On the trail of . . . Haydn’s Op. 1 No. 1

February 20, 2020

The Schumann Quartet are bringing Haydn’s Op. 1 No. 1 to their Music TORONTO concert, Feb 27, 2020.
Is this Op. 1 No. 1 Haydn’s very first published work?
The first string quartet from the man known as the ‘Father’ of the string quartet?
. . . . . . Would that it was so simple!


Rohrau, Austria – Haydn’s birthplace, drawing c1870-80

Rohrau birthplace today, flying the EU flag







Haydn’s birthplace today. The building suffered flooding and fire. Now rebuilt, it houses a museum and concert room


Rohrau, Haydn’s birthplace , oil painting, 1800 Obere Hauptstrasse 25, likely where Haydn, but not his Op. 1, was conceived 











By the time this oil painting was made at the beginning of the 19th century, Haydn was reaching the end of his string quartet-writing days.

The two movements of No. 68 were on his writing desk.

His former pupil and long-time friend, Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, now rivalled his teacher as the most popular composer in Europe.

Pleyel, however, was already phasing out composing in favour of publishing.

One of the earliest of some 4,000 works to come from the Paris-based Maison Pleyel was the first complete edition of Haydn’s string quartets.

That was in 1802.

Pleyel followed the lead of many earlier publishers throughout Europe by referring to the early B-flat quartet as Op. 1 No. 1.

Pleyel’s first edition of his complete Haydn string quartets was published 1802.
This is a variant, published c1803-6,
dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, now known as the ‘Bonaparte Edition.’
The St Lawrence SQ keep an eye on it in the library at Stanford University.

Publishing was, of course, a free-for-all in the 18th century.

La Chevadière in Paris had been the first to assemble an Op. 1 collection of six of Haydn’s quartets.

He put it together from manuscript copies circulating in Paris in the mid-1760s.

Haydn didn’t know about it or he might have pointed out that one of the quartets was really one of his symphonies and not a quartet at all.

Two more are sextets for string quartet with two horns.

Score 3 out of 6 for La Chevadière.


Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, Johann Julius Hummel was assembling his own Op. 1 collection, plus a further six-pack of Haydn quartets, which he titled Op. 2.

Like all early publishers, he arranged them in the way he thought would deliver the most sales.

Score 7 out of 6 for Hummel.

That’s because he included an E-flat quartet (Hob.II:6) which became lost, until re-discovered in the 1930s.

Some linear-thinker then catalogued the poor thing as Op. ‘O’, under which handicap it has languished ever since.

So, all in all, Haydn wrote a total of ten early quartets, known for the past 270+ years as Opp. 1 and 2.

He called them cassations, nocturnes, or the term that gets the most nods in academic circles these days, divertimenti a quattro.

However, consider this.

We might not have Haydn’s ten early quartets had the young Haydn undergone a surgical procedure recommended by an unknown official at the Stephansdom, St Stephen’s Cathedral, in Vienna.

Ahem.  We need to backtrack.

This is the ground floor bedroom at the Haydn family home, in Rohrau, Lower Austria, which I recently visited.

The reed-thatched building was built by Haydn’s father, Mathias, a wheelwright.  He had his workshop at the back, across a small garden.

It is the room where both Joseph and his younger brother Michael were born. [Michael, also a gifted composer, followed in his brother’s footsteps, serving most of his working life at the archiepiscopal court in Salzburg].

Baptismal registration for both Joseph and Michael Haydn, Parish of Rohrau



Schloss Rohrau today, for over 400 years the property of the Harrach family, a few minutes’ walk from the Haydn Birthplace










A rather sorry-looking Haydn monument in the Rohrau town centre. Count Harrach originally  installed it in his palace grounds.


Haydn, however, only lived at Rohrau until he was six.

He was then taken in by a distant cousin named Johann Mathias Franck in Hainburg, his father’s birthplace, some 10 km to the North.

Franck was a schoolteacher and also in charge of the music at a local church.

His teaching and Haydn’s rapid progress drew the young Haydn sometime around 1740 to the attention of Georg Reutter, Kapellmeister at St Stephen’s, the metropolitan cathedral church of Vienna.

Haydn was auditioned and chosen as one of six choristers that year to receive training and boarding at the Stefansdom.

Stephansdom, Vienna





The adjacent Kapellhaus where Haydn boarded (to RHS) was torn down in 1804


Haydn spent the next decade at the gothic St Stephen’s in a city then at the height of its Baroque splendour.

The young Haydn sang the daily services, learning harpsichord, violin and possibly organ.

He did not receive composition lessons while serving the church.
But he did recall having all of two theory lessons from Reutter!

He also had the dubious privilege of singing many of Reutter’s 500
compositions written for the
church calendar and the needs
of the Habsburg court.


Interior of today’s St. Stephen’s, where Haydn sang the daily services for ten years.

Haydn excelled at what he did and became the leading treble
soloist by his mid-teens.

