JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No 101 in D major, (Clock) (1794)

i. Adagio — Presto    ii. Andante    iii. Menuetto — Allegretto and Trio    iv. Finale — Vivace

In 1790 Haydn’s thirty year tenure as Kapellmeister at the Court of Esterhazy became looser with the succession of a new Count, and he was able to escape the ties that he had willingly allowed to restrict his movements.

Having been cloistered for so long he had little idea of the extent of his fame, so it came as something of a surprise when the impresario Johann Peter Salomon called upon him later in 1790 at his home in Vienna to tell him how popular his music was in London and to invite him to visit London personally to compose six special symphonies. Haydn leapt at the chance, despite his trepidation at the thought of a fortnight’s journey through Europe culminating in a perilous channel-crossing. Before he left he and his pupil Mozart met to bid each other farewell; the younger composer expressed his fear that he would not see his mentor, then aged 59, again, but by the saddest irony it would be Mozart rather than the relatively aged Haydn who would be dead within two years.

Haydn was to stay in London on this first visit for a year and a half, directing the successive premieres of his symphonies Nos 93 to 98 with Salomon playing in the orchestra, before returning home to fulfil the commitments he still had at Esterhazy, and to take on a promising young pupil, one Ludwig van Beethoven, a relationship which eventually foundered shortly after Haydn’s second stay in London.

Salomon was anxious to build on the success of Haydn’s first visit and invited him back to London for six more symphonies, Nos 99 to 104, which were duly written and premiered in London between early 1794 and May 1795. Four of the final six have since been given nicknames, the Military (No 100), the Clock (No 101), the Drum Roll, (No 103), and the London (No 104), but Nos 99 and 102 escaped that slightly doubtful honour. Despite the fact that Haydn was to continue composing until shortly before his death fourteen years later, No 104 was his very last symphony; safely settled back in Austria he was to move towards oratorio, producing, amongst others, the groundbreaking Creation in 1798, The Seasons in 1801 and the Harmoniemesse in 1802.

The twelve Salomon or London symphonies continue the development of the form, progressing in the second six, for example, towards making the clarinet an ever-present member of the symphony orchestra where Mozart had used it only sparingly — Nos 98 and 102 are the only two of the last six symphonies which don’t – and introducing trumpets and timpani in some slow movements and Minuets, which he does in the Clock. In the final six symphonies his wit and invention reach new heights, each symphony a total joy, cementing his acknowledged status as ‘Father of the Symphony’.

As regards style, present performance practice in Haydn and Mozart tends towards leanness, with smallish string sections, but Salomon’s orchestra, it appears, consisted of at least sixty players. London’s love affair with Haydn remained undiminished, and reviews both of the composer and the orchestra were consistently in the ‘rave’ category; the day after the premiere of No 101 the Morning Chronicle wrote: ‘Nothing can be more original than the subject of the first movement, and having found a happy subject, no man knows like Haydn how to produce incessant variety without once departing from it.’

The Clock begins with Haydn’s customary slow introduction; the seeds of the movement’s main themes are sown in deeply portentous fashion, including dramatic sforzandos, promising an equally uncompromising Presto. But, lo and behold, it’s yet another of Haydn’s teases — the main body of the movement sets off in a buoyant 6/8 which is full of wit and good humour; it’s truly music to bring a smile to your face and make your toes tap. Melodic and rhythmic vivacity are the order of the day, and it’s easy to see how the audience at the premiere would have been instantly captivated.

Then comes the movement which eventually attracted the symphony’s nickname. The bassoons introduce the tick-tocking bass line supporting the elegant, musical-box style main theme, which is subject to a demonstration par excellence of Haydn’s ‘incessant variety’, including of course a stormier minor key episode and one or two startling key changes.

The Minuet is Haydn’s most extensive and is open to a variety of interpretations. Listen to Sir Thomas Beecham, recorded in the fifties, for example and you hear a genteel Minuet as it could have been heard and danced-to at a ball in the early 19th century. As with many great movements, however, it can also be a virile and ebullient romp, which nevertheless retains its original elegance. The Trio section perpetrates another Haydn tease; strings begin with a subdued but rhythmic drone over which 1 st flute plays an improvisational solo, but at the first playing the strings resolutely refuse to change their harmony to match the flute — everything is resolved for the same solos a moment later. The finale is another dynamic Rondo, once again beginning with a hushed energy but bursting into action with echoes of the sturm und drang (‘storm and stress’) artistic movement of the 1770s and 80s. Those echoes dispelled, the movement proceeds with exhilarating spirit; it’s a virtuoso display of ingenuity, as always, and a complete demonstration of the joyous human spirit.

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LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op 37 (1800-1803)

i. Allegro con brio    ii. Largo     iii. Allegro

As the foremost pianist of his day and already flexing his compositional muscles Beethoven was inevitably going to compose vehicles for his own performing genius. By 1800 he had composed eleven of his eventual complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique, Op 13 (1798), together with the first two piano concertos, the Second in B flat, Op 19, written first, (1795), but published second, and the First in C major, Op 15, (1800), carrying the piano concerto genre beyond the perfection of Mozart into new territory.

The young composer had made an extensive study of the piano works of Mozart and was fully aware that he was the composer to carry the torch forward. In particular he greatly admired Mozart’s tragic C minor piano concerto, No 24, K491, and its influence is clear in Beethoven’s own C minor concerto, his only minor-key piano concerto, at least in the first movement. In fact C minor became a talismanic key for him, Op 37 one in a line of major works in the key which include their own brand of Beethovenian anguish, including the Pathétique piano sonata, the Eroica Symphony’s Funeral March, the Coriolan Overture and the Fifth Symphony.

