Haydn’s Solemn Trumpet Concerto Bridges the Gap

However grey winter may be, Haydn is going to light it up. © Charles Thibo
However grey winter may be, Haydn is going to light it up. © Charles Thibo

New Year’s Eve is only a few days away – time to look back and think about missed chances and mistakes made over the year… and when I look back at my blog, I realize I didn’ write a single post about Haydn. What? No Haydn? Oh, my! This will not stand and without further ado, sound trumpets for Haydn’s fantastic Trumpet Concerto in E flat (Hob.VIIe.1). Joseph Haydn wrote it in 1796 for the Klappentrompete (keyed trumpet), invented by Anton Weidinger and precursor to our modern piston trumpet. The concerto’s contemporary name could be misleading, it was originally published as a “Concerto per il clarino, E♭”

Meet Alison Balsom

The British trumpeter Alison Balsom, which I do admire (oh surprise!), has recorded in 2008 this concerto along with another trumpet concerto written by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, but let’s stick with Haydn. Haydn’s piece is absolutely appropriate to bridge the gap between Christmas solemnity and New Year’s good wishes and intentions.

It’s joyful melody is present from the first bars on, and Alison Balsom’s clear, full and warm trumpet sound gives it a certain solemnity and elegance. I like trumpets! Almost as much as cellos and pianos! And I had a love affair with brass bands long ago, when I was in love with a saxophone player and attended her concerts.

Haydn was born in 1732 in Lower Austria and started his musical career as a singer: He remembered words and melodies with great ease. At the age of six, he quickly learned to play the violin and the harpsichord. In 1739 or 1740, he was asked to join the choir of Vienna’s cathedral, the Stephansdom. At the same time, he started to read books on composition and counterpoint. At some point, his voice broke, a disaster for any choir boy, and he had to look for alternatives.

Composing for the Esterhazy court

He started to work as a music teacher and a freelance musician and composed a few symphonies, keyboard sonatas and some chamber music for the nobleman Count von Morzin. In 1761 he joined the Esterhazy court, one of the richest families in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, as Vizekapellmeister, basically the second-in-command of the Esterhazy’s orchestra. Besides being responsible for the daily management of the orchestra i.e. rehearsing, composing instrumental music for the Esterhazy household was also part of the job – and the chance he had been waiting for.

In 1766, Haydn moved into the top slot and was from then on also responsible for composing religious music – besides everything else. At the same time, fashion dictated the Esterhazy’s taste: operas became popular, and Haydn was expected to deliver.  And he did with an incredible number of works! With this, his fame at home and abroad grew and in 1779, Count Esterhazy was willing to grant him independence. From then on he was allowed to publish and thereby sell his music. He moved for a couple of years to London and came back to Vienna in 1795, where he wrote our trumpet concerto.

The recording of Alison Balsom and the German ensemble “Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen” is available on Spotify. And if you end up liking Hummel’s trumpet concerto better, what shall I say? I find it difficult to decide which one I like best myself. Enjoy both!

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.