Archive for the ‘Secular Vocal’ 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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