Joseph Haydn: Divertimentos in G and C major, Hob. IV:7–8

Written for the Tippet Rise Art CenterNot to be reprinted without permission.

By the early 1780s, even as he still worked for the wealthy Esterházy family, Joseph 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 there was a pirate trade in unauthorized editions—for which the composer received nothing.

The divertimentos in G and C major were products for this scene. Haydn assembled them in 1786 as two of six divertimentos for the London publisher and luthier William Forster Sr. (a commission fulfilled remotely 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 making—especially for women who could not publicly perform.

For the first movement of the Divertimento in G major, Haydn lifted an aria from his opera Il mondo della luna (The World on the Moon, a sort of proto-science-fiction comic opera of 1777). The Adagio and parts of the finale are set in a minor key, a bit unusual for a light divertimento.

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 again danceable rather than singable, the essential source of variety within these pieces.

Benjamin Pesetsky is a composer and writer. He serves on the staff of the San Francisco Symphony and also contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Melbourne Symphony.