Battle of Prague

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Battle of Prague: A favourite sonata for the pinaoforte or harpsichord with accompaniments for a violin, violoncello, op. 23

Programmatic sonata composed by František Kocžwara (Franz Kotzwara), a Bohemian instrumentalist and composer c1750 - 1791. Born in Prague, Kocžwara spent much of his musical career in England. He died in London in somewhat bizarre circumstances: "Kocžwara gained special notoriety by the manner of his death, with which most early accounts of him are primarily concerned. He was reputed to have had unusual vices, and was accidentally hanged while conducting an experiment in a house of ill repute. Susan Hill, his accomplice in the experiment, was tried for murder at the Old Bailey on 16 September 1791 and was acquitted." (Grove Music Online)

The Battle of Prague was first published in 1788 or thereabouts, while Kocžwara was in Dublin (although the battle which it commemorated had been fought much earlier, in 1757). It was phenomenally successful, being widely reprinted in London, the USA and on the continent of Europe. Originally published with accompaniments, it also became a standard parlour piece for solo piano (Jane Austen is known to have possessed a copy of the piano music) while in Boston, New England it was described as ‘indespensable to climax every concert’. A copy-cat piece entitled The Siege of Quebec was often, but erroneously, attributed to Kocžwara; actually it was an arrangement by W.B. de Krifft appropriating some material from Kocžwara. And as the sonata was published and achieved popularity shortly before widespread political upheaval in Europe, it served as the model for a host of imitations describing Napoleonic engagements. Kocžwara himself was adept at imitating the styles of other composers and was able to pass off as genuine some forged works, supposedly by popular composers such as Haydn and Pleyel.

The Battle of Prague paints a musical picture of the battle, with sections labelled "The bugle horn call for the cavalry", "Flying bullets", "Attack with swords", "The cries of the wounded" and so forth. It opens with "Slow March" - which appears as The Battle of Prague in the MS of John Clare (Northamptonshire), and as Grand March in the Battle of Prague in John Moore's Shropshire MS. Towards the end of the suite is "Turkish Music", which again appears in John Clare's MS, twice, as Quickstep in the Battle of Prague and Turk's March.

The "Turkish Music" is nothing to do with the presence of Turkish troops at the battle (there weren't any) but reflects the vogue for so called Turkish Music - as evidenced, for example, in Mozart's Rondo a la Turque. Similarly, the inclusion of God Save the King in the sonata is probably explained by contemporary fashion - British troops were not involved in the battle.

It is worth noting that in the original the Slow March is written in the key of F and the Turkish Music is in C. In Clare's and Moore's versions, they have all been transposed to the more fiddle-friendly key of D. One might suppose that both country musicians learned the tunes by ear, and wrote them down in an "obvious" key for ear-players. But the two manuscript versions of the March are very nearly identical; while Clare's includes grace-notes, trills and ties, which suggests he copied the tune from a printed source - so was there an intermediate printed version in D from which both their versions derive?

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