From Haydn‘s rich symphonic repertoire, tonight we will perform Symphony No. 99. Haydn, the master of the Viennese Classicism, is rightly known as the father of the symphony, having composed more than 100 symphonies. It was also under his influence that the symphony, originally in three movements, was transformed into a four-movement musical piece with the introduction of a minuet before the final movement. Symphony No. 99 is one of the so-called London symphonies, of which the composer wrote twelve during his travels in London between 1791 and 1795.
He was nearly 60 years old when his first conductor’s post in the court orchestra of the Eszterházy princes ended with the death of Miklós Eszterházy in 1790. In order to make a living, he accepted an invitation from Johann Peter Salomon to go to London. Salomon commissioned an opera, half a dozen symphonies and other works from the composer. Haydn delivered the commission and, although his opera Orpheus and Eurydice was not performed in his lifetime, his symphonies were a huge success and he became very popular in London. He returned from London after two years, but in preparation for his next journey, he wrote his Symphony No. 99 (in E-flat major) in 1793. It was premiered in London the following year. When Haydn wrote the symphony, he was an old fox, but he still brought some innovations into his work. Among other things, he introduced the clarinet for the first time, probably thanks to the influence of Mozart, who was much younger than Haydn and had died by then. The piece opens with a first movement rich in tonal variations, followed by an adagio movement in the sonata form, and a lively finale after the minuet.
Mahler composed The Song of the Earth at one of the most critical times in his life: he had just lost a daughter, his health was deteriorating, his heart condition was discovered and his marriage got in a crisis. To lift his gloomy mood, an acquaintance gave him a book of poems by the German philosopher and Germanist Hans Bethge, which contains transcriptions of 8th century Chinese poems. Mahler was so moved by the wisdom and melancholy tone of the poems’ content that he decided to choose six texts to compose music to them. That’s how, in 1908, this song cycle was born, in which we find a drinking song, a song about the autumn sunshine, youth, beauty, spring, in other words, everything that brings joy but also suffering because of its transience, and the cycle ends with the Farewell Song, which lifts us to transcendental heights.