In Joseph Schuster’s oeuvre (1748 –1812) instrumental music plays only a marginal role. During his lifetime Schuster’s reputation as a composer rested primarily on his Italian operas, which he wrote for Venice and Naples but also for the opera house of his native Dresden, and on the German singspiel Der Alchymist oder der Liebesteufel (1778), which was staged in Dresden and elsewhere with enormous success for many years. The other main field of activity in Schuster’s career was sacred music. In his function as “Kirchen-Compositeur” (church composer) at the Dresden court he wrote four oratorios and numerous works for liturgical use such as masses, offertories and psalm settings. He also composed an oratorio for the Venetian Ospedaletto. [...]
Even though they cannot compete with his vocal music in quantity, Schuster’s instrumental works appear to have been held in similar esteem by his contemporaries. The most famous testimonial to this is a letter of 6 October 1777 written by Mozart to his father, in which he enclosed “6 Duetti à Clavicembalo e Violino von Schuster” for his sister. He recommends these pieces, which today are known as “Divertimenti”, with the following words: “I have played them quite often here. They are not bad. If I stay here I will also write six of them in this manner, for they are much appreciated here.” [...]
According to the date inserted at the end of the autograph the double concerto was composed in 1773, a year after Schuster had been officially appointed “church composer” at the electoral court (1 May 1772), his first permanent employment. [...]
The concerto for two harpsichords may have been intended for private use – possibly by the Saxon Elector Friedrich August III (1750 –1827) – rather than for performance in a public concert. The fact that the orchestral parts have been transmitted only in single copies may be interpreted as an indication of this private use (i.e. with only one player per part in the strings); this assumption is further supported by the existence of an arrangement of the piece made by Peter August (1726 –1787) for two harpsichords without orchestral accompaniment – which was prepared only four or five years after the date of composition, however. Still it cannot be ruled out that while composing this piece Schuster may have also envisaged a performance in the context of a concert, for example during a future journey to Italy.
There is no clear answer to the question whether the concerto presented here should be performed on harpsichords or rather on fortepianos. Certainly its title cannot be read as indicating the preference of a performance on harpsichords. Regarding the orchestration, we may assume a small string group, as all four sources containing parts transmit each part only in a single copy. The bass group probably consisted of violoncello and double bass, however: The occasional switch to the tenor clef may be interpreted as indicating a pause of the 16’ instrument. The addition of a bassoon would certainly be an option, particularly when using a larger number of strings.
From the preface by Johannes Volker Schmidt
(Translated by Stephanie Wollny)