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Culture

Austria's 'Haydn Year' gets off to a bang

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Latest update : 2009-04-01

Eisenstadt, the regional capital of Burgenland, kicked off Austria's year-long celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn with a special concert featuring four of the composer's most celebrated symphonies.

AFP - Four Haydn symphonies in a single concert may sound like too much of a good thing.
  
But if they are performed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his wonderful Concentus Musicus -- the period-instrument equivalent of, say, the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic -- in the ornate baroque palace where Haydn lived and worked for nigh-on 30 years, then you are left actually wanting to hear more.
  
2009 is the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn's death.
  
And after pulling off a phenomenal Mozart year in 2006, Austria is staging almost equally lavish celebrations for its next most famous son, Haydn.
  
During the course of the Haydn Year 2009, all 107 of his symphonies will be performed in the Haydnsaal of the magnificent Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, where "Papa Haydn" was court composer between 1761 and 1790.
  
The party started with a veritable bang on Tuesday evening, with Harnoncourt and Co. performing symphonies No. 1, 59, 95 and 100, which is nicknamed the "Military Symphony" for its use of military drum, triangle and cymbals.
  
Harnoncourt's idea of programming a symphony from four different phases of the composer's oeuvre was as simple as it was effective.
  
There is some dispute as to whether the D-major symphony really is Haydn's first. But the septuagenarian composer himself identified it as such when the first-ever complete edition of his works was compiled in the early 1800s.
  
It certainly belongs to his earliest symphonies dating from 1757-1760, is in three brisk movements and begins with a so-called "Mannheim crescendo" an orchestration device that was all the rage at the time and denotes a rapid increase volume via the addition of different instruments.
  
The performance by Concentus Musicus, with Harnoncourt's characteristically minimal gestures, was elegant and full of youthful verve.
  
Haydn's 59th symphony in A-major, nicknamed the "Fire Symphony" (1768), is typical of the composer's "Sturm und Drang" (or "Storm and Stress") period, named after a movement in German literature and music.
  
The work startles with shifts in dynamics and tempi, unexpected pauses, crunching dissonance, and sudden switches from major to minor. And in the excellent acoustics of the Haydnsaal, the superlative performance by Concentus Musicus under Harnoncourt, with its lithe strings, pungent woodwinds and baying horns, highlighted the originality and innovation of Haydn's score.
  
A flute and two trumpets are added to the orchestra for the 95th symphony (1791), which is in the -- for Haydn -- highly unusual key of C-minor. But it is a solo cello that takes the spotlight in the second and third movements, superbly played by Concentus Musicus' lead cellist, who sadly went uncredited in the programme.
  
The 95th symphony was written during Haydn's first stay in London when he went "freelance" following the death of his employer Prince Nikolaus I. Esterhazy and the trip was so phenomenonally successful that he went back for a second time a couple of years later.
  
The final work on Tuesday and perhaps the best-known of the four dated from that second, follow-up visit.
  
The 100th Symphony in G-Major (1794) has been christened the "Military Symphony" for a surprise trumpet fanfare in the second movement and the use of military drum, triangle and cymbals both in the second and final movements.
  
In a brief quip to the audience on Tuesday, Harnoncourt said it should agruably be called the "anti-military" symphony since it was more a depiction of a love affair abruptly curtailed when the man is press-ganged into the army.
  
Legend has it that 12 women at the first performance fainted with surprise at the banging and crashing of the drum and cymbals.
  
There was no such swooning on Tuesday evening, but the audience roared and cheered its appreciation, as Harnoncourt truly got Austria's Haydn Year 2009 off to a bang.

Date created : 2009-04-01

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