Franz Joseph Haydn
is hardly known for his songs with keyboard
accompaniment. They are a relatively
small part of his musical output. In
the 1780s Haydn composed two collections
on German texts. These were published
in 1781 and 1784 respectively. The texts
of these songs are generally considered
rather poor, and one can imagine that
they provided little inspiration for
Haydn to return to the genre.
At the end of 1790
Haydn went to London at the invitation
of Johann Peter Salomon. His arrival
just after the turn of the year attracted
much attention. The famous music writer
Charles Burney published a poem in his
honour: 'Verses on the arrival of Haydn
in England'. Quickly Haydn rose to the
status of a celebrity who moved in the
best circles. In particular he had great
success with his symphonies.
It was in England that
he began composing songs again. In 1794
and 1795 two collections of 'English
Canzonettas' were published, predominantly
settings of poems by Haydn's friend
Mrs. Anne Hunter, the wife of an eminent
London surgeon. They were meant to be
sung and accompanied on the keyboard
at sight by competent amateurs. Haydn
himself enjoyed singing them to his
own accompaniment in the homes of friends.
Although these songs
were technically not too demanding,
they were different from the German
songs of the 1780s. In those the right
hand of the keyboard part follows the
vocal line, but in the English canzonettas
the keyboard accompaniment becomes more
and more independent of the vocal part.
Most songs are strophic,
but in the second collection there are
some through-composed examples. One
of them is 'She never told her love',
which also contains dynamic signs.
And in the second collection
the keyboard accompaniment becomes fuller,
probably inspired by the possibilities
of the pianoforte with English action,
which was quite different from the Viennese
instruments Haydn knew.
Haydn also made a number
of arrangements of Scottish and Welsh
songs. The first set of a hundred was
composed in 1791 and published the following
year to save the publisher Napier from
bankruptcy. In 1794 a second set followed.
Haydn was given the texts and melodies
and provided them with an accompaniment
of violin and basso continuo. Apparently
the composition of these arrangements
gave Haydn great pleasure, because later
he made more than 200 similar accompaniments
- this time for keyboard, violin and
cello. These were published by the Scottish
publishers George Thomson and William
Whyte respectively, between 1800 and
In September 1800 the
British admiral Lord Nelson came to
Eisenstadt, accompanied by the British
ambassador in Naples, Sir William Hamilton.
The occasion was celebrated with a performance
of Haydn's 'Nelson Mass'. At this time
Haydn also wrote the cantata for voice
and keyboard, 'Lines from the Battle
of the Nile'. This was based on a poem
by Cornelia Knight, who was in Lord
Nelson's company. Haydn used only a
selection of stanzas (hence 'Lines from'
in its title) and changed their order.
This piece has some similarity with
the more famous cantata 'Arianna a Naxos'.
The performance of
the songs on this disc is disappointing.
Jean Danton uses a rather wide vibrato,
which is not only historically unjustified,
but also becomes very tiring after a
while. The effect is aggravated by the
lack of variety in her singing; it is
all rather one-dimensional. If there
is any expression, it is mainly achieved
by dynamic means rather than by a careful
treatment of the text.
of the cantata ‘The Battle of the Nile’
isn't very dramatic; the recitatives,
for instance, are too straightforward,
without the necessary rhythmic freedom.
Igor Kipnis doesn't make too much of
the keyboard introduction either.
A large part of the
repertoire on this disc was composed
during Haydn's visits to England. Therefore
a fortepiano with English action is
the obvious choice to accompany the
singer. On the whole Igor Kipnis does
that rather well. I don't understand,
though, why an instrument is chosen
which dates from 1823. Considering the
developments in piano building in the
decades around 1800 that is difficult
to justify. And for the folksong arrangements
an instrument of 1796 was used. Why
not in all items?
I am even less happy
with the use of the same instrument
for the Andante with Variations in f
minor, which Haydn composed in 1793,
between his first and second visit to
London. It was probably written for
Barbara von Ployer, who had been a student
of Mozart’s. With this in the background
as well as the character of the work
it would have been better to use a fortepiano
with Viennese action. Such an instrument
is much better suited to play non-legato,
a facility this work definitely requires.
As I have said before,
the songs were meant to be performed
in private homes. It is therefore unfortunate
that the programme - with the exception
of the folksong arrangements - has been
recorded in a space with too much reverberation.
As a result the intimacy this music
needs is missing.
The tracklist leaves
something to be desired too: not all
Hoboken numbers are correct, nor is
the title of the cantata.
The date of the recording
isn't given either, but it must have
been before 2002, when Igor Kipnis died.
This was his last recording.
Some of the repertoire
on this disc may be seldom recorded,
like the 'Lines from the Battle of the
Nile’. Some may never have recorded
before (the three Scottish and the Welsh
air). That is hardly reason enough to
recommend this recording, considering
its interpretative deficiencies.
Johan van Veen