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Who is Gottfried van Swieten?
Usually a rather blurred figure in Mozart’s biographies, in reality, Baron Gottfried van Swieten exerted an enormous influence on the development of Mozart’s interests in music composition and then also on Haydn and on the young Beethoven. Furthermore, van Swieten (a freemason himself, like Mozart), with the Abbé Stadler, had a crucial role in the promotion of Mozart’s works carried on by Constanze, after December 1791.
The son of the Vampirism scholar Gerard van Swieten
The father of Baron van Swieten, Gerard van Swieten, was an important Dutch-Austrian physician, who in 1745 became the personal physician of the Austria Imperial family and, in particular, of the Empress Maria Theresa.
From 1718 to 1732, suddenly, a previously unknown brutal myth on vampirism reached also Austria from Serbia and received a wide sudden diffusion throughout Europe and many scholars were called by the local authorities to directly investigate the phenomenon and to eradicate it.
Maria Theresa asked Gerard van Swieten to investigate and was sent to Moravia in 1755, to study the case. In 1768 Gerard van Swieten published his Essay against vampirism Discourse on the Existence of Ghosts, which led Maria Theresa to ban all traditional defences to vampires, as the product of vain fear and of superstitious credulity.
In 1774 and in 1789 (2nd edition) the Dissertazione sopra i Vampiri by Giuseppe Davanzati, Bishop of Trani, appeared, to support the Essay by Gerard van Swieten and Maria Theresa’s laws. Unfortunately the superstition was difficult to eradicate and, thus, in the end, the authorities tried to transform vampirism in an art genre, to defeat it, by using also opera and comic opera (among the first works, the comic opera I vampiri by Silvestro Palma, 1812, which promotes the rationalist theories of Giuseppe Davanzati).
van Swieten and the von Jacquins friends of Mozart
The fact that Mozart and his wife Constanze were close friends of Gottfried von Jacquin and his sister Franziska, is well known. What probably many still fail to consider is that both Gottfried and Franziska von Jacquin belonged to the circle of van Swieten’s close friends. In fact the father of Gottfried and Franziska was Nikolaus von Jacquin, a famous and important scholar and a personal pupil of van Swieten’s father, Gerard van Swieten. Even more, Nikolaus von Jacquin named a genus of mahogany after his mentor and friend Gerard van Swieten, the Swietenia. So Mozart and his wife, by regularly attending the von Jacquins, just remained within the group of close friends of van Swieten.
Mozart and the van Swieten’s Sunday Music program
Thanks to Mozart’s letters and Weigl’s autobiography and some reminiscences of Salieri, we are rather well informed on the van Swieten’s Sunday Music program held at his apartments from the Spring 1782 to some years later.
At 12 every Sunday, Mozart, Starzer, Teyber, van Swieten and, probably only on a few occasions, also Salieri met at van Swieten’s apartments to study and perform works by Handel, Graun, J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach. F. Bach, with Mozart accompanying at the fortepiano, van Swieten singing discant, Mozart also singing alto, Starzer tenor, Teyber bass. According to Weigl, when Salieri was there, he also sang some part.
Thanks to this sort of private academies, Mozart developed his peculiar taste for Handel’s and Bach’s works, now made known and available through the rare and difficult to find scores of van Swieten, and their art of counterpoint, a taste that well emerges in his major works from 1782 to 1791 (Mass in C Minor, Haydn Quartets, The Magic Flute, Requiem etc.).
Mozart tried to promote, instead, during such occasions, the knowledge of the sacred music works by Michael Haydn and Eberlin, even though, as far as we know, he decided not to promote Eberlin’s keyboard art of fugue, because he found it on a lower level in comparison to Bach and Handel.
The presence of Salieri at these private academies at van Swieten’s are much disputed, because his pupil Weigl tells this story and because Salieri’s own reminiscences of these academies are certainly heavily manipulated and distorted: i.e. Salieri was the leader of these academies and Mozart used to call him papa all the time (difficult to believe, because Salieri was not much older than Mozart and could not be a papa to Mozart).
van Swieten’s political roles & his influence on Mozart’s works
From 1780 to 1782 van Swieten reached a high position at Court with Joseph II, earning an annual salary of ca. 20.000 florins (ca. 140.000 modern US dollars).
He became Councillor of State, Director of the State Education Commission (1781) and Director of a new Censorship Commission (1782). van Swieten, in his official role, supported and carried on the program of reforms of Joseph II. If Mozart’s works, like Le Nozze di Figaro, and certain parts of Don Giovanni (regularly censored and cut in 1800s) and, on a certain level also The Magic Flute, were freely performed in Austria in 1780s, that was also the result of the activity of van Swieten within the Censorship Commission, which increased certain forms of freedom.
As is well known, the death of Joseph II (and the French Revolution) created troubles to all the people who worked for Joseph II. And van Swieten, already considered the person responsible for too much revolutionary freedom and for other disasters of the Imperial administration, was discharged from his commission post by Leopold II on 5 December 1791, the same day as the death of Mozart, while Imperial informers were building an act of accusation against Mozart’s The Magic Flute, considered a satire against Louis XVI of France and the Austria Emperor’s sister Marie Antoinette and an obscure promotion of the French Revolution.
Mozart, van Swieten and the Handel controversy
The strong interest of van Swieten in the music by Handel, if, on the one hand, it led to the birth of great masterpieces like Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, Haydn’s Oratorios and Beethoven’s various works, on the other hand, unfortunately reached also levels of a sort of fanaticism hard to be comprehended.
