Text of the booklet "IF HAYDN HAD WRITTEN FOR OBOE, volume 1"
I would very much like the world to see me as I am, a man of integrity and decency. I am grateful to the omnipotent God for my fame, for it is only to Him that I owe everything. My sole wish is to offend neither my neighbour, nor my gracious Prince, and still less would I want to disappoint my all-merciful Lord, wrote Joseph Haydn in the year 1776. These words are often quoted, commenting that Haydn used them in an authobiographical essay, destined for the almanach “Das Gelehrte Åsterreich” (Learned Austria). However in this case it could lead to a conclusion that they are directed at the “whole world”, and one could be tempted to see in them something of a declarative statement, creating an image flattering to the composer. That is unlikely to be a correct interpretation. Haydn submitted his autobiography to the publishing house through a certain Mademoiselle Leonore; his letter commences with an agitated apology addressed to this lady: the composer begs her forgiveness for his awkward language and lack of eloquence, since he had very little time to write that note; further followed by a brief text about his life’s events and his main works; as for the adduced quote, it is an ardent closure, again addressed to ‘mademoiselle’ and destined rather for the eyes of the editor than for the whole wide world. It is devoid of affectation, the trait absolutely alien to Haydn: it is a completely sincere confession. Moreover, Haydn generally produces the impression that one is actually left with after reading these humble phrases. He is usually seen as a modest and good man, who at the very same time was “one of the greatest geniuses of the 18th century, that golden age of music” (Stendhal); as a man with a wonderfully clear, harmonious and intergral inner world; a man whose wisdom and sensibility are only enhanced, softened by his good-natured humour.
The works with oboe solo presented on this disc are very much in tune with this common and widespread image of Haydn. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the soft, flexible and expressive timbre of this instrument is an excellent vehicle for conveying the radiant and genial charm of Haydn’s music. At the same time it is obvious that oboe was not exactly Haydn’s ‘favourite’. Moreover, the composer has not one work where oboe would have been taken ‘in close-up’ so to speak, as the only soloist. That is why the present disc is far from being the collection of Haydn’s works for oboe, but rather an endeavour of a talented oboe-performer in love with Haydn’s music to imagine how this composer could have written for his instrument.
The conceptual focal point of the album is of course the Sinfonia Concertante: this is the only opus where Haydn announces the oboe solo (although in actual fact there are four soloists in the Symphony, and the oboe is not the most significant of those). This Symphony is contrasted with the Concerto for oboe and orchestra, which was not composed by Haydn, but was attributed to him at one time, and was even included in the catalogue of his works. The unknown author had apparently been under Haydn’s influence, so his music partly demonstrates how Haydn himself could have written such a concerto. And finally, as an interlude between these two major works, the disc presents the early Trio (Capriccio) for harpsichord, violin and cello. It has no relation whatsoever to the wind instruments, but it sounds wonderful when performed on the oboe d’amore.
Haydn witnessed enough significant historic changes and cataclisms in his time; if his mature years coincided with the relatively peaceful period of ‘enlightened absolutism’ of Maria Theresia and Joseph II, his glorious ‘London period’ was concurrent with the climax of revolutionary tumult in France. His death, as is well known, falls on that very period when Vienna was occupied by Buonaparte’s troops, which put an end to a thousand-year-old history of the Holy Roman Empire, and with it the ‘old regime’, which had played such an important role in the fortunes of 18th-century music. As for the musical predilections and preferences, those as well changed rather frequently during his lifetime: classicism, now associated closely with Haydn’s name, subsumed not only the later Baroque but also the gallant style and the Sturm und Drang. That is why the stylistic distinctions of some of his works are quite natural; as for the similarities (like, for instance, in the earlier Trio and in the later Sinfonia Concertante) – they are as surprising as they are astonishing.
