The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How does a Haydn symphony fit in a baroque program? Part 2 of 2 of a talk with Trevor Stephenson | October 1, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below)– who I think are Madison’s premier early music-period instrument ensemble -– will open their new season this weekend with a concert of Baroque orchestral music and concertos.

MBM will perform and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave.

The program includes: Corelli’s Concerto Grosso; Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto, with guest soloist UW bassoonist Marc Vallon
 (below) on the baroque bassoon; J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major; and 
Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor (“Lamentation”), one of the Storm-and-Stress symphonies known for their depth of emotional feeling and expression.

Saturday performance is at 8 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture by MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson at 7:15 p.m.

On Sunday, the concert is at 3 p.m. with a 2:15 p.m. pre-concert lecture.

The Ear thinks Stephenson (below) is a terrific explainer. He is knowledgeable, witty and accessible. So I highly recommend attending the pre-concert lectures.

Tickets are cash or check only – no credit cards.

Advance tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors over 65. They are available at A Room of One’s Own; Orange Tree Imports; Willy Street Coop; Farley’s House of Pianos; and Ward-Brodt Music Mall.

Tickets at the door are $25 for general admission, $20 for students and seniors over 65.

For information, call (608) 238-6092 or visit:

Stephenson recently agreed to an e-mail interview for The Ear about the upcoming concerts. Today offers the last of a two-part interview:

Vivaldi (below) is very well-known for his “Four Seasons” and “Gloria.” But so much of his other work seems underestimated, especially after Stravinsky said he rewrote the same concerto 600 times. How do you see Vivaldi’s historical importance and aesthetic value and how he is viewed today?

Stravinsky may have been one of Vivaldi’s detractors, but J. S. Bach was a Vivaldi admirer. We know that Bach studied Vivaldi’s music a great deal, transcribing several of Vivaldi’s violin concertos into harpsichord solos. Bach, throughout his life, modeled his ritornello writing on Vivaldi’s groundbreaking concertos.

I  believe that Bach (below) learned from Vivaldi how to write irregular phrase structures that somehow sound even and rounded; it is an astonishingly difficult trick. Vivaldi had a great flair for melodic invention and I think most of his music will endure.

What would you say about UW professor Marc Vallon and the difficulties of playing the baroque bassoon?

Marc is a virtuoso on both the baroque bassoon AND the modern—a rare breed of performer indeed. I’ve heard him play, even in a single recital, both instruments at a world-class level.

This is no small feat. The baroque bassoon is terribly fussy, particularly for modern players venturing in for the first time. The set up is so different that even an excellent modern player can sound like a Billy goat for the first six months of playing the baroque.

The advantage of the baroque bassoon in baroque music is the dark warmth of its tone color combined with the fact that like all baroque instruments it is very articulate and quick to speak. The baroque bassoon is a perfect partner for the harpsichord and the baroque cello in rendering the dance-like intricacies of the continuo bass line.

Marc will play on this concert a remarkable concerto by Vivaldi that carries the title “La Notte” or “The Night.” The work’s programmatic portrayal of how the night transforms into the beauties of dawn is magical.

How would you situate the Haydn symphony within Haydn’s 104 symphonies and how does it relate to other works on the program?

I wanted to have a symphony by Haydn (below) on the program for a number of reasons. First, it is simply great music that sounds fantastic on late-baroque or early classical period instruments. The gut strings have such clarity of pitch and articulation; they really help bring out the mercurial quality of Hadyn’s writing.

Remember, that gut strings were used until the 1920s, so historically Haydn is just the tip of the iceberg as far as period sound goes: Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Brahms, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Debussy–and yes even the orchestra for the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913–all were composed for gut strings.

The period winds and brass also have a beautiful and engaging. The horns we’ll be using are late 18th-century model hand horns that play in one tonality at a time (there are no valves). The advantage of this is a compelling openness of sound that is thrilling in the joyous sections and very tender in the quieter passages.

I also wanted to show what Haydn shares with his Baroque predecessors and how he goes down new paths. For instance, the finale of Symphony 26 is a minuet, a dance form from the late-Baroque (early 18th century). In Haydn’s hands, the minuet begins to make a nod towards Classical homophony, that is, the bass line becomes less melodic and more harmonic than its Baroque predecessor.

The result is a greater angularity and increased harmonic blocky-ness in Haydn’s treatment; this is of course quite intentional on his part and lends the music a rustic charm. Compare this with the Bach minuet in his C major Orchestral Suite, which we’ll play on the first part of the program.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Perhaps ‘Maestro?’ He certainly does it all.

    Wanted to shoot you this link to a write up of Sony’s new all-classical media store:

    Comment by Timothy Nott — October 5, 2010 @ 11:48 am

    • Hi Tim,
      Nah — maestro is too much the musical term already in standard use.
      And it’s a foreign word to boot.
      Keep thinking and trying.
      But you’re right — he does it all. And then some.
      And thanks for the link to the Sony site.
      I’ll check it out and maybe link to it rio write about it for The Ear.
      Keep reading and replying.
      Make them envious at TCT.
      Be well.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 5, 2010 @ 2:28 pm

  2. It’s hard finding the one word to sum up Trevor’s role at the pre-concert events. Even ‘explainer’ sounds kind of dry to me – what about ‘illuminator’ or ‘engager’ or …? Where the lay audience member might see a rock, he sees the statue within, and is able to make that statue visible to everyone, 3D and in Technicolor!

    And he doesn’t talk down or make you feel like a cultural cretin – his attitude is more like: ‘Hey, there’s a wonderful party going on, and you’re invited!’ Madison is lucky to have him.

