Robert DiLutis, clarinet
Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 104 in D major, “London”
The long life of Franz Joseph Haydn spanned one of the great upheavals in the economics of the musical profession. It marked the demise of the aristocratic “ownership” of music and musicians and the rise of the middle class as patron, supporter and chief consumer of the arts. No one bridged this transition better than Haydn, who went from being the darling of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy to that of London’s merchants without offending either.
In 1791, Haydn made the first of two extended trips to London at the invitation of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, actually considering settling there for good. He composed numerous works for performance in Salomon’s concerts, primarily his last twelve symphonies (known today as the “London: or “Salomon” symphonies). These concerts – like most performances of the time – went on for hours and were a mixed bag, including vocal, chamber and orchestral pieces. For the decade of the 1790s, their major drawing power lay in Haydn’s music.
Haydn was not only a hit with London’s middle class but also with royalty and the high nobility. Although they seem to have been a bit late in getting around to inviting the composer for a formal presentation before their majesties King George III and Queen Charlotte, he so captivated Their Majesties that they had him back for return performances and conversation throughout the month of February of 1794. The Queen actually attempted to lure Haydn to take up permanent residence in London, but he declined on the grounds of loyalty to his patrons, the Esterházy family.
It is sometimes difficult from the vantage point of the twenty-first century to realize how innovative a composer Haydn was. While retaining the harmonic palette of high classicism, he added new ideas, on both a large and small scale, to make his works always sound fresh and exciting to his audiences.
The Symphony No.104 was Haydn’s last. It was probably premiered in London in May 1795 at an all-Haydn concert, the proceeds of which, in the English tradition of such “benefit” performances, went to the composer. Haydn himself remarked on the concert’s huge success, both artistically and financially.
Symphony 104 is notable for its persistently lively character. The somber introduction with its timpani and sighing violin motive belies the overall mood of the piece
but then, Haydn was ever a proponent of the unexpected touch.
The second movement falls into the standard ABA pattern. A gentle theme in the A section
undergoes the same contrast of moods as the Introduction and Allegro.
The repeat of the A section includes variation-like embellishments of the main theme.
Haydn’s minuet movements were always less courtly and elegant than Mozart’s. Here, however, the irregular phrasing and sudden pauses in the minuet which, in addition to its boisterous character, distances it, more than usual for Haydn, from its courtly dance origins.
As if to emphasize the symphony’s “grass roots,” Haydn accompanies the main theme of the final movement with a drone, imitating the rural bagpipes of Croatian shepherds.
Beethoven used the same effect in his “Pastoral” Symphony.
Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano
Clarinetist Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing”, had wide-ranging musical interests and wanted to secure a place in classical music as well. He commissioned a number of well-known composers to write for him, including Béla Bartók (Contrasts) and Paul Hindemith (Clarinet Concerto). In 1947 he commissioned Aaron Copland for a work for clarinet and orchestra, giving him free rein and making no demands on what he should write. Copland, who had long been an admirer of Goodman said that “I never would have thought of composing a clarinet concerto if Benny had not asked me for one.”
The Concerto, finished in 1948, is an unusual work, consisting of two movements connected by a long, aspectacular cadenza. The decision to use jazz idiom was Copland’s, inspired by Goodman’s playing. Its form is similar to Copland’s jazzy Piano Concerto of 1926. Despite its title, which suggests a prominent role for the harp and piano, Copland concentrates on the clarinet, weaving the other two instruments into the orchestral fabric.
The Concerto is in two dramatically contrasting movements bridged by an enormous cadenza. The lyric first movement is a languid song, a gentle interplay between the clarinet and the orchestra, without a hint of jazz.
It relies for expressiveness on shifts in tempo, rather than dynamics, and adheres to Copland’s dictum that “orchestral know-how consists in keeping instruments out of each other’s way.” By extending the phrases and delaying cadences Copeland creates a musical oxymoron of relaxed improvisation and a buildup of tension. It leads into the cadenza, which works itself from florid pyrotechnics, exploiting the inimitable sonorities of the different ranges of the clarinet,
into foreshadowing of the main jazz themes in the coming Finale.
