In commemoration of the Bicentenary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death in 1809, Florilegium is presenting a series of three concerts at the Wigmore Hall. The programmes will focus primarily on his “London” symphonies as arranged for flute, string quartet and fortepiano by the celebrated 18th-century concert impresario, violinist and composer Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815). Additionally, three string quartets from Haydn’s little known and youthful Op.17 as well a taste of diverstissements in the Op.38 trios for flute, violin and cello will be performed.
The programme notes for this evening’s concert will trace Haydn’s humble beginnings to becoming one of the most revered composers in his day, in which his two sojourns to London in the 1790’s were met with critical and vivacious acclaim.
Franz Joseph Haydn was born on 31 March 1732 in a thatched cottage in Rohrau, a small village that borders Austria and Hungary. Ethnic Croats, Hungarians and southern Germans settled in this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most likely Haydn’s first exposure to music was very much linked to the folk songs sung by his parents in the evenings. This folk influence permeated his compositional output, as is evident already in the Op.17 string quartets, especially No.6, presented tonight. Haydn’s parents quickly realised their young son possessed a substantial musical gift; his biographers describe his pure intonation and ability to copy the rhythmic contours of the music when he pretended to play the violin by hitting and brushing two sticks together.
His parents decided to send him to school in the nearby town of Hainburg at 6 years of age for a well rounded musical and Roman Catholic education. Two years later the court composer and Kapellmeister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Karl Georg Reutter (1708-1772), heard the choir sing and singled out the young boy’s clear voice and beauty of tone. He immediately invited him to become a chorister at St Stephen’s, which was at the heart of the imperial city’s musical activities. When Haydn’s voice broke in 1749, he was released from his duties as a chorister despite his best efforts to remain there and learn composition from the cathedral’s musical director. The following years were very difficult; penniless and without a secure position in Vienna, Haydn existed mainly by teaching and playing as a freelance musician. However his most important concern was to find a teacher to guide him in the fundamentals of composition. He faithfully read, among other treatises, Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum, painstakingly making notes to himself in the margins in Latin. The first six keyboard sonatas by CPE Bach also impressed him deeply, and he “did not leave the clavier until [he] had mastered them all.” He told one of his biographers, Albert Christoph Dies, “Innumerable times I played them for my own delight, especially when I felt oppressed and discouraged by worries and always I left the instrument gay and in high spirits.”
Haydn’s luck began to change for the better when he encountered the famous Italian operatic composer Niccolò Porpora (1686-1768). He was accompanying singing lessons in the apartments of Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), a librettist and poet laureate of the Hapsburgs. Desperate for any sort of education in composition as well as in the art of Italian singing from the “patriarch of melody,” Haydn asked the venerable Porpora if he could regularly accompany the budding singers’ lessons in exchange for his services as valet. Haydn’s first bona fide appointment as Kapellmeister soon followed at the court of Count Karl Josef Franz Morzin (1717-83) in 1757. His early symphonies from this period reflect Italian and Austrian influences, and are scored for the instrumentation on hand: strings, two oboes and two horns. Haydn’s status as composer steadily gained recognition as his works were performed in the aristocratic circles of Vienna, and especially caught the attention of one of the most powerful Hungarian noble families, the Esterházys. As Morzin’s financial difficulties forced him to disband his orchestra and relieve Haydn of his duties, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy (1710-1762) quickly secured the young composer’s services and offered him the position of Vice-Conductor at his court in Eisenstadt in 1761. Prince Nicolaus ‘the Magnificent’ (1714-1790), who succeeded his brother upon his death in 1762, was an even more enthusiastic music lover and an accomplished baryton player as well. (The baryton is a distant, now obsolete, cousin of the viol family.) Needless to say, Haydn composed over one hundred sixty pieces for the baryton upon the requests of his royal patron! Some scholarship has suggested the Op.38 trios for two trebles and bass were transcriptions by Haydn from works he originally scored for the baryton.
