Music history (as that of many other arts, indeed) numbers not a few cases of composers of genius who were relatives of other composers of genius. One has only to think of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, of the Bach family, of the Scarlattis, of the Mozart family, of the Mendelssohns, of the Schumanns… and so on. In a certain sense, this is not a mere caprice of fate, and not only a genetically interesting phenomenon: musical families, as musical societies, constitute the hotbed for the blossoming of musical talent.
However, while Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli are considered to be on a plane of equality, in other cases there is “the” Bach, “the” Mozart, “the” Mendelssohn, “the” Schumann, and then “Bach’s sons”, “Mozart’s father (or sister)”, “Mendelssohn’s sister”, “Schumann’s wife”. In such cases, it is difficult to evaluate “the other(s)” objectively and without making references to “the one”; and this may be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, in fact, musicians who could be held in high consideration for their own worth, are somewhat belittled by the comparison with their more famous relative; on the other, to be sure, there may be still other composers, of equal worth, who are still awaiting discovery precisely because they didn’t have a famous relative.
These musings are particularly suited to the case of Johann Michael Haydn – not “the” Haydn, Franz Joseph, but his younger brother. Indeed, as happened to “Bach’s sons”, at their time “the” Haydn was Michael, rather than Joseph, just as Johann Sebastian Bach was frequently known (by those who knew him) as “Bach’s father”: at Michael Haydn’s funeral, an enormous crowd gathered for the burial procession, bearing witness to his status, in Salzburg, as a major public figure.
Michael, along with his younger brother Johann, followed in Franz Joseph’s footsteps in their early childhood: Franz Joseph had been accepted as a choirboy at the Vienna Cathedral of St. Stephen, and had made so deep an impression on the choirmaster, Georg Rutter, that he had welcomed his junior brothers with open arms. Joseph had a charming treble voice; however, when it broke and the Empress reportedly said that “he [wasn’t] singing anymore, but crowing”, it was Michael who replaced him, with his equally beautiful tone and his wide range, spanning three octaves. There was no rivalry between the brothers, however: rather, the eldest was particularly glad that both Michael and Johann had been entrusted to his care during their studies as Cathedral singers in Vienna.
Very early, Michael began to work as a professional church organist (he was barely 12); when his voice broke, he became the assistant to the celebrated organist Johann Albrechtsberger. He was also an excellent violinist, however: at the age of about twenty, he moved to today’s Romania where he became a violinist in the local bishop’s orchestra, rising within a few years to the place of Domkapellmeister. With such an excellent CV to boast, Michael could seek a prestigious appointment nearer home, and he found it in Salzburg, where he would spend most years of his relatively long life. At 25, he was employed as a court composer and concert master in the Austrian city, ruled by a Prince-Archbishop; certainly, his education as a church musician and his previous appointment weighed on this choice, and his works earned him the consideration of his contemporaries. At so young an age, he had already written numerous Masses, Symphonies, and copious chamber music works.
In Salzburg, Michael Haydn got acquainted with Leopold Mozart, who was likewise employed in the court orchestra; and while, under the rule of Archbishop Schrattenbach, Haydn was encouraged to compose stage works, the accession of Archbishop Colloredo (who is best remembered as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s archenemy) channeled Haydn’s compositional output into the field of sacred music. Since the new Archbishop favoured a soberer style of church music than that practised until then, Michael had to compose a whole new repertoire of short Masses, many of which are small gems and have influenced later musicians; moreover, his touching Requiem for Schrattenbach may claim to have left a clear mark on Mozart’s own Requiem, written two decades later.
A composer who could boast to have influenced Mozart is certainly no minor figure; and our admiration for Michael Haydn is increased when one considers his role as a mentor of many great musicians of the early Romantic generation: Carl Maria von Weber was his most brilliant student, but Franz Schubert himself praised him with loving admiration: “Thou tranquil, clear spirit, thou good Haydn, and if I cannot be so tranquil and clear, there is no one in the world, surely, who reveres thee so deeply as I”.
