Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra relish every moment in three of Haydn's finest symphonies, from the raucous 'Hornsignal' of 1765 to the classically honed 'Clock', written some three decades later.
A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.
Symphony No 31 in D major, Hob I:31, ‘Hornsignal’, is one of only four of Haydn’s symphonies (Nos 13, 39 and 72 are the others) that uses a quartet of horns. When he first entered the service of the Esterházys, the court had only two horn players. However, the virtuoso Carl Franz arrived in April 1763, and he was joined by Franz Reiner the following August. The exact make-up of the section changed over time, but access to a quartet of horns was an extraordinary luxury for Haydn. Horn players, according to the great Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon, were the instrumental superstars of their day: they occupied a position of esteem previously held by clarino trumpet players, and their wages were often among the highest in any ensemble. In Haydn’s early years at the Esterházy court, the number of horn players was arguably out of all proportion to the total size of the band, which nowadays would barely merit the label of chamber orchestra.
The isolation of Eszterháza also provided the opportunity to hunt. According to Griesinger, a contemporary biographer, ‘hunting and fishing were Haydn’s favourite pastimes during his sojourn in Hungary, and he could never forget that once he brought down with a single shot three hazel-hens, which arrived on the table of the Empress Maria Theresa.’ Perhaps because of the prominent use of horns, perhaps because of Haydn’s sporting predilections, Symphony No 31 has often been seen as a symphony in praise of the hunt; it is frequently mentioned alongside Symphony No 73, ‘La Chasse’, which includes hunting calls in its finale.
However, the nicknames most often associated with Symphony No 31—’Hornsignal’ and ‘Auf dem Anstand’ (a term describing the position adopted by a hunter awaiting his prey)—date from the nineteenth century. What is more, closer inspection of the score reveals that the symphony conjures up not so much hunting calls as the post-horn. As the musicologist Horst Walter has demonstrated, the octave leaps that we hear after the first tutti—itself more military than rustic—were often used in the eighteenth century to mark the arrival or departure of the post-coach; one source even labels these bars ‘alla Posta’. Perhaps Haydn was attempting a joke like that of the ‘Farewell’ Symphony, and hinting that it was time to leave sleepy Kismarton for the hustle and bustle of Vienna.
For all the prominence of the horns, they are not the only solo instruments in this work: the score features solo parts for violino concertante, violoncello concertante and violone solo, as well as for various wind instruments. In fact, the slow movement, a type of siciliano, was conceived as an extended solo for the leader of the Esterházy court orchestra, Luigi Tomasini, accompanied for the most part by pizzicato strings. The Menuet and Trio, by way of contrast, trains a spotlight on the wind, with the horns divided in the trio into two answering pairs. The finale, a set of seven variations on a simple two-part theme, offers a sequence of instrumental vignettes, almost like an eighteenth-century equivalent to Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra; one by one, the sections of the ensemble step up for their moment of glory.
The finale ends with a Presto, built on what appears to be a quotation of a folk-tune. However, that is not the most surprising thing here. The work concludes with a repeat of the horn calls that began and ended the first movement. Who said the nineteenth century invented the cyclic symphony?
Symphony No 70 in D major, Hob I:70 was written well over a decade later, in 1779, and is one of the few Haydn symphonies that can be precisely dated. A major fire in November 1779 destroyed both theatres at Eszterháza, and with them Haydn’s harpsichord, Tomasini’s violin and a great supply of music, including much of Haydn’s operatic work and all the orchestral parts of all his Esterházy symphonies. The total damage was estimated at more than 100,000 gulden. The opera house was barely ten years old, and its destruction must have hit hard. Haydn would have been particularly affected, as the event came on the back of two earlier such disasters. Kismarton, where Haydn had his home, had been devastated by fire in August 1768 and again in July 1776. On both occasions, dozens of houses were destroyed, and Haydn seems to have lost numerous manuscripts, including the score of his only double bass concerto.
