It is well known that Haydn was a favoured visitor to London towards the end of his life and spent much time in the English capital. In addition to the famous 'London' symphonies he wrote a considerable amount of other music whilst he was here, including chamber works and, particularly, songs, many of them to English words by his friend Anne Hunter. All of the famous ones are here, along with other, German, settings and the extended scena 'Arianna a Naxos', to an anonymous Italian text.
This delightful programme is shared between three singers, the 20-minute 'Arianna' being given to Bernarda Fink whose recent 'Canciones Amatorias' was received with glowing praise.
The two sets of twelve German Lieder Haydn published in 1781 and 1784 are virtually ignored by singers today. Yet despite their often coy or arch texts, by deservedly forgotten minor versifiers of the time, the best of these songs have a grace, point and wit that go beyond mere rococo charm. This was a period when the Emperor Joseph II was vigorously promoting German-language culture at the expense of French and Italian. And during the 1770s German songs with keyboard accompaniment became popular fare in Viennese musical salons, as they had been for years in north Germany. Publishers were quick to spot a potentially lucrative market; and Haydn, by now an international celebrity and free to publish without Prince Esterházy’s consent, joined such composers as J A Steffan, Leopold Hoffmann (whom Haydn by all accounts despised) and Leopold Kozeluch in satisfying the new Viennese demand for Lieder.
Ever a canny promoter of his own music, Haydn wrote to his publisher Artaria in 1781 that his Lieder, ‘through their variety, naturalness and beautiful and grateful melodies will perhaps eclipse all others’. As the possessor of a fine tenor voice, he also announced his intention of singing the songs himself, ‘in the best houses. A master must see to his rights by his presence and by correct performance’. And we can assume that Haydn performed his Lieder, to his own accompaniment, in fashionable soirées like those held at the home of the Viennese Privy Councillor Franz von Greiner. The popularity of the 1781 songs led three years later to a second set, for which Haydn himself commissioned ‘three tender new texts, because almost all the others are merry in spirit; the subject matter should also embrace sadness, so that there is light and shade, as with the first twelve’. And though they are all cast in straightforward strophic form (with the same music repeated for each verse), these delightful songs are indeed as varied as their essentially domestic medium allows.
Of the two numbers from the 1784 set included here, Auch die sprödeste der Schönen is an insouciant little song in the composer’s favourite faux-naif folk vein. By contrast, Das Leben ist ein Traum shows Haydn in serious mode. There is more than a whiff of opera seria, too, in the broad, stately vocal line, the harmonically intensified climax at ‘bis wir nicht mehr an Erde kleben’ and the dramatic pauses at ‘Was ist das Leben?’, where Haydn reinforces the question by a sudden shift from major to minor.
Unlike the German songs, the two sets of six ‘Original Canzonettas’ Haydn composed in London have always had a foothold in the recital repertoire, if only as aperitifs to meatier Romantic fare. Again they were written primarily for the profitable amateur market, the first set of six in 1794, the second the following year; and to them Haydn added three separately published songs, including O tuneful voice and The spirit’s song. The initial impulse for the canzonettas probably came from Haydn’s friend Anne Hunter, widow of the famous surgeon Sir John Hunter, who turned out polished, if unoriginal, verses, in the taste of the day: usually soulful and sentimental, but also mining a vein of fashionable Gothic gloom (The wanderer, The spirit’s song). Hunter provided the poems for all the canzonettas in the first set of six, and selected the texts for the second set, drawing on Shakespeare, Metastasio and three anonymous poems: Sailor’s song, Piercing eyes and Transport of pleasure. The canzonettas’ dedicatee, Lady Bertie, Countess of Abingdon, apparently found the last song too erotically explicit, and for a subsequent published edition it was fitted with a more decorous text, Content (sung in this recording).
The English canzonettas range far more widely in mood than the German Lieder. Heading each set of six is a ‘sea’ song: The mermaid’s song, with its playful, pearly triplets and charming canonic imitations to illustrate ‘Come with me, and we will go’, and the breezy Sailor’s song, whose onomatopoeic accompaniment (depicting bugle calls, cannons, ‘rattling ropes’ and the like) gleefully exploits the sonority and compass of the new Broadwood fortepiano. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Haydn’s sole Shakespeare song, She never told her love, which sets verses from Twelfth Night as a free arioso, full of bold, rhetorical contrasts and unusually elaborate dynamic and expression markings. Two particularly inspired touches are the overlapping of the vocal entry with the close of the piano introduction, and the voice’s twice-repeated lingering cadence near the close, the first time culminating in a stabbing discord—a perfect musical embodiment of ‘smiling at grief’.
Several of the canzonettas, including Pastoral song (a drawing-room favourite in the nineteenth century), Pleasing pain and Piercing eyes, are in the gently lilting 6/8 metre so often found in Haydn’s late works. Indeed, Piercing eyes has an unmistakable foretaste of Simon’s bucolic shepherd’s song in The Seasons. Yet this being late Haydn, even these lighter songs are full of sophisticated touches: and in Pastoral song and Piercing eyes, especially, the keyboard textures often have the refinement and transparency of a string quartet. Another song in ‘pastoral’ 6/8 metre, Sympathy (‘translated from the Italian of Metastasio’, as the first edition put it), is more reflective in tone, with a dramatic change from major to minor at ‘When thou art griev’d’.
Though most of the canzonettas are in strophic form, Haydn often introduces telling variants in the repeats. In Pleasing pain, for example, the second verse has a new flowing accompaniment, while the plaintive turn to G minor in verse one (‘Dear anxious days of pleasing pain’) is now transformed into the major under the influence of the new text (‘Come, fairy joys and wishes gay’). In The wanderer, with its disquieting pauses and anxious chromatic harmonies, the voice part is identical for the second verse; here, though, the bare two-part keyboard texture is enriched with an expressive new countermelody in the alto (or viola) register—another example of Haydn’s ‘string’ thinking in these songs.
