Tuesday, February 21, 2023

From Bosley's Cyclopædia of Musical Anecdotes

Unlike that of most of Haydn’s sobriquet-sporting compositions, the nickname of Haydn’s Symphony No. 64 in A major, ‘Tempora mutantur,’ has always been unequivocally traceable to the composer owing to its appearance in his hand in the headings of the orchestral parts distributed to the musicians at Esterházy for the work’s first performance, but hitherto no one has tendered a satisfactory explanation of the phrase’s superscription. The full wording of the phrase in the headings, ‘Tempora mutantur et.,’ makes plain that it is an invocation of the modern-Latin adage ‘Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis,’ meaning ‘The times change and we change with them,’ but no aspect of either the form or the content of the work plausibly hints at any applicability of the adage thereto. Elaine Sisman’s widely circulated contention that the adage is invoked zeugmatically by way of designating certain ‘time changes’ in the second movement—notably, irruptions of fortissimo quavers and pianissimo crochets suggestive of a common-time meter in contradiction of the movement’s 3/4  time signature—has never been more than faintly tenable in the light of both the manifest applicability of the adage to the entire symphony (owing to its exclusive presence on the first page of the first movement) and the absence of it or any other verbal indication of an unusual treatment of meter from the orchestral parts of the Symphony No. 65 (also in A major), which was composed at most three years later and indulges in explicitly notated proto-Stravinskyan alternations between 3/4 and 4/4 in its minuet. Fortunately, thanks to a new edition of legendary Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon’s legendary Haydn: Chronicle and Works, the meaning and purpose of the nickname have now been definitively ascertained ‘thanks,’ writes Landon, ‘to the recent discovery in the attic of the Rathaus in Eisenstadt of the manuscript of a memoir by the violinist and leader of the Esterházy orchestra, Luigi Tomasini, and in particular to the following passage therein (apologies to my Italian readers for taking the liberty of presenting it in my own English translation, which makes no attempt to capture the ineffable verve and sprightliness of the original):

