This month, the LSO wind up their 2016-17 orchestral season with a pair of concerts including Haydn’s music. Haydn: An Imaginary Orchestral Journey is an idea of Music Director Designate Sir Simon Rattle, in which familiar ideas of the composer are brought together in an orchestral pasticcio. The LSO told us:
Sir Simon not only chose his own favourite movements for the pasticcio but also works that tell a story. The oratorio The Creation begins with an instrumental introduction representing chaos. Menacing timpani blows, swirling expanses of sound, dissonances and tentative chains of notes convey the impression of something in turmoil, in the process of formation, not yet concrete. It goes without saying, however, that everything is in order as far as Haydn’s composition is concerned, despite these elements of chance and disorder. The “Terremoto” (Earthquake) from the instrumental work The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross also depicts chaotic conditions. After the death of Jesus on the cross, the world is out of balance, the earth trembles – at least musically. The introduction to “Winter” from the oratorio The Seasons portrays, in Haydn’s own words, “the thick fog with which winter begins”. Another spectacle of nature – calm at sea, stormy seas and the gentle play of waves – is depicted in the overture to the Azione teatrale [theatrical action] L’isola disabitata.
Few people think of Haydn as an opera composer today, since his most important genre was instrumental music, particularly the symphony. With the exception of the minuet from Symphony No. 6 (“Le Matin”), which probably dates from 1761, Simon Rattle has chosen movements from symphonies which Haydn composed for the musical entertainment of his employer, Prince Nikolaus I Esterházy, during the 1770s and 80s. The selection illustrates the sense of adventure, variety and, above all, humour with which the composer applied himself to this genre. Every movement surprises the listener with something witty. Sir Simon came up with an original idea for the transition from Symphony No. 45, the “Farewell” Symphony, to the Finale of Symphony No. 90: music for flute clocks. In these mechanical marvels, the clockwork operates a small organ with a pinned cylinder that plays a musical work. Haydn, who was a friend of Father Primitivus Niemecz, Prince Esterházy’s librarian and a clockmaker, composed a number of pieces for his flute clocks, several of which will be played today. “We’ll see whether it works,” says Simon Rattle, “but the idea is to make a musical journey through all that is quirky and extraordinary, humorous and profound in Haydn. Hopefully this pasticcio will give a picture of the composer who most summed up all the ideals of the Enlightenment, of intelligence, respect, humour, wit and profound thought.”
Haydn: An Imaginary Orchestral Journey is at the Barbican from 12-13 July 2017.