A few years ago, while searching for a Symphony of the classical era to complete a concert programme, I discovered Haydn’s Symphony no. 39.
I immediately realized that it was an extremely idiosyncratic symphony, while being, at the same time, typical for that taste for minor keys and for strong contrasts which is often indicated by the label of “Sturm und Drang”: a brief period in which the quantity of minor-key symphonies increased dramatically. I started to research the topic, and soon a kind of a family tree started to emerge: from Haydn’s Symphony no. 39 originate some symphonies by Vanhal (in particular the one recorded here), and, from these, Mozart’s Symphony no. 25 derives in turn. I began to think of recording a CD reconstructing this genealogy: a direct derivation, from a symphony to another, as rarely happened in the history of the Symphony. At the same time, reading a book by Matthew Riley, The Viennese Minor-Key Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Mozart, broadened my knowledge on the topic and on its context.
Haydn wrote the G-minor Symphony no. 39 in 1765. It features many traits which enabled it to serve as a model: stark dynamic contrasts, sudden silences, the use of figurations recalling the operatic world of tempest and furore (in some copies, this symphony bears the title of La tempesta di mare, “storm at sea”), repeated notes and tremolos, rhythmic energy, but also the presence of a contrapuntal “old style”, which had never truly gone out of fashion in Vienna and in the Habsburg Empire. Minor keys mark three out of its four movements (the slow movement is in a major key), and they rule within the individual movements, which remain in the minor key until the very last chord. In the reprise of the first and fourth movement, in fact, all elements are restated in the minor key, including those that had been first presented, in the exposition, in a major key. This faithfulness to the minor key is one of the features which would go out of fashion first, even in Haydn’s own later works, in favour of itineraries leading the symphonies to a close in the major key. Another peculiarity of this work is the use of four instead of two French horns (two in B-flat and two in G: this allows to partially overcome the limitations of the contemporaneous instruments and to increase their presence). Paradoxically, Haydn would not follow the path he had opened himself: later, he composed a series of minor-key symphonies with more experimental traits (among which the Farewell Symphony).
In Vienna, instead, Haydn’s Symphony no. 39 became a model, whose spread was increased through Vanhal’s numerous symphonies. In particular, his Symphony g1 clearly shows its derivation from Haydn, thanks to the key of G-minor and the presence of four French horns, along with all the features listed above, but also to more specifically similar details. Vanhal, however, had a style of his own and a clear awareness of compositional balance: thus he managed to remain original and to write a highly interesting symphony. Its Menuet is undoubtedly one of the most idiosyncratic in the entire classical era. In the slow movement (which, as in Haydn’s model, represents an aside among the other movements), Vanhal chooses to entrust a solo part to the first violin and first viola; in his other G-minor symphony, Vanhal adopted the same idea and wrote a solo for the first oboe. If the first and fourth movement feature the operatic topos of the storm, here Vanhal brings even the slow movement on stage, creating a great operatic scene in which the violin and viola become two characters singing a duet.
Vanhal’s symphony is performed here in the Kremsmünster abbey version. The critical edition presently available and universally adopted collates two of the surviving manuscript copies; when they diverge from each other, one of the two sources is favoured over the other on a case-by-case basis. This blending of two sources, however, has a paradoxical result: modern performances and recordings showcase a hybrid version, while, at Vanhal’s time, the symphony had never been performed in that form. I decided, therefore, to opt for a single manuscript, and I chose the Kremsmünster version, which I deem to be highly interesting and internally consistent.
Mozart’s Symphony no. 25 is the first he wrote in a minor key (it would be followed only by the Symphony no. 40), and it marks a pronounced qualitative change in his opus. Mozart wrote it in Salzburg in October 1773, shortly after returning from a two-months stay in Vienna with his father, Leopold. In Vienna he discovered Haydn’s new model, from which he evidently took inspiration under all aspects: the key of G minor, the use of four French horns, and the presence of all the traits listed above. This explains his choice to write this otherwise enigmatic masterpiece: the young Mozart wanted to challenge himself in a codified genre. His symphony is closer to Vanhal than to Haydn. It would be fascinating to be able to reconstruct in detail what Mozart did during those two months in Vienna: did he meet Vanhal? What did he listen to, what scores did he read? The numerous letters written by Leopold to his wife during that stay singularly lack all references to the Viennese musical life.