In 1786 van Swieten organized the Gesellschaft der Associierten (Society of Associated Cavaliers), to organize the performance of great orchestral works in Vienna. In 1788 van Swieten chose Mozart as official conductor of the Society and from 1788 to 1790 commissioned Mozart to write a revised and updated (mainly in the orchestration) edition of four major works by Handel: Acis and Galatea (1788), The Messiah (1789), Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1790), Alexander’s Feast (1790).
Despite Mozart’s intense activity on Handel, van Swieten kept a certain pressure on Mozart, because he wanted Mozart to write a purer Handelian work (possibly an oratorio?), to prove he was a real great composer (!?). From this, also the long lasting debate on Mozart’s borrowing from Handel in building his famous Requiem, considered already in 1790s also a collection of reminiscences of Handelian themes firstly heard by Mozart in his famous Tour in England when a child prodigy.
Moreover a letter of van Swieten written in 1798 ignited the Handel controversy among Mozart supporters, since van Swieten clearly declares himself unsatisfied with the work carried on by Mozart, but not with that carried on by Haydn, who really managed to prove himself a great composer on the same level as Handel. Mozart simply failed to prove this, due to his sudden death.
Here the infamous words from van Swieten’s letter (December 1798):
«Undoubtedly it [i.e. the level of Handel and of the two Bachs] would have been reached by Mozart, had he not been snatched from us prematurely. Joseph Haydn, conversely, truly stands there [i.e. with Handel the two Bachs]».
The harsh judgment of van Swieten simply means that Haydn, in the end, managed to deliver a great Oratorio, The Creation, in the high style of Handel, while Mozart miserably failed in doing this, due to his sudden death (!?).
van Swieten helps Constanze
After the death of Mozart, van Swieten actively helped Constanze Mozart and her children both financially and socially. Apart from his famous intervention for the funeral of Mozart, he promoted benefit concerts in favour of Constanze’s family and took care of the education of the young Karl Mozart. His role proved particularly crucial, in Prague, in April 1794, to save the young Karl Mozart, the 9 year old child of Wolfgang, from a trap organized by the supporters of Salieri in Prague: Karl Mozart had to publicly appear on stage during the performance of Salieri’s opera Axur «as the boy who is offered up for sacrifice». The immediate intervention of van Swieten and of his mother Constanze saved the boy from this orchestrated form of public humiliation against the child of Mozart by the supporters of Salieri.
van Swieten as composer, librarian, copyright promoter
van Swieten, who had studied music in his youth with a pupil of J.S. Bach and had become a member of the musical circle of the princess Anna Amalia, was also a composer and not only a simple patron of the musical arts.
While as patron van Swieten had already patronized the son of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach (6 Symphonies H. 657–662, 1773; Sonaten für Kenner und Liebhaber, 1781) before reaching Vienna, through the years van Swieten developed his own musical compositions.
Today the critics are largely divided on the quality of his music. Even though The Grove Dictionary is particularly harsh in his judgment on van Swieten’s musical works, other scholars give more cautious opinions on his music works, especially because a few of them were considered for long time and printed and published as works by Haydn (3 of van Swieten’s Symphonies were printed and re-printed as Haydn’s Op. 29 for many years). Curiously enough, instead, Haydn considered most of van Swieten symphonies in the old fashioned 3 movements style, «as stiff as the man himself». Nonetheless, we know that Mozart conducted at least one of van Swieten’s symphonies in Vienna in 1782.
Probably also van Swieten’s surviving opéras comiques may deserve a better study and approach by both scholars and musicians, since his Les talents à la Mode has certain important affinities with Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne and features important, beautiful and very difficult coloratura arias and Colas toujours Colas, mostly in the pastoral style, has passages with strong affinities with Haydn’s The Seasons (in particular, the hunt scene).
As librarian and copyright promoter, van Swieten not only expanded the official Imperial library with books on science, but kept promoting music, by collecting rare scores and trying to convince the Emperor Joseph II, in 1784, to adopt the new copyright and royalties law in favour of the authors of works of art. In the end, Joseph II rejected the proposal by van Swieten and the system of copyright and royalties, so, was not available for those living under the Austrian Empire. Such law would have certainly changed the life of Mozart in better, by making it a bit easier.
The importance of van Swieten as Imperial Court librarian is due also to the fact that he is considered the first librarian in Europe to use the first form of library catalog, entirely based on a easily searchable system of cards, instead of the usual old bound volumes.
van Swieten, Haydn and the young Beethoven
The great interest of van Swieten in Handel’s music was also a distinctive trait of his patronage relationship with Haydn and the young Beethoven.
It is well known how, thanks to van Swieten and his intense activity of patron, music promoter, librettist and public concerts organizer in Vienna, Haydn managed to carry out his three great oratorio projects of the 1790s: The Seven Last Words of Christ (1795/96), The Creation (1796/98) and The Seasons (1799/1801). Nonetheless the personal relationship between the two men was not always easy, as it happened with the famous quarrel between Haydn and van Swieten on the French-style passages Haydn disliked for The Seasons, the Frenchified trash.
Instead, a lesser known episode of van Swieten’s life is his fundamental role, in 1790s, in the development of young Beethoven‘s interest in Handel’s and Bach’s music, as he had done with Mozart many years earlier. This time, he accomplished his music educational program through a long series of soirées at his home, usually starting at 8.30 pm, with Beethoven who was expected to play many pieces of music and especially many fugues by Bach for various hours in the night and then to sleep at home of van Swieten.
