One of the pleasures of doing a blog is the opportunity it affords to dwell on subjects outside of my usual area. When I was choosing grad schools, I chose Cornell precisely because of a historic strength there in eighteenth-century music: Haydn, Mozart, and the Bach family in particular. I ended up concentrating on much later music, but in many senses the eighteenth century still feels like home turf. I haven’t published professionally on those repertories, and blogging is my chance to get my feet wet and my hands dirty.
Last summer, sheetmusicplus.com was having a sale of 20% off all Henle publications. I had just run across a second-hand copy of the critical report to the first volume of songs of Joseph Haydn Werke (or JHW, the ongoing critical edition of Haydn's works), so in the sale I bought the Henle offprint of that volume aimed at the performance market. I had stumbled across Haydn’s “English Canzonettas” while in high school, and I came to know them from the 1931 Peters edition (edited by Ludwig Landshoff), but I had never looked into the textual situation underlying them. This seemed like an admirable opportunity to do some neglected homework.
That JHW volume appeared in 1960, edited by Paul Mies. He died in 1976 before a critical report for the volume was issued. The task of completing that fell to the intrepid Marianne Helms, who has done prodigious (and comparatively thankless) work for both the JHW and the NBA (the new Bach edition). Her critical report appeared in 1983, and at the same time Henle issued the offprint of the score. The offprint is actually preferable to the original, as it incorporates the corrections listed in the errata of the report. These are numerous and sometimes very substantial, including the deletion of one item (discovered to be the work of Adalbert Gyrowetz).
Another revelation that only came to light after the JHW volume was published was rather racy: the text for one of the second set of “English Canzonettas” (no. 6, “Content”) had been cleaned up after the first publication in 1795. The song in the first edition was entitled “Transport of Pleasure,” but already the second issue of the first edition presents “Content.” That this came to light only after 1960 reveals that Paul Mies did not use the first issue of the first edition as one of his sources when he prepared the score volume; or, more likely, he was unaware that there were three distinct issues from the initial set of plates. A scan of the uncorrected first issue is available on the IMSLP, although it lacks the last two pages; this is curious, as the source of the IMSLP scan is listed as Stanford University, but the scan available on the Stanford Library website is intact (and much better quality)—and is worth perusing just for the inscription on the flyleaf. Here is the beginning of the song in question, as it appears in the Stanford scan:
SOURCE: cropped screenshot of Image 23 (detail) of https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/10580550
Uniquely (it appears) among the Canzonettas, “Transport of Pleasure”/“Content” was actually a retexting of a song Haydn had originally written to a German text (“Der verdienstvolle Sylvius”). That song appears to have been a favorite of Haydn’s, as during his second London visit he chose to sing it himself at a meet-and-greet with George III. (Haydn's early biographer Griesinger records Haydn's recollections of this here.) Glancing at the text, one might imagine a nudge-nudge-wink-wink between Haydn and the king. While not overtly obscene, the text describes the body of the (female) lover in a bizarre coded language, vaguely reminiscent of the Song of Solomon. I paraphrase: My flock is only two small lambs, my field only a patch of clover, but if only you understood, I am a King, because I am the most in love of all mortals on earth. Hmmmm.... wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
(For those interested, there’s an excellent recording of this version by the incomparable Anne Sofie von Otter with fortepianist Melvyn Tan.)
The subsequent (first) English text has a similar theme, as if a loose paraphrase. It is less suggestive of the body itself, although it does give her a name—Julia—and describes his intimacies with her. It goes on for two stanzas, saving the climax for the end. The text is anonymous (and I don't wonder); that it is directly related to the original German seems likely because of the fleeting reference to flocks and fields in the second stanza. Here it is in its entirety.
What though no high descent I claim
No line of Kings or race divine,
Not all the mighty Sons of fame
Can vaunt of joys surpassing mine
Possess'd of blooming Julia’s charms,
My heart alive to love’s alarms;
Transported with pleasure
I’m bless’d beyond measure;
Such raptures I find in her arms.
“Die with delight” is scarcely a subtle trope, particularly after the “throbbing heart.” Is this the handiwork of Anne Hunter, the lyricist of many of the other canzonettas? Some sources attribute it to her, but in the critical report Helms is cautious enough to say that both the poet and Haydn’s source for the text are unknown.) It seems a more reckless dry run for Hunter’s later parting lament “O Tuneful Voice.” (Incidentally, I think JHW is wrong in that song not to capitalize Echo; it has “In echo’s cave,” when surely this refers to the mythological nymph Echo, not something more abstract.) Whoever penned this song, the text was deemed reckless enough to be toned down several notches for the next print run. Its replacement, “Content,” still retains the ovine reference, but now it is down to a single lamb. How tame! The climactic passage is reduced to “This heart, secure in its treasure / Is bless’d beyond measure, / Nor envies the monarch his throne.” Pure, chaste, and (dare I say?) tedious by comparison.What though no robe of Tyrian dye,
No gold of Ophir I can boast,
Nor fields, nor flocks, yet rich am I
In wealth the gods might envy most,
For mine are blooming Julia’s charms,
With love my throbbing heart alarms;
By love transported with pleasure
I’m bless’d beyond measure
And die with delight in her arms.
Most curious to me is that this seems to be the least performed (in any version) and least discussed of any of the canzonettas, and yet there seems to be the most to say and to hear. The coverlet of good taste thrown on it in 1796 may have done it in. The Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon seems to have only gradually woken to the nature of the text. In 1976, in the third volume of his massive Chronicle & Works, in the “chronicle” section he remarks merely
For some reason not immediately apparent — can Lady Charlotte [Bertie, the sets dedicatee] have thought the original text slightly immodest? — new words and a new title were soon applied to the song and the plates were altered. [p. 315]But he came around even before finishing the volume, as in the “works” section he continues:
...there is no doubt that Haydn has if anything accentuated the erotic content, especially towards the end, where Haydn, having acheived a rather breathless series of triplets (“transported with pleasure, I'm blest [sic] beyond measure”), drops to pianissimo and in the third-last bar, slows the tempo to “piu adagio” in what Lady Bertie might have considered a post-coital slackening. [Ibid., p. 392](But who can know the mind of Lady Bertie?) Seven years later Landon produced a facsimile of all three original editions of the song, plus Haydn's full-length sketch. The first edition of the German version appeared in 1795, but the text was modified to transfer the voice from “Sylvius” to a “lovely shepherdess.” (This was “Das Geständniß einer schönen Schäferinn,” appearing in the Prague periodical Die Allgemeine Musikalische Bibliothek.) This alteration had a bowdlerizing effect, as all of the subtle Song of Solomon imagery—if that is indeed what it is—is reduced to just idle chatter about two sheep in a clover patch. Hardly something I would expect to interest even “Farmer George,” this seems unlikely to me to be the version Haydn sang for the king.