That’s when the question of surgery was raised, with a view to offering the boy a future as a soloist in a society where a castrato singer would be in high demand.

Mathias Haydn, by now also village Marktrichter, or mayor, heard of it, rushed into Vienna and put a stop to that idea.


At 17, Haydn’s voice broke.

His brother Michael became the main treble soloist.

Haydn was now on his own: a freelance musician in Vienna at the age of 17.

But the musical and personal skills he had acquired were useful and his contacts were developing.

He was both keyboard and string musician, he sang, he taught and, of course, he composed.


Barmherzige Bruder church, Vienna

Here’s how he would spend a typical Sunday morning:

08:00 Leading the orchestra on violin at the Barmherzige Brüder church on Taborstrasse.
10:00 Playing organ in the private chapel of Count Haugwitz, Wipplingerstrasse.
11:00 Singing with his former choir in the choral service at the Stephansdom.

[We have this information and many more details about Haydn’s early life from the German diplomat George August Griesinger, who interviewed the then famous composer many times towards the end of his life. Griesinger’s seven-part biography appeared in a journal shortly after the composer’s death, in 1809.
The following year, it was edited and expanded into a book].


Two or three years into Haydn’s new life, he had virtually all his possessions stolen while living in a garret behind the Hofburg Imperial palace.

Schloss Weinzierl, where Haydn’s
Op. 1 No. 1 was first performed

A wealthy government official named Carl Joseph Weber von Fürnberg (1720-67) came to Haydn’s rescue, offering him free accomodation and meals for two months.

No less helpfully, Fürnberg later commissioned the young composer to provide music for an informal gathering of musicians that he liked to host at his country residence, the Schloss Weinzierl, to the west of Vienna.

The group included his estate steward and chaplain, Albrechtsberger (either composer Johann or his cellist brother Anton) and Haydn, playing violin.


Symphonies were sometimes adapted by the quartet – as may well have been the case with the symphony (Hob. I:107), erroneously included in the Op. 1 collection of Haydn’s early quartets published in Paris by La Chevadière.

It was for this informal gathering that Haydn’s early divertimenti a quattro came to be created.

The new medium of two violins, viola and cello provided Haydn with a springboard for music that is immediately entertaining and pleasing.

Schloss Weinzierl


A Spring music festival has been held at the Schloss Weinzierl since 2009 to mark the location where Haydn’s first string quartets were performed.  Read about it HERE



By the time Haydn returned to the medium (c1768-70) with a consciously planned set of six string quartets, published (without his approval) as his Op. 9, he had already served his apprenticeship at the Esterházy court and was well into his duties as Kapellmeister to a family he would serve for the greater part of his future career.  [And there’s much more about this chapter of Haydn’s life on the MusicTORONTO blog HERE].

From its modest beginnings at Schloss Weinzierl, Haydn would develop his string quartet catalogue into one of the landmarks of 18th century musical composition.


The Schumann Quartet plays Haydn Op. 1 No. 1, Shostakovich and Smetana, Thursday February 27, 2020
© Copyright 2020 Keith Horner – khnotes@sympatico.ca

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On the trail of . . . Gustav Holst . . . in Salonika

November 11, 2018

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – one hundred years ago today – was only the beginning of the war effort for English composer Gustav Holst.

Having sailed from Southampton October 29, 1918, Holst was less than half way into a month-long journey across worn-torn Europe on his way to Salonika, Greece when the Armistice was declared.

Holst did not end his arduous travels at 11:00 am on November 11, 1918.  Neither did World War 1 end an hour before noon.

Treaties had to be negotiated and signed.  Empires had to be further broken up.  Populations redistributed.

The Allied Forces in Salonika, were to be kept on the Eastern Front (Southern Aegean / Sea of Marmara region) almost five more years, until August 1923.  Holst was with them in Salonika (present-day Thessaloniki) and Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) part of this time, on active service with the British Expeditionary Force with the YMCA for some eight months.

Salonika postcard mailed in 1918. The photograph was taken earlier since the defensive chemise around the White Tower was demolished in 1917. A massive fire also devastated much of the Old Town in 1917. The White Tower, now a museum, remains an iconic symbol of present-day Thessaloniki

His mission with the YMCA Auxiliary?

As Music Organiser, to bring music to help heal and revitalise exhausted Allied troops waiting to be demobilised, by one-on-one teaching, organising choirs, an orchestra, concerts and lectures.  But even before he set sail for the Eastern front, there was much to be done.

YMCA Music Section logo





Holst’s brother Emil, working since 1908 as a Broadway actor under the name Ernest Cossart, later a successful movie actor, was badly wounded while serving in the Canadian army during WW1

At the beginning of the war, Holst and his friend Vaughan Williams, both around 40 years old, had volunteered for military service. “The recruiting office had little use for a man who could hardly hold a fountain pen, let alone a rifle, and who was unable to recognise his own family at a distance of more than six yards,” his daughter Imogen wrote in her biography of her father.

