HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 43, 46 and 47
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Joseph Haydn (1732 1809)
Symphony No.43 in E flat major
Symphony No.46 in B major
Symohony No.47 in G major
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 in 1766 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 organized 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 final decade of the century.
Symphony No.43 in E flat major, given the nickname Mercury perhaps as an indication of its use as incidental music for one of the many theatrical performances staged at Esterháza, was written in 1770 or 1771, the period of the Opus 17 string quartets and much else. Scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings, the symphony opens with a series of dynamic contrasts in the presentation of the first subject, leading to a more lyrical second subject and a particularly pleasing closing section. The central development begins with a motif from the first subject and an anticipation of the recapitulation that is to come, after two further anticipations of the first subject. The A flat major slow movement of a work that Robbins Landon, in his authoritative work on Haydn, describes as a chamber symphony opens with muted strings, while, as elsewhere in the symphony, there is little independent writing for the wind instruments, which here also play a largely supporting rôle. The movement is in the formal three sections of sonata form, with a central development and recapitulation. The Menuetto, taken at an appropriately steady pace, has a contrasting Trio that touches briefly on the key of C minor and B flat major, before returning to the home key. The last movement, again in tripartite form, entrusts the first subject of the opening exposition to the first violin, leading to the rapider figuration of the secondary material, an excitingly dramatic development and a varied recapitulation.
Symphony No.46, the only one that Haydn wrote in the relatively unusual key of B major, a choice that is bound to offer problems of intonation in the associated keys into which it must modulate, is scored for the same instruments. It starts with a four-note figure, to be explored contrapuntally and of importance also in the second subject. The development offers the four-note figure, modulating and in canon, and it returns in the recapitulation also in this contrapuntal form. The strings are muted for the gently lilting B minor slow movement, with its development of the opening material and moments of Mozartian poignancy. The Menuet frames a curious Trio in the second half of which the doubling of the violin parts by the oboes is particularly effective, as it moves to the key of B minor. The last movement is full of surprises, not only in the sudden silences but particularly in the unexpected return of the second half of the Menuet, followed by a closing section in which the wind instruments, as elsewhere in the symphony, are tellingly deployed.
Like the preceding work, Symphony No.47 in G major is also dated to 1772 and scored for pairs of oboes and French horns, with strings. The wind instruments immediately declare their independence with a martial figure that increases in importance as it is repeated. The movement was much admired by the English music historian Dr Burney, father of the novelist Fanny Burney, who refers to it in a letter of 1783 to his friend Thomas Twining. Here he gives a brief account of a few Haydn symphonies tolerably cooked for the Harpsichord or P.forte (The Letters of Charles Burney, Vol.1, ed. Alvaro Ribeiro S.J., pp.377-378). The second subject offers violin triplets, with slower sustained oboe notes above. Both rhythmic elements appear in the central development, much of it in minor keys, and it is in the unexpected key of G minor that the recapitulation starts, a sinister turn of events that is put to rights by the major key second subject. The D major slow movement, described by Dr Burney as on an old organ point, is a set of variations on a theme presented in two parts, by upper and lower strings respectively, in invertible counterpoint. This makes it possible for the first version to be followed immediately by the theme in the lower parts, with the same accompaniment now above, a procedure that is continued in what follows. The first variation is in rapider figuration, the second in triplets, the third in still shorter notes and the fourth in a fuller version of the original theme. There is a held note, before the closing section, which seems, for a moment, about to continue with a further variation. The Menuet al Roverso is devised so that the second section is simply the first section played in reverse. The same device is used in the Trio, with its more prominent wind parts. The symphony ends with a fast movement in which first and second subjects, separated by a dramatic bridge passage, make use of the same thematic material. The development of these elements brings a further element of dramatic excitement before the final recapitulation.