Prince Nikolaus set about repairs to Eszterháza straightaway, and Haydn, who admired Nikolaus, clearly wished to contribute to the spirit of renewal. Symphony No 70 was written to mark the re-laying of the opera house’s foundation stone, and the first violin part gives the precise date of the premiere: ‘779 die 18te Xbris’, 18 December 1779—that is to say, only one month after the fire and, crucially, Prince Nikolaus’s birthday. Trumpet and drums add festive colour to the first movement, and at times the material recalls the pomp of Symphony No 31. However, these parts were in fact added later: Eszterháza’s drums had been destroyed in the fire, and trumpets without drums were, at the time, unthinkable.
Counterpoint is found in abundance throughout Symphony No 70. Indeed, Haydn labels the slow movement ‘Specie d’un canone in contrapunto doppio’. The qualifying noun (a ‘type’ of canon) is needed, as there is really no canon to speak of here; rather, the movement is built on a beautiful but relatively simple piece of double counterpoint (a passage written so that either part can serve as bass or treble). Variety is provided through contrasting sections in the major, a model that served Haydn well over the years. Perhaps the most remarkable movement is the simplest. The Menuet’s trio is mostly written in unison or in two simple, matching parts. Different instrumental combinations provide delicate shadings, and the unequal phrase lengths avert predictability.
The finale is built round a virtuoso fugue. Again, Haydn’s description—’a 3 soggetti in contrapunto doppio’—leaves something to be desired. There is plenty of elaborate counterpoint here, but one can easily identify more than three subjects, and the core invention is in triple rather than double counterpoint. The movement is book-ended by sections based on repeated notes. At the start of the movement the modality—major or minor—is uncertain, but at the end, as only the repeated notes are left, it is major that triumphs. This, one of the shortest finales in Haydn’s output, demonstrates the composer at his most elemental.
Some have seen in the finale’s course from minor to major the quintessential Romantic trajectory: per ardua ad astra. Others have linked the movement more explicitly to the fire, suggesting that the turn to the major offers hope for the future. Though many works trace this particular tonal course, it is hard not to make some connection between the disaster of November 1779 and the symphony that followed in its immediate wake.
Symphony No 101 in D major, Hob I:101, ‘The Clock’, dates from 1794. It falls in the glory years of the so-called Flötenuhr (‘flute clock’), a large-scale equivalent of a music box. During this period—the late eighteenth century—every major aristocratic establishment possessed at least one. Eszterháza owned about half-a-dozen of these instruments; two of them were acquired in 1792 or 1793, just as Haydn was completing the first three movements of Symphony No 101. Several of these clocks were constructed by Joseph Niemecz, an ordained priest who was court librarian at Eszterháza and who played the cello in Haydn’s orchestra. The nickname ‘The Clock’ was not coined by the composer himself—it first appears four years after the work’s premiere—but Haydn’s interest in Flötenuhren is well documented. He left around 30 pieces for these ambitious instruments, which, though limited in range, were capable of playing relatively complex music. In fact, the Menuet of Symphony No 101 may originally have been written for a mechanical instrument: a version for clock survives in which extra flourishes give intriguing clues about the style of decoration Haydn may have encouraged in live orchestral performances.
It is, of course, the Andante second movement that gives the symphony its nickname. This curious amalgam of variation and rondo forms has more than a hint of ‘vamp till ready’ in its opening: Haydn sets up a ticking accompanimental figure before introducing the main theme (a procedure Beethoven would pick up in the third movement of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony). Haydn originally planned to end the Andante with a chord for full orchestra, but in the final version it is as though the clock’s mechanism has slowly wound down. Perhaps he felt no need to add an emphatic full stop; after all, as one journal reported in the year of the premiere, ‘in every symphony of Haydn the adagio or andante is sure to be repeated each time, after the most vehement encores’.
The beginning of the Trio also exists in different forms. Haydn’s original version pits a single chord against a melody that implies changing harmonies. Later, the ‘anomaly’ is reconciled, and it seems the intention was to set up a deliberate error that would be corrected when the music returned. Later sources offer a sanitized version, and it is not entirely clear whether or not Haydn sanctioned the change. Perhaps the clash of tonic and dominant chords, as in a notorious passage in Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, was a joke the public simply failed to get.
