Archive for the ‘Ludwig van Beethoven’ Category

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809)

Highly rated composer, Joseph Haydn still remains, in my opinion, underrated compared to Mozart and/or Beethoven. He is, with Handel (and maybe Beethoven), my favorite composer. It will be impossible to sum up all his production within a few posts this week. Like last week for Boccherini, famously nicknamed the Haydn’s wife,  I intend to look here and there at his instrumental and vocal music.

Keen businessman, modest and having a strong humor, Haydn worked from 1761 to his death for the Esterhazy princes, especially under Nikolaus “The Magnificent” (1762-1790). He is mostly known for is symphonies, string quartets, masses and oratorios.

Scena di Berenice (“Berenice, che fai”)

Composed in 1795 for the singer Brigida Banti, the scena (with recitatives and two arias) is considered one of Haydn’s most accomplished dramatic work. Berenice laments her fate after being abandoned by her lover Demetrio. After she describes her woeful state in a recitative, Berenice sings an aria begging Demetrio not to die without her. Her grief continues to grow in another recitative and aria, where she prays that it finally become so great as to “relieve her of life.” Berenice, che fai was premiered (along with Haydn’s Symphony No. 104) on 4 May 1795 at a concert for Haydn’s benefit.

Rene Jacobs and the Freiburger Barockorchester (and Bernarda Fink!) on Harmonia Mundi label, recorded a great version of it. It lasts more than 11 minutes but it is really worthy. The full libretto is available here (no translation alas).

Scena di Berenice (play or download)

For more information

Harmonia Mundi


Online reviews

Classics Today

Opera Today

Sources for this post

Michael Ruhling, “Haydn in London”, Handel and Haydn Society Program Notes

Marc Vignal, Joseph Haydn, [Paris], Fayard, 1988, p. 467-468, 1227-1228. (French)



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Stumbled on an interesting article from the New York Times about the reason(s) of Beethoven death. A few weeks ago, Andrew Todd from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York tested a part of Beethoven’s skull and did not find any abnormal amount of lead, for a 56 years old person. Strangely, a second skull sample showed higher amount of lead. The expert will conduct further tests on that second fragment and the full results will be available soon.

Of course, Beethoven had plenty occasion to consume lead. It is said he was drinking cheap wine, who was softened by lead to hide bitterness. But Todd think it is unlikely it happened since Beethoven had apparently the means to get finer wines.  Also, he received a treatment for a wound in his final months which was  possibly made by lead poisoned tools. But according to Todd, if it intoxicated him, it would not have explained his death.

So, we can only wait to see what the expert report will say about the strange and deadly relation between lead and herr von Beethoven.



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