Brussels Philharmonic | Mozart & Haydn

Mozart & Haydn

programme notes

written by Jasper Croonen
10.12.2022 MOZART & HAYDN

see more: all programme notes

Mozart & Haydn mean returning to the source of the symphony; Not to its absolute origins, but to the first flagbearers of the genre. Prolific composers who, with their dedication and innovative ideas, turned the symphony into one of the most important genres in classical music.

At the same time, this programme is also one that features a confusion of names and of historical inaccuracy. A centuries-long quest for the mysterious, eponymous ‘jeunehomme’ of Mozart’s Ninth Piano Concerto that was resolved only in 2004, and an unsolved question about the miraculous events during the première of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96… or should we say Symphony No. 102?

‘And so I was forced to be original’

Our traditional image of Joseph Haydn is of a pious, good-humoured man, concerned with others. The man known as ‘Papa Haydn.’ But when, in 1791, he arrived in London, the composer was first and foremost a worldly citizen of the world. The Enlightenment ideal of an honnête homme, who with his cheerful righteousness, fluency and creative genius had gained entry into the highest social circles.

His first works in the British capital, which at the time was the most bustling metropolis in the world, are hectic and full of pleasantries. His 30-year career among the Austrian aristocracy, as the Kapellmeister (musical director) of the Esterházy court, had spread Haydn’s music throughout Europe. During his lifetime, he was the most popular composer of his day. In London, he was nothing less than a superstar. The newspapers announced his arrival day in, day out; everyone wanted to take him out for a meal. Haydn had to restrain himself to avoid being constantly on the go. ‘Everyone wants to get to know me… but I have to think of my health and my work. I receive visitors only after 2 pm,’ he wrote in a letter.

At the urging of the musician and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn left the Hungarian court after the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790. The composer had promised Salomon he would write new works for the 1791 musical season: six symphonies, an opera and twenty undefined smaller compositions. A few years later, he would write a second cycle of six symphonies.

With these twelve works, Haydn definitively broke out of the traditional symphonic framework, although one can hardly speak of a radical break. What Haydn often did is to gradually deepen the genre. Calling his own past into question and then always going one step further. His Symphony No. 96, for example, looks over its shoulder to the Paris cycle that he had composed a few years earlier (1785-1786). At that time, Haydn’s opening and final movements were quite long. In the first London cycle, he continued to embroider on this innovation, but within the expanded form, he used many more original themes, dynamic extremes and stylistic quirks.

The second cycle, to which his Symphony No. 102 also belongs, is the apex of Haydn’s symphonic compositions. After the formal innovations of the Paris symphonies and the thematic novelties, in 1775 he set off in search of new tonal atmospheres. He added extra instruments to the orchestra, and used more daring modulations than ever before. A typical feature of these is the way Haydn manipulated the traditional form in order to incorporate the new instruments. For example, he repeats the opening of the adagio movement of the 102nd Symphony, handing the melodious theme in the strings over to the brass.

Haydn’s London symphonies are highly experimental and attest to a desire to expand the boundaries that is typical of this composer. ‘And so, I was forced to be original,’ Haydn said later in life to his biographer when describing his evolution as a computer. Nowhere is that principle more clearly expressed than in his London cycles. The audience was also enormously enthusiastic about this new music. They were ‘such as were never heard before, of any mortal’s production’, the critics raved.

The symphonies were so successful that they even gave rise to a drama. At one of the concerts, a chandelier fell from the ceiling. Miraculously, no one was hurt because the audience was rushing en masse to the front to congratulate Haydn on his composition. It was long thought that this incident occurred at the première of his Symphony No. 96, but in fact it turns out that it was more likely at the première of his Symphony No. 102. While we await a decisive historical proof, you get two miracles for the price of one.

‘Jeunehomme’ or young woman?

Hardly a few years after Haydn’s London successes, Mozart wrote his Ninth Piano Concerto (1777). As innovative as Haydn’s symphonies had been, so forward-looking was Mozart’s symphonic writing in the concerto.

By contrast with Haydn, who evolved more gradually, it is perfectly justified in Mozart’s case to consider his Ninth as a turning point. Extra-musical factors certainly played a role here: in his early ‘20s, Mozart had just broken with his patrons at the Salzburg court; only a few months later, he would lose his mother while they were both in Paris.

Nevertheless, it is significant that in Mozart’s Ninth Piano Concerto, we see the first signs of a new style of composition. The work is on a notably grander scale – the Ninth is almost ten minutes longer than the Eighth Piano Concerto. In the Andantino movement, Mozart plays with the customary theories of the emotions, which determine how a composer is meant to use music to awaken the emotions. He uses virtuoso piano runs and makes surprising choices in the parts. The soloist’s very early entry, in the third bar, is completely normal nowadays (you see that, for example, in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto as well), at the time, it was unheard of.

Moreover, inspired by his earlier tours, Mozart incorporated ever more ‘local colour’ into his works. These are mostly very subtle allusions to the fashions of the day, intended to please the local audiences. Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, said about a later work (his Seventh Piano Sonata) that ‘everyone could tell that it was written in Mannheim.’ His father expressed his view of that work a bit more prudently, as ‘in the Mannheim style, but not to such an extent that your own talent is spoiled.’ In the Ninth Piano Concerto, Mozart draws his ideas from Provence, in France, and uses a vigorous rigaudon folk dance as the theme of his final movement.

All these innovations meant that the work was generally very highly regarded. As evidence in that regard is the fact that Mozart would perform the work himself several times in later years. That was not at all customary at the time. Critics and performers also esteemed the work highly. The musicologist Alfred Einstein called it ‘Mozart’s Eroica,’ and the pianist Alfred Brendel called the work ‘one of the greatest wonders of the world.’

One mystery remained about the work for centuries: who is this mysterious ‘Jeunehomme’ to whom the work is dedicated? in 2004, the musicologist Michael Lorenz finally discovered the truth. He learned that the name was nothing more than a 20th-century crowd pleaser. A deliberate corruption of the name, since the original read: Jenamy. That name conceals not the expected ‘young man’, but the pianist Louise Victoire Jenamy. The daughter of a famous choreographer is the one to whom Mozart dedicated his work. But even with that puzzle finally solved, the nickname ‘Jeunehomme’ is still often associated with the work. After all these years, still an excellent marketing stunt!