Haydn’s Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

In this concert at Cadogan Hall, the programme was devoted singularly to
Haydn who in 1768 received a commission from a Cistercian monastery in the
northern Austrian town of Zwettl, for an Applausus cantata to
celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of their Abbot, Raynor
I. Kollmann.

Haydn would have known what was expected of him: as the name implies, an
Applausus cantata was designed to laud and applaud a worthy individual, and
commonly took the form of a series of recitatives and da capo arias, ‡ la opera seria. The Latin text (presumably written by one of the
Abbot’s Cistercian brothers, and in this case more of an extended poem than
a libretto) of Haydn’s Applausus JubilÊum Virtutis Palatium is
sung by four allegorical Virtues – Temperance, Prudence, Justice and
Fortitude – who are guided and encouraged by the measured words of the wise
Theologia as they extol the pietistic life within the establishment and
take turns to praise their honoree. The vocal soloists are accompanied by
an orchestra of strings, oboe, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, and timpani,
with harpsichord obbligato.

Occupied by his duties at Esterh·zy, Haydn was unable to attend either
rehearsals or the performance, which took place on 15th May, of
the commissioned cantata and so sent a memorandum enumerating his wishes
about its production. Some instructions were of a practical nature: should
two violin parts be required (an indication of Haydn’s expectations about
the likely size of the instrumental forces) the copyist must ensure that
the page-turns were arranged differently in each part to avoid half of the
fiddle section falling silent at the same time. Elsewhere the composer
offered musical mandates: the allegros should be played ‘a bit more quickly
than usual’, fortes and pianos should be ‘observed exactly’, and violinists
should avoid their frequent, and in his view lamented, practice of
articulating tied notes.

This fascinating and valuable historical document – reproduced in the
evening’s progamme booklet – has received rather more attention than
Haydn’s score itself. For, the acclamatory sentiments of the extended arias
– some lasting almost twenty minutes – and the absence of dramatic or
narrative impetus, might make Applausus seem like heavy weather
for all but the most enthusiastic devotee of opera seria or cantatas.

In an introductory note in the programme, Ian Page poses some sensible
questions and provides thoughtful answers. Does it matter that an aria is
long and repetitive, if the music is beautiful? If we hear the same line of
text many times, does it affect the way we respond to its meaning? Page
suggests that as ‘the work has virtually no plot’ the listener should
‘banish any expectations of story or narrative’ and allow him/herself to be
transported by the ‘meditative nature of the music’: to become captivated –
as Page and his singers had been during rehearsal – by the ‘slow-burn grip’
of the ensembles and arias which ‘pulled us into an enchanting and
uplifting reverie’.

Given that there are almost two hours of music, that the text is in abstruse
Latin which might perplex even the most able classicist, and that modern
audiences are unlikely to share the Cistercian brethen’s taste for
moralising laudation, Page issues quite a challenge to the average
listener’s powers of concentration! Reverie can quite easily slip into

However, the elegant and gracious vocal and instrumental performances that
we enjoyed at Cadogan Hall offered plentiful prompts if attentions were
prone to wander or wane. Page had obviously taken a great deal of care over
the preparation of this performance, not just in terms of attentiveness to
Haydn’s specific instructions and the observance of an idiomatic
performance style and expressive aesthetic, but also with regard to the
musical details of the score itself, many of which were clearly cherished.
I felt that, somewhat surprisingly, this especial care was often most
persuasively evident in the accompanied recitatives in which instrumental
details engaged beguilingly and bewitchingly with the vocal lines – the
latter combining textual nuance with declamatory effect, to hint at a
specifically dramatic textual energy sometimes absent elsewhere.
Accompanied by perfectly tuned violin scurrying, Fortitudo assured
Justitia, ‘The sneers of your enemies are held in low esteem here’;
Prudentia’s rich-toned celebrations of the delights and wisdom of the
Palace were given addition weight by the well-shaped arguments of Luise
Buchberger’s cello. Page’s direction of these recitatives was excellent:
authoritative but admitting personal expression from his superb

The helpful acoustic of Cadogan Hall also enhanced the clarity of the
orchestral textures and the expressive impact of the inner voices within
that texture. The Allegro di molto of the two-movement overture
alertly balanced bright violins with nasal brass and wind, and the dynamic
contrasts and nimble finger-work of this opening contrasted with the
delicate beauty of the ensuing Andante molto. No wonder the
Virtues were full of wonder ‘at the beauty of their Palace, an
admiration expressed in the opening Quartet, ‘Virtus inter ardua’, sung by
Temperantia (Ellie Laugharne), Prudentia (Elspeth Marrow), Justitia (Thomas
Elwin) and Fortitudo (John Savournin) in which the soloists’ voices blended
warmly, and Page made much of the harmonic arguments.