Holst later heard about Vaughan Williams’ work with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika and France. “Having been trained as a 6” Howitzer man, I’ve been bunged into a 60 pounder!” RVW wrote to his friend at one point.

As the war went on, his fellow composers and friends George Butterworth, Cecil Coles, and Ernest Farrar were all killed in action.

His wife Isobel was a volunteer ambulance driver throughout the war.

During the repeated air raids over London, Holst applied for work that would help the war effort, only to face rejection.

Meanwhile, with his thoughts constantly on the war, Holst continued teaching at St. Paul’s Girls’ School and, in the evenings, teaching adult classes at Morley College. More significantly for us, he kept busy composing in the soundproofed studio the school had constructed for him.

He wrote the ground-breaking Suite The Planets between 1914 and 1917, having to dictate part of the movement he completed last, Mercury, the Winged Messenger, because of the neuritis in his right arm.

Although he always downplayed its direct connection with WW1, the mighty Mars, the Bringer of War, completed just months before the outbreak of war in August 1914, clearly anticipates the horrors to come.

Holst’s name presented problems. Born Gustavus Theodore von Holst to musical parents, his German ancestry dated back to his great-grandfather Matthias (1769–1854) born in Rīga, of German stock – he was a composer, pianist and teacher to the Imperial Russian court in St Petersburg. This would have been a bit of a mouthful to explain to war-weary troops in Salonika.

Anti-German sentiment even against a British musician born in the comfort of a middle-class Cheltenham home was not in short supply in 1918.

G. T. VonHolst Esq’s application for Auxiliary work is accepted by the government’s Military
Intelligence Department


Holst changed his name by deed poll September 24, 1918.

Centre-right, Holst’s birthplace in 1874, then 4 Pittville Terrace, now 4 Clarence Road, and the Holst Birthplace Museum since 1975

(He was, of course, beaten to it by Mr and Mrs Saxe Coburg-Gotha, henceforth to be known as George and Mary Windsor).


Military training followed, in Nottinghamshire. “I’m going with the YMCA to Salonica for a year – it is a special educational mission. In order to be of more use I am dropping the ‘von’. I’m here under canvas and in mud learning my job.” he wrote to a friend at the time. Then Holst sought out some advice in piano tuning and maintenance, equipping him with some of the skills he would need in Salonika.

A welcome parting gift came from a friend, Henry Balfour Gardiner (great-uncle of the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner). He hired Queen’s Hall and the London Symphony Orchestra for the morning of September 29, 1918 for a private read-through of The Planets with a small invited audience. There was time for a quick rehearsal with Adrian Boult leading the musicians and a chorus made up of

A report from London’s Musical Standard outlining the work of the YMCA in camps throughout the field of war, at troop hospitals at home and in internment camps in Europe.
Holst’s posting is mentioned.

members of Holst’s evening educational classes at Morley College and a few girls from St Paul’s. The public premiere of the suite had to wait until November 15, 1920.

Holst finally arrived in Salonika December 1, 1918 and quickly settled into a shared room at the YMCA Education Office, 19 Evonon.

Two days later,, an entry in his diary reads: “Wrote lecture in morning, singing lesson Lucas Collins, Theory Lucas Collins, Interview Hagget, and see Bates at night at H2.” (the main YMCA hut in the city).

Still, music education must have been an uphill struggle for all concerned, though Holst appears to have done his best to create a welcoming environment out of his music room. Before the end of the month he wrote to his wife:

“It has a bed, two chairs, three tables and many shelves made of packing cases. I have been there every afternoon except one when I went to the Scottish Women’s Hospital to arrange teaching wounded French and Serbians (I fancy teaching tonic solfa to Serbians!) and men come in for lessons whenever they can. It is a free and easy

arrangement that appeals to them greatly.”

For three long years, the Allied expeditionary force, based in Salonika in the North of a divided Greece, had fought to support Serbia in defending a 250-mile front against Bulgarian and pro-German forces.

By late September 1918, suffering thousands of deaths on both sides, widespread influenza, rampant malaria (with over 160,000 cases in the British Salonika force alone) and exhaustion after the extended stalemate in primitive living conditions, the Allied contingent entered Bulgarian territory.

The Salonika Armistice came into effect September 29, 1918, the very same day that Holst’s The Planets introduced both war (Mars) and peace (Venus) to a London concert hall.

Another armistice was declared when the Ottoman Empire collapsed a month later. Holst would later travel with the Salonika Forces to Constantinople.

Salonika Camp Christmas card 1918





Holst had a keen eye when walking around the battered city of  Salonika.

On Christmas Day, 1918 he wrote to his wife:

“I went on a long walk and visited an old church that was first a church and then a mosque and then a church again and now a ruin because it was burnt by the terrible fire last year and since then has been used as a living place for starving refugees.”

“Our Camp Concert” is the title of this postcard below, produced by the YMCA c1916. Even though it may have sent the men running, music was an important part of camp life.





