy. But what a piece! Melodious, surprising turns of phrase, virtuosity, flashes of humor, and exciting dialogue between piano and oboe. The slow movement is sweet and introverted and the last movement: full of daring, with even an occasional bit of real dramatic writing. All things that we would take for granted in the music of a real genius like Mozart. But with a totally B-list composer like Jacques Widerkehr, it came as a big surprise. The sonata felt very fresh, without any false pretensions.
But who exactly is this Jacques Christian Michael Widerkehr? Looked him up in the well known reference work ‘The New Grove’; "Jacques Christian Michael Widerkehr (l’ainé), French composer, born in Strasbourg, Alsace in 1759. Played cello, bassoon, and trombone." And yet…. ‘The New Grove’ isn’t entirely sure about that, because that’s what a certain Philippe Widerkehr (le jeune) played as well. Another French composer, born in Strasbourg, Alsace. Philippe --that must be Jacques’ younger brother.
One thing ‘The New Grove’ is sure of: in 1783 Jacques Widerkehr moved to Paris where he was to achieve great fame as a composer. He was among the best-loved composers of the day in France. He owed his reputation to his chamber music, but especially to his "Symphonies Concertantes". These were a novelty: solo concerti not for 1 soloist and orchestra, but for several soloists (from 2 to 7) with orchestra. According to another contemporary source, the "Biographie Universelle des Musiciens" by the critic and historian François Fétis, Widerkehr’s ‘symphonies concertantes’ were considered among the finest in that genre in France for many years......