Ignaz Pleyel

Ignaz Pleyel’s Symphony in G Major (Benton 130) went by me on WQXR (classical music in NYC) yesterday, and I was reminded what a fascinating character Pleyel is. This will lead us to shapenote singing and then, via the composer’s personal name, to the Jesuits and Krazy Kat.

On Pleyel, bits and pieces from Wikipedia:

Ignace Joseph Pleyel (… 18 June 1757 – 14 November 1831) was an Austrian-born French composer and piano builder of the Classical period.

He was born in Ruppersthal in Lower Austria, the son of a schoolmaster named Martin Pleyel. He was the 24th of 38 children in the family. While still young, he probably studied with Johann Baptist Vanhal, and from 1772 he became the pupil of Joseph Haydn in Eisenstadt. As with Beethoven, born 13 years later, Pleyel benefited in his study from the sponsorship of aristocracy, in this case [the Hungarian] Count Ladislaus Erdődy (1746–1786).

… Pleyel moved to Paris in 1795. In 1797 he set up a business as a music publisher (“Maison Pleyel”), which among other works produced a complete edition of Haydn’s string quartets (1801), as well as the first miniature scores for study (the Bibliothèque Musicale, “musical library”). The publishing business lasted for 39 years and published about 4000 works during this time, including compositions by Adolphe Adam, Luigi Boccherini, Ludwig van Beethoven, Muzio Clementi, Johann Baptist Cramer, Johann Ladislaus Dussek, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Georges Onslow.

… Pleyel was prolific, composing 41 symphonies, 70 string quartets and several string quintets and operas. Many of these works date from [his] Strasbourg [Cathedral] period; Pleyel’s production tailed off after he had become a businessman.

… Pleyel is one instance of the phenomenon of a composer (others include Cherubini, Meyerbeer, and Thalberg) who was very famous in his own time but [is] currently obscure.

… Pleyel’s fame even reached the then-remote musical regions of America: there was a Pleyel Society on the island of Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts, and tunes by Pleyel made their way into the then-popular shape note hymnals. Pleyel’s work is twice represented in the principal modern descendant of these books, The Sacred Harp.

In his own time, Pleyel’s reputation rested at least in part on the undemanding character of his music.

… The piano firm Pleyel et Cie was founded by Ignace Pleyel and continued by Pleyel’s son Camille (1788–1855), a piano virtuoso who became his father’s business partner as of 1815. The firm provided pianos used by Frédéric Chopin, and also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, in which Chopin performed his first — and also his last — Paris concerts. [The firm closed late in 2013.]

Whew! And I haven’t mentioned his brush with the Reign of Terror in 1793-94 and his subsequent move to London for a period, when he was in professional competition with his mentor Haydn..

Sacred Harp. Pleyel’s Hymn (First), SH143:


As sung by shapenote singers:

Pleyel’s Hymn (Second), SH523b:


At a singing:

And then a remarkable New Orleans jazz version of 523b, on trumpeter Al Hirt’s album Struttin’ Down Royal Street:

The name Ignaz: Ignaz (or its spelling variant Ignatz) is a German version of the name Ignatius (French version Ignace, Spanish Nacio or Nacho, Italian Ignazio), which might have started as a Roman family name Egnatius (possibly from Etruscan), reshaped so as to incorporate ignis ‘fire’ — or was possibly directly based on ignis, and is therefore glossed as ‘ardent, fiery’.

The name Ignatius was taken by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. And Ignatz is the name cartoonist George Herriman gave to the mouse that Krazy Kat is in love with; details in my posting “Krazy Kat”of 4/23/14.

Other famous names in this vicinity: Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian pioneer of antisepsis; Ignazio Silone, the Italian novelist (Bread and Wine); I. J. [Ignace Jay] Gelb, the great scholar of writing systems (A Study of Writing); and Nacio Herb Brown, the American writer of popular songs, film scores, and theater music (the song “Singin’ in the Rain”).

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