A Night in Vienna

January 10, 11, and 13
Franz Joseph Haydn

Joseph Haydn:
Symphony no. 69 in C Major, Hob. I:69

Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria on March 31, 1732 and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. His long and productive career spanned the end of the Baroque Era to the onset of the Romantic. Famed for his incomparable contribution to the development of the symphony and string quartet, Haydn composed an enormous amount of music in other genres, including sacred choral music. His Symphony no. 69 in C Major stems from the mid 1770s. It’s subtitle,“Laudon” was not given by the composer, but stems from Haydn’s publisher, Artaria. It is scored for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.

Joseph Haydn was one of the most fortunate composers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in that, starting in 1761, he enjoyed the steady patronage of the wealthy and powerful Esterhazy family of Hungarian Princes, for whom he composed an astonishing large number of compositions. It mattered little to the younger Haydn that his work load was exceedingly heavy and that his compositions were the sole property of his employer. Greater artistic freedom would come his way eventually, and even his Symphony no. 69 (“Laudon”) would find its way to the publishing house of Artaria.

In fact, it was Artaria who decided that this charming and festive work should be issued in a version for piano. Attaching the name of General Ernst Gideon Freiherr von Laudon (1717-1790) to the work was simply a shrewd marketing ploy to which Haydn happily agreed. Laudon was a famous Austrian military hero who had been appointed in 1769 by Empress Maria Theresa as commander of the Austrian armies of Bohemia and Moravia. The fact that the scoring of this symphony included trumpets and timpani—military instruments par excellence—led Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon to assume, wrongly, that the martial nature of the first movement, Vivace, was a reference to Laudon. The connection with Maria Theresa, as it turns out, is relevant as the first movement of this symphony bears a striking resemblance, both in scoring, thematic content, and character, to Haydn’s earlier Symphony no. 48 (1769?), which carries the nickname, “Maria Theresa.”

No less striking than the first movement, is the second, Un poco adagio più tosto andante, where scarcely a measure goes by without sixteenth-note motion. The work concludes with the standard Minuet and Trio and a typically energetic Presto finale, that starts off with one of Haydn’s “kittenish” themes. After its soft opening, Haydn reminds us (the expression derives from Donald Francis Tovey) that young tigers are kittens too!

Program Note by David B. Levy, © 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven:
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 61

One of history’s pivotal composers, Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 15 or 16, 1770 in Bonn, and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. His Violin Concerto, op. 61 was composed in 1806, a particularly productive year that also yielded the three String Quartets, op. 59 (“Razumovsky”), the Fourth Symphony, op. 60, and the Fourth Piano Concerto, op. 58. The work received its first performance in Vienna on December 23, 1806 with Franz Clement as soloist. It is scored for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.The work is scored for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.

Beethoven completed only one violin concerto, although among the surviving fragments from his youth in Bonn is an incomplete Concerto in C Major. Two Romances, Opp. 40 and 50, and the “Triple” Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Cello complete the resume of Beethoven’s compositions for violin and orchestra. Composed in 1806, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto stands in solitary splendor, not only among his own works, but among all other works in the genre. Even its closest rival, the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, was modeled closely on Beethoven’s towering example. Beethoven himself had several models from which to work, including the violin concertos of Mozart and Haydn. Works for violin, including concertos, by Kreutzer, Rode, and Viotti were of no less importance. These last three violinist-composers are better known by pupils of the violin than by the general public, but they were most certainly known by Beethoven, who, although not primarily a violinist, had a working knowledge of the instrument.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto owes its existence to an 1806 commission from Franz Clement, a Viennese musical and performing prodigy which whom Beethoven had previously worked on other projects. Clement’s virtuosity was matched by a phenomenal memory, and he was alleged to have been able to commit to memory large scale choral works and operas, including Haydn’s The Creation and Beethoven’s Fidelio, upon only one hearing. Beethoven worked quite closely with Clement on the Violin Concerto. Curiously, many details of the solo part were left undecided and unwritten, even after Clement gave the work its first performance on December 23, 1806. Ever the showman, Clement elected to play a sonata of his own composition between the first and second movements of Beethoven’s Concerto, holding his instrument upside-down and playing on only one string. It is no wonder, then, that Beethoven wrote the following pun on the autograph of the score, “Concerto par Clemenza pour Clement, primo violino al Theatro a Vienne, dal L. v. Bthvn. 1806” (“Concerto, composed with mercy, for Clement, first violinist at the Theater an der Wien).