On other occasions, Holst traveled to many of the other camps in the region, giving lectures, lessons and training choirs.

January 25, 1919 finds him in Serres and his diary reads:

“Walk alone on hills till 1 am. Motor across Struma plain – see men ploughing. Arrive Serres midday . . . Lecture 7 to 8:30. Sleep on ground. Quite warm. Heard wolves in distance.”


Holst’s most ambitious event

One month later, Holst organised a “Concert of Music of British Composers” in the large canvas theatre of the 52nd General Hospital.

One of the Pomp and Circumstance marches of Elgar (little doubt that it was Land of Hope and Glory) opened the ambitious event. A part-song for female voices by Elgar was also included.

Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the most popular oratorio among British choral societies since Handel’s Messiah, was the centrepiece. And there was music by Purcell too, though nothing by Holst himself.

“Hundreds, including a number of red-hatted staff officers, were turned away. Some 500 sat on chairs, others on the ground, in the orchestra, in the dressing-rooms, behind the chorus and in other odd corners (five men and a dog sat on the double-bass case!).” (The Musical Standard)

By March, Holst and most of the entire camp were re-posted to Constantinople, present-day Istanbul. Buoyed by the success of the Salonika concert, Holst repeated the event at the Theatre Petits-champs in Constantinople, this time over six consecutive evenings in June.


Holst felt that the results were mixed. But his followers had enduring memories long after being demobbed and resuming lives cruelly interrupted by the war.

Laura Kinnear, curator of an intimate, well-documented exhibition at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham titled Gustav Holst’s WW1 with the Salonika Forces – to whom I am indebted for much of the information and graphics for this blog post – quotes one soldier who wrote to the BBC in September 1950:

“My happiest memory was of the morning visits with a few of his keener followers to where, seated at the organ with the men clustered around, he used to teach us simple harmonies . . . The greatness of Holst as a man was enhanced by his innate humility and his desire to enrich the musical understanding of a crowd of very ordinary soldiers. This episode will remain with me as one of the most fragrant memories of my life.”

Holst left for England towards the end of June 1919. He had not found time or the inspiration to compose while in Salonika or Constantinople and his wartime years of composition had produced little that directly reflected its impact. But there was more to come and it was to result directly from his first-hand experience among the troops on the Eastern Front.

The Ode to Death, for chorus and orchestra,was written that summer upon his return. It is the most powerful and, perhaps, meaningful of his choral works, written in memory of lost friends. The words are by Walt Whitman taken from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, the American poet’s elegy upon the assassination of Lincoln. Holst turns this short choral work into a music of transcendent beauty, conveying not a sense of despair of the millions of lives so futilely lost, but rather a feeling of pride in their sacrifice and profound gratitude for what they achieved.

© copyright 2018 Keith Horner – khnotes@sympatico.ca

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Mr Nobody (aka Mr Mystery) meets Mr Busoni

September 04, 2018

In his season-opening concert – his 12th on the MusicTORONTO stage – Canadian virtuoso Marc-André Hamelin includes some of his favourite piano transcriptions.  They include six by Mr Nobody.

Piano transcriptions, you say?

Not the real thing?

Secondhand piano music?

Mr Nobody?  A composer who daren’t show his face?

Let’s start where Marc-André will start his recital, with what is probably the most transcribed of all pieces in the classical repertoire: the Chaconne which closes Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin in grand style.

Mendelssohn was the earliest to make the modest sound of Bach’s violin more ‘alive’ for an early 19th c concert audience by filling out the harmonies of the solo line by adding piano accompaniment. (Violinist Catherine Manoukian played Mendelssohn’s version, together with Schumann’s paler attempt to spice up the Chaconne for MusicTORONTO back in 2002. Anyone remember?).

Later on, we find Brahms writing to Clara Schumann and saying that by putting his left-hand to work and giving his right-hand the night off, playing his own left-hand transcription “makes me feel like a violinist.”

But Brahms was too respectful to Bach’s score and it took the one-armed Swiss pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961) to put the pianistic fireworks into a left-hand transcription for piano – in the process, extending Bach’s three-octave range and Brahms’s four, to 5.5 octaves.

Little space to mention impressive efforts made with Chaconne transcriptions for other instruments here. Lingering for a moment over a reverential, almost religious performance of his Busoni-inspired transcription for guitar that I heard from a silver-haired Segovia in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre back in the early 1970s.
And there was the ghostly, often ethereal, but still rich dumpling of an orchestral transcription that the 92-year-old Leopold Stokowski recorded with the LSO for Decca in St Giles church, Cripplegate in that same long-gone era.

Ferruccio Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Busoni, on the other hand, took another approach, as you might expect with a composer whose very name reads like a transcription.

First, he re-imagined the Chaconne transcribed for organ in his mind, then he set to work transcribing this mental sonic picture for the piano.

