Program Notes: Haydn Cello Concerto in C major

Conductor Gemma New leads the Seattle Symphony in music by Sarah Gibson, Haydn and Prokofiev featuring Seattle Symphony Principal Cello Efe Baltacıgil on Thursday, January 28, 2021, at 7:30pm on Seattle Symphony Live.


warp & weft

WORK PREMIERE: January 25, 2019 by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Los Angeles, California

Sarah Gibson is a composer and pianist who funnels her creative energies through a variety of projects. She is co-director of the piano duo HOCKET, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has collaborated with major new music figures Jennifer Koh, Eighth Blackbird and Bang on a Can All-Stars. Gibson’s compositions and performance choices reflect a prioritization of multi-creative resources. warp & weft for chamber orchestra was composed and premiered as part of Gibson’s tenure as the 2018–2019 Sound Investment composer with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. In name and concept, the composition engages with “femmage” — artist Miriam Schapiro’s term for overlooked artworks made by women in the home — and the foundational weaving process “warp and weft” to create fabric.

The musical evocation of weaving: of making a large-scale item out of individual parts, is present in the orchestration. Phrases slink and snake, step up and fall over each other. The use of glissandos and repetition in the strings combine with pointed motives in the woodwinds. An ostinato passes between instruments (e.g. flute to piano), supporting the segmented melodies of the foreground. The fabric of this piece highlights the possibility of disparate parts existing together and separately; instruments move apart, come together and move apart again, showing the different manifestations of melodic and rhythmic unison.

Scored for 2 flutes, both doubling piccolo; 2 oboes (2nd oboe doubling English horn); 2 clarinets (2nd clarinet doubling bass clarinet); 2 bassoons (2nd bassoon doubling contrabassoon); 2 horns; 2 trumpets; timpani and percussion; piano; strings.


Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major, H. VIIb: 1
Finale: Allegro molto

BORN: March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria
DIED: May 31, 1809 in Vienna, Austria
WORK COMPOSED: between 1761 and 1765
WORK PREMIERE: May 19, 1962 by Czech Radio Symphony, conducted by Milos Sadlo with soloist Charles Mackerras in Prague, Czech Republic.

Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto has been a musical staple for decades. So it may come as a surprise that this work hadn’t been programmed or recorded until the latter half of the twentieth century. Archivist Oldrich Pulkert came across orchestral parts for Haydn’s first — and long thought lost — cello concerto in 1961. With the primary theme identified in one of Haydn’s composition books and through stylistic and contextual analysis, the Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major was another Haydn concerto that joined the classical music canon.

Haydn wrote the C major concerto between 1761 and 1765. The rediscovered materials indicate the piece was written for and dedicated to cellist Joseph Franz Weigl, a close friend who worked with Haydn at the Esterhazy Court. The main theme of the Moderato is the best sort of melody: cheerful, hummable, an earworm that one wouldn’t mind running through their head for most of the day. The Adagio is gorgeously ecclesiastic, reminiscent of Baroque-era slow movements in its harmonic progressions and breathy phrasing. The Finale: Allegro molto is light and enchanting. Orchestra and soloist make use of their speed and dexterity for less serious means, a pleasant reminder that Haydn recognized that virtuosity and fun often go hand in hand.

Scored for solo cello; 2 oboes; 2 horns; strings.


Symphony No. 1, Op. 25 “Classical”
Allegro con brio
Gavotte: Non troppo allegro
Finale: Molto vivace

BORN: April 23, 1891 in Sontsivka, Ukraine
DIED: March 5, 1953 in Moscow, Russia
WORK PREMIERE: April 21, 1918 by the Petrograd Court Orchestra, conducted by Sergey Prokofiev in Petrograd, Russia

When asked for a musical piece that will shock an audience, a symphony probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. And yet that was the reaction Prokofiev anticipated during the composition of his first symphony. In one diary entry, he envisioned the critical and public reaction: “When our classically inclined musicians and professors (to my mind faux-classical) hear this symphony, they will be bound to scream in protest at this new example of Prokofiev’s insolence … contaminating the pure classical pearls with horrible Prokofiev-ish dissonances. But my true friends will see that the style of my symphony is precisely Mozartian classicism and will value it accordingly, while the public will no doubt just be content to hear happy and uncomplicated music which it will, of course, applaud.”

The Symphony No. 1 premiered right before Prokofiev left revolutionary-era Russia for the West. Here, he makes full use of “Mozartian classicism” and Haydn’s symphonic precedents: each movement makes use of extreme dynamic contrasts, homophonic textures, balanced phrasing and clear cadences. The work is less than 20 minutes long, reflecting Prokofiev’s frustration with the long-windedness of late Romanticism. The Allegro con brio oscillates between frenetic and coy elegance, reinforced by the sparkling articulation in the strings and woodwinds. The Larghetto is less energetic but only barely so, followed by a Gavotte that leads directly into the final movement; it’s so short that if you blink, you might miss it. The Finale ratchets up the vibrancy of the first movement, reminiscent of the musical jokes that defined Haydn’s symphonies. The “Classical” Symphony carries a consistent humorous character through each movement, reflecting Prokofiev’s creative incorporation — weaving, if you will — of Haydn’s and Mozart’s stylistic attributes with his own.

Scored for pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets; timpani; strings.

© 2021 A. Kori Hill

Posted on January 28, 2021