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Inside The Music: Romance and Revelry

Discover more about classical music with our new video series and interactive programme notes.

Music by kind permission of Naxos Records

Haydn’s effervescent Trumpet Concerto was written for the modern trumpet – instead of having to play different notes with their mouth alone, players could now use keys to help them, opening up a much wider palette of scales.

And Haydn wasted no time in testing the limits of these new, more versatile instruments. Expect sparkling brilliance from Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, one of the finest young players on the scene today. The second half of this concert features the wide open Austrian landscapes of Bruckner’s beautiful, evocative Fourth Symphony, the ‘Romantic’, complete with hunting calls and rustic dances.

10 things you didn’t know about… Bruckner

  • Bruckner suffered from numeromania, a condition that saw him count the leaves on trees and the windows in buildings. Ken Russell made a film about it for the South Bank Show, entitled ‘The Strange Affliction of Anton Bruckner’.
  • He wrote eleven symphonies, ten of which he completed. Confusingly, No. 8 is the last one he finished, as he relegated two works to No. 0 and No. 00. No. 9 is incomplete, but among his greatest works.
  • Knowing which edition to perform is a constant headache for conductors, as Bruckner revised every one of his symphonies up until his death.
  • Bruckner was a fine organist and one of the greatest improvisers. Sadly or organists, he wrote nothing of note for the instrument.
  • Bruckner only started composing seriously from the age of 37, a couple of years older then Mozart was when he died.
  • At his request, Bruckner was buried under the organ at St Florian, where he served from the age of 24 for seven years.
  • Bruckner never married, despite proposing to several women. It’s thought he went to the grave a chaste man.
  • Each of Bruckner’s symphonies is huge in scope and ambition – Brahms called them symphonic ‘boa constrictors’.
  • Bruckner’s music has suffered from associations with Hitler, whose favourite Symphony was No. 7. It was played on German radio following his death in 1945.
  • A nervous breakdown struck Bruckner in 1866, for which he spent three months in a sanatorium.

VIDEO: Oliver Condy

VIDEO: Jonathan James

Listen out for… 5 key moments

1. Haydn: Trumpet Concerto, first movement
Around four minutes in, listen to the leaps from the depths of the trumpet’s range to way up high as Haydn tests the versatility of the modern instrument.

2. Haydn: Trumpet Concerto, second movement
Again, Haydn shows off what players can do with keys (later to become valves) with plenty of chromatic passages. This movement would have been a revelation for trumpeters.

3. Bruckner: Symphony No. 4, first movement
It’s worth the wait… Eleven minutes in, Bruckner opens up the orchestra with a glorious chorale-like passage that sounds like the heavens opening up.

4. Bruckner: Symphony No. 4, third movement
Bruckner romanticises rustic hunting calls, with beautiful, deep horns from the very start.

5. Bruckner: Symphony No. 4, final movement
Listen all the way through to how Bruckner takes you to the very edge, before suddenly bringing you back, time and time again. It’s one of the most glorious (and frustrating!) characteristics of his finest symphonies.

A modern concerto for a modern instrument

As any trumpet player will tell you, playing a modern brass instrument involves a combination of good mouth muscles and nimble fingerwork. As the mouth changes the speed and pressure of the airflow, so the instrument’s sound moves up and down within the harmonic series of a particular note. But it’s the valves that give the player a leg-up, changing the lengths of the tubing as each one is pressed down, opening up for a much wider vista of sounds, including chromatic scales and different keys. And it’s for this modern instrument, invented in the 1790s by Anton Weidinger, that Haydn wrote his Trumpet Concerto.

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact that Weidinger’s invention had on the brass world. Up until then, players of ‘natural’ trumpets and horns (with no valves, keys or holes) were shackled by the notes that could be produced simply by using the mouth muscles, so repertoire was limited and trumpet concertos, although thrillingly written, were harmonically basic, often sounding much like extended hunting calls or fanfares.

The new trumpet came along as Haydn was at the height of his composing powers. No longer working full time at the remote Esterházy estate where he was at the musical beck and call of his demanding employers, the Austrian composer, now almost 70, now spent his time writing what he wanted. Masses and string quartets flowed from his pen, along with this concerto, premiered in 1800. The two genial outer movements contrast old-fashioned fanfare motifs with passages and harmonic changes that show off the ability of Weidinger’s trumpet to play every note, in all keys, and the beautiful slow movement takes the player from A flat major to C flat major, a harmonic progression that would have been impossible before the keyed trumpet.

Bruckner, who revived his Fourth Symphony several times, gave the nickname ‘Romantic’ to it himself, describing the evocative opening movement as ‘a medieval city – dawn – reveille calls are heard from the towers – the city gates open – knights spring forth on proud steeds – the wind rustles in the trees.’ And, true to its name, the symphony is indeed wildly romantic and powerful, the first movement’s opening soft string tremolos giving way to a lone horn and a series of exquisite orchestral crescendos; the third movement alludes to an Austrian rustic dance with its rough and ready hunting horn calls; and the finale alternates passages of beautiful contemplation with moments of great power and majesty. It’s a symphony that’s packed full of radiant orchestral colour.

Further listening

Hummel – Trumpet Concerto

Composed just four years after Haydn’s concerto, Hummel’s was also written for Anton Weidinger. It’s an exuberant work with an infectiously cheerful final movement.
Recommended recording: Tine Thing Helseth (trumpet), Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Simax PSC1292)

Bruckner – Symphony No. 8

For Bruckner’s ultimate symphonic statement, look no further than the stunning Eighth, with its 30-minute slow movement. But don’t let that put you off – it’s brilliantly crafted and paced, and those 30 minutes pass in a flash.
Recommended recording: Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim (Warner Classics 2564618912)

Words: Oliver Condy

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