At midday on the 10th of October, Herr Haydn and I were in the Kapellmeister’s wardrobe-room and dressing for the final rehearsal of his new overture in A major, which we were to perform for his Excellency and his guests in the Sala Terrena that evening. In conformity with the maestro’s own rule for these final rehearsals, we were donning our full livery—the same livery of silver-trimmed scarlet that we would be wearing at the performance itself—and the maestro, having already put on his breeches, was buttoning up his waistcoat, and he found that owing, apparently, to his excessive girth at about the level of his navel, he could not make the bottom button completely traverse the distance separating it from its hole. The maestro immediately expressed much surprise and consternation at the excess: “How can it be, my dear Luigi, that I have put on so much weight since the Kapelle’s last performance a mere month ago? After all, as you know, I rigorously adhere to the most austere dietary regimen, taking only a Lincoln continental breakfast1 and at suppertime a bit of bread with a sip of wine. And at dinner, like you, I always sit at his Excellency’s servants’ table, at which we have been offered the same four or five main courses and side-courses in rotation for at least the past five years. Moreover, I have not lately bated the length of my daily morning or afternoon constitutional by so much as a hand-span. So what the D***l has induced this lamentable expansion of my belly?” “In the first place, maestro,” I began in reply while smiling the most equable of smiles, “you are not alone in having put on a few pounds since our last performance.  Observe,” I said, pointing at the lower half of my waistcoat (for I had arrived at the wardrobe room a few minutes before the maestro, and consequently had already buttoned up my waistcoat as nearly fully as I could) that I myself have been obliged to leave my bottom waistcoat button unbuttoned.” “Why then,” the maestro immediately countered with characteristic gimlet-eyed quick-wittedness, “you have obviously been letting yourself go in some department of your life.” “To the contrary, maestro,” I counter-countered, my equability unruffled in virtue of my full knowledge of the facts of the case, “I have been adhering as tightly as you to a dietary regimen and an exercise routine as Spartan as yours (although, to be sure, whereas you take wine with your suppertime crust of bread I take beer with mine, and whereas you exercise by taking constitutionals I exercise by ringing a dumb-bell in my chamber). And as you have just remarked, like you, I have been dining exclusively at his Excellency’s servant’s table, where, as you have also just remarked, we have been offered the same four or five main courses and side-courses in rotation for at least the past five years.” “So then what are you insinuating, Luigi? Would you have me believe that the very air here at Eszterháza has lately been impregnated with lard or butter?” “The air, no, my dear maestro, but the water, yes.” “What the D***l do you mean, Luigi? I have never heard, let alone partaken, of a glass of butter-water or lard-water, here or anywhere else.” “Nor have I. But do we not consume water through certain ingredients of food as well as through beverages?” “Ah yes: through sauces, gravies, soups, doughs …” “…sauces, gravies, soups, doughs, yes—and batters.” “Ah yes, of course, batters, as in pancakes. But we are served pancakes here only at Shrove Tuesday, which was half a year ago.” “Yes, but batter is used in other preparations of food than pancakes. You will recall, maestro, that on each and every Thursday, barring special fast and feast days, we servants of his Excellency dine on Tafelspitz accompanied by a sort of vegetable fritter.” “Ah, yes: the fritter whose recipe his Excellency received from his epistolary correspondent in Japan, that Swedish natural philosopher, Herr von Thun-something?” “Von Thunberg. Exactly: that very fritter prepared and cooked in conformity with that very recipe received from that very correspondent of his Excellency. Well, my current dulcinea, Gisele, is a scullery maid in his Excellency’s kitchen, which as you know is presided over by old Frau Stuckenschmidt,” “Ah, yes, Frau Stuckenschmidt: I have never encountered a sharper-tongued old termagant (apart, perhaps from Frau Haydn, my wife. But let us not repair thither [in either of two ways]).” “Yes (or no), let us not. In any case, for all her shrewishness, Frau Stuckenschmidt is a most excellent cook.” “To be sure she is, Luigi. For as the proverb goes,” he added with a mischievous twinkle in one of his eyes (I no longer remember which one): “‘With a name like Stuckenschmidt, it has to be good.’” Whereupon the two of us enjoyed a hearty laugh that made our unprecedentedly exposed bellies shake like a pair of brimful jam-jars until at length I resumed my account thus: “About two months ago, my Gisele was in the scullery at about eleven in the morning, in other words, about three hours before dinnertime, and having prepared the batter for the fritter, she was about to immerse the first of several-dozen radishes in the mixture, when Frau Stuckenschmidt came rushing in with a saucepan in one hand and a spoon in the other and shrieking, ‘Drop that radish at once, Silchen!’ Whereupon (or, at any rate, immediately after my Silchen had heeded her command and the previously mystifyingly hazardous radish was lying harmlessly on the chopping-board) she emptied the contents of the saucepan—which self-evidently consisted entirely of melted butter—into the bowl containing the batter. Then she handed the spoon to Gisele and said: ‘Mix that butter thoroughly into the batter before you dip any more radishes, and throw out any of ’em you’ve already dipped.’ ‘B-b-but,’ my poor Silchen spluttered in desperation, knowing as she did that if she obeyed her mistress she would risk bringing down the wrath of his Excellency himself upon her poor snail braid-bracketed little head, ‘what about Herr von Thunberg’s recipe?’ ‘Zum T****l mit Herr von Thunberg und mit his schtinking recipe!’ Frau Stuckenschmidt thundered, then continued at a rolling boil thus: ‘A batter without butter is simply and utterly un-Austrian, un-Hungarian, un-German, un-Central European, un-Habsburgian and un-Holy-Roman-Imperial! From now on, we are going to put a half a pound of butter in every batch. And neither his Excellency nor Herr von Thunberg need ever know about it, as long as you keep your schtinking little lips sealed!’” “And obviously,” the maestro then ruefully remarked, “your dulcinea has failed to keep those selfsame lips sealed.” “Obviously, at least to me. But I hope, maestro, that I can prevail upon you not to breathe a word of this to his Excellency at his next baryton lesson.” “You most certainly can and indeed have. Howbeit, the news of this change in the recipe for the fritter must be shared with the rest of the orchestra, lest we all soon find ourselves too heavyset to fit into our chairs as well as our uniforms.” “I agree, maestro. But how are we to keep the news confined to the band? Not to name any names, but among my fellow-fiddlers alone there are one or two fellows who are scarcely more trustworthy with a secret than my Silchen.” “Why, then, we must somehow communicate the news to the musicians without communicating it to them, if you take my meaning.” Genuinely nonplussed, I replied, “I’m not quite sure I do, maestro.” “What I mean is that we must give them a kind of signal that works on them…how do you say?...subliminally, that makes them averse to the fritter without apprising them of the source of their aversion. But the signal must be something that they all know by rote, something they have all known since their schooldays….Sapperlot, I think I’ve got it! Tempura mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.” Genuinely nonplussed yet again, I remarked: “I own that they are all likely to recognize that tag, but I fail to see its relevance to our purpose. I mean, ‘The times change…’” “…Not tempora mutantur, Luigi: tempura mutantur.” “Ah,” I exclaimed, plussed at last: “tempura: the authentick Japanese name of the fritter!” “Exactly: so, Tempura mutantur— here he broke off just long enough to grip his new paunch on either side like a loaf and heft it like a ten-pin bowling ball as he smiled a smile whose impish winsomeness would have made Shakespeare’s Puck turn green–“nos et mutamur in illis: as Japanese fritter recipes change, we change with them.” “And,” I gleefully chimed in, launching into the remainder of the new-modeled tag: “Quomodo? Fit semper tempura peior homo: How so? A new Japanese fritter recipe always makes a man worse.” “Exactly! And now,” he said as he sat down and began pulling on the first of his stockings (I no longer remember which one), “fetch me pen and ink forthwith, Luigi,” (for by then I was fully dressed), “for as soon as I have put on my shoes I shall add the opening words of the tag to the instrumental parts myself, so that the musicians will reflexively regard them as an order from me.” And so I did as he had asked; he did as he had promised; next time the fritter made its appearance at dinnertime, not a single one of us butcher’s double-dozen musicians touched it; Frau Stuckenschmidt promptly took the hint and reverted to the old recipe; by All Souls’ Day we were all once again fitting comfortably into our uniforms; and I’ll wager that by Christmastime we were the sveltest musical ensemble in all the Habsburg Lands, if not in all of Central Europe.

