Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1

It is strange that Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major was only discovered by the Czech musicologist Oldrich Pulkert during the second half of the 20th century; it is just as strange that Haydn is still not yet completely accepted as a great composer of concertos for solo instrument and orchestra. The reasoning behind this may be, however, straightforward: although Haydn composed concerti for the most diverse instruments, he is principally renowned as the illustrious founder of the Classical symphonic form; it is partially thanks to this that his concertos use the musical language of his symphonies and are not necessarily works of great individual character such as Mozart’s. There is, nonetheless, much to be experienced in these works, and in the Cello Concerto in C major in particular. Haydn had complete artistic control over the Eszterházy Orchestra for many years and could experiment with orchestration and form to his heart’s content. Given that his orchestra was made up of excellent musicians, he took immense pleasure in exploring the possibilities of the different instruments and composed several splendid solo concertos for his players. The Cello Concerto in C major was composed for Joseph Weigl, a good friend of Haydn and solo cello of the Eszterházy Orchestra, at the beginning of the 1760s.

It is striking how much Haydn treats the cello as a fully-fledged instrument, given that the cello was still primarily an accompanying instrument at that time. The solo part is unusually virtuosic at times, although this technical display always remains within the framework of the piece as a whole. This and other reasons make this cello concerto one of Haydn’s best concertos from his early Eszterházy years. Although the piece still shows formal traces of the baroque solo concerto, its first and last movements in sonata form make it a textbook example of the Classical solo concerto.

The concerto employs the traditional Baroque alternation of fast-slow-fast for its three movements. The first movement displays Haydn’s musical mastery to the millimetre: he needs very little musical material and he keeps his audience alert by varying the principal theme slightly each time that it is heard. Tradition has it that the splendid Adagio for the solo cello and strings alone was composed to give Weigl every possibility of displaying his superbly crafted sound. Technical virtuosity is the primary raison d’être of the final movement, Allegro molto, although once again Haydn does not allow it to overwhelm his melodic and harmonic invention.

The Cello Concerto in C major was mentioned in the immense catalogue of Haydn’s works but long since been given up as lost. It was only in 1961 that Pulkert discovered the work in separate fragments in the National Museum in Prague. Once the orchestral material and the solo part had been reconstructed, the concerto rapidly became one of Haydn’s most popular works.

Truls Mørk plays the cadenzas that were found with the manuscript in 1961.

Translation: Peter Lockwood