Haydn is hardly considered
a song composer; at least not one in
the same league as Mozart or Schubert.
It is telling that in a recent Dutch
book, which includes a Haydn the general
overview of his oeuvre devotes not a
single line to any of the songs.
In the 1780s Haydn
had set a number of German poems - some
of which were written by famous poets,
like Gleim and Lessing - for voice and
keyboard. These are completely ignored
today. Far better known, performed and
recorded from time to time are his English
canzonettas. These were composed during
his second visit to England in 1794-95.
The incentive to compose
these songs came from Anne Hunter, widow
of the surgeon Sir John Hunter, whom
Haydn befriended during his London stay.
The first six songs were published in
1794; the texts were written by Anne
Hunter herself. In 1795 a second set
was published, for which Ms Hunter had
selected texts from several sources,
including Shakespeare and Metastasio
(in an English translation). Three additional
songs were separately published, among
them the last two songs on this disc,
both again to texts by Anne Hunter.
These vary strongly
in character. Some of them have a light
touch, like A Pastoral Song and Piercing
Eyes. But there are also very dramatic
songs, like Fidelity, with its modulations
and chromaticism, or The Wanderer which
is characterised by frequent pauses.
There is a strong connection between
the vocal and the keyboard part, but
in very different ways. In some songs
the text is illustrated in the keyboard
part, for instance in Sailor's Song.
Although most of the canzonettas are
strophic, Haydn varies the accompaniment
when the text invites it: in Pleasing
Pain, for instance. On the other hand,
in the last two items the keyboard isn't
so much illustrating the text as evoking
the atmosphere reflected by it, which
points in the direction of Schubert's
When I first listened
to this disc I got the impression that
this was perhaps the best performance
of these songs I had ever heard. I knew
Stephan Van Dyck as a member of many
early music groups including the Huelgas
Ensemble, and as soloist in numerous
recordings of baroque music. I had never
encountered him in this kind of repertoire,
and I was happy to report that he does
it very well. When I listened to this
disc a second time I noticed some shortcomings,
mainly in his dealings with the text.
His English pronunciation is not always
idiomatic, and he sometimes swallows
a consonant ("wins" instead of "winds").
But he has a really beautiful voice,
which is strong both in the lower and
the upper register, agile and flexible,
and his articulation is immaculate.
His singing is expressive and shows
a thorough understanding of the texts.
He adds ornamentation where it is suitable
to do so, and fortunately uses hardly
any vibrato. The execution of the keyboard
parts by Jean-Pierre Bacq is very colourful;
he fully exploits the dynamic possibilities
of his instrument. Only in the Sailor's
Song would I have liked the keyboard
to be played with a little more aplomb.
I also regret that Bacq uses a fortepiano
with Viennese action rather than a Broadwood
copy; the original of which Haydn played
while in England.
The booklet is disappointing:
it gives hardly any information about
these songs, and the texts are printed
in red on a background of yellow or
deep orange - not a very bright idea,
as they are barely legible this way.
No recording date is given nor are the
numbers in the Hoboken catalogue. Information
about the instrument is also lacking.
Despite the shortcomings
mentioned above this is a splendid recording
which I have listened to with great
pleasure and admiration. More than any
other recording it has persuaded me
of the quality and sheer beauty of these
songs. What more can one can ask?
Johan van Veen