Haydn Society of North America


Haydn and the Flute (by Stephen C. Fisher, orig. publ. 1/24/2016)

Haydn and the Flute

Stephen C. Fisher

Haydn contributed surprisingly little to the solo literature for the flute, or indeed for woodwinds in general. He knew the instruments well (though he is not known to have played any of them in public), used them skillfully in ensemble and orchestral writing, and gave them fine solo passages as well as featured roles in single movements or sections in larger pieces—but he composed few entire works for them. The flute was widely popular among the wealthy male amateurs who made up an important part of the musical public of the age, the best known of them being Frederick the Great of Prussia. Haydn’s neglect of the instrument is a matter of bad luck for flutists. Two of Haydn’s major patrons had chosen instruments well off the beaten path: his longtime employer Prince Nikolaus Esterhàzy played the baryton (a relative of the viola d’amore), and Ferdinand IV of Naples played the lira organizzata (a type of hurdy-gurdy). The effort Haydn devoted to these musical curiosities would have greatly enriched the literature of any instrument, and flutists in particular may curse the fact that they are not the ones to benefit from it.

In the early 1760s Haydn wrote a flute concerto in D major, Hob. VIIf:1, but, alas, it is known only from a theme he entered in a catalog, and our chances of finding a copy seem remote at this date. His only other woodwind concerto was a bassoon concerto that he recalled writing, but about which nothing else is known. None of the woodwind concertos published, performed, or recorded as Haydn’s is authentic: the D major flute concerto attributed to him, Hob. VIIf:D1, is by Leopold Hoffman, and the others, including the familiar oboe concerto Hob. VIIg:C1, are essentially anonymous works to which someone attached Haydn’s name with no justification.

Woodwinds, including the flute, fare slightly better in Haydn’s works featuring multiple solo instruments. He did not use a solo flute in the concertante that he wrote for London, Hob. I:105, with solo parts for oboe, bassoon, violin, and violoncello. However, in London Haydn also performed some of the notturni he composed for the King of Naples in the late 1780s (Hob. II:25–32) using two flutes or flute and oboe to replace the pair of lire organizzate, an idea that modern performers, particularly flutists, have taken up enthusiastically. (The lira concertos, Hob. VIIh:1–5, also work well on the flute.)

Haydn treats the flute differently from the other woodwinds in orchestral writing. The workhorses of his woodwind section are the double reeds, the oboe (occasionally replaced by English horn) and bassoon (in the earlier works often tacitly assumed to be doubling the bass line). The clarinet was still developing in Haydn’s day, and he rarely used it before the 1790s. Haydn’s conception of scoring derives from Baroque trio texture, with two melodic parts played by comparable instruments, and it took him a long time to integrate the flute into the scheme. During parts of his career he had no flutist available (many of his musicians could double on flute, but he rarely asked them to). He may have felt that the flute of his era could not hold its own in a full orchestral texture; he tends to use it in a more soloistic fashion. The wooden flute is most at home in the key of D major, and Haydn is particularly apt to use the instrument in that key and its close relatives.

A flutist named Franz Sigel played in Haydn’s orchestra for much of the 1760s. Probably most of Haydn’s earlier flute music was written for Sigel, including the lost concerto and parts in Symphonies no. 6–9, 13, 24, 30, 31, 41, and 72 (five of them in D major), as well as the so-called Scherzandi, Hob. II:33–38, and the fragment Hob. II:24. In the mid-1770s the orchestra expanded to support regular operatic seasons and Haydn again had flutists. In 1776 he composed a flute part in Symphony no. 61 (in D major), and about the same time added two flutes to Symphony no. 54 of 1774. Haydn also started using a pair of bassoons regularly in his symphonies. The departure of his first bassoonist in 1778 created a quandary; Haydn resolved it by pairing the remaining bassoon with the flute. This is especially evident in the first movement of Symphony no. 63. In its original form, as the overture to the 1777 opera Il mondo della luna, it had two bassoon parts; a year or so later, in the symphony, Haydn moved the first bassoon part up in register and gave it to the flute. In other symphonies of the period the two instruments have important duet passages. The new role of the flute may partially explain why five of the eight symphonies from 1778–81 (nos. 53, 62, 63, 70, 71, and 73–75) are in D major. After Haydn acquired another bassoonist he resumed writing for two bassoons, but by now the flute was an integral member of his orchestra. His symphonies and operas from 1778 onward all have at least one flute part.