So, when Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries wrote: «Of all composers, Beethoven valued Mozart and Handel most highly, then S. Bach.», we know that Beethoven was, in this, highly influenced by van Swieten’s program of music education, based principally on the fact that, still in 1790s, van Swieten was one of the few owners of many scores by these authors, scores which were, in certain cases, still particularly rare to find on the 18th century market of music.
In 1801 Beethoven dedicated his 1st Symphony Op. 21 to van Swieten: Erste Symphonie von L. van Beethoven Dem Baron van Swieten gewidmet.
van Swieten & Vermeer
The father of van Swieten was the owner of one of the greatest masterpieces in the History of Art, painted by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, The Art of Painting, between 1665 and 1675. Then the painting became property of his son, Baron Gottfried van Swieten. They both probably ignored the name of the real author of the painting, since, until 1860, the painting was considered a work by Pieter de Hooch.
Ten years after the death of van Swieten, in 1813, the painting was sold to the family of the Bohemian-Austrian Counts Czernin.
WORKS BY VAN SWIETEN
A) Compositions by van Swieten:
• Ariette for La Rosière de Salency (1769)
• Opéra comique: Les talents à la Mode
• Opéra comique: Colas toujours Colas
• Opéra comique: La chercheuse d’esprit (lost)
• 10 Symphonies (7 surviving), 3 of them for long time considered works by F. J. Haydn as Op. 29 (according to some sources the symphonies were at least 12)
At imslp.org the score of van Swieten’s opera Colas toujours Colas is now available: Colas toujours Colas.
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String Quartets by
Haydn, Mozart, Vanhal & Dittersdorf.
In 1784 to celebrate Paisiello in Vienna
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Rebekka Maeder Coloratura Soprano:
10-11-18 June 2017: Haydn – St.Cecilia Mass
8 July 2017: Mozart – Così Fan Tutte
16-17 September 2017: Mozart program concert
4-5 November 2017: Schubert Mass in E Flat (Bern)
1. International Soprano with a vast and varied repertoire (from Bach, Handel up to Mendelsshon, Offenbach, Ravel and Leonard Bernstein), through the years you have been building a really impressive Mozartian repertoire: 5 Mozart’s operas, 8 masses, Davidde penitente and many other Sacred Music Works by him. What attracted and what attracts you the most in Mozart’s music? What Mozartian opera character do you like the most of those you have interpreted? And why? What Sacred music Vocal part do you like the most of the many Mozartian Sacred Works you have interpreted? And why?
The compositions of Mozart are simply the product of an unrivalled genius.
He knew exactly how to deal with the human voice… how he had to write for each character in order to make it possible for the singer to show all the colours and all that necessary diversification that not only effectively builds the character but also makes the character well defined and interesting. Moreover, the orchestration is written by Mozart in a very clever way, so that it never arrives to an excess of demand from the singer. Personally, I do really love the elegance of Mozart’s melodies and how he musically builds up the characters in his Operas.
The characters in Mozart’s operas, which I have interpreted so far, with the exception of the Queen of the Night, show some similarities: young, adult ladies of nobility, confronted with the themes of love, loyalty and betrayal.
Mozart’s operas are mostly about the emotional entanglements with which the aristocratic population has to deal with in everyday’s life: love and fidelity, desire and adventure, power and resignation.
Therefore, a decision about my favourite Mozartian character is not easy at all… you see, it much depends on the profundity of a character and on the actual musical part, as well.
Of course, the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute) has such a special value and such an intrinsic charm of its own: the great concentration of emotions, the high drama and also the vocal technical challenge… And all this must happen on stage and in music in a very short time… she has 3 shows in the whole opera: 2 arias of approx. 4min each and an ensemble at the end. Within these short periods, all these characterizing factors must perfectly emerge from your interpretation. This challenge is always a motive of great enchantment and it is always such a great joy to accomplish your performance of this character.
On the other hand, the Queen of the Night, as a drama character, has not an actual evolution nor a distinct development within the opera. If we consider this point of view, I must say I do prefer the character of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Such character really leaves enough room for the development of the various different facets, not only on a theatrical level but also, and principally, on a pure musical level.
In the field of sacred music, I love the Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor in a special manner.
The enchanting Soprano solo Et incarnatus est represents a great and, at the same time, a marvellous challenge to the singer, when you are demanded to completely merge intimacy and virtuosity through your own performance.
Moreover, in general, the Mass itself is a very delightful masterpiece for the soprano. There are even two of them, who are also ingeniously combined firstly in a duetto, and then with the tenor in a terzetto.
This mass is so marvellously permeated with an outstanding dimension of love and spirituality (and all this with a stylistic variety that is, at the same time, so harmoniously forged into an art product of such a pure and elevated unity), that it deeply touches the audience as well as the interpreter.
Rebekka Maeder sings Mozart, Mass in C Minor K427, Et incarnatus est.
Rebekka Maeder sings Mozart, The Magic Flute, Der Hölle Rache.
2. In your Repertoire you have also many works by Joseph Haydn: The Creation, The Seasons and 5 Masses. What kind of interest led you to his music? What are your considerations on Haydn’s vocal parts in his masses and in his oratorios?
Haydn’s music is a great playing field for me as a singer!
I love his strong, sometimes even impetuous temperament, the freshness and playfulness of his compositions.