‘The Clock’ was premiered on 3 March 1794 at Hanover Square, London, in one of the most ambitious of Haydn’s concerts for the impresario Johann Peter Salomon. Ludwig Fischer, who had created the role of Osmin in Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail, took part, as did the violin virtuoso Giovanni Battista Viotti, a refugee from the terror gripping France at the time. Jan Ladislav Dussek, one of the finest pianists of his generation, played a concerto.
The third of three D major symphonies on this recording, ‘The Clock’ is also the third of four of Haydn’s ‘London’ symphonies in D major, by far the most popular key for eighteenth-century symphonies. However, Haydn confounds expectations here by prefacing the first movement proper with a questing introduction in D minor. This deploys a spectral adumbration of the scampering Presto theme that follows, both made up of rising scales. The Presto marking and the metre—6/8, a time signature never used by Mozart to open a symphony—suggest a light-hearted finale rather than a weighty first movement. It is as though Haydn had taken the idea of a Kehraus—a finale that literally ‘sweeps’ the audience out of the concert hall—and transposed it to the start of a symphony.
Having delivered such a frothy first movement, Haydn incorporates some more serious ideas in the finale. In addition to a stormy outburst in the minor—one of several in the symphony—the movement includes a strangely subdued fugal passage. Robbins Landon claimed this passage inspired some of Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, this was not the first time that Haydn had associated contrapuntal writing with an almost ghostly performance style. The Op 20 string quartets contain three fugal finales, all marked sempre sotto voce. What was new here was the use of learned textures, performed pianissimo, in such a public genre. It was surely subversive gestures like these that inspired the Morning Chronicle’s comment, published two days after the symphony’s premiere: ‘we fear, till it is heard, [Haydn] can only repeat himself; and we are every time mistaken’.
Haydn and the Enlightenment
Joseph Haydn might well have asked, with Immanuel Kant, ‘Was ist Aufklärung?’ (What is Enlightenment?). But Kant’s question was rhetorical. It was the title of a famous essay, published in 1784, that provided an answer, to wit:
Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage [Unmündigkeit]. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s own mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know! [Sapere aude.] ‘Have the courage to use your own understanding,’ is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.
Aufklärung? Unmündigkeit? Haydn would have simply wanted to know what the words meant. Like much innovative philosophy, Kant’s ideas required a new vocabulary. The philosopher’s strategy was to take existing words, invest them with new meanings that put them in a new relationship, and define them in the essay’s opening paragraph. If, like most readers, Haydn knew the word Aufklärung at all, he would have known it as a technical military term, German for what in English we call by the French word reconnaissance. Literally, etymologically, it means ‘up-clearing’ or ‘out-figuring’—deciding what’s what. Unlike its traditional English translation, it is not a metaphor. The resonance with illumination that has led so many to regard the awesome moment of radiance in Haydn’s oratorio The Creation (where God says ‘Let there be light!’ and the audience must cover its ears) as a symbol of his Enlightened times is something that could only occur to an English or a French speaker; it could not have occurred to Haydn. Mündig, derived from the German for ‘mouth’, is a technical legal term. It means ‘of age’, as in ‘coming of age’, when you can act on your own behalf (that is, speak with your own mouth). So the English equivalent of Unmündigkeit would be ‘minority’, the state of being a minor. Kant’s nineteenth-century translator probably resorted to the fancy Latinate ‘nonage’ deliberately, to create the momentary confusion that Unmündigkeit was no doubt meant to evoke. As a reader noted in exasperation as early as 1789, ‘Aufklärung ist ein Wort, daß eigentlich nun ohne Kommentar kein Mensch mehr versteht’ (Aufklärung is a word that no one understands any more without commentary). Since then, things have only got worse.
