Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven
Vienna voice of nature
Royal Castle in Warsaw
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 88 in G major
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A major
Ancient Instruments Ensemble of Warsaw Chamber Opera
Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense
Masterful second movements (and more)
Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, two names and two figures, today we would say monumental. But if we apply contemporary terminology and move back almost a quarter of a millennium, to 1790, then Papa Haydn – as his students called him – for Beethoven was what we would today call… an influencer. When analysing the works of both composers, it is impossible to avoid comparisons and spontaneous penetration of mutual influences. It is no different with the juxtaposition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. But let’s turn the clock back…
History records several meetings of the two Masters, including, of course, the period when Ludwig was taught by the Father of the Symphony, i.e. his older colleague, who, thanks to his contribution to establishing the form of the symphony, classical quartet and sonata, was called the precursor of these forms. In 1790, the 58-year-old Haydn came to Vienna after decades of work at the Esterházy court, which is considered almost as… regaining freedom, although he himself led a luxurious life there (however, far from the cultural centres of Europe at that time). This real, big breath in his career was of great importance for further development. And it was in Vienna that Johann Peter Salomon, a violinist, composer and impresario, knocked on Haydn’s door to place a contract on the table – an invitation to London and a commission for a series of symphonies. The composer accepted it. An interesting fact is that Haydn was bid farewell by worried Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was warning him against his trip since Haydn did not speak word of English. He was supposed to dispel his friend’s fears by saying: my language is understood all over the world.
On his way to the UK, Haydn stopped in Bonn, where he met Beethoven for the first time. It is said that there was only a handshake. But when, after 18 months, crowned with great success and even establishing friendship with King George III (Britain’s longest-reigning king), Haydn once again visited Bonn, where the local musicians invited him to Godesberg (today Bad Godesberg) where he met again Beethoven. This time, Master Ludwig presented on the piano several compositions and presented a manuscript, probably – according to historians – the Joseph cantata composed for the funeral service of Emperor Joseph II. It was the beginning of one of the most fruitful friendships in the history of music.
Elector Archbishop Maximilian Francis Wenzel saw in Beethoven a follower of the path chosen by his grandfather (bandleader in Bonn – also Ludwig van Beethoven, grandson took his grandfather’s name in his honour), this will was financially supported by count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel von Waldstein. This led the young Beethoven to Vienna, where he became a student of… Haydn. Nomen omen, as farewell, the count sent a letter to Ludwig, in which he wrote: in Vienna you shall receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands.
Although they both spoke very well about their mutual acquaintance, we know that Beethoven was a disobedient student, and Haydn carried out numerous composition projects in parallel with his pedagogical activity, so he did not focus solely on didactics. Undoubtedly, he was delighted with the talent and achievements of the student, he repeatedly introduced him to notables, including his last patron, Prince Nicholas II Esterhás in Eisenstadt. The time of cooperation was coming to an end (Beethoven was not satisfied with the knowledge passed on, he secretly began taking lessons from Antonio Salieri, remembered mainly thanks to Mozart), a conflict ensued and the words were uttered: I never learned anything from Haydn! He and Haydn parted ways, but Beethoven never returned to Bonn. He settled in Vienna, where he achieved a prompt success, for which Haydn had to work for decades. No wonder Haydn called Ludwig “lucky” (Der Große Mogul). However, in later years, the mature Beethoven always regarded Haydn in terms of reverence and considered him an equal to Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. In 1809, at Haydn’s birthday concert (his oratorio The Creation was performed, the composer was already very ill, and he was in a wheelchair). Beethoven kneeled down before the teacher and kissed his hands and forehead. The ceremony can be compared to the Oscar gala, it brought together the most important people of high society and the world of art, and was conducted by Salieri himself. The reception was almost ecstatic, which meant that the moved Haydn was ordered by the doctors to be sent home for the sake of his health. Haydn was brought to the concert and carried away in a majestic chair by the Esterházys’ coachman, and Beethoven’s gesture as well as Haydn’s reaction are taken as a symbolic “passing of the torch”.
The symphonies of both composers are willingly included next to each other in concert programmes, as well as on the albums, for example on the records by Herbert von Karajan, Wilhelm Furtwängler or Leonard Bernstein. The eminent musicologist and art historian Richard Will devoted his work The Characteristic Symphony In the Age of Haydn and Beethoven to the phenomenon of this affinity. One could say that Beethoven’s phrases naturally continue, developing Haydn’s concepts.
It is significant that in the case of both symphonies presented during the concert, their second movements quickly entered the history of not only these composers, but also the history of music in general. And what does this have to do with Polish actor Marcin Dorociński and the TV hit The Queen’s Gambit?
Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major was written for the orchestra of Esterházy court in 1787, immediately after completing the cycle of six Paris Symphonies. It was only here that he engaged the trumpeters and timpani for the second time in the slow second movement (Largo), following Mozart’s Linz Symphony No. 36, and delighted Johannes Brahms himself, who said: I want my Symphony No. 9 to sound like this (Richard Wigmore The Telegraph). The first and last parts combine unforgettable themes, dazzling with contrapuntal artistry and panache, and the idyllic minuet evokes the atmosphere of Pieter Bruegel’s paintings “transferred to Burgenland”. The aforementioned Largo is one of the most sublime forms in Haydn’s oeuvre, Arturo Toscanini himself fell in love with it, who, like Bernstein, saw elements of Romanticism in it. Behind this symphony there’s also an almost criminal motive! Well, Haydn gave the manuscript of the work to his friend, the violinist Johann Tost. He took it to the publisher in Paris, but then disappeared and did not pay the composer.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major was written between 1811-1812, during the composer’s stay in Teplitz (next to Karlovy Vary, the most popular resort at that time), where Beethoven stayed to recover his health. The premiere of the work dedicated to Count Moritz von Frietes took place at the University of Vienna on 8th December 1813. Already back then, the second movement (Alegretto) delighted the audience, which demanded multiple encores. Today, it is often performed spontaneously and annexed for the needs of cinema and television. It was its main theme that became the soundtrack to the American hit miniseries The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix, directed by Scott Frank and Allan Scott, based on the novel The Queen’s Gambit by Tevis Walter), where next to the main character Beth Harmony (played by Anya Taylor-Joy) plays Marcin Dorociński portraying the chess grandmaster Wasilij Borgow. This theme quickly became a hit on streaming services. The performance of the Berlin Philharmonic alone under the direction of Herbert von Karajan reached 2.2 million plays, the same orchestra under Kirill Petrenko one and a half million plays, and Gardiner’s performance with the Orchester Révolutionnaire et Romantique – 3 million plays! So we can talk about a real phenomenon even in the context of pop culture.
But let’s get back to the symphony itself. Beethoven’s biographers see in this work a continuation of the Napoleonic theme of the Symphony No. 3, but here in the context of the wars of liberation from the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. The premiere concert with the composer’s participation had a charitable character and was intended to support the fund for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau. In his speech, Beethoven said: We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us (Beethoven. Werkeinführungen Harry Goldschmidt). The same concert featured Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory (a tribute to the commander and his troops who defeated the Napoleonic army at Vitoria in Spain). It is worth adding that the orchestra included such masters as Ludwig Spohr (violin), composers (!) Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Antonio Salieri in the percussion section (as: Jan Swafford in Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph: a Biography), Domenico Dragonetti on the double bass (privately Beethoven’s great friend), and guitarist Mauro Giuliani on the cello (as: Hannu Annala in Handbook of Guitar and Lute Composers). As if that wasn’t enough, the concert featured Beethoven’s compositions written on mechanical trumpeters (a device built by the innovator-technician Johann Nepomuk Mälzl, the creator of the well-known metronome and the mechanical chess player, also preserved by Edgar Allan Poe). Spohr himself recalls in his memoirs that the composer was delighted with the premiere of his work, he even jumped at the sforzando and waved his arms enthusiastically, while Beethoven’s friends made preparations to repeat the concert. The aforementioned sforzando from the fourth movement was described by Beethoven with fff signs, which even he himself did not often do. Donald Tovey, in Essays of Musical Analysis, likened this part to a fury straight out of bacchanalia. It was no different for Richard Wagner, who, delighted with the work, called it the apotheosis of dance, while the composer himself said that it’s one of the best works in his output.
However… Friedrich Weick (a pianist, father of Clara, later Robert Schumann’s wife) together with many musicians from the orchestra (probably due to the demanded proficiency in playing) decided that the composer must have written the work while he was drunk. The conductor Thomas Beecham went further, saying: What can you do with it? It’s like a flock of yaks jumped about (about the third movement, based on an Austrian religious song), and Carl Maria von Weber considered the double bass part from the first movement as proof that: Beethoven should have been sent to a madhouse long ago (after: John Hamilton Warrack).
Coming back to Haydn’s thread, it is in the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that a creative continuation of experiments in the layer of string instrumentation is seen. Thus, it can be safely said that Maestro Ludwig, who already had such serious hearing problems during the premiere that he used a portable notebook to support himself, was indisputably the successor and creative epigone-genius of his teacher, Joseph Haydn.
This way the music comes full circle, showing that it is an endless relay race of generations of Masters and students.