Franz Joseph Haydn Solo e pensoso Giovanni AntoniniHaydn 2032. No. 3 – “Solo e pensoso”

Symphony no. 42 in D major, Hob. I:42; L’isola disabitata, Overture, Hob. XXVIII:9; “Solo e pensoso”, Aria, Hob. XIVb:20; Symphony no. 64 A major, Hob. I:64 “Tempora Mutantur”; Symphony no. 47 in D Major, Hob. I:4

Francesca Aspromonte, soprano

Il Giardino Armonico

Giovanni Antonini, conductor

Alpha Classics, 2015

“Solo e pensoso” (“Alone and deep in thought”) is the title of the third volume of the collection of Franz Joseph Haydn’s 107 symphonies realized by the Joseph Haydn Stiftung Foundation of Basel in collaboration with the Alpha label. As conductor Giovanni Antonini remembers, the choice of the subject of this album is strictly connected to the previous volume of the collection Haydn 2032, “Il filosofo”, and in particular to a famous confession made by Haydn himself to his biographer, Georg August Griesinger («I was isolated from the world; no one in my vicinity could make me lose confidence in myself or bother me, and so I was bound to become original»), but the first and foremost inspiration of “Solo e pensoso” is the melancholic atmosphere of a famous sonnet written by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), echoed by the aria written by Haydn on this text and by the slow movements of the symphonies no. 42, 64 and 4, where the violins play with mutes to obtain «a stifled sound that evokes an introspective psychological situation», as the booklet notes suggest.

The first symphony of “Solo e pensoso” is the Symphony no. 42 in D major, Hob. I:42, written in 1771 and scored for two oboes, two bassoons , two horns and string. It belongs to the so-called Sturm und Drang period.

The next symphony, no. 64 A major, Hob. I:64, probably dates to the autumn of 1773 and is nicknamed Tempora mutantur after a Latin proverb («The times change and we change with them»), although the reason for this reference is not completely clear. This symphony belongs to Haydn’s experimentation period, when his way of composition was highly influenced by his sacred and operatic works, but it is maybe more interesting to remember that it is also one of those symphonies that reveal Haydn as a master of rhetoric. Haydn once told his biographer that he «often portrayed moral characters in his symphonies» and the New Grove clarifies this point explaining that «this is a matter not only of musical ‘topoi’ and rhetorical ‘figures’ but also of contrasts in register, gestures, implications of genre and the rhythms of destabilization and recovery, especially as these play out over the course of an entire movement. Referential associations are common in his instrumental music, especially symphonies; they invoke serious human and cultural issues», among which the passing of time is included.

L’isola disabitata is a relatively short azione teatrale in two parts on text by Pietro Metastasio. In 1753, seeking a composer for his libretto, Metastasio considered Haydn, but later he changed his mind and assigned it to Bonno, so that it was necessary to wait until 1779 before Haydn set L’isola disabitata into music. The premiere took place on 6 December 1779 at Eszterháza Palace, not at the principal theatre, burned down by a recent fire, but at the marionette theatre. “Solo e pensoso” presents the Overture of L’isola disabitata, a piece written in the sad key of G minor.

The aria Solo e pensoso was written in 1798, which was, incidentally, the year of Die Schöpfung. The aria «displays various characteristics of his late orchestral style: it calls for two clarinets instead of the usual pair of oboes, and creates in its opening Adagio ritornello an almost religious mood that is further intensified at the beginning of the Allegretto section», as the booklet states.

The last symphony of “Solo e pensoso”, no. 4 in D Major, Hob. I:4, is actually the first written by Haydn among those of the recording as it belongs to the pre-Esterházy period, when the composer was employed as Kapellmeister to Count Morzin. As the other symphonies of this period, this too is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings and is divided into three movements. As the New Grove notes, «the distinction between a relatively weighty first movement and a faster finale is already present; the interior movement for strings alone is only moderately slow (Andante) and “light” in style».

As the other recordings of Haydn 2032, “Solo e pensoso” too is performed by conductor Giovanni Antonini and the ensemble Il Giardino Armonico. In the first place, I have to confess that I like the work of these artists more and more while I discover the volumes of this collection. They seem really to enjoy playing Haydn’s beautiful music and their performance reveals this sympathy through the exquisite colours and refinement with which they endow the works.

Take for example the last symphony, no. 4 in D major. Maybe you will expect little from a composer’s early work, but Il Giardino Armonico performs it with incredible grace and with just a hint of wit, so that its three movements (Presto, Poco Adagio and Finale. Tempo di Minuetto) seem to tell you the story of the journey of a light-hearted soul. As the subject of this recording gives great importance to slow movements, it is the case to notice that the Poco Adagio of this symphony is the more delicate, almost naïve and distinguishes itself from the two from the previous symphonies (Andantino e cantabile in the Symphony no. 42 and Largo in the Symphony no. 64) for its sporadic but still present flashes of happiness, so that it becomes a sort of “intermezzo” between the lively Presto that opens the symphony and the charming Tempo di Minuetto that ends it.

Differently from this placid movement, the melancholy of the Andantino e cantabile and of the Largo is definitely deeper. The Andatino has its peculiarity in its dreamy and contemplative mood, described by the orchestra with such softness that the instruments seem only to touch the notes, while the Largo is more painful in comparison to it (it is understand that this too is an idealized, gentle representation of sad feelings).

The last thing to notice about the symphonies is that all three of them are characterized by the contrast (that Antonini stresses on purpose, I think) between the slow movements, presenting the features just described, and the fast ones. In this, wider context melancholy is just a temporary mood that disappears at the solicitation of optimistic feelings.

You have to wait for the aria Solo e pensoso, finely sung by soprano Francesca Aspromonte (a young singer with a voice still immature, but technically sound), to find uniform gloom, and you have to content with that, as the Overture from L’isola disabitata is another complex work, divided between discouragement and reaction, in the section of the work that echoes the tempest that is the prime mover of the action.

“Solo e pensoso” is a very original and well performed album, offering hints on Haydn’s life, music and thought as well. Together with “Il Distratto” (that I have already reviewed) and the other volumes of Haydn 2032, this can be rightly considered a gem in Haydn’s discography.