So what could all of this have meant to an eighteenth-century musician? Not much, in terms of his profession. To look for intimations of Enlightenment in Haydn’s actual scores, as the example of The Creation already warns us, is likely to lead us astray. In English, the term is surprisingly recent, hopelessly anachronistic to the period it describes. The Oxford English Dictionary records no use of it in intellectual history before 1865 (and then it was a pejorative: ‘shallow and pretentious intellectualism, unreasonable contempt for tradition and authority, etc.’—in other words, French). But these derisive remarks were at least correct in deriving the term not from Kant’s German but from the French of the philosophes, for whom by the 1780s it was already a cliché to call their time the siècle des Lumières. Even that usage did not take root in English until the 1930s at the earliest. Until then, and for decades thereafter, the standard English epithet for the eighteenth century as a cultural period was ‘The Age of Reason’, after the title of Thomas Paine’s famous tract of 1794: a book that in two earnest, urgent volumes found no room for any discussion of music, inhabited no literary man’s or political activist’s idea of a rational domain, and (although he never said as much, since no one thought to ask him) was not likely to have been Haydn’s idea of one either.
So we are likely to be led even further astray if we expect Haydn to share our present-day view of his time. Donald Jay Grout, in the first edition of his famous History of Western Music (1960), used the term Enlightenment just where (and for the reason) one might have expected it to appear: to introduce the chapter on ‘Classical style’, musicological code for the late eighteenth century. He broached the issue by juxtaposing two quotes: one by Andreas Werckmeister, the theorist of musical temperament, from 1691, identifying music as ‘a gift of God, to be used only in His honour’; and the other by Charles Burney, the music historian, from 1776: ‘Music is an innocent luxury, unnecessary, indeed, to our existence, but a great improvement and gratification of the sense of hearing.’ No prizes for guessing which of these definitions was the ‘Enlightened’ one. But which definition should we expect Haydn, who headed the scores of each of his perfectly secular symphonies with the Latin invocation ‘In nomine Domini’ (In the name of the Lord) and followed the last double bar with the words ‘Laus Deo’ (Praise to God), to have preferred? Haydn would likely have regarded Burney’s definition as an example of ‘French’ frippery.
Emblematic of the term’s poorish fit was the seventh volume of the ten-volume New Oxford History of Music, which came out in 1973 with the title The Age of Enlightenment: 1745–1790. There is no entry for ‘Enlightenment’ in the book’s index, however; and the term is discussed at length only in the volume’s introduction (by Gerald Abraham, the actual editor—as opposed to the nominal ones; but that’s another story) and in the peroration, a concluding chapter by Frederick Sternfeld, called ‘Instrumental Masterworks and Aspects of Formal Design’, that seems to have been commissioned to serve as the other bookend. Abraham cheerfully admitted of the music treated between the bookends that ‘by no means all the changes it underwent in passing from the age of Bach and Handel to that of Haydn and Mozart can be linked with the ideas of Enlightenment’; but Sternfeld made a game effort to turn the so-called sonata form, especially as found in the first movements of Haydn’s symphonies, into such a link, specifically with the idea of individual, independent comprehension or ‘understanding’, a thing so highly valued by Kant. Comparing the final ritornello in a Baroque concerto with the ending of a Classical symphonic movement, Sternfeld wrote that:
to relate such unchanging ritornelli to the codas of Haydn, not to mention Beethoven, would be false, for the very essence of these codas is thematic mutation …To recognize in the recapitulation the return of the primary group as well as the secondary and closing groups produced the kind of delight cherished by the age of Enlightenment, for by this reprise one might understand more thoroughly the significance of the opening section.
This would seem to suggest that the values and virtues of the Age of Reason were somehow encoded in Haydn’s actual musical sounds in a way that they were lacking in, say, Bach’s. The temptation to debunk this or any such immanent claim is fierce. But it takes just a little tweak to make it ring true—and in a way that finally justifies the pairing of Haydn’s name with what we call the Enlightenment after all. Abraham makes that tweak when he writes about the most measurable musical change that took place in the eighteenth century, the change in the audience:
[T]he popularity of the ‘concert symphony’, leading to the diffusion throughout Europe of printed sets of parts and consequently to the standardization of the orchestra, was the result of social change: the emergence of considerable middle-class audiences …The same audiences, when they made music instead of passively listening to it, provided the principal market for the quantities of easy keyboard music, the keyboard sonatas with flute or violin accompaniment, the Lieder of the Berlin school, and the host of simple songs and romances with keyboard or harp accompaniment which came from the presses of London and Paris.