The earliest Viennese critics had a difficult time coming to terms with the lofty vision expressed in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. This is understandable in part because its first movement alone is one of the longest and most symphonically conceived works of its kind. The immense and tuneful orchestral ritornello that begins the work, with its five taps on the kettledrum, immediately reveal the scope of Beethoven’s sublime plan, a work characterized by Maynard Solomon as filled with “inner repose,” despite its moments of real drama and (in the development section) pathos. No less sublime is the exquisite dialogue between soloist and orchestra that defines the second movement, a serene Larghetto that is loosely structured along the lines of a theme and variations. A brief cadenza (Eingang) for the soloist at the end connects the Larghetto to the final movement, a Rondo (Allegro), a vigorous and pastoral piece whose overall ethos evokes the spirit of the hunt (a common device in many finales in the classical style). A moment that rarely fails to delight audiences is the two pizzicato notes (plucking the open A and D strings with the fingers). As best as has been determined, this is the first major violin concerto to call upon this technique. This gesture, as well as many other passages that exhibit the idiomatic nature of the violin as a bowed string instrument, render Beethoven’s own transcription of this piece as a concerto for piano, a request that came in 1807 from his contemporary, Muzio Clementi, rather unsatisfactory. The Violin Concerto, a work that cast a long shadow on subsequent generations, stands as the first work of its kind in the grand style and the true queen of its genre.

Notes by David B. Levy © 2006

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss:
Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss’s operatic masterpiece, Der Rosenkavalier (The Chevalier of the Rose) was first performed on January 26, 1911 at the Hofoper in Dresden. Capitalizing on the opera’s success, the composer later arranged two “Waltz sequences” containing music derived from Acts I and II, and Act III, respectively. These orchestral pieces have taken on a life of their own in the concert hall. The Suite from Der Rosenkavalier is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes,2 oboes, English horn, 4 clarinets (including E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon,4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta and strings.

Der Rosenkavalier may be seen as a sentimental glimpse back to an eighteenth-century Vienna that never really existed. Indeed, its late-romantic musical vocabulary and use of waltzes are charmingly anachronistic. Strauss uses a wonderful libretto by the great Austrian playwright and poet, Hugo von Hofmannthal, to give musical expression to a super-charged eroticism free from the more disturbing sexuality and violence of his earlier scandalous operas, Salomė and Elektra.

The action of Der Rosenkavalier is set in the Vienna of Habsburg monarch, Maria Theresia (reigned 1740-80). To make short work of a rather complicated plot, the story centers on a young nobleman, Octavian, the lover of the older Marschallin, who is the wife of an unnamed Field Marshall. When the Marschallin is asked by her oafish and lascivious cousin, Baron Ochs von Lechenau, to find a representative to present a silver rose as a wedding offering to his young and innocent fiancėe, Sophie von Faninal, she gives the job to Octavian, knowing all the while that she is in fact freeing Octavian to fall in love with a younger woman, while at the same time sparing Sophie from what will surely be an unhappy marriage to the lecherous Baron Ochs. Predictably, Octavian falls in love with Sophie. The opera ends happily for the young lovers and wistfully for the wise and aging Marschallin.

Among the music that Strauss extracted from his three-act opera for the Suite from Der Rosenkavalier is the exciting and sensuous opening sequence from Act I, depicting the rapturous lovemaking of Octavian and the Marschallin. The music from near the start of Act II, featuring the solo oboe, accompanies Octavian’s presentation of the silver rose to Sophie. This music’s piquancy derives in part from an ethereal sequence of chords in the flutes, celesta, and harp interpolated as the theme unfolds. This is followed by a waltz sequence based upon a tune sung by the vain Baron Ochs, “With Me” (Mit mir), the music that dominates the end of Act II. Strauss interpolates an Italianate aria for tenor, which is sung during the Marschallin’s morning toilette in Act I. The final music from the Suite is derived comes from the trio and duet (“Is it a dream, can it truly be?”) that ends the opera. The magical harmonies from the presentation of the silver rose punctuate the cadences of this heavenly love duet.

Program Note by David B. Levy, © 2005/2014

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