Certainly, however, the musical gestures adopted by Mozart, and which are sometimes even exaggerated in comparison with the average style of the time, allude to Vanhal. This happens, for example, at the beginning: unison forte with repeated and syncopated notes. Whereas the other two symphonies in this CD begin in piano, other symphonies by Vanhal begin in a similarly abrupt fashion. In the slow movement, Mozart employs the two bassoons in a concertante style, thus following Vanhal’s idea of a distinguishing soloistic and timbral trait, contrasting with the other movements of the symphonies. The use of winds features throughout the symphony, most prominently in the first oboe’s solo sections in the first movement and in the Menuet’s Trio, played by the winds alone.
The four French horns are employed in a highly refined compositional style in this symphony, and Mozart succeeds in overcoming the limitations of the instruments of the era: indeed, in some themes, the four instruments (two horns in B-flat and two in G) play alternatively, even note by note, depending on which pair is capable of playing a certain note. In other words, Mozart’s writing considers the sum of the notes playable on the four instruments as a unique whole, and, thus, the horns’ melodic potential is dramatically increased.
This encouraged me to modify the orchestra’s disposition: in Haydn’s and Vanhal’s Symphonies the two pairs of horns alternate with and respond to each other, and thus they are placed at the two sides of the orchestra, while, in Mozart’s Symphony, they are close to each other, since Mozart frequently uses them, so to say, as a single repository of notes and sound.
A final note on the repeats: in these symphonies, as was customary at the time, the first movement and the Finale have repeat marks not only in the first part, but also in the second. In this recording, these repeat marks are respected; we also played the Menuets’ repeats after the Trios. These repeats, frequently omitted in concert performance and in recordings, are part of the listening itinerary imagined by the composer; they are conceived both as an opportunity for making different aspects of the writing emerge, and as elements of a balance and a ritual concept different from the directionality of later Symphonies – such as those by Beethoven.
Notes by Alessandro Maria Carnelli
[Translation by Chiara Bertoglio]
Alessandro Maria Carnelli appeared at the Vienna Musikverein and in the main concert halls in Milan. He conducted Histoire du soldat with the Ensemble of the Teatro Regio (Turin), Dido and Aeneas at Festival Incanti (Turin). From the Seventeenth Century to World Premieres, his activity is focusing on projects in which, like in the present recording, the musicological research finds its way into the concert life. He devoted to Verklärte Nacht by Schönberg a book and a cd recorded with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova, both welcomed with enthusiastic reviews. His projects with the Orchestra da Camera di Mantova included several concerts and the recording of this second cd. With Cristina Corrieri he founded the Ensemble Imaginaire, with which he conducted the premiere of the critical edition of L'ammalato immaginario by Vinci, and the Ensemble Progetto Pierrot with which he conducted Pierrot lunaire by Schönberg in Italy and Germany: as a stage production, as a shadow theater production and as a multimedia project (with IED Istituto Europeo di Design - Milan). With this ensemble he is also conducting a project devoted to the world of Mahler.