To speak of ‘emergence’ makes the process sound magical, and to attempt a real explanation for it would require a book, not a short note like this. But the social change that Abraham sketches here was the real eighteenth-century story, and it continued apace right through the nineteenth. As any composer knows (and as Aaron Copland actually said), ‘when the audience changes, the music changes’. And anyone who knows anything about Haydn’s biography knows he was the great musical protagonist of this change during the eighteenth century: starting life a virtual peasant; elevated through lucky circumstances to a life of incredibly productive servitude to aristocratic patrons; lucky again to live long enough to be pensioned just as those middle-class audiences (first—where else?—in England) began clamouring for his wares; and ending his days a wealthy celebrity, the very image of the self-made man, who told his biographer (and he was the first composer to know he had one) that young readers ‘may see from my example that something may indeed come from nothing’. Having begun by furnishing music on demand to a noble coterie, Haydn ended by purveying his wares to throngs of honnêtes hommes in big concert rooms and to even larger, unseen throngs of potential purchasers (of string quartets and piano trios, to be sure, but also of ‘simple songs and romances with keyboard or harp accompaniment’, genres he never touched till, through J P Salomon, London beckoned).
The aristocratic genres were re-evaluated by the new audience of educated listeners, which had its Kenner as well as Liebhaber—its connoisseurs as well as amateurs. Goethe said of the string quartet, one of the genres that ‘Papa’ Haydn sired, that in it one heard ‘vier vernünftige Leute sich untereinander unterhalten’: four people conversing. And however we choose to translate the untranslatable term vernünftige—whether as ‘reasonable’ or ‘rational’ or ‘intelligent’—we sooner see them conversing in one of the public or semi-public spaces of the imagined enlightenment (coffee house, drawing room) than in a palace chamber (where the conversation would have been described as galant). Goethe even said of his four vernünftigers that ‘man glaubt ihren Diskursen etwas abzugewinnen’: one believes one might learn something from their discourse.
Haydn was of course delighted with the good fortune that made his music ever more valuable to ever more listeners as his career went on, and he was aware of the new freedoms that his lucky survival amid propitious social changes had brought him. But he was also aware of the paradoxes that attended his new, socially supported independence. Was he the beneficiary of social emancipation, as we who look back on history in a triumphant mood might be quick to assume, or was he just the flukily successful weatherer of social abandonment? ‘How sweet is some degree of liberty!’ he wrote to a friend back home after eight months of wild success in London:
I had a kind prince, but was obliged at times to depend on base souls. I often sighed for release and now I have it in some measure. I appreciate the good sides of all this, too, though my mind is burdened with far more work. The realization that I am no longer a bond servant sweetens all my toil.
That is where quotation from this letter often ends. But the very next sentence reads, ‘Yet, dear though this liberty is to me, I should like to enter Prince Esterházy’s service again when I return, if only for the sake of my family.’ Haydn knew that freedom and security varied inversely, and that the Enlightenment—whatever it was—brought danger along with opportunity. Some, quoting the letter as far as we have now taken it, have concluded (in the words of Peter Gay, the author of a monumental three-volume study—or, as he preferred, interpretation—of the Enlightenment) that Haydn, used to being ‘handed from one princely Esterházy to another almost as if he had been a fine horse’, found ‘the habit of submission’ hard to break, and ‘returned to his masters’. But no, the end of this fascinating letter actually tells a different story: he decided to face the danger. His prince, he reports, had sent him a letter in which he:
strongly objects to my staying away for so long, and absolutely demands my speedy return; but I can’t comply with this, owing to a new contract which I have just made here. And now, unfortunately, I expect my dismissal, whereby I hope that God will give me the strength to make up for this loss, at least partly, by my industry.
Thus Haydn, at 59 the most famous musician in Europe, struck bravely out on his own in a manner that was newly made possible by the social changes associated with the self-defining, self-determining spirit of the Enlightenment, and in that sense he may be regarded as acting in that spirit.
