Even today the sonorous name “Mara” is associated with an internationally renowned singer whose meteoric rise to fame started in the early 1770s when she was engaged by Frederick II of Prussia (1712–1786) as prima donna. The person I am referring to is Gertrud Elisabeth Schmehling (1749–1833), whose exceptional timbre and vocal skills established her reputation as the most outstanding German soprano of her time. She acquired the name by which she became famous through her marriage, in 1773, to the chamber musician Johann Baptist Mara (1744–1808), who was employed by Frederick’s brother, Prince Henry of Prussia (1726–1802). […]
Not much is known about Johann Baptist’s father, Ignaz (Ignatius) Mara (Ignác František Mára). He was baptized on 16 February 1709 in the Bohemian town of Nemecký Brod as Ignaty Frantissek, the son of František Krystyan and Kateržina Rozalia Mara, who had a large number of children beside him. There is no further information about his childhood and musical training. In 1742 Ignaz joined the Prussian court chapel as a violoncellist; as a chamber musician he also took over solo parts. He belonged to the same generation as Georg Czarth (1708 – after 1780) and Franz Benda (1709–1786), who also hailed from Bohemia and served in the Prussian court chapel as violinists. Together with Carl Heinrich Graun (1703/04–1759), Johann Gottlieb Graun (1702/03–1771), Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773), Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (1708–1762), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), Joseph Benda (1724–1804) and others these musicians made up the core of Prussian court music under Frederick II. […]
It is assumed that the three concertos in A Minor, Wq 170 (H 432), B-flat Major, Wq 171 (H 436), and A Major, Wq 172 (H 439), by C. P. E. Bach, which were composed in the early 1750s and according to current scholarship were originally designated for violoncello, strings and basso continuo (and also exist in versions for harpsichord or flute, strings and basso continuo), were composed for Mara. […]
In the orchestral repertoire of the music archive of the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, the hitherto unknown early solo concertos for viola, strings and basso continuo are of particularly interest.
Apart from the two viola concertos in E-flat Major by J. G. Graun (GraunWV Av:XIII:28 and GraunWV Cv:XIII:116), the two viola concertos in E-flat Major and C Major by M. H. Grauel, the two viola concertos in F Major and E-flat Major (LorB 314 and 315, both including two horns) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Benda (1745–1814) and the viola concerto in F Major by Carl Hermann Heinrich Benda (1748–1836), there is also a viola concerto in E-flat Major by Ignaz Mara, transmitted in two contemporary sets of handwritten parts, of which the first served as exemplar for the second, which probably was copied several decades later.
The current source situation and transmission suggest that Mara wrote the solo concerto in E-flat Major for viola; as a composing autograph is missing, it cannot be ruled out that our source represents a contemporary arrangement of a piece originally intended for a different solo instrument. The fact that the composer, a cellist, wrote a concerto for viola, was apparently not unusual at the Prussian court; the violoncellists M. H. Grauel and Christian Friedrich Schale (1713–1800) as well as the double-bass player J. G. Janitsch also composed solo concertos for viola.
For which occasions these concertos were written cannot be ascertained, however, nor do we know whether they were performed in a courtly environment or rather in bourgeois circles, or even in the semi-public music societies newly established in Berlin.
Mara’s concerto is not particularly demanding on the soloist. The piece is comparatively short; it nevertheless demonstrates Mara’s excellent craftsmanship. Together with the above-mentioned concertos by Graun and Grauel it documents the early use of the viola as a solo instrument at the Prussian court, and it certainly is a welcome addition to the late baroque viola repertoire in our modern concert life.
By the preface of Phillip Schmidt (translated by Stephanie Wollny)