Haydn: Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Le Matin (The Morning) │ Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Cello and Orchestra

Franz Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, almost certainly on March 31, 1732—as he was baptized on April 1—and died May 31, 1809, in Vienna. He apparently composed his Symphony No. 6 in the spring of 1761, and it was premiered shortly after it was written, at the Esterházy Palace in Vienna’s Wallnerstrasse. The first and only San Francisco Symphony subscription performances were in January 1979, with Edo de Waart conducting. The score calls for flute, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, and strings. A keyboard instrument may also have served in a continuo capacity, although historical evidence leaves room for disagreement about this. Harpsichord will be used in these performances. Performance time: about twenty-four minutes.

Haydn wrote the Cello Concerto in C major between 1761 and 1765, and it was most likely first played by Joseph Franz Weigl, solo cellist of the Esterházy orchestra. Lost for nearly two hundred years, it was rediscovered in Czechoslovakia in 1961 and had its first performance in modern times on May 19, 1962, in Prague, when it was played by Miloš Sádlo with Charles Mackerras conducting the Czech Radio Symphony. Jacqueline du Pré was soloist in the first SFS performances, with Seiji Ozawa conducting, in February 1970. The most recent performances were given in February 2010, with soloist Joshua Roman, and with Herbert Blomstedt conducting. The orchestra consists of two oboes, two horns, and strings with harpsichord. Alisa Weilerstein will be playing cadenzas from the Henle edition. Performance time: about twenty-four minutes.

In 1761, Franz Joseph Haydn took a step that would define the rest of his career and, by extension, the course of Western musical history. That spring he accepted the post of Vice-Capellmeister (assistant musical director) for the Esterházy princes, a powerful family of Austrian-Hungarian aristocrats who ruled over vast expanses of Central Europe.

This was a momentous appointment. Haydn had been born into humble circumstances: his father was a wheelwright who doubled as village sexton, his mother a cook for the local count until she started giving birth to her twelve children, of whom Franz Joseph was the second. As a child, he demonstrated enough musical aptitude to gain a prestigious spot as a boy soprano in the choir of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. When his voice changed and his usefulness in the choir ran out, he struggled to get by as best an essentially unemployed musician could in a Vienna that hardly lacked for musicians, living in a cheap garret apartment, borrowing money from a relative, and eking out his livelihood as an accompanist, music teacher, and street musician. In 1759, he secured his first official post, as Capellmeister to Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin, who maintained a country estate in Lukavec, Bohemia. Due to belt-tightening at the court, the job didn’t last long, but it served as a stepping-stone to the position that would shape Haydn’s entire career. Haydn began acting as musical consultant to the Esterházy court even a few weeks (perhaps months) before he received his official three-year contract from Prince Paul Anton Esterházy on May 1, 1761. By that time, he had already effected personnel changes in the Esterházy musical staff, hiring seven new wind players and weeding out a few local performers who apparently weren’t up to snuff. The players traveled with Prince Paul Anton and his successors to spend time at the court’s palace in Vienna and at its summer residences in Eisenstadt (some thirty miles to the southeast) and the castle of Kitsee, overlooking the Danube.

Being Vice-Capellmeister, Haydn occupied the second spot in the court’s musical hierarchy. The Capellmeister was Gregor Joseph Werner, who had held that position since 1728. Paul Anton was careful to clarify that hiring Haydn was not to be taken as a sign that the aging Werner was being put out to pasture; Werner, the Prince decreed, would continue to be in charge of all church music, while Haydn would relieve him in instrumental activities. Werner felt threatened all the same, and in October 1765 he petitioned the court to do something about what he considered the decaying standards of its musical establishment, clearly (as he saw it) due to the indolence of Haydn—or, as he put it, that “little song-maker.” The matter took care of itself: when Werner died, in 1766 at the age of 75, Haydn was immediately elevated to the post of Capellmeister, overseeing music in all genres, sacred as well as secular.

Paul Anton had died on March 18, 1762, not quite a year into Haydn’s tenure. It was tragic that the man who set the stage for Haydn’s remarkable flowering should not live to enjoy the fruits of his efforts. But the Esterházy dynasty persisted, with Paul Anton’s brother, Nicholas “the Magnificent,” succeeding him. Haydn served Nicholas devotedly until the latter’s death, in 1790, after which he enjoyed a looser relationship with the court. Most of Haydn’s famous symphonies date from the middle and later years of his career, though the most well-known of them were written not for the Esterházy court but rather for musical enterprises elsewhere: his “Paris Symphonies” (Nos. 82-87), plus Nos. 90-92 for concert producers in France in the 1780s, his “London Symphonies” (Nos. 93-104) for his residencies in England during the following decade.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 6, however, takes us back practically to the beginning of his career as a symphonist. It is the opening work of a triptych of “Times of the Day” symphonies he composed to inaugurate his involvement with the court’s revamped musical staff:  his Symphonies No. 6, Le Matin (The Morning); No. 7, Le Midi (The Noon); and No. 8, Le Soir (The Evening). He crafted them to include virtuosic, concerto-like passages featuring the solo players who were the pride of his reconstituted ensemble. These pieces served a dual purpose; they not only showed Prince Paul Anton what Haydn could achieve as a symphonic composer, but also consolidated his warm relationship with the orchestra. After all, there could be no surer way for a composer/musical director to signal his respect for his players (and to gain their affection) than by spotlighting them in challenging solo passages.

