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Haydn's duets for lovers

January 16, 2015
Ray Heigemeir
Il Sodoma. Cupid in a landscape (1510)

Deux Duos avec accompagnement de piano forte:
Saper vorrei se m’ami, HXXVa:1

Guarda qui, che lo vedrai, HXXVa:2
À Bonn : Chez N. Simrock., [1803 or 1804]

Stanford University Libraries, Memorial Library of Music, MLM 490

Link to downloadable images of this work

This pair of pastoral duets for soprano, tenor, and piano were composed in 1796, a highly productive year for Haydn.  Other major works Haydn composed  that year include the Trumpet Concerto, the Missa Sancti Bernardi de Offida (‘Heiligmesse’), and the Missa in tempore belli (‘Paukenmesse’)The librettist was Carlo Francesco Badini, whom Haydn met while in London. Badini worked for the Italian opera house, and also supplied the libretto to Haydn's last opera, L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice

The autograph of Guarda qui is housed in the British Library; manuscripts of the duet pair by copyist Johann Ellsler, given (or sold) to the amateur English soprano Mrs. Peploe, and with minor corrections by Haydn, also survive in the collection of the Burgenländisches Landesmuseum, Eisenstadt. Saper vorrei, thought by many to be the superior work, was published separately by Artaria in 1801, and both were then published by various firms in 1803-4. Stanford’s copy, published by Simrock, puts Guarda qui first, though the order of performance is likely not of significance.

Nisa and Tirsi (soprano and tenor, respectively) are the characters in both works.  Saper vorrei se m’ami (‘I should like to know if you love me’) invokes nature: “The plants know, and the mountains and the breezes, the birds, and the springs, and only you do not know what my soul is like.” The lovers endeavor to repeat their love for each other, “a canone,” to which Haydn applies canonic technique to underscore the twining text.  Guarda qui contains an equal dose of melodrama: “I see a young man… who in me is vibrant now with flames, now darts, who now smiles, now weeps, now throbs, now pleases, now gives me pain.”  Cupid’s arrows soon follow.

A charming performance may be found on Youtube.

With thanks to Astrid Smith, Rare Book and Special Collections Digitization Specialist, and the Digital Production Group for providing downloadable images of this item

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