    Comment by Marika Fischer Hoyt — October 4, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

    • Hi Marika,
      I agree completely.
      But both “illuminator” and “engager” sound vague to me.
      I’ll look for the right, and so should you and other fans.
      Whatever we call him, we are lucky indeed to have him.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 4, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  3. I attended the concert and particularly enjoyed the Haydn piece. Your comments regarding Stephenson’s personality are spot on. I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite between the performance and the lecture. I would argue that describing the talk as a lecture assigns a stuffy air and one-way communication that was in no way present. I much prefer your designation of ‘explainer’ to that of ‘lecturer.’

    Comment by Timothy Nott — October 4, 2010 @ 10:55 am

    • Hi Tim,
      I wanted to write you and you beat me to it.
      It was great to see you — even if it threw me for a moment. (Forgive me.)
      Thanks for the vote of confidence.
      Mrs. Ear feels the same way about Trevor Stephenson.
      He really is a superb explainer — worthy of Lenny Bernstein as an informed popularizer.
      Glad you liked the Hadyn. Me too, especially the lovely and lyrical second movement, then the vigorous and energetic first. The last, an anti-climactic minuet, just seems to stop.
      Hope to see you at more concerts.
      Let me know what you think of the website.
      Always looking to improve.
      Jake aka The Ear
      But it’s only symphony no. 24 form a guy who wrote 104. Soo he was still learning.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 4, 2010 @ 11:16 am

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  5. […] Classical music: How does a Haydn symphony fit in a baroque … The advantage of the baroque bassoon in baroque music is the dark warmth of its tone color combined with the fact that like all baroque instruments it is very articulate and quick to speak. The baroque bassoon is a perfect partner for . […]

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    Pingback by Classical music: How does a Haydn symphony fit in a baroque … | Download MP3 whit — October 1, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  7. Ear, Dear,

    Your daily epistles seem to have become my own personal musical education course. I never studied piano, musical theory or musical history in school (the art schools I attended barely discussed ART history, let alone musical history when, in reality, they are all one, at least to my mind…)

    Today’s post is the best yet! I have been “studying” Haydn History on my own, partially through the process of learning all of his 50+ piano sonatas IN ORDER (that began the “history” part) and partly through reading whatever I can find. I am especially interested in the musical development of Haydn as a man. What events, environment, people etc shaped his compositions? The exegetical method of research is my method; it often leads me down some unexpected paths of information!

For example, according to the excellent timeline found in “The Cambridge Companion to Haydn,” “1784: [The] first known meeting between Haydn and Mozart takes place at a quartet party in Vienna; Haydn played first violin and Mozart played the viola.”

    A “quartet party?” Were there so many quartets in Vienna in 1784 that they gathered for parties? “Wow,” says she! They must have had much better music education programs in their schools than we do in America today. But the real pearl here is the image of Haydn and Mozart sitting side by side playing violin and viola. How glorious! Could the image of the archangels Gabriel and Michael comparing notes at a cocktail party be more amazing?

    When I read your daily words, I usually click on the musical links, and often end up purchasing the music for my iPod. Your comments about which recordings or artists you prefer are tremendously helpful and have given me much guidance. I want to thank you for the many introductions to music previously unexperienced by me.

    Today’s post is especially rewarding. Although I have many recordings of Haydn’s piano sonatas (Horowitz, Jeno Jando, Emanuel Ax), I didn’t know where to begin listening to Haydn’s many symphonies. Besides wanting to simply experience the music, I want to hear them in relation to any piano music written at about the same time. Anyway, I shall now jump right in with Symphony No. 26 in D minor. Any recommendations for specific recordings?

    Also, can you recommend a published timeline of all music? (either print or internet)

    And finally, I have been wondering: what music are you working on in your own piano study? What editions are you using? And who is your favorite composer to PLAY, for the enjoyment, for the challenge, to make life better?

    I wish I could just move to Madison! This is a long “comment.” Sorry.

    Peace to make music,

    Nan Morrissette

    Comment by Nan Morrissette — October 1, 2010 @ 6:52 am

    • Hi Nan,
      What a fine reply and a great compliment to me and the blog. Thanks for your praise and kind words of encouragement.
      Some thoughts about Haydn recordings:
      For sonatas, I also like very much the 2-CD set of Andras Schiff and the 4-CD set by Alfred Brendel.
      As for the symphonies: You could go period with recordings by Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnnock, Franz Bruggen and Roy Goodman among others. They’re all good, though sometimes hard to find.
      For modern instrument versions I like George Szell, Colin Davis and especially Antal Dorati. He was the first to record ALL the symphonies (with the Detroit Symphony). It has been reissued in a budget set by London. It’s not cheap really because there are so many symphonies and CDs, but it is a bargain. And I like his performances. I think they are energetic but very much in the style, a great compromise that holds up after many years. (Check out things on classical recordings section.)
      I wonder if other readers have suggestions for a Haydn discography.
      As for my own playing and piano studies, I am working on memorizing and putting the finishing touches on two Scarlatti sonatas, Schumann’s Arabesque and several Chopin early and middle mazurkas.
      I just performed a Schubert Moment Musical (No. 1) for a amateur group and will do another moment and maybe an Impromptu.
      And i am also doing a Bach French Suite (No. 4).
      Don’t worry about long replies. Yours is insightful and enjoyable and well informed.
      So keep replying and commenting.
      And I hope you keep enjoying the blog.
      Let me know if there are topics you would particularly like to read about, OK?

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 1, 2010 @ 9:02 am

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