Former Music Director Grant Llewellyn returns to H&H for the first time since 2008 to lead the Period Instrument Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 and Mozart’s Haffner Symphony. The program also features H&H’s concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky and principal players as soloists in Haydn’s virtuosic Sinfonia Concertante.
- Mozart Symphony No. 35, Haffner
- Haydn Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello, Oboe, and Bassoon
- Beethoven Symphony No. 2
The music of the Classical era features a wide variety of musical patterns, including those that are melodic, rhythmic, and structural. How a composer hears the potential of each pattern or manipulates a pattern lies at the heart of the music of the late 18th century; it also determines how our expectations as listeners may be fulfilled immediately, delayed for a while, or diverted to new ideas. Large-scale orchestral works, like those on today’s program by three great Classical composers, offer many challenges and opportunities for each composer to explore the vast possibilities inherent in any musical pattern.
Wolfgang Amadé Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, Haffner
At the age of six, Mozart began performing to enthusiastic audiences in Vienna and Munich. Over the next eight years, he traveled to European capitals, astonishing professional musicians and amateurs alike with his musical abilities and knowledge. In 1772, Mozart was officially named concertmaster of Archbishop Collerado’s orchestra in Salzburg. The young composer hoped, however, to obtain a leading position in a major European court. In order to pursue a new position outside Salzburg, Mozart, with help from his father, asked to be released from his responsibilities at the Salzburg court in 1777. The archbishop responded by firing both father and son. His father’s position was soon restored, but Wolfgang, who had not been reinstated, traveled with his mother in search of a better post. No position was offered and the trip ended tragically in 1778 when his mother died in Paris. Soon after, Leopold instructed his son to return to Salzburg; a new position as court organist was available in addition to Mozart’s former post as concertmaster. In 1781, Mozart resigned from the archbishop’s court again. Initially, the archbishop refused to accept Mozart’s resignation without Leopold’s approval, but Mozart was determined not to return to his old post. He moved to Vienna, and his first years there were filled with success. He visited Salzburg only once, in 1783, to introduce his wife to his father and sister.
Before offering his resignation to the archbishop, Mozart had rented a room from the Weber family, who were old acquaintances from Mannheim. The Weber family moved to Vienna, too, and now Mozart’s attentions fell on daughter Constanze. For little more than a year after he came to Vienna, Mozart first denied, then hinted at, and finally announced to his father his intention to marry.
Leopold’s response was not supportive; in 1782, the letters between them became strained. By July, Leopold stopped responding to his son’s letters altogether, until Sigmund Haffner the Younger (1756–1787) asked Leopold to contact Wolfgang about composing a piece for his elevation to the ranks of the Salzburg nobility. The Haffners were long-time friends of the Mozart family; in 1776, Mozart had composed a piece (K. 250/248a) for the wedding of one of the Haffner children. For this latest request, Mozart first wrote a five-movement serenade, which he then reworked into a four-movement symphony.
Probably due to its origins as a serenade, Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, Haffner, is the only Mozart symphony with eight woodwind parts. The first movement, Allegro con spirito, begins with the whole orchestra in unison. This bold statement of long notes followed by a crisp, almost military pattern is the foundation on which the rest of the movement is constructed and reappears throughout the movement. The extroverted nature of the first movement is countered by the second movement (Andante). This movement is scored for strings, oboe, bassoon, and horn, lending it a more intimate quality and mellow sound. However, Mozart has not abandoned the energy of the previous movement; here there is an undercurrent of energy that complements and offsets the gently rising figure of the melody.
Although the Minuet is a dance often associated with the nobility, the heavy-footedness of this Minuet belies its elegance and, along with its halting starts and stops, somehow makes it all the more charming. It is the Trio, however, that conveys an air of true grace.
The Finale opens with a dynamic contrast; this will be one pattern throughout the movement. Mozart creates another pattern with the opening section of music; its continual return holds the movement together (a rondo structure). Placed between these returns are contrasting ideas; they are familiar but are never presented exactly the same way twice.
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major, Hob. I:105
When Haydn was about eight years old he became a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, after which, he “eke[d] out a wretched existence” by teaching and performing. He also studied composition both on his own and with Nicola Porpora, a composer and singing teacher for whom Haydn was an accompanist.
In 1761, Haydn was formally appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family; he was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766. When Prince Nikolaus Esterházy died in 1790 and his successor disbanded the court orchestra, Haydn was officially employed by the new prince, but he was also free to pursue other opportunities. It was at this time that the violinist and entrepreneur Johann Peter Salomon invited Haydn to England. After serving as Kapellmeister at Rheinsburg from 1764–1780, Salomon had moved to London, where he soon began organizing concerts featuring internationally known artists. Procuring Haydn as a guest was Salomon’s greatest feat. Because Haydn’s first visit in 1791–1792 was so successful, Salomon arranged a second tour in 1794–1795.
