Benjamin Pesetsky composer and writer

Divertimentos for Flute, Violin, and Cello, Hob. IV:7&8

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Program notes for Tippet Rise Art Center
Not to be reprinted without permission

© Benjamin Pesetsky 2019

Haydn—the story always goes—worked for the wealthy Esterházy family, writing and directing courtly music as a glorified servant to the princes Paul Anton and Nikolaus I, before the younger Anton I downsized his orchestra and released Haydn from his formal duties in 1790, allowing him to work in Vienna, travel to London, and flourish independently into old age.

That is the picture from a Great Composers book, the “facts you should know” about Haydn, and simplified ones. By the early 1780s Haydn had developed a sideline writing for the growing commercial market—there was a lot of money in selling new works, or repackaging parts of old ones, or relabeling the music of other composers as one’s own. It was an unregulated world where a composer could sell an “exclusive” piece to multiple publishers, or play a publisher against a private patron for the highest fee. On the other side, unscrupulous firms resold rights to third parties, and the trade in unauthorized editions—for which the composer received nothing—was not unlike music piracy in the early 21st century.

The divertimentos, Hob. IV:6–11, were products for this scene. Haydn assembled them in 1786 as two of six divertimentos for the London publisher and noted luthier William Forster Sr. (a commission fulfilled by mail five years before Haydn visited London in person). These chamber pieces are Haydn’s first with flute, which was a popular instrument in England for domestic music—especially for skilled and talented women who could not publicly perform.

Divertimento in G Major, Hob. IV:7

For the first movement of the Divertimento in G Major, Haydn lifted and arranged an aria from his opera Il modo della luna (The World on the Moon, a sort of sci-fi comic opera of 1777, also absent from the generic Haydn story). The Adagio and parts of the finale are set in a minor key, slightly unusual for a light divertimento.

Divertimento in C Major, Hob. IV:8

The Divertimento in C Major begins with a gallant dance, while the lyrical second movement also takes from Il mondo della luna. The Presto finale is danceable rather than singable, perhaps the essential distinction between movements in these pieces.

Benjamin Pesetsky composer and writer