The Trio was written at the time when his desire not to offend ãhis Prince” was indeed a matter of great importance to Haydn. The Prince was Nikolaus EsterhÇzy (Mikl×s Jozsef) – the wealthiest and most influential nobleman of Austrian provinces, the paragon of 18th-century aristocrats (stereotypically criticized in textbooks) who was simultaneously trying to emulate the pompous solemnity of the Viennese emperor’s court and the magnificence of French court life. Prior to him, the composer’s patrons were the aristocrats of lesser ambitions. First it was the Czech count Carl Joseph Franz Morzin, and then Prince Paul Anton EsterhÇzy. The latter was Prince Nikolaus’s brother and lived in Eisenstadt, in a palace which had belonged to the EsterhÇzy family since 1622, and nowadays one of its luxurious halls carries the name of Haydn (Der Haydnsaal). However, Nikolaus EsterhÇzy was satisfied with neither Eisenstadt, nor the other twenty-four palaces he owned. Therefore he initiated the construction of a new palatial complex with adjoining parks on the grounds of one of his Hungarian estates in 1765. After many years’ worth of work and exorbitant expenditures the Prince could finally acknowledge that his aim was achieved: the rumours of EszterhÇza luxury spread all across Europe, and the guests of distinction greeted by ‘Mikl×s the Magnificent’ unanimously called his new property none other than the “Hungarian Versailles”.
With the emergence of the “Hungarian Versailles”, the court opera theatre and church began to define the priorities of Haydn’s spheres of activity. Previously, the main portion of his compositions belonged to the realm of instrumental music, both orchestral and chamber. It was in that early period that he created his keyboard Trio in A major (Hob. XV:35) also known as Capriccio.
In the original it was written for violin, cello and harpsichord, but in the present recording the violin part is given to oboe d’amore. In Haydn’s times such substitutions were common and widespread, and in this case it is expressly called for: A major is the main pitch of oboe d’amore, so this instrument plays in its most comfortable key, and the virtuoso violin part sounds exceptionally free performed by this instrument. As regards the genre, this is an accompanied sonata: the oboe and harpsichord are in the foreground here, and the cello plays the part of basso continuo. It is noteworthy that the first two movements are written in 3/4 time, which was a rarity then: if classical composers wrote the fast first movement in triple time, it was usually followed by a contemplative Andante in even metre; here, however, the triple-time Allegretto leads up to a more serene but also triple-time Minuet.
Around two decades would pass, and harpsichord would make room for pianoforte. Haydn would especially appreciate the instruments made by a Viennese master Wenzel Schanz (for a special softness and delicacy of sound). In the 80s–90s he would compose a new keyboard trio which would not in the least remind the old accompanied sonatas (they would quickly sink into oblivion anyway). It must be said though that these earlier trios, like the Capriccio, have their charm: it is in the adjacency of the classical and the baroque manners, in the themes, which combine the freshness of melodic discoveries with the whimsical grace of the previous rococo style.
Slight allusions to baroque genre are also to be found in the later Sinfonia Concertante (Hob. I:105): in it, just like in a concerto grosso, a group of soloists is put in contrast with the orchestra. But despite the seeming spectacularity of that genre, a lot of classical composers were reluctant when it came to drawing upon it: even Haydn, considering his unsurpassed productivity in the area of symphonic music, wrote only one Sinfonia Concertante.
It was in 1792, during the composer’s first visit to London, where he went after Prince Nikolaus’s death upon the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon, a gifted violinist and a lucky impresario. The prospects outlined by the deft entrepreneur produced such an impression on the – already not too young – composer that he immediately consented, although he had never left the boundaries of Austria before. The expectations were fully justified: the extraordinary honours and tributes accorded to him most certainly affected Haydn, who had spent a fairly long time basically in a position of a servant, however privileged. The British cheered him as the “Shakespeare of music”, no less. The Prince Regent (future George IV) indulged in deferential conversation with him and invited him to musical evenings, where he occasionally (and “rather well”, according to Haydn) played the cello. Oxford University awarded him the degree of “Doctor of Music” – an honour which was very rarely conferred on continental composers. Both the audience and the critics rapturously received the composer’s new works, amongst which were six symphonies for orchestra (including the well-known “Surprise”) and one for the orchestra with soloists, the Sinfonia Concertante.
