About this Recording
8.570525 - HAYDN, J. / THE EARL OF ABINGDON: Songs and Chamber Music (Cafe Mozart)

Haydn and the Earl of Abingdon
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) • Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (1740–1799)


Following the death of Johann Christian Bach on New Year’s Day 1782, the rôle of organizer of the famous Bach-Abel Concerts in London fell to Willoughby Bertie, 4th Earl of Abingdon (1740-1799), who fulfilled this function for two seasons 1783-84. It was in this capacity that the earl invited Haydn, as early as 1783, to come to London in the context of the Hanover Square Grand Concerts (or Lord Abingdon’s Concerts, as they were popularly known). By the time Haydn did come, arriving on New Year’s Day 1791, the earl had long given up the unequal financial struggle, and it was under different auspices that Haydn took the concert life of London by storm in 1791–2 and again in 1794–5. The two men were in frequent contact, as Haydn’s Notebooks illustrate.

Tracks [1] – [5]concentrate on Church and State. Utrum horum mavis, accipe [1] (Take the one you like most) comprises two musically identical songs to different texts, both of which express the very essence of his thinking: a loathing of tribal adherence to religious or political allegiances. They are sung here in alternation by soprano and tenor. The Subversion of Parties [3] and [5], The Political Rationalist, reiterate those very thoughts. The Effects of Gaming [2] is a self-ironic attack on one his vices – a predilection for gambling, (especially horse racing). The Sailor’s Song [4] shows Haydn’s attempt at an English ‘reality’ song, written much in the style of the patriotic songs of his friend William Shield. Haydn was fascinated by naval warfare. The song is taken from his second collection of English Canzonettas (c.1795) dedicated to the earl’s daughter Charlotte.

In the eight years of prevarication and procrastination between initial invitation and actual arrival Haydn sent various works over to England. Thus in 1784 William Forster received a set of Six Trios or Divertimentos for two violins and violoncello or flute, violin and violoncello, published in London as Opus 38, but subsequently in Germany and Vienna as Opus 59 and 100. The alternative instrumentation with flute may well have been a gesture to the earl who was an enthusiastic flautist. Most of the collection comprises re-workings of existing compositions, the one recorded here [6] – [8] deriving from a baryton trio written almost twenty years earlier for the birthday celebrations of Prince Paul Anton Esterházy.

In December 1790 the London-based impresario, composer and violinist Johann Peter Salomon called unannounced on Haydn in Vienna, inviting him to come to London with him just two weeks later. Against the advice of his younger colleague Mozart, who doubted Haydn’s “street credibility”, the invitation was accepted. On New Year’s Day, after a horrendous channel crossing, they arrived in Dover, and the Shakespeare of Music, as the press had dubbed him, was on the final stage of his journey to London. His last composition before leaving was the wistful song Trachten will ich nicht auf Erden [9]. Shortly before finally leaving England in 1795 the Shakespeare of Music published his only knowingly composed setting of a text [10] by the “immortal bard” himself. It, too, is dedicated to the earl’s daughter Charlotte.

The vast majority of the earl’s compositions involve the flute. Many involve two flutes with two violins largely in unison or an octave apart. His Twelve Country Dances and Three Capricios (1787) are scored for two flutes and a bass. Most have quirky quasi-programmatic titles. Tracks [11] – [14] comprise Nos 4, 8, 1 and 4 respectively of the Country Dances. They are followed in Tracks [15] – [17] by three songs on the theme of Birds and Bees. The Happy Cage%is almost a metaphor of the earl’s life: constrained by many conventions, obstructed by the Establishment and even jailed for libel, he still maintained a healthy and unstifled joie de vivre. [16] The wanton Bee is one of his Twelve Songs & Two Catches, in which unusually an obbligato instrumental part (Secondo) is more suited to the violin than the flute, though there is no explicit designation. [17] The wakefull Nightingale calls for the earl’s favourite instrumentation of two flutes and two violins but with an additional “nightingale” part for a piccolo-type instrument – here a sopranino recorder.