Sometimes arias are written in a way, that really recalls the Lied or Song technique, and can have a very catchy, almost folkish tone, but then… they can be highly virtuosic again.
His musical talent can achieve also such striking high levels of pictorial dimension.
An extraordinary example of this is his work The Creation in which his compositional mastery really stands out in all its glorious might… just not to mention that magnificent musical conception of chaos at the very beginning of his work.
Haydn really manages to break the rigid forms of baroque oratorios… and in such a pioneering way!
In The Creation he also shows his great talent in tone painting!
Each voice of nature finds its clear imitation in the sounds of the orchestra and also in the vocal parts: from the rays of the sun to the foaming waves of the sea, to the lions and the doves, etc.
All this is so so extremely interesting, if we consider the form of art itself!
3. In your repertoire, apart from Handel’s works and Beethoven’s works, you have many important composers of the second half of the 18th century/beginning 19th century. Among them we remember Mozart’s friend and mentor Josef Myslivecek, Mozart’s and Haydn’s great pupil Hummel with his masses, the brother of Haydn and Mozart’s friend M. Haydn and also Gossec. What can you tell us about your interest in these composers and in their music? What led you to add them to your repertoire and which one of them do you consider the most interesting composer?
My musical interest is concentrated mainly on the epochs of classical music and romanticism.
As a freelance musician I have free choice on the works I sing, of course. I can decide whether the work or the composer irritates me or not.
Nevertheless, usually the theatres and conductors are those who make their first choice, as far as the composer and the work are concerned… and this gives me the lucky opportunity to know and sing music works, which I just did not know.
Moreover, it is fundamental to me also to decide whether the piece fits my voice or not.
In general, however, I think it is important to have as much diversification as possible in my choices and not to limit myself to interpreting only the great and well-known composers and works.
This alone arouses my interest, especially when we are considering composers of these epochs and when such composers, like Myslivecek, are also well associated with Mozart. This connection, not only in terms of teachers and pupils, but also friendships and competitions, often has a great influence on the composer’s musical work.
For me, it is in this very moment that music shows one of its most beautiful aspects: it unites people and people learn and grow together: the creators, the performers and the audience.
To explore what influences can be found in the music of Myslivecek, Hummel, Michael Haydn and Gossec has been and is of great interest to me.
And it is always exciting to discover how differently the composers have treated the human voice in their works.
Since these composers are very different one from the other, frankly I cannot say which one of them I consider the most interesting. You see, an important attitude for me is not to evaluate everything in life in a too sharp manner. It’s not just about what is now more meaningful and important, more intelligent, more virtuous, or more perfect. People are not perfect, in any respect. So I just try to grasp what I find in music, in terms of what is offered to be grasped, and I try to give it that meaning, the music itself wants and tries to express: sometimes this is really very much and of a complex nature, sometimes it is just simple and even, so to speak, casual.
In any case, I must say that, in particular, the works Abramo and Isacco by Myslivecek and also Gossec’s Grande messe des morts have been particularly touching to me.
4. This year 2017 you are presenting Haydn’s St.Cecilia Mass (June), Mozart’s Così fan tutte (May-July), a full Mozartian program (September) and a Schubert Mass in November plus masses by Mozart (April) and Scarlatti (March) and Schumann and Mendelssohn. You also collaborate with various projects and ensembles and you are also a regular guest at various Music Festivals. So what can you tell us about your current and future projects? And what your suggestions to young singers who want to build a repertoire on MozartEra music?
I like the diversity and the constant new discoveries in the field of music.
I do not have to move across all the epochs, but I choose, where my voice and my heart lead me mostly.
I enjoy being able to make opera and operetta and sacred music with choir and orchestra, as well as chamber music.
Of course, concerts such as Haydn’s Cäcilienmesse, the Mendelssohn concerts in May and the Schubert Mass in November are impressive sonorous experiences, as they can fill a concert hall or a large church with a large orchestra and choir.
To make music with so many people is also a great accomplishment and it is also always so exciting to work with the different levels of the choirs… I mean, to work with professional musicians is an utterly different experience from working with non-professional choirs and often, when church music is involved, both experiences just incredibly meet each other.
Moreover the audience itself can be also so heterogeneous and of such a different nature. And this is a real challenge for the musician: to reach people, whether they are familiar with classical music or not.
And such considerations led me to work in projects like the Cosi fan tutte I’m presenting again in July: a chamber music version of the beautiful opera, tailored for the operatic lover as well as for the eyes and ears that are not familiar with the opera yet. The recitatives were replaced by the narrator Uwe Schönbeck, an outstanding and well-known actor in Switzerland and formerly a great and experienced singer who leads the audience through the opera and thus connects the musical numbers. This makes the opera much slimmer and more intelligible and it can also be easily financed and this in favour of smaller stages (a major subject in modern times not to be underestimated) and finally free the untrained listener from the fear of a visit at the opera house.
This variety of different works and performance platforms also offers great space for young singers to get acquainted with the repertoire of this time.
The vocal and artistic development of each young singer has its own pace and should be well reconciled with its possibilities. It must not be conducive to singing the most difficult and most complex works and roles too early and also the performance pressure should be handled with care.
So many young talents disappear, just because of a too much, so to say, because of too big stages and of a too heavy repertoire, which was forced.
Having a good mentor (or even several ones) who always has an eye and an ear on the singer is more than advisable. He can give good advice in the choice of roles and, above all, the necessary technical level. Internal and external growth should go hand in hand.
