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Text of the booklet "IF HAYDN HAD WRITTEN FOR OBOE, vol. 2"

There’s hardly anyone not familiar with Haydn’s canonical image, omnipresent in his popular biographies: the endlessly jovial old man, ‘Papa Haydn’, pious, amiable, easy-going and industrious, without a hint of a tortured soul, that hallmark of genius in new European culture since Romanticism. This delibera-tely contrast-free, and yet remarkably truthful image of the great master, created towards the end of his life, corresponds well to his artistic career, also apparently devoid of storms and crises. In the composer’s lifetime, his music was greeted with enthusiasm not in Europe alone, but in overseas colonies as well. He died a venerable old man, having known in full the sweetness of recognition and the love of his contemporaries. A telling example of the attitude towards Haydn in the classical age are the words by Ernst Ludwig Gerber that introduce the master in his Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkustler from 1790: “Our greatest man, great in every small thing and even greater in big things, the pride of our times.”
It’s amazing how fast the attitude changed after Haydn’s death. Sincere devotion gave way to much less enthusiastic approach, sometimes bordering on indifference. The composer was by no means forgotten, but few people now were prepared to see the universal genius in him. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann expressed the now common feeling in 1810 when he said that “Haydn’s music is permeated by childish joy”, “his symphonies lead us to vast green groves, to the merry motley commotion of happy people.” Hoffmann’s tone is quite benevolent, and he might agree that Haydn was “great in small things”, but there’s no chance now that his claim for greatness in big things could be acknowledged. Later Romantics were even more sweeping in their judgment; Schumann called him “a well-known house guest, always warmly welcomed but not especially interesting for our time”. During the romantic era, the composer’s oratorios were still performed, but his symphonies no longer elicited interest. They were now regarded as a kind of old-fashioned light music, only fit for the intervals in drama theatres and during scenery changes (that is, when the audience is at its least attentive). At the end of the century, Haydn’s legacy was ironically valued by Tchaikovsky, otherwise a keen lover of Viennese classics: “I greatly respect the services rendered by this good-natured old man to symphony and chamber music – they were admirable, great even”, but “he did not go beyond the little things and pretty things”.
These days, we have witnessed another change of heart as regards Haydn, even though only a limited part of his legacy remains in current repertoire. And yet, it is good to see that mo-dern listeners are no longer content with Haydn’s established masterpieces. They discover those of his compositions, which did not go beyond little pretty things for Tchaikovsky, but whose absence would make one’s idea of Haydn incomplete.
One of the pieces recorded in this album features the oboe taking over the part of the harpsichord, two other ones – of the violin. The idea to put these opuses together belongs to the brilliant oboe player Alexei Utkin. He tried to think how Haydn himself would have written a piece for the oboe (he didn’t actually leave any pieces for that instrument). One should keep in mind that in the 18th century such arrangements were numerous, oboe virtuo-si in high demand; it is not a huge stretch of imagination to think that Utkin’s transcriptions could have appeared 250 years ago.
Both concertos were written in the late 1760’s. At that time, Haydn continued to work at the court of the Esterhazy counts. Count Paul Anton, who hired the composer as the court’s vice-Kapellmeister, was succeeded by his younger brother Nikolaus (Miklos). Haydn’s new patron, called Miklos the Magnificent, spent a substantial part of the family’s vast riches to hurriedly set up Esterhaza, his new family residence on the shore of Neusiedler Lake. Awe-struck visitors compared the palace to a fairy kingdom. In the meantime, Haydn was promoted: in 1766 he became the Kapellmeister in charge of all musical events of the count’s court. Haydn was busy: he wrote operas for Esterhaza’s court theatre, church music for the chapel, instrumental pieces for private recitals. Some chamber pieces were written specially for Nikolaus Esterhazy, who was one of the most avid amateur musicians of his time. The count’s musical preferences were unusual, even exotic: he loved to play the baryton, a viol-like string instrument, obsolete even at that time.
It was apparently for the court “academies” that Haydn’s concertos were intended. The Double Concerto in F major (Hob. XVIII:6) was composed not later than 1766 for violin and harpsichord – two instruments which do not often have solo parts in the same composition. In this transcription, the melodic component of the keyboard part is taken over by the oboe. Allegro moderato opens with a sprightly march-like theme, focused and energetic, but not alien to delicate feeling – in development, its motifs reappear in minor. The subtle tender Largo joins two richly ornamental solo parts into a kind of an amorous duo, unwrapping itself against the background of gentle string pizzicato. Like in most slow movements of classical concertos, sonatas and symphonies, the influence of operatic cantilena is obvious. The most graphic, extravert movement of the concerto is the closing Presto: the main theme in the character of a fast minuet is set off by a handful of ‘golden’ sequences reminding of baroque instrumental music.
The Violin Concerto in G major (Hob.VIIa:4) was written not later than 1769. Most likely, Haydn composed it for the first violinist, later the concertmaster of Esterhaza’s court orchestra, Luigi Tomasini (1741–1808). Tomasini studied composing with Haydn himself and probably took violin lessons in Salzburg with Leopold Mozart. The Italian violinist was the virtuoso of the highest calibre; this fact is amply testified by the concerto’s first movement, Allegro moderato. The solo part played by the oboe in our version requires great skill; the abundance of triplets and sextuplets adds capricious suppleness and prettiness to the free-flowing, subtle melody, not depriving it of knightly splendour and dignity. The slow movement opens with a theme of a rather ceremonious minuet, which gains lyrical warmth and expression in the solo part. The closing Allegro has all best features of Haydn’s finales: it’s compelling, fresh, radiant.
