HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 66, 67 and 68 (Bela Drahos/ Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia) (Naxos: 8.554406)
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Symphony No. 66 in Bflat major; Symphony No. 67 in F major
Symphony No. 68 in Bflat major
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of awheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna,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,Count von Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This wasfollowed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of therichest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded after hisdeath in 1762 by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly andsomewhat obstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much tocomplain about in the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydnsucceeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally atleast, for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificent palaceat Esterhaza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, Haydn assumed command ofan increased 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 to accept aninvitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasonsorganized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit toLondon in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterhazyfamily, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property inEisenstadt, 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, dyingin 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the eighteenth century that saw thedevelopment of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era ofthe classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form and complementarythree or four movements, the basis now of much instrumental composition. Thesymphony may claim to have become the most important form of orchestralcomposition and owes a great deal, if not its precise paternity, to Haydn. Hefirst attempted such composition some time before 1759 and wrote his lastsymphonies for London in the last decade of the century.
The mid-1770s foundHaydn occupied with the usual varied obligations of his position. Operas wereto be composed and staged both for the theatre at Esterhaza and the palaceMarionette Theatre and there were visits for performances at the ImperialPalace at Schonbrunn. Although the bulk of Haydn's work was carried out atEsterhaza, there were shorter periods spent in Vienna, when other businessmight be transacted. The busy months brought the composition of dance musicand, on a weightier level, of a number of symphonies, including Nos. 66, 67 and68, conjecturally dated to the years from 1774 to 1776. The three symphonieswere issued with some inaccuracies by the Berlin-Amsterdam publisher Hummel in1779, numbered as CEuvre XV.
Symphony No. 66 in B flat major is scored for the usualorchestra of oboes, bassoons, horns and strings. The first movement opens witha formula that Haydn had occasion to use elsewhere, a call to attention in a loudinitial chord, followed by the descending notes of the arpeggio. The secondarytheme is marked dolce e piano and both themes are used in the centraldevelopment, concluded by oboes and violins alone before the fuller return ofthe two subjects in recapitulation. The greater part of the F major slowmovement is entrusted to the strings, with dynamic contrasts for the mutedviolins. A dramatic climax ends the first section on a violin trill, followedby a central section that brings its own excitement, before the return of theopening. The original key is restored in the Minuet, framing a Trio inwhich the bassoon and oboe take it in turns to double the first violin. Thefinal rondo opens with a principal theme in two live-bar phrases, which areimmediately repeated, and this material is used to frame a series ofcontrasting episodes.
Similarlyorchestrated, the Symphony No. 67 in F major opens with a very soft andrapid 6/8 theme from the first violins, soon backed up by the seconds, beforemore forceful development. The smoother second subject is introduced by violinsand oboes, both paired in thirds. The characteristic rhythm is rarely brokenthroughout the movement, and then only to introduce the secondary theme inwhich the same motion persists. Muted violins introduce the B flat major slowmovement. The second section includes a canon for second and first violin,entering in close imitation one of the other, followed by the return of theprincipal theme. The movement ends with five bars played col legno (withthe wood of the bow). The Minuet is paired with a Trio for twomuted solo violins, the second using scordatura, a retuning of thefourth string of the violin, the G string, down to the note F to provide adrone Musette bass. The first violin, meanwhile, is to play everythingon the first string, the E string. The last movement introduces anothersurprise when, after the two expected subjects have been presented, theorchestra breaks off and its place is taken by a string trio, two solo violinsand a solo cello, in a further slow movement, marked Adagio e cantabile, inwhich the whole orchestra eventually joins. The Allegro di molto returnsin due course, to bring the symphony to an end.
A brilliant Vivace opensthe Symphony No. 68 in B flat major, its opening echoed by pairs ofoboes and bassoons. The secondary theme is announced by the first violin over astaccato accompaniment from the second violin and viola and the plucked notesof the cello and double bass, a procedure followed in the final recapitulation,after the central development of the material. The Minuet, here placedsecond, frames a Trio of dynamic contrasts, to be followed by an E flatmajor slow movement that is opened by muted violins in melodic material thatreturns, after a varied central section to the movement. The mood changes witha final rondo of surprises, its first contrasting episode allowing the bassoonsto disport themselves and the second episode sharing the honours between oboesand strings. There is an excursion into a sombre G minor and a later use ofsolo instruments to echo each other, before the lively conclusion.