In contrast to later composers of the romantic period such as Strauss, Dvorak, Mahler, Verdi, Wagner, etc., the composers of the classical period seduce far less to an uncultivated and impetuous handling of the voices. The forms are more regular, the voice is somewhat less endangered.
Among the numerous works of classical music, however, there are also immense differences in the demands on the human voice. For example, it is advisable to choose, as a young soprano, the lighter voice parts (with Zerlina instead of Donna Elvira or with Blonde instead of Constanze), even if the voice shows already the potential for great drama.
Admittedly, sometimes the outside world does not seem to give a choice, but ultimately everyone decides more and more on his own voice.
If you are over-estimated it is actually easier to react, you can always cancel a job offer.
If a singer assumes too much too early, his ego is too great, or he has not dealt well enough with the part to be sung and has underestimated it (here an experienced consultant would be important).
If the singer does not take the step to accept or to apply for a role, although he is able to do so vocally, the ego, i.e. the inner growth, was not ready yet.
If one is underestimated, i.e. not being heard, this can have a reason which can be found in the very singer… the interior does not want to show itself, although it could. It is always a fundamental matter of balance.
5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.
Don Giovanni and The Creation.
6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?
I think Louis Spohr (1784-1859) is a very interesting composer.
Next year, one of his works The Saviour’s Last Hours will be performed.
Spohr is anything but unknown, his works range from opera, operetta, oratorios, drama music, songs, symphonies, chamber music to numerous violin concertos, however, despite the quantity and the quality of his works, he is rarely found in the concert or in opera agenda.
7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency, especially thanks to your special experience as a MozartEra musician, performer and connoisseur.
For instance, Gossec’s Grande messe des morts or Hummel’s Mass in D Minor.
8. Do you have in mind a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
For me, reading books is not the first choice when it comes to understanding the music.
I rather try to see how a composer has written the music; how he wrote my vocal parts and how he orchestrated them.
When I read books, I rather choose biographies or, even better, letters from the composers or from his contemporaries, as is in the case of Mozart.
Mozart’s letters are really wonderful to get an authentic impression of his world… They say a lot about the spirit of his time and about his own character.
9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.
BBC has produced a good number of interesting documentaries on Mozart; e.g. the chapter A Passion for the Stage from The Genius of Mozart (BBC Documentary).
And Amadeus is also a nice movie to get an impression of that time.
10. Name a place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music.
Vienna is such a great place!
You cannot get around this city (fortunately), if you have to deal with the music of this century.
I have been there several times for masterclasses and sightseeing!
Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
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Iconography is in public domain or in fair use
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Complete Works for Clarinet & Piano.
Sonata No.1, No.2, No. 3
6 English Dances
& Sonatina No. 10 (1801-1810).Vanhal was a friend of Mozart
& Mozart used his Symphonies,
Concertos & Chamber Music
as Style reference.
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1. Your newly released CD Album, Haydn The Seasons 1801, has reached #3 in the Specialist Classical Chart in few days. A magnificent reward for a long work by you, started in 2011, in particular with the accurate revision of the original «bad and unsingable» English libretto, and completed in 2016 for the album recording. Moreover, for this recording of The Seasons you have also prepared a new performing edition of Haydn’s score, which recreates the Viennese large-scale performances of Haydn’s own time, and so your recording of The Seasons can be considered de facto a world premiere for this Oratorio, since it’s the first recording featuring such spectacular (yet philological) large-scale forces. Can you tell us about the most crucial phases of preparation of the recording of The Seasons and about your most interesting decisions?
Yes, I suppose this project could be summed up as a «labour of love». I think if there is a top 10 of neglected masterpieces The Seasons is definitely up there towards the top; I consciously wanted to try to rehabilitate this work, which I think is every bit as great as The Creation.
Whilst Haydn performed with both pieces with large and small ensembles, certainly his best known performances took place in Vienna and used quite impressive forces. The standard ensemble included triple winds and double, or sometimes triple, brass as well as a large body of strings. There’s something particularly spectacular in hearing Haydn’s music with such large forces, and in a highly dramatic and pictorial work such as The Seasons, the added contrasts really help lift the music off the page. Whilst both Christopher Hogwood and I have recorded The Creation in this way, as you say, I think this is probably the first performance of The Seasons given in this style.
The Seasons was published in both German and English and although the German version is entirely passable the original English text is often comically inept, and I think this is a large part of the reason why The Seasons is rarely given outside of the German speaking world. Following my revisions on the similarly awkward text of The Creation, there seemed a golden opportunity to recreate a new English version of The Seasons which would hopefully win new friends to in the English speaking world. The text is entirely in 19th Century style, but it’s created specifically to match Haydn’s brilliant music and to present the singers and the audience with a version that brings them close to the world of Thomson’s original poem. I have revised this translation many times over the last 5 or 6 years; it’s really like an enormous crossword puzzle, but I have to say – if I’m allowed to – that I’m quite pleased with the final result.
Haydn, The Seasons 1801, Official Clip
2. In 2008 you recorded and released a new edition of Haydn’s The Creation (Archiv Produktion). In your opinion, what are the similarities and differences in the music treatment of these two great oratorios by Haydn? And what do you think are the differences between these two oratorios and the third early oratorio by Haydn, Il Ritorno di Tobia 1775 (revised in 1784 and again in 1808)? As is well known, both van Swieten and Haydn were admirers of Handel and Haydn’s The Creation and The Seasons, conceived after the two London Tours, were both written under the influence of Handel’s music. Moreover, in 1790s van Swieten, with the help of Mozart, managed to present a few masterpieces by Handel (i.e. Messiah, St. Cecilia) to the Viennese public in the famous new orchestration by Mozart. And this Viennese Handelianism exerted a great influence also on Beethoven.
