HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 41, 58 and 59
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 41 in C major Symphony No. 58 in F major
Symphony No. 59 in A major ("Fire")
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephens Cathedral in Vienna, he subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit from association with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydns first appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded after his death in 1762 by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain about in the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterháza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and music for the theatre, as well as music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Princes own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
Prince Nicolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able to accept an invitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasons organised by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterházy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career with them. Much of the year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the eighteenth century that saw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form and complementary three or four movements, the basis now of much instrumental composition. The symphony may claim to have become the most important form of orchestral composition and owes a great deal, if not its precise paternity, to Haydn. He first attempted such composition some time before 1759 and wrote his last symphonies for London in the last decade of the century.
Written about the year 1769, the date of the first surviving copy of the score, Haydns Symphony No. 41 is in C major, a key associated with festive occasions, a connection further established by the composers addition of trumpets and drums, not yet normally part of the Esterháza musical establishment, but found in a copy made two years later for Göttweig Abbey.
The work is otherwise scored for the usual strings, with one flute and pairs of oboes and high-pitched horns in C alto, with a bassoon sharing the bass line with cellos and double basses. The probable connotations of the key of C major for Haydn and his contemporaries are detailed in the monumental work on the composer by H.C. Robbins Landon. The first movement of the symphony, in 3/4 and marked Allegro con spirito, is in the increasingly expected tripartite form. The transition from the first to the second subject in the exposition includes less usual scoring, as the violas double the first violins at the octave. The secondary theme itself is entrusted to the strings. The central development section includes the surprise of a false recapitulation, the return of the first theme expected to open the final section of the movement, but in another key. The last part of the movement includes unusual spacing of parts, with the oboes widely separated as they double the first and second violins and the violas resume their rôle, doubling the first violins at the octave and therefore above the second violins. Muted strings start the
F major second movement, the woodwind joined now by a solo flute in decorative virtuosity, while trumpets and drums remain silent. Here the high horns are replaced by low horns in C and have a largely sustaining function. The original key is restored, with the return of high horns, trumpets and drums, for the Menuet, framing a Trio that calls for some virtuosity from the horns, as they double the oboes. The final Presto is propelled forward by quaver triplets that provide the necessary motive energy for a brilliant and emphatic conclusion.
The Symphony No.58 in F major has been dated to 1768. It is scored for strings, pairs of oboes and of high horns in A alto with a bassoon doubling the bass line. The opening Allegro allows the first violins to state the first subject, with quaver triplets leading to the secondary theme. This material is varied in a central development, before its recapitulation in the last section of the movement. The B flat major second movement is scored for strings alone, following the common practice of the time in works on a relatively small scale. It is followed by a Menuet alla zoppa, a lame minuet, the descriptive title justified by the irregular rhythms of the melody, to which the Trio, for strings alone and starting in F minor, provides a contrast. The lively Finale brings its own harmonic surprises.
Dated to a period shortly before 1769, the dramatic Symphony No. 59 in A major, nicknamed the Feuersymphonie (Fire Symphony), may have acquired its descriptive epithet from association with a play staged at the Esterháza theatre, and seems at least to have been used, some years after its composition, as an entracte for such a purpose. Scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings and a bassoon doubling the bass line, the excited opening leads to dynamic contrasts in the first subject, and the exposition moves on to a closing section of rapid triplets, followed by a sudden hush in conclusion. Sudden changes of dynamics mark the central development and final recapitulation. The slow movement starts in A minor, scored at first for strings only. A C major theme emerges and this returns later in the key of A major, with the help of the oboes and horns. The A major Menuetto frames an A minor Trio for strings alone. The oboes and horns open the final Allegro assai and have an effective and important separate rôle in what follows.