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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "deLirium"

Ensemble baroque de Limoges, Quatuor Mosaïques
Dir: Christophe Coin

rec: June 2006, Mulhouse, Temple Saint-Jean
Laborie Records - LC03 (© 2006) (75'47")

Concerto for 2 lyre organizzate and orchestra in C (H VIIh,1); Notturno in G (H II,27; London version); Notturno in C (H II,32; Naples version); Octet (Divertimento) in G (H X,12); Octet (Divertimento) in A (H X,3)

Matthias Loibner, Thierry Nouat, lire organizzate; Maria Tecla Andreotti, transverse flute; Christian Moreaux, oboe; Wolfgang Meyer, Florian Schüle, clarinet; Emmanuel Padieu, Pierre-Yves Madeuf, horn; Erich Höbarth, Andrés Gabetta, Andrea Bischof, violin; Matyas Bartha, violin, viola; Anita Mitterer, Pierre Franck, viola; Erich Höbarth, baryton; Raphaël Pidoux, cello; David Sinclair, violone

This disc brings together music which Haydn composed for two rather curious instruments which today don't play any real role in musical life. Both instruments have disappeared under the dust of history. Although Haydn wasn't the only composer to write music for these instruments, it is mainly thanks to him that they have come to life again and are played. His music for baryton is played for a while now, although it needed the Haydn year to really get attention, with even a complete recording of his oeuvre for the baryton. The lira organizzata is a different cattle of fish, and Haydn's music for the instrument was either ignored or the parts for it were played at the organ. The lira organizzata was a kind of curiosity already in Haydn's own days. When he took six of his eight Notturni for two lire organizzate with him on his way to London, he replaced them with transverse flute and oboe. That is the way these pieces are played mostly nowadays.

Let us first look in detail at the lira organizzata which is a combination of a hardy-gurdy and an organ. The best thing is to quote Matthias Loibner in his notes in the booklet.
"The hurdy-gurdy is a string instrument in which the bowing action is replaced by a rosined wheel cranked by a handle. It has a keyboard with tangents that bear on the melody strings when depressed. Other, unstopped strings, the bourdons, are used to produce a continuous drone when brought into contact with the wheel, and many hurdy-gurdies also possess sympathetic strings. Finally, a string known as the trompette serves a special purpose. It bears on a small loose bridge called the chien, or buzzing bridge, which is free to vibrate with the strings against the soundboard. When the wheel is suddenly accelerated, the audible result is a strong buzz, which ceases when the wheel returns to its normal speed. Thus the music is articulated by turning the wheel in measured jerks, which creates the buzzing rhythmic accompaniment that is so typical of the hurdy-gurdy.
In the lira organizzata, a hybrid instrument, the crank operates the wheel for the strings and also works the bellows that make the pipes sound. A wind-chest regulates pressure and enables the musician to play the organ for a short space of time without having to crank the handle. The keyboard controls both the wooden organ-like pipes and the set of hurdy-gurdy-type strings, and a mechanism permits the player to engage either the pipes or the strings, or both together. The organ possesses two sets of stopped pipes, one along the side of the hurdy-gurdy and the other housed within the instrument's body, beneath the bellows."

He states that it is a great challenge to play two very different instruments simultaneously and that it takes time and patience to master the playing of the lira organizzata. If you listen to the two compositions recorded here, the Concerto in C and the Notturno in C, it is certainly worth the effort. The two lire organizzate played in these pieces produce a magnificent and sweet sound and subtle dynamical shades. Their peculiar sound allow them to hold their ground in an ensemble of two horns and strings (2 violins - in the Notturno replaced by two clarinets -, 2 violas, cello and double bass).

Haydn wrote five concertos for two lire organizzate and eight Notturni. The latter were composed for king Ferdinand IV of Naples, whose favourite instrument it was. He also commissioned works for this instrument from Adalbert Gyrowetz and Ignaz Pleyel. Considering the fact that it wasn't widely disseminated it is remarkable that about 20 instruments have been preserved. The lire organizzate played here are copies from an instrument which was possibly made in France around 1750. It is the only extant instrument with a range of two and a half octave which is needed for Haydn's works for lire organizzate.

The second instrument which is specifically associated with Haydn is the baryton. His employer, Nikolaus I, was a devoted player of this instrument. Leopold Mozart gave this description of the instrument in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756): "This instrument has, like the gamba, six or seven strings. The neck is very wide, with the back surface hollowed out and open, under which run nine or ten brass and steel strings. These are plucked with the thumb, so that in fact whilst the main melodic line is played with the bow on the gut strings strung on the front of the instrument, the thumb simultaneously plays the bass line by plucking the strings under the neck. It is for this reason that the pieces need to be specifically composed. It is, incidentally, one of the most graceful instruments."

Not only Haydn, but also the violinist Luigi Tomasini and gambist Anton Lidl composed music for baryton, but Haydn was no doubt the most prolific composer for this instrument as he wrote more than 200 pieces between 1765 and 1776, some of which have been lost in the fire of 1768. It wasn't only Nicolaus who played the baryton - not very well, it seems - but also Anton Lidl and Carl Franz, who was a virtuosic horn player in the first place. He departed from Nicolaus' court orchestra in 1776 and after that Haydn never wrote anything for the baryton anymore. This suggests Haydn had Carl Franz in mind while composing some of his pieces for baryton.

The two Divertimenti, also known as Octets, for baryton, 2 horns, 2 violins, viola, cello and double bass belong to Haydn's last and best music for the baryton. It is typical for Haydn that in the Octet in A he gives the other players also some solo passages, like the second horn and the cello.

This is a very intriguing and fascinating disc because of the repertoire and the use of two lire organizzate, which to my knowledge is the first recording ever with this kind of instrument. The performances are outstanding. Matthias Loibner and Thierry Nouat are true virtuosos on the lira organizzata and play their instruments with great sensitivity and subtleness. Christophe Coin also impresses on the baryton, and the other instrumentalists leave also nothing to be desired. The booklet contains interesting information about several aspects of the programme, but the various contributions are a bit unorganized. A little more editing hadn't gone amiss.

This is definitely one of the most interesting productions with music by Haydn and not to be missed by anyone who loves his music.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Ensemble baroque de Limoges

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