HAYDN III: The Classical Icon program notes

HAYDN III: The Classical Icon program notes 2014-06-27T15:04:59+00:00

Program Notes By Eric Bromberger

Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin and Cello, Hob.IV:Es2

Trio No. 3 in B-flat Major for Clarinet, Violin and Cello, Hob.IV:Es3


Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria

Died May 31, 1809, Vienna

Not every composer sets out to create Great Art when he sits down to write music.  Rather than writing for the ages, composers sometimes write music for friends, for informal occasions, or for whatever combination of instruments happens to be available.  All of these may have been the reasons why–sometime before 1781–Haydn wrote a set of three trios for clarinette d’amour, violin, and bassline.

The clarinette d’amour, an early form of the clarinet, remains a fairly mysterious instrument.  It had a small bell and so resembled the modern English horn, but no literature developed for it, and the instrument soon passed out of use.  Its range is similar to the modern B-flat clarinet, which replaces it in modern performances.

The trios were probably intended as Hausmusik, written to be performed by friends at home for their own pleasure rather than as concert works.  They are essentially miniatures (each lasts only a handful of minutes): melodies are direct, textures clear, technical demands not too severe.  Take these two brief pieces for exactly what they are–music meant to give pleasure to performers and listeners in a relaxed setting.

NOTE: these trios may not be by Haydn.  They were published by Breitkopf and Härtel in 1781 under Haydn’s name, but publishers in those days often played fast and loose with issues of authenticity, and no manuscripts by Haydn for these works have ever been found.  For the moment, they are attributed to Haydn, but with a caveat.

Trio No. 66 in A Major for Baryton, Viola and Cello

Trio No. 113 in D Major for Baryton, Viola and Cello

In the fall of 1865 Haydn got in trouble with his boss.  Four years earlier, he had been hired as vice-kapellmeister to the music-loving Esterházy family, which maintained a private orchestra at their residence in Eisenstadt.  Haydn flourished in that musical court, and his rise was so rapid that the kapellmeister, Gregor Joseph Werner, aging and ill, felt threatened by it.  Werner complained to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who wrote a letter of reprimand to the 33-year-old Haydn.  The letter stipulated that Haydn should be more attentive to all of his duties, but it further made clear that the young composer was “urgently enjoined to apply himself to composition more diligently than heretofore, and especially to write such pieces as can be played on the gamba, of which pieces we have seen very few up to now; and to be able to judge his diligence, he shall at all times send us the first copy, cleanly and carefully written, of each and every composition.”

The “gamba” Prince Nikolaus referred to was not the viola da gamba, but one of its cousins, the baryton.  The baryton was a stringed instrument shaped somewhat like the bass viol; it had six to seven strings, and those strings could be either bowed or plucked.  But what made the baryton distinctive was the fact that it had up to 20 sympathetic strings strung along the back of its neck.  These strings would vibrate as the main strings were bowed, creating an additional layer of sound, and those strings could also be plucked by the performer’s left hand.  Prince Nikolaus played the baryton, and that phrase in the letter of reprimand made clear that he wanted Haydn to compose more music for his instrument.

Stung by the reprimand and anxious to please his patron, Haydn promptly composed a great deal of music for the baryton: over the next decade he wrote about 125 trios for baryton, viola, and bassline.  Presumably Prince Nikolaus played all of these at various musical gatherings in Eisenstadt and later at the family’s new castle in Esterháza, but by the time Nikolaus died in 1790 the baryton was already passing out of fashion, and it virtually disappeared in the early nineteenth century.  The result is that Haydn wrote a vast amount of music that has disappeared along with the instrument he wrote it for.  Haydn sometimes “raided” this music and used its themes in other compositions, but today–over two centuries after it was composed–this vast body of music remains almost unknown.

Because he was writing for a talented amateur rather than a professional musician, Haydn kept the technical demands within Nikolaus’ reach: themes tend to be straightforward, the emphasis is on melody rather than complex counterpoint, and the music is intended to be pleasing and accessible rather than learned.  Though the baryton may have fallen out of fashion, performers on other instruments have been drawn to this music, and a number of Haydn’s baryton trios have been arranged for other instruments, including guitar trios, cello trios, string ensembles, and others.

