An 18th century gift

Towards the end of 1790 a major live event awaited Franz Joseph Haydn.

The scion of the family that had for long so generously feathered the composer’s nest was trimming the family budget and giving walking papers to the members of the 15-strong chamber orchestra that had week after week played the composer’s works for the entertainment and cultural edification of the Esterhazy family and their friends.

No stranger to the vicissitudes of life as a composer-conductor, the 58 year old Father of the Symphony was ready to pack his bags and seek greener grass elsewhere. Fate provided the opportunity to obtain gainful employment and London awaited.

Here Haydn had an all expenses paid though admittedly arduous journey by carriage and once out of land-locked Austria by sailing vessel to take him to London, where an orchestra three-times the size of the one for which he had been writing for the past three decades would be at his command.

That marked the first of two visits to the English capital, where the public fell in love with the Austrian maestro and where he readily reciprocated.

The twelve symphonies magisterially conducted by Sir Roger Norrington at the helm of the invaluable Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in live performances in front of an audience all date from the years 1791 to 1795, and therein one can enjoy all the earmarks of the Haydn style brought out by Sir Roger and his musicians: the humor, the nobility of utterance, the crispness of rhythm, the elegance, the unpredictability, the superb harmonic construct, the classic contrapuntal scheme.

Where Mozart created by a kind of mystical inspiration Haydn delivered symphony after symphony by sheer perspiration. But any old working stiff would not have transcended the limits of the commonplace, whereas eccentric Haydn, buffoonish Haydn, unpredictable yet disciplined Haydn pushed on as he had since landing on his feet at age 17 in the streets of Vienna as a free-lance musical jack of all trades singing for his supper in the homes of the Austrian aristocracy.

The superbly engineered, elegantly packaged 4-disc set includes among twelve gems the nick-named Clock, Drum roll, Surprise, Military, Miracle and London symphonies; an 18th century gift made available by SWR Music.

Heartfelt thanks!

Rafael de Acha     All About the Arts