Haydn, Cello Concerto No. 1 in C-major

Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

Cello Concerto No. 1 in C-major, Hob. VIIb:1 c. 1761-1765

Joseph HaydnMost well known cello concerti in the active repertoire hail from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries with only a handful predating 1800. Noteworthy composers of the earlier period comprise Vivaldi, C.P.E Bach, Boccherini and Haydn. Of these, Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D-major is unquestionably the most frequently played, a masterwork of his creative maturity in the fully revealed Viennese classical style of the 1780’s. Haydn wrote a second cello concerto in C-major but it was presumed lost. Its existence was known from Haydn’s own catalog in which he listed all the works he remembered along with a brief thematic incipit for identification. Haydn composed this earlier concerto between 1761 and 1765, quite early in his career during the first five years of employment for the noble Hungarian Esterházy family. It was not until 1961 that a manuscript of the concerto appeared in a collection of papers from another noble estate deposited in the Prague National Museum and recognized by a musicologist there. Although not in Haydn’s hand, the manuscript has been authenticated beyond a doubt. After nearly two hundred years of being lost, this second Haydn cello concerto proudly joined the precious ranks of early and worthy cello concerti.

Haydn began his lengthy and productive tenure with the Esterházy family in 1761 and remained its chief musical director (Kapellmeister) for thirty years until he was released with a generous retirement in 1791. Writer David Jones perfectly illustrates the fruition of these years, “By 1790 Haydn was in the paradoxical, if not bizarre, position of being Europe’s leading composer, but someone who spent his time as a duty-bound Kapellmeister in a remote palace in the Hungarian countryside.” As Haydn himself wrote, he was without distraction or criticism with a duty to produce volumes of music for a top-notch group of musicians. In his own words, Haydn “was forced to become original.” As the musicians employed by Esterházy were excellent, Haydn composed a number of concerti with individual virtuosi in mind. The cello concerto was composed for Haydn’s friend Joseph Franz Weigl, the orchestra’s principal cellist. It is likely that he was the only cellist at the time for the concerto is scored with only one cello part which switches between the ripieno accompaniment and the solo roles throughout.

All three movements layout in the traditional Baroque ritornello style: a main theme played by the orchestra repeats as a recurring refrain while in between, the cello repeats, elaborates and develops the theme as a soloist with a supportive but subdued accompaniment. The movements reach their dramatic peaks with a cadenza or elaborate flourish for the cello alone that climaxes into the final ritornello. As the form suggests, each movement tends to be monothematic with a single main theme vs. the multiple contrasting themes that characterize most of Haydn’s sonata forms. The opening movement is a regal moderato, the second movement a sweet and gentle adagio and the finale a rousing allegro displaying the most spirited virtuosity of the concerto with a vivacious verve and wit easily recognizable as Haydn’s familiar style.

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