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Haydn's Baryton Trios - Essay Example

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Among the leading composers of the eighteenth century no one made as large a contribution to the trio literature as Joseph Haydn. Among his early ones were trio sonatas for two violins and bass. Between 1762 and 1775 Haydn composed no fewer than a hundred and twenty-six other trios for a rather unusual instrumental combination…
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Haydns Baryton Trios
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Haydn's Baryton Trios

Download file to see previous pages... This instrument is related to the bass viol, and besides the six or seven strings over its fingerboard has another set of strings attached underneath. These serve a double function: they sound in sympathetic vibration with the upper strings and may also be played pizzicato by the performer's left thumb, the neck of the baryton being open at the back. A viola, replaced by a violin in three works, and a cello supply the remaining voices. These trios in three movements are carefully elaborated and prove that Haydn knew how to produce works of art, even when forced to something like mass production. Quotations and arrangements from the composer's own symphonies and operas, and even from Gluck, may have amused his august patron (Brandenburg, 1998, p. 27).
Contemporary sources vary in their estimates of the merits of the instrument. Whereas Friedrich August Weber, a physician who was one of the most spirited musical writers of the time, praised it saying, "One seems to hear the gamba and harp at the same time," and confesses that he "was moved to tears" by its sounds, Dr. Burney, in discussing the performance of the baryton virtuoso, Andreas Lidl, who had been in the service of Prince Eszterhzy before going to London, writes: "Mr. Lidl played with exquisite taste and expression upon this ungrateful instrument, which has the additional embarrassment of base [sic] strings at the back of the neck and he accompanied himself with these; an admirable expedient in a desert, or even in a house, where there is but one musician, but to have the bother of accompanying yourself in a great concert, surrounded by idle per- formers who could take the trouble off your hands, and leave them more at liberty to execute, express, and embellish the principle melody, seemed at best a work of supererogation" (cited in Elson, 1927, p. 43).
Modern listeners, for their part, admire the characteristic features in these remarkable works: the occasional derivation of subsidiary subjects from the main ideas, intricate contrapuntal devices, interesting harmonic progressions, and delightful sound effects achieved with the baryton's peculiar pizzicato (prescribed by numbers in the score): the frequent attempts to arrange baryton trios for conventional string trio have unfortunately proved a failure, as the pieces need the baryton's distinctive sound.
And what a failure. Historically speaking, the instrument was the favorite of Prince Nikolaus Esterhzy who demanded that his musical servant compose zillions of pieces for it. Curiously, it isn't so much the presence of the baryton that has prevented greater exposure for these delightful octets (the part can be played on any suitable stringed instrument of similar range), but rather the atrocious difficultly of the two horn parts. Haydn demands that his wind players execute insanely acrobatic figurations at both the extreme top and bottom of their range, and this extraordinary wind sonority gives these works much of their sonic allure (Wellesz & Sternfeld, 1973, p. 129).
Nevertheless because of restricted usage, the baryton music was usually unpublished originally. Haydn's twenty-one works in SS/- or SA/bass setting, four of which are now lost, stem from his earliest creative periods. Called "divertimento" and "trio" in the source MSS, those that were published appeared chiefly as "Sonates en trio" These "trios" are relatively slight and objective, but as ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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