One Classicist and the Other
Scenes and symphonies by Mozart and Haydn
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony, the C major Symphony, K. 425, was composed within a few days, an incredibly short amount of time, after its composer arrived in Linz on 30 October 1783 during a journey from Salzburg to Vienna. Since later generations identified great art with years of effort, interminable struggles over form and repeatedly postponed premieres, the “Linz” caused shaking of heads, incredulous astonishment, occasionally even frowns over this composition, which was seemingly pulled out of a hat. But the amount of time it takes to compose a work says nothing at all about its quality. As everybody knows, even the world in which we live was created in only six days. The seventh was already a day of rest.
With timpani and trumpets
The “Linz” is the first of Mozart’s symphonies whose first movement opens with a slow introduction. He was influenced, not only in this case, by Joseph Haydn’s example, for instance, Haydn’s Symphonies No. 57, No. 73 and No. 75, all composed before 1783. The Adagio introduction to the first movement of the C major Symphony can be considered a model of its kind, with its ceremonial opening bars, the enormous anticipatory tension that is created aiming for the beginning of the main theme, and the unexpected forte accent of the orchestral tutti which concludes the introduction with an exclamation mark: drama and prologue rolled into one. Mozart followed Joseph Haydn’s example with the introduction to the first movement. On the other hand, it was Mozart who first dared to introduce trumpets and timpani in a slow movement, the Andante of the C major Symphony, K. 425. Haydn did not adopt this innovation in scoring until 1787, when he called for these instruments in the Largo of his G major Symphony, Hob. I:88. To listeners of that time trumpets and timpani only seemed appropriate in festive outer movements and courtly minuets, but for a concert audience in the 21st century there is certainly nothing startling about using them in an Andante or a Largo. Standards have changed radically since Mozart’s and Haydn’s day, and past centuries seem to have completely exhausted the shock potential of orchestral effects – an improvement that paradoxically amounts to a detriment.
“For Mlle Storace and me”
Mozart composed the recitative and rondo “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” – “Non temer, amato bene”, K. 505, the resetting of a scenefrom the Vienna version of his Idomeneo as a kind of double concerto for soprano, piano and orchestra, in Vienna at the end of 1786. He wrote this concert aria for his first Susanna in Figaro, the 21-year-old English soprano Nancy Storace, and himself. In his “Catalogue of all my works” he specifically noted the intended purpose of the composition or, expressed less prosaically, the personal dedication (and affection?) he associated with this farewell gift: “for Mlle Storace and me”. Before the soprano left Vienna in February 1787 and returned to England, she appeared one last time in an enthusiastically cheered academy concert and sang the aria intended for her, a true “centrepiece”, earnestly, sensitively, passionately – and Mozart himself accompanied her at the piano in a deeply intimate musical dialogue: “You ask that I forget you? – Fear nothing, my beloved.”
“The Shakespeare of music”
Several months earlier, Haydn was supposed to be abducted. An English newspaper made a public appeal for this daring but necessary plan: “There is something very distressing to a liberal mind in the history of Haydn. This wonderful man, who is the Shakespeare of music, and the triumph of the age in which we live, is doomed to reside in the court of a miserable German prince, who is at once incapable of rewarding him, and unworthy of the honour,” the paper complained. Haydn had to be content with accommodations little better than a dungeon, he was humiliated by the whims of a provincial ruler and, in addition, tyrannized by his nagging wife. “Would it not be an achievement equal to a pilgrimage,” the newspaper asked its readers, “for some aspiring youths to rescue him from his fortune and transplant him to Great Britain, the country for which his music seems to be made?”
Even in those days, however, the sensationalist British press was not exactly a stickler for the truth, because Haydn received a generous salary in the service of the Hungarian magnate of the Esterházy dynasty, and the ruling prince Nikolaus Joseph, known as “the Magnificent”, definitely appreciated the exceptional standing of his director of music. Ultimately, however, Haydn was transported to London after all, on the best of terms, without force and intrigue. The enterprising German violinist Johann Peter Salomon, who presented his own concert series in London, wanted to triumph in the competition for public favour with a genuine star from the continent. Thanks to determination and surprise tactics, he actually succeeded in engaging the long-awaited Joseph Haydn for an exclusive guest appearance in the British capital.
Dr. Haydn’s Night
On 4 May 1795, during Haydn’s second visit to London, he presented the most spectacular concert of his life at the King’s Theatre: “Dr. Haydn’s Night”. He gave the premiere of his latest – and last – symphony, the Symphony in D major, Hob. I:104, with a powerful orchestra. From the first bar of its classically austere Adagio introduction, this monumental composition was entirely consistent with the expectations of grandeur and majesty that his English contemporaries associated with Haydn’s music (in striking contrast to the patronizing Papa Haydn legend of the 19th century). We will never cease to be amazed by a work like Haydn’s D major Symphony: its vehement virtuosity, the luminous brilliance and strong artistic sense expressed in this music, the infectious delight in the characteristic sound of the instruments, the innate musician’s temperament, which the acclaimed master never lost. When in the Finale he launches into a folk song theme over static drone sounds in the bass, inevitably evoking associations with rural musical practices, with the bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy, it all fascinates and astonishes, even after more than 200 years of musical progress.
The conclusion and culmination of Dr. Haydn’s Night was the highly dramatic and impressive Scena di BereniceHob. XXIVa:10, the text of which was “borrowed” from a libretto by Pietro Metastasio: the text of the opera seria Antigono, set by Johann Adolf Hasse in 1743. Haydn composed the Scena as a bravura piece for the Italian prima donna Brigida Banti, who enjoyed sensational success at the King’s Theatre in those days. Joseph Haydn’s Scena di Berenice is one of the composer’s greatest masterworks, and one hardly knows what to admire more: the theatrical force of this exciting music, the harmonic tension, the turmoil of emotions, the melodic power or the subtle orchestration. But Haydn’s creative powers had not yet reached their peak. The last string quartets and piano trios, the great oratorios and masses were still ahead of him: the late, musically rich years of an incomparable genius of sensitivity and intelligence.