Haydn had accumulated many pompous nicknames which his younger contemporaries started to invent. The most famous one, “the father of symphony”, lived as long as the 20th century, only to be found incorrect: the symphony had ‘fathers’ in earlier eras of musical history. Even stranger is the title of “the father of instrumental music”, bestowed on Haydn by Stendhal. As for “the father of string quartet”, that title is well-deserved: Haydn’s role in the formation of the genre was indeed pivotal.
Haydn’s quartet legacy is enormous, about seventy pieces. The composer kept returning to the genre during his career that had spun half a century and quartet opuses reflected many significant changes of his style. Six quarters Op.50, including the Quartet in F major (Op.50 No.5) on this disk are known under the name of “Prussian Quartets”. They were written from February to September of 1787. Just as the early 1780’s “Russian” quartets dedicated to the Great Prince Pavel Petrovitch (the future Russian Emperor Paul I), the Opus 50 quartets owe its name to a king, namely Frederick William II, who in 1786 replaced one of the most famous crowned music-lovers of Europe on the Prussian throne, Frederick the Great. Frederick William II could scarcely rival his august uncle’s love for music, but he was not a stranger to the world of musical merriment. He played the cello, and Haydn was not the only composer to have dedicated his works to him (for instance, in 1789 and 1790 Mozart dedicated three quartets to the Prussian monarch). The cello part, which must have been especially important to the king, is rather modest in Haydn’s quartets. However, the king was generous; he always had been. When the composer sent him an edition of his “Paris” symphonies, Frederick William granted him a diamond ring. Haydn valued the regal gift: memoir authors tell us that he always donned it before work, as some kind of amulet.
It cannot be ruled out that the second dedicatee, whose name was not mentioned on the title page, was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The friendship of many years, sincere sympathy and mutual professional interest of the two composers had several times incited something of a creative dialogue. In 1785, Mozart dedicated Six string quartets to the senior colleague, which were written under the impression of Haydn’s quartets Op.33; in 1788, Mozart’s last three symphonies were a response to Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies, published shortly before. Mozart’s influence, in its turn, can be felt in Haydn’s “Prussian” quartets.
The quartet was originally written for two violins, viola and cello. Alexei Utkin plays the part of the second violin on oboe. This substitution provides orchestral colours to the timbre palette of the quartet. The presence of the oboe reminds us of the possible predecessor of the quartet genre – baroque chamber music which held the expressive powers of that instrument in high esteem; it hints on the entertainment music of the classics played in the open air: divertimentos, cassations, serenades where wind instruments always featured prominently. Concerto traits are stressed in this transcription by the participation of harpsichord, which was de rigueur in orchestral music but absent from string chamber ensembles.
The F major quartet is known as “The Dream” (“Der Traum”). This name is actually only applicable to its middle motion, Poco adagio; the flanking ones seem to be quite removed from dreams and reveries. The first movement, Allegro moderato, is full of Haydn’s musical humor, which combines good-natured wit with the composer’s ingenious treatment of musical themes. The jokingly amiable main theme is one of those “avian” themes which Haydn had gladly developed in his earlier quartets and in one of the “Paris” symphonies; it’s called “The Hen”. Short repetitive notes, twittering appoggiaturas wedge into the pauses of the main melody or, scattered across different parts, produce a comi-cal dialogue, or add a sly counterpoint to the theme. And yet, the funny “bird” music is written with exquisite charm and mastery. Independence of the main theme’s voices, graceful modulations, playful counterpoint techniques – all that gives the movement (and the quartet as a whole) a special delicate quality. The small slow movement is written in the pastoral genre, but fancy melodies, full of triplets, scale-like passages and repetitions, make it sound like more of a fine nocturne rather than a rural idyll. The third movement is a gracious sunny minuet in F major, framing the melancholic F minor trio based on the minuet’s main theme. The quartet is concluded with a rapid, vigorous Vivace.
Comparing works belonging not just to two different genres, but to two different periods in Haydn’s life helps understand that the composer’s language kept changing throughout his life. Haydn could be earnest; he was not always the smiling philosopher; some of his works are marked with passionate and almost rebellious pathos instead of joyful bonhomie. And still, the most important features which had early developed in his style, did not disappear; if anything, they became deeper rooted. Liveliness and immediacy of feeling is happily combined in his music with subtle and charismatic wit; his wisdom and optimism, his clear and profound concentration, never lose their charm. That’s why the words of composer, pianist and conductor Ferdinand Hiller, written 130 years ago, have not lost their force: “Recently, I’ve been starting my day’s work with a beautiful prayer. I study one of Haydn’s quartets every day. A passage from the Bible cannot do more good to the most devoted of Christians.”

Sergei Khodnev, translation by Viktor Sonkin


Text of the booklet "IF HAYDN HAD WRITTEN FOR OBOE, vol. 2"


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