Haydn must have been assured that there were five talented singers in
Zwettl and its environs, as he requires his soloists to deliver both
affecting melodic grace and coloratura sparkle. The tenor role of Justinia
was performed by a singer well-known to Haydn and who was entrusted to
direct the rehearsals: for his efforts, he was rewarded with two exquisite
arias, whose potential ‘long-windedness’ is alleviated by a mini-concerto
for harpsichord (at the close of ‘O pii Patres Patriae!’) and a charming
violin obbligato (in ‘O beatus incolatus!’), here performed with technical
assurance and convincing stylish grace by Steven Devine and leader Daniel
Edgar respectively. The former aria was strengthened by lovely woodwind
playing and Page’s keen seen of the rhythmic discourse between steady tread
and syncopation, but some momentum was lost. Tenor Thomas Elwin did not
always make the extended melodic gestures cohere, but his tone was
appealing and ‘O beatus incolatus’ was characterised by greater fluency of
line and persuasive expressive intensity.

John Savournin’s energised rendering of Fortitudo’s shorter ‘Si obtrudat
ultimam’ (If destiny should swallow us up) made a case for the
less-might-have-been-more argument: the contrast between the buoyant top
and dark bottom of his bass-baritone, coupled with the furious momentum
garnered by leaping octaves and striking accents in the accompaniment, and
the cello’s continuous racing against the oboe’s interjections, made for
real excitement and interest.

At the first performance the soprano parts were taken by ‘two boys’ –
Haydn’s letter of instruction shows that he trusted his experienced tenor
to offer these young singers appropriate guidance – but here soprano Ellie
Laugharne and mezzo-soprano Elspeth Marrow stepped into the shoes of
Temperance and Prudence, initially joining forces in a delightful duet
which, despite lying quite low in the voice for both singers, was
well-projected and further enhanced by gentle trumpet colouring. Of all the
soloists, Laugharne appeared most engaged in the unfolding sentiments of
the work, and in her aria, ‘Rerum, quas perpendimus’, she made light of the
virtuosic demands, engaging intelligently with the horns and cello to
suggest a real musical conversation. Laugharne’s vocal commitment did not
flag for one moment in this twenty-minute stamina-challenge; nor did her
judgement – the chromaticism of the B section was thoughtfully exploited
and the trills judiciously brief. No wonder, despite the silent respect
shown elsewhere, the audience felt compelled to applaud.

David Shipley took a while to warm up in Theologia’s first admonition to
the over-adulatory Virtues but after an initial slightly inhibited tone and
lack of melodic elegance, the bass found greater ease of projection and
vocal presence.

We can’t know what Haydn though would come of this ‘occasional’ work. But,
some of the music was plundered subsequently, with sacred texts replacing
the original secular words to render it suitable for church services.
Thereafter, Applausus languished in the margins of music history,
until in 1958 Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon and conductor Harry
Newstone reintroduced the cantata to audiences via a BBC series titled The Unknown Haydn, Newstone conducting the Haydn
Orchestra with a solo quartet comprising Joan Sutherland, Marjorie Thomas,
Richard Lewis and John Cameron. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, under Erich
Leinsdorf, gave a full performance at Tanglewood in 1964; and, there have
been three commercial recordings to date, including a 1991
modern-instrument recording led by Patrick Fournillier on Opus 111.

In giving the first live UK-performance, The Mozartists/Classical Opera
offered both musical pleasure and food for thought. Though the absence of
narrative momentum occasionally led to a sense that Haydn’s invention was
cruising on autopilot, and though in the extended arias the relationship
between the sentiments of the text and their musical embodiment threatened
at times to disappear, this was a performance which skilfully and
expressively communicated the solemnity, sensitivity and sublimity of
Haydn’s varied score.

Claire Seymour

Haydn: Applausus

The Mozartists: Ian Page (conductor), solo violin (Daniel Edgar), solo
harpsichord (Steven Devine).

Temperantia – Ellie Laugharne, Prudentia – Elspeth Marrow, Justitia –
Thomas Elwin, Fortitudo – John Savournin, Theologia – David Shipley.

Cadogan Hall, London; Thursday 15th March 2018.

image_description=Haydn’s Applausus: The Mozartists/Classical Opera at Cadogan Hall product=yes
product_title=Haydn’s Applausus: The Mozartists/Classical Opera at Cadogan Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id= Above: Ellie Laugharne (Temperantia)