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On this site you can discover the music of four great classical composers: Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, who all celebrate anniversaries in 2009.

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CONTROLLER'S INTRODUCTION

Roger Wright

Radio 3 Controller Roger Wright welcomes Radio 3 listeners and BBC Two viewers to Composers of the Year.  

Watch the introduction

THE BIRTH OF BRITISH MUSIC

BBC TWO logo

The Composers of the Year feature in a BBC 2 series, in May 2009 - Charles Hazlewood introduces the programmes.

More about the series
Haydn Creation - Adam & Eve Duet

Adam and Eve offer up a hymn of praise to God for the world he has created. This beautifully simple duet is composed of an oboe obbligato, with pizzicato strings and quiet affirmations from a chorus of angels, over which Adam and Eve (soprano and bass) sing their arching phrases.

Haydn Creation

The Creation is widely considered to be Haydn's masterpiece. It tells the creation story from the book of Genesis and Haydn himself said of it "I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work."

Haydn Farewell Symphony

As with many of Haydn's symphonies, there is a story behind the "Farewell". When Prince Esterházy kept his court orchestra at his summer palace (away from their wives and children) longer than expected, Haydn's last movement subtly hinted to his patron that the musicians might be ready to return home. Over the final bars, each musician in turn stops playing and leaves the stage!

Haydn Trumpet Concerto

Probably the best known and most widely-played trumpet concerto in the classical repertoire, Haydn's is a groundbreaking work because it was written to exploit a new version of the trumpet, which used keys as an alternative to the natural trumpet. However, it was soon superseded by the valved instrument, and Haydn's concerto is today played largely on the modern Eb or Bb trumpet.

Haydn "Emperor" Quartet

Sound familiar? The theme used in this quartet was originally written by Haydn as an anthem for the birthday of the Austrian Emperor Francis II, but is now better known as the German National Anthem.

Haydn Nelson Mass

Within months of the Battle of Trafalgar, Haydn's Mass in D Minor became known as the Nelson Mass. There is no evidence that Haydn ever used that title, however. In fact, Haydn later titled the work as Missa in Angustiis ('mass for times of distress'). Lord Nelson would have met Haydn in 1800 when he visited Prince Esterhazy at Eisenstadt whilst travelling with Sir William and Lady Hamilton.

Haydn Return of Tobias

Immensely popular when premiered by 180 musicians in 1775, Il ritorno di Tobia (The Return of Tobias) was written to be performed at two benefit concerts for the financial support of widows and orphans of musicians in Vienna. The story of Tobias was well known and used by several composers. It is based on the biblical book of Tobit, which tells of Tobias coming home from his adventures and curing his father of his blindness.

Haydn "Lark" Quartet

Haydn was a master of the string quartet, and few composers have equalled his achievements in this genre. The "Lark" is one of his most popular, and was so named (not by Haydn) because of the soaring melodies given to the first violin. This second movement is surely one of his most beautiful.

Haydn Symphony 49 "La Passione"

Haydn wrote 104 symphonies, many of then acquiring titles, not necessarily given to them by Haydn. This symphony, known as "La Passione", was written by Haydn in the midst of his 'Sturm und Drang' period; a movement in music and literature centred on extremes of emotion, and of which Haydn was an important pioneer.

Mendelssohn Violin Concerto

Mendelssohn's violin concerto is one of the most influential and popular concertos of all time, and an important part of the violin repertoire. Concertos at this time normally started with an orchestral exposition of the main themes, so it is unusual that Mendelssohn brings in the soloist immediately. The violin immediately captivates us with its impassioned melody.

Mendelssohn Italian Symphony

The Italian symphony was completed not long after Mendelssohn spent time Italy as part of a grand tour of Europe. Just listening to the joyous opening is enough to convince us of the happy time he spent there.

Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mendelssohn composed the overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream when he was just 17, although the rest of the incidental music was written much later, and includes the famous wedding march.

Mendelssohn Song Without Words Op 19/ 1

The term "Song Without Words" was coined by Mendelssohn to describe these short lyrical pieces for the piano, which became popular through their accessibility and the rapidly increasing number of pianos in middle-class homes in Europe.

Mendelssohn Song Without Words Op 30/ 1

The term "Song Without Words" was coined by Mendelssohn to describe these short lyrical pieces for the piano, which became popular through their accessibility and the rapidly increasing number of pianos in middle-class homes in Europe.

Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture

Mendelssohn was on a tour of Scotland when he was inspired to write the overture now known as "Fingal's Cave". He sent the opening bars to his sister, Fanny, with the accompanying note: "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily The Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there."