This concert lets us hear two of the trios Haydn wrote for Prince Nikolaus in their original form: for baryton, viola, and a bassline, a part here played by a cello.  Both are relatively brief, both are melodic, and neither is so demanding technically as to exceed the Prince’s abilities.  Both take the same general non-classical form: a slow opening movement in binary form; a quick-paced central movement, also in binary form; and a concluding minuet and trio.  Some listeners may find the Trio in D Major familiar: Gregor Piatigorsky arranged it for cello and piano (or orchestra), and in this form the music becomes a miniature cello concerto.


Introduction and Rondo: Haydn Go Seek


Born 1938

Founded in 1992, the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt has dedicated itself to performing both the classical repertory and new music, and one of their most imaginative projects came in 2009.  That year marked the bicentennial of Haydn’s death, and the Trio commissioned eighteen composers to write a work for piano trio that would be “dedicated to Haydn”–that is, it would be a response to the music of Haydn.  To insure that they got a wide range of responses, the Trio spread the commissions out geographically: six would go to Austrian composers, six would go to other European composers, and the remaining six would go to composers from other continents.  The project produced a wide range of responses, including works by composers from Africa and Australia.  Haydn’s music clearly produced a range of reactions, and these works are in a wide variety of styles: some quote Haydn’s music, some are completely atonal and fragmentary, some are quite conservative.  To their credit, the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt not only premièred these pieces but recorded all eighteen of them.

Among those commissioned was William Bolcom, one of the most distinguished and prolific of contemporary American composers–he has written three operas, nine symphonies, piano pieces, and a vast amount of chamber and vocal music, much of the latter for his wife, the mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.  Bolcom received a Grammy Award for his Songs of Innocence and Experience, a monumental setting of poems by William Blake, and in 1988 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Twelve New Etudes.  Bolcom has been particularly interested in the long tradition of American popular music, and he has written and performed songs in many styles, including cabaret, folk, and art songs.  Bolcom was a professor of composition at the University of Michigan from 1973 until his retirement in 2008.

In that same year Bolcom responded to the commission from the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt by composing a work he called Introduction and Rondo: Haydn Go Seek.  Haydn had a nice sense of humor, and Bolcom said that in writing this work he was responding particularly to Haydn’s many rondos, in which the composer took delight in surprising audiences.  Bolcom said that his aim in this music was “to play a constant game of surprise throughout, in as Haydnesque a manner as I could muster from two centuries remove.”

The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt gave the première of Bolcom’s work in the palace at Eisenstadt, where Haydn lived and worked for many years, in May 2009, exactly two centuries after Haydn’s death in May 1809.  Bolcom’s Haydn Go Seek has proven one of the most successful of that series of commissions and has been widely performed in the years since.


Arianna a Naxos, Hob.XXVIb:2


In 1789 Haydn–then 56 years old and the experienced composer of 92 symphonies–wrote a cantata for soprano and keyboard.  In a letter the following year to his English publisher John Bland, Haydn said that he planned to orchestrate the cantata, but he never got around to that task, and it has come down to us in its original form. This cantata is a scena–a miniature dramatic scene–that takes as its subject the Greek myth of Ariadne.  Ariadne, daughter of Minos the king of Crete, helped Theseus escape from the Cretan labyrinth.  Theseus married Ariadne but later abandoned her at Naxos, and in the different accounts of the story she is either left to go mad or rescued by Bacchus.  Such a story has rich dramatic possibilities, and it has attracted composers as diverse as Monteverdi, Handel, Massenet, and Martinů, each of whom treats it in quite a different way; the most famous operatic version is Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos of 1912.

