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Genuine and Inherent

The MHS Review 236 Vol. 3, No. 2 March 5, 1979

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David M. Greene

Since stringed instruments played by good professionals are often old, one may also well ask what the Big Deal is.


Chamber Music on Original Instruments
Played by Die Instrumentisten

No capitulation to the historically informed performance practice (back when it was just called "performed on original instruments").

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Here we have some Haydn chamber-music played on "original" instruments. For those who don't speak record-jargon, the adjective invites misinterpretation. Are these, you well might ask, the instruments on which these works were first played? Are we being reassured that these are not the usual cheap copies made of bakelite in Hong Kong? Dare we hope that these are instruments of a kind never heard before by human ear? I checked my German dictionary to see if original (as in Originalinstrumente) had any more illumi­nating shades of meaning, and found that it means "initial; genuine, innate, inherent," which definitions don't much illuminate the problem. Those in the know, however, will recognize that this is merely record-jargon for "old" instruments--i.e. within a hundred years or so of the time when Haydn was composing the pieces played on them. Since stringed instruments played by good professionals are often old, one may also well ask what the Big Deal is.

Well, friends, I am sure that when Amadeo issued this recording, the historicity of the instruments was an important selling-point. But I may as well confess that on it, and several others, we are up against a problem. I am sure that you are aware that publishers must make their plans and commitments well in advance--a matter of many months and sometimes of years. So with MHS. Now you may recall that the New York office was abandoned in the interests of consolidation last summer. One of the things that went on in New York did not, for various reasons, want to go to New Jersey, and pursued their careers elsewhere. In the process of moving the contents of the offices, records pertaining to future releases contracted for, together with jackets, brochures and all, simply vanished. The master tapes are safely in the vaults, but we lack the kind of information I need here, and for the next few releases we may have to all grin and bear it. Suffice it to say that you will hear the "originality" of the instruments chiefly in the tinky-plunk of the fortepiano, the soft, woody sound of the German flute, and the different color of the double reeds. But of makers and dates, I can tell you nothing. Never mind. It's still a charming Haydn program--one that can be relished quite hedonistically without worrying about any profound implications. I read that the C Major Divertimento is "familiar," but the only recording that a hasty check turns up is the one made by the late Kurt List in the first months of MHS' existence (MHS 544). The piece is called "The Birthday," but whose it celebrated seems long since to have been forgotten. Perhaps it was a double one, for the slow movement is subtitled "Man and Wife." Moreover, the final movement is a series of apparently "masculine" and "feminine" variations, each giving one of the instruments a solo role, except in the last three, which feature a harmony that poor Haydn's domestic life rarely knew.

  • Since this is a recording not owned by MHS, but owned by Warner Classics, and they haven't released it in any format in forty plus years, there's no way you can listen to this specific recording (ok, you can buy the old MHS LP here).

  • HOW TO HEAR THE MUSIC: there's charming music afoot so if you'd like to try these lovely (albeit) slight works by Haydn - with the exception of the Piano Trio, which is more well known than the other works, we've included a few links to YouTube videos - which, if you do watch, will earn those performers a few millionths of a cent.

  • STILL MORE: Separating out the music in this particular recording is very difficult. When this recording was made, the burgeoning "original instruments" movement was a small society. When it was propelled to a musical assembly line by the incredible explosion in the 1980s, fueled by the release of the compact disc, gaping holes in the repertoire were filled, and now, it's hard to find any piece in Haydn's catalog that hasn't been recorded four or five times - at least. The divertimenti subtitled "Husband and Wife", written by a young Haydn, is not overexposed or overrecorded, and performances on original instruments (on any instruments) aren't easy to find. The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra is a modern instrument ensemble - their performance is provided below. (Concierge's note - the resulting unsuccessful search for an original instrument performance makes one think we might just figure out a way to reissue the original recording.)

  • The Piano Trio has many more choices. Here's a performance on original instruments:

  • In keeping with the search for performances on original instruments, here's a clever recording featuring original instruments that takes the "Hungarian" connection all the way out...Haydn and many other composers and their Hungarian influenced compositions.

  • The Haydn string quartets are discussed in greater depth in an MHS Review essay "Music for Major Statements". To illuminate this review, we've found a performance by the Kodaly Quartet - not on original instruments, but there is a stunning lack of performances on historic instruments of the early Haydn string quartets. Not so shocking - the music fails to hold the interest of most musicians, well described in the Music for Major Statements essay, and the older quartets, a product of Haydn's utter mastery of composition hold much more and give a listener much more. That's not a complete waste of time...

The trio, Hob. XV:25, is, on the other hand, one of Haydn's best known works in that form. It too has had a MHS predecessor (MHS 1524). The work concludes with the well-known and rather rowdy Rondo al'ongharese or Hungarian Rondo. (In the earlier recording, the fortepiano was equipped with a percussion device, and as a result all sorts of hell broke loose in that movement. The present one will please purists who may not have cottoned to such liberties.)

The string quartet is the opening work of Haydn's Op. 1. It was written between 1755 and 1760, and may be his earliest work in that form. l read with some amusement, in the annotation to another recording, a story it attributes to Haydn's friend and biographer Griesinger. It seems that a gentleman named Karl Joseph von Furnberg's steward played viola, the local priest played violin, and a friend played 'cello. So Herr von Furnberg suggested that Haydn drop by with his violin, as soon as he whipped up a piece or two for such a combination. And, according to this note, that's how the string quartet was invented. The details are more or less as Geiringer sets them forth, but, though Haydn did much to develop and refine the form, Geiringer quite rightly does not even hint that he invented it. Who did is arguable, though a half-century earlier Alessandro Scarlatti turned out some four-part concerti for two violins, "violetta," and 'cello. (Note: the violist is also listed here as playing in the Divertimento, but this seems to be in error, for Haydn wrote the piece for two violins, 'cello contrabass, flute, oboe and bassoon.)




Chamber Music on Original Instruments

Played by Die Instrumentisten

Divertimento in C Major, Hob. II/11; Piano Trio in G Major, Hob. XV/25; String Quartet in B-flat Major, Hob. III/1.

Die Instrumentisten:

Georg Sumpik, Heinz Grangerg, Violins

Siegried Fuhrlinger, Viola

Ernst Knava, Cello

Friedrich Wachter, Oboe

Leo Cermak, Bassoon

These pieces do not represent a great "milestone" in Haydn's development. Instead, they are light, diverting and moderately easy to play chamber music from his earliest string quartet to one of his last piano trios. This music is as enjoyable today as it was the day it was written.

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