Handel Delirio Amoroso

Delirio Amoroso is one of Handel's Italian Cantatas, written when he was in Italy in his early 20s. The cantata is sung by the nymph Chloris, who tells of her unrequited love for Thyrsis. She sings of Thyrsis's death and imagines going to look for him in Hades.

Handel Samson "Thus when the sun…"

Just two week after completing Messiah, Handel began work on another great dramatic work: Samson (based on Milton's Samson Agonistes) was to become one of his most popular oratorios during his lifetime.

Handel Oboe Concerto No. 3

The Oboe Concerto No.3 is actually the earliest of the three: composed by an eighteen-year-old Handel in Hamburg in 1703. The work shows striking maturity, and also innovation, as the solo concerto as a genre was only just coming to the fore.

Handel Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba is a famous extract from Handel's oratorio Solomon, and is instantly recognisable, remaining popular today as wedding music. Solomon was written in tribute to Handel's patron, King George I, and in this oratorio Handel aligns the piety, wisdom and splendour of the oratorio's title character with that of the King.

Handel Concerto Grosso Op 6/ 6

Handel composed his opus 6 remarkably quickly, and completed all 12 concertos (62 movements!) within a month. This beautiful slow movement was used to great effect in the 1994 film The Madness of King George.

Handel Water Music Suite 1 Hornpipe

Handel's Water Music was written in 1717 for an evening concert on the River Thames requested by King George I. Some 50 musicians played on a barge close to the royal barge and the King enjoyed the music so much he had the suite played 3 times, with the event finishing around 3.30am!

Handel Water Music Suite 3 - Opening

Handel's Water Music was written in 1717 for an evening concert on the River Thames requested by King George I. Some 50 musicians played on a barge close to the royal barge and the King enjoyed the music so much he had the suite played 3 times, with the event finishing around 3.30am!

Handel Water Music Suite 2 Alla Hornpipe

Handel's Water Music was written in 1717 for an evening concert on the River Thames requested by King George I. Some 50 musicians played on a barge close to the royal barge and the King enjoyed the music so much he had the suite played 3 times, with the event finishing around 3.30am!

Largo from Xerxes

This is an orchestral arrangement of the opening aria "Ombra mai fù" from Handel's opera Xerxes, sung by Xerxes in praise of a tree he's sitting under. Its sublime beauty has made it one of Handel's most enduring melodies.

Purcell Dido's Lament

Based on Virgil's Aeneid, Purcell's Dido & Aeneas tells the story of Queen Dido, who gives herself up to death as Aeneas leaves her behind to found Rome. In this haunting final aria, she sings "Remember me, but Ah forget my fate".

Suite from Abdelazer - Rondeau

Purcell wrote the incidental music for Abdelazer in 1695, shortly before his death at the age of 36. The Rondeau became one of Purcell's best-known themes after Benjamin Britten used it for his set of symphonic variations, A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

Come ye sons of art

Purcell composed Come, Ye Sons of Art, Away as an ode for the birthday of Queen Mary II in 1694 (which turned out to be her last). It has seven movements, plus an opening symphony, which Purcell later rewrote and incorporated into his opera The Indian Queen.

March for the Funeral of Queen Mary

When Queen Mary died in 1694, the nation was plunged into grief. She had been one of England's most popular monarchs. Purcell composed this march for the ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Suite from Abdelazer - Minuett

Abdelazer (or The Moors Revenge) was one of the last plays for which Purcell composed incidental music. Written by Aphra Behn, one of several women playwrights who contributed to the thriving and often bawdy theatrical scene in Restoration London, it was first staged in 1695, the year of Purcell's tragically early death at the age of 36.

Suite from Abdelazer - Hornpipe

Abdelazer (or The Moors Revenge) was one of the last plays for which Purcell composed incidental music. Written by Aphra Behn, one of several women playwrights who contributed to the thriving and often bawdy theatrical scene in Restoration London, it was first staged in 1695, the year of Purcell's tragically early death at the age of 36.

Suite from the Virtuous Wife

It is believed that his music for D'Urfeys play The Virtuous Wife was composed either just before or shortly after Purcell's appointment as organist at Westminster Abbey in 1669 aged just 22, after which he devoted himself mainly to sacred music in accordance with his post.

The Fairy Queen

The Fairy Queen is an adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, first performed in 1692. The work contains some of Purcell's finest music written for the theatre, and this little "second tune" was written to accompany a scene change.

King Arthur

Enemies and enchantments abound in this musical tale of love, war and magic! With a libretto by John Dryden, the opera was first performed in 1691. Arthur battles to unite Britain and to rescue his fiancé, Princess Emmeline.

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