Haydn’s wit sparkles in his symphonies No. 83 (The Hen) and No. 94 (Surprise) through Labadie’s brilliant interpretation. The unexpected drumbeat in Haydn’s Surprise was incorporated, according to the composer, “to surprise the public with something new.” Cambridge star fortepianist Robert Levin returns with his trademark improvisational charm for Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, a back-and-forth dialogue between piano and orchestra.
Bernard Labadie, conductor
Robert Levin, fortepiano
- Haydn: Symphony No. 83 in G Minor, The Hen
- Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
- Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G Major, Surprise
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Cabot-Cahners Room.
H2 Young Professionals
Reception immediately following the 10/29 concert at Symphony 8.
After each performance, fortepianist Robert Levin will take the time to answer questions and discuss his career.
Christina Day Martinson
Krista Buckland Reisner
Heather Miller Lardin
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) not only knew each other’s music, but, for a short time, Haydn was also Beethoven’s teacher; it is no surprise that their compositions have fundamental musical materials in common. The works on today’s program show how each composer uses these basic components, especially rests and orchestration, to define their individual sound within the context of a common musical language.
There is no doubt that Haydn and Beethoven were inventive and imaginative composers. Haydn once remarked that the isolation and geographic distance of the Esterházy court from Vienna was a great learning experience because he was able to develop his own style as a composer. After his semi-retirement from the court in 1790, however, Haydn continued to learn and grow as a composer in response to the changing musical world. Symphony No. 83 in G minor, composed in 1785, was one of six symphonies (Nos. 82–87) commissioned by the Comte d’Orgny for the Concert de la Loge Olympique. One of the best orchestras in Paris, this ensemble was founded in 1781 by virtuoso violinist and fencing master Joseph Boulogne, le Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1739–1799).
The six Paris symphonies mark a new stage in Haydn’s symphonic writing. Symphony No. 83 contains Haydn’s capricious sense of humor combined with clear and concise musical phrases. Underlying it all is Haydn’s masterful sense of unity and his delineation of silence and musical space. In the first movement, Allegro spirituoso, the character of the two themes is defined, in part, by the placement of rests. Repetitions of the dramatic opening theme are separated by longer rests; in the second theme Haydn intersperses shorter rests between almost every note of the melody. This use of rests as part of the melodic line plus a quick embellishment on selected pitches gives this second theme, and symphony as a whole, the nickname The Hen.
Haydn also utilizes instrument combinations to delineate parts of a movement. In the second movement, Andante, the winds accent the string lines and the full orchestra is reserved for more dramatic moments. Similarly, in the third movement Minuet section Haydn uses the interplay of smaller groups and full orchestra while the solo flute and violins are featured in the Trio section. In the final movement, varying wind instruments combine with a dance-like tune in the strings.
Although composed in 1791, Symphony No. 94 in G major (The Surprise) was probably premiered at the Salomon London concerts in March 1792. In this symphony, also nicknamed Der Paukenschlag (“The Drum Beat”), the timpani and trumpets in the first movement differentiate the large orchestral sections from the lighter chamber sound of the rest of the movement. This continues in the second movement when the musical surprise, which gives this symphony its English nickname, definitively separates the chamber and orchestral sections.
In the third movement, Haydn again surprises us with stops and starts, held chords and smaller groups of instruments set off against the full orchestra. Sections for strings and solo winds alternate with the full orchestra in the Finale as well. In addition, another kind of exchange occurs between the initial theme and episodes of new ideas. These ideas are presented, overlapped, anticipated and deflected in the course of this delightful movement.
The lessons Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) learned from Haydn’s music left a lasting impression. The Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major was composed between 1805 and 1806 and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph of Austria. Beethoven was the soloist for performances at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz in March 1807 and at the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808. This concert, which also included performances of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Choral Fantasy, and the Mass in C, was monumental in length (lasting about four hours) and in the breath of the musical compositions presented.
In the first movement, Allegro moderato, the roles for the solo piano and orchestra are clearly defined from the first measure. The piano begins, unaccompanied and quietly; an unusual way for a concerto to commence. It is a kind of musical question and, after the slightest pause, the orchestra replies. We hear something very familiar in the orchestra’s response but also recognize that it is not exactly the same. In this way, orchestra and soloist carve out their own musical space while still complementing one another.
In the second movement, Andante con moto, the character of the musical statements for the soloist and orchestra remain separate and do not coincide until the end of the movement. Here another unexpected event occurs as the piano line (with orchestral accompaniment) leads directly into the third movement without any break. The interaction of the soloist and orchestra initiated at the end of the second movement continues in the brilliant third movement. [Mr. Levin will be improvising the cadenzas for this concerto.]
One of the pleasures of listening to the music of Haydn and Beethoven lies in the musical patterns. We hear how a pattern is established and then discover how each composer varies it in ways large and small. For Haydn, the ideas vary with each utterance, shaping the movement or work with subtle intricacy, while Beethoven makes bold gestures that carry us to new depths and heights. The works on today’s concert show two master composers in full command of their skills.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, Ph.D.
2010–2011 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
Piano Concerto no. 4