They are of course brother and sister and one might almost view The Seasons as a sequel to The Creation.
The differences are that The Seasons has more secular feel, in that it describes the day to day lives of people within the newly-created world; although The Seasons is framed by choruses which praise God it nevertheless has a much more humanistic touch.
In fact both works might be viewed through the prism of a turn-of-the-century nostalgia, Haydn bidding an almost Hardyesque farewell to a world which was rapidly changing.
The relationship with Swieten is crucial in the genesis of both these works, but it was Haydn himself who sought to emulate the world of the great Handel, having heard his performances in London in the 1790s.
Of course the early oratorio Il Ritorno di Tobia is a very different type of oratorio, much more Italianate and with extremely extended arias – quite a world apart.
HANDEL CDs (Paul McCreesh)
3. You have built a large discography for Deutsche Grammophon (ca. 43 albums). And, trough the years, you have recorded Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and then Berlioz, Mendelssohn up to Britten, Górecki, Ligeti and Pärt, creating thus a powerful trait d’union between the great Sacred Music tradition of Gabrieli and of the Venetian School and the Sacred Music of the contemporary composers of our days. What about your extraordinary musical journey?
The journey has been in two parts…
The early period when Gabrieli was largely focused on the earlier repertoire, and this appeared as part of a great relationship with Deutsche Grammophon.
More recent forays gave continuity in the field of later oratorio and a greater use of mixed repertoire programming on our choral CDs.
But there are still I think many threads of my musicianship that link all these projects.
But that’s for you to analyse!
4. What’s the story behind the name of your Orchestra: Gabrieli Consort & Players? And what’s the story behind your record label, Winged Lion, a clear homage to the Venetian School? As a conductor/entrepreneur and scholar, which new project will see your forces involved in future? And what about your magnificent project Gabrieli Roar? What can you tell us about its origin, its vision, direction and structure?
No big story.
I just liked the music of the Gabrielis… and the opulence of Venetian repertoire seemed to match the ambition.
As for Winged Lion… It seemed an obvious marketing link.
I certainly answer to the description of conductor and entrepreneur – I certainly like to make projects happen!
I’ve never really regarded myself as a scholar beyond a generic interest to get under the skin of the music I conduct, which of course requires an engagement with the world of musicology and research.
My relationship with Worclaw, Wratslavia Cantans and the new National Forum of Music (NFM) has been one of the most important relationships in my life, and continues to develop with the NFM Choir, NFM Orchestra and Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra.
I’m certainly keen to continue this relationship and create more projects.
As I get older I’m spending more time trying to do at least a little bit to redress the poverty of cultural educational opportunities for too many young people. Or to put it in another way, to broaden access to choral music and singing which is too often an activity of those form either private schools or upper social classes.
Roar is an exciting educational initiative which helps develop young choirs and encourages them to take part in performances alongside our professional artists; in particular I am passionate that the young people get the chance to connect with real core culture.
We don’t create special music for young people but we ask them to engage with the great choral repertoire of the last five centuries.
Too many people will tell you that classical music is irrelevant to young people; Roar proves this statement to be patronising nonsense.
GABRIELI ROAR: Meet the Choirs (Paul McCreesh)
The Choirs involved in the project Gabrieli Roar.
Gabrieli Roar works with various partner youth choirs from across the UK, pairing each choir with a dedicated mentor who will visit them regularly to provide vocal training, assistance and support in other areas as required.
5. Your favourite work by Mozart and your favourite work by J. Haydn.
Mozart – I never tire of the last 3 symphonies, and likewise with Haydn the last two great oratorios are a constant source of delight and amazement.
4. Which neglected composer of the 18th century may arouse your interest for possible future projects?
I’m not sure obscure 18th century music is so much of a priority for me, but I certainly still have a great interest in English 17th century composers from Humfrey Locke, Blow et alii.
Likewise I wish the commercial world would let the ensemble do more work in Schütz and the great German early 17th century sacred music.
7. Mozart and Haydn have written many beautiful Vocal Works, which, unfortunately, are still rarely performed today and which are even almost unknown, which one arouses your interest?
I’ve loved the late Haydn masses, but also the earlier St. Cecilia mass – which I’ve never done – looks to be an extremely interesting work.
With Mozart I’ve often felt the sacred music, finely crafted though it is, rarely reaches anywhere near the level of inspiration of the great operas.
The truth is that making recordings in the current market is a huge loss-making activity however much critical success the recordings may enjoy.
So to be realistic there is very little chance of recording obscure repertoire.
8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
The vast Haydn volumes of Robbins Landon still remain a wonderful resource.
One might often argue about the analysis but there is still a wealth of very interesting background information.
9. For your concerts and your recordings, you have visited many different places with a great history and you have had so the special opportunity to work in such splendid locations. Which places and which occasions left the most enduring impressions on you, as a conductor and as an artist?
Too many to mention…
We’ve been honoured to play Bach in St. Thomas Leipzig, Gabrieli in San Rocco, Monteverdi in San Marco, Mendelssohn in Leipzig, Purcell in Stationer’s Hall.
