About this Recording
8.573498 - HAYDN, M.: Symphonies, Vol. 2 - P. 17, 18, 22, 42 (Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, Patrick Gallois)
English 

Johann Michael Haydn
(1737–1806) Symphonies • 2

 

Although the music-loving Haydn family is now principally remembered for the achievements of Franz Joseph (1732–1809), among his eleven siblings there were two further professional musicians: Johann Evangelist (1743–1805) and Johann Michael (1737–1806), the latter of whom had a significant national and even international reputation as a composer and performer. His substantial oeuvre includes stage works, secular cantatas, dances, marches, divertimenti, a huge number of sacred choral pieces, and over forty works entitled ‘Sinfonia’—that is, the symphony in its nascent form (and a term which, increasingly, came to refer to the typical fast-slow-fast instrumental overtures to operatic works).

Like his elder brother, Michael Haydn attended the choral school of St Stefan’s Cathedral in Vienna, and was praised by no less a figure than the Empress Maria Theresia for his fine soprano voice. He was also a gifted keyboardist, and was sometimes called upon to deputise for the cathedral organist during these years—in addition to which he learned the violin, and studied the music of J.S. Bach, Handel, and closer contemporaries such as Carl Heinrich Graun and Johann Adolph Hasse. Upon leaving the Cathedral in c.1757, he worked for various employers in modern-day Austria and Hungary until the summer of 1763, when he found permanent employment in Salzburg. Here, the court was run not by a duke or a prince, but by the Fürsterzbischof—Prince-Archbishop—Sigismund Christoph Schrattenbach, who was succeeded in 1771 by Hieronymus Colloredo. Haydn served these two masters for the rest of his life, remaining in Salzburg for over forty years.

Among Michael Haydn’s court colleagues in Salzburg was Leopold Mozart (1719–1787), who had taken over the position of vice-Kapellmeister when Haydn was appointed ‘Hof-und Konzertmeister’. Wounded that he had not been elevated to the prestigious post of Kapellmeister after several decades of service, Leopold was unimpressed with Haydn, whom he considered to be slapdash and neglectful of his duties. A close bond of friendship and professional mutual respect was to develop, however, between Leopold’s son, Wolfgang Amadeus, and Haydn, and there is evidence to suggest that young Mozart not only actively promoted Haydn’s music in Vienna, but also drew inspiration and even modelled some of his compositions upon Haydn’s works. The stylistic similarities between the music of these two men was such that several of Haydn’s works were long thought to be by Mozart. Indeed, in 1783, when Haydn was unable to finish a commission to write a collection of duets for violin and viola through illness, Mozart finished the pieces for him and sent them off with Haydn’s name on the title page, to ensure that he was properly paid.

It is hardly surprising, given Haydn’s duties for his archbishops, and his close relationship with the Abbey of St Peter’s in Salzburg, that the majority of his compositions are sacred choral works. He was widely admired for his sacred music, winning plaudits from the newly-founded periodical, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, with a circulation across German-speaking lands. The majority of the Sinfonias were composed between 1763 and 1788 (after which he focussed almost exclusively on sacred composition)—a period which coincided with his initial role as concert-master of the court orchestra, and largely before Colloredo set him more specific liturgical composition tasks. Thanks to Haydn’s careful record-keeping and his tendency to date his manuscripts, we are able to trace the compositional histories of these works, often to their very day of completion.

The four Sinfonias on this recording span a little over a decade, with the Sinfonia in F the latest work, dating from 1785, and the opening Sinfonia in D (Perger 42) having been completed by 1772 (one of the few works not to have been fully catalogued by the composer). This latter work seems to bear traces of both Mozart and Haydn’s elder brother Joseph, a graceful combination of elegance and liveliness. We begin with a stately Adagio minuet, leading into an Allegro molto in which two oboes and two horns are used to great effect to punctuate the music. The gentle Andante movement which follows features subtle little chromatic inflexions, the strings creeping up and down in semitones to join phrases and formal sections together. The closing Presto is also marked Fugato—both strings and winds become involved in the passing of a single idea in counterpoint between players, the oboes and horns once again adding touches of colour to the energetic string writing.

The Sinfonia in B flat (Perger 18) dates from at least twelve years later, the autograph dated this time to 12 March 1784, and subsequently published the following year, with the Sinfonia in C (Perger 19) [Naxos 8.573497] and the Sinfonia in D minor (Perger 20), as one of three ‘Sinfonie a grand orchestra’, by the Viennese publisher Artaria. Once again, Haydn prefaces his opening Allegro con spirito with a slow introduction—marked Grave but becoming increasingly full of lightness and bounce as it progresses and leads seamlessly into the faster tempo, where violins, horns and oboes call to each other across the orchestral texture. The Andante is a sicilienne, in a lilting triple time which affords room for the continuo player (here a harpsichordist) to keep the music rocking steadily along through improvised elaborations of the harmonic structure. The sprightly Presto finale gives greater prominence to the wind: the oboes act as a foil to the two violin parts, whilst the bassoons provide a bassline just as active as that of the cellos, and the horns complete the ensemble. Haydn cleverly plays his resulting two groups (strings and winds) off against each other, weaving them back together for the close of the piece.

A year earlier, Haydn had completed the Sinfonia in E flat (Perger 17), this time devoid of a slow introduction and launching straight into an Allegro spiritoso. This work also begins with the wind and strings as opposing forces, reunited for fuller tutti passages. (The addition of bassoons, not present in the Sinfonia in D, provided an opportunity to balance the strings with treble, middle-range and bass instruments.) The central Adagietto affettuoso calls for the violins to apply mutes, gentling the sound but marking emphases on certain notes to keep shape and dynamic variance to the line. Finally, the Presto finale has something of the country dance about it, bounding along in triple time with the horns in much evidence. The heavy use of musical sequences and strong basslines in the outer movements of this Sinfonia recall Italian Baroque models: the music of Vivaldi, for example, which would have been known to Haydn.

We end with the Sinfonia in F (Perger 22), the most substantial work on this disc both in terms of scale and instrumentation. This time the strings and wind pairings (oboes, horns and bassoons) are joined by a cor anglais and a solo violin. Haydn characterises his themes carefully in the Allegro assai, from the sprightly melody of the opening to the more lyrical second subject, coloured by chromaticism and using bass instruments and winds to provide long-breathed supporting harmonies. It is in the second movement, the Andante cantabile, that the two new instruments are put centre-stage, soloists playing together or in alternation, at times supported by their orchestral relatives: the cor anglais by the winds, the violin by the strings. This is Haydn’s only Sinfonia to use a solo violinist, and its pairing with the cor anglais makes for a particularly rich and unusual timbre, particularly when the two instruments are playing together. The closing Presto has a fuller orchestral sound than previous works, with more weight given to the strings and winds in their leading of the harmonies, rather than a reliance on the continuo to thicken the texture. Here, in 1785, the soundworld of the Viennese Classicists is now more clearly in evidence.

Katy Hamilton


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