Regarding music for smaller combinations, Haydn neglected several popular genres of his day that often featured the flute. He wrote at most one solo sonata for a melody instrument with continuo or keyboard, a work we know as the piano trio Hob. XV:32, which may have originally been a violin sonata. Haydn also wrote few chamber works for one woodwind with several strings. From the first thirty years of Haydn’s career as a composer, we have only three or four chamber works calling for the flute. Two of these, Hob. II:1 and 11, are sextets for flute, oboe, two violins, violoncello, and bass; the second of these bears the title “The Birthday,” and its second movement is called “Man and Wife” because of its alternation of high and low registers. The third work is a septet, Hob. II:8, for two flutes, two horns, two violins, and bass. In addition, the one-movement trio Hob. IV:G2, for flute, violin, and violoncello, was deemed sufficiently interesting musically to find its way into the Joseph Haydn Werke; it may be a fragment of a longer work, perhaps arranged from some other instrumentation.

Lacking authentic pieces by Haydn, publishers manufactured chamber works to sell under his name. Two sets of six quartets for flute, violin, viola, and violoncello are still in circulation. The so-called Op. 5 includes spurious arrangements of the two sextets just mentioned along with four pieces that have nothing to do with Haydn (Hob. II:D9–11 and G4). An even worse case is the set published as Op. 25 (Hob. II:G6, C8, A4, D16, and Es15 and XIV:F1, the sixth work being for flute, violin, violoncello, and keyboard). Joseph Aloys Schmittbaur had originally published the set as his Op. 1, with a second violin instead of a viola in the first five works. In 1777 a Parisian publisher reprinted the quartets with a viola part and Haydn’s name on the title page. While the forgery was exposed long ago, these pieces continue to be attributed to Haydn; a new edition under his name came out in 1999. Caveat emptor!

Haydn used the flute in several works composed for London. In 1784 he produced six divertimenti, Hob. IV:6–11 (also known as Op. 100), for flute (or violin), violin, and violoncello. The fourth of these is based on a baryton trio, Hob. XI:97, and the others incorporate numbers from Il mondo della luna, recycling music that would not otherwise have been known outside the Esterházy court. In London Haydn became friends with Willoughby Bertie, fourth Earl of Abingdon, flutist and dilettante composer. This led Haydn to write the charming “London trios” for two flutes and violoncello, Hoboken II:1–4, in 1794. The first of these is a three-movement work in C major; the others contain a total of five movements that Haydn never grouped in a definitive way, including a set of variations on the Earl’s catch “The Lady’s Mirror.”

Fortunately for flutists, in 1790, just before the first London visit, Haydn published three fine, substantial, original works for their instrument, the trios for flute, violoncello, and piano, Hob. XV:15–17. These are the Haydn works that belong in the repertory of every serious flutist. From them we may get an idea of what Haydn might have done for the flute had circumstances been just slightly different.

Author's Note: Hoboken’s numbering system can be confusing. His catalog inventories many works that are falsely attributed to Haydn, placing them after the ones in the same category that he considered authentic, grouped by key. If what follows the colon in the number is a key designation instead of a numeral, as in VIIf:D1 or VIIg:C1, it usually means that the piece is spurious—IV:G2 is one of the few possible exceptions. The New Grove and MGG work-lists for Haydn, the Haydn Lexikon, and the prefaces to the volumes of the Joseph Haydn Werke are good sources of information on questions of authenticity.

Edited 2/7/2016 to fix missing italicizations and other typographical errors.

The HSNA Newsletter would like to publish longer articles of interest on a monthly basis.  If you have an essay geared toward a more general audience or that is otherwise not marked for peer-reviewed publication, please consider submitting it to the HSNA Newsletter editor. We welcome all Haydn-related topics. Please send your submission directly to Rebecca Marchand: rmarchand at bostonconservatory dot edu 

Originally published in the HSNA online Newsletter January 24, 2016