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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Pleyel, Ignaz Joseph (1757-1831)

Born near Vienna, he became a favourite pupil of Haydn. He settled in Strasbourg as choirmaster of the Cathedral, but during the third year of the French Revolution, when France was faced with considerable foreign opposition, he thought it prudent to leave. Thus it came about that Pleyel was in London at the same time as Haydn, his old master. Stories are sometimes encountered about Haydn's alleged irritation at finding Pleyel giving rival concerts in the British capital. A letter of Haydn's written in December 1791, reads: 'Since his arrival [23rd December] Pleyel. has been so modest to me that my old affection has revived; we are often together and it does him honour to find that he honours the worth of his old father [i.e. Haydn himself]. We shall each take our share of success and go home satisfied.'

Pleyel, however, was not at once able to go home, for he found himself denounced as an enemy of the Republic. Eventually, he settled in Paris, where he founded the famous piano manufactory that still bears his name.

He wrote a considerable quantity of music; symphonies, quintets, and quartets. And several series of sonatas and sonatinas for two violins and for violin and piano which are still widely played by students. Mozart wrote of him in a letter to his father dated 24th April 1784: 'He is a pupil of Joseph Haydn. if you do not yet know his quartets, try to get them, they are well worth while.... What good fortune for music if Pleyel, in his good time, can take Haydn's place for us!'

George Thomson described Pleyel as his 'first Apollo'. The editor probably first wrote to the composer about the time Pleyel was in London. Pleyel provided Thomson with six sonatas based on Scottish airs, and symphonies and accompaniments to thirty-two Scottish songs. For this, he received £131 5s. in 1793. Thomson appears to have had some difficulty with Pleyel, for he told another musician, Kozeluch (who succeeded Mozart as Court Composer to Leopold II), from whom he was insisting on having a signed contract:

'As he is resident in France, I have no means at present of procuring any redress or satisfaction from him. These musicians are generally very incorrect in business and eccentric in their conduct, so that it is the more necessary to be on one's guard in a transaction of this kind.'

Burns regarded Thomson's foreign cornposers with a measure of suspicion. On 26th April 1793, he cautioned the editor: 'Another hint you will forgive — whatever Mr Pleyel does, let him not alter one iota of the original Scots Air; I mean, in the Song Department. Our friend Clarke, than whom, you know, there is not a better judge on the subject, complains that in the air "Leerig", the accent is to be altered. But, let our National Music preserve its native features. They are, I own, frequently wild, and unreducable to the modem rules; but on that very eccentricity, perhaps, depends a great part of their effect.'

In May 1794, Burns remarked to Thornson: I am quite vexed at Playel's being cooped up in France, as it will put an entire stop to our work.' And again, in July: 'Is there no news yet, my dear Sir, of Pleyel? Or is; your work to be at a dead stop, untill these glorious Crusaders, the Allies, set our modern Orpheus at liberty from the savage thraldom of Democratic Discords?' By 6th February 1795, Burns was suggesting: 'If you are ultimately frustrated of Pleyel's assistance, what think you of applying to Clarke? This, you will

say, would be breaking faith with your Subscribers; but, bating that circumstance, I am confident that Clarke is equal in Scottish Song to take up the pen, even after Pleyel.'

Thomson, however, turned to Kozeluch.

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Complete Burns Songs

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