Thursday, November 11, 2010

Haydn Symphonies

Throughout this year I've been listening to Joseph Haydn's complete cycle of 104 symphonies recorded  on 33 CD’s in total. In doing so I've gained a new insight into his important contribution to the development of the symphony and acquired a much better understanding of Haydn's genius. 

But first no discussion upon Haydn's symphonies can be made without mention of the recently deceased musicologist, the American-born H. C. Robbins Landon (March 6, 1926 – November 20, 2009). Robbins Landon dedicated his life to the study and appreciation of Haydn's music and was quite simply the most authoritative writer on Haydn in the 20th century.  My following small essay is very much in the shadow of his scholarship.

In many ways Joseph Haydn was the original working-class hero of the classical music world. Born in 1732 the son of a wheelwright, he reached the heights of European fame through sheer industriousness.  When he began writing symphonies, the genre was little more than a simple, pleasant diversion, a celebration of the sheer joy of having any leisure-time whatsoever to listen to music. However, by the end of an approximately thirty-five year period of composition from roughly 1760-95 Haydn almost single-handedly, made the symphony into a musical genre which appealed to listeners of all levels of society and was capable of serious philosophical and political expression.

Haydn's good fortune was to be commissioned in 1766 as composer in residence to Prince Esterhazy at his new palace at Eisenstadt located in the Hungarian marshes. Being relatively isolated from the influence of major compositional trends, life at the Esterhazy palace gave Haydn the liberty to develop his own ideas. The Prince's demand to hear new musical works also meant that Haydn was obliged to be extremely inventive with the orchestral resources available to him.

The musical influences upon Haydn are numerous and varied. These include the folk music of eastern European nations, in particular Croatian folk music with its steady beat and witty melody, gypsy music and Viennese street music.  Although he was geographically isolated from major musical trends and fashions there was however one composer who Haydn studied closely and with great interest, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach (1714-88) the eldest son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach's influence upon Haydn cannot be over-estimated. Although Johann Sebastian Bach had several sons who composed music, the music of his eldest son C.P.E. Bach is generally considered to be the most original and influential. In complete contrast to his father's music of sacred and civic utility, baroque ornateness, well-ordered harmony and cosmic, contrapuntal dance, the music  of C.P.E. Bach is often moody and changeable,  impassioned and introverted. With its jagged, lop-sided themes, abrupt silences obliging the listener to attentiveness, C.P.E. Bach's music is a fine example of the German movement of Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) with its emphasis upon  Empfindsamkeit (Sensitivity); its  range includes music even of a negative emotional nature such as anger encompassed within individual sensibility. No more so than in his short three movement symphonies which  explode  with tense dynamic phrases, syncopated  rhythms, sudden silences and  abrupt tempo changes into tranquil and calm slow movements.   The  E minor symphony of C.P.E. Bach  (WQ178) is often credited as an early Sturm und Drang symphony. From its very opening bars the listener is thrown into a world where nothing is predictable or certain and in which sudden and startling  phrases erupt from no-where. Its  opening movement  is set at a frantic tempo which persists throughout its five minute duration. In sharp contrast its adagio is one of utter calm before a final resolving short movement. If Haydn is credited as  'the father of the symphony', C.P.E. Bach is in many ways the grandfather of the symphony.

Haydn’s early symphonies are simple, three movement divertimenti before eventually opting  to include the popular dance movement  all the rage throughout Europe, the minuet. Among those still regularly performed are those influenced by the so-called Sturm und Drang movement. They are characterized by the use of minor keys and expressions of angst and passion. Indeed one of Haydn's symphonies during this time is entitled La Passione.  Haydn's Sturm and Drang symphonies although containing future elements of his symphonic development are  in many ways utterly uncharacteristic of the path in which he was follow in composing symphonies,  it is however worthwhile looking at what the artistic movement of Sturm and Drang was exactly.

Sturm and Drang   was an artistic movement  in which individual subjectivity and extremes of emotion were given free expression Much of this new found artistic sensibility was  a kind of 'rage against the Machine' and a reaction by artists against the constraints of the dominant philosophy of the era, namely  rationalism, imposed upon the Arts by the Enlightenment movement and  as a protest for the emotions of the individual  to be recognised.  In many ways it is the precursor to the much more important artistic movement of early Romanticism. In England this new irrational and dark artistic movement  is characterized  by Horace Walpole's novel 'The Castle of Otranto' (1764) which is  often considered the first ever Gothic novel.