That Haydn’s one-charactered alteration of the adage went unnoticed for over two centuries is easily explained by the presumptive minuteness of the interval in which he was obliged to add its abridgment to all butcher’s double-dozen parts, for while Haydn’s handwriting was ordinarily quite impeccably regular, in situations of unusual urgency it would exhibit certain peculiarities that have bedeviled his most gimlet-eyed editors (including the present one). Chief among these quirks was a tendency of the return arcs of his descending strokes to overshoot their marks, a tendency that inter alia made his lowercase u’s virtually indistinguishable from his lowercase o’s. Although I had been aware of this tendency since my days as a teenaged amateur Haydn scholar, until I encountered Tomasini’s memoir, my equally ancient familiarity with the adage had blinded me to the tendency’s occurrence in the quotation, or rather creative misquotation, of the adage in the orchestral parts of Hob. I:64.”1.

1.       H.C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, Vol. 2, Haydn in Esterhaza. The Director’s Cut. (Sheboygan: University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Press, 2005), pp. 215-24.


2.      In the same passage wherein Landon cleareth up one mystery he begetteth another, for I was always given to understand that the Lincoln continental breakfast, consisting of a cup of coffee solus, owed its name to the breakfasting practice of the 16th U.S. president, but as Abraham Lincoln was not even born until Haydn’s death-year, 1809, that debt must evidently be sought elsewhere—presumably in the breakfasting practice of the inhabitants of the county town of Lincolnshire, as the capital of Nebraska was founded in 1856, nearly a half-century after Haydn’s disparation.  (Editor’s [i.e., Bosley’s] note)