But do we really need the word? Like all such labels, it covers up the contradictions that keep philosophers in business, and we may locate the basic contradiction of the term Enlightenment within the work of Kant, the very man whose famous definition furnished us with our starting point. That definition emphasized independence—hence originality—of thought. It is to Kant, indeed, that we owe the paradoxical definition of artistic genius that still holds sway today. ‘The talent (natural endowment), that gives the rule to art,’ he wrote, is nevertheless ‘a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given.’ Whether or not he ever read Kant, Haydn certainly had a sense that he had genius according to this definition. Out in the sticks at Eszterháza, he told his biographer, ‘I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks; I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original [ich mußte original warden].’
At the same time, however, it was Kant who expounded the principle that our natural rights stem from our common humanity, the chief evidence for which is our basic similarity to one another: that is, our common human nature, the basis of that much-abused notion, ‘common sense’ (sensus communis), ‘the sound (not yet cultivated) understanding that we regard as the least to be expected from any one claiming the name of man’ and that forms our judgments, including our aesthetic judgments. Aesthetic judgments are only sound, according to Kant, when they are widely shared. Can art appeal to the sensus communis and at the same time display rule-flouting original genius? This is a narrowly couched and seemingly benign version of the question that has tormented Enlightened political thought ever since the eighteenth century: can equality coexist with excellence?
Haydn’s contemporaries were aware of this problem, and accorded him (along with Shakespeare) the rare accolade of ascribing to his art the power of transcending it. His biographer Griesinger actually invoked Kant himself in proclaiming Haydn a genius the novelty of whose ideas baffled even himself, but whose finished work was universal in its appeal. And while there were those who complained that his works were ‘too flighty, trifling, and wild … introducing a species of sounds totally unknown’, time had vindicated them by actually altering the sensus communis, so that the new species had come to seem ‘original, masterly and beautiful’. His excellence had raised the standard, allowing humans to improve in their equality.
And beyond original, masterly and beautiful, in his last works Haydn achieved the sublime. This is another link with Kant, who had taken from the writings of Edmund Burke the notion that at its most intense, the aesthetic can offer us inklings of the great as well as the pleasing, and that in this it could assume the place in the lives of enlightened humans that dogmatic religion had occupied in the world of their benighted ancestors. Haydn’s oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, works written under the direct impact of Handel’s oratorios, which had bowled him over in England, exemplify the natural religion of enlightened thinkers (one could even say of the Masons, for Haydn had joined a Vienna lodge around the time of his pensioning). The God depicted in them is the God of the Deists, the benign creator God who then put exultant man in charge of his creation. There is no more exultant moment in all of music than the moment when, out of the mysterious sonic mists of the initial ‘Representation of Chaos’, the blinding flash (transformed into a deafening blast of C major) announces the primeval dawn. Thereafter, the story of creation, and of Adam and Eve, is all sweetness and light: no fall, no expulsion, no need, therefore, for redemption. Some felt that the unclouded optimism of these works was impious. Haydn’s answer, in a letter sent in July 1801 to a Bohemian schoolmaster named Karl Ockl, was expressed in words Kant would have approved. ‘I am simply astonished,’ he wrote:
The creation has always been considered the most sublime and inspiring image to contemplate. To accompany it with suitable music could surely have no other effect than to enhance these sacred feelings in the hearts of men, and confirm their belief in the goodness and omnipotence of the Creator. How can it be a sacrilege to arouse such holy feelings?
Haydn and the Horn
From around the 1720s, composers began to include horn parts in their music on a fairly regular basis, though it was not until the dawn of the Classical era, around 1750, that horns became seen as essential to successful orchestral writing. Part of the reason for their acceptance as regular members of the orchestra was due to the stylistic changes between the Baroque and Classical eras: from music that relied on a figured bass part and was frequently contrapuntal, to music where orchestral textures were increasingly significant. The valveless horns of the Baroque era were largely called upon to play melodic lines in the highest register; such parts—as in the ‘Quoniam’ of Bach’s B minor Mass or the first Brandenburg Concerto—required great virtuosity. Here the horn lent colour to a particular passage or work, rather than being used all the time. By contrast, Classical composers realized that a pair of horns was ideal for blending and binding together the middle of the orchestra: played in the lower and middle registers, the instruments could be used unobtrusively and without placing unrealistic demands on players’ stamina.
