Although Haydn first visited England in 1791 he was well known there long before that. Publishers were understandably eager to take advantage of this, and the two sets of songs that Haydn published in Vienna in 1781 and 1784 provided a suitable opportunity. The composer William Shield (1748-1829) adapted the first set in 1786 as “Twelve Ballads” and the second was adapted by an anonymous editor in 1789. Extracts from both sets are included here, with verses whose relationship with the original verse is at times remote. Samuel Arnold (1740-1802) produced a set of “Twelve Ballads” in 1787 which differ from the others in being vocal arrangements of instrumental movements. Again there are examples here, including the last movements ofRead more Symphonies Nos. 74 and 77, the second movement of Symphony No. 53, and two movements from string quartets. These alone would probably make the disc an irresistible curiosity to any Haydn enthusiast but that is guaranteed by the inclusion of three piano pieces by Thomas Haigh, a student of Haydn in 1791-2. These comprise two Rondos based on two of Haydn’s English Canzonettas, also included here, and a set of variations based loosely on the second movement of Symphony No. 53 which is also the basis for one of the Ballads. Admittedly Haigh’s pieces serve more to show by comparison just how good a composer Haydn was, but they are interesting as further proof of the latter’s impact on the English musical scene.
All of this music was essentially intended for the well-to-do domestic market and very properly it is sung and played accordingly, albeit with a technical security and panache that you would probably have been very lucky to encounter in their intended settings. The two singers make the most of the words, and whilst they are printed in the booklet their admirable diction makes this unnecessary for most of the time. Three accompanying instruments – square piano (from c1798), guitar and flute – are used, thus ensuring ample variety of tone. Admirable booklet notes by Derek McCulloch from which I have drawn much of the above information set the scene clearly for the listener.
It would be idle to regard the contents of this disc as much more than a very entertaining curiosity; something is lost in almost every case from Haydn’s originals. Nonetheless it becomes immediately clear just why the English took so enthusiastically to his music. It simply “works” so well in its new context. This is one of those discs that fills admirably a gap you probably never knew was there, and which, for me at least, is likely to be one I will return to often for sheer pleasure in its innocent music-making.
-- John Sheppard, MusicWeb International Read less