Busoni uses all the piano registers, just about the full 7.25 octaves of the keyboard, from the lowest A to highest B-flat, and all three pedals.

The resulting masterpiece, bristling with four or five layers of counterpoint and eight or nine-voiced chords, will come alive under the fingers of Marc-André Hamelin.

Maybe you’ll be persuaded to join me in believing that a great composer-pianist can be inspired to create a transcription which not only casts new light on the original, but stands in its own right as an artistic creation of equal grandeur.

Chaconne à son goût! . . . “Chacun sa chaconne!”**

Which brings us to Mr Nobody and his brilliant efforts to bring French popular café songs to the concert platform.  Just listen to this shimmering transcription of En Avril, à Paris by Mr Nobody.


Mr Nobody’s En Avril, à Paris is like an intricately-woven spider’s web, glistening in the sun, wrapped around a simple six-note earworm of a tune.







Here’s another transcription, this time a glittering, less-than-one-minute take by Mr Nobody on Trenet’s 1938 story of lost love left behind in the hilly quarter of Paris known as Ménilmontant.


Mr Nobody released six of his arrangements of songs sung by Charles Trenet (1913–2001), the most influential popular French singer-songwriter of the mid-20th century, in the 1950s on a 45-rpm EP record on the Lumen label.

Cassette copies circulated. Insiders, of course, knew or had a good idea of the identity of the clearly brilliant pianist behind the release. (Marc-André Hamelin tells the tale in the MusicTORONTO program notes). But only in relatively recent times has it become publicly known that the pianist was Alexis Weissenberg (1929-2012).

The career of the Bulgarian-born, longtime Paris resident had its ups (winner of the 1947 prestigious Leventritt Award, then international bookings) and its downs (a decade under the radar, unhappy with his interpretations and career, working on his technique, teaching). Then more ups (recording all five Beethoven Concertos with Karajan and the Berlin Phil for EMI, decades at the top of his game performing and recording most of the standard rep) – and downs (he disappeared once more, eventually dying in Madrid from Parkinson’s disease).

Weissenberg was famously criticised for the cold precision of a finely-honed, prodigious technique, offering, in the words of one critic, “all the warmth and humanity of an autopsy.” When asked how much of his playing was intuitive and how much pre-planned,Weissenberg bit back at his interviewer: “All of it is intuitive and all of it is pre-planned.”

The name “Mr Nobody” was dreamed up to prevent negative association with crossover music long before the term was invented. Anonymity gave Weissenberg permission to explore a less buttoned, side of his complex, highly cultured, eloquently-spoken personality. This was the side that French tv viewers saw in the 1970s and 80s when the good-looking, sharply-dressed, suavely-spoken pianist could be seen as accompanist to the likes of Charles Aznavour and Nana Mouskouri.



“Mister Mystery” was another nom de plume of the pianist, who took French citizenship.


Weissenberg’s sleeve notes for the original 45-rpm release of his own transcriptions of melodies from My Fair Lady give an entertaining description of how to go about the serious business of making a piano transcription — the process of successfully transfering one musical medium to another.



“You take a tune you like and play it inside out, for yourself, until you are sick of it,” Weissenberg says.  “Then, the first thing you have to do about it is forget it.  Forget it, honestly; play other things, other tunes.

“When you come back to it, the tune will have ripened, ‘matured’, in your head, in your heart, in your feet, wherever you like. Don’t touch the score again. Play it the way you think you remember it. Your way.

“Now you have the basic element of your concoction. Put it in the shaker such as it is, or upside down, if you prefer. At this point, before adding ice cubes or egg yolks, (which in musical terms are called harmonies and modulations), you have to think up carefully the ‘spices’ you want to mix to make it really a ‘Special’, ‘Tops’, or an A-Plus’ beverage.

“Think hard. Olives, mustard, pepper, Angostura, mint, sugar, lemon, lime, Worcestershire, and Ketchup correspond, in music, to rhythms, trills, sound-effects, counterpoints, syncopated notes, triplets, glissandi, and such happy combinations as a schizophrenic battery and a non-committal bass, and, from time to time, the use of a triangle, of course.

“Once the choice is established, add the spices to your basic element. If necessary, multiply them. Put in an extra melody, if you so desire. Close the shaker tight and shake. Shake hard. When you open the shaker and pour out the content, you’ll have an arrangement all your own.”






Somebody should have told Busoni it is that easy!

Jazz colours many of Weissenberg’s compositions, which include a musical, Nostalgie, which premièred in 1992 and a musical comedy La fugue, which Martha Argerich presented in Lugano in 2008 (well into Weissenberg’s illness). Marc-André Hamelin brought Weissenberg’s 1982 Sonata in a State of Jazz to MusicTORONTO a few years ago. It’s a kind of jazz re-mix in which he distils the essence of four types of jazz popular in the 1950s – the tango, charleston, blues and samba – and structures them within a classical framework.

