Featured Composer  FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN

It is difficult to imagine serious music today without the influence of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). Every contemporary orchestral concert usually features at least one four movement symphony. Haydn was known as "the father of the symphony" because he pioneered this musical form. He wrote no less than 104 numbered symphonies. (Prior to Haydn the word "symphony" was used to describe a brief single movement work in A-B-A form or a two movement quasi orchestral suite.) The string quartet is a mainstay of the chamber music repertoire. It was Haydn who developed the string quartet as we known it. He wrote some 88 works for this combination of 2 violins, viola, and cello. The sonata form of the first movement of most symphonies and chamber music scores - exposition, development, and recapitulation- was advanced by Haydn. Every composer who followed him (no matter how stylistically different) owes a massive artistic debt to his compositional ingenuity. 

Born into humble circumstances, Haydn was trained in choir school and became a member of the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna (between 1740 and 1750). He then became a keyboard accompanist for the vocal classes of the composer Popora, who encouraged his ambition to compose. Around 1759 he was appointed music director to Count Morzin. Shortly thereafter he became Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterhazy family - one of Hungary's leading noble families. Upon the death of Kapellmeister Werner, he took over as the family's chief of music. Haydn commanded an instrumental ensemble and composed music at the request of his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy. At first he lived at Eisenstadt, 30 miles south of Vienna. By 1767 the family's chief residence (and Haydn's artistic base) was the new palace at Esterhaza (in Hungary). 

His Esterhazy years brought a fertile period of creativity. Haydn composed symphonies and orchestral works for twice weekly concerts. The prince played an instrument called the baryton (a kind of viol type instrument) and Haydn wrote 125 trios over a ten year period which combined the baryton with various instrumental combinations. Some of the symphonies from the 1770's show Haydn experimenting with minor keys and serious, passionate musical statements. These scores became known as the "Sturm und Drang symphonies." 

In 1768 a new opera house was opened at Esterhaza. The works Haydn wrote for this court theater were very intimate in scope. Grand opera in the manner of Rameau and Lully or the music dramas of Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte were far removed from the chamber scale of Haydn's theatrical creations. The composer himself said that his operas were meant only to be performed at the Esterhazy court and would not survive for posterity. Recent productions - in suitably intimate circumstances - of "L"Infedelta Delusa (1773), "Il Mondo della Luna (1777), and "Armida" (1783) revealed a wealth of musico-dramatic invention. While these scores are not masterpieces on the scale of Mozart's greatest works for the theater, they are filled with graceful melodic invention and beautiful arias and ensembles. 

At first Haydn was allowed to accept outside commissions only with the prince's permission. (From 1768-72 came three sets of string quartets that were apparently written for another patron.) After 1782 a revised contract no longer gave the family exclusive rights to his music. A concert organization in Paris commissioned his symphonies 82-87 in1784--5. These masterpieces became known as the "Paris Symphonies." The deft melodic and instrumental invention in these scores brought Haydn great acclaim. Several sets of string quartets from the 1780's greatly advanced the form, including the Opus 64 series, which were written for a Viennese businessman who had been an Esterhazy court violinist. (The witty, colorful "Lark" quartet comes from this series.) His Opus 50 quartets were commissioned by the King of Prussia. The Cadiz Cathedral commissioned Haydn's "Seven Last Words of Christ" which carried the composer's reputation beyond Central Europe. This deeply felt score exists in versions for string quartet, orchestra, and chorus and orchestra. 

After Prince Nikolas Esterhazy died in 1790, his son retained Haydn as court composer. Most of the other musicians were dismissed. With a smaller musical organization at court, the new prince allowed Haydn to live in Vienna and to travel. He was invited by the impresario and violinist Johann Peter Solomon to visit London and to compose new symphonies and other works for the occasion. He wrote his last 12 symphonies - indisputable masterpieces - for his London appearances between 1791 and 1794. Such popular Haydn symphonies as the "Surprise" (no.94), the "Miracle (no.96), the "Military" (no.100), the "Clock" (no.101), and the "London" (no.104) grace this set. He also composed a symphonie concertante, piano sonatas, piano trios, and songs (in English) for his London concerts. His success with British audiences was phenomenal. (He played and conducted before the Royal Family.) In these performances Haydn's genius was discovered by a new public which acclaimed his magnificent scores. 

In order to understand just how remarkable this belated recognition was for Haydn, we must look to a late 20th century parallel that involved a performing artist (rather than a composer). For many years the conductor Klaus Tennstedt was consigned to a series of provincial positions by the all powerful ministry of culture of the government of East Germany. After defecting to the West in the mid 1970's, Tennstedt conducted three days of concerts with the Boston Symphony at that orchestra's summer home Tanglewood in the Berkshires. Audiences were ecstatic. Here was an obscure conductor who brought the power and intensity of Arturo Toscanini to his music making! The acclaim of that weekend of performances made Tennstedt an overnight musical star. It was that sense of surprise and discovery that greeted Haydn's music in 18th century London. He would forever be regarded as one of music's great creators! 

By the time Haydn returned to Vienna, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy's grandson (whose father had died) was in charge of the family estate. Now his main duty was to write masses for the prince's nameday. He composed 6 large scale works for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Not since Bach had the mass been writ large with such mastery of compositional technique and diversity of melodic and harmonic inspiration. The fugal writing in these scores pays tribute to Bach while emboldening Haydn's large scale creative vision. The "Lord Nelson Mass" and the "Mass In A Time of War" continue to speak powerfully to listeners two centuries after their creation. The most important work of Haydn's later years, however, is the oratorio "The Creation." While Handel's oratorios served as a model, Haydn emblazoned this score with a new symphonic power - one of his most deeply moving works. His other oratorio "The Seasons" is a charming score that abounds in attractive melodies and beautiful vocal writing. In many ways Haydn reinvented himself as a composer of choral masterpieces. 

Haydn died in 1809. In a hugely productive lifetime of artistic creation he changed the course of music history. Today it is impossible to imagine so prolific a composer. In recent decades newly discovered Haydn manuscripts have continued to emerge from private collections and dusty library shelves. His command of so many diverse musical forms set a standard few composers would equal. Even Mozart would not surpass Haydn's writing for string quartet. While Mozart's quartets are filled with wonderful melodic invention, the wit, imagination and musical variety of Haydn's quartets defined the state of the art. In both his orchestral and chamber works, Haydn was one of music's great creative artists! 

Program Notes by Lawrence Budmen


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