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Haydn's "exquisitely captivating" Arianna a Naxos

Naxos temple gate

Arianna a Naxos, Hob. XXVIb:2
London, Printed for the author [1791], signed by the composer

Stanford University Libraries, Memorial Library of Music, MLM 489

Link to downloadable images of this work

Arianna a Naxos was first published by Artaria in Vienna in 1790, followed by this London edition printed for Haydn by John Bland and first offered for sale on June 10, 1791. Bland was instrumental in bringing Haydn to London, and provided Haydn’s first lodging there in January 1791. Bland had visited Haydn at Eszterháza. One day during Haydn’s grooming routine, he heard the composer complain about his dull razors. “I’d give my best quartet for a pair of good razors,” he exclaimed, upon which Bland raced back to his room, grabbed his new British razors, and presented them to Haydn. In exchange Bland received the manuscript for the Quartet, op. 55 No.2, the “Razor” Quartet.  Or so the story goes.  We do know that Bland took away the manuscript for Arianna and a contract to publish Haydn’s flute trios.

Arianna was performed in London in February 1791 by the soprano castrato Gasparo Pacchierotti, with Haydn accompanying on the harpsichord. The Morning Chronicle lavished praise:

“The Musical World is at this moment enraptured with a Composition which Haydn has brought forth, and which has produced effects bordering on all that Poets used to seign of ancient lyre. Nothing is talked of—nothing sought after but Haydn’s Cantata—or, as it is called in the Italian School—his Scena…  It abounds with such a variety of dramatic modulations—and is so exquisitely captivating in its larmoyant passages, that it touched and dissolved the audience. They speak of it with rapturous recollection, and Haydn’s Cantata will accordingly be the musical desideratum for the winter.”

This dramatic vocal work, consisting of two recitatives alternating with two arias, is somewhat unique among Haydn’s solo vocal works.  The piece relies more on dramatic expression than technical skill; additionally, the limited range and lack of extensive ornamentation suggest it may have been written initially for an amateur singer rather than for a professional performer. 

Newspaper accounts including in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (1799) mention Bianca Sacchetti as the singer for whom Haydn initially wrote Arianna. Soprano, flutist, and organist, Sacchetti was the last prioress at the Ospedale di San Lazaro e dei Mendicanti, one of the four great Venetian orphanage hospitals that also served as music conservatories for young women.  Rising to ultimate rank of prioress was a testament to her talents as a musician and educator.

It may be more plausible that the work was written for Josepha (“Peperl”) von Genzinger, daughter of Prince Esterházy’s physician Peter von Genzinger and his wife, Maria Anna. Haydn composed several works for Maria Anna, an amateur pianist, and they carried on a lively correspondence over a number of years.  In a letter dated February 9, 1790, after some rather humorous grousing about the poor quality of food at Eszterháza compared to Vienna (“instead of that delicious slice of beef, [I’m served] a chunk of cow 50 years old”), he writes, “My good friend Fräulein Peperl will (I hope) be reminded of her teacher by singing the Cantata frequently…”

Stanford University Libraries offers 24 sound recordings on CD, vinyl, cassette and in digital format; four scores (two contemporary, and two early editions including MLM 489 and an 1807 ed. by Le Duc, Paris); and one DVD (Cecilia Bartoli Sings Mozart and Haydn).

With thanks to Astrid Smith, Rare Book and Special Collections Digitization Specialist, and the Digital Production Group for providing downloadable images of the complete work