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Joseph Haydn 1732-1809
Violin Concerto in C major, Hob VIIa:1
Unlike Mozart and Beethoven who were virtuosos and thus had an incentive to compose concertos to display their own talents, Haydn had a more pedestrian technique and obviously felt little need to explore the form of the concerto. Until he arrived at the court of Prince Esterházy in 1761, that is.
Prince Anton, and then his successor Prince Nicolaus, maintained an orchestra of considerable talent. The Leader of the orchestra, the Principal Cellist and First Horn were virtuosos in their own right. Haydn must have endeared himself to these peerless musicians, isolated as they were for weeks on end in the Esterházy Palace in sleepy Eisenstadt, when he wrote concertos expressly designed to display their talents before their princely employer. We have evidence of two, possibly three, violin concertos by Haydn. The one in C major was written for the Leader of the orchestra, Luigi Tomasini, probably in 1761.
The C major Concerto, with its alternating use of tutti (orchestral) and solo passages, is strongly reminiscent of the baroque concerto tradition. The first movement is spritely, making considerable use of the dotted rhythms typical of a French overture. The solo part is reminiscent of Vivaldi’s violin concertos with emphasis on a display of figurations and leaps from the soloist designed to impress. The slow movement requires the soloist to make his violin sing while in the Finale he must negotiate technically hellish passages and display an excellent spiccato bowing technique.
Clearly, from the evidence of this concerto, Tomasini was a superb violinist and fortunate to be ensconced in the same palace as the young Haydn who, in just a few more years, would be recognised in distant places as a musical talent to watch.
© David Gardner