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 explore the burgeoning music scene in late 18th-century London.
“I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we will arrange an accord.” With this bold declaration, Johann Peter Salomon single-handedly convened one of the most highly sought after composers of the day, Franz Joseph Haydn, with the British public. Since the 1780’s, all attempts by other promoters to introduce Haydn in the flesh to the English concert stage had been unsuccessful. Although London and other major European cities had courted Haydn for some time, the composer felt a greater obligation to remain in Esterháza and serve his patron, Prince Nicolaus. However, as fate would have it, news of Haydn’s employer’s death reached Salomon whilst travelling in Cologne in late 1790. He made an immediate beeline for Vienna, and persuaded the newly liberated sixty-year-old composer to make the lengthy journey to a land that had long beckoned his presence. In retrospect, the two historical visits that followed (in 1791/92 and 1794/5) signal the pinnacle of Haydn’s symphonic output as well as the crowning glory of London’s subscription concert series phenomenon.
Music concerts crowded the social calendars in the latter half of the eighteenth century for a broad spectrum of London’s population. “The present rage is music,” wrote more than one diarist of the time. A newspaper article concurred, “Music is every where the rage – it has spread from the West to the East… Music is extending from the highest to the lowest classes of society.” (The Times, 29 Jan. 1790) Earlier in the century, Italian and English opera as well as oratorios reigned supreme as the exclusive entertainment of choice for the aristocracy, especially during Handel’s lifetime. Even after the celebrated composer’s death in 1759, performances of his oratorios became an indelible part of English musical life. (Moved to tears upon hearing The Messiah at Westminster Abbey in July 1791, Haydn found his inspiration for The Creation, a work that he hoped would call to the multitudes in a similar vein.)
While most musicians of the 18th century trained in Italy or France, their real success was measured in London. The many foreign artists who visited were confronted with the virtual size of this bustling metropolis, with the “whole of human life in all its variety,” and the extremely high cost of living. Handel became an adopted son in England, and was feted by the public and especially by the Hanoverian royal family. Leopold Mozart’s two prodigiously talented children did not achieve this degree of achievement, even though they had an opportunity to astound the audience of the King and Queen with their genius during their London visit in 1764/65. Leopold Mozart wrote in a letter to his landlord in Salzburg, “I shall have to use every effort to win over the aristocracy and this will take a lot of galloping round and hard work.”
Johann Christian Bach, J.S. Bach’s youngest son, immigrated to England in 1762 and quickly became in great demand as a composer and keyboard teacher. Among his more illustrious pupils was Queen Charlotte to whom he dedicated in 1763 a set of harpsichord concertos. In fact, J.C. Bach greatly assisted the Mozarts during their sojourn in London, introducing them to as much of the musical public as possible. In such an expensive climate as London, financial success was almost impossible based on teaching and composing alone. Again, Leopold Mozart wrote, “This winter, nobody is making much money except Mazuoli [famous male soprano of the day] and a few others in opera.” However, the taste for opera began to wane, giving way to a growing appetite for instrumental music. Sensing the broader public’s changing mood, the “English” Bach joined forces with his fellow Saxon, Karl Friedrich Abel, the celebrated gambist who arrived in Britain in 1759 to create a subscription music series. Ten years his senior, Abel knew the Bach family circle intimately from his days in Cöthen and Leipzig. Through their royal connections as members of the Queen’s Band, Bach and Abel produced concerts in small rooms for wealthy patrons, and gained a large public following. This in turn created an atmosphere of anticipation as to which opera star, instrumentalist or latest work might be presented in the following week’s performance. Through their groundbreaking methods of marketing artists and devising varied programmes, the Bach/Abel series opened the doors to many hopeful musicians and an eager middle-class public.
The heightened desire for orchestral concerts, which often focussed on the most recent “Overture” or “Symphony,” likewise led to an increase in the number of venues to hear instrumental music. Little by little, public subscription series, seasonal benefits, ladies’ concerts, performances in public gardens (such as Vauxhall and Ranelagh), private concerts, meetings of music societies and gentlemen’s clubs began to spring up throughout the city. Promoters heightened the expectation of the general public by promising the latest fashionable continental composer, opera diva or instrumental virtuoso. A brimming sense of novelty was palpable with the press lavishing both positive and negative publicity on forthcoming events.
No doubt the desire to secure Haydn’s presence was at fever pitch by the time he finally arrived on the banks of the Thames on New Year’s Day 1791. The Morning Chronicle on 30 December 1790 announced the long awaited event:
The musical arrangements now being made promise a most harmonious winter… a Concert [that is, a whole series] is planned under the auspices of Haydn, whose name is a tower of strength, and to whom the amateurs of instrumental music look as the god of science. Of this concert Salomon is to be the leader and Madame Mara the principal singer.
