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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): Divertimenti a quattro

Piccolo Concerto Wien

rec: July 2007, Buti
Symphonia - SY 07227 (© 2008) (66'04")

Divertimento à 4 in D (H deest); Divertimento à 4 in D, op. 1,3 (H III,3); Divertimento à 4 in A, op. 2,1 (H III,7)

Jenping Chien, Johanna Gamerith, violin; Gerswind Olthoff, viola; Roberto Sensi, violone

The 18th century is the era of music making by dilettantes. Whereas in previous centuries mostly members of the aristocracy sometimes played an instrument, in the 18th century it was the bourgeoisie which took up instruments and played music by the famous masters of their time. This resulted in a growing market for music which was technically not too demanding and was pleasant to play at home or in social gatherings. Clever - and often not very scrupulous - printers used this to their own advantage by publishing compositions of the leading composers of the time, often in other scorings than intended by the composers. In particular the catalogues of the most famous composers from the 18th century are a bit messy in that they are full of pieces which are doubtful or even spurious, or are arrangements whose authenticity is hard to establish. Haydn is a good example of such a composer.

During the last quarter of the 18th century Haydn rose to the status of Europe's most famous composer. His music was printed by various publishers, but it isn't always clear whether they printed his music in accordance with his wishes. One particular issue is the scoring. Offering alternative scorings was common practice: in many pieces the violin could be replaced by the transverse flute or vice versa, for instance. This was all motivated by the demands of the market. But these alternative scorings were not always according to the indications of the composers. The two sets of 'string quartets' opus 1 and 2 by Haydn bear witness of that. Haydn himself considered his opus 9 as his first real string quartets. The opus 1 and opus 2 were containing Divertimenti à 4 which originally were written for a different scoring.

Roberto Sensi, in his liner-notes, explains: "In 1764 and 1766 the publisher, Chevardière and them Hummel in Amsterdam, issued two series of 6 Quartets to which - in order to reach the usual number of six - they added a 'Divertimento a 6' from which had been removed the 2 French horn parts and two Symphonies from which had been removed the wind parts ... Subsequently Ignaz Pleyel, ex student of Haydn's, composer and publisher in Paris, wishing to prepare a complete edition of all the quartets of Haydn, limited himself, against the will of the composer, and for exclusively commercial reasons, in 1802, to simply reproducing the subdivisions made by the two preceding publishers".

The Divertimenti à 4 were commissioned by Karl Joseph Edler von Fürnberg, a nobleman who wanted to perform them at his summer residence in Weinzierl in Lower Austria. They are scored for two violins, viola and bass. It is in particular the scoring of the bass part which sets them apart from the string quartets. This part was meant to be played by an instrument called violone, contrabasso or contraviolone. This instrument which was frequently used in southern Germany and Austria, isn't only different from the modern double bass, but also from the violone of the baroque era: "[Its] dimensions were less generous, provided with frets like on a viol, and equipped with a body closely following many of the constructive details of the viol; it has five or four strings (in this case without the lowest one) and adopts a particular tuning (upper to lower - f#,d,A,F or D or a,f,d,A,F as well as the scordatura tuning, a semitone higher) (...)". There were some virtuosos around who played this instrument and for whom composers like Haydn, Mozart or Vanhal wrote their bass parts. In printed music this part was usually replaced by a part for the cello, which was a more common instrument among amateurs.

It is not only the scoring which makes the Divertimenti à 4 different from the string quartets, but also their structure. The three divertimenti recorded here are in five movements. Roberto Sensi states that this reflects the common structure of other compositions of a diverting character, like cassazione, notturno, partita etc. But Haydn wouldn't be Haydn of he wouldn't have taken the freedom to go his own way. The first and last movements were usually in a fast tempo. The Divertimento à 4 in D (H deest) and the Divertimento à 4 in D (H III,3) both begin with an adagio. The former takes the form of a theme with five variations. Whereas the middle movement is usually an adagio, in the latter it is a presto in the form of a scherzo. In the Divertimento in D (H deest) the middle movement is an andante. It is the Divertimento à 4 in A (H III,7) which follows the usual pattern most closely. The second and fourth movements of these divertimenti are menuets with a contrasting trio in a minor key.

As one would expect from Haydn these diverting pieces have more to offer than simple entertainment. It is music of a high calibre, and certainly not without expression. The theme with variations from the Divertimento in D (H deest) is a brilliant example of this - it is one of the highlights of this recording, and played with great sensivity by Piccolo Concerto Wien. The closing movements are typical showstoppers - brilliant and exuberant - and treated as such by the players here. This disc is a sheer delight from beginning to end - thanks to Haydn who is his brilliant self here, but also to Piccolo Concerto Wien which delivers ebullient and sensitive performances. They have perfectly captured the spirit of this repertoire. No Haydn lover should miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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