But for the sheer thrill of rolling back the centuries I will always remember arriving in the timeless little town of Lerma in Castille in 2001 with a van load of new old music for the court there.
It was amazing to recreate the world of Spanish alternatim music in the glorious Collegiate church of San Pedro, with singers, wind band, string band and the church’s two magnificent c17 organs.
10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?
No one particular place although it is always of great interest to wander round historical buildings.
A visit to the great Haydn Eszterháza Palace is a must for any Haydn lover.
Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
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Denis McCaldin: Official Sites
Denis McCaldin Official Site: Haydn Society of Great Britain
Denis McCaldin Official Site: Lancaster University
Denis McCaldin: Denis McCaldin LinkedIn (Official)
Denis McCaldin: Haydn Society Official Yahoo Group
Denis McCaldin: Haydn Society of Great Britain Twitter (Official)
Denis McCaldin: Haydn Society of Great Britain Facebook (Official)
1. On 24 March 2017 we are going to celebrate the second anniversary of a real historic moment: the unveiling of the first ever London Haydn Blue Plaque dedicated to the great composer J. Haydn in 2015. The relation between Haydn and London is of such fundamental importance for the history of music, however, as strange it may sound, it has been really difficult to reach such an achievement. And thanks to your brilliant leadership, this tribute of London to Haydn and his music has been made finally possible. What can you tell us about the long path that led to the unveiling of Haydn Blue Plaque in 2015? What’s the story behind the Blue Plaque Campaign?
The Society began modestly enough when a few performers and fellow music-lovers got together to review the likely celebrations in the UK of the 250th anniversary in 1982 of the composer’s birth. Finding no obvious point of co-ordination, they decided to form a Society to assist the celebrations and «with the principal aim of promoting a wider knowledge and understanding of the music of Joseph Haydn and his contemporaries». The group initially included the Delme String Quartet, Denis McCaldin (the present Director), Stephen Plaistow (BBC Radio 3), the composer Robert Simpson, and Erik Smith (record producer).
To sustain interest in the coming celebrations, the Society organised a Haydn Festival of Chamber Music in the summer of 1980 at Wigmore Hall in London. From July 1st – 10th, ten concerts, consisting entirely of works by the composer were given on consecutive evenings by the Pro Arte and Delme String Quartets, the Esterhazy Baryton Trio and individual guest soloists. A subsequent review in The Strad by Tim Alps raised the wider question of Haydn’s commercial appeal that still applies today:
«If it were not for the dedicated and enterprising Haydn Society of Great Britain it seems unlikely that an event such as the Haydn Festival of Chamber Music, which monopolised the Wigmore Hall for the first ten days of July would ever get off the ground. For despite Haydn’s unassailable position amongst the most venerable greats the fact remains, and it was borne out by the attendance at the concerts I sampled, that at the box office Haydn cannot compete with Mozart or Beethoven.»
Among the Society’s early supporters were Reginald Barrett-Ayres, Antal Dorati, Karl Geiringer, Antony van Hoboken and H.C. Robbins Landon, all of whom served on the initial Committee of Honour.
In 1992 the Newsletter was upgraded to a Journal, and in this format that we have since published papers by a number of distinguished colleagues including Colin Lawson, Crispian Steele-Perkins, Emmanuel Hurwitz, Otto Biba and Richard Wigmore.
The bicentenary of Haydn’s death in 2009 prompted celebrations of his music world-wide.
In particular, the Society became more closely associated with the Haydn Festspiele Eisenstadt through the invitation of its director Dr. Walter Reicher.
In partnership with the British Library, the Society also mounted a two-day international conference in London entitled Joseph Haydn and the Business of Music. A collection of the papers given at the time has since been published as a book entitled The Land of Opportunity – Joseph Haydn and Britain (The British Library Publishing Division, 2013).
As well as concerts and conferences the Society has also released several recordings on Meridian and Divine Art.
The Society’s most recent initiative has been to campaign for a memorial plaque in London. As long ago as 2002, negotiations began with Westminster City Council to site a plaque in Bury Street, where the composer resided during his second visit to London in 1794-1795.
More recently exploration and negotiation in Soho has led to agreement for a plaque to be established at 18, Great Pulteney Street. The plaque was unveiled there as a memorial to Haydn by Sir Neville Marriner on 24th March 2015. A video record of the event can be seen on the Haydn Society website at www.haydnsocietyofgb.co.uk.
It is good that such a memorial should be in London, a city where Haydn was admired and loved, and where he himself spent some of his happiest years.
THE HAYDN BLUE PLAQUE UNVEILING – 24 MARCH 2015
LONDON – 18, GREAT PULTENEY STREET
Video of the plaque unveiling, produced by The Haydn Society of Great Britain. Additional footage courtesy of Christopher Foster-Hicklin. Audio courtesy of the BBC. Photographs by Iona Wolff. The complete gallery is available at www.haydnsocietyofgb.co.uk.
2. Many people supported your initiative and campaign for the London Haydn Blue Plaque and your work has been also supported by many friends and collaborators. Do you want to remember someone in particular and especially for the commitment to the Haydn Blue Plaque Campaign?
Rather as in Bach’s day, when musical skills were passed down through the generations, my daughter Clare and her partner Cheyney Kent contributed the most in terms of energy and commitment. (see McCaldin Arts.com and her project Haydn’s London Ladies).