Haydn composed it upon Johann Peter Salomon’s insistence, counting on the skills of four virtuoso instrumentalists (in the Symphony the solo parts are given to two stringed instruments – violin and cello, and two wind instruments – oboe and bassoon). The violin solo was performed by Salomon himself. But he commissioned Haydn to compose this symphony not only because he hoped to demonstrate his own artistic talent, but also because it was exactly the kind of work that could cause a big stir at the time. During that period London witnessed a peculiar competition on the musical scene: Salomon’s rivals from a company with a weighty name “Professional Concert” decided to match Haydn’s popularity with the success of another ‘star’, also from the continent. That star was Ignaz Pleyel, a composer famous in those times, and nowadays mostly remembered due to a musical publishing house and a manufacture of grand pianos (he founded both enterprises in Paris). The irony was in the fact that Pleyel had been Haydn’s student, and both composers were absolutely set against letting this competition, imposed by London, bring them to the brink of personal animosity. They got along with each other perfectly, dined together, attended each other’s concerts, and apparently despised the fuss around them.
On February 27, 1792 Pleyel presented his Sinfonia Concertante (with six solo parts) to the audience – obviously inspired by the relative popularity this genre was enjoying in France, where the composer had lived before moving to London. Salomon immediately responded by announcing to the public that Haydn would be presenting his Sinfonia Concertante on March 9, – which, naturally, was a surprise for the composer himself as well, who had to abandon all his other current projects and create the composition in less than two weeks. Upon which, the newspapers dubbed the first-night performance of the Symphony “one of the richest treats which the present season has afforded”, and Haydn’s music itself as “profound, airy, affecting, and original”. Indeed, the Sinfonia Concertante virtually abounds in originality.
For instance, contrary to the tradition, the soloists join in even before the first tutti is over: they play the second theme all together in a quartet. Admittedly, none of them possesses as yet of any detailed statements of their own, so that their further ‘real’ entry turns out to be all the more striking. Still, Haydn saved an even more unexpected move for the finale: it opens like an opera scene, with a true recitative for the violin with orchestra. In the whole of this movement the violin is so much more dominant than the other soloists that the finale is almost transformed into a violin concerto: Mister Entrepreneur wanted to distinguish himself, and Haydn afforded him ample opportunity to do so. The desired success was achieved, and London newspapers did not omit to mention that one of the performers, Johann Salomon, stood out among all others.
It happened so that Haydn, who actually lived not in such a tremendously remote epoch, was attributed with an almost record number of works whose authorship is questionable. And it is not only the small-scale compositions that are at issue, but also symphonies, concertos, masses and even operas – the total number of such works amounts to hundreds.
In the recent decades it has proved to be possible to attribute some of those (they belong to various Haydn’s contemporaries of less renown, including the above-mentioned Pleyel). But there are some works which still go around as ‘anonymous’. Among the latter is the Concerto in C major for bassoon and orchestra (Hob. VIIg:C1). In the 1950s it was published as Haydn’s work because Haydn’s name was found in the original extant manuscript. The name, however, was apparently inserted at a later stage, and now the researchers resolutely dismiss the hypothesis that the version of the Concerto has anything to do with Haydn.
We still do not know who its author was, but the talent of that composer is undeniable. Besides, the work also points at the outstanding virtuosity of the soloist who performed it. The Concerto can be regarded as the logical consummation of this album, which bears witness to the level of art reached by virtuoso oboists towards the end of the 18th century, as well as to the style of the works they performed – the style which encapsulated so many traits inherent in Haydn.
Sergei Khodnev, translation by Anna Ptitsyna
Text of the booklet "IF HAYDN HAD WRITTEN FOR OBOE, volume 1"