About this Piece
Length: 20 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, bassoon, 4 horns, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
Johann Baptist Vanhal was active as a symphonist during the 1760s and 1770s, placing him among a group of composers, Haydn included, who worked out the parameters of the Viennese classical symphony. Vanhal most likely arrived in Vienna in 1760; his first decade in Vienna found him moving in the highest circles, conducting his music for private concerts given by nobles rich enough to afford their own orchestras. (We know that one of Vanhal's symphonies was given before the Esterházy court in 1778, and the present G-minor Symphony survives in the Esterházy music library.) He also knew the most important musicians of the day, and was, indeed, numbered among them: According to the journal of Irish tenor Michael Kelly, who sang Basilio and Curzio in the first production of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, he attended a string quartet party in 1784 at the Vienna home of English composer Stephen Storace where the performers were none other than Haydn and Dittersdorf on violins, Mozart on viola, and Vanhal on cello.
By that point, Vanhal had given up composing symphonies, as Viennese taste had shifted to keyboard and other types of domestic music. But during the 1760s and 1770s he wrote a huge number of symphonies (an estimate by Vanhal himself placed the count around 100), of which more than 70 have been authenticated. The Symphony in G minor was composed sometime during the 1760s; it was advertised in a 1771 catalog and eventually published in Paris in 1773-74. Scored for forces similar to those used by Haydn in the "Hornsignal" Symphony, Vanhal's work achieves a very different effect. The music is predominantly gentle and melancholy, closer in expression to Mozart's two G-minor symphonies, and its more agitated moments of passion (as in the finale) unfold within the confines of classical good taste. The elegantly turned B-flat major slow movement contains extensive solo interplay between violin and viola, an imaginative touch reminiscent of Haydn's use of the orchestra. The English music historian Charles Burney, who met Vanhal in 1772, counted his symphonies "among the most complete and perfect compositions for many instruments which the art of music can boast." In performance alongside roughly contemporary works, they remind the listener of the rich musical culture that flourished in and around Vienna during the age of Haydn and Mozart.
- John Mangum is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association's Program Designer/Annotator.