‘It’s an Everest that needs climbing’: Geoffrey Spratt to Conduct All 107 Haydn Symphonies in Cork
Beginning in January 2020, Dr Geoffrey Spratt, former director of the CIT Cork School of Music, will conduct all 107 Haydn symphonies in a major new musical series. The series will take ten years to complete and will run until October 2029.
The Cork2020sHaydnSymphoniesSeries concerts will take place from January to March and in September/October every year on the second Sunday of the month. The symphonies (106 plus the Sinfonia Concertante for four solo instruments and orchestra) will be performed by an orchestra made up of professional musicians in Cork and will be led by violinist Elizabeth Charleson, formerly second violinist with the Vanbrugh Quartet, a member of Camerata Ireland, and violin teacher at the CIT Cork School of Music. All of the musicians and conductor are undertaking the project voluntarily.
For Dr Spratt, the idea has been developing since he retired from the School three years ago, and the appeal for him is the consistent quality of Haydn’s works.
The symphonies are so uniformly great. They are such a wonderful corpus of music…. The majority of them haven’t been played in Ireland, and even the handful that are, you don’t hear them very often. It’s an Everest that needs climbing. … Even the first ones he wrote are so exciting, so original. There’s a consistency there across the entire forty-something years of his writing.
The closest relationship
Haydn wrote the symphonies between the 1750s and 1790s. Many were composed while in the employment of the Esterházy family in Eisenstadt, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The fact that a majority of the works were written for the palace orchestra, with with Haydn had such a close relationship over a long period of time, is key to the symphonies, says Dr Spratt.
They require the same core attitudes to standards as every piece of music does… but then, over and above, it’s appreciating why were these symphonies written. They were written by an individual for a group of people who he was living with, day in, day out. They were playing his theatre music, and there’s an enormous amount of that; they were playing his operas – there are far more than we ever hear of; they were playing his chamber music; and they were playing his symphonies. It was the closest relationship ….
Dr Spratt has conducted various works by Haydn over the years, particularly the masses when he worked with the Galway Baroque Singers in the eighties and the early nineties, but the complete symphonies is a new level of engagement. ‘I don’t see myself ever retiring from an engagement with music. So it’s just a question of what appears to be an appropriate engagement….’
Approximately seventy per cent of the scores for the Haydn symphonies are already in the CIT Cork School of Music library, thanks to a donation from Lindsay Armstrong of the Orchestra of St Cecilia. The School has agreed to purchase the rest of the scores for the project.
Audiences in Cork appreciate original classical music projects such as this, says Dr Spratt, who was previously involved in promoting a series of the complete Beethoven string quartets.
We have a core audience that loves to engage with something a bit different and a bit special. We’ve seen it when we promoted the Vanbrugh playing the complete Beethoven in one long weekend. We got superb support for that.
The symphonies will not be played in chronological order. Instead, the conductor has paired symphonies from different periods to give audiences a taste of the range of Haydn’s work. The orchestra will have 27 players, but they will add to it, as Haydn did, for certain symphonies. ‘Clarinets don’t start to come involved until about 2025 – but we have the players lined up and booked!’
When the series reaches completion in 2029, it will be the first time all the symphonies have been performed in public by one orchestra in one place.
For full details on the Cork2020sHaydnSymphoniesSeries, see the PDF below.