The date of composition of Op 37 has been open to some conjecture; it’s thought by the eminent Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper that the first sketches date back as far as 1796, although it’s most likely that it was largely written in 1800 at a similar time to the composition of Prometheus and of the First Symphony. What is known is that the premiere did not take place until 5 April 1803 with the composer himself as soloist despite the onset of his deafness; the Second Symphony was premiered in the same concert. In common with many of Mozart’s concerto premieres, and despite the fact that the body of the work was some three years old, Beethoven performed his solo part largely from memory; his turner-over for the evening, one Ignaz von Seyfried, later confirmed that the solo part in front of Beethoven consisted of little more than a collection of brief squiggles which reminded him of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Of course the solo part had definitely been crystallised by the time of the work’s publication in 1804, and included Beethoven’s own cadenzas, which remain the most commonly performed today. The concerto was dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, a great friend of Beethoven and a fine pianist and composer himself.

The hushed opening of the Allegro con brio sets an atmosphere of quiet menace, promising an orchestral introduction of volatility. The first extended forte brings a taste of the major key, but it doesn’t last long. The second subject, however, brings a more classical duet in the major between the first clarinet and first violins over a lyrical accompaniment. The end of the orchestral exposition brings a challenge to the piano which is accepted forthrightly, and the solo part leads a second exploration of the main themes, but seems intent on calming some of the angst of the first. The development is largely reflective, then the recap carries us to Beethoven’s cadenza — here the piano pulls no punches, acknowledging the more trenchant aspects of the movement; the coda begins sublimely with the piano quietly floating descending arpeggios over hushed, sustained chords and purposeful timpani, but brings us shortly to a suitably turbulent ending to the movement.

In contrast, the Adagio brings one of Beethoven’s most beautiful and heartfelt slow movements in the surprising key of E major, the piano musing by itself over the introspective opening theme before the orchestra bathes itself warmly. Woodwind solos in subsequent material are accompanied by the piano, and on its journey to its seemingly peaceful conclusion the movement sees continued sharing between piano and orchestra of the roles of prime mover and accompanist.

The finale is an ebullient Rondo despite returning us to C minor. Once again the soloist introduces the rondo-theme, then hands it to the orchestra. The episodes take us into a variety of moods, but the general atmosphere is genial, although later on there is a mysterious fugal episode in the minor. Finally a brief, flashing cadenza introduces a scherzo-like coda in C major, Presto, in an entirely new time signature — 6/8 — its humorous touches bringing an effervescent end to a concerto which began in potential tragedy.

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LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op 43, (1801)

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Overture: The Creatures of Prometheus, Op 43, (1801)

As a musical giant who, despite all the trials and tribulations of his life, sought to change the musical world with what could be thought of as an incendiary talent, it seems more than fitting that Beethoven should find himself writing a ballet based on the legend of Prometheus.

The Greek God Prometheus, one version of mythology has it, looked down from Mount Olympus and saw that humanity was struggling in ignorance, so he stole fire from the Gods to pass down – as interpreted by the Greek writers he gave not only the gift of fire itself but also by extension culture and scientific knowledge. As a punishment Prometheus was sentenced to be bound to a rock and subjected to having his organs eaten by an eagle by day only to have them replenished overnight ready for the next attack. Eventually he was freed as one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles.

Sadly, Beethoven’s life somewhat mirrored that of Prometheus — his music was one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon humanity, but his deafness and other physical suffering might be interpreted as a punishment from the Gods for his temerity.

Late in 1800 in Vienna Beethoven was approached by the composer and dancer Salvatore Vigano who had been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa to produce a ballet for the Court Theatre. Vigano had chosen the story of Prometheus but realised that whilst he was confident of his choreographic ability, the composition needed a greater talent.

Vigano’s scenario adapted the myth of Prometheus and borrowed that of Pygmalion to bring the work into a more suitable form for the ballet conventions of the time. In his libretto Prometheus, an artist, dies and is resurrected to create two inanimate figures, a man and a woman, whom he brings to life with the fire he has stolen. He helps civilise them through music and art before proudly presenting them, his creatures, to the Gods. If all that sounds familiar, it explains firstly why Mary Shelley subtitled her novel Frankenstein ‘A Modern Prometheus’, and, secondly, the derivation of the title of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion.

Normally Beethoven was a slow and painstaking composer but he worked uncharacteristically quickly for the ballet, which came to be called The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven wrote the Overture, plus an Introduction, fifteen movements and a Finale, and the ballet was premiered in March 1801, but in truth his score, the only complete ballet score he ever wrote, was too powerful and difficult to choreograph.

Latterly the Overture is the only section from the ballet which is heard regularly, except that in 1802 Beethoven recycled one of the themes from later in the ballet to become the Eroica Variations and Fugue for solo piano, Op.35, and elevated it still further in 1804 to form the skeletal core theme of the finale of the Eroica symphony.

The Overture, in C major, begins with a slow introduction; the opening chords declare the serious intent of the piece but the general tenor of the introduction is one of aspiration. The sonata-form Allegro arrives shortly with a perpetuum mobile, hushed to begin with, then bursting into life with the full orchestra. Woodwind introduce the jaunty second theme, but drama with complex key changes and vivid dynamic contrasts is not far away in the remainder of the development. The lengthy recap eventually brings us to a satisfying coda and a triumphant conclusion.

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