Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ”: Meditations on a Sacred Text

In 1786, Franz Joseph Haydn received an unusual commission from a Spanish priest. It was for an orchestral work to be performed for the Good Friday service at the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, an underground church in the city of Cádiz. Haydn was asked to compose a series of slow, meditative “sonatas,” each relating to one of the seven last words of Christ during the crucifixion, as outlined in the Canonical …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, “La Passione”

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 in F minor is shrouded in ominous, gray clouds. It’s filled with the dark drama and turbulence of Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”), a movement that swept through German literature and music from the late 1760s to the early 1780s as a precursor to Romanticism. Beginning with a solemn Adagio, the Symphony’s four movements follow the structure of the church sonata (slow-fast-slow-fast), a baroque form that was already …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 97 in C Major: Celebratory Trumpets and Drums

Symphony No. 97 in C Major was the last of the six initial “London” symphonies Franz Joseph Haydn composed. It was first performed at London’s Hanover Square Rooms on the third or fourth of May, 1792. The young Beethoven used this music as the model for a C major symphony which he never completed. Boisterous and festive, Symphony No. 97 is filled with the celebratory sounds of trumpets and drums. A single, emphatic …

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New Release: Paul Merkelo’s “The Enlightened Trumpet” (Haydn, Telemann, Mozart, Hummel)

Paul Merkelo’s new album, The Enlightened Trumpet, features the Trumpet Concertos of Haydn, Telemann, Leopold Mozart, and Hummel. The album showcases the technological development of the instrument during the Age of Enlightenment, with the introduction of the keyed trumpet. Unlike the earlier, valveless natural trumpet, the keyed trumpet could play all of the notes of the chromatic scale. This allowed the trumpet to come into its own as a solo instrument. Paul Merkelo …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 59, “The Fire”

Surprises lurk around every corner in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 in A Major. Firmly fastened seatbelts are required for this exhilarating music filled with volatility, theatrical drama, and freewheeling innovation. Movements from Symphony No. 59 were used to accompany a performance of Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann’s play, Die Feuersbrunst (“The Conflagration”), at the Esterházy palace in 1774. That is probably how the piece earned the nickname, the “Fire Symphony.” Yet …

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Melodic Siblings: Mozart’s “Dove Sono” and the “Coronation Mass”

It’s one of Mozart’s most serenely beautiful melodies, evoking quiet dignity, nostalgia, and underlying sadness. “Dove sono i bei momenti” is sung by the Countess in Act III of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Amid all of the craziness, scheming, and entanglements of this whirlwind “day of madness,” she pauses to lament her circumstances—loneliness, betrayal, and humiliation as a result of her husband’s serial infidelity. In the shifting stream of consciousness …

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Haydn’s Symphony No. 39: “Tempesta di mare”

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 takes us on a wildly exhilarating and tempestuous ride. It’s no wonder that this symphony, written in 1767 around the time Haydn became Kapellmeister for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, earned the poetic nickname, “Tempesta di mare,” or “storm at sea.” Set in a turbulent G minor, it is an early example of Sturm und Drang (translating literally as “storm and drive”), an artistic movement which swept through music and literature from the 1760s …

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