Sunday, August 26, 2012

When Haydn met London (and vice versa), neither was ever the same again

HAYDN: The Creation, Part I:
Orchestral introduction, "The Representation of Chaos"

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, June 1986

by Ken

The symphony we're hearing this week, Franz Joseph Haydn's Drum Roll (No. 103), from which we heard the ingeniously alternating minor-and-major theme-and-variations movement in Friday night's preview, is from the second set of six symphonies the composer produced for his visits to London in 1791-92 and 1794-95. The 12 symphonies are known collectively as Haydn's "London" symphonies, or sometimes the "Salomon" symphonies, after the violinist-turned-impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who lured the 59-year-old composer to London in the first place, as the late conductor Georg Tintner (1917-1999) reminds us in this little commentary recorded in 1992.
Maestro Tintner recalls the circumstances
of Haydn's summons to London

I'm not sure it's possible to overstate the explosive effect Haydn and the London musical public had on each other. Despite the composer's near-sequestration for nearly 30 years in Austrian backwaters running the musical establishment of the princes Esterházy, he knew he occupied an elite position among the composers of his day. But he had never experienced the kind of contact with the general music public that he did when he arrived in London. He seems to have been both startled and humbled to discover just how famous he was and just how much his music was loved.

Characteristically, Haydn responded, not by basking in praise or resting on his laurels, but by pushing himself further. His place in musical history would have been secure if he had written nothing from 1791 on, but the creative outpouring that was yet to come is kind of mind-boggling. He had, for example, already composed 90-plus symphonies, including dozens of masterpieces, but the dozen "London" symphonies are something else again. And as Maestro Tintner points out, it was his contact with the English oratorio tradition that planted the seed for the two great oratorios yet to come, The Creation and The Seasons. It was in fact Salomon who suggested the Creation to him as possible oratorio subject matter.

What we heard up top is the orchestral introduction to The Creation, "The Representation of Chaos," one of the most extraordinary depictions in the musical literature. (When has chaos ever sounded this beguiling?)


which we're going to hear by continuing just a few more minutes into the oratorio.

HAYDN: The Creation, Part I:
Raphael (bass), "Im Anfange schuf Gott Himmel und Erede"
("In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth")

bass Kurt Moll
RAPHAEL: In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth.
And the Earth was without form, and void.
And darkness was upon the face of the deep.
CHORUS: And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said: "Let there be light!" And then there was light.
[Orchestral outburst (in C major) on the word "light"]
URIEL: And God saw the light, that it was good.
And God divided the light from the darkness.

Kurt Moll (bs), Raphael; Thomas Moser (t), Uriel; Bavarian Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, June 1986

[in English] David Thomas (bs), Raphael; Philip Langridge (t), Uriel; CBSO Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle, cond. EMI, recorded Mar.-Apr. 1990

For years, as a classical-music video skeptic, I had two recordings I thought I would talk about if I had a chance to write about videos that actually add something to the musical experience: the Bernstein-Bavarian Radio Creation (recorded at the same performances as this audio version), and Claudio Abbado's recording of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto, to see the soloist in what I can only describe as a state of musical grace -- despite Riccardo Muti's ham-handed accompaniment.

And it's at this point that I wish I could offer you the video version of the Bernstein Creation. Not that there's anything "dramatic" going on. What we see is Kurt Moll preparing to sing the first sung words in the piece -- Haydn's setting of lines that happen to be among the best-known in the realm of mankind, and then singing them so astonishingly beautifully and purposefully, and then giving way to the chorus, and then Lenny bringing the orchestra crashing in to depict the advent of light.

I thought it might also be nice to hear this in English, as it's often performed in the English-speaking world (and as Haydn would have expected it to be performed in the English-speaking world -- and remember that it was his direct encounter with the world of English oratorio that planted the seed for the creation of The Creation, and then The Seasons) and has been recorded a number of times. Unfortunately the only version I could find among my CD holdings was this one. Oh well, it should make us appreciate Kurt Moll that much more, and Lenny B too.



Now we're going to hear those movements, in performances chosen to present each in different ways. (I'll leave it to you to discover how.)

HAYDN: Symphony No. 103 in E-flat (Drum Roll)

i. Adagio; Allegro con spirito
MAESTRO TINTNER: This particular symphony is particularly original. After that famous drum roll, the lower instruments -- the cellos, basses, and bassoons -- play a rather solemn tune, but in a way that has never been done before. Usually the cellos and basses play an octave apart, but in this particular case they play the same notes, and that gives the sound a certain density that has never been heard before. This tune appears in the middle of the movement, in a very fast tempo, so one has to listen very carefully to recognize it, and near the end of the movement again, like at the beginning.

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. EMI, recorded 1958-59

Symphony Nova Scotia, Georg Tintner, cond. Broadcast performance, Apr. 20, 1988

ii. Andante più tosto allegretto
MAESTRO TINTNER: The second movement is a set of variations, and the most original thing about it is that the theme of the variations is in the minor mode, but every second [section] is in the major mode. So the theme is minor, the first variation is major; the second variation is minor; and so on. I daresay that Gustav Mahler was particularly fond of this movement, because his own works show influences of that kind.

Dresden Philharmonic, Günther Herbig, cond. Deutsche Schallplatten/Edel, recorded c1976

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded October 1971

iii. Menuet
MAESTRO TINTNER: The third movement, with its Hungarian rhythms and echo effects and very bold modulations, is also unique, even in his output. And there is a sort of waving trio about it.

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Feb. 10, 1970

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, cond. BMG, recorded 1994

iv. Finale: Allegro con spirito
MAESTRO TINTNER: The last movement is full of happiness and good humor.

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. Decca, recorded 1963

Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, Adám Fischer, cond. Nimbus, recorded 1987

original version of the Finale, with alternative ending
H. C. ROBBINS LANDON, the great Haydn scholar, wrote in the notes for the Dorati-Decca recording of the original version of the Finale: Haydn was a rigorous self-critic, and many are the beautiful pages of music which he ruthlessly removed from his scores. Of all these cuts, one of the saddest was made in the final pages of Symphony No. 103. After the terrific tension generated by the monothematic fanaticism of this great finale, Haydn introduced a great Falstaffian touch: a modulation to C-flat marked pianissimo and preceded by two whole bars of rests. It is as funny, and as touching, as Verdi's treatment of the fat knight. But Haydn thought that the movement was now too long, and he crossed out the whole section. Perhaps, if we may be so bold as to suggest it, Haydn was for once in his life too ruthless here. This original version is here recorded for the first time.

Philharmonia Hungarica, Antal Dorati, cond. Decca, recorded 1971-72


We've heard Haydn symphonies before: full posts devoted to the exhilarating Horn Signal (No. 31) in March 2011) and to the mystically magical No. 88 in September 2010), and we even heard the most popular of the "London" symphonies, the Surprise (No. 94, from the first set) in September 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment