One thing (of many) I have had reinforced for me while immersing myself in Haydn's life and times is something which would stand true in any age and with any person, it just seems to play out this way with Haydn more than others: never think you know what's going to happen next!
Late last year, I published this little blurb from The Sun:
The Sun, 7 November 1794
Salomon, it is said, means to carry on his Concert this winter, and as the Professional Concert is no more, it is probable that he will have a very flourishing season. The name of Haydn is a powerful charm in his favor; but with the aid of musical novelties from so great a composer, he may bid defiance to competition.
That seems pretty straightforward, since it is precisely what we expected. So now, we move on to Hanover Square Rooms and Symphony 102, yes? But wait a bit; how about this then?
The Morning Chronicle, 14 January 1795
Mr. Salomon respectfully presents his acknowledgements to the Nobility and the Gentry who have hitherto done him the honor to support his concert; he feels the most lively sentiments of gratitude for the protection which they gave him in the arduous undertaking; and it is with real regret that he is under the necessity, from circumstances which he has not the power to control, to decline the further continuance of the establishment.
Uh oh, this is starting to sound ominous. Are our expectations about to be dashed? And what of Haydn?
….In the present state of affairs on the Continent, Mr. Salomon finds it impossible to procure from abroad any Vocal Performers of the first talents, [excepting by] the influence of terms which an undertaking like his, could by no means authorize him to offer; and it would be a presumption, of which he is incapable, to solicit the patronage of the Nobility and Gentry to an inferior entertainment.
[snip] Mr. Salomon owes too many obligations to Dr. Haydn, to suffer this opportunity to pass without offering him his public acknowledgements for the advantages he derived from his unparalleled genius, and which he is happy to say, is not to be left unexerted in the service of the Public. To Mr. Viotti, and to all the other Professors, who honored him with their assistance, he returns also grateful thanks, and rejoices to find, that all, equally animated by their love of the Profession, cheerfully enter into the Arrangement that has been formed.
OK then, we have the outlines of a plan. Much of the instrumental talent of the Salomon series will merge with the vocal and instrumental talent provided by the London Opera, and they will perform the series under the name "The Opera Concert" at the King's Theater, which was the headquarters of the London Opera, located on Haymarket Street. Here is the advert which ran sixteen times in January:
The Morning Chronicle, 16 January (inter alia)
OPERA CONCERT at THE KING'S THEATRE
The Nobility and Gentry are respectfully informed, that there will be, in the Great Room of this Theatre,
NINE CONCERTS by SUBSCRIPTION
To be held every Monday fortnight, commencing on MONDAY, the 2nd of February next.
In this Concert it will be the Study of the Proprietor to combine the most eminent talents, Vocal and Instrumental, now in England.
Dr. Haydn. Mr. Martini [NB - Vicenti Martín y Soler]
Mr. Bianchi, and Mr. Clementi.
From whom there will be at least Two New Pieces of Music
For each Concert
Madame Banti, Madame Morichelli,
Signor Neri, Signor Morelli,
Signor Brida, Signor Bonfanti,
And Signor Rovedino.
Who are all engaged not to
perform out of the Theatre.
Mr. Salomon, Mr. Dussek,
Signor Dragonetti, Mr. Schram,
Mr. Lindley, Mr. Ashe,
Mr. Holmes, Mr. Harrington,
And Mr. Viotti.
The Choruses under the Direction of Dr. Arnold, Organist of His Majesty's Chapel, who will himself preside at the Organ.
At the Harpsichord, Dr. Haydn and Mr. Federici.
Leader of the Band, Mr. Cramer
The whole to be under the Direction of Mr. Viotti, who will also occasionally furnish new Pieces of Music.
We're cooking now! With some acceptance from 'the Public', this could be one of the great Seasons. And it seems this was forthcoming in short order:
The Morning Chronicle, 24 January 1795
The whole world cannot produce such a combination of Musical talents as the Opera Concert presents to the Amateurs; as Salomon candidly owns in his Advertisement, it is the Foundation of a Musical School in England, worth the taste and opulence of the Nation. The Great Room will conveniently accommodate 800 Subscribers; and to this number is limited.
Of course, newspapers, then and now, are prone to exaggeration. Is that the case here? We already know many of these names; Viotti, Salomon and Cramer were among the finest violinists of the time. In Viotti's case, maybe a much greater span than that. And Clementi and Dussek likewise, certainly in England there were few who could top them, although there was the rumor of new talent over in Vienna just now… But what of some of the new names? At least a couple of them deserved the adjective 'incomparable'.
Some of the characters
It can be difficult at times to talk about historical figures, especially performers in an art as ephemeral as music realization, and be able to convey the level of excitement produced in the auditors of the time simply at the news of their presence. In these days of recordings, we can instantly recall to the present Maria Callas or Jascha Heifetz. But what about the news item above, with names like 'Madame Banti' or 'Signor Dragonetti'? I'm sure even Haydn was a little excited to have such stars contribute to his success, as this note to Viotti shows:
[To Giovan [sic] Battista Viotti, London.
It. 'Lei' form]
My most excellent Friend!
You will excuse me, wanting for every reason to hear our dear Banti tomorrow, but since we poor Maestri cannot spend a half-a-guinea so frequently, that I ask you to have the goodness (if it is possible) to procure a ticket for me from Dr. Deller, who last winter did me the favor of letting me attend the theater gratis : I am sorry not to have had the honor of seeing you the last time at your place ; I hope to see you another time. I am with every respect
Bury Street, 19th Dec. '794.