3. Thanks to your activity as director, the Haydn Society of Great Britain has always promoted the diffusion of the music by Joseph Haydn, also through events and media (BBC Radio 3), since 1982, as you have previously indicated, and, recently, also through a constant web presence. And what about your future plans?
Amongst other projects, we have been invited to collaborate with King’s College, London University to design an innovative course for music students using IT to explore aspects of Haydn’s life in England.
4. As Haydn Society of Great Britain, you have also conducted an interesting survey among scholars, Haydn advocates and enthusiasts and people in general about the attractiveness of Haydn’s music and the possible reasons for its comparative neglect. What are the conclusions of your survey so far?
We have discovered that the accessibility of Haydn’s music can be deceptive.
In schools, the apparent simplicity of some of the music and the programmatic stories attached, as in the Clock, and Surprise symphonies, means that the music is often treated as an introduction to classical music, rather than on the same level as other great works of the period.
The idea of Papa Haydn dies hard, and once established in a child’s memory, there is tendency for thoughts about both the man and his music to be permanently associated with immaturity and pre-adult life.
5. After the death of her husband, Constanze Mozart somehow acted as the high priestess of the cult of Mozart and, in this way, preserved Mozart’s legacy and promoted his myth. Do you think that the difficult marriage and the famous terribilis wife of Haydn must have played some role in the partial neglect, into which most of his music production fell during the 19th and the 20th century?
This maybe the case, but the deification of Mozart as a tragic artist was a strong element, as was the influence of the Romantic movement in general.
6. And a particularly interesting fact, on that process of deification of Mozart that you were talking about, is that, after 1791, in his letters, even Haydn himself began calling Mozart our immortal Mozart, and always received Constanze Mozart among his closest friends. In 1790s Haydn even actually actively promoted the purchasing and the publication of Mozart’s manuscripts and unpublished works… So, in conclusion, Haydn himself accepted that particular treatment of Mozart, supported Constanze Mozart’s activity and was among Mozart promoters! Certainly an important token of their long friendship, from such a generous and constructive man as Haydn!
You are also a conductor and you have also released a series of CD albums featuring Haydn’s music. As a conductor, what’s your personal approach to Haydn and to his music?
My main concern is to be loyal to the spirit of the music, and to project the essence of each movement in performances I direct.
This is often more difficult than it appears.
When we look at a Haydn score, the instrumentation can sometimes seem quite sparse, as though it lacks substance.
But any attempt on the part of the conductor to interpret the music, in an effort to compensate for this apparent deficiency, I find is generally counter-productive.
7. You have published also a series of important editions of Haydn’s sacred music, as an editor, through the Oxford University Press. Your Nelson Mass edition has been critically acclaimed. What have been your impressions and emotions, while directly working on the music by such a great Master of the History of Music. In your edition of Haydn’s Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo you included also the elongated Gloria by his brother Michael Haydn. What do you think of the music by Joseph and Michael Haydn, when considered in comparison? What the differences?
Because I was able to work from the composer’s autograph score, the physical sight and contact with the Haydn’s handwriting – including his erasures and revisions – was very moving.
The hand-written manuscript was beautifully neat and clear.
Like many music lovers, I’m not as familiar with Michael Haydn’s works as I would like to be.
However, those which I have heard, such as his Requiem in C minor, strike me to be as fine as those of his brother.
8. What’s your favourite work by J. Haydn? And, thanks to your long experience, what’s, in general, the favourite work by J. Haydn, in people’s opinion?
This is a very difficult question to answer. It’s often the work I’m studying at the time. If I had to choose, it would be The Creation.
The Trumpet Concerto in E flat!
From lists of top choices in classical music that I have seen, the Trumpet Concerto by Haydn is always the first of Haydn’s works to be selected.
9. Beside Joseph and Michael Haydn, do you have in mind the name of some other neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?
One is Wilhelm Herschel (1738-1822), a British contemporary of Haydn’s, a major astronomer, and a member of the Royal Society.
Another is the Italian Gaetano Brunetti (1744–1798), some of whose symphonies have been edited by Newell Jenkins.
10. Next 5-10 September 2017 you are organizing a wonderful journey to the places where Haydn worked, as lecturer with Martin Randall Travel. It will be possible to visit all the venues associated with Haydn, from Eisenstadt to Rohrau, Eszterháza and Vienna and to attend important concerts with internationally acclaimed orchestras and musicians, and in the very places, where Haydn himself worked, composed and performed his music. In your opinion, how important is to have a direct experience with the original places, to achieve a better comprehension of the music of such great composer.
Personally, I always like to visit the places where a composer lived and worked to explore their particular atmosphere and physical proportions.
In Haydn’s case, for example, the acoustics of the Haydnsaal in the Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt are unusually attractive, and this is rather surprising until it emerges that the composer insisted that the marble floor be covered in wood to achieve the acoustic he wanted for his orchestral concerts.
Finally, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to your admirable publication.
I have enjoyed the chance to think about some of the reasons that I admire Haydn and his music.
Indeed, if I was offered one wish outside the present, it would be to spend an evening having dinner together.
Thank you very much for your invitation, we accept with great pleasure! And it’s sure our main dishes will be the Haydnian Esterházy Roast Beef and the Mozartian Chocolate & Marzipan Cake. Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
Copyright © 2017 MozartCircle. All rights reserved.MozartCircle exclusive property.
Iconography is in public domain or in fair use.
Selected Sacred Works by Vanhal
from his vast repertoire.
Vanhal was a friend of Mozart
Boni Pueri Boys Choir