In November 1794 the earl accompanied Haydn to visit Baronet Aston and his wife at Preston “26 miles from London”. This village near Hitchin in Hertfordshire is in fact about 36 miles from London, and the present recordings were made in the house to which Haydn was taken. Subsequently (1799) both the Earl of Abingdon and Baronet Aston presented a trio each to the London publisher Monzani, written for them by Haydn. Like the earlier country dances these trios are scored for two flutes and a bass. In the case of the trio written for the earl we have a set of variations on a song, the text of which (The Ladies Looking Glass) was jotted down by Haydn in his third Notebook. He also copied it out with melody and keyboard accompaniment. In fact the song is a three-part “Catch”, The Lady’s Mirror, No 3 of the earl’s Twentyone Vocal Pieces … (published 1797). In this recording [18] the initial statement of the theme is delivered in the earl’s harmonization by a trio of equal male voices, sung as perhaps it was by the two noblemen and Haydn on that first occasion in 1794.

Inevitably many of the earl’s songs take the theme of “the love-sick heart”. The Force of Love [19] is from his collection of Six Songs and a Duet, published by subscription c.1788, before Haydn’s arrival. They are all scored for double flutes and double violins with basso continuo, but also with an alternative version for continuo alone. [15] and [20] also derive from this collection. The text of the first verse of Platonick Love [20] is another of those aphoristic poems jotted down by Haydn in his third Notebook, presumably because he knew the earl’s setting of it. In this performance we have opted for the basso continuo version rather than that for full band. It is followed [21] by Haydn’s song Gegenliebe on the related theme of unrequited love. Originally published with a piano accompaniment in 1781, it is performed here to a slightly differing text in an anonymous arrangement for voice and guitar (c.1790). The piano play-out after each verse in the original version is restored here in the guitar part after the final verse. The last song in this group, The Love-sick Maid [22], is again scored for flutes and strings, and is marked by some unexpected harmonic effects and poignant melodic writing.

The earl’s Nine Country Dances and Three Minuets for the Year 1789 differ greatly from country dances heard on Tracks [11] – [14] The earlier scoring of two flutes and a bass is nowhere represented. The 1789 country dances are all scored for two violins and a bass, while two of the minuets are for flute, viola and a bass. They [23] – [25] are adapted here for flute, violin and bass. All the pieces give the dancing instructions, and the quirky titles of the earlier collection give way to dedications to particular friends and family members. Lady Charlotte Bertie [23] is the earl’s eldest daughter, while Lady Jane Aston [25] was the musicloving wife of Baronet Aston, whom Haydn and the earl visited together in November 1794.

Unlike the trio [18] given by Haydn to the Earl of Abingdon on that occasion, the work for Baronet Aston [26] – [28] follows the conventional pattern of three movements, alternating fast and slow. The autograph manuscript in Berlin shows that Haydn re-worked the Andante [27], giving largely undecipherable shorthand instructions to his copyist, whose interpretation of the changes will have been incorporated in the individual instrumental parts given five years later to Monzani for publication, as recorded here.

Postscript: In late summer 1795 the Shakespeare of Music returned to Vienna. In 1799 the earl died and subsequently Monzani published versions of the two trios on this CD. The collection of Twelve Sentimental Catches and Glees that Haydn and the earl had jointly produced about five years earlier was republished, but with no mention of the earl’s name on the new title-page. Among the manuscripts in Haydn’s luggage was The Spirit’s Song [29] to a text by Anne Hunter, who had provided Haydn with many of the English texts he set to music. In 1801 it was published to a German text with no acknowledgement of the original poet. Two years later it was published elsewhere in a bilingual edition with a new translation, ascribing the text incorrectly to Shakespeare. Whether or not Haydn was responsible for the error we cannot know. However, both this and the one genuine Shakespeare setting [10] are written in four flats, and this may have contributed to the confusion. There is one further Shakespeare tale to tell in Haydn’s post-London years. He was commissioned by George Thomson to arrange hundreds of predominantly Scottish folk-songs, by harmonizing the given melody and adding parts for violin and violoncello. To boost sales “south of the border” Thomson provided alternative English texts, often bearing no relation to the Scottish poem in question. Thus in Volume 3 of his Original Scottish Airs (1802) Thomson provided the song In Winter when the rain rain cauld with an alternative text from the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost, namely When daisies pied (verses 1 and 2) and – more fitting for the original text - When icicles hang by the wall (verses 3 and 4). While the cuckoo of the first of these Shakespeare poems can hardly be made compatible with the music, the twittering owl of the second poem is viable, and with that alternative text the Shakespeare of Music concludes this recording with an unwitting setting [30] of a text by Britain’s national poet.

Derek McCulloch © 2007

Close the window