In 1810, the landscape painter Albert Christoph Dies published a volume titled Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn (Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn), which he derived from interviews he had conducted with the composer in the course of thirty visits from 1805 through 1808. Dies’s report from the fifth of these visits relays the information that Prince Paul Anton “gave Haydn the four Times of the Day as a theme for a composition; he set these to music in the form of quartets, which are very little known.” Indeed, these presumed quartets are not known at all today. The general consensus is that the pieces were not quartets but rather symphonies, that they were three rather than four, and that the disparity can be blamed on either the haziness of Haydn’s memory forty-four years after the fact or Dies’s inaccuracy in noting down the information.

The orchestra at Haydn’s disposal when he wrote this triptych comprised one flutist, two oboists, two bassoonists (one doubling on double bass, apparently very well), two hornists, four violinists/viola players, and one cellist. It is likely that a harpsichord would have been available and that, under other circumstances, the composer might have presided over the ensemble from the keyboard. But, in the event, one of the violin/viola players was not in Vienna at the time, his services being temporarily required by the Esterházys’ church orchestra in Eisenstadt, some distance to the south; Haydn therefore played violin in the orchestra, and there was probably no harpsichord support.

Le Matin opens with a six-measure-long sunrise as the pianissimo of the first violins slowly expands in volume and orchestration to a brilliant, fortissimo blaze from the full ensemble. This breaks immediately into a rollicking movement in which the flute is honored with the theme, which it passes off to the oboe; these are the first of many solos that will jump out from the texture in the course of these three symphonies. Unpredictability was always a potent weapon in Haydn’s arsenal, and already in this early symphony we are treated to an unexpected, smile-inducing moment at the end of this movement’s exposition: the first horn gets a two-measure “false start” in revisiting the principal theme before the flute and accompanying strings do so to launch the recapitulation in proper fashion. (Orchestra aficionados may think of the similar “horn feint” that lay four decades in the future in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica.) 

The solo violin is especially prominent in the second and fourth movements; the second begins rather comically, as if (following solemn opening chords) the player were demonstrating scales at a music lesson. The violin’s decorative lines remain prominent through much of the movement, with solo cello sometimes adding its voice.

The flute returns as featured soloist in the Minuet, and in the dance’s middle section the two oboes, bassoon, and two horns get an obbligato moment as a wind choir. The unusual combination of bassoon and double bass launches the movement’s trio section, in which there is even a featured role for the viola, rarely singled out for attention in the orchestra of that time. In this symphony, every instrument gets a solo turn. Of all the movements, the Finale seems most to sit on the fence between the past and the future: while the principal themes and the harmonic procedures could only be early-Classical, some of the details hark back to late-Baroque style, especially the virtuosic violin solo at the movement’s center.

For years, there was only one Haydn cello concerto, a lyrically expansive work in D major, whose authenticity was questioned for a time but which is undoubtedly genuine and was composed in 1783. We also knew that Haydn had written an earlier Cello Concerto in C major. The information came from the so‑called Entwurf-Katalog—a “Draft Catalogue” of his own works that the composer began around 1765 and to which he added sporadically—and from the disarmingly titled “List of all the compositions which I can at present remember having composed from my eighteenth until my seventy‑third year,” assembled in old age with the help of his secretary/copyist Johann Elssler. But of the music itself for this C major Concerto there was no trace, and the work was in effect given up for lost.

Then, in 1961, the Czech musicologist Oldrich Pulkert discovered a good eighteenth‑century copy of the missing Concerto in the Radenín collection at the Prague National Museum. Both of Haydn's catalogues give the opening bars of the works in musical notation, so the identity was easy to establish. What cannot be precisely established is the date of composition, but stylistic criteria as well as the work's placement in the Entwurf‑Katalog strongly suggest that it dates to the beginning of Haydn's Esterházy years.

Even if we assume the latest possible date of 1765 for the C major Cello Concerto, we are placing the work only fifteen years after the death of J.S. Bach and six years after that of Handel (and Telemann was still alive and writing). No wonder then that so much Baroque style is still alive in this vibrant composition. The first movement is sturdy, confident music, written with a wonderfully developed sense for what the instrument can do. The Adagio, in which the oboes and horns are silent, is a rapt and lovely aria, and it shows that Haydn's pleasure in odd phrase lengths and other rhythmic surprises was part of his musical personality from the beginning. But it is the finale, a breathlessly excited and very quick Allegro, that is most captivating and original. The music is delightful in detail and masterful in design, and it makes for an ebullient close.

James M. Keller (Symphony No. 6) and Michael Steinberg (Cello Concerto)

Michael Steinberg, the San Francisco Symphony’s program annotator from 1979 to 1999 and a contributing writer to our program book until his death in July 2009, was one of the nation’s pre-eminent writers on music. We are privileged to continue publishing his program notes. His books are available at the Symphony Store in Davies Symphony Hall.

More About the Music

RecordingsFor the Symphony—Adam Fischer conducting the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra (Nimbus; also in Brilliant Classics’s 33-CD set of complete Haydn Symphonies)  |  Martin Haselböck conducting the Vienna Academy (Arts Music)  |  Sigiswald Kuijken leading La Petite Bande (Accent)  |  Jarosław Thiel conducting the NFM Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra (Accord)

For the Cello Concerto—Yo-Yo Ma with José-Luis Garcia conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (Sony)  |  Jacqueline du Pré with Daniel Barenboim conducting the English Chamber Orchestra (EMI Great Recordings of the Century)

ReadingHaydn: His Life and Works, by H.C. Robbins Landon and David Wyn Jones (Indiana University Press)  |  Haydn (Oxford Composers Companion), edited by David Wyn Jones (Oxford University Press)  |  The Music of Joseph Haydn: The Symphonies, by Antony Hodgson (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press)