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Antonin Rejcha — Who Knew?

Copyright © 2021–2022 by Stan Brown, BrownMath.com

In the fall of 2016, Gerald Wolfe, music director of the Ithaca Community Chorus, announced that we would be singing Antonin Rejcha’s Te Deum at our winter concert. “Who?” I wondered, and you may be wondering too.

This is the Czech/French composer Antonin Rejcha. Sometime after he moved to Paris he started spelling his name the German way, Anton Reicha, so either spelling is correct. People who have heard of him tend to associate him with chamber music for winds, and for his textbooks on composition, but he did so much more than that.

Rejcha or Reicha lived 1770–1826 and therefore was a contemporary of Beethoven (1770–1827), Mozart (1756–1791), Haydn (1732–1809), and Schubert (1686–1828), among other big names. I mention those four just because some works of Rejcha’s sound like they could have been written by one of those composers.

His works somehow never made it into the standard repertoire, I really think he's been unjustly neglected. (It happens. Bach’s work was not much known when Mendelssohn reintroduced him to the world.) If you're not aware of Rejcha, I think you have a listening treat in store.

Sample Choral Works

And how was our performance of Rejcha’s Te Deum received? At the end the audience were on their feet cheering. It’s the most enthusiastic response I can remember. So a year and a half later, we performed Rejcha’s Requiem. (Those are links to YouTube videos by other choruses. For copyright reasons, the Ithaca Community Chorus can’t put its concerts on the Web.)

I think Rejcha’s Te Deum shows significantly more invention than Bruckner’s and is much better to listen to, and his Requiem is on a par with Dvorak’s.

Sample Chamber Works

I’m partial to chamber music, so most of my favorite Rejcha works fall into that category. Here are a few to get you started, all linked to YouTube videos:

Rejcha wrote many pieces in the usual genres, including concertos and symphonies. If you catch the Rejcha bug and want to hear more, remember to search YouTube for both his surnames, Rejcha and Reicha. And maybe his music will find its way onto SiriusXM one day.

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