Haydn: Cello Concerto No.2 in D major

Haydn composed his cello concerto no. 2 in D major in 1783 for Antonín Kraft, a cellist of Prince Nikolaus’s Esterházy Orchestra. From 1761 to 1790 Haydn worked as Kapellmeister to the princely court of the Esterházys where he led a rather isolated life resulting in the composition of an enormous number of works. During the composer’s lifetime, and particularly after his death, with an eye to his posthumous fame, a number of works of questionable authenticity appeared under Haydn’s name. The D major concerto was for many years thought to be the work of Antonín Kraft (who presumably offered help in the writing of the solo part) before contrary evidence showed up. After the autographed manuscript turned up in 1951 in the cellars of the Austrian National Library which was found to be signed and dated by Haydn, most experts now believe that the work is indeed authentic.

This concerto has the usual form of Classical-period concertos: three movements arranged in a fast-slow-fast pattern. In writing for solo cello as the concerto’s featured instrument, Haydn exploited the instrument’s wide range and its capacity for both lyrical expression and athletic passagework. Haydn has often been criticised by musicians and audiences alike as an “ear-candy” composer. Not so in the case of the D major concerto, which one commentator once described as “a leisurely dialogue between the solo cello and the orchestra, rather like an esteemed guest dropping by for afternoon tea and crumpets”.

As was customary with concertos of the time, Haydn did not provide the cadenzas, leaving it to soloists to display their skills at improvisation. At the time of writing, it was still undecided which cadenzas would be played tonight. We might have the honour of listening to cadenzas by the hand of our own soloist, Pavlos Carvalho, or the cadenzas written by Maurice Gendron, a superb deviser of cadenzas for classical concertos such as this one. Gendron’s edition of the D major concerto is now required in all cello competitions.