This Da Vinci Classics album, therefore, is a very welcome addition to the discography of Michael Haydn, a composer whose artistic merits alone deserve his ranking among the most prominent figures of his time.
While one would like, thus, to discuss Michael Haydn for himself and with just minor references to his older brother, the fact is that one cannot discuss an eighteenth-century string quartet without alluding to Franz Joseph Haydn, who is considered, perhaps emphatically, as the “father” of this particular genre. Indeed, the reputation is well earned, since Joseph brilliantly intuited the potential of this ensemble, and paved the way for all subsequent composers. Michael’s quartets are less adventurous (and also considerably less numerous); in particular, their evident aim is to embody the pleasant and relaxed atmosphere of a friendly gathering of musicians. Michael probably wrote about twelve string quartets, though several attributions are still debated; they display a noteworthy freshness of invention and the skillful mastery of their composer, whose undisputed ability in the contrapuntal writing was grounded on his thorough knowledge of Fux’s treatise on polyphony. The first movement has charming themes and a lively interplay among the instruments, brightened by the frequent recourse to abrupt changes of dynamics. The Tempo alla francese is akin to a Menuet, with its square articulation in well-shaped phrases; its Trio is a brilliant chatter of the first violin, petulantly pronouncing a series of triplets. The concluding Allegretto has a distinct singing style, and a luminous serenity, whose light touches are only occasionally troubled by more serious passages, such as the modulating chordal sequences and the areas in the minor mode. Generally speaking, however, this Quartet radiates humour and elegance; traits which are also found in the two Flute Quartets recorded here. The Quartet in D major begins almost as a flute Concerto, with the wind instrument under the spotlight; however, later in the movement the first violin rises to prominence and enters into a virtuosic and brilliant dialogue with the flute. Undoubtedly, however, it is the flute that leads the musical discourse, in a continuing and stimulating alternation of delightful tunes and joyful adornments. The Rondo has a folk-like character, with deliberately provoking juxtapositions of “pianissimo” and “forte” and a palpably humorous vein. Notwithstanding this, moments of intense expression are not lacking, such as in the Minore, interestingly featuring a duet between flute and viola. The F-major Quartet is of disputed authorship, but is a very fine work: its opening Andante is a tender and expressive Romance, at times reminiscent of operatic scenes. The following Tempo di Menuetto is less ambitious but very varied, especially as concerns the melodic range and the rhythmic ideas.
Last but not least, the Concerto for Viola, Harpsichord and Strings is another gem awaiting rediscovery. It is performed here with the accompaniment of string quartet: in fact, this work can be played with either a harpsichord or an organ as the second soloist, and while the version with organ acquires a more “public” dimension (and thus may require a full string orchestra), the version with harpsichord is best performed with a chamber ensemble. Each movement is opened by the strings, which introduce the piece with elegance (as happens in the Allegro moderato), with soft and tender accents (in the Adagio) and with a sparkling brilliancy (as in the closing Prestissimo). One of the most interesting aspects of this work is Haydn’s mastery of the timbral qualities of this uncommon ensemble, in particular in the dialogues between the two soloists; the Olympian serenity of this work is a perfect embodiment of the criteria of musical “classicism”.
By listening to these pieces, therefore, we can deepen our knowledge of a great composer of the eighteenth century, and, no less importantly, we are certain to spend a serene and joyful time; the refined and cheerful traits of these pieces bear witness to their composer’s overflowing musical creativity and to his generous musical imagination.
Liner Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Elisa Baciocchi Ensemble: Founded by the musicians of the Valenti family: Claudio, Carlo Alberto and Tommaso Valenti together with his colleague Carlo Benvenuti.
