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Donald Macleod explores a hugely successful episode in Haydn's life, his London years. Today, Haydn's fourth London season brings forth his last - and perhaps greatest - symphony.

Donald Macleod explores a hugely successful episode in Haydn's life, his London years. Today, Haydn's fourth London season brings forth his last - and perhaps greatest - symphony.

At the final concert of Haydn's third London season on the 12th of May 1794, it was announced to the audience in the Hanover Square Rooms - presumably to general jubilation - that the world's greatest living composer had agreed to stay on in town for another year. Perhaps at this point he was even considering remaining in England for good. His employer, Prince Anton Esterházy, had died a few months earlier, and there was little reason for him to return to Vienna - least of all his unhappy marriage to a woman Haydn, by all accounts one of the mildest-mannered of men, had once dubbed a "bestia infernale". The following month, however, he received a letter from Anton's son Nicolaus - now Prince Nicolaus - informing him of his intention to restore his grandfather's musical establishment and re-appoint Haydn as Kapellmeister. Now into his 60s, Haydn was doubtless pondering the question of where he might be most comfortable in his old age, and the answer now seemed clear: his native country. Accordingly, his next London season would be his last. It wouldn't be quite like the previous ones, though. Because of the continuing war on the Continent, the violinist, composer and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who had invited Haydn to London in the first place and organised the previous three concert seasons, found it "impossible to procure from abroad any Vocal Performers of the first talents", as he explained in a lengthy press advertisement addressed to the "Nobility and Gentry" who had supported his efforts to date. Instead, Salomon did a deal with the London Opera, the upshot of which was a jointly organised season of nine Opera Concerts at the King's Theatre on Haymarket. If time-travel were possible, you'd want to be transported back for the premières of Haydn's last three symphonies, on the 2nd of February, 2nd of March and 4th of May - the latter, not one of the nine Opera Concerts but Haydn's final Benefit Concert, in which his Symphony No 104, which has acquired the nickname 'London', was heard for the very first time. According to the critic of the Morning Chronicle, Haydn had "rewarded the good intentions of his friends by writing a new Overture which for fullness, richness, and majesty, in all its parts, is thought by some of the best judges to surpass all his other compositions." We know from his notebook that Haydn was happy too: "On 4th May 1795, I gave my benefit concert in the Haymarket Theatre. The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made four thousand Gulden on this evening. Such a thing is only possible in England."

'O'er the moor amang the heather', Hob XXXIa:122
Jamie MacDougall, tenor
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt

Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Hob XV:26
The Florestan Trio

Symphony No 104 in D, Hob I:104 ('London')
Les Musiciens du Louvre
Marc Minkowski, conductor

'O tuneful voice', Hob XXVIa:42
Elly Ameling, soprano
Jörg Demus, piano.

1 hour

Last on

Fri 16 Mar 2018 12:00

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Music Played

  • Joseph Haydn

    O'er the moor amang the heather

    Singer: Jamie MacDougall. Ensemble: Eisenstadt Haydn Trio.
    • Haydn: Scottish and Welsh Songs.
    • Brilliant Classics.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Piano Trio in F sharp minor H.15.26

    Ensemble: The Florestan Trio.
    • HYPERION : CDA67719.
    • HYPERION.
    • 7.
  • Joseph Haydn

    Symphony No. 104 in D major H.1.104 (London)

    Ensemble: Les Musiciens du Louvre. Conductor: Marc Minkowski.
    • NAÏVE V5176.
    • NAÏVE.
    • 12.
  • Joseph Haydn

    O tuneful voice H.26a.42

    Performer: Jörg Demus. Singer: Elly Ameling.
    • PHILIPS : 420-217-2.
    • PHILIPS.
    • 1.

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