The German literary work of this period which reflects 'Empfindsamkeit' or sensitivity best  is Goethe's 1773 novella, 'The sorrows of young Werther' a work  of  teenage angst, doomed love and suicide. It's been proposed that Goethe's romantic novella influenced the 17 year-old Mozart when writing his own impassioned 'Sturm and Drang' symphony, the so-called 'little' G minor symphony of 1773, K183. Mozart's teenager temper-tantrum symphony stands quite apart from his other symphonic compositions, it was not until 1788 that he employed the use of a minor key in a symphony, using the key of G minor once more in his much better-known symphony K550. Its rewarding to compare Mozart’s early G minor symphony of 1771 whose opening  bars became better-known through their use in the curtain-raising sequence of Milos Foreman's 1984 film 'Amadeus'  to Haydn's own G minor symphony no.39 of 1768.

The use of minor keys in the concert-hall  in the first half of the 18th century was considered   socially unacceptable for the 'negative' emotions which they express,  however, a prime artistic concern of the Sturm and Drang movement was to rouse the audience, to even startle or shock, keeping the listener in a state of anticipation and attentiveness.

 Significantly Haydn is noted as the composer whose works contain more silence than any other composer. The use of silence often has a deep physiological and psychological effect upon the listener.  Haydn uses the dramatic effect of silence in his symphonies in a number of different ways, primarily to stimulate alertness and anticipation but more often for comic effect. Haydn's symphonies demonstrate him to be the master of silence in music. In  his symphony no. 39  however silence creates an eerie, spooky effect, unsettling to the listener.

Joseph Haydn was famed for his sense of humour  fittingly for someone born on April 1st (All Fool’s day). A sense of humour pervades his symphonic compositions. In fact, he is the only composer who has ever made me laugh out loud. In his 'Farewell' symphony  the members of the orchestra leave the stage two-by-two, a hint to the Prince that even musicians need a holiday. In the  ‘Surprise’ symphony  a loud chord crashes suddenly out of nowhere to wake the audience up, and throughout his symphonies there are trick and false endings in which the music suddenly stops and starts again , soft-loud phrases, sudden accelerations, out-of-step soloists and compostional  devices guaranteed to grab the attention of the inattentive concert-goer. In symphony no. 60 entitled Il distratto (The Distracted One) Haydn’s famous sense of humour is shown to full effect. Not only does the symphony include an unprecedented 6 movements but it momentarily plunges into quoting an earlier Haydn symphony before remembering itself while its final movement instructs the first violinists to re-tune in its opening bars.

 By the time  of  the adagio of symphony number 76 in E flat some quite modern features occur, anticipating the symphonies of his most famous pupil, Ludwig van Beethoven and paving the way for Romantic composers such as Schubert and Schumann.  In the Adagio of symphony 76 the listener is lulled into a cosy  mood of  intimacy only to be awakened by a truly startling, war-like, strutting second theme bursting onto the scene, which in turn slowly  fades back to the original mood of calm cosiness.

Just as no two games of Chess are ever completely identical no  two Haydn symphonies are really the same. Although their exposition, development and resolution often conform to a strict formula, in effect the miracle of Haydn's symphonies is their sheer inventiveness.  Written over a thirty year period  Haydn’s symphonies demonstrate the plastic and  protean nature  of the four movement symphonic structure.  The sheer variety and inventiveness in which he bends and shapes his material along with his original orchestration and overall effect, hopping from one musical key to another to explore the full potential of tonality, shuffling varied combinations of instruments and ensembles, using trick devices  such as silence to keep the listener alert and in anticipation,  Haydn's symphonies grow  in size, stature, volume and power throughout the decades of the 1770's and 1780's to the culminate in the magnificent last 12  symphonies  first performed in London in the 1790's. 

Like the German-born composer Handel before him, Haydn recognised that in the absence of any serious composer of their own,  the English were willing to commission and pay good money to hear fine musical compositions. Many of Haydn's symphonies have nick-names and the 12  London symphonies are no exception. Included amongst them are the 'Oxford', the 'Surprise' ,'The Drum-roll' ,the Military and the 'London.' A contemporary review from The Times dated 17th February 1792 stated of Haydn's music-

‘Novelty of idea, agreeable caprice, and whim combined with all Haydn’s sublime and wonton  grandeur, gave additional consequence to the soul and feelings of every individual present.