When J.C. Bach died in 1782, Abel continued their series for two more years. The Earl of Abingdon, who succeeded him, was the first director to present Haydn’s symphonies in London. Abingdon changed the name to the Professional Concert, and secured patronage by the Prince of Wales, which in turn sparked the interest of the royal family. He even hoped to personally introduce Haydn to his audiences, but never managed this coup de grâce.
Other organisations offered a healthy dose of rivalry to the Bach/Abel concerts. In 1774, the Pantheon in Oxford Street opened its doors to the public, promoting English and Italian music to counter the Mannheim influence down the road. The Concert of Ancient Music added its bid to the market in 1776, promising music that was not younger than twenty years, tempting the “purer” tastes of the upper classes. As one critic suggested:
The Hanover-Square [Professional Concert] – Quality.
The Tottenham-Street [Concert of Ancient Music] – Gentry.
The Freemasons’-Hall [Academy of Ancient Music] – People.
And the Anacreontic [Society] – Folks.
The Morning Post, 21 Jan 1789
The Professionals gained every ounce of popularity that the Bach/Abel partnership had forged. The name also helped to distance the instrumentalists, who gained all profits from their concerts, from the amateur groups that gathered at gentlemen’s clubs in the West End.
Johann Peter Salomon, a tremendously talented violinist who emigrated from Germany in 1780, was invited to lead the Professionals as well as other outfits, such as the Concert of Ancient Music. His violin playing made a great impression on the English public, and he was readily accepted into the social network of well-heeled music lovers. Several accounts also paint a picture of a very personable impresario, who was persuasive and faithful to his word. This served him well in promoting and directing concert series. He eclipsed all other entrepreneurs when he triumphantly arrived with Haydn on his arm, having commissioned a host of new works for the English audiences. Historically this is his lasting achievement, as his gravestone in Westminster Abbey reads: Johann Peter Salomon / Musician / born 1745 died 1815 / he brought Haydn to England in 1791 and 1794.
The premieres of Haydn’s symphonies took place at the Hanover Square Rooms, a well-known concert venue established by the Bach/Abel series in the mid 1770’s. Teaming up with the promoter Sir John (Giovanni) Gallini in 1774, they purchased the Hanover Square Rooms and constructed a suitably large music hall for the weekly series. The opening concert took place on 1 February 1775, with 800 seats available. Almost two decades later, 1500 people crammed themselves into the venue for a Haydn benefit concert.
At Haydn’s request, his symphonies were placed on the second halves of the programmes. The latecomers were therefore sure to be present after the usual hearty meal and refills of port. He found the orchestras excellently trained, and his musical language well disposed towards English humour as well as their sense of majesty. All of the London Symphonies, with the exception of Symphony Nr. 95, begin with a slow introduction. It is often remarked that his musical jokes, such as a sudden interruption in dynamics or a drum roll, served to rouse gentlemen nodding asleep or others chattering to their neighbours. For the first time in his career, Haydn discerned approval or disapproval of his compositions directly from the public, and he greatly relished the creative atmosphere in this foreign land.
The Professionals responded to the hysteria surrounding Haydn with an extended invitation to his pupil, Ignaz Pleyel (1757-1831) to direct their concert season in 1792, thereby hoping to create a younger, more competitive edge. Pleyel was one of the most familiar chamber music composers in England as the number of his publications circulating at that time attests; even Mozart pressed his father to look at his “worthy” compositions. However, his orchestral works paled greatly in comparison to his masterful teacher’s. The twelve symphonies composed during Haydn’s tenure in London gained instant success across the city, and the audiences “cheered their lungs out,” for instance, at the conclusion of the “Military” Symphony (Nr.100). A description of another Haydn symphony premiere (Nr. 93) captured the overwhelming reaction of the public:
Such a combination of excellence was contained in every movement, as inspired all the performers as well as the audience with enthusiastic ardour. Novelty of idea, agreeable caprice, and whim combined with all Haydn’s sublime and wonted grandeur, gave additional consequence to the soul and feelings of every individual present. The Times, 18 Feb. 1792
Salomon, always the savvy businessman, purchased the manuscripts to the symphonies as soon as the ink was dry. He made his arrangements of the “London” symphonies in 1798 for two violins, a German flute, a tenor, a violoncello and the pianoforte ad libitum. The growing number of amateur players would have certainly been inspired to purchase these publications, which were advertised “as performed at Mr Salomon’s Concert.” Salomon and Haydn remained on friendly terms even after Haydn departed London the second time in 1795. Although he had considered making England his permanent home, Haydn felt the inextricable pull of his native and more tranquil Austria to live out the remainder of his days. The chamber versions of the symphonies are delightful representations of the originals; the wit, the verve, the beauty of grandiosity remain intact and a sense of excitement is retained within the confines of the smaller forces. It is fitting that they bear an alternative name, the “Salomon” symphonies, in memory of the man who enabled Haydn’s creativity to expand to such glorious heights.
© Jennifer Morsches, 2009
(Next instalment: Haydn and the String Quartet)
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