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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Richard Taruskin

Haydn remained in active service to the Esterházys, and in full-time residence on their estates, until Prince Nikolaus’s sudden death on 28 September 1790. The latter’s son and successor, Prince Anton, uninterested in music, disbanded his father’s orchestra and opera establishment. This was no disaster for Haydn but yet another stroke of good fortune. He remained, according to the terms of Prince Nikolaus’s will, on full salary as titular Kapellmeister, and drew a pension on top of it, but was no longer under any actual obligation to his patron. He was able to settle in Vienna and pursue a fully subsidized life as a freelance artist. As things turned out, his new status made it possible for him to accept a fantastic offer that unexpectedly came his way and embark on what amounted to a new career as international celebrity under newly viable economic and social conditions.

At the time of Prince Nikolaus’s death, a German-born violinist and minor composer named Johann Peter Salomon, who had moved to England and set himself up as a concert entrepreneur, happened to be in Cologne to recruit talent for his upcoming London season. Immediately on reading in the newspapers of the Prince’s demise, he swooped down on Haydn in Vienna, barging in on the composer one evening with the announcement (as Haydn later punningly paraphrased it to his biographers), “I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we will arrange an accord” (that is, sign a contract—or tune up a fiddle, play in tune, etc.).9

The London Tours

fig. 10-8 Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn’s promoter, in a portrait by Thomas Hardy. This painting was then engraved by Hardy and hawked by the London publisher John Bland.

The contract was signed by 8 December. According to its terms, Salomon under-took to pay Haydn a huge fee in return for an opera, six symphonies, and some other miscellaneous pieces, all to be performed under Haydn’s personal direction at a series of twelve London subscription concerts to be given at Salomon’s risk at a public concert hall on Hanover Square that had formerly been used for the Bach-Abel concerts. It had a seating capacity of around eight hundred. When standees were present, the room could accommodate well over a thousand.

Salomon and Haydn crossed the English Channel together on New Year’s Day, 1791, for what would prove to be for Haydn the first of two extended, acclaimed, and highly lucrative stays in the British capital. The first concert took place on Friday, 11 March, and the series continued on Fridays thereafter until 3 June. The first-night program was typical of the lot. As always, it was a miscellany. Although Haydn “presided at the harpsichord” as his contract stipulated, most of the music performed—various vocal and instrumental solos, including a “Concertante” for harp and piano by the Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek—was actually by other composers. The pièce de resistance, which occupied the place of honor at the opening of the concert’s second half, was Haydn’s “New Grand Overture,” as the program put it. At all subsequent Salomon concerts the new Haydn piece would occupy this position in the program. It was the favored place because it was only then that the whole audience could be reliably assumed to have assembled. As one member of the first-night public put it, “by the beginning of the second act we concluded that all had arrived who intended to come.”10 The “New Grand Overture” given its first performance at the first Haydn-Salomon concert was actually his Symphony no. 92 in G major, composed in 1789, not yet one of the new symphonies Salomon had commissioned, but new to London. (It is now nicknamed the “Oxford” Symphony because it was given again at a concert in July at the University of Oxford, where Haydn had been invited to receive an honorary Doctor of Music degree.) It was repeated a week later, at the second Salomon concert, before a much larger crowd, along with one of the quartets from Haydn’s op. 64. The first of Haydn’s actual “Salomon” Symphonies to be performed—that is, the first symphony actually composed in London for the Salomon series—was the one now known as No. 96 in D major. It was given for the first time at the fourth concert on Friday, 1 April. (It now has the nickname “Miracle” because according to Haydn’s biographer Dies, at a subsequent performance the audience is said to have arisen spontaneously at its conclusion and come forward toward the stage, thus evading a large chandelier that happened to fall at that moment.)

The next year, 1792, a new Haydn-Salomon Friday subscription series began on 17 February and lasted until 18 May. By now Haydn had had a chance to compose several major works on English soil, and his concerts contained many world premières of now-classic compositions. To choose one for a close look is as arbitrary and invidious an exercise as ever; but a special combination of typical and unique features recommends the symphony first performed on the evening of 23 March, shortly before Haydn’s sixtieth birthday.

Its typical features are those of what amounted to a new genre: what the English were calling the “Grand Overture,” and what we might half-facetiously call the Subscription Symphony—concert symphonies written not for aristocratic salons where the audience might number perhaps a hundred, but for big public halls where the audience might number a thousand. At the time of his London visit, Haydn already had some experience composing on this new “heroic” scale. He had been writing subscription symphonies since about 1785, when he received a commission from Paris for a set of six symphonies to be performed at a new concert series set up in competition with the venerable Concert Spirituel, where Haydn’s works had become popular.

The new sponsoring organization, called Le Concert de la Loge Olympique, was run by a Masonic lodge that included among its members many aristocratic amateurs. Its orchestra was huge; when playing at full strength it could draw on forty violins and ten double basses. Its chief patron, Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, the Count d’Ogny, offered Haydn a fee larger by orders of magnitude than any he had ever received, and which he at first did not believe. Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Haydn’s “Paris” Symphonies—nos. 82–87 in the standard numbering—have a notably expanded format. His new, much grander style would henceforth be Haydn’s normal symphonic practice, since a composer of Haydn’s celebrity could now count on “subscription” performances for all his orchestral works.

Opening movements were now apt to be preceded by somewhat portentous slow introductions, sometimes soft and mysterious, more often in the manner of a fanfare. This was a practical move as much as an esthetic one: the dimming of lights in concert halls was something that electricity would not make possible for another hundred years or so; the audience needed a signal to pay attention. The inner movements grew significantly in dimensions. The minuets in particular took on girth, and this affected not only their duration but also their shape. As a way of controlling the longer duration, the use of a “double return” (or quasi-recapitulation) of the first strain at the end of the second became standard practice. (This is now often called the “rounded binary” form.) In addition, the trio was now apt to contrast decisively—in tempo, in scoring, often in mode or harmonic idiom—with the minuet that enclosed it. Finally, the concluding movements were apt to be cast in a fast meter derived from the contredanse (thus creating a dance pair with the minuet that actually reflected the contemporary ballroom repertoire); and their form was greatly expanded by putting “development sections,” full of harmonic adventure and motivic ingenuity, in place of the neutral “episodes” of the simpler rondo form.


(9) Dies, Biographische Nachrichten, p. 80.

(10) Diary of Charlotte Papendiek, quoted in H. C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, Vol. III (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), p. 52.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10011.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 23 Apr. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10011.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 23 Apr. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10011.xml