Nevertheless, composers continued to write horn solos when the occasion demanded. As Joseph Haydn started to win the goodwill of the Esterházy orchestra soon after his arrival in 1761, he must also have realized that he had talented horn players: interesting horn parts appear right from his first symphonies for the orchestra—’Le Matin’, ‘Le Midi’ and ‘Le Soir’—and the following year he wrote his lovely D major Horn Concerto for Joseph Leutgeb, who was subsequently to earn recognition as the player for whom Mozart was to write his concertos. Leutgeb worked briefly at the Esterházy court in March 1763 and may have played the concerto there during his stay. But if he was hoping to be offered a permanent post in the orchestra, that did not come about: on 9 April the two permanent horn players, Johannes Knoblauch and Thaddäus Steinmüller, were joined by Carl Franz, who was reputed to have a four-octave range. Four months later, the trio was augmented by Franz Reiner. Haydn now had an outstanding quartet, and by the end of the year highly virtuoso horn parts featured in both his Cassation for four concertante horns and strings and the Symphony No 72.
In view of this, it is surprising that the vacancy caused when Reiner left shortly afterwards was not filled immediately. In fact Haydn had to wait until after Knoblauch’s death, in 1765, for two other players, Johann Dietzl and Franz Stamitz, to join the horn section and complete a new quartet. This time the result was the Symphony No 31 in D major, which opens with fanfares from all four players and then features sensational leaps in the first horn part. The fanfares return at the end of both the first and last movements and the horns also have conspicuous parts in the elegant lines of the Siciliano-like slow movement, the trio of the third movement and a delicious variation in the finale.
Haydn’s enthusiasm for using four horns seems to have waned after this, and he did not use them again to such spectacular effect until he wrote the hunting chorus in his oratorio Die Jahreszeiten, in 1801. However, he continued to make considerable use of his star horn players for the rest of the decade and probably had Carl Franz in mind in 1767 when he wrote the ‘Divertimento a tre’ in E flat major, Hob IV:5, an extraordinary piece for horn, violin and cello which exploits the absolute extremes of the instrument’s range. To name but two further examples, Symphony No 48 includes two horns pitched in C alto almost screaming at their highest range like trumpets, while the solos in Symphony No 51 exploit both the highest and lowest notes available to the players. However, during the 1770s Haydn turned his attention to refining his handling of musical form rather than demonstrating his understanding of virtuoso performance: by 1779, the horn parts in Symphony No 70 are very much more modest in scope.
Following the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790, Haydn made two visits to London, the greatest adventures of his life. Although he would have known the city’s musical reputation, he probably would have had little idea of what to expect in terms of the standard of horn playing. Players there had certainly had the chance to keep up with the latest developments, since Giovanni Punto, the leading player of the day, had given concerts in the capital in 1772 and 1788 and would certainly have taken the opportunity to demonstrate the revolutionary technique of hand stopping. The invention of the technique—in which the hand is used in the bell of the instrument to allow notes outside the harmonic series and to control intonation more certainly—is attributed to Punto’s teacher, Anton Hampel. While the resulting variation in tone quality received a mixed reception, the practice was to have an immense effect on writing for the instrument.
Punto himself moved on, but one of his pupils, the Belgian-born Jacques-Joseph-Toussaint Pieltain, had settled in London and, with his colleague Lewis Henry Leander, seems to have played in most of the concerts that Haydn gave during his 1791–92 visit. Pieltain also played a concerto in the concert on 5 March 1792 in which Symphony No 91 was premiered, but he seems to have died or moved on by the time Haydn returned in 1794, as Leander was now playing with his brother Vincent. It is difficult to know how they compared with Haydn’s players at Eszterháza, but the London magazine the Harmonicon maintained they were among the finest in Europe. Certainly Haydn brought with him that year a terzetto, Pietà di me, that had a ferociously difficult horn part written for one of the Eszterháza virtuosi; while evidence for its performance in London is circumstantial, it is likely that one of the Leanders was involved. If he did it well, and even allowing for native bias, then the Harmonicon cannot have been far wrong. Both brothers are also likely to have played in the first performance of Symphony No 101.
Linn Records © 2005