Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 50 in C major Symphony No. 51 in B flat major
Symphony No. 52 in C minor
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, theson of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen's Cathedral inVienna, he subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could fromteaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit fromassociation with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn'sfirst appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Countvon Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This wasfollowed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest menin the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded after his death in 1762by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhatobstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain aboutin the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to hisposition, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest ofhis life.
On the completion of the magnificent palace at Eszterhaza inthe Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, Haydn assumed command of anincreased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musicalactivities of the palace, which included the provision and direction ofinstrumental music, opera and music for the theatre, as well as music for thechurch. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds,particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowedstring instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
Prince Nicolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able toaccept an invitation to visit London. There he provided music for concertseasons organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successfulvisit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with theEsterhazy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the familyproperty in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career with them. Much ofthe year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his finalyears, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yetagain.
Haydn lived during the period of the eighteenth century thatsaw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel tothe era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form andcomplementary two or three movements, the basis now of much instrumentalcomposition. The symphony may claim to have become the most important form oforchestral composition and owes a great deal, if not its precise paternity, toHaydn. He first attempted such composition some time before 1759 and wrote hislast symphonies for London in the last decade of the century.
On 31st August 1773 the Empress Maria Theresa and her courtvisited Eszterhaza. The first day brought a play in the palace theatre,followed the next day by Haydn's opera L'infedelt?á delusa, and in themagnificent ball-room, with its chinoiserie decoration, a masked ball, at whichHaydn and his musicians appeared dressed in what was described as Chinesefashion. On the third day a marionette opera, Philemon und Baucis, for whichHaydn provided music, was performed, its distinctly patriotic denouementfollowed by fireworks. The occasion seemingly brought a performance of Haydn'sSymphony No. 48 and it has been suggested that Symphony No. 50 might also havebeen played for the Empress, its first two movements derived, perhaps, from thePrologue to Philemon und Baucis, with two additional movements to make up acomplete symphony. The work is, in any case, in scoring and key, designed for afestive occasion, with its trumpets and drums. The first movement starts with astately introduction with formal dotted rhythms, leading to a characteristicAllegro, the repeated exposition with a shortened second subject, material tobe developed in a central section, before returning in recapitulation. The G majorslow movement is entrusted principally to the strings, with the oboes onlymarking the recapitulation. The Menuet starts with the ascending notes of the Cmajor triad, as in the first movement. The Trio brings a surprise, starting asit does with the same figure as the Menuet, but moving then to an F major oboemelody, and then to an E major conclusion, before the return of the Menuet. Thelast movement has only one theme, which returns with the necessary shifts ofkey, both in its second appearance, in the central development, and in thefinal recapitulation.
Symphony No. 51 in B flat major was written in the early1770s, dated to a period between 1771 and 1773. The first subject of theopening movement is punctuated by the notes of one of the French horns. Atransition that moves through a dramatic G minor leads to a delicately scoredsecond subject, largely shared by first and second violins. The centraldevelopment includes a particularly deceptive false recapitulation in E flat,anticipating the true return to the material of the exposition that laterfollows. Muted violins, with the lower strings, accompany a solo horn in the Eflat major slow movement. The second horn follows the high register melody ofhis partner with notes at the bottom of the instrument's range, before theentry of a solo oboe. In the middle section the horn follows the oboe, leadingto the amplification by the strings of triplet figuration already brieflyheard. The recapitulation allows the second horn a short moment of glory in anaccompanying arpeggio. The Menuetto frames a first Trio for strings alone andthen a second Trio that makes fuller use of the pairs of oboes and horns, withthe first horn ascending to the very height of its range, and the seconddescending to the depths. The symphony ends with a rondo, its recurrentprincipal theme serving as a framework for contrasted episodes, with the hornsfinally urging the work forward to its conclusion.
Symphony No. 52 in C minor is dated to the same period. Thefirst movement opens with a unison figure, the start of a characteristic Sturmund Drang work. The second subject appears twice and there is a strong figureof contrapuntal suggestion, realised in the development. The violins are mutedin the C major slow movement, with the high C and the E flat horns now replacedby low C instruments. Serenity is interrupted by the same descending semitonethat had added a touch of sinister drama to the first movement. The Menuettobrings with it a C major Trio of surprising off-beat accentuation.
It is followed by a final Presto, the principal themeintroduced by the syncopation of the first and second violins. Its rapid courseis interrupted, in the repeated second part of the movement, by a suddensilence, before proceeding to five strong chords, followed by the nearunanimity of the strongly stated final bars.