Haydn's Symphony No. 6 in D ("Le matin")
performed at Staunton Music Festival
August 17, 2019
Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA
violin: Plamena Nikitassova (leader), Natalie Kress, Minna Pensola
viola: Kathleen Overfield-Zook cello: Michael Unterman
violone: Heather Miller Lardin flute: Immanuel Davis
oboe: Alek Fester, Margaret Owens bassoon: Keith Collins
horn: Todd Williams, Ian Zook harpsichord: Mark Shuldiner
video by Stewart Searle
About the Music
Not surprisingly, among his 104 symphonies, there are several by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) that seem to fit well with the various times of the day. At today’s noon concert we performed his Symphony No. 7, subtitled “Midday.” That work is the central one of three written upon being hired by Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy in early 1761. Haydn would write over 70 symphonies while in the service of the Esterhazy family, beginning with Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, and 8. In fact, the very idea to write three “time of day” symphonies seems to have come from Prince Anton himself. Taking this commission to heart and wanting to impress his new employer, Haydn penned the symphonies in quick succession. Each symphony includes fabulous solo passages for various instruments, giving each member of this excellent orchestra a chance to stand out. Ingratiating himself with his fellow musicians was a masterful first step by the new composer-in-residence.
As is often the case with Haydn’s symphonies, a nickname gets attached that usually bears only minimal relation to the entire work. In the case of Symphony No. 6, Le Matin (“Morning”), the evocative gesture occurs right at the outset. An Adagio introduction, scored initially for unaccompanied violins, expands gradually like the coming dawn, drawing out the other instruments in turn. Solo flute then takes the lead at the outset of the Allegro main theme, perhaps redolent of twittering birds at first light. These naturalistic touches led by solo winds mark the remainder of the exposition. One noteworthy detail, looking ahead many years to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, is the premature solo horn entry just moments before the true capitulation occurs.
In the second movement one will hear the similarity between the symphony circa 1761 and the earlier concerto grosso tradition. Features like the reduced texture (minimal strings supporting solo violin), use of accompanying harpsichord, and the simple chord progression hearken back a generation. The solo writing later spills over from violin to cello, and the pair enjoy moments of delightful dialogue. Returning to the Adagio material, Haydn seems poised to parrot a late Baroque transition and finish with a traditional Phrygian half cadence. But he eschews this expectation with a simple V–I cadence, rounding the movement off before proceeding into the next one. The Minuet features solo flute, but the clearest demonstration of Haydn’s intent—which is to explore concertante textures, even moments that approach the quality of true chamber music—comes out forcefully in the delightful D-minor trio and the bustling finale. Even though there seems to be nothing beyond the opening page of the symphony to suggest “morning,” the evident charm and striking use of soloistic writing sets these “time of day” symphonies apart.
© Jason Stell, 2019
Performed in 2016, Bach's magnificent Mass in B Minor includes both grand chorus and tender solos and duets. The "Domine Deus" is scored for flute solo, played by Immanuel Davis, and vocal duet featuring soprano Megan Chartrand and tenor Scott Mello.
In 2017 Heather Miller Lardin joined a fabulous period-instrument performance of Schubert's beloved "Trout" Quintet. Featuring Guillaume Pirard (violin), Kyle Miller (viola), James Wilson (cello), and Andrew Willis (fortepiano). Program notes included.
The modern double bass (or contrabass) has a long history reaching back into the Renaissance, when it was known as a violone or bass viol. Heather Miller Lardin takes a few minutes to show four violone from her collection, including instruments suitable for Bach, Haydn, and Schubert.
During the 2018 season, festival musicians presented a complete, period-instrument performance of Bach's beautiful "Funeral Ode" in memory of Poland's Queen, for soloists, chorus and orchestra. In HD with accompanying program notes.
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