Accompanied by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, considered by many to have been the greatest cellist of the 20th century, and one of the greatest of all time, Mstislav Rostropovich plays Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb/1. Rostropovich also conducts the orchestra.

Rostropovich – Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 part 1 of 3 (HD)
Rostropovich – Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 part 2 of 3 (HD)
Rostropovich – Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 part 2 of 3 (HD)

Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1

Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 was composed around 1761-65 for longtime friend, the Bavarian and Austrian cellist Joseph Franz Weigl (19 May 1740 – 25 January 1820), then the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus’s (18 December 1714 – 28 September 1790) Esterházy Orchestra. The Hungarian prince was a member of the famous Esterházy family. His building of palaces, extravagant clothing, and taste for opera and other grand musical productions led to his being given the title “the Magnificent”. He is remembered as the principal employer of the composer Joseph Haydn.

The work was presumed lost until 1961 when musicologist Oldřich Pulkert discovered a copy of the score at the Prague National Museum. Though some doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the work, most experts believe that Haydn did compose this concerto.

The concerto reflects the ritornello form of the baroque concerto as well as the emerging structure of the sonata-allegro form. A ritornello (“little return”) is a recurring passage in Baroque music for orchestra or chorus. As in the baroque concerto grosso, the accompanying ensemble is small: strings, two oboes, and two horns.

It is possible that Weigl was the only cellist in the Esterházy Orchestra when Haydn composed the concerto since there is only one cello line in the score, marked alternately “solo” and “tutti.” There is also, however, a basso continuo line, that might have been played by another cellist, or by Haydn himself on the harpsichord, or by a string bass player.

This piece and the 2nd concerto are among Haydn’s greatest and most popular works.


1. Moderato

The first movement of Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1, marked “Moderato,” is a delightful example of Classical era concerto writing. This concerto, composed around 1761-1765, was long thought lost until its manuscript was discovered in 1961 in the Prague National Museum. Since its rediscovery, it has become a staple of the cello repertoire.

The movement opens with a spirited orchestral introduction, establishing the bright and lively character of the piece. The thematic material is presented in a clear, structured manner, typical of the Classical style. The orchestra introduces the primary themes, which are characterized by their elegance and grace, setting the stage for the soloist’s entrance.

When the cello enters, it echoes the main theme with virtuosic embellishments, demonstrating the instrument’s lyrical and expressive capabilities. Haydn’s writing for the cello is both idiomatic and innovative, making full use of the instrument’s range and technical possibilities. The soloist engages in a lively dialogue with the orchestra, alternating between melodic passages and more technically demanding sections.

The development section explores the themes introduced earlier, with the soloist and orchestra weaving intricate lines and harmonies. Haydn’s use of modulation adds depth and complexity to the movement, keeping the listener engaged throughout. The interplay between the soloist and the ensemble is dynamic, showcasing Haydn’s skill in balancing the prominence of the cello with the supporting orchestral texture.

As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the primary themes return, now enriched by the development’s explorations. The soloist continues to shine with virtuosic passages, culminating in a brilliant cadenza that allows for individual interpretation and display of technical prowess. The cadenza leads seamlessly into the final orchestral section, bringing the movement to a lively and satisfying conclusion.

2. Adagio

The second movement of Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 is marked “Adagio” and offers a contrasting, lyrical respite from the lively first movement. This movement is a beautiful example of Haydn’s ability to create expressive, singing lines that highlight the cello’s rich, warm tone.

The movement begins with a gentle orchestral introduction, setting a serene and contemplative mood. The harmonies are simple yet elegant, providing a tranquil backdrop for the soloist. When the cello enters, it introduces a long, lyrical melody that flows gracefully, showcasing the instrument’s ability to sustain beautiful, singing tones.

Haydn’s writing in this movement emphasizes the expressive capabilities of the cello. The soloist plays with a delicate touch, often supported by the subtle accompaniment of the orchestra. The interplay between the soloist and the ensemble is intimate, with the orchestra providing a supportive cushion for the cello’s melodic lines.

The structure of the movement is relatively straightforward, focusing on the development of the main theme. The melody is explored and elaborated upon, with the soloist adding subtle variations and ornamentations. Haydn’s use of dynamics and phrasing adds emotional depth to the movement, allowing the soloist to convey a wide range of feelings within the serene context.

The development section is less dramatic than in the first movement, but it still offers moments of contrast and introspection. The soloist and orchestra engage in a delicate dialogue, exploring different harmonic areas while maintaining the overall tranquil character of the movement. Haydn’s use of modulation is gentle, enhancing the expressive quality of the music without disrupting its peaceful flow.

As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the main theme returns, now enriched by the explorations of the development section. The soloist continues to shine with lyrical passages that highlight the cello’s expressive range. The movement concludes with a gentle and satisfying resolution, leaving the listener with a sense of calm and reflection.

3. Allegro molto

The third movement of Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major, marked “Allegro molto,” is a vibrant and spirited finale that brings the concerto to a rousing conclusion. This movement is characterized by its lively tempo, rhythmic vitality, and opportunities for the soloist to display technical brilliance and expressive agility.

The movement opens with a brief and energetic orchestral introduction, setting an upbeat and festive tone. The primary theme is lively and rhythmic, full of zest and forward momentum. When the cello enters, it takes up this theme with gusto, adding virtuosic flourishes and embellishments that highlight the instrument’s agility and dynamic range.

Haydn’s writing in this movement is playful and exuberant, with the soloist engaging in a spirited dialogue with the orchestra. The interaction between the cello and the ensemble is dynamic, featuring rapid exchanges and intricate interplay. The solo passages are particularly demanding, requiring the cellist to execute fast runs, arpeggios, and other technical feats with precision and flair.

The movement follows a rondo form, where the main theme alternates with contrasting episodes. These episodes introduce new material and provide opportunities for the soloist to explore different musical ideas and expressions. Haydn’s use of contrasting dynamics and textures keeps the listener engaged and adds to the movement’s overall excitement and energy.

In the development section, Haydn explores the main theme and its variations, allowing the soloist to demonstrate both technical prowess and expressive nuance. The music ventures through different keys and harmonic landscapes, creating a sense of adventure and discovery. The interplay between the soloist and orchestra remains tight and cohesive, showcasing Haydn’s skill in balancing the prominence of the cello with the orchestral accompaniment.

As the movement progresses towards the recapitulation, the main theme returns with renewed vigor. The soloist continues to dazzle with virtuosic passages, leading to a brilliant cadenza that serves as a climactic moment in the movement. This cadenza allows the soloist to showcase their individual artistry and technical command before the orchestra re-enters to bring the movement to a triumphant close.

The finale concludes with a lively and emphatic coda, driving the concerto to an exhilarating conclusion. The energetic and joyful character of this movement leaves a lasting impression, highlighting the celebratory nature of Haydn’s music.


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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