Hyperion Records

Arianna a Naxos, Hob XXVIb:2
9 February 1790
author of text

'Haydn: Songs' (CDH55355)
Haydn: Songs
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55355  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
No 1. Recitative: Teseo mio ben
No 2. Aria: Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?
No 3. Recitative: Ma, a chi parlo?
No 4. Aria: Ah! che morir vorrei

Arianna a Naxos, Hob XXVIb:2
‘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.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2002

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDH55355 track 2
No 2, Aria: Dove sei, mio bel tesoro?
Recording date
2 November 1999
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Haydn: Songs (CDA67174)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: October 2002
    Deletion date: April 2008
    Superseded by CDH55355
  2. Haydn: Songs (CDH55355)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: May 2011
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
   English   Français   Deutsch