H&H’s fiery and expressive Concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky returns to the spotlight after the smashing success of her Vivaldi The Four Seasons performances in 2012. Under Harry Christophers’ expert hands, Haydn comes to life in a program that showcases one of his Paris Symphonies, The Bear, a festive and jubilant work commissioned by a Parisian orchestra in the 1780s.
- Haydn: Symphony No. 6, Le matin
- Haydn: Violin Concerto in G Major
- Haydn: Overture to L'isola disabitata
- Haydn: Symphony No. 82, The Bear
In July 1805, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) received a medal and diploma from the Paris Conservatory. One of the many awards Haydn received, this medal, delivered by the composer Luigi Cherubini, was a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of Haydn’s importance to musical life in Paris. The works on today’s program highlight the connection between Haydn’s expanding musical influence and his orchestral music.
Born on March 31, 1732, Haydn was the son of a wheelwright. When he was about eight years old, he became a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he remained for the next 10 years. In his autobiography, dictated when he was in his seventies, Haydn recalled that in the days after leaving St. Stephen’s he had to “eke out a wretched existence” by teaching, playing organ and violin for church services, and performing in instrumental ensembles.
Haydn became a musician in Count Moritz’s court in 1758. In 1761, he was formally appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterházy house, one of the most powerful and influential families in the Austrian empire. He was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766, and remained actively employed by the family until 1790, when Prince Nikolaus died and his successor disbanded the court orchestra. Haydn was officially retained by the new prince; however, he was free to pursue other opportunities as well. At this time, the violinist and entrepreneur Johann Peter Salomon invited Haydn to England. Because this first trip was so successful, a second tour was arranged for 1794–1795.
During his first trip to England, Haydn visited the Bonn court, where he met and agreed to teach a young composer, Ludwig van Beethoven. Their counterpoint lessons, which took place between 1792 and 1793, were not what either master or student expected and Beethoven later claimed that he had not learned anything from Haydn. While that may have been true about counterpoint, the lessons conveyed through Haydn’s compositions were invaluable to Beethoven.
After his second trip to England, Haydn turned to writing vocal music, including the oratorios Creation and The Seasons. He composed less as he grew older, but his music remained an important part of concert life in Europe and America. Even Napoléon Bonaparte, after occupying Vienna in 1809, showed his respect for Haydn by placing an honor guard outside the composer’s home. Haydn died on May 31, 1809.
Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Le matin, was composed in 1761. Along with Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8, it makes up a trilogy of works, each of which depicts a different time of day: morning, noon, and evening. The idea to compose symphonies associated with the passing of a day may have been suggested to Haydn by his new employer, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy. Symphony No. 6 begins with a slow introduction that gradually rises melodically and builds as additional instruments are added to the string opening. This musical representation of sunrise is brief, which adds to its impact, and leads to a fast, rising flute melody. The flute, and by extension the woodwinds, are prominent throughout the symphony.
Haydn returns to the rising melodic line to begin and close the second movement. Scored only for strings, this movement features passages for solo violin and solo cello, creating a concerto-like or concertante sound. Highlighting individual instruments continues in the third movement, Menuet and Trio. In the Menuet, the high instruments, flute and violin, are the featured soloists, while, in the Trio, bassoon and cello emerge as soloists. In the fast (Allegro) finale, Haydn references the first movement, linking the two in the listener’s ear, underpinning the musical relationship among all four movements, and summarizing the entire work with a rising flute solo and passages for solo violin and cello, all within a joyously contented mood. This is a morning of things going well!
Haydn’s decision to highlight the violin, cello, and flute reflects his familiarity with the members of the Esterházy orchestra. Prince Paul Anton could easily boast he had one of the great violin virtuosos in the area, Luigi Tomassini. Haydn featured his talents and the talents of the other principal players of the orchestra with this symphony. Today, Handel and Haydn Society principals Christopher Krueger (flute), Guy Fishman (cello), and Aisslinn Nosky (violin) are the featured soloists in this symphony.
In writing concertos, Haydn always had something special in mind for the soloist and that is the case in the Violin Concerto in G Major, composed in 1769. The first movement has an overall graceful feeling, even though it opens with two contrasting ideas in the orchestra: one bolder, the other calmer and gentler. Once the soloist enters, Haydn establishes a fluid exchange between the violin and orchestra that he maintains throughout all three movements of the concerto. The second movement, Adagio, is lyrical but not tentative; the direction of each phrase is precise and satisfying to the ear. The Finale sparkles with the clarity of the musical phrases. Each entrance of the violin soloist guides that section of music to new places, while the orchestral returns (ritornelli) ground the movement for the listener.
Immortalized in later centuries as the “father of the symphony,” Haydn is less well-known today for his operas. In the 1770s, however, Haydn was considered one of the best opera composers. Empress Maria Theresa is reported to have said that if she wanted to see a good opera, she would go to Esterháza, one of the most elaborate palaces owned by Haydn’s employers.
The first performance of Haydn’s opera L’isola disabitata, (The Deserted Island), at Esterháza on December 6, 1779, was special. It was written for the Prince’s name day and three weeks earlier a fire at the palace had destroyed the opera house. The story centers on two sisters who have been alone on a deserted island for 13 years after a storm forced them to take refuge there. One sister, Constanza, has lost hope because her husband, who left them on the island, has not returned. Silvia, however, does not share her sister’s sense of despair, because she was only a baby when they arrived on the island. Constanza’s husband does return and, in the end, both find happiness. The overture for this opera begins with an introduction, followed by two contrasting musical ideas. The first drives and surges, like a raging sea or Constanza’s inner turmoil, while the second is calmer and steadier in feel.
The six Paris Symphonies mark a new stage in Haydn’s symphonic writing. In Symphony No. 82, composed in 1786, Haydn juxtaposes ever-changing instrumentation and melodic ideas. The foundation of all this activity is the composer’s inimitable sense of formal design and musical space. With a sound that is at times explosive, the first movement, Vivace, drives forward with dramatic energy born of rhythmic, dynamic, and melodic ideas. In the Allegretto, Haydn complements the energy of the first movement, but with a lighter touch overall. The third movement, Menuet, is a stately dance with a mocking touch suggested by the instruments and melody; while its matching Trio is perhaps more sincere in its feeling, but is tinged with moments of melancholy. The final movement twists and twirls, slows and accelerates like wandering through a fair. The main melody, accompanied by a drone bass, contributes to this festive, entertaining air. This Finale is reminiscent of the music that accompanied dancing bears in carnivals in Paris; from this movement, the symphony is popularly know as The Bear.
Today’s concert celebrates the diverse orchestral compositions of Haydn, one of the namesakes of Handel and Haydn Society. When H&H was founded, Haydn represented the “new” in music. His music was revered for its immediate appeal combined with his bold sense of design and innovation. He thought of his orchestra at Esterházy as an opportunity to try new ideas and push beyond the accepted sounds of the day. Haydn himself commented that he worked in relative isolation during his first 30 years at the court, allowing his own musical imagination free reign. Balancing a sense of adventure with unparalleled craftsmanship, Haydn’s music delighted audiences in Paris and beyond.
© Teresa M. Neff, PhD, 2013
2012–2013 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
Haydn: Symphony No. 82,
(Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; Sigiswald Kuijken, conductor)