Instrumental music was Haydn’s chief concern at the start of his tenure at the Esterházy court. Upon the death of the senior Kapellmeister Werner in 1766, Haydn took over the reins for the entire output of music, including church music and the operatic productions, which became increasingly a fixed part of Prince Nicolaus’s preferred entertainment. Despite the many duties for which Haydn was responsible, he was content, especially in the early years, with the opportunity to find his own compositional voice and style. Later on he described to one of his biographers this period of his life with a particularly positive slant:
“My prince was always satisfied with my works. Not only did I have the encouragement of constant approval, but as conductor of an orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, to alter, make additions or omissions, and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world; there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.”
If Haydn was “cut off from the world,” the world was not cut off from his music. He was in great demand and his compositions were highly sought after by established music circles throughout Europe. The English violinmaker William Forster first contacted the British Embassy in Vienna in 1781 to request some of Haydn’s works in order that he might publish them under his new publishing house in London. In 1784, Haydn sent him the flute trios, Op.38 in a set of six divertimenti. As a musical director, Haydn was also very popular. One of his many great admirers, German-born Salomon, tried to lure him to perform at his successful subscription concert series in London, but Haydn’s employer would not allow it. At the time Prince Nicolaus kept the composer working tirelessly for the many opera and marionette productions at his Versailles-inspired castle in Esterháza.
After thirty years of employment by a demanding, albeit magnanimous patron, Haydn experienced his first breath of freedom when the Prince died on 28 September 1790. His son, Anton, who was much less musically inclined, eventually disbanded the court orchestra and provided a healthy pension to the 58-year-old Kapellmeister. Upon hearing the news of the Prince’s death whilst travelling in Cologne, Salomon departed immediately for Vienna to convince Haydn to finally make the long-anticipated visit to London.
With fees offered that included £300 for a new opera for the King’s Theatre, £300 for six new symphonies, £200 for their copyright, £200 for twenty smaller compositions and £200 per benefit concert, Haydn saw extraordinary opportunities ahead of him. In his initial visit to London (Jan. 1791 – June 1792), Haydn produced Symphonies Nos. 93-98 for the sold-out series. For the triumphant return (Feb. 1794 – Aug. 1795), which was again arranged by Salomon, Haydn composed the second set of six, Symphonies Nos. 99-104. Thanks to excellently trained orchestras at his disposal and his close observations of English humour and the taste for novelty, Haydn created some of the most beloved and revered works of his entire career. The first class musicians Salomon engaged numbered close to forty as compared to the ensemble in Esterházy that was almost half the size.
The reception in England was sensational. Charles Burney (1726-1814), the well-travelled music critic, wrote after hearing the symphonies:
“…The sight of the renowned composer so electrified the audience, as to excite an attention and a pleasure superior to any that had ever, to my knowledge, been caused by instrumental music in England. All the slow middle movements were encored; which never happened before, I believe in any country.”
Salomon acquired the rights to the twelve “London” symphonies after Haydn returned to Vienna for the last time, and published them in a chamber arrangement in 1798. The instrumentation of flute, string quartet, and keyboard was cleverly designed to appeal to the large amateur market. The strings allowed for a fuller texture, with the viola, for instance, often taking on multiple roles as horn, trumpet and even kettledrums. The flute defined the necessary wind colour in a symphonic setting, and the fortepiano was an indispensable presence in the salons and concert halls of the late 18th century.
Haydn is often called the “Father of the Symphony,” which is very true if one considers his vast output alone, and traces the development of the genre’s formalized structure in his works. Without question, the many years he spent as a servant to the Esterházy household, far from the influences of the musical scenes in cosmopolitan cities such as Paris or London, pushed him to find his own voice, and thus develop a musical syntax that became the model for the “classical style.”
© Jennifer Morsches, 2008
(Next instalment: The 18th-century London concert scene)
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