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Mr Haydn

symphonic affabulation
on fragments of J. Haydn

Deraco, in an ironical allusion to Stevenson's famous novel, named the piece Mr Haydn...


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During the last year I had the pleasure of working as a librettist with Girolomo Deraco on three compositions (PostergasCheckinaggio and Parole alate). It was therefore natural that he allowed me to follow the genesis of Mr Haydn, which in many ways shares its inspiration with Parole alate (Winged Words). This time the source materials were the words and expressions  crossed out by Flaubert in the final manuscript of Madame Bovary, as well as Haydn's sketches for string quartet. In both cases the documents are well-known to scholars, but are now also accessible to non-specialist audiences: the Bovary manuscript is available online while Haydn's sketches were included in the Haydn Institute of Cologne's new edition of his complete works, published by Henle. Anyone wishing to trace the genesis of Deraco's piece can simply look in volumes XII/5 (edited by Georg Feder and Isidor Saslav) and XII/6 (edited by Horst Walter).

No taste for the obscure, in other words. Nor is the piece driven by intellectual or emotional enthusiasm for a masterpiece condemned by its incompleteness to remain elusive, like Rendering by Berio/Schubert (which is nonetheless a constant reference point). Mr Haydn brings together, and even superimposes, fragments with different origins. What could have been a light minuet for string quartet  is a cheerful allegro for full orchestra, while the triplet sketch, which Haydn most likely intended for the  trio that plays the minuet, is used for the final peroration. In the central section in D minor (Deraco preserves the sketches' original tonality, creating a sharp contrast with the E-flat major base), two ideas exist side by side. The first is heart-wrenching, the second vigorous, and initially the two are not connected. Also woven into the orchestral fabric  is a fragment without thematic character, and (as in Rendering), an exercise in counterpoint.

In short, the piece is assembly, not reconstruction; the fragments are the subject of the narrative rather than comment. However, Deraco's piece does not insult Haydn, or indeed philologists. Nowadays, research allows us to to make out, beside the figure of a composer, a faint shadow made up of failed attempts, second thoughts, aborted projects and ideas sacrificed to practical necessity. The challenge was therefore to give that shadow a human face and bring to life, not the real Haydn, who is very much appreciated and certainly not in need of resuscitation, but his double: an invented character who Deraco, in an ironical allusion to Stevenson's famous novel, named Mr Haydn

By Tommaso Sabbatini


Ensemble Orchestra
Instruments Orchestra
Duration 10' (minutes)
Dedicated Joseph Haydn
World premiere Orchestra Haydn
Rinaldo Alessandrini, Conductor
November 17th, 2009, Auditorium, Bolzano, Italy
Prize -
Commission Commissioned by Foundation Haydn Orchestra of Bolzano and Trento
for the 200th Anniversary of the death of J. Haydn
and for the 50th Anniversary of the Haydn Orchestra
Link soundcloud link to audio
Notes N/A


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