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?
The bad news is: The United Kingdom will officially declare on March 29 that it intends to leave the EU. The good news is: It won’t leave the EU. Not by 2019. I looked into my crystal ball and saw endless negotiations in Brussels. Dead-lines will be extended and the stock markets will be in turmoil. Political infighting will follow. The present government will not last. The crystal ball goes blank again.
The EU is like Hotel California: You can always check out, but you can never leave. And to encourage all those who do not want to leave the EU, here’s some up-lifting music. Let’s take a break from politics. A symphony written by a continental composer bearing the name to the City of London.