Isn’t it amazing that such an eminent and prolific composer like Joseph Haydn wrote no more than three harpsichord or piano concerts? I think it is, and no, I am not contradicting myself if an earlier post of mine comes to your mind. Haydn wrote more than three keyboard concertos, but those did not feature solo parts for the harpsichord or then piano. Only three then. Whose fault could it be? Did Haydn lack the talent? Certainly not. A natural penchant for chamber music? He wrote more than 100 symphonies. I guess his patrons never asked for more piano concertos, and then there was a brilliant competitor claiming this genre for himself: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
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.
There are keyboards and keyboards. Baroque composer would think of the harpsichord and mention in the piece’s name that the piece is meant for violin for instance and basso continuo. The basso part would be played on the harpsichord. Joseph Haydn would write a keyboard concerto and think of still using the harpsichord or the newly invented fortepiano, a harpsichord that can play loud (forte) and soft (piano) sounds. Today one would play it on the modern piano unless… unless Viviane Chassot were around. She is a Swiss musician with a penchant for experiments and she plays Haydn’s keyboard parts on the accordion while the Kammerorchester Basel plays the tutti parts.
Haydn didn’t write operas, did he? He was the champion of chamber music and a prolific writer of symphonies, but operas? No, no, no. That’s what I thought and I was wrong. Half a year ago I enjoyed the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Hélène Grimaud performing Bartok’s Piano Concert No. 3, but the warm-up of the orchestra alone had already justified buying that no-so-cheap ticket. The Dutch ensemble, shrunk to the size of a chamber orchestra, performed the overture in G minor of Haydn’s opera “L’Isola Disabitata” (The Lonely Island) – a lovely piece of music that made me curious. What would an opera written by Haydn sound like?