(Haydn Yearbook IV 1968)
Haydn, if he indeed managed to cadge a ticket from Viotti, not only got to see La Banti for the first time, but also the public première of Domenico Dragonetti, who arrived in London in September or October, and appeared as an orchestra member in the opera Zenobia in Palmira, by Giovanni Paisiello, on 20 December 1794, the date for which Haydn is seeking a ticket.
'Madame Banti' was the Italian soprano Brigida Giorgi-Banti. Born in Crema, Italy in the same year as Mozart, 1756, she began her singing career as a street singer in Venice, performing with (small world!) Domenico Dragonetti on Bass and an unnamed violinist.
The people of Venice, proud of two contemporary celebrities of the theatre, have always claimed that, whilst still adolescent, the famous Brigida Giorgi Banti, also Venetian, who for many years was the main delight of the theatres, first of Venice, then of London, and Dragonetti with her, along with a violinist… formed one of those groups which used to wander continually on the squares of Venice …
(Francesco Caffi, biographical article on Dragonetti, 1846)
…[Banti] was stupid and lazy, and never learned to read music, but enjoyed enormous popularity because of her glorious voice and spirited acting. Though Da Ponte found her coarse and ignorant, composers inspired to write for her included [inter alios] Haydn, Paisiello, Zingarelli and Anfossi. Critics described her singing as 'charming', 'perfect' and 'impassioned'.
(Oxford Concise Dictionary of Opera)
Her voice was of most extensive compass, rich and even, and without a fault in its whole range – a true voce di petto throughout. In her youth it extended to the highest pitch and was so agile that she excelled most singers in the bravura style; but, losing a few of her upper notes, she modified her manner by practicing the cantabile, to which she devoted herself and in which she had no equal. Her acting and recitative were excellent. Her spirits never flagged, nor did her admirers ever grow weary of her. They never wished for another singer.
(R. Edgcumbe, 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe - Musical Reminiscences of an Old Amateur (London, 1824))
|Madamme Banti engages in a jovial
conversation with Lord Pembroke
by Thomas Rowlandson ca 1794
Dragonetti as a young man
Noted in passing: I have never heard Da Ponte say anything too nice about anyone but himself. I doubt Banti was either stupid or lazy, given what it takes to rise to the very top of a profession as demanding as Prima donna! She may well have been rude and crude, although that isn't the same, is it? But it is true, she never learned to read music. She is said to have had someone play a work for her once or twice and then she would sing it back perfectly. Banti had been traveling Europe, and she spent the 1793 Season in Madrid, but in 1794 she was engaged to be the Prima at the King's Theater, an arrangement which lasted until 1802.
Domenico Dragonetti is already quite famous, not least because of his later meetings with (and influence on) Beethoven. He was then, and is today, considered to be the greatest player ever on the double-bass.
In the 1790s he performed his own compositions to widespread recognition. One critic remarked that Dragonetti 'by powers almost magical, invests an instrument, which seems to wage eternal war with melody, "rough as the storm, and as the thunder loud", with all the charms of soft harmonious sounds' (Bath Chronicle, 14 Nov 1799).
[snip] Dragonetti generally used a three-string double bass, and was particularly fond of the Gasparo da Salò instrument which he bequeathed to S Marco. He favoured tuning in 4ths (A'–D–G): writing to Rossini in 1827, he explained that this arrangement provided a strong, even sound and eased the negotiation of the instrument.
(from New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians, article Domenico Dragonetti)
He did, in fact, bequeath his famous instrument to St. Mark's, although they don't mention that he originally had it given him by a convent affiliated with St. Mark's, St. Peter's, who were making an effort to keep him from leaving for bigger and better things. Eventually, though, the attraction of foreign travel and big money lured him away from the opera and Basilica in Venice. After touring Europe, he settled in London in 1794 and remained, except for occasional tours, for the next fifty years. His 'magical powers', though, came from his having almost freakishly large and powerful hands, to the point where he could easily compare with a cellist in terms of hand size relative to instrument. That, coupled with tremendous musicality, carried him to the very top of his profession and kept him there throughout his life. He is, in fact, one of the very few musicians of the time who died with a large amount of money in the bank. But he was also loved and admired as a generous person, eager to help out friends and acquaintances. In later times his tours brought him to Vienna, where he visited with Beethoven.
"He was now - in the spring of 1799, so far as the means are at hand of determining the time - returning to London from a visit to his native city, Venice, and his route took him to Vienna, where he remained several weeks. Beethoven and he soon met and they were mutually pleased with each other. Many years afterwards Dragonetti related the following anecdote to Samuel Appleby, Esq., of Brighton, England: "Beethoven had been told that his new friend could execute violoncello music upon his huge instrument and one morning, when Dragonetti called at his room, he expressed the desire to hear a sonata. The contrabass was sent for, and the Sonata, n° 2, of Op.5, was selected. Beethoven played his part, with his eyes immovably fixed upon his companion, and, in the finale, where the arpeggios occur, was so delighted and excited that at the close he sprang up and threw his arms around both player and instrument".
(Thayer's 'Life of Beethoven' pg. 208 - Elliot Forbes (1970))
The inevitable influence of that day lives on in Beethoven's newfound appreciation for, and use of, the double-bass in his subsequent orchestral music.
Dragonetti was not a prolific composer, certainly not in the sense Haydn was, but he did write a very few concertos, many string quintets which featured the double-bass instead of the cello, and some solo works, such as the popular 12 Waltzes for Double-Bass. His playing was in very high demand in London and throughout Europe for the rest of his life.
When you couple musicians of this caliber with those already part of Salomon's company, and many of The Professors, who, like Cramer, had moved to the Opera once the Professional Concert failed, it is easy to see the potential for an outstanding year of concert going.
Next time, we will look at the early concerts, which featured some of the true peaks in Haydn's symphonic career!
Thanks for reading!