The standard form for a scena was the recitative-and-aria, and Haydn uses that structure here, creating a cantata in four distinct sections.  The piano’s lengthy prelude sets the mood for the opening recitative (“Teseo mio ben, dove sei tu?”) in which Ariadne wakes and longs for her lover.  The opening recitative also makes clear the important part the piano plays in this cantata: it is not a simple accompanist but an active co-participant–setting scenes, underlining the meaning of the text, and sometimes dramatizing things that Ariadne herself has not yet understood. The first aria is slow (Haydn’s marking is Largo), and here Ariadne calls on the gods to return Theseus to her; the piano subtly draws attention to her increasing disquiet.  The second recitative (“Ma, a chi parlo?”) brings Ariadne’s emotional collapse–as the reality of her abandonment overtakes her, she alternates between misery and desperate delusion, still hoping that Theseus will re-appear.  The final aria (“Ah! che morir vorrei”) offers Ariadne’s somewhat conventional wish to die, but it is also an expression of her fury, most evident in the F-minor Presto that draws the cantata to its fiery close.  Everyone is struck by the fact that after the dark tonality of this last section, Haydn unexpectedly modulates into F major for the final chord, but that final chord still sounds pretty fierce.

Arianna a Naxos was performed several times to great acclaim in London in 1791, during Haydn’s first visit to that city.  That success may have inspired him to write another scena on a similar topic for London audiences four years later: Scena di Berenice, scored for soprano and orchestra, is also about the grief and fury of a woman abandoned by her lover


Piano Trio in C Major, Hob.XV:27
In 1790 Haydn’s life underwent a profound change.  For thirty years he had been kapellmeister to the Esterházy family at their palace in rural isolation outside Vienna, where he had composed, led the small orchestra, and administered the staff of musicians.   But in September 1790, the music-loving Prince Nikolaus died, and his successor–not so musically inclined–disbanded the orchestra and offered Haydn, then 58, what we could call a generous retirement package.  Haydn might well have moved on to a comfortable old age had not the impresario J.P. Salomon appeared and invited him to England.  Haydn arrived in London in January 1791 for the first of two extended visits and made an astonishing discovery: he was famous.  After decades of presenting concerts before his prince and invited audiences in the remote Esterházy palace, Haydn now led a large virtuoso orchestra in concerts that were open to the London public, which came and cheered enthusiastically.  His head ringing with these cheers, Haydn wrote dizzily to a friend about his success: “The room was full of select company . . . The whole audience was very pleased and so was I. I made four thousand gulden this evening.  Such a thing is possible only in England!”

Haydn also discovered that there was a talented and discriminating middle class in England, anxious both to hear music and to play it, and for this audience he composed a number of piano trios and published them in London.  The Trio in C Major performed on this concert was written during Haydn’s second visit to London, probably in 1795, when he was 63 years old.  Haydn was at this time at the height of his powers, but he was also nearing the end of his interest in purely instrumental music: in that same year he wrote his 104th–and final–symphony, and of his 83 string quartets, only eight remained ahead of him.  Shortly after completing this trio, he returned to Vienna and began work on the oratorios and masses that would crown his life’s work.

Though the Trio in C Major is in a form we know as the piano trio, Haydn in fact published this work under the title Sonata.  The keyboard dominates this music, with the strings in a somewhat secondary position, and Haydn’s title for this set of trios makes clear his sense of the music: “Sonatas for the pianoforte with an accompaniment for the violin and violoncello.”  The cello in particular has a subordinate role (Haydn often has it doubling the keyboard’s bassline), though the violin at times becomes a melodic partner with the piano.

The Trio in C Major is very much in Haydn’s mature style: both outer movements are in sonata form, and this music is marked by the unusual harmonic freedom of his late music–there are many surprising (and pleasing!) modulations along the way here. The vigorous opening of the Allegro sets the pattern for this music: the melodic–and somewhat ornate–main theme is announced by the piano, while the strings have chordal accompaniment.  Longest by far of the three movements, this Allegro is built on a wealth of thematic material.  Though solo piano opens the Andante, here Haydn makes fuller use of the strings as lyric instruments; the dramatic middle section is full of unexpected modulations.  The Finale is based largely on the piano’s spirited opening idea, but there are sharply-contrasting theme-groups in this sonata-form movement.