The Galaxy – Remembering “Papa Haydn”

Joseph Haydn, Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1791

Joseph Haydn, Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1791 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love celebrating birthdays.  For the purposes of this radio program, birthdays are handy for giving nice examinations of what the artist accomplished, even if one can’t possibly go into the entire depth of those accomplishments.  Even if we get just a hint, that hint can be quite enlightening.  Of course, my purpose is not to just give a hint, but to celebrate that person’s achievements through an ample demonstration of the subject’s creative powers.

Such is the case with Joseph Haydn.  Haydn is really a key figure in the development of music in the western world, as he was instrumental in the development of the symphonic form, and in the development of the string quartet.  He also made important contributions to the piano trio and the sonata forms.  All of these things would become basic, essential building blocks of what we now see as “classical music.”

Interior of the Ottobeuren Abbey

Interior Rococo interior of the Ottobeuren Abbey in Ottobeuren, Bavaria, Germany

Interestingly enough, given these facts, the music that I started the evening off with was neither a symphony, nor a string quartet.  Haydn was a passionately religious man, and while he did not restrict himself to religious writing, the music that he did write for religous purposes ranks among his best.  However, tonight’s first work is a relatively new addition to Haydn’s catalog, a formerly lost Missa Solemnis that was discovered in a Benedictine abbey in Ottobeuren, Bavaria (in Germany) in 2000.  The composer’s name is written as Joseph Haiden (Haiden being the name of Haydn’s great-grandfather, it is one of the common spelling variants of the Haydn surname).  While musicological evidence points to Haydn as being the composer, there remains just enough uncertainty that the composer’s identity will never be fully known (a copy of the mass was found in Hungary that attributes it to Mozart).  But the mass does follow the compositional patterns that Haydn used, and the quality of the work easily ranks with that of Haydn or Mozart.  Even the presence of the mass on the Ottobeuren Abbey might serve as a clue, given the abbey’s extensive music program, which includes an 18th century double organ built by Karl Joseph Riepp.  Honoratus Goehl, the abbot of the abbey during the late period of Haydn’s life, was a promoter of church music, and might have been the sort to have collected this work.  Tonight’s recording, the 2000 premiere recording of the work, is by the Collegium Cantorum St. Gallen and the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra Konstanz, under the conduction of Mario Schwarz.  Soloists were Judith Graf (sop), Ingrid Alexandre (alto), Lukas Albrecht (tenor), and Michael Haag (bass).

Haydn wrote his Symphony No. 94, also known as “The Surprise”, in 1791.  It was the second of a series of symphonies that Haydn wrote while in London, a visit caused in part by the death of his long-time benefactor, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, and the decision of his successor Anton to dismiss most of the court musicians.  Haydn remained in the Esterházy’s employ, with a (reduced) salary of 400 florins, and he also received a 1,000 florin pension from Nikolaus’ estate.  Anton was willing to allow Haydn to travel, and Haydn was given a rather lucrative offer to go to London and conduct a series of concerts with a large orchestra.  The concerts, with Haydn conducting from the piano-forte, was such a success that Haydn became financially secure for the rest of his life.  This should not be surprising, as Haydn wrote some of his most well-known works during this time frame, including the Military, Drumroll, and London, in addition to the Surprise, as well as several string quartets.  He also wrote an opera that was as favorably received.  Tonight’s recording of Symphony No. 94 was recorded in 1999 by the Heidelberg Symphony under the direction of Thomas Fey.

It would behoove me to, during the course of an examination of the impact of Joseph Haydn, to include one of his great chamber works, especially a string quartet.  This we do in the form of his String Quartet No. 1 in G Major, Op. 77, No. 1, and the unfinished Quartet, Op. 103.  The quartet is part of a set of quartets that was commissioned in 1799 by a Prince Lobkowitz, who was a major patron of both Haydn and Beethoven, and who was himself an accomplished musician who had sung bass in The Creation on several occasions, and who could also play violin and cello.  Haydn completed two of the quartets by the end of 1799, but by mid-1800 began having physical difficulty in composing.  Haydn had began work on the third of the requested six quartets by July of 1801, but by April 3, 1802, he had put aside the quartet project to work on the Harmoniemesse, which was to be premiered in September of that year.  The first two quartets were published in that same month, and were given the opus number 77.  The third quartet was never completed, with only two movements (Andante grazioso and Menuetto ma non troppo presto), and was given the opus number 103.  Both quartets were performed in a 1995 recording by the Alcan String Quartet.

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