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Donald Macleod explores a hugely successful episode in Haydn's life, his London years. Today, romance, rivalry and the death of a friend as Haydn embarks on a second London season.

Donald Macleod explores a hugely successful episode in Haydn's life, his London years. Today, romance, rivalry and the death of a friend as Haydn embarks on a second London season.

In January 1792, news reached Haydn that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had died in Vienna the previous month, a few weeks short of his 36th birthday. Haydn was devastated: "For some time I was beside myself about his death and I could not believe that Providence would so soon claim the life of such an indispensable man." Some musicologists believe that Haydn wrote the slow movement of his Symphony No 98 in memory of his old friend. Meanwhile, another young composer had arrived in London - as it happens, a former student of Haydn's who had come at the behest of The Professional Concert, a rival concert organization to that of Johann Peter Salomon, the violinist, composer and impresario who had invited Haydn to London for the previous season. That season had been such a success that The Professional Concert had made strenuous efforts to poach Haydn for their own concert series. When they failed to snare the master, they turned to the pupil: Ignaz Pleyel, who nowadays is remembered less as a composer than as the publisher and piano manufacturer he would later become. Pleyel agreed to produce a new work for each of the 12 concerts in the series. Haydn felt honour-bound to do the same, but he found the workload utterly draining: "My eyes suffer the most, and I have many sleepless nights", he wrote to a friend. His Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, bassoon, violin, cello and orchestra, premiered in the fourth concert of the season, seems to have been a direct response to a piece of Pleyel's for similar forces that had been unveiled by The Professional Concert only the previous week. At this stressful time, some measure of solace was at hand in the attractive form of Rebecca Schroeter, a wealthy Scottish widow who had originally approached Haydn for music lessons but soon became an intimate companion. Haydn made hand-copies of her letters to him, many of which deal with practicalities such as requests for concert tickets and invitations to dinner. But every now and then we get a glimpse of the passion smouldering beneath the surface: "My Dearest I cannot be happy till I see you, if you know, do tell me when you will come." Mrs Schroeter was doubtless present at the concert held a week before Haydn's 60th birthday, which saw the première of his now-famous 'Surprise' Symphony - the surprise being a mischievously unexpected fortissimo chord right at the end of the second movement's otherwise tranquil opening theme. Unsurprisingly, this proved a big hit with the London audience, and turned out to be one of the greatest successes of Haydn's English career.

Symphony No 94 in G, Hob I:94 ('Surprise'); 2nd mvt, Andante (extract)
Philharmonia Orchestra
Tom Bergman, conductor

Sinfonia Concertante in B flat, Hob I:105; 1st mvt, Allegro
Ku Ebbinge, oboe
Danny Bond, bassoon
Lucy van Dael, violin
Wouter Möller, cello
Orchestra of the 18th Century
Frans Brüggen, conductor

Symphony No 98 in B flat, Hob I:98; 2nd mvt, Adagio
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor

The Storm, Hob XXIVa:8
North German Radio Chorus
Göttingen Festival Orchestra
Nicholas McGegan, conductor

Symphony No 94 in G, Hob I:94 ('Surprise')
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Roger Norrington, conductor.

1 hour

Music Played

  • Joseph Haydn

    Symphony No. 94 in G major H.1.94 (Surprise): 2nd mvt, Andante

    Performer: Philharmonia Hungarica. Conductor: Antal Doráti.
    • DECCA : 425-931-2.
    • DECCA.
    • 4.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major H.1.105

    Performer: Lucy van Dael. Performer: Wouter Möller. Performer: Ku Ebbinge. Performer: Danny Bond. Orchestra: Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. Conductor: Frans Brüggen.
    • PHILIPS : 462-602-2.
    • PHILIPS.
    • 9.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Symphony No. 98 in B flat major H.1.98: 2nd mvt, Adagio

    Ensemble: Les Musiciens du Louvre. Conductor: Marc Minkowski.
    • NAÏVE V5176.
    • NAÏVE.
    • 6.
  • Joseph Haydn

    The Storm H.24a.8

    Choir: North German Radio Choir. Ensemble: Gottingen Festival Ensemble. Conductor: Nicholas McGegan.
    • CARUS 83358.
    • CARUS.
    • 14.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Symphony No. 94 in G major H.1.94 (Surprise)

    Orchestra: Stuttgart R S O. Conductor: Sir Roger Norrington.
    • HÄNSSLER HAEN93252.
    • HÄNSSLER.
    • 1.

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