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Haydn in Paris – Berks Sinfonietta’s November Concert

Story written by David A. McConnell

Nov 04, 2021

Berks Sinfonietta continues its 2021-22 concert season by exploring Haydn and his connection to Paris on Saturday, November 20 at 7:30 pm at Sacred Heart Parish, 740 Cherry St, West Reading, PA 19611. For the safety of our players and audience, all attendees are asked to mask, and we urge non-vaccinated individuals to watch our livestream broadcast. A limited number of masks will be available for those who forget to bring their own. The concert will also be live-streamed for the cost of an at-will donation. Anyone can join by visiting www.berkssinfonietta.org.

In the late 1700s, Paris has two main performing orchestras: the Concert Spirituel (also known as the Concert de la loge Olympique) founded in 1725, and the Concert des Amateurs, founded in 1769. Both organizations were focused primarily on symphonic works by French composers (including two composers heard on this program, Rigel and Guénin), but by the 1780s public demand for works by Haydn had to be answered. In 1781, there were five performances of Haydn symphonies at the Concert Spiritual; in 1786, 26 performances; in 1789, 39 performances. This popularity eventually led to a 1796 commission by the Concert de la Loge Olympique for six symphonies, works today known as the “Paris Symphonies.”

The concert opens with the Sinfonia No. 3 by one of the greatest exponents of the French symphony from this period, Marie-Alexandre Guénin. Initially admired as a violinist, Guénin established his reputation in Paris with his “Three Symphonies” (op.4). Published in November 1776 and dedicated to Prince Rohan-Guéméné, the symphonies aroused great enthusiasm at their premiere. The third symphony consists of three contrasting movements; the first and last, both marked “Allegro di molto” and in D minor, are energetic and forceful, with expressive dynamic contrasts and skillful modulations.

Henri-Joseph Rigel was a German pianist and composer who lived most of his life in Paris, where he wrote operas, string quartets and symphonies. A respected and admired composer, he was listed as one of the “ten contributing composers to the Concert Spirituel.” Rigel was also a teacher and in 1783 was appointed Professor of Solfege at the Ecole Royale de Chant, as well as teaching at the recently founded Paris Conservatory.

Rigel embraced the “Sturm und Drang” style (a style Haydn also used in several symphonies) and that is certainly seen in his Symphony No. 4 in C minor. IN three movements, the first opens dramatically, quickly moving into a presentation of cheerful themes, typically classical in their balance and clarity, though there are sudden, unexpected accents that add dramatic tension. The second movement is lyrical and reflective, evidence of Rigel’s melodic fluency. The final movement springs to life with energetic and virtuosic string writing that rarely comes up for breath.

The concert closes with one of Haydn’s most popular works, Symphony No. 83 in G Minor, sometimes referred to as “The Hen.” The first movement begins with a statement of an ascending G-minor motive, immediately answered by a descending figure, followed by a dramatic silence. These motives are stated several times, both in sequence and simultaneously. The second theme is a complete contrast and is what gives the symphony its nickname: apparently audience members at the premiere felt the theme evoked a clucking sound, and that the accompanying pattern in the oboe represented a hen scratching. The charming second movement in triple meter is features several dramatic contrasts in dynamics that generate some unexpected outbursts. The third movement is a graceful minuet, followed by a lively finale in compound meter, a playful gigue evocative of hunting music, surely aimed at any hunters in the audience.

Live concert tickets ($15/Adult & $5/Child) are available at the door and online at https://berkssinfonietta.ticketspice.com/november-2021-concert-haydn-in-paris. Join us on Saturday, November 20 at 7:30 pm for an evening of enthralling music, in-person or via livestream. To learn more, please visit www.berkssinfonietta.org.

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