Programme notes

Part Songs, Joseph Haydn (1723-1809)

Haydn’s three part-songs are from a group of 13 works for voices (of varying solos and combinations) and piano, written in Vienna after his second journey to London in 1796.

1: Die Harmonie in der Ehe Hob.XXVc:2 text: Johann Nikolaus Goetz (1721—1781) [Harmony in Marriage]

O wunderbare harmonie,
was Er will, will auch Sie.
Er zechet gern, sie auch,
er spielet gern, sie auch,
er zählt Dukaten gern,
und macht den große Herrn,
auch das ist ihr Gebrauch.
O wunderbare harmonie!

Oh, wonderful harmony,
what he desires, she desires too.
He enjoys a drink, she does too,
he likes cards, she does too,
he really likes money,
and acting the big shot,
and that’s what she likes too.
Oh, what wonderful harmony!

Die Harmonie in der Ehe, 'Harmony in Marriage', might appear as merely a rather dated poem by Johann Nikolaus Goetz, in which the female character appears to agree with and follow her male partner around with no real strength and individuality to her character.

But when you listen to the way Haydn sets the text in a strong and powerful Bb major, the music seems to wink to the audience with playful sarcasm about what is really going on, the perpetual battles between man and woman.

Listen out for the gentle dissonances unsettling the ‘harmony’ as Haydn sets ‘O wunderbare harmonie!’ over a chord built from the bass upwards gaining in dissonance before the music cadences back to the home key. You can hear the almost argumentative nature between the soprano/alto and tenor/bass parts, each pair jumping in to try and finish each other’s sentences with pointed syncopations. Does that sound harmonious to you?

2.Aus dem Danklied zu Gott Hob.XXVc:8 text: Christian F. Gellert (1715—1769) [A hymn of thanks to God]

Du bist’s, dem Ruhm und Ehre gebühret und Ruhm und Ehre bring ich dir.
Du, Herr, hast stets mein Schicksal regieret und deine Hand war über mir.

To you, glory and honour is owed and glory and honour I bring to you.
You, Lord, have always governed my destiny and thy hand was guiding me

Haydn’s Aus dem Danklied zu Gott, with text by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, is a short motet, peaceful and serene, set in a warm and rounded Eb major key. Each part is introduced in counterpoint with long flowing lines interweaving with one another.

Haydn solidifies the importance of the last three lines of the text by setting the choral writing into an antiphonal texture, a ‘call and response’ after the long opening phrase. The counterpoint returns to draw the first section to a close. The second section opens with further interweaving lines before the choir unify in a homophonic texture signifying the power of God’s plan (‘and thy hand was guiding me’) before drawing to a gentle, submissive and radiant final chord.

3. Abendlied zu Gott Hob.XXVc:9 text: Christian F. Gellert (1715—1769) [Evening Song to God]

Herr, der du mir das Leben
bis diesen Tag gegeben,
dich bet ich kindlich an!
Ich bin viel zu geringe
der Treue, die ich singe,
und die du heut’ an mir getan.

Lord, he who has given me life
even to this day,
I pray like a child to you!
I am much too lacking
in the faithfulness of which I sing,
and which today you give me.

The text for Abendlied zu Gott, again by Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, is a prayer to be offered to God in the evening.

The piece opens with two strong chords calling to the Lord. The altos then begin the first solo line singing ‘he who has given me life even to this day, I pray like a child to you!’. They are joined by the sopranos, starting a fifth higher who sing the main melody accompanied by the altos singing a sweet and sequential countermelody with the remainder of the text. The basses now join in, followed by the tenors to repeat this idea.

The prayer continues in a sweet and smiling nature, occasionally interrupted by impassioned episodes but always returning to the calm and controlled manner of a simple, personal prayer to God.

Jack Lovell

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