Apparently, the difficulty of the cadenza so intimidated Goodman that he broke down and requested changes – to no avail except for a single high note.
It is only in The Finale, a free rondo form, that Copeland uses all his instrumental forces. It begins as the piano takes over from the free-form cadenza into a clockwork motive that will set the pulse for the entire movement around which the clarinet will weave its jazzy syncopations.
In the absence of a traditional orchestra or jazz percussion section, he used slapping basses, whacking harp sounds, finger snapping and, of course a piano, to achieve the effect of the underlying beat.
This little riff also slips into a bit of South American popular music, an influence traceable to Copland’s visited Brazil in 1947 as a goodwill emissary of the State Department.
The movement ends with a clarinet glissando – a “smear“ in jazz parlance – perhaps a bow to Gershwin, whose Rhapsody in Blue begins with just such a device.
Incidentally, listeners who detect bits of Appalachian Spring throughout this Concerto are not just “hearing things.”
Goodman premiered the Concerto in November 1950 with the NBC Symphony of the Air, Fritz Reiner conducting. In 1951 Jerome Robbins of the New York City Ballet used the Concerto for a ballet, The Pied Piper.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Premiered in Vienna at an all-Beethoven Musikalische Akademie (self-promoting concert) in February 1814, the Eighth Symphony suffered from comparison with the Seventh, which was very popular at the time and had preceded it on the program. Beethoven had a giant orchestra for the occasion: “At my last concert in the Large Redoutensaal there were 18 first violins, 18 second violins, 12 cellos, 7 double basses, 2 double bassoons” he noted in his diary.
After the rhythmic spree of the Seventh, the new symphony sounded tame and much more traditional – not what the audience expected from Beethoven. Unfortunately, this unfavorable comparison is still made today, although Beethoven insisted that the Eighth was the better of the two. The reviewer of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitschrift was perceptive in his appraisal of the symphony and its lukewarm reception: “This reviewer is of the opinion that the reason does not lie by any means in weaker or less artistic workmanship…but partly in the faulty judgment that permitted the symphony to follow the one in A Major, partly in the surfeit of beauty and excellence…if this symphony were performed alone, we have no doubt of its success.”
Beethoven began working on the Symphony in the summer of 1812, immediately after finishing the Seventh, while he was taking the cure at the baths of Teplitz and Carlsbad in Bohemia. The Eighth Symphony’s more traditional structure harks back to the composer’s early symphonies in which he paid tribute to the spirit of his Viennese predecessors, especially Haydn. The orchestration and development, however, belong to the mature Beethoven. And while the Seventh is powerful and dramatic, the Eighth is good-natured, cheery and humorous – as if the composer needed a rest from the tension of the earlier symphony. The first movement gets right down to business with no slow introduction.
Its second theme follows right on the heels of the first with a minimal bridge passage.
The contrast comes in the development as Beethoven shows a dark side of his two optmtimistic themes.
Of special interest has always been the second movement, which by tradition would normally be slow but which Beethoven marks an Allegretto scherzando. Some musical historians claim that its rigid ostinato repeated chord is a tribute to the inventor of the metronome, Beethoven’s sometime friend and rival Johannes Nepomuk Mälzel.
The movement ends with an unexpected abruptness.
Since one scherzo is enough, Beethoven wrote an old-fashioned Minuet as the third movement, with an unusual duet between the horns and solo clarinet in the Trio.
The symphony ends with a Finale full of Haydnesque humor and surprises, the chattering opening sounding a little like a burlesque à la Rossini.
The highlight is a long coda bursting with energy and vitality making it clear that we are in the era of Beethoven and not of Haydn. The prolonged and repeated final cadence, however, seems almost a parody of symphonic grandiosity.