Earlier times are recalled with these selections from the Charles Trenet collection which Marc-André Hamelin will be playing in his 2018-19 season opener next month – and which you can hear Mr Nobody play right now!











Visit this growing archive for more rare recordings, interviews, photos, videos and much more.  http://alexisweissenbergarchive.com/


** FOOTNOTE: “Chacun sa chaconne” are the concluding words of a chapter on Bach transcriptions from a book on virtuoso piano transcriptions by a brilliant pianist and dear colleague, Rian de Waal (1958-2011) with whom I worked on several projects. Metamorphoses: the art of the virtuoso piano transcription is published by Eburon Publishers, Delft (2013) and includes 6 CDs containing 50 tracks of professionally recorded virtuoso transcriptions, many of which are rarieties.

Marc-André Hamelin plays Bach-Busoni, Feinberg, Weissenberg-Trenet, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Chopin, Tuesday October 2, 2018
© copyright 2018 Keith Horner – khnotes@sympatico.ca

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On the Trail of . . . Ralph Vaughan Williams (part one)

All Saints' Church, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire

All Saints’ Church, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire

“19 villagers.
3 smallholders.
12 slaves.
1 priest.”


Those were the residents of the lovely Cotswold village of Down Ampney, as recorded in the Domesday Book of 1066.


That priest’s successor (with a switch from priest to vicar after Henry VIII’s say in such matters) was the father of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

The English composer died exactly 60 years ago, August 26 this year, and, earlier in the month, I went to take a look at the village where he was born. Preparations were underway for its first, modestly-scaled Vaughan Williams Festival (August 24-27).

The church is the centre of attention for both festival and visitor. Built by the Knights Templar, All Saints’ Church, Down Ampney first opened for business back in 1265.


Various brushes with plagues in the Middle Ages led to the village developing in directions away from its church, giving today’s setting the sort of pastoral tranquility where you could easily come upon a lark ascending.

But it wasn’t in Down Ampney that Vaughan Williams would have likely remembered hearing the larks that bring such a haunting beauty to his music.



Rev’d Arthur Vaughan Williams (1834-75)
Click to enlarge

The Rev’d Arthur Charles Vaughan Williams died when Ralph was only a little over two years old and the family had to move.

VW Snr. is buried at Down Ampney and has a memorial stained glass window inside the church where he gave sermons.


Memorial window to the Rev'd Arthur Vaughan Williams

Memorial window to the
Rev’d Arthur Vaughan Williams

There is a campaign underway to raise funds for the adjacent window to become a stained glass memorial to his son before the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2022.




RVW birthplace as it was

RVW birthplace as it was


Vaughan Williams was born in the vicarage, in the centre of the village. The house is now in private hands.



The Old Vicarage, Down Ampney, today

The Old Vicarage, Down Ampney, today

English folksong, Elizabethan and Jacobean music and English hymns were the ingredients that triggered the musical style of Vaughan Williams. He was to become the leading English composer of his day and a key figure in the revival of English music.

Although an agnostic, he did edit The English Hymnal between 1904-6, purging it of Victoriana, rediscovering old tunes, adapting over 40 folk songs as hymns and writing several himself.

These included one he titled Down Ampney after the village where he was born. It’s sung to the words Come down, O love divine.

Down Ampney has returned the favour . . . with a street . . . which leads nowhere . . .

Linden Lea - a dead-end street in Down Ampney

Linden Lea – a dead-end street in Down Ampney


Down Ampney could do better.

Meanwhile, here’s the original Linden Lea sung by the Choir of New College, Oxford.

We did drive carefully, as the sign requests, and there will be more Vaughan Williams in a later post.


Blog post and photographs © copyright 2018 Keith Horner – khnotes@sympatico.ca

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On the trail of . . . Joseph Haydn in Eisenstadt

January 08, 2017

Esterházy Palace overlooking the town of Eisenstadt in present-day Austria

Esterházy Palace overlooking the town of Eisenstadt in present-day Austria

It is still quite easy to imagine walking in the footsteps of Joseph Haydn in Eisenstadt, a small town in the Austrian Burgenland, less than 50 km south-east of Vienna. Eisenstadt was the principal residence of the Esterházy family, whom Haydn served for more than four decades, and it was here that he created much of a vast catalogue of musical compositions.

Haydn received winter and summer livery each year as part of his Esterházy salary. Photo 1772-3 attrib Grundmann, painted C Peel

Haydn received winter and summer livery each year as part of his Esterházy salary

Walking a few steps beyond the palace, to the left of my photo above, you can find the Margaretinum.  It’s now a parish centre and, before that, a convent.  Even earlier, the building housed an apartment where the young Haydn lived with his wife in the early 1760s, when he was appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to Prince Paul Anton Esterházy.

Next door lies the Bergkirche where Haydn played the organ. His remains have lain in its crypt for almost two centuries. Sad to recount, Haydn’s corpse has only been reunited with its skull for a little over a quarter of this time . . . . . . maybe more of this gruesome tale in a later post.
A few minutes walk in the opposite direction, behind the buildings to the right above, there’s the Joseph Haydngasse – which was known as the Klostergasse in Haydn’s day.

