20 August 2017

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto & me

Reading in Haydn Seek today:

We have seen in the past how Haydn’s concertos, in particular, have been rescued from total oblivion because one copy survived. The two cello concertos and then the horn concerto both lived this dream. And to them, we can add this trumpet concerto to the list of the fortunate. One, and only one, handwritten (by Haydn) copy exists in the Gesellschaft Musikfreunde in Vienna. Photocopies of it allowed for the first performance in England in modern times to occur. This was by Ernest Hall, in a BBC broadcast, presumably with an iteration of the BBC Orchestra. This broadcast of 30 March 1932, as part of a programme celebrating the bicentenary of Haydn’s birth, was the single beginning of a whole new appreciation of Haydn and his music.

To draw a line:  The renascence of general interest in Haydn owes something—owes much—to this inter-War broadcast of a concerto, a concerto with more-than-average interest for a concerto of its epoch, owing to the historical curiosity of the instrument (“...Christoph Friedrich Nessmann developed a version of the keyed trumpet in the 1790’s that he dubbed the Inventionstrompete” per Mike McCaffrey’s outstanding blog)—and this Concerto comes down to us via a single extant copy in the composer’s hand.  That the restored reputation of one of the greatest composers in Western history should (viewed from one angle) depend upon so slender a thread as a single manuscript is breathtaking, and even vertiginous.

Of the concerto’s second movement, Doctor McCaffrey writes:

... the feature of a modulatory passage from Ab major to Cb major in which the trumpet is a full participant had to be mind-blowing for the audience. These parts are only playable on a chromatic trumpet. But I am not so much of a technician as the writer above [Aaron Moore]; I am rather more enamored of the virtual musical poetry which Haydn wrote here. And I grew up in the heyday of Swing and Jazz trumpeting, so chromaticism on a trumpet is no big surprise to me. I can only imagine what concert-goers who had only ever heard fanfares and the like must have thought and felt about this emulation of a voice singing a song.

The Trumpet Concerto was my first Haydn experience:  we played a band transcription when I was in high school.  In fact, at that tender age I knew hardly any Mozart or Beethoven — I cannot say with absolute surety, but I should be surprised if the first LvB I heard was not courtesy of Chas M. Schulz’s Schroeder;  so playing these notes of “Papa’s” in an ensemble, as a young man, was really my entrée to the soundworld of the Classical Era.

The soloist, Steve Falker, was in the class one year ahead of mine, and was then, certainly—possibly is still, if we could put the question to the test—the best trumpet-player I knew/have known.   Our band director, the late Ray Heller, was a trumpeter himself, and had been an army bandsman;  and indeed, Steve’s facility with the instrument set itself in my ear as a benchmark of what one may expect from the instrument—to the undeniable discomfiture of more than one trumpeter I have met in the years since.  The combination of playing Haydn’s exquisite music, and with a wonderfully superior musician, was for me a musical watershed.  Which will explain why I must recuse myself from any pretense of impartiality about the Trumpet Concerto.

The additional holistic angle to the timing of the Haydn Seek post is, a week-ish ago I wrote to Steve to tell him about a piece I am presently working on, a jazzy adaptation of the JS Bach Wachet auf! Chorale Prelude for brass quintet, and he wrote back that he does play in a quintet which will be glad to read it.

To return to 
“Papa,” and related to Doctor McCaffrey’s note in his blog post:  at that tender age, I didn’t know from Theory (no really good reason why it had dropped out of our high school curriculum at that day), and it was the sheer poetry and the ebullience of the music that made an immediate and enduring impact upon me. And if (as consensus considers) the delay between composition and first performance of the Concerto was a result of Weidinger needing to tame the beast in order to serve the piece, there is no doubt that the superb beauties of the piece were a motivation to practicing into its technical and musical challenges;  and the project seems to have cemented rather than tried the friendship between the trumpeter and the composer.


Unknown said...

Great post Dr. H.! I am always interested to discover what has motivated people in certain directions, and the thought that it was Haydn who hooked you into music is not so much a surprise as it is a tribute to a genius, who, I must say, also hooked many thousands of others in the last 250+ years. Including my own self.

Best Regards,

Karl Henning said...

The Long Quill of Haydn!