And indeed an appreciative and perceptive review of Haydn’s ‘Military’ symphony No.100 which is well worth reading  from the Proms season of 2009 can be found here.
Haydn is credited as the father of the symphony  for his development of its form, demonstrating the infinite variety of expression available within its four movement form. Alongside this development he also explored the dimensions of tonality and the various effects which could be achieved using   varied combinations of instruments, in effect, the development of orchestration.

 Often beginning the symphony with an brisk-paced, witty and inventive movement, though  in  later symphonies  opening  with a short, brooding adagio, Haydn's symphonies  progress with a second movement, usually in a contrasting  key and mood in the form of  an intimate, deeply expressive, leisurely adagio. The third movement   invariably is  a minuet, a light-hearted, toe-tapping   invitation to the dance.  Haydn's symphonies often conclude with  an exciting last movement of orchestral brilliance and technical wizardry, thematically related to the opening movement.

Like his greatest pupil Beethoven, Haydn's symphonies are not famed  for having memorable and lyrical  melodies as much as exhibiting dazzling  organising  and inventive skills in their arranging and developing of  musical material. Haydn recognised the potential within each of the four  individual movements of the symphony's structure to express different aspects and characteristics of the composer's sensibility which he fully developed and exploited. Indeed, Mozart is quoted as once saying  of Haydn that there was no one else, 'who can do it all - to joke and to terrify, to evoke laughter and profound sentiment - and all equally well'.

 In the Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s view  Haydn was the greatest of all orchestrators . His influence can be discerned notably in his most famous pupil Beethoven's smaller  scale symphonies numbers 4 and 8 and homage is made to him  by 20th century composers, notably in the back to basics, scaled down in size and scope of Prokofiev's  first symphony (1917) in D major, the so-called 'Classical' symphony and even in Shostakovich's 9th symphony (1953) in its mood  of light-hearted jollity and humour.

In many ways listening to a Haydn symphony is like being  cordially invited by a master horologist to inspect the inside workings of a clock. All the pieces matter! Those who complain that his symphonies sound all the same simply are not listening. To be sure original melodies may be far and few, but  if today Haydn is seen as a little four square, with his level-headed calmness, sobriety and jovial good humour, its an indication of just  how far removed from a sane, at ease and harmony with the world,  the modern listener has become. 

Here's a useful list of the dates of the most famous of  Haydn's symphonies for reference. They are all great to listen to,  but especially those with a nickname. I've also added the dates of the most important Mozart symphonies in bold type for comparative reference. 

No.22 The Philosopher (1764); no. 26 in D minor, Lamentations,  nos.27-29 (1765);  
no. 30 in C ,Alleluja,  no. 31 in D Hornsignal ,  nos. 32-42 (c.1768) includes no. 39 in G minor,
Mozart Symphony no. 25 in G minor K183 (1773)
 no.43 in E flat Mercury (1772);  no. 44 in E minor, Trauersinfonie (1772);  no. 45 in F sharp minor Farewell  (1772) 

no.49 in F minor,La Passione (c.1768) no.52-52 (1773);  nos. 54-59 (1774);  no.60 Il Distratto (1774);
 nos. 61-72 (c.1779);  no.73 La Chasse (1782); 

Mozart 'Linz' Symphony no. 36 in C major (1783)

nos.74-81  (1781-84); 

Paris Symphonies nos 82 -87 -  no.82 in C, The Bear, no.83 in G minor, The Hen, no.84 in E flat, no.85 in B Flat, La Reine, no.86 in D, no.87 in A (1785-86): no.88 in G, no. 89 in F, no.90 in C, no 91 in E flat (1787-88);

 W.A Mozart - Symphonies 39-41 K549-551 (1788)  

London Symphonies  (1791-95)
no.92 in G The Oxford (1789); nos. 93-104  
no.94 in G  The Surprise,
no.95 in C minor,
no.96 in D  The Miracle, no 97 in C, no. 98 in B flat, no.99 in E flat,
no.100 in G The Military, no.101 in D The Clock, no.102 in B flat,
no.103 in E flat The Drumroll, no.104 in D The London.
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