No. 21 is the house that Haydn bought in 1766 once he was feeling confident in his future, having taken over the full Kapellmeistership of the Esterházy court.

Joseph Haydngasse, with No. 21 to the centre right

Joseph Haydngasse, with No. 21 to the centre right

Haydn and his wife lived upstairs, with his copyist Johann Elssler and pupils occupying a former stable on the ground floor.

The Haydn-Haus has been a museum since 1935. Its scope increased significantly after 1998 when the neighbouring property was acquired and carefully restored to allow for more display space.

Its eight rooms aim to give a picture of Haydn and his times in a chronological sequence.

There’s a fine looking Anton Walter piano from 1780, believed to have been used by Haydn. Sadly, I couldn’t find a way of  laying a finger upon it.

The Haydn-Haus (centre left) from the opposite direction, looking at the Franziscanerkirche

The Haydn-Haus (centre left) from the opposite direction, looking at the Franziscanerkirche

Anton Grassi bust of Haydn (1802)

Anton Grassi bust of Haydn (1802)

A standout, for me, is a craquelé porcelain bust made by Anton Grassi, for which Haydn sat in 1799 and again in 1802. This comes closest to the mental picture of the composer that I have built up for myself over the years through reading about the man and listening to the music.


Autograph scores, original letters and early printed scores which were formerly in the museum now appear to have been moved.


An exhibition Haydn and the Women: 12 stories about music and love coyly delves into Haydn’s sex life, without saying anything that’s new.


 Maria Anna Theresia Haydn (bap.1729-1800)

Maria Anna Theresia Haydn (bap.1729-1800)

Haydn married Maria Anna Theresia Keller, daughter of a wigmaker, in 1760 having first fallen in love with her sister, destined for a nunnery.

Unlike Mozart, who similarly first fell for the wrong sister a generation later, Haydn did not have a happy marriage.
Both Haydns had affairs and there were no children.
The Haydns were to remain together until Maria Anna’s death in 1800.

Her affair was with the court painter Ludwig Guttenbrunn.

His was (mainly) with the soprano Luigia Polzelli, hired with her violinist husband for the Esterháza opera in 1779, fired by Prince Nicolaus in 1780, but almost immediately reinstated (for the remaining decade of the relationship) at Haydn’s request.

Haydn wrote just one role for Luigia’s limited talents. He did, however, spend much time adapting, rewriting and arranging arias in operas by other composers that were presented in the busy Esterháza season, to best display her way with music described as “light, ironic and charming.”

Haydn is believed to have been the father of her son Antonio. He provided for the young violinist in his will and Antonio’s daughter, in turn, maintained that she was Haydn’s grand daughter.


 City plaque showing key Haydn sites in Eisenstadt

City plaque showing key Haydn sites in Eisenstadt

Along with the house at Klostergasse 21, the Haydns acquired several plots of land, including a “kitchen garden behind the hospital,” beyond the city walls.

Needless to say “Secrets from Mrs. Haydn’s Garden” is now a tourist attraction in itself, by ticket only.

An inventory drawn up following one of the two fires that damaged the Haydn-Haus during the 12 years that Haydn lived there reveals that he raised pigs and chickens received as part of his salary in this Kräutergarten.

Who knew?



Reluctant to let the Mozartkugel have the market to itself, Eisenstadt's Altdorfer bakery, dating back to Haydn's time, recently introduced the delicious Haydnrolle

Reluctant to let the Mozartkugel have the market to itself, Eisenstadt’s Altdorfer bakery, dating back to Haydn’s time, recently introduced the delicious Haydnrolle











Haydnsaal and stage in the Esterházy Palace

Haydnsaal and stage in the Esterházy Palace

Haydnsaal rear, balcony and elegant Garden Room beyond

Haydnsaal rear, balcony and elegant Garden Room beyond

Pride of place in the big house on the hill goes to the Haydnsaal, a 650-seat concert hall with outstanding acoustical and visual elements.
The room dates back to a Baroque building phase when 13th century fortress was transformed into 17th century palace.  Attractive ceiling frescos by Carpoforo Tencala tell the story of Psyche and Amor.

Berlin-based manager Andreas Richter programs the April through October concert season on behalf of the Esterházy Foundation. The Banff prizewinning Rolston Quartet will make its debut in the Haydnsaal June 6, 2017 and return the following year.
Richter outlined this year’s annual festival for me in a recent interview.
It runs September 6 – 16, 2017, titled Herbst Gold / Autumn Gold.
More details of the season, including stylish picnic concerts in the
splendid palace grounds HERE.

Eisenstadt during a recent off-season visit

Eisenstadt during a recent off-season visit




Some recent vintages produced on the extensive Esterházy estates. Details HERE. Haydn had a comfortable wine allowance of 504 litres per annum!

