Divertimento No. 1 in D major, Op. 38 (arr. Johnson)

Haydn began his storied musical career at the age of seven as a boy soprano in the choir at the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. When his voice cracked as a teenager, causing the Empress Maria Teresa to complain that he “sounded like a crow”, the choirmaster threw him out on the streets to fend for himself. Haydn moved to a garret above a friend’s house. To put bread on his table, he hustled as a street musician and gave lessons to the children of aristocrats. In his free time, he studied music theory and composition. Along the way, a succession of aristocrats hired him to be their house musician, and at the age of 29 he landed a plum job with the immensely wealthy Esterházy family on their estate – which rivaled Versailles – in rural Hungary. He had a superb orchestra at his disposal, an ornate 400 seat theater, and the task of entertaining the Princes Esterházy and their guests with his own works. Haydn held this beneficial position for nearly 30 years during which he produced a flood of compositions in all genres, including 104 symphonies, 23 operas, and 83 string quartets. Prince Nicolaus was an accomplished musician as were many of his guests. Haydn also wrote many ensemble works for them, filling in as a colleague when needed. In this process, he became proficient at writing chamber music of high artistic quality, adding “Father of the String Quartet” to his characterization as the “Father of the Symphony”. It might be an exaggeration to say that Haydn perfected the high classical style, but only a slight one. Both Mozart and Beethoven owe much to Haydn’s innovations.

A “divertimento”, or “amusement” in Italian, is just what its title suggests, a lighthearted distraction from the travails of everyday life. Haydn wrote this type of music to entertain his audiences, not to confront or to inveigh against the Fates. D major is a bright and festive key. It fits perfectly with a divertimento as well as Haydn’s music in general. He used D major for 23 of his 104 symphonies. So sit back, come with us to the Hungarian Versailles, and enjoy opulent entertainment at its finest.