The Musicians are active in the concert and didactic field have long been dedicated to the study and rediscovery of lesser-known Italian and European chamber repertoires, often offering an original critical version of the repertoires addressed, ensemble in residence of “Lucca Chamber Music Festival” has curated numerous projects including reconstruction and performance of the concert for viola and orchestra BI552 by A.Rolla by Claudio and Tommaso Valenti for the prestigious record label TACTUS and the recording of the trios op.14 by Luigi Boccherini for the Christophorus label by Carlo Alberto Valenti, Claudio Valenti and Carlo Benvenuti.
The formation of the ensemble varies according to the repertoire addressed and currently consists of:
Carlo Alberto Valenti, Angelica Vitali, Valeria Barsanti on violins, Tommaso Valenti, Claudio Valenti on viola, Carlo Benvenuti on cello , Linda Wetherill on flute and Fabrizio Datteri on harpsichord.
Fabrizio Datteri: Graduated in 1991 at Musical Institute “Luigi Boccherini” in Lucca; Biennal Master in piano at the institute “Boccherini” in 2007 cum laude; Master in Chamber Music at Pianistic Academy of Imola (special award, 2002); Graduated in Harpsichords at Florence Conservatory in 2002. Specialized with A. Specchi, PierNarciso Masi, Sergio Fiorentino, Bruno Canino (Hochschule fur Musik "F. Liszt" in Weimar), J. Achucarro (Accademia Chigiana, Siena), K. Bogino (Accademia in Chioggia), B. Bloch and A. delle Vigne (Mozarteum Salzburg). Won several competitions, as a soloist and in chamber duo. Plays as a soloist and in chamber ensembles; collaborations with most important Italian musicians and non, like: C. Rossi, A. Nannoni, A. Farulli, P. Carlini, D. Dini Ciacci, B. Bloch, P. Vernikov, P. Cuper, M. Marasco, Trio della Scala, ecc. Played in Usa and Europe: Carnegie Hall, Istanbul, Mexico City, San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona, Hamburg, Warsaw, Cracow, London, Copenaghen, Amsterdam and many italian theatres. Played as soloist with Pomeriggi Musicali, Oradea Symphonic Orchestra, Mexico State Orchestra, Filarmonica Istanbul, and others.
Linda Wetherill: She has been flutist of Paris IRCAM Passage of the 20th Century (Boulez), First Solo Flutist of Frankfurt Radio and Milan La Scala chamber players, and Cultural Ambassador for the U. S. in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. She records for radios and major labels and is credited for establishing non-Western pieces in the standard flute repertoire, notably with her acclaimed Naxos solo CD “Sound and Repercussion”.
Linda presently divides her year between homes in Lucca, participating with Elisa Bacciochi Ensemble , and in New York, where she is a professor of flute studies and Fine Arts at St. John's and Adelphi Universities.
Tommaso Valenti: Born il Lucca he studied Viola at G.Puccini Conservatory in La Spezia where he graduated with honour under the gudance of Fabrizio Merlini. He perfected himself at Lugano Conservatory with Danilo Rossi, at Konservatorium Wien Privatuniversitat with Alexander Zemtsov and with his father Claudio Valenti. In 2014 he obtained “Diploma Superiore di Viola” at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome with Massimo Paris. He collaborates with several Orchestras and ensemble including Malta Philarmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Filarmonica Pucciniana and ensemble 900 of Italian Swiss. Always attentive to the enhancementand rediscovery of the literature inherent in its instrument has recorded as a soloist in 2017 for the prestigious TACTUS label the unpublished concert BI552 written by Alessandro Rolla, after a careful revision and reconstruction work together with his father Claudio Valenti. As a chamber Musician he collaborated and played with important musicians such as Kate Hamilton, Milton Masciadri, Enrico Bronzi, Richard Galliano, Alexander Zemtsov.
Michael Haydn (b Rohrau, Lower Austria, bap. 14 Sept 1737; d Salzburg, 10 Aug 1806). Austrian composer, younger brother of Joseph Haydn. A prolific composer in many genres, he was especially admired for his sacred music.