Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major

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Lakeview Orchestra will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major on Tuesday, October 8th at 7:30PM at the Athenaeum Theatre.

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Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)
Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major

For someone who was one of the most prolific composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, Haydn wrote surprisingly few works to feature a soloist with an orchestra. With 108 symphonies, 68 string quartets, and 47 piano sonatas, the catalog of his complete works lists a scant 17 concertos – most of which are lost. Many apparently were written for just a single performance and then set aside, with no eye towards the future. Of those that remain, the E-flat trumpet concerto is arguably the most popular of all.

Haydn’s lack of concertos was not due to his inability to compose them, but rather his own personal taste and character. He was not (unlike Mozart) a showman. Few of his compositions are ostentatious, though paradoxically, many of his works are actually harder to play than they sound – due to the inability to mask mistakes with the high wire acrobatics on which many ostentatious and crowd-pleasing works rely. Such is the case for his trumpet concerto – which was especially challenging for the trumpets available during Haydn’s life.

The problem with the trumpet in the 18th century was how to get it – easily, or at least reliably – to produce notes outside the natural harmonic series. Later, in the 19th century, a satisfactory valve mechanism was constructed, and the modern trumpet was born. A keyed trumpet, invented about 1793, represented a transitional stage on the journey toward that happy and useful solution of the valve. The keyed trumpet found a persuasive champion in the Viennese virtuoso Anton Weidinger (1766 – 1852). It was so that in 1796 Weidinger requested his good friend Haydn to write a concerto suited for the instrument. Haydn met the idea with enthusiasm and produced the final work in just a matter of months.

Oddly, Weidinger did not perform the concerto that Haydn wrote for him until March 1800. We are not sure why, but perhaps because four years were needed to master the technical challenges of the instrument. In the work, Haydn fully explores the advances of the new instrument. The soloist's opening phrase, for example, would have been impossible to play on a natural trumpet in E-flat, since it contains six notes accessible only with a keyed trumpet. The opening movement, in particular, is unusually showy and brilliant. The slow movement is richly lyrical, with the same melodic luxury one hears in The Creation that Haydn began the same year he wrote the concerto. The jubilant finale suggests that Haydn had not lost the idea of how to bring down the curtain in fine style for a solo work.

Sadly, the premiere of the trumpet concerto, which was Haydn’s last composed concerto, was not well attended, and the work soon fell into obscurity. It was not to be revived until 1931. The lackluster initial performance was something of a personal disappointment for Weidinger; surprisingly, though, it did not seem to affect Haydn, who spent the last years of his life focusing on choral compositions. Haydn was still a beloved father figure of music, and he often received visitors and attended concerts well after he retired from performing.

Program Notes by Luke Smith.

Lakeview Orchestra will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major on October 8th, 2019: Make It a Date >>>

Luke Smith