This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
One of the very first columns I wrote was on JOSEPH HAYDN. I was still a learner at that stage and it wasn’t very good so I thought it was time to revisit one of the most important composers in history.
Jo pretty much invented chamber music, particularly the piano trio and string quartet. He’s also called the father of the symphony, not because he invented it – it was around before him. it was a little bitty thing, not much thought of – but because he was the one who expanded it setting in train the raging monster that it is today.
Jo spent much of his career as a hired musician for the Esterházy family and in particular Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who liked a bit of a tune. After Ester eventually died, Jo went out as a freelancer and made piles of money. During his lifetime he was the most famous composer in Europe.
Throughout, you’ll see mention of Hob numbers, they are references to a catalogue of Jo’s works by Anthony Van Hoboken.
As I mention towards the end of the column, Papa Jo (as Mozart, a good friend of his, liked to call him) wrote a hell of a lot of symphonies. When Beethoven wrote his Sixth, he was two-thirds of the way through his, but Jo was just getting started.
He thought it’d be fun to write some reflecting the time of day and three ensued: “Le matin” (morning), “Le midi” (midday) and “Le soir” (night). This is the first movement of Symphony No 6 in D major (“Le matin”), an appropriate way to start the day.
Jo invented the string quartet so he’d have something to play in his spare time with a few friends. He wrote more than 80 of them and they were the model for every composer since who tackled them (which is just about all of them).
The one I’ve chosen is the Quartet No. 62 in C major, Op. 76, No. 3, often called “The Emperor”. That’s because the second movement, which I’m playing, is a set of variations on "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" ("God Save Emperor Francis"), an anthem he wrote for Emperor Francis II. The tune remains famous to this day.
As far as I can tell, Parthia means a parting shot, but musically it also means air with variations. I guess air is appropriate as these are scored for a few woodwind instruments, plus occasionally a French horn (which sounds a bit woodwindy). It’s best just to listen.
The example is the first movement of Parthia in B flat major.
Jo’s violin concertos are as good as any around except for the single one that Beethoven wrote. Theoretically, Jo wrote nine of these but five are considered to be possibly by someone else (including two by his brother Michael).
The one I’ve chosen is a genuine Jo, the Violin Concerto in A major, Hob.VIIa3, the third movement.
Jo is mostly thought of these days as a writer of instrumental music, but he wrote a lot for the voice as well. Besides operas (which aren’t much performed these days), there were masses, cantatas and other religious music as well as a couple of oratorios.
The most famous of these is The Creation, Hob. XI 2. From that we have SARA MACLIVER performing “On Mighty Pens Uplifted Soars the Eagle Aloft”.
Cello players are always in debt to Papa Jo, as he wrote the two best cello concertos ever. There’s some evidence that he wrote more than these but alas, they have been lost. This is a real shame when you consider the two that have survived.Here is a sampler, the first movement of the Cello Concerto in C major Hob VIIb-1.
Another vocal work is the Motet in A major “Parvulus filius”. There are two versions of this: one scored for a choir and the other for soloists. I prefer the one for soloists.
Although not as well known as Beethoven and Mozart for his piano compositions, naturally, he wrote for the instrument. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of them. I thought that the piano on its own would best illustrate his gift for writing for the instrument, and who better to show that than GLENN GOULD.
Anything that Glenn touches is worth a listen in my opinion.
He performs the second movement of the Piano Sonata No 42 in D, Hob XVI. Glenn makes it sound as if there are two pianists at work.
Ester was a demanding patron, he initially really liked the viola da gamba (a bit like a cello with more strings) and wanted compositions for that instrument.
Then he changed pretty much overnight to a love of the baryton.
Naturally, he demanded works for it but there were none around. Poor old Jo had to sit down and churn out music for it, and boy, did he ever: 126 trios, 25 duos, 3 concertos and 12 miscellaneous compositions all for this one obscure instrument.
I imagine that he has more compositions for the baryton than anyone else – probably everyone else. This is a baryton.
This is what it sounds like, the second movement of the Baryton Trio No. 87 in A minor.
One of Jo’s sacred works is Cantilena pro adventu in G major, Hob XXIIId-2. This is an aria for Soprano, Alto, Organ and Strings. That’s about as much as I could find out, but it’s really gorgeous.
Jo wrote 104 symphonies officially and there are about half a dozen other works that probably should be called symphonies. Many of these have names, but Jo usually didn’t bestow them on the works, they were often called that later or without his knowledge at the time.
One he would have known about is number 96, “The Miracle”. It seems that at its premier, at the end of the piece the audience rushed towards the stage to show their appreciation. Just then a chandelier crashed to the floor where they had just been. Nobody was hurt, so it was deemed a miracle and the name stuck.
Another named symphony is number 45, “The Farewell”, and it will be an appropriate way to end the column. Ester liked a bit of a holiday and one time he packed his household, including all the musicians, and lit out to his country place.
However, wives and kids and whatnot weren’t invited. The stay was longer than expected and the musos got restless and asked Jo to say something. He decided instead on a different approach.
He wrote this symphony and when it was performed, during the final movement each musician stopped playing in turn, snuffed out the candle on his music stand, and left.
At the end there were just two violins left (played by Jo himself and the concertmaster). Ester got the message and they all returned the following day. Here is that final movement.