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Of toys and Child’s Play

Luis Dias

In the decade of our existence, (yes, we are ten years old!) we at Child’s Play India Foundation have worked hard to curate appropriate music for our annual Christmas concert. There’s a lot of Christmas music such as carols, which are evergreen; but we have also played other works.

So far, we have played the Christmas concerti of Arcangelo Correlli (1653-1713), Giuseppe Torrelli (1658-1709), and Francesco Onofrio Manfredini (1684-1762). We have performed excerpts from Tchaikovsky ballets such as ‘The Nutcracker’ (traditionally put on at Christmas time on account of its Christmas-themed story, no doubt) and ‘Sleeping Beauty’. We have performed ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ from the oratorio ‘L’Enfance du Christ’ (The Childhood of Christ) by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) and ‘Troika’ (three-horse sleigh-ride music complete with the jingling of bells) from the Lieutenant Kijé Suite by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).

Preparing a programme requires much forethought, sometimes months to even a year in the planning. So, earlier this year, I thought of programming the children’s favourite, and Christmas season-appropriate ‘Toy Symphony’. As ours is a children’s charity, one always has to take into account the ‘playability’ of a work; while some pieces are chosen keeping rank beginners in mind, to introduce them to the experience of playing in an ensemble, of several musical lines intermeshing beautifully into a polyphonic whole. We also have to challenge youth of intermediate and advanced ability with more complex works. And the music has to match the palette of orchestral instrumental colour that is locally available, which currently, woefully, is limited to just strings and flutes. It is something that Child’s Play wishes, in the fullness of time, to tackle, but I digress.

So back to the ‘Toy Symphony’. How and why did it even acquire this playful moniker? Well, simply because it is a musical work with parts for toy
instruments.

And its provenance? This is where it gets interesting. When I was growing up, the prevalent notion was that it was the work of ‘Papa’ Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). But then later scholarship seemed to hint at its authorship by Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), composer, pedagogue and violinist in his own right, but today much more famous for being the father of that classical music great, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

And so it is that even today if you google ‘Toy Symphony’, either one of these names will show up in the initial searches. But the plot thickens even further. Music professor, researcher, cellist and conductor (among other accomplishments) Seymour Benstock (1922-2015) in his 2013 book ‘Did You Know? A Music Lover’s Guide to Nicknames, Titles and Whimsy’ concluded, in his entry on the ‘Toy Symphony’, that the work is “partly” by Leopold Mozart, “with major contributions” by the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn, Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1807). The three movements were listed as part of a Divertimento or Symphonie Burlesque (Hob: II. 47), but this is now thought to be spurious.

Sounds complicated enough already? Imagine then my surprise when I downloaded the sheet music from IMSLP (short for the International Music Score Library Project, or the Petrucci Music Library, the subscription-based project for the creation of a virtual library of public-domain music scores). It lists the conductor score (Partitur) as by Joseph Haydn, but the individual parts of the same work are attributed to yet another composer throwing his hat in the ring, as it were: Edmund Angerer. And get this: the key signature is not in G major, as the work previously thought to be (Joseph) Haydn’s was, but in C major.

Curiouser and curiouser. I had to get to the bottom of this. I must confess that while I was familiar with all the previously-mentioned composers, Angerer was a new one. Who was he?

Edmund Angerer (1740-1794), I learnt, was a Benedictine monk,church musician, and composer in what is modern-day Austria. Just at our last concert, a series of events had led us to perform the Indian premiere of another obscure Benedictine monk (Johann Valentin Rathgeber) from an adjacent part of the world, but a generation earlier. Talk about coincidences!

To us today, (if he is indeed the author of the ‘Toy Symphony’!), he might seem to be a one-hit wonder. But Angerer is also responsible for innumerable sacred works, Singspiele (a form of German light opera, typically with spoken dialogue, popular especially in the late 18th century) and operettas. His most famous work was the so-called ‘Berchtolds-Gaden Musick’, written around 1765, which was widely regarded as a “hit” of its time during the 18th century throughout Europe. The ‘Toy Symphony’ features in this collection of works.

He faded into posthumous oblivion, which would account for the confusion surrounding the authorship of many of his works, including the ‘Toy Symphony’. The discovery of a music manuscript in 1922 seems to clinch his claim to the work for many musicologists, although some argue it could be merely a transcript,and does not prove authorship. However, Angerer’s ‘Berchtolds-Gaden Musick’ is the oldest known record of the so-called Children’s Symphony (Kinder-Sinfonie), better known to us as the ‘Toy Symphony’.

The “toy” instruments featured in the composition range from toy trumpet, rattle, triangle, toy drum, whistle, quail, whistle cuckoo, whistle bird warbler for the nightingale, and an organ stop of high-pitched rotating bells (cimbelstern) with a twinkling sound. So you have not just a bang, crash and wallop, but a shake, rattle and roll, to say nothing of squeaks, cheeps and tweets.

There are other “toy symphonies” (Kinder-Sinfonien) and other compositions featuring “toy” instruments. But this one seems have to caught the popular imagination.

Come along to some Christmas fun with not just the ‘Toy Symphony’, but carols and good cheer featuring the Child’s Play chorus, Camerata Child’s Play India and a very special Christmas appearance by Omar de Loiola Pereira’s sacred music choir ‘Aradhon’, their first public appearance in North Goa.

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