JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Trumpet Concerto in E flat (1796)

i. Allegro
ii, Andante
iii. Finale: Allegro

Whilst the trumpet and its ancestors were amongst the earliest of all wind instruments, dating back prehistorically to conch shells and other signalling devices, many thousands of years later the orchestral instrument, usually made of brass and basically an artistically curled-up version of the long posthorn, was still only capable of a relatively limited number of notes, governed largely by the tightening and loosening of the player’s lips, known as the embouchure.

This instrument was known as the natural trumpet, and although it featured in many of the great symphonies of Mozart and Haydn’s own, its limitations meant that its role seldom rose above providing basic harmony. In the latter years of the 13th century there were prototype versions of a trumpet with keys, which made it a little more versatile, but it was the young principal trumpeter of the Viennese Imperial Court, a friend of Haydn, Anton Weidinger, born in 1767, who felt there was enormous further potential in the instrument; although he was only in his mid-20s he developed in the early 1790s a much more sophisticated keyed trumpet, and allied with skilful embouchure adaptation this meant that the trumpet could for the first time play scales in semitones and change key. Weidinger gave it the wonderful title of klappentrompete.

It didn’t take long for Haydn, always looking for exciting new developments, to take the keyed-trumpet on board and in 1796 he wrote a concerto for the instrument which remains conceivably the best-loved trumpet concerto of all time, perhaps challenged only by that of Hummel, who had been Haydn’s assistant at the Court of Esterhazy.

Greatly inspired, Haydn rapidly absorbed the capabilities of the new instrument, demonstrating them graphically in the composition of his concerto with technical help from Weidinger, although it took nearly four years for Weidinger to feel ready to premiere the work, at the Burgtheater, Vienna, on 28 March 1800; strangely the very same night saw the British premiere of Haydn’s magnum opus, The Creation, in London. Although there was great excitement in Vienna over the new capability of the trumpet, Weidinger remained virtually the only exponent of the keyed instrument and composers continued to write orchestrally for the natural trumpet; Weidinger was to live for another half a century, long enough to see the advent in the 1840s of the valve trumpet, which would finally give a new dimension to the instrument’s orchestral role. Sadly Haydn’s concerto fell into disuse for virtually a century after Weidinger’s initial performances and the original manuscript was lost until a trumpeter by the name of Paul Handke found it in 1899 and made a fair copy initially for himself to play. In 1908 the concerto was rescued further by Professor Franz Rossbach, principal trumpet of the great Vienna Philharmonic, who gave its first performance in Vienna for over 100 years. Its first performance in Britain was a BBC broadcast on 30 March 1932 given by Ernest Hall, who served as principal trumpet of the BBC Symphony Orchestra from 1929 until 1953.

Today the Trumpet Concerto is arguably Haydn’s most popular concerto, together with the C Major Cello Concerto, which, by coincidence, was also lost, this time until 1961. Over recent decades the finest exponents of the concerto have included the late former conductor of MSO John Wilbraham, Maurice Andre, Hakan Hardenberger and Alison Balsam.

The pre-eminent Haydn scholar and editor HC Robbins Landon, putting the concerto in perspective, writes “Unfortunately, the revolutionary characteristics of Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, so apparent at the time, are totally lost on modern audiences used to hearing the modern valved trumpet.

“The opening Allegro begins with an extensive orchestral introduction of the themes and style of the piece, including fanfares, and the solo trumpet when it arrives reiterates the opening theme – its own fanfares reminding the original audience that yes, this really was the military instrument they were familiar with. Intriguingly Haydn introduces the instrument’s greater capabilities only gradually, making a feature of passages moving in semitones and later in rapid semiquavers, and even demi¬≠ semiquavers in the Andante. Eventually the cadenza offers the solo instrument a chance to show off further .

The Andante is in the style of a Siciliana such as we heard in the Fireworks Music, but is much more openly expressive – indeed it is one of Haydn’s most beautiful inspirations. The lilting character superbly demonstrates the trumpet’s lyrical capability, while also allowing moments of virtuosity as the soloist decorates the melodies.

The Finale, Allegro, once again begins with an orchestral exposition of the main theme, which the trumpet repeats on its entry – here the 1800 audience would have been astonished to hear that the solo part could emulate the agility of the orchestral strings and wind. Once again in this movement the orchestra is an equal partner with the trumpet, whilst allowing the soloist ample opportunity for exciting technical display .

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