Since the first performance (1981) in the beautiful Bibiena Theatre - the ideal place for chamber music - Mantua Chamber Orchestra has been showing its qualifying features: technical brilliance, the constant search for sound quality and great attention to stylistic matters. In 1997, Mantua Chamber Orchestra was awarded the “Franco Abbiati” prize by Italian musical critics for its peculiar stylistic refinement and constant search for sound quality, which can effectively merge Italian instrumental tradition and classical repertoire. MCO has been performing for over 30 years with world renown conductors and soloists (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Steven Isserlis, Maria Joao Pires, Gidon Kremer, Shlomo Mintz, Joshua Bell, Viktoria Mullova, Salvatore Accardo, Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli, Giuliano Carmignola, Uto Ughi, Mischa Maisky, Enrico Dindo, Mario Brunello, Miklos Perenyi, Sol Gabetta, Alexander Lonquich, Bruno Canino, Katia e Marielle Labeque, Maria Tipo, Kent Nagano, the unforgettable Astor Piazzolla, Severino Gazzelloni and Aldo Ciccolini). It has performed in theatres and concert halls all over Europe, in the USA, South America and Asia. Between 2001 and 2004 - with several famous Italian soloists and Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli as conductor - MCO carried out the “Beethoven Project” centred on the original version of Beethoven’s masterpieces. Since 2003/2004 MCO developed the “W.A. Mozart Project”, with the pianist Alexander Lonquich both as conductor and soloist performing Mozart’s piano concerts. Since 2008 the MCO has been developing a new project focused on Haydn’s opuses, that reached its climax in 2009. Then, between 2010 and 2011, for the hundreth anniversary of Schumann birth, the orchestra performed all his Symphonies. Mantua Chamber Orchestra has recorded for Hyperion, RAI, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Swiss RSTI., Hyperion. Since 1993, in order to make people appreciate classical music, MCO has been holding in Mantua a very successful yearly season, “Tempo d’Orchestra”, with the contribution of famous Italian and foreign soloists, chamber groups and orchestras. Moreover, since 2013 it has been producing the “Mantova Chamber Music Festival”, an international meeting held in the Palazzo Ducale and in the most beautiful historical places in Mantova.
Franz Joseph Haydn (b Rohrau, Lower Austria, 31 March 1732; d Vienna, 31 May 1809). Austrian composer, brother of Michael Haydn. Neither he nor his contemporaries used the name Franz, and there is no reason to do so today. He began his career in the traditional patronage system of the late Austrian Baroque, and ended as a ‘free’ artist within the burgeoning Romanticism of the early 19th century. Famous as early as the mid-1760s, by the 1780s he had become the most celebrated composer of his time, and from the 1790s until his death was a culture-hero throughout Europe. Since the early 19th century he has been venerated as the first of the three ‘Viennese Classics’ (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven). He excelled in every musical genre; during the first half of his career his vocal works were as famous as his instrumental ones, although after his death the reception of his music focussed on the latter (except for The Creation). He is familiarly known as the ‘father of the symphony’ and could with greater justice be thus regarded for the string quartet; no other composer approaches his combination of productivity, quality and historical importance in these genres. In the 20th century he was understood primarily as an ‘absolute’ musician (exhibiting wit, originality of form, motivic saturation and a ‘modernist’ tendency to problematize music rather than merely to compose it), but earnestness, depth of feeling and referential tendencies are equally important to his art.
Johann Baptist Vanhal (b Nechanicz [now Nechanice], nr Hradec Králové, Bohemia, 12 May 1739; d Vienna, 20 Aug 1813). Bohemian composer, violinist and teacher, active in Austria. His present reputation is derived mostly from his symphonies, his many published keyboard pieces and the comments of writers. He himself spelt his name Johann Baptist Wanhal; his Viennese contemporaries and most scholars until World War II used the spelling Wanhal, but later in the 20th century a modern Czech form, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal, was erroneously introduced. Only one writer, Bohumír Dlabač, had extensive contact with him, acquired in 1795 in Vienna. An anonymous Viennese necrology, based mostly on local gossip, is complementary, but differs somewhat from Dlabač’s account. Additional observations based on fleeting contact in Vienna were mostly derived from one or other of these writers or from Charles Burney, who visited Vanhal on 12 September 1772.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: (b Salzburg, 27 Jan 1756; d Vienna, 5 Dec 1791). Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart. His style essentially represents a synthesis of many different elements, which coalesced in his Viennese years, from 1781 on, into an idiom now regarded as a peak of Viennese Classicism. The mature music, distinguished by its melodic beauty, its formal elegance and its richness of harmony and texture, is deeply coloured by Italian opera though also rooted in Austrian and south German instrumental traditions. Unlike Haydn, his senior by 24 years, and Beethoven, his junior by 15, he excelled in every medium current in his time. He may thus be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.