Some recent vintages produced on the extensive Esterházy estates.
Details HERE.
Haydn had a comfortable wine allowance of 504 litres per annum!






Haydn led a comfortable, if demanding, life working for the Esterházy family.

Under Prince Nicolaus he and the musicians initially moved between Eisenstadt and Vienna.

By the 1770s, as opera became the centre of the prince’s attention, a hunting lodge at Süttör was transformed into a new summer palace, complete with two theatres, one for opera, the other for marionette opera.

Now, Haydn’s life involved long summer residences at the newly named Esterháza palace, just across today’s Hungarian border.

The scale of the enterprise was huge, peaking in the year 1786, with 125 performances of 17 different operas, all of them under the direction of Haydn, several of them also composed by him.

With less time to spend in Eisenstadt, Haydn sold his house there in 1778 and lived in the accomodation built for the court musicians in the three hubs of their activity: Esterháza, Eisenstadt and, in December and January, Vienna.

With the death on Prince Nicolaus in 1790, opera for Haydn and the Esterházy family came to a crashing halt.

Prince Anton dismissed all the court musicians save his music director Haydn and concertmaster Tomasini.

The classical facade of the Esterházy palace is one of the main legacies made during the belt-tightening four-year rule of Prince Anton Esterházy

The classical facade of the Esterházy palace is one of the main legacies of the belt-tightening four-year rule of Prince Anton Esterházy

Haydn, however, survived the downsizing quite well.

He now had a pension of 1,000 gulden per annum from Prince Nicolaus’s will, plus a salary from Prince Anton of another 400 gulden.

With little music at court, the way was clear for Haydn – now the most celebrated living composer in Europe – to accept an invitation to travel to London for two visits in the early 1790s.

His successor, Nicolaus II extended the classical design to the garden facade of the palace. He completed only the centre columns and extensive landscaped gardens in the English style, complete with copses, grottoes, pools and temples, plus glasshouses and even an English steam engine to pump water around the park

His successor, Nicolaus II extended the classical design to the garden facade of the palace. He completed only the centre columns and extensive landscaped gardens in the English style, complete with copses, grottoes, pools and temples, plus glasshouses and even an English steam engine to pump water around the park

His house in Eisenstadt had brought in 2,000 gulden; but his time in London netted a princely 15,000 gulden.

“Such a thing is possible only in England,” the gleeful composer reported after one of his highly successful benefit concerts.

The rich proceeds of Haydn’s travel, together with his astute business sense selling his manuscripts to publishers across Europe, helped him prepare for old age in Vienna.

He purchased a house in 1793 for 1,370 gulden and had renovations done while he was away in the British capital.

With a salary increase to 700 gulden under Anton’s successor, Nicolaus II, and a wine allowance now at 515 litres a year, a complimentary uniform and various lump sum payments, Haydn additionally negotiated apothecary bills into his contract.

These were substantial and were to amount to 1,000 gulden in the final year of his life.

St Martin's, Eisenstadt's present-day cathedral. Haydn directed the first performance of his Missa in angustiis, the "Nelson' Mass from the organ here in 1798

St Martin’s, Eisenstadt’s present-day cathedral. Haydn directed the first performance of his Missa in angustiis, the ‘Nelson’ Mass,  from the organ here in 1798



Nicolaus II spent the main season, the winter season, in Vienna, with the main musical performances of a much reduced ensemble (now a wind harmonie of eight and string ensemble of a similar size) taking place in September and October. Haydn’s late masses date from this period.




Haydn’s Bergkirche undergoing restoration,sporting the banner ‘Restoration 2020: we’re saving the Haydn church.’ Haydn’s Bergkirche was originally intended as the presbytery to a much larger church, planned but never built. Throughout the 20th century – except for the year 1945 – to the present day, Haydn’s Seven Last Words has been performed here every Good Friday





Most of these six masses were privately performed on the nameday of the prince’s wife, Princess Marie, during a church service in the Bergkirche.



Incomplete rear of Bergkirche

Incomplete rear of Bergkirche





In Vienna, meanwhile, Haydn was having some of the greatest successes of his life with his two newly written oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.


By 1806, Haydn was confined to his house and never returned to Eisenstadt.

He was a celebrated figure throughout the musical world, but frail and no longer composing. He was taken to a special performance of The Creation by Princess Esterházy and family, but it proved too overwhelming for him. He had to leave at the end of Part One.

Haydn died peacefully in his sleep at 12:40am, May 31, 1809.

The very beautiful and moving Haydn mausoleum in the Bergkirche

The very beautiful and moving Haydn mausoleum in the Bergkirche












The St. Lawrence Quartet will play two of Haydn’s Op. 20 string quartets, written in Eisenstadt in 1772 and first performed there, for MusicTORONTO, January 26, 2017.

Blog post and photographs © copyright 2017 Keith Horner – khnotes@sympatico.ca

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