Birth of the Symphony: Handel to Haydn


The 18th century saw an outpouring of symphonies, with over 10,000 composed worldwide from Sicily to North Carolina. The first release on the AAM’s own label surveys some of the diverse works which were central to the development of the genre, pioneering new sounds and bringing instrumental music to the forefront of European culture.

Handel’s Sinfonia from Saul is a stunning example of the multi-movement oratorio introduction which supplied models for the early symphony’s scoring. Works from the cutting-edge Mannheim orchestra by Stamitz and Richter showcase the new sonic possibilities of the form, whilst in his first attempt at a symphony the young Mozart explores his “dramatic and emotional limits” (Richard Egarr). Haydn’s “La passione” demonstrates the mature classical symphony at its finest.

Richard Egarr director & harpsichord

Year 2013


Catalogue no: AAM001



Trailer film

Documentary film


Listen to Richard Egarr introduce ‘Birth of the symphony: Handel to Haydn’ to a live audience at the University of Cambridge.

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Gramophone Magazine
“The AAM’s performances gave virtually unalloyed pleasure. Animated by Richard Egarr’s harpsichord, their style is bold and fiery, though there is ample tenderness in the slow sections of the Saul sinfonia… With added horns and oboes they relish the youthful swagger of the Mozart and realise all the baleful intensity of “La Passione”… certainly one of the most powerful and disturbing performances on disc.”

BBC Music Magazine
“A striking success… Expertly led by harpsichordist Richard Egarr, and superbly played, it programmes an attractive selection of symphonies by five 18th-century composers to illustrate the title ‘Birth of the symphony’. The contents prove enjoyable both in sequence and as historical display case.”

The Observer
“Standards are crisp, spirited, full of imaginative detail with fizzing harpsichord contributions from the AAM’s Music Director, Richard Egarr… I listened ‘blind’. Each example sounded more engaging, more deeply expressive, than the last.”

The Sunday Times
“This enjoyable bird’s-eye view of the symphony’s mid-18th-century development confirms that the famous names are justly celebrated… the great discovery is Mozart’s First Symphony, K16… a work hinting at the inventiveness and playfulness, the richness of texture, that are to come.”

Classical Music Magazine
“This is something special, a carefully planned programme going from the Sinfonia of Handel’s Saul via Richter, Stamitz and Mozart’s first symphony to reach Sturm und Drang Haydn… Egarr draws vibrant, vividly characterised performances from his players, and the recording is excellent.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Arts Desk
“Egarr’s harpsichord continuo bubbles away in the background, never letting the pace slacken… The orchestral ensemble is tight and focussed… The best music comes last, in the form of Haydn’s Symphony No.49 in F minor. It’s dark in places — the slow opening movement full of repressed anguish, but the fast music erupts with volcanic energy. Thrilling, uplifting stuff.”

International Record Review
“The stand-out work on the recording is without doubt Haydn’s F minor Symphony No.49 “La passione”… Egarr and the AAM play this dark masterpiece with both subtlety and drama… This is a masterly account: crisply articulated, with transparency of texture and really clear, confident wind playing… This is classical symphony playing of the highest order.”

Sinfini Music
“Today the recording industry has changed and period-instrument recordings are no longer a novelty. The AAM’s response has been to start its own label. This first release almost amounts to a return to first principles, featuring as it does three composers who played a major part in AAM’s youth: Handel, Haydn and Mozart. If the collection’s title – ‘The Birth of the Symphony’ – exudes a whiff of the academic, the music-making itself is almost more muscular under Richard Egarr’s direction than it was under Hogwood (who stood down as music director in 2006).” ★ ★ ★ ★

“Het is duidelijk en begrijpelijk dat de leden van de Academy of Ancient Music, daarbij fantasievol en krachtig voortgestuwd en gestuurd door hun chef Richard Egarr (behalve in Haydn) aan het klavecimbel, met deze nauwgezet voorbereide en uitgevoerde eersteling op hun eigen label willen scoren en overtuigen. Het is een echt ‘labour of love’ geworden, met een bijzonder fraaie ensembleklank (de hobo’s bij Handel, de strijkers in het openings-adagio van Haydn bijvoorbeeld) en een veerkrachtig, wervelend, ritmisch voortreffelijk samenspel (de snelle delen bij Stamitz, het tweede deel bij Haydn). Een gloedvolle opname en een uitstekende tekst in het verzorgde inlegboekje maken deze stijlvolle uitgave helemaal af.” ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“Mit Stamitz und dem 8-jährigen Mozart sind wir dann schon einen Schritt weiter auf dem Weg zu Haydn, aus dessen Werk Egarr die ‘Passione’ ausgewählt hat. Er und die ‘Academy’ liefern davon eine glanzvolle Aufführung, packend von der ersten bis zur letzte Sekunde, vom mysteriösen Adagio bis zum wie ein elegant-schnittiger Hochgeschwindigkeitszug dahinflitzenden Presto.”★ ★ ★ ★