Haydn was not the only guest composer to come to London in the 1790s. Ignaz Pleyel, his former student and now a leading composer of the sinfonia concertante (a compositional fusion of symphony and concerto), was invited to London by another impresario, William Cramer. Cramer’s Professional Concert series of 1792 rivaled the Salomon concerts.
In what was most likely an attempt to “one-up” Cramer, Salomon asked Haydn to compose a sinfonia concertante. The resulting Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello, Oboe, and Bassoon was composed in London and premiered on March 9, 1792, with Salomon playing the solo violin part. The other soloists, who were only identified by last name, were Harrington (oboe), Holmes (bassoon), and Menel (cello). The work was a resounding success; it was repeated the next week as well as programmed during Haydn’s second visit to London two years later. It was also the only work of this genre that Haydn composed.
With the downbeat of the first movement, Haydn plays on our expectations: here is a work that features the oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello as soloists, and yet the composer begins the first movement with flute and violin! The featured soloists are paired in every conceivable combination, keeping their sections familiar, yet still fresh.
In the three movements of the Sinfonia Concertante, Haydn effortlessly moves from solo to orchestra, giving each solo instrument a moment or two in the spotlight. Moreover, in the second movement (Andante) Haydn demands that each solo instrument sing. With one exception, the orchestra is relegated to accompaniment figures, suggesting a serenade to a lover.
Haydn features the violin in the last movement, Allegro con spirito. The orchestra begins, but is soon interrupted by the solo violin, playing in a slower tempo (Adagio). The orchestra tries again, with the same results. This musical tug-of-war finds resolution, and the exchanges between all the soloists and orchestra feel like playful banter. The violin soloist tends to lead the solo passages, but each soloist is featured in turn. Haydn has not forgotten the pattern he established at the opening of the movement, but reprises it in his own inimitable way.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
By the age of 11, Beethoven showed talent as a pianist and composer, and his “youthful genius” was compared to Mozart’s. In 1787, Beethoven traveled to Vienna, hoping to study with Mozart. Whatever contact the two composers had was brief; Beethoven received a message recalling him to Bonn because his mother was ill. Beethoven returned to Vienna in 1792, this time to study with Haydn.
In 1802, after a series of unsuccessful treatments for his hearing loss, Beethoven went to the village of Heiligenstadt to rest. There he wrote an impassioned letter that, in part, describes his struggles and his determination to compose “all that I felt was within me.”
Composed during that time, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 36, premiered on April 5, 1803, and uses the same instrumental forces as Mozart’s Haffner Symphony. Both, too, begin with an exclamation—a “ta-DAH,” if you will. The slow introduction of Beethoven’s Second Symphony soon gives way to the main Allegro section of the movement, filled with dynamic shifts, lots of scale passages, and contrasting ideas, including a crisp theme in the clarinets that is counterbalanced with brisk passagework in the strings. Soon structural patterns lead the ear to expect a conclusion, but Beethoven protracts the patterns to delay the inevitable.
The second movement (Larghetto), is the ballast to the first movement. The Larghetto’s sweetness is grounded in the interplay of rhythmic patterns; some accelerate gradually, others combine slow and fast patterns, but all continually unfold to a zenith before breaking apart. The result ultimately seems to elude our grasp; and even that is part of the beauty of a movement in which the journey is also the destination. The Scherzo section of the third movement features quick dynamic changes and equally quick exchanges between the strings and winds. Beethoven maintains the dance-like nature of the movement; one dance even feels like it is interrupting another. The Trio opens with oboes and bassoons, an instrumental grouping also used in the first movement.
The Finale baffled the critics of Beethoven’s day. It was deemed “harsh, wild, bizarre and capricious.” The opening idea returns throughout the movement interspersed with contrasting and complementary ideas. Beethoven writes magnificent passages for the winds to offset the fury of the strings and delights our sense of anticipation as he finds different ways to return, or to suggest a return, to the opening theme. Like markers on a path or trail, musical patterns give the ear guideposts within a composition. Once a composer establishes a musical pattern, we, the listeners, expect it to continue, at least for a while. If the pattern continues for too long, we then expect something to change. Finding just the right balance between repetition and variation is a difficult challenge for any composer; it was a challenge Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven faced with every composition, and for which they always found unique solutions.
©Teresa M. Neff, PhD, 2013
2013–2014 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
(Handel and Haydn Society; Grant Llewellyn, conductor)