A festive symphony from Joseph Haydn’s pen

Haydn festive hymn
The light in the darkness. © Charles Thibo

Are you already in a festive mood? Christmas is less than a week away, and whatever your creed is, Christmas is something special, be it in Europe, the Americas or even Asia. Here is something solemn, uplifting, festive in every respect: Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 11 in E flat major (Hob. I:11). The composer most likely wrote it between 1760 and 1761, just before or just after he had been appointed to the court of Paul Anton Count of Esterhazy. His contract with the count stipulated that Haydn would compose a new piece anytime his employer wished to hear something new and that the count would have the exclusive rights to the piece, a ruinous clause that the Esterhazys’ luckily never used.

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Job hunting in the muddy streets of Paris

Versailles.

“I’ve always been a great lover of Mozart, a great, great admirer of this composer”, says Anne-Sophie Mutter in the booklet accompanying her recording of some of the most beautiful sonatas for violin and piano written by Mozart. “None of these pieces are easy. Mozart has a habit of suddenly demanding you after a wonderfully beautiful elegiac melody to perform a triple somersault from a standing start. And yet it must never sound merely virtuosic. Mozart’s music is never an end in itself. However we may have valued virtuosity, it’s always wrapped up in galanterie, elegance and expression.”

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A cry of sadness and revolt from Vienna

Tears and sorrow. © Charles Thibo

The signature. The first movement alone of this piece is breath-taking. “Inter Lacrimas et Luctum” the composer wrote on the score dedicated to Ignaz Freiherr von Gleichenstein, his long-time patron and friend. In the midst of tears and sorrow – in 1809, when the score was being printed, Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s troops, and for von Gleichenstein,  member of the Austrian war council, it was a bitter time. Ludwig van Beethoven, who had condemned the imperialist dreams of Napoleon a few years earlier, was no less afflicted. The Cello Sonata in A major (Op. 69) illustrates this mood. At the same time its combative parts are encouraging, a cry of revolt. A very, very impressive composition.

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A trio written for friends, performed by friends

Mozart Kegelstatt
Dedication to beauty. © Charles Thibo

Have I ever presented to you the Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst? No?  I should have done so long ago for this man transforms abstract notes into music of pure, glittering gold. Fröst was born in 1970 and as a five-year old boy he started to play the violin. Three years later he added the clarinet. He deepened his studies in Germany and Stockholm and also took classes in conducting. In May 2017, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra announced the appointment of Fröst as its next principal conductor, effective with the 2019/20 season, with an initial contract of three seasons. The “New York Times” qualified him as having “a virtuosity and a musicianship unsurpassed by any clarinettist, perhaps any instrumentalist”.

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