The textures of two of the most beautiful songs, Recollection and Despair, also suggest a string quartet or trio—in, say, the ‘cello’ solo (marked ‘cantabile’) at ‘Why cannot I the days forget’ in Recollection. Though Despair for the most part expresses Hunter’s clichéd, self-pitying text with a dignified restraint, the temperature does rise at the words ‘Despair at length reveals the smart’, where the piano’s crescendo on a repeated B natural propels the music from B major to a ‘shock’ C major. In both these songs and Content, whose musing triplets are reminiscent of the late piano trios, the keyboard part could virtually stand alone as an eloquent slow movement. Similarly, the impassioned F minor Fidelity could with little alteration be performed as a Sturm und Drang keyboard piece. Here, in fact, Haydn seems less concerned with mirroring the shape of the poem than in using the general sense of the words to create an autonomous free sonata-form structure. After the turbulent F minor opening there is an assuaging second theme in the relative major, A flat (‘For ah, my love, it little knows’), a brief modulating central development (‘A wayward fate hath spun the thread’), an F major recapitulation that includes a final stormy burst of F minor, and an expressive, chromatically tinged piano postlude.
If Haydn at times seems to be thinking instrumentally in the two sets of canzonettas, the two independently published songs here, O tuneful voice and, especially, The spirit’s song, achieve a true interpenetration of poetry and music, with the form reflecting and enhancing the emotional progression of the verses. Both songs, too, poetically exploit the device of the surprise vocal entry found in She never told her love. The darkly brooding atmosphere of The spirit’s song (which Haydn apparently thought was by Shakespeare) is heightened by ominous pauses and by a bleak, haunting piano interlude that later accompanies the singer’s final ‘My spirit wanders free’ and then reappears in the coda, deep in the bass against a falling chromatic line. Anne Hunter wrote the poem O tuneful voice as a farewell tribute to the composer before his final departure from England. And Haydn’s setting combines a fervent bel canto line with a wonderful freedom of modulation (in, say, the beautiful shifts to the flat side of the spectrum at ‘still vibrate on my heart’ and, even more evocatively, before ‘In Echo’s cave’) that is at once a quintessential feature of late Haydn and looks ahead to Schubert.
‘I am delighted that my favourite Arianna is well received at the Schottenhof, but I do recommend Fräulein Pepperl to articulate the words clearly, especially the passage “Chi tanto amai”’. So wrote Haydn in March 1790 to his friend and confidante Maria Anna von Genzinger, wife of Prince Esterházy’s doctor. He had probably composed his dramatic solo Italian cantata some time the previous year. And though it is unlikely that Haydn intended it primarily for ‘Pepperl’, Maria Anna’s teenaged daughter, the cantata’s keyboard (rather than orchestral) accompaniment, limited vocal compass (spanning only a twelfth) and modest degree of virtuosity suggest that, like the songs, it was conceived as much for the cultured amateur as for the professional. Whatever its precise raison d’être, Arianna fast became one of Haydn’s best-loved works. In 1791 it was a hit at his London concerts, sung—improbably—by the castrato Gasparo Pacchierotti; and when Lord Nelson and his retinue visited Prince Esterházy’s palace in 1800, the cantata was performed by ‘Mylady Hameelton’. According to a letter of April 1790 to the publisher John Blair, Haydn intended to orchestrate the accompaniment. But he never got round to it. And in any case, the keyboard writing is thoroughly idiomatic, its expressive character and dynamic markings clearly implying the fortepiano rather than the harpsichord.
The subject of the Cretan Princess Ariadne’s desertion by Theseus on the island of Naxos has attracted composers from Monteverdi to Richard Strauss. In some sources of the myth (and in Strauss’s opera), Bacchus turns up in the nick of time to rescue her from her plight. But in others she dies, half-crazed with grief. And the anonymous text set by Haydn implies such a tragic outcome. Like the orchestrally-accompanied Scena di Berenice Haydn composed in London, Arianna alternates recitative and aria in four distinct sections. First comes a slow, reflective recitative, beginning in E flat but modulating widely, that depicts Ariadne’s voluptuous awakening, the dawn (evoked in a long keyboard crescendo before ‘Già sorge in ciel’) and her mingled languor and impatience for Theseus’s return.
Then in a largo aria in B flat (‘Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?’), opening with a wonderfully sensuous phrase that recalls the Countess’s ‘Dove sono?’ from Figaro, she begs the gods to bring him back to her. Her underlying anxiety, though, becomes increasingly evident in the faltering vocal line, often punctuated by rests, and the music’s harmonic instability, with sudden shifts to the minor mode. The aria breaks off for the second, intensely dramatic recitative (‘Ma, a chi parlo?’), full of sudden changes of tempo and motif: at the opening Ariadne climbs the cliff (duly illustrated by the piano) as the music modulates slowly from C major to A major and back again; then after the numb realization of her abandonment (‘ei qui mi lascia’), she experiences, successively, desperation, indignation and near collapse (expressed in a poignant, ‘tottering’ F minor arioso at ‘Già più non reggo’). The daughter of Minos recovers her regal dignity for one last time in the slightly formal F major opening of the final aria (‘Ah! che morir vorrei’). But her anguish and outrage erupt in the closing F minor presto, with its yearning repetitions of the key phrase ‘Chi tanto amai’ (the words Haydn cited in his letter to Maria Anna von Genzinger). After the singer’s last despairing F minor outburst, the piano postlude culminates in